Matt Douglass ~ The End Is the Beginning, but Better: A Biblical Argument for Animal Resurrection

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In a previous post, I argued that if God is perfectly loving, then at least some animals would be resurrected in heaven—namely, those creatures whose life-ruining suffering was never redeemed during their earthly lives.  Here, I will give a Scriptural argument for animal resurrection, focusing on the beginning and end of the grand biblical narrative, specifically the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9, and the promise of final restoration and renewal as described in Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22. In a nutshell, the argument goes like this:  Animals are featured prominently in Genesis 1-9.  They are, therefore, a significant part of God’s plan for creation.  And, according to Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22, God plans to restore and renew all things, presumably animals as well.  Thus, just as humans can hope for the redemption of their bodies through resurrection, there is good reason to hope that animals will be resurrected as well. Creation and Re-creation:  Genesis 1-9 The Bible begins with a hymn in which God establishes a kingdom[1]:  God commands all things into existences, bestows names and titles, draws boundaries and establishes domains, and assigns various functions to created things.  Humans occupy the top of this earthly hierarchy.  They are created in God’s image and are given dominion over the earth and over all living things.  Yet animals are important as well.  Along with humans, they are blessed and commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” and to fill creation.

"The Garden of Eden" by Erastus Salisbury Field
“The Garden of Eden” by Erastus Salisbury Field

The world of Genesis 1 is orderly and peaceful.  Originally, there was no struggle for survival, no competition among species, and apparently no predation: “And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:30). Animals are also prominent in Genesis 2:4-25, where, like Adam, they are created from the dust as potential helpers for him.  Adam gives names to each of the animals and rules over them, though the Bible repeats that Adam is not given their flesh to eat, but is instead limited to the fruits of the garden (Gen. 2:15-17). After just two chapters of peace and harmony, the biblical narrative takes a sharp dive in Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve, who were supposed to care for Eden and all creatures in it, instead are disobedient and submit the whole world to a curse.   Things get progressively worse until, by the time of Noah, the world is so corrupted that God regrets ever creating humanity. On the surface, the flood story illustrates God’s mercy toward Noah’s family and (a select group of) the animal kingdom in the midst of divine judgment.  But reading carefully, we see that Genesis 6-9 both reflects back on creation and foreshadows the new heavens and new earth. Notice, for instance, how the flood narrative imitates the style of Genesis 1 and draws a clear contrast between them.  Originally, everything in creation is as it should be—the refrain “and God saw that it was good” is repeated seven times in Genesis 1 (on the seventh time, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”)  Compare that to the beginning of the flood story: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5)  Again, Genesis 6:11-12 says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.” The deluge, furthermore, represents a reversal of God’s creative activities.  On the second and third days of creation, God separates the waters, holding them back with the dome of the sky and with dry ground.  But once Noah is safe in the ark, God allows the waters to return, and “on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” (Gen. 7:11) Next, God creates all over again.  The waters recede, once again leaving the sky and dry ground.  God brings forth living creatures from the ark to creep across the ground and fly through the air.  And just like the first time, God blesses humans, commanding them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” and gives Noah’s family dominion over all creatures.  Finally, God establishes a new covenant with Noah, his future descendants, “and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark,” promising never to curse the ground because of humanity and never to destroy the world again by flood. (Gen. 8:20-22; 9:8-17) In effect, when Noah leaves the ark, he’s entering a new heaven and a new earth—a world that is like Eden, but diminished:   Whereas Adam and Eve were innocent and unashamed of their nakedness, Noah’s family is still stained by sin, and Noah’s nakedness is now a cause for shame.  And while there was originally peace among the animals, the violence that infected the animal kingdom after Adam and Eve’s sin—competition, predation, and so on—is still present.  Moreover, Noah is allowed to eat meat, and the fear of humanity now afflicts all of the animals. At the same time, however, while the great deluge is a means of destruction and re-creation, notice that it is not a complete destruction, nor a complete re-creation.  God could have utterly annihilated the old creation and spoken an entirely new world into existence.  But instead, God chose to fashion his new earth from the remains of the old one. This point is significant because several prophecies use the flood as a foretaste of God’s ultimate plan for the world.  In Hosea, for example, God’s promise to restore peace to Israel echoes the covenant established with Noah: “In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground.  Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.”[2]  Meanwhile, Peter predicts that just as “the world of that time was deluged with water and perished…the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire,” which will set the heavens ablaze and melt the elements (2 Peter 3:6-7, 3:10-12). “But,” he continues, “in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13). Consummation: Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22 According to Scripture, then, the post-deluge world is like Eden, but diminished; in contrast, the new heavens and new earth will be like Eden, but elevated.  Paul’s letter to the Romans paints this picture beautifully:

