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The question of this article is whether it is fitting to believe that the Triune God resurrects the whole of creation along with Jesus Christ and the church.[1] The question is not whether God renews the current created order in order to bring about the new heavens and new earth, or whether the new earth has a material form. Many others have made those arguments, and this article assumes the persuasiveness of those arguments.[2] In terms recently used by Paul Griffiths, the question is about how Christian doctrine works, about the “grammar . . . for Christian thought and talk about the LORD and the LORD’s creatures.”[3] The church confesses the resurrection of the body; many churches and teachers are committed to the renewal of the cosmos.[4] Can and should these two confessions be drawn together more tightly in Christian doctrine? More specifically: Whenever the church confesses the renewal of the cosmos, would it not be fitting to the economy of God’s work in Christ to use the word resurrection? Would it not be fitting to Scripture to say that the new creation has been resurrected? This article argues that at the return of Jesus Christ the object of resurrection is not simply human beings united to Christ but other creatures and created realities as well.[5] The new creation is a resurrected creation; the whole cosmos will be resurrected. However, even if that thesis cannot be affirmed, the article is proposing that it is plausible for the church to confess that the new creation is a resurrected creation. In other words, this change is plausible – fitting to Scripture – and thus needs to be debated in contemporary theology.

The argument has three steps. First, with a focus on the work of N.T. Wright and Richard Middleton, the article points out that some theologians and biblical scholars are coming close to or are forthrightly using resurrection language to describe the new creation. However, this grammar has arisen without much explanation or argument on the part of these scholars, and so this section identifies how and why it has occurred. The second section of the article begins to fill in this lacuna by putting forth a theologically exegetical argument that analyzes the relationship between I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21-22, utilizing an interpretive approach identified by David Yeago. Third, focusing again on Wright and Middleton, the article suggests that an objection to the idea that creation is destroyed may result in resistance to the claim that the creation is resurrected. This section also responds to this possible objection.

Looking for a Resurrection of Creation Grammar in Recent Theology

Identifying the Grammar and the Reasons Why This Occurs

While contemporary scholars tend not to apply resurrection to the whole material order, the work of some scholars does converge toward this claim. N.T. Wright – who Richard Middleton favorably suggests has given more exposure to “redemption of creation” than any other biblical scholar, especially through his book Surprised by Hope[6] – writes that the early Christians responsible for writing the New Testament “believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter.”[7] One might expect Wright to follow that sentence with a sentence such as “Just as Jesus is resurrected, so is the whole cosmos.” But, that sort of formulation never explicitly occurs. Instead, he settles for statements such as the following: “It will be an act of new creation, parallel to and derived from the act of new creation when God raised Jesus from the dead.”[8] The pattern in Wright is simple: resurrection language has only human bodies as its object; redemption or renewal language has human bodies and other material entities as its object. At the same time, Wright declares that, the renewal of creation, like the resurrection of human beings united to Christ, is one of the effects of Jesus’ own resurrection or is derived from the resurrection.[9] In addition, as will be explored below, when Wright explains what the renewal of creation is, he uses resurrection as a prototype. Thus, while he maintains this parallel pattern, his argumentation converges on making them synonymous or interchangeable.

Richard Middleton, who follows N.T. Wright’s overall claims about the new creation, exhibits a similar pattern. In A New Heaven and a New Earth, he argues in favor of “a biblical theology . . . that culminates in the New Testament’s explicit eschatological vision of the redemption of creation.”[10] In support of that argument, he connects resurrection and the telos of the created order in this way: “God loves this world he made . . . and is committed to the redeeming of the created order, with resurrection being central to that redemption.”[11] In particular, he argues that God resurrects human beings in order to restore human capacity to rule with God over the creation.[12] While the resurrection of Jesus Christ indicates the eschatological renewal of creation for Middleton, he tends not to refer to the new creation as having undergone a resurrection. In almost every context, Middleton follows Wright’s pattern, claiming that Scripture “assumes a parallel between the redemption of persons (including the body) and the redemption of the nonhuman world.”[13] Yet, for both Wright and Middleton, resurrection becomes a means of securing belief in the renewal of the cosmos and the nature of that renewal. Their dominant grammar does not treat eschatological renewal and resurrection as interchangeable, but their arguments and explanations converge toward that end.

The parallel pattern identified above is indeed dominant in Middleton. But, at one point, the convergence toward an interchangeable grammar becomes explicit, as it does for other scholars. In using I Corinthians 15 to interpret Hebrews 12.26-29, Middleton states momentarily that “the cosmos, just like the body, will be raised imperishable.”[14] Similarly, many other recent and contemporary biblical scholars and theologians have begun to apply the term resurrection to the cosmos as whole, or to nonhuman creatures. For some, like Middleton, this happens rarely. For example, in a monograph focused on the theology of inheritance in Romans, biblical scholar Mark Forman compares I Corinthians to Romans. In doing so, he claims that “there is a conceptual extension assumed by Paul from a resurrected body to the resurrection of creation more generally.”[15] Craig Koester, commenting on the book of Revelation, states that “The resurrection of the faithful is part of the resurrection of the world.”[16] In Space, Time and Resurrection, Thomas Torrance writes that “The resurrection of Christ in body becomes the pledge that the whole physical universe will be renewed, for in a fundamental sense it has already been resurrected in Christ.”[17] Other scholars, such as Paul Griffiths and Jurgen Moltmann, use resurrection language in reference to nonhuman creatures with greater frequency and intentionality. For example, in his book Decreation, Griffiths opens a chapter about the telos of plants and animals by asking, “The first question to ask about the last things of plants and animals is, may they remain in the resurrection?”[18] He continues to use this language throughout the chapter and his conclusion is that, yes, “plants and animals are resurrected for eternal life.”[19] Griffiths does not expand the range of the word to include inanimate creatures or human artifacts. But, nonetheless, this shows a more expansive use of the word resurrection. While a parallel usage of “renewal” and “resurrection” is more common, an interchangeable pattern has also emerged.

