The idea that creation was perfect before the fall is very common. It’s a key part of the Creationism framework, and is used in attempts to refute evolution. But how Biblical is this concept? Is this something that is clearly spoken by Scripture, or a human idea that people read into the early creation passages? The best way to approach this is to pay attention to the Word, and let God speak to us through it. Here are some short observations that may shed light on this.
Notice that God used the term very “good” to describe His work. Although there are multiple Hebrew words that mean perfect, or flawless, or pristine, etc, He did not use them. Instead, He used a different word that has a milder force. Good, even very good, is not the same thing as perfect.
In Genesis 1:4, note that the light is called good, but not the darkness. Think about the connotation that darkness has through the rest of Scripture. For example, consider the use of light and dark in John’s parallel creation account. If dark is not described as good here, on what basis can it be included as part of a perfectly good creation?
In Genesis 2:18, God describes Adam’s state as “not good”. This is before the fall. How could anything be described as “not good” in a perfect creation? Even if one finds a way to rationalize around this, doesn’t the fact that the Spirit used this particular phrase, after using the same word in other ways, raise a flag? After all, describing something as “very good” is not inconsistent with some part of it still being “not good”. But describing something as perfect leaves no such room.
It’s good to remember that Adam and Eve did not commit the first sins. Satan was fallen before he deceived them. Although his influence is limited by God, note how Job describes his ability to bring natural disaster, disease, conflict, and ultimately, death. It’s clear that he is at work throughout Scripture, so on what basis are we to assume he wasn’t at work before Adam and Eve’s sin? Actually, the curse pronounced on him would only seem to limit him, not give him some sort of increased freedom. What kind of perfect creation would have satan running around doing things?
In Genesis 1:28, God tells Adam to “subdue” the earth. The Hebrew word used generally means to “conquer”, “enslave”, or “subjugate” something. Why use that word here when creation is supposedly at peace, with no conflict, death, or pain? Some suggest the word has a different meaning here, but on what basis?
In Genesis 3:16, God speaks to Eve of a result of their sin. He says that He will multiply her pain. The Hebrew word used here describes an increase, a multiplication, of what already exists. It is used earlier in Genesis to describe God’s command to animals and man to be fruitful and multiply. It is not used to indicate the beginning of something. So it would seem to mean that the Lord was going to increase the pain that Eve already knew, not give her pain that had never existed before. In other words, it is not describing the beginning of her pain, but rather a change to something already existing.
In Genesis 1:31, God looks at all that He had made and declared it very good. Is that referring to all of creation, or to all that He did after the initial creation? In other words, there is room here for an interpretation that, although all of creation was not perfect, His actions in this imperfect creation, were. The word often translated “made” can also be translated “did”, and is used to describe human actions elsewhere in Scripture. It is not “bara”, the word to describe God’s unique creative action ex nihilo. So why assume that “very good” applies to all of creation, instead of some subset of actions that happened after the initial creation event?
In fact, consider Joseph’s use of the word “good” in Genesis 50:20. It’s the same Hebrew word, but here refers to God’s actions in an otherwise bad situation. In other words, it describes how God pulled good out of bad. In fact, the word translated “made” in 1:31 is also used here to describe God’s action in saving people through the famine. So understanding the word “good” as that which God does in an otherwise imperfect situation, is consistent across both uses.
So considering God’s Word with an open mind gives a different picture than the traditional viewpoints. It certainly doesn’t give an unambiguous picture of a perfect creation, but rather the beginnings of God’s saving nature. We must not only focus on the Word when we consider such matters, but we must do so with an open, unbiased mind.