 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

This passage continues a line of reasoning begun in Romans 5, where Paul says that “we boast in our sufferings” because they produce endurance, character, and hope (5:2-4).  The cause for this hope, he continues, is Christ, through whom the righteous have been justified, reconciled to God, and freed from sin.  Whereas Adam’s sin introduced death into the world and enslaved humanity to sin, Christ’s death and resurrection bring life, freedom, and ultimately adoption into God’s family.  In the passage quoted above, Paul ties together these themes and extends them to the created world: We should have hope and wait patiently for the redemption of our bodies because all of creation waits in eager anticipation, both for its own redemption and for God’s children to be revealed.[3]  In other words, since God’s plan from the beginning has been to redeem creation (“creation was subjected to futility…in hope that [it] will be set free”), we can be sure that God will bring this plan to completion. Similarly, in Revelation God is the Alpha and Omega, the creator of the universe and its perfecter.  The consummation of all things is described in Revelation 21: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:1-5a) Like Romans 8, Revelation brings us back to Genesis.  John’s description of the new heaven and new earth draws from the prophecy of Isaiah, in which God promises to end the futility and misery of the present world, bring joy to his people and dwell with them, and establish peace, even among the animals.[4]  Revelation 22 makes an explicit connection to Genesis 2: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2) While a single tree of life grew in Eden, the new Jerusalem has several trees of life lining its central river.  The clear implication is that the holy city will be like Eden, but much better.[5] Noting how Revelation 22 merges the temple imagery of Ezekiel 47 with the garden imagery of Genesis 2-3, G. K. Beale argues that the new Jerusalem is a “paradisal city-temple” that encompasses the whole earth.  According to Beale, the Jewish temple was a microcosmic model of creation, and “the Garden of Eden was the archetypal temple in which the first man worshipped God.”[6]  So Adam was the first priest of God’s temple, and his task was to subdue the earth and extend the boundaries of Eden until it covered the whole earth.  Beale continues, This meant that the presence of God, which was initially limited to Eden, was to be extended throughout the whole earth. What Adam failed to do, Revelation pictures Christ as finally having done.  The Edenic imagery beginning in Rev. 22:1 reflects an intention to show that the building of the temple, which began in Genesis 2, will be completed in Christ and his people and will encompass the whole new creation.[7] Full Circle From the above texts, we can take three important points:

  1. When Scripture talks about the end times, it often alludes to the creation and fall stories of Genesis 1-3.

An underlying message in these passages is that the end will be like the beginning, but even better. For example, in his epistle to the Romans, Paul argues that because of Adam’s sin, all of creation is in bondage to death and decay.  In Romans 8, he gives us reason to hope:  Freedom from sin and suffering comes through Christ, not just for humanity, but for all of creation.  What Adam has bound, Christ will set free. Similarly, in John’s apocalypse (which draws heavily from the Edenic prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel), the new heavens and new earth is a cosmic do-over: where Adam failed in the beginning, Christ will succeed in the end.

  1. Other end-time prophecies use the flood narrative as a foretaste of God’s ultimate plan for the world.

For example, recall the prophecy of Hosea 2:18, which echoes God’s covenant with Noah and the beasts, as well as 2 Peter’s prediction that the new heavens and earth will be born, not from the destructive waters of a flood, but from an all-consuming and transforming fire.  In other words, while the post-deluge world is like Eden, but diminished, the new heaven and earth to come will be like Eden, but exceedingly greater.

  1. Animals are an essential part of the creation and flood stories.

From Genesis 1-9 we learn about God’s power and authority and goodness, about humanity’s relationship with God and our place in the hierarchy of creation, and about humanity’s relationship with other living things. According to Genesis 1-9, animals are not an afterthought; they are not simply an embellishment of an already beautiful creation.  Rather, animals integral to God’s original plan for creation.  Indeed, they are so important that God delivers some of the animals through the flood so that he can use them to repopulate the new world.  It stands to reason, then, that God will use the same animals from this world to populate the next. To this point, I have given two arguments for animal resurrection, one philosophical and one biblical.  Perhaps neither one, by itself, is totally convincing, but when taken together, they begin to make a strong case.  In a later post (or two), I will add two more arguments, one that focuses on the relationship between humans and animals and one based on the scope and effectiveness of Christ’s atonement and resurrection.

[1] Sandra Richter explores these themes in a pair of excellent videos, “Reading Genesis 1 in Context.” (Part I and Part II)

[2] Hosea 2:18.  The New Testament authors, and subsequent Christian theologians, typically interpreted Old Testament eschatological prophecies as being inaugurated with Christ and brought to completion in the end times.   Accordingly, it is common to interpret such prophecies about “Israel” as including the church and all of the righteous.

[3] There is some question about exactly what “the whole creation” refers to.  Wesley’s translation of 8:19-22 says “the creature,” which he interprets as “every creature” and “the meaner creatures”—that is, to non-human animals (see “The General Deliverance”, II.2).  The NRSV, however, reads “the whole creation,” which I interpret as referring to all of material creation, living and non-living.  Either way, Paul’s hope extends at least to the animals, for in this passage Paul seems to have Genesis 2-3 in mind, which describes the animals as an important part of creation.

[4]“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress…The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust!” (Isaiah 65:17-19, 25).  Notice the reference to the serpent’s deceit in Eden, suggesting that the new Jerusalem will reverse the effects of Adam’s sin.

[5] For more on this, see Mitchell Glenn Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Pub, 2001), 421.

[6] G. K Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans ; Paternoster Press, 1999), 1110.   See also Sandra Richter’s Seven Minute Seminary video, “Genesis 2 and the Ancient Near East,” which touches on this Eden-as-cosmic-temple theme.

[7] Beale, Revelation: A Commentary, 1111.

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