Why has this interchangeable pattern emerged? To date, almost all of these scholars have not made sustained arguments on behalf of this formulation. Even more, none of them has explicitly called attention to this use of the term resurrection. Yet, the various contexts of the grammar suggest two answers. Similar to Wright pointing to the resurrection of Christ as the origin of the new creation, these scholars briefly refer to the union of Christ and creation. Moltmann makes a terse comment along these lines. Colossians refers to Christ as the “firstborn of creation” (Col. 1.15), and Moltmann interprets this to mean that “the raising of Christ” is not only “God’s eschatological act in history but also . . . the first act of the new creation of this transitory world into its true and abiding form. Resurrection is not only the meaning of history. It is the meaning of nature too.”[20] Although he does not say it explicitly, Moltmann indicates that if the creation is unified to Christ, it undergoes the same history of resurrection. Torrance cursorily makes this same point as well, though with no further development.[21] Similarly, Griffiths states that theological reflections on the final telos of nonhuman creatures should derive from the axiom that “it is the incarnate LORD who is the heart of the created order in all its aspects…and it is the incarnate LORD who reconciles this world in all its particulars by healing its devastations and making it once again into a cosmos.”[22] While Griffiths never connects this axiom directly to his application of the word resurrection to animals and plants, this seems to be his reasoning for it. For Moltmann, Torrance, and Griffiths, the new creation or nonhuman creatures at their final telos can be described as being resurrected because their final states derive from being united to the resurrected Christ. Yet, at this point, this reasoning has only been thinly sketched or suggested.

Robin Parry is something of an exception, as he has put forth a few paragraphs in support of the resurrection of creation. As with the others above, the underlying warrant is that the creation is unified to Christ and so “its destiny is linked to his destiny.”[23] Parry argues that human beings rule over creation as the “pinnacle of creation,” and so creation’s conformity to God rises or falls with humanity conformity or lack of conformity to God. As a result, when the Bible figures Jesus as the Second Adam or the “true human,” it means that “Jesus represented all humanity, but as such he also represented the whole universe.” With regard to the creation and resurrection, the result is that “his resurrection was thus the resurrection of all humanity and of all creation.” In short, if Jesus represents the whole universe, then Jesus’ destiny is the destiny of the whole universe. Parry also takes a couple of paragraphs to say that biblical depictions of Jesus as the temple and high priest, given the cosmic cast of temple and priesthood, supports this linkage as well.[24]

This article is in deep sympathy with Parry’s arguments. His arguments have something of a precedent in the work of Maximus the Confessor, and other patristic sources that tend to see humanity as a microcosm of creation.[25] But, as mentioned, he only puts forth a few paragraphs, and tends to abstract from the biblical text – these amount to sketches of arguments that need development. Also, Parry does not define resurrection, and perhaps as a result, does not deal with whether the creation can be said to experience death. If the destiny of Christ and creation are linked in this way, then one would expect him to speak of the death of creation as well. But, he does not. We will return to this question in the third part of the article. For now, note that Parry applies the term resurrection to creation because the creation is unified to Christ.

The second reason that scholars refer to the resurrection of creation has to do with a strategy for describing the characteristics of new creation. Descriptions of the resurrected human body as well as the divine action of resurrection are being mined to describe the new creation as well as the acts by which the creation is renewed. Moltmann says that “a resurrection of nature will not lead to the next world, but into the this-worldliness of the new creation of all things.”[26] After mentioning the resurrection of creation, Forman summarizes his argument that, in I Corinthians, Christian believers are to “live transformed lives in the present because the future inheritance of ‘the kingdom of God’ will be a physical, embodied world.”[27] As seen above, for Torrance, the resurrection of Christ’s body ensures that the creation’s physicality will not be lost. Wright emphasizes that the resurrection is the “prototype” of the new creation in order to argue that new creation retains characteristics of the old creation even as the old creation is transformed: “You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire . . . all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”[28] Note how close Wright comes to saying that the new creation is a result of its having undergone resurrection. He does not quite get there, but the language converges toward that usage. In any case, as a source of the final eschatological renewal of creation, resurrection ensures that the new creation is in continuity with the old creation, especially insofar as both are physical, embodied realities. This is true for all of these scholars, but especially so for Wright and Middleton.

Prudential reasons why resurrection is not applied even more to the new creation

            Given all of this, why is the language of resurrection not more readily applied to the creation? Neither Wright nor Middleton argue against applying the term resurrection to creation, and Middleton risks it in that one instance. But, why not more? The first reason probably has to do with the fact that the biblical texts do not explicitly articulate phrases such as “the raising of creation” or “the resurrection of creation” or the like. Thus, many tend to think of human death and resurrection as a metaphor or analogy for creational renewal which helps maintain both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new creation. In accord with this, Mark Stephens concludes with regard to John of Patmos’s language in Revelation, “it must be remembered that it is our metaphor, not John’s.” [29] Most of these scholars work within a commitment to ecumenical creeds and confessions, and thus this would be too risky to affirm without explicit argumentation. Indeed, using a neologism like “the resurrection of creation” literally should be brought to the surface of discussion and supported through explicit argumentation. Other than the brief points from Moltmann, Torrance and Parry mentioned above, the author of this article could not find explicit argumentation supporting an interchangeable and non-metaphorical usage of renewal and resurrection. Without that argumentation, there will no doubt be some prudent hesitancy to use this language.

