The Bible does not begin at Genesis 3; it begins at Genesis 1. This may seem a relatively bland statement, but the implications are as extensive as the universe. When we understand the scope of the Bible’s narrative, our individualistic and reductionistic approach to reading the text will be challenged.
The Bible opens with a statement that is determinative for all that follows: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). In short, God created everything. The Bible ends with a similar statement: “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). That which is created is that which will be renewed. The Greek word that is translated “new” in Revelation 21:1 is kainos. This word has the sense of “renewed”. There will not be a whole new creation ex nihilo. God has already done that. There will be both continuity and transformation from this earth (and heavens) to the one that will be renewed.
It should not come as a surprise that God will renew the universe. The heavens and the earth are a masterpiece of creation. God did not hold back in the beauty and inter-dependence of what he created. When a problem emerges in Genesis 3 with the introduction of sin, it is not beyond God’s power or purpose to rescue that which is fallen. The prototype of a world without sin has already been seen in Genesis 1 and 2.
When we think about it, God’s commitment to his people and his commitment to the universe in which we live are inseparable. We cannot survive without the warmth of the sun or the rain that waters the land. The opening chapter of the Bible reminds us of this. That is why humans are given the task of having dominion over all the earth (Gen 1:28). Physical bodies need a physical earth. But we need to extend this thinking a bit more. If we believe that Jesus was raised physically as the firstfruits of all who will follow (1 Cor 15:23), where will these physical bodies live except in a physical world? You cannot have one without the other.
The Bible begins at Genesis 1, and with this opening we see that God is committed to everything he has made. The Bible expresses this commitment to creation in covenantal language. A biblical covenant is not the same as a modern bilateral contract between two parties. When God makes a covenant, it is often described as a unilateral pledge. When God sealed his covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, Abram was asleep (Gen.15:12-21)! God’s commitment to his creation is seen repeatedly throughout Scripture. Jeremiah reminds us: “Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant …” (Jer. 33:25-26). Hosea talks of God’s covenant with creation in similar language: “And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety” (Hos. 2:18). The outworking of this covenant (or pledge) to creation results in the fact that “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23).
Genesis 3 is neither the end nor the beginning of the story. Satan has not thwarted God’s purposes for the universe. The entrance of sin into God’s beautiful creation is not the end of the story. Indeed, God shows his power over sin by using the effects of sin to display the glory of his grace. We see this every day. Healing is an example of God’s gracious activity in the world, but it is meaningless without an effect of the fall: sickness. Forgiveness is at the core of the gospel, but it is pointless without sin. The clearest example of God using the effects of sin to conquer sin is seen in the cross. Through an extreme act of injustice in the condemnation of an innocent man by an unjust Roman procurator, God demonstrated his righteousness. And if that is not enough to show us God’s dominion over the fall, on the third day, God showed his victory over the most terminal effect of the fall: death.
The Bible is the story of God’s plan to rescue. The scope of that which is fallen is that which will be rescued, restored and renewed. The gospel is so much bigger than we often imagine. We recognize God’s commitment to all he has made. “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).