PMW 2021-093 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In some passages the kingdom of God is pictured in terms of Eden renewed, entailing peaceable conditions. But in our fallen world the lion’s deadly and terrifying power serves as a proverbial image in the Old Testament (Num. 23:24; Psa. 7:2; 17:12; Prov. 19:12; 20:2; 28:15; Isa. 38:13). Yet gentle carnivores are images of the fullness of God’s kingdom. For instance, carnivores are seen living in harmony with herbivores, though herbivores are their natural prey in Moses’ and our post-fall world (Gen. 49:9, 27; Deut. 33:20; Psa. 104:21; Isa. 5:29; Nah. 2:12).
And in Isaiah 11:6–7 we read that “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, / And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, / And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; / And a little boy will lead them. / Also the cow and the bear will graze, / Their young will lie down together, / And the lion will eat straw like the ox” (see also Isa 65:25). Prophecies of God’s victory often reflect pre-Fall, Edenic conditions (e.g. Eze. 36:35; 47:1–12; Isa. 51:3; Rev 2:7; 22:2).
If such images reflect the actual historical reality of Eden, then peaceable conditions prevailed in the pre-Fall world and were radically changed upon the Fall. The postmillennialist believes with the amillennialist that these images are pictures of the spiritual reality that prevails when men are redeemed by the Prince of Peace. However, the postmillennialist also sees this spiritual reality of peace among men as also gradually unfolding in history as the gospel takes root and spreads before the end.
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Many Christians committed to theistic evolution (necessarily) disagree with any original passivity of such beasts. For instance, Meredith Kline, for instance, argues that “Psalm 104:21 seems to indicate clearly that the Creator had from the outset granted to predatory beasts to feed on other animals.” That verse reads: “The young lions roar after their prey /And seek their food from God.” But this does not speak of the lion’s original behavior. It is speaking in the present, and highlighting God’s governance of all of life in that “the earth is full of Your possessions” (Psa. 104:24c). Neither does Psalm 104:26a imply of the seas in creation week that “there the ships move along.”
Kline also points to 1 Timothy 4:3–4 as evidence for animal death from the beginning of creation: “false teachers who were forbidding some of them to marry and others forbidden to eat various kinds of foods and meats. Paul says it’s all wrong thinking here, because, God made these things, all of them to be received with thanksgiving. They’re all good. So, here’s the language of God’s intention from the beginning in creating them.” There Paul states: “men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude.”
How shall we reply?
Paul is dealing with Gnostics who believe the material realm is in itself evil. As the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (DPL 661) notes regarding the mission works of Timothy and Titus: “They were increasingly endangered by a judaizing-gnostic countermission (1 Tim 1:3–7, 19–20; 4:1–2; 6:20; 2 Tim 4:3–4; Tit 1:10–16) . . . that included church leaders and probably former co-workers (2 Tim 1:15–18; 2:16–17; 3:6–9; 4:10; Tit 3:9–14).” An “essential feature of Gnosticism” was “an opposition between the spiritual world and the evil, material world” (DPL 350), which led them to abstain from meat as a feature of their “gnostic asceticism” (DPL 353).Paul’s fundamental point against these false teachers is that “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4a). Yet the Gnostics are declaring certain foods to be evil in themselves — despite the fact that God created them.
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Interestingly, in 1 Timothy 4:3a Paul uses the generic word “food” (br ma) rather than the specific word for “meat” (kreas, “flesh”). Consequently, he is referring to “foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in” (1 Tim. 4:3b). Clearly he is not declaring all God-created foods to be always received and “gratefully shared in” throughout all times from the beginning of time. After all, Adam was forbidden to partake of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15–17; 3:11). Though it was food that God created (Gen. 1:11; 3:6), it could not be taken and “gratefully shared in.”
Nor could faithful saints under the old covenant partake of unclean animals (Lev. 11:4ff; Deut. 14:7ff; Acts 10:14). Though God created them, they could not be taken and “gratefully shared in.” And though in Paul’s context regarding eating, he declares that “everything created by God is good,” surely he does not allow for cannibalism to supply food to be “gratefully shared in.”
Calvin notes that in 1 Timothy 4, the “creatures are called pure not just because they are God’s works, but because they are given to us with His blessing. We must always have regard to God’s appointment, both what He commands and what He forbids.” After all, our food “is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:5). This requires a directive from God (through his word) along with prayer. In fact, God does not allow man to eat meat until after he establishes his covenant with Noah: “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant” (Gen. 9:3). So likewise, before the Fall man was directed only to eat vegetation (Gen. 1:29) — which could be taken and “gratefully shared in.”
I do not believe that Adam and Eve crept through the Garden of Eden, singing “Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!” Nor do I believe that God’s people will always endure enmity in the earth which is the Lord’s. As this blog shows in many ways, we may rightly expect the eventual victory of God’s kingdom in the world.