            There is also a second possible reason for why resurrection is not more readily applied to the creation, which will be considered in the third main section of the article. While this author cannot find arguments for maintaining a parallel or metaphoric grammar (it is asserted, not argued), there does seem to be one conceptual barrier. We will find this barrier in Middleton and Wright, and it may apply to others as well.

This first main section of the article points out that a practice has emerged among some scholars: creational renewal and resurrection have become interchangeable in certain contexts. This arises from a commitment to a unity between the resurrected Jesus Christ and the cosmos and also empowers certain claims about the contours of cosmic renewal. Part of the point of this article is simply to bring the emergence of this grammar forward, so that it can be thoroughly debated and evaluated. This article agrees that the resurrection of Christ and other human beings – as described in Scripture – does provide the most important resource for identifying both God’s action on the whole creation at the return of Jesus Christ and the characteristics of the new creation. However, none of these scholars call attention to whether the term resurrection should or should not be applied to the creation as a whole. No argument has been offered either against or explicitly in support of this shift in grammar. In order to address this need, the following section uses a form of theological exegesis in support of this interchangeable grammar.

Theological Exegesis of I Cor. 15 and Revelation 21-2: Resurrection and Renewal

            In this section, the article articulates a line of theological exegesis in support of the claim that the terms resurrection and renewal can be used interchangeably with regard to the end of human beings and the whole creation. At the very least, this section makes such a change plausible and worthy of deeper debate within biblical studies and systematic theology. The following argument takes advantage of an approach doctrinal argument offered by David Yeago’s influential essay “The New Testament and the Nicene Dogma: A Contribution to the Recovery of Theological Exegesis.”[30] Yeago does not address the relationship between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the telos of the creation. Instead, his argument concerns how the Nicene formula homousion “is neither imposed on the New Testament texts, not distantly deduced from the texts, but, rather describes a pattern of judgments present in the texts, in the texture of scriptural discourse concerning Jesus and the God of Israel.”[31] Yeago argues that doctrine seeks to articulate unity between the patterns of the New Testament texts and the Nicene tradition at the level of judgments, not concepts. For example, a professional psychiatrist can describe a person as having bipolar disorder and a relative without psychological training can describe the same person as deeply troubled. Both are making the same judgment about the same person – only in different discourses, with different concepts attached to those discourses. In another example, a chemist might judge that a container filled with liquid is filled with H20, and someone not familiar with chemistry’s Latin-based periodic table and approach to chemical bonding would just say it is filled with water (English) or agua (Spanish) or Wasser (German) or another commonplace word in ordinary language. Just so, the New Testament and the Nicene tradition are making the same judgment about one layer of the identity of Jesus Christ, with different concepts in different discourses.

However, the contribution of Yeago’s essay is not simply about the relation of later creedal formulations to the New Testament. He also offers a way of doing exegesis that is canonical without eliminating important differences between texts. He asserts very strongly that “the only possible way of investigating the content and unity of biblical teaching” is to search for “unifying common judgments which may be rendered in very diverse ways, attempting to redescribe or re-render those judgments so as to do justice to the significance of their various articulations across the range of the canon.”[32] He argues that neglecting this distinction creates insurmountable difficulties for identifying the unity between the various biblical discourses on that matter. On the one hand, interpreters will try to argue that texts have the same concepts. On the other hand, without the clear distinction between concepts and judgments, more honest interpreters will need to acknowledge that each text has its own conceptual structure that cannot be subordinated to other texts and concepts.[33]

How does this analysis work? In order to affirm that the same judgment is being made in different discourses, Yeago compares expressions of a judgment in three ways.[34] First, who are the “logical subjects of which predicates are affirmed and denied”? Second, what is “the logical type of the particular predicates affirmed or denied within the conceptual idioms they employ”? Third, what is “the point or function of their affirmations or denials within their respective contexts of discourse”? If the entities bearing the assertions are the same, what they are doing or undergoing is the same or virtually so, and the intended results of these assertions are very similar, then the same judgment is being made in different concepts and contexts.

With regard to resurrection and renewal, then, what is the common judgment being made in I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21-22? The resurrection is a divine action on creatures that experience death. More particularly, resurrection is God’s action whereby God reconstitutes the material form of an entity after death, resulting in said entity living in or as that new material form. This judgment is explicitly expressed as resurrection in I Corinthians 15, and implicitly expressed with renewal language in Revelation 21-22. In both sets of texts, God reconstitutes the material form of an entity after death. In I Corinthians, this happens primarily to human bodies. In Revelation 21-22, this happens primarily to the creation as a whole. The following subsections will utilize Yeago’s three criteria in order to establish that this same judgment is being made in these two contexts.

            Logical subjects in I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21-22

            What are the logical subjects in play in both of these texts, with regard to resurrection and renewal? In I Corinthians 15, three subjects are mentioned as performing resurrection. The first subject is God (15.15, 27, 28, 38, 57) or God the Father (15.24), who raises bodies. The second subject is Jesus Christ, who hands over the kingdom to God the Father (24), subjects everything to God the Father (15.24-28), and is the spirit who makes others alive (45). The third subject is the Spirit, who enlivens resurrected bodies (15.44).[35] (Other subjects are listed, but not with regard to this range of action.) In Revelation 21 and 22, a similar list of subjects occurs. God is the subject who is “seated on the throne” and says, “See, I am making all things new” (21.5). The Lamb is also subject, the one sits on the throne with God (22.3), and who is coming (22.7, 12, 20, crossed with 22.20 “Come Lord Jesus” and 2.16, 3.11).[36]

The text also alludes to the Spirit’s sustaining of the new creation (22.6, 22.5).[37] So far, the subjects with regard to resurrection and renewal are the same in I Corinthians 15 and Rev. 21-22. Other subjects appear in Revelation – such as nations, the seer, and the angel – but these subjects are not identified as performing this range of action.

Predication in I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21-22

            What are the predicates of resurrection and renewal? It will help to distinguish the valency or objects of the action from the action itself. Who or what are the objects of the actions in I Corinthians 15? First, the resurrected Jesus Christ who had died and was buried (15.4, 5-8). The second series of objects are “the dead” (15.12, 13, etc.), which includes “those who belong to Christ” (15.23) or a much wider group (“as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ,” 15.22, 35-58 for multiple references). The third valency is all of creation (“so that God may be all in all,” 28; “all things,” 27, 28; “kingdom of God,” 50), in which death and the rest of God’s enemies are destroyed (24-26).[38]

Who or what are the objects of actions in Revelation 21-22? As already mentioned, the Lamb plays a central role, and has already been clearly identified in the opening moves of the book as resurrected and ascended from the dead (21.5, 1.5). The second series of objects are human beings (“See, the home of God is among humankind,” 21.3), especially those who experience death (21.4), are “thirsty” (21.6), who will “inherit these things” (21.7), and so forth. Most, perhaps all, of these thirsty and victorious human beings are identified in the previous chapter as having been resurrected (20.5-6) or coughed up from the sea of the dead (20.13). The third object is of course the new heavens and new earth, but almost of all of the action is centered on the “holy city” or the “new Jerusalem” (21.2) which comes out of heaven from God. This new heavens and new earth comes only after first heaven and earth and the “first things” have “passed away” (21.1, 4). In the whole course of the vision, the new Jerusalem also overlaps with the human object, given that kings and nations will bring their glory into the new Jerusalem (22.24, 26), as well as its being another description of the multitude in Revelation 7.

In both sets of texts, then, Jesus Christ, other human bodies, and the creation receive a reconstitution of their physical lives after their death. This can described as resurrection or as being made new, depending on the context. Although there are different conceptualities and a different discourse – I Cor. 15 is more about human beings and Rev. 21-22 is more about the whole cosmos – it is at least plausible, if not more so, that the same objects are in play with regard to renewal and resurrection.

How do the actions compare? What are the ways that each set of texts expresses the action in which God reconstitutes physical lives after death? In I Corinthians 15, the actions can be considered under two headings: the action itself and the results of that action. First, resurrection is expressed through five words or processes: ἐγείρω (most common, v. 4, 12, 13, etc. – 19x, lit. raised up or roused up), ζῳοποιέω (v. 22, 36, 45 – 3x, lit. make alive), ἀνάστασις (v.12, 13, 21, 42- 4x, lit. stood up), and καταργέω (bring to an end, v. 26, once with regard to death but also with regard to powers in v. 24), and a process of being sown and raised (36ff). While other results of the process will be explored below, it will be important to note the results of the process of being sown and raised, since this is the chief means by which Paul describes the resulting attributes of the resurrected body. He draws five contrasts between the sown body and the raised up body. The sown body is perishable, and the raised body is imperishable. The sown body is in dishonor, and the raised body has a new glory. The sown body has weakness, and the raised body has power. The sown body is physical, and the raised body is spirited. Finally, the sown body bears an image to the body of Adam – the man of dust, and the raised body bears the image of the man of heaven – Jesus Christ. (42-29). There are other results (such as inheritance), to which the article will return.

            In Revelation 21-22, similar to I Corinthians 15, there is a distinction between the action and the results. The action is twofold. First, there is preparation. The new creation is prepared through judgment – the first heaven and first earth (21.1) or the first things (21.4) have departed. The bride itself is also prepared. Second, and most importantly, this prepares for what the seer sees: “the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21.2). Key in this regard is the “coming down out of heaven from God,” an action completed by the dwelling of God on the earth. After the twofold action, the results occur. Richard Bauckham notes that the attributes of the new creation, such as glory or holiness or liveliness, are the results of the “eschatological presence of God,” or God’s new “immediate presence.”[39] What are the changes that occur as a result of God’s presence? God removes death (4), “wipes away” tears (4), gives “water as spring of life” (4), gives himself as the God of those who inherit these things (3,7), shares the glory of God with the Lamb as the lamp that distributes that glory (11, 23), protects from evil (27, 22.3) and others (which will be mentioned below).

            How do these actions and results compare? While Revelation 21-22 does not utilize the Greek words that Paul uses to express resurrection in I Corinthians 15, there are two important similarities which justify interpreting Revelation 21-22 as teaching the resurrection of creation. The first similarity is that death is reversed or eliminated in the cosmos in both texts. As noted above, among the many metaphors being utilized in I Corinthians 15, Paul describes resurrection as bringing death to an end (καταργέω).[40]It is important to notice where this happens in the text. It comes in the second section of the text, verses 12-34, where he points out the futility of Christian faith without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the connection of the general resurrection to Christ’s own. As part of this, he offers a kind of basic plotline, even a diachronic timeline.[41] In sum, the order is something like this: 1) Christ is resurrected, 2) other human beings are resurrected at his second coming, 3) Christ brings his enemies to an end, including death, 4) all things (πάντα), meaning all of creation,[42] are brought into subjection to God, and 5) then the handing of the kingdom to the Father. It is important to note that the bringing of death to an end is a cosmic action, the last and greatest defeat of God’s enemies that allows for all things to be subjected to God. Bringing an end to death in the cosmos is Paul’s way of expressing the resurrection of creation. Human beings are, of course, caught up in that bringing death to an end. But death is being brought to an end in all things, so that all things can be subjected to God.[43] Given the universal context of Paul’s description of this ending of death, the creation is also the object of that resurrection.

Similarly, in Revelation 21-22, death “will not be” (21.4) throughout the new heavens and new earth. In this series of visions, death and hades have already been thrown into a lake of fire (20.14), and now the dwelling of God through the coming down of the holy city makes it clear that death will no longer be in that city. The immediate context is that God will dwell with human beings, and they will be God’s people, and that God will wipe tears from eyes. So, the context indicates that human death will be eliminated. However, God is making all things new by eliminating death throughout the whole city. Many commentators suggest that the water of life signifies God’s life (which, again, also refers obliquely to the Holy Spirit).[44] The tree of life can be taken to be the final divine gift of wisdom or the life given to others as they participate in fruit of Christ’s death.[45] Multiple meanings of this figurative language are quite possible, along these and other lines. The point here is that the sources of abundant life, which death undercuts, are found throughout this city that encompasses heaven and earth. Richard Bauckham reminds that “the imagery suggests that as God’s gift of mortal life is mediated to us by this creation of which we are a part, so eschatological life will be mediated by the new creation.”[46] God’s presence brings life to a place, a garden, a city with grandiose images of nonhuman biological life. This takes up Isaiah’s description of the new creation.  In city of Revelation, God’s life pulses throughout all that makes up the new creation in Isaiah, including plants and other creatures as Isaiah describes (see Isaiah 60.21, 65.21-25). The whole of material creation no longer has any marks of death, because God’s life has been given in a new way.

In Revelation 21-22, death will not be in all of the cosmos because it does not fit with God’s dwelling. In I Corinthians, death is brought to an end throughout the cosmos as a culmination of God’s war with God’s enemies. Each text uses a different idiom, but each text has God acting upon the cosmos to rid it of death.

A second key similarity has to do with the resulting characteristics of the resurrected human body. In I Corinthians 15, Paul uses inheritance language in order to express what human beings are receiving in being resurrected: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable . . . for this perishable body must put on imperishability” (50, 53). In part, Paul is saying that resurrected human beings are inheriting resurrected bodies that have the property of being imperishable. But Paul also makes clear that the kingdom that is inherited by resurrected human beings also has the property of being imperishable. In light of Romans 4.13, biblical scholars claim in increasing numbers that Paul regarded Christ’s fulfillment of God’s promise to “inherit the world” to include the cosmos.[47] Thus, Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner interpret I Corinthians 15.50 along these lines, “the promises about the land are swallowed up in resurrection teaching so that all that was hoped for in terms of the restoration of Israel to the land and the restoration of the land (and all of creation) to an Edenic condition now finds its ultimate consummation in the resurrection of the dead and the complete renewal of creation that accompanies it.” [48] This interpretation can be formalized in the following way. According to Paul, human beings, when they receive resurrection, are inheriting something imperishable. That must include resurrected bodies, given the larger context of I Cor. 15.53ff. Yet, human beings with imperishable resurrected bodies are also inheriting the kingdom of God, which is best interpreted as the cosmos, in accord with many exegetes. Paul also says that this kingdom is imperishable. Thus, Paul is saying that resurrected human beings are inheriting not only their imperishable bodies but an imperishable cosmos. God’s act of resurrection, then, is how God gives an imperishable inheritance – both imperishable bodies and an imperishable cosmos – to Jesus Christ and those united to Christ.[49]         

Revelation 21-22 also contains the language of inheritance, and it functions in a similar way. However, the cosmic range of inheritance is much more explicitly described. The seer affirms that “Those who conquer will inherit these things” (21.7). “These things” mean the New Jerusalem as a whole, including the water of life immediately preceding this text and the belonging to God’s family indicated afterward. As Simon Kistemaker comments on this text: “We as followers of Christ inherit all the blessings of a new heaven and a new earth . . . whereas Jesus inherits all things, we as co-heirs share in all his blessings.”[50] While Revelation does not use the term imperishable, the cosmos, being saturated with the water of life, is a place where death is no more.  One difference seems to be that I Corinthians leans into the receptive meaning of inheritance, while Revelation 21-22 includes the aspect of active rule more directly. Inheritance is adoption language, and does not simply refer to the reception of property, but the responsibilities that go along with being someone who is given care over that property for the sake of others.[51] In other words, the seer emphasizes that those who belong to the city will “reign there forever” (22.5).[52] In Paul, resurrected human beings with imperishable bodies inherit an imperishable kingdom or cosmos. For the seer in Revelation, those who conquer (i.e. those who are resurrected, especially those who die at the hands of empire) will inherit these things, all the things of the renewed New Jerusalem (i.e. the resurrected cosmos). For both texts, God’s act of resurrection, then, is how God gives an inheritance – both resurrected bodies and a resurrected cosmos – to Jesus Christ and those united to Christ.

Functions of the discourses within I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21-22

It is important to discuss briefly the function of both of these discourses. Given the ultimate frame of both discourses, it is not surprising that both of them provide at least implicit warnings to their readers that they need to avoid certain kinds of habits. Both sets of discourses are meant to counter an attraction to what Ben Witherington calls an “imperial ideology,” in which order and rule come not from the Father and Son, or God on the throne and the Lamb, but from the emperor and the empire itself.[53] Paul explicitly mentions eating in I Corinthians, which suggests that this imperial ideology is learned, in part, through dining at temples.[54] Just so, a couple of the recipient churches of Revelation are known to have an attraction to the lordship of the empire, including worshipping at the temples of “demons” (9.20).[55] In order to counter this practice, both discourses have clear calls to worship God, instead of the demons and the emperor. Paul implicitly asks the Corinthians to give thanks to God near the end of I Corinthians 15 (15.57), and at the very end of the letter utters Maranatha just after proclaiming a curse on all who do not love the Lord (16.22). The call to worship is even stronger in Revelation 21-22, where the seer uses a stock image of mistakenly worshipping an angel to make the point that only God is to be worshipped.[56] But, it is striking that the only other place that Maranatha, albeit in a Greek form, is found in the NT is at the end of Revelation. The coming of the resurrected Lord, along with all its effects, is meant to foster a desire overflowing into a petition for Jesus to return. Lastly, both discourses aim to bolster constancy in the spreading of the Gospel. At the end of I Corinthians 15, Paul emphasizes they are to be “steadfast” and “immovable” in “the work of the Lord” (15.58) including proclaiming the gospel that he mentions at the outset of this discourse (15.1-2). In Revelation 21-22, when the seer mentions that “those who conquer will inherit these things” (21.7), he is implicitly calling both those who are capitulating to the empire and those who suffer under its rule to the work of conquering. The work of conquering happens “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death” (12.11). Both discourses have overlapping functions, funded by the same judgment.

A possible conceptual reason why resurrection is not applied even more to the new creation

Given these exegetical arguments put forth in support of “the resurrection of creation,” it will be helpful to consider to whether there is some conceptual resistance to this change. As noted above, no one has offered any argument against this kind of grammar. The first main section of the article showed that the aims of a number of scholars motivate them to make resurrection and creational renewal interchangeable. However, this not a particularly prevalent claim. Thus, we will return to Middleton and Wright’s conceptualization of resurrection and creational renewal in order to consider why it is not more prevalent. Is this simply an inconsistency born of prudence? Or is there a conceptual barrier, such that their respective ways of conceptualizing resurrection and final creational renewal should not overlap in some way?

As mentioned in the first section of the article, scholars have converged toward affirming the resurrection of creation because they want to draw on the resurrection of Christ and other human beings in order to fund their descriptions of the process and results of new creation. One of the chief outcomes of that appeal for someone like Middleton, is that the resurrection provides a ground for claiming that the creation is not destroyed at the eschaton. In the single instance when Middleton writes that the cosmos will be raised, it is in the context of interpreting Hebrews 12.26-29, which refers to the promise that God will “shake not only the earth but also heaven.” He wants to counter readings which conclude that “God’s cosmic shakeup will obliterate the created order … replaced by an unshakeable ‘spiritual kingdom’” or which construe this transition as “the end/disappearance/removal of the old to be replaced with something absolutely new.”[57] To make this argument, Middleton appeals to Paul’s statement that “we will all be changed” (I Cor. 15.51), such that the resurrection involves the human body being disrobed of its mortality or perishability and being robed with immortality or imperishability (referring to I Cor. 15.53).[58] Thus, Hebrews 12.26-29 cannot mean that the new creation has to do with “transcending the created world” after its “destruction.”[59] Middleton concludes: “While Hebrews 12 affirms that the present cosmos is indeed subject to decay and transience, just as our bodies are, the biblical hope is that cosmos, just like the body, will be raised imperishable.”[60] In short, for Middleton, the resurrected body cannot be described as the result of our current bodies being annihilated, obliterated or destroyed and then replaced. Thus, neither will the creation be destroyed and then replaced. Perhaps, then, Middleton does not want to say that the creation dies, because that may create some justification for saying that this creation is destroyed at the eschaton. Perhaps he would want to maintain the resurrection as only a metaphor for renewal in order to avoid affirming that creation will die and thus may perhaps be destroyed.

A similar possibility occurs with Wright. For Wright, resurrection is a divine action upon human bodies, with particular results.[61] When God resurrects, God does not abandon bodies.[62] Instead, in resurrection, God transforms, God redeems, God saves, God defeats death, and God induces new birth for human bodies.[63] Wright claims that God’s resurrecting action results in “someone physically, thoroughly dead becoming physically, thoroughly alive again.”[64] In sum, for Wright, resurrection is God revivifying and making incorruptible the bodily existence of dead persons in order to restore human beings to God’s purposes.[65] With regard to creational renewal, Wright describes the divine action with the same verbs mentioned above: lack of abandonment, redemption, salvation, etc.[66] For example, Wright describes creational renewal as “the rescue of creation from its present plight of decay”[67] or “God’s victorious transformation of the whole cosmos.”[68] Creation renewal results in “the eventual new world of justice and incorruptible life,”[69] which includes space, time, and matter.[70] For Wright, then, cosmic renewal is God making incorruptible the physical existence of all creation in order to restore that creation to God’s purposes. Again, this is a remarkably similar definition to resurrection, except that it does not include revivifying what has died. Resurrection, as with Middleton, indicates that someone has died.[71] As we saw in the first section, Wright wants to avoid saying that the creation will be rolled off a cliff or thrown into a destructive fire.[72] Perhaps Wright too does not want to say that the creation is resurrected because it would indicate that the whole cosmos dies – an idea that he resists.

This unstated objection fits with how their work is rhetorically positioned within discussions in biblical scholarship about the destruction of creation. Scholars such as Edward Adams are willing to say that certain texts – such as 2 Peter 3.10 (“the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise . . . the elements will be dissolved with fire”) – refer to a coming “physical catastrophe” that results in “the total destruction of the created cosmos.”[73] As Mark Stephens writes, this text has the creation “dissolved first, melted down into virtual nothingness, after which a new creation will come into being.”[74] Yet, both Adams and Stephens deny that this means an “annihilation” or a new “creation ex nihilo.”[75] At the same time, Adams suggests that Romans 8.18-25 depicts a different end in which “non-destructive (yet radical) transformation of the existing creation” occurs, as opposed to total destruction. Likewise, Stephens argues, in his monograph Annihilation or Renewal, that the Book of Revelation envisages not an annihilation and replacement of the creation, but “an eschatological renewal of the present cosmos.”[76] Against this, N.T. Wright argues persistently that all of the New Testament writers are best interpreted as affirming that “the transition from the present world to the new one would be matter not of the destruction of the present space-time universe but of its radical healing.”[77] As seen above, Middleton agrees with Adams and Stephens that the old creation is not annihilated. But, like Wright, he will not use the word destruction to describe the end of creation. Instead, Middleton will consistently argue that biblical metaphors that imply destruction into “transformation.”[78] For example, in relation to Revelation 21 referring to the passing away of the first heaven and first earth, he states that “the question is whether this is obliteration followed by replacement or a reference to some form of (admittedly radical) transformation.”[79] For Middleton and Wright the choice is between affirming obliteration/annihilation or radical transformation. Since destruction would fall into the first category, they will not use it as a description. That rhetorical positioning may make them disinclined to affirm the death and resurrection of creation, because death would be a destruction of creation.

In sum, both Wright and Middleton may be resistant to saying more readily and persistently that the creation is resurrected because they do not want to indicate that the whole creation dies. If they say that the creation dies, then, for them, that may not be consistent with saying that the creation is not destroyed as part or precursor of its renewal. Others may be similarly hesitant.

A number of responses are in order. First, there is a fair amount of lexical evidence that John of Patmos was indeed teaching the future death of the cosmos. In 21.1 and 21.4, the verb translated as “passed away” in many English Bibles (as in “the first earth had passed away” and “the first things have passed away”) is ἀπέρχομαι. The same sense of ἀπέρχομαι can just as easily be translated as “go away” or “depart.” As such, this sense of ἀπέρχομαι can and has been used to name death. A form of ἀπέρχομαι with this sense is used at Genesis 5.15 in the Septuagint: “You, however, will go away to (ἀπέρχομαι) your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.” Likewise, the Septuagint at Job 7.21 is similar: “For I will soon go away (ἀπέρχομαι) into the earth; you will search for me, but I will be no more.” Biblical scholars disagree about whether John utilized the Septuagint, but the point is that this word in this sense can be used to name death.[80] Just so, at John 16.7, the Gospel has Jesus stating that “it is to your advantage that I go away (ἀπέρχομαι), for if I do not go away (ἀπέρχομαι), the Advocate will not come to you.” I am not arguing here that the full range of meanings of ἀπέρχομαι should be imported into each occurrence of the term – the contextual use of a term establishes what lexical range is in play.[81] Yet, this particular sense of ἀπέρχομαι (and other senses as well, such as can be found in the LXX at Gen. 3.19 or Job 1.21) can be used to describe death. Thus, the argument in the second section above should lead us to conclude that ἀπέρχομαι describes the death of the cosmos in Revelation 21, given that it denotes death in other settings.

Also, if death and resurrection apply to both human beings and to the whole cosmos, then it is not a problem to use destruction or annihilation language to describe what happens to the cosmos at the eschaton. For example, Paul Griffiths defines human death, in part, as an “annihilation” or as having “come to nothing.”[82] Griffiths uses a word – annihilation – that Stephens, Adams, Wright and Middleton have rejected as applicable to the end of creation, despite their differences. Griffiths uses this word because, for him, human beings are defined by flesh or bodies.[83] If a human body ceases to function, then the human person constituted by that body no longer exists. Traces of a human being can exist without a body, but not the human creature as such. Resurrection, then, is an act of reversal whereby a creature is, among other things, “reconstituted so that the world once again contains it.”[84] Indeed, this fits with the one of the images Paul uses in I Corinthians 15 for the general death and resurrection. When Paul calls our current embodied form a “bare seed” that issues in the new plant of a resurrection body (I Cor 15. 36ff), that is annihilation. The seed, as the seed, will no longer exist if a new plant grows from its elements. It must be destroyed for the new plant and its grain to come to be. The seed, as the seed, will come to nothing. Human bodies qua human bodies will come to nothing, and so the persons constituted by those bodies come to nothing. Just so, the old creation, like human bodies, will come to nothing as the old creation, be destroyed and annihilated, and then be reconstituted. In the language of Revelation 22, it will pass away and then made new. Yes, there is continuity, but it is like the continuity between a seed that has been destroyed and the plant that arises in its place.[85]

Furthermore, when scholars such as Wright and Middleton pit destruction/annihilation and cosmic renewal against each other, they are strangely undercutting their own construal of human death. If God’s renewal of creation implies that creation is not destroyed because the resurrection of Jesus is the “prototype,” then that would mean that God’s resurrection of human bodies implies that human beings are not destroyed in death.[86] However, Middleton will refer to death as “the cessation of one’s physical existence” such that the dead “do not do anything.”[87] Likewise, Wright has defined death as, in part, “the dissolution of the human being.”[88] Both Middleton and Wright conceive of death in these ways because, for them, similar to Griffiths, human beings are, at least in part, constituted by their bodies.[89] Furthermore, the resurrection is evidence for them that human beings are constituted by their bodies.[90] They are right in this. The resurrection of the body and other biblical teachings indicate that human beings are constituted by their bodies; thus, resurrection also indicates that human death is the cessation of human life. Thus, there is a deep inconsistency in appealing to the resurrection for a non-destructive continuity between old and new creation, given that resurrection is the reconstituting of human life that has been destroyed in death. Thinkers who have the habit of pitting cosmic destruction and renewal against one another may respond that resurrection and renewal are too dissimilar for this to be a problem, but then that would undercut their use of resurrection as a prototype of cosmic renewal. It is better to recognize that the creation is resurrected in Christ, and that this resurrection is a reconstitution of the creation after its death. This will only secure the claim that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the prototype of cosmic renewal. For the resurrection is the reconstitution of Jesus Christ’s destroyed body, and thus the reconstitution of Jesus Christ’s destroyed human life.


I have argued that the church can fittingly confess that the whole of material creation is resurrected in Christ. The language of renewal and resurrection are not simply in parallel such that they are analogous to one another or metaphors for each other. Instead, this language is interchangeable within the context of creatures that have experienced death. If renewal and resurrection are relatively interchangeable, then theologians and biblical scholars can and should appeal to the death and resurrection of Christ and other human beings in order to describe the continuities and discontinuities of the new creation in relation to the old. However, if renewal and resurrection are put in parallel such that they are a metaphor for one another, arguments ensue as to whether renewal and resurrection are alike in a particular way, and what justifies such an appeal. However, this article argues that the preachers and the church’s doctrinal proclamations can and should do proclaim with more confidence the death and resurrection of the creation because doing so provides a more exuberant witness to Christ who is the firstborn of all creation. Doing so also follows in the train of the apostle Paul and John of Patmos.

At the very least, we will need to argue more extensively about whether the creation is resurrected in Christ, within both theological and biblical registers. For example, future arguments will need to reckon with the numerical identity of nonhuman constituents of the new creation. Aquinas states the problem nicely, “what is returned altogether to nothingness cannot be taken up again with numerical identity; this will be the creation of a new thing rather than the restoration of an identical thing.”[91] For Aquinas, human beings can be said to be resurrected because “none of man’s essential principles yields entirely to nothingness in death . . . for the rational soul which is man’s form remains after death.”[92] On Aquinas’ account, a tree does not have a rational soul that remains after death, and so it comes to nothing.[93] At best, a tree could be copied, not resurrected. One important layer in the response to this question will be whether there are biblical texts that could or should be interpreted as including nonhuman constituents such as plants and animals in the new creation. One case in point is the language in Isaiah 65 where fruit (vs 21), wolves and lambs (vs. 25) are named. Those could be copies, of course, and thus not subjects of resurrection. In order to interpret these plants and animals mentioned in Isaiah as resurrected organisms, those committed to a Thomist hylomorphism may need to modify that metaphysic. More specifically, perhaps animal and plant forms (as opposed to the matter they form) could be construed to survive physical death, at least as traces of themselves. Those with other metaphysical commitments, such as substance dualism, would likely require other kinds of responses. None of this can be adjudicated here, but these negotiations and others like them will be needed in the future if the resurrection of creation is to be more fully affirmed.

For citation:

“What is Good for Christ is Good for the Cosmos: Affirming the Resurrection of Creation,” Pro Ecclesia 30, no. 1 (February 2021).

[1] The argument of the article is limited to what the Gospel of John refers to as “the resurrection of life,” as opposed to the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5.29). The cosmos is resurrected unto life along with the church of Christ.

[2] Paul Blowers summarizes all of the patristic evidence in this way: “the ultimate prevailing conviction East and West was that, whatever the constitution of this new order, the original creation was not to be rendered null and void” (Drama of the Divine Economy: Creator and Creation in Early Christian Theology and Piety [Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012], 239). See also Brian Daley, The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 218-219. Herman Bavinck points to a range of thinkers from the patristic period into the 19th century who have various perspectives on the character and reality of the new creation in Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church and New Creation, Volume 4 of Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 716-718. Richard Middleton surveys the history as well, and is not willing to be quite so sanguine about the results in the patristic period in A New Heaven and a New Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 283-312. Mark Stephens surveys the field of biblical scholarship in the modern period in Annihilation or Renewal: The Meaning and Function of New Creation in the Book of Revelation (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 3-8.

[3] Paul J. Griffiths, Decreation: The Last Things of All Creatures (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014), 39.

[4] Within Roman Catholicism, see “Hope of the New Heaven and New Earth,” in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd. edn. (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012).  Within Protestantism in America for example, see the following statements: Evangelical Lutheran Church, Caring for Creation, Aug. 28, 1993; Presbyterian Church [USA], Keeping and Healing the Creation, 1989; American Baptist Churches, American Baptist Policy Statement on Ecology, 1989; Christian Reformed Church, Our World Belongs to God, 1986. Within Orthodoxy, see the liturgical affirmations surveyed in Elizabeth Theokritoff, Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 170-180. See also Elizabeth Theokritoff, “Embodied Word and New Creation: Some Modern Orthodox Insights Concerning the Material World,” in John Behr, Andrew Louth, and Dmitri Conomos, eds., Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 221-238.

[5]The claim is not limited to what the Bible refers to as the new earth because the argument concerns anything in the new creation that experiences death. This maintains a correspondence to the biblical usage of these terms, as described recently by Robin Parry: “Occasionally the Bible will nuance the language of “heaven” to distinguish the different heavens. Thus, for instance, we hear of “God’s heaven” [Psalm 115.16, Lam. 3.66] and the “highest heaven,” [I Kings 8.27] and Matthew’s Gospel distinguishes between the plural “heavens” (where God dwells) and singular “heaven” [where birds and stars can be found]” (Robin Parry, The Biblical Cosmos [Eugene: Cascade Books/Wipf and Stock, 2014], 11). Thus, the argument of this article extends to what the Bible can often refer to as heaven, but perhaps not the highest heaven. However, I am not opposed to expanding this to angels and their dimension of reality, the highest heaven, if death can be shown to occur in this reality. 

[6] Middleton, A New Heaven, 310.

[7] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 93, cf. 91. See also: “What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (107).

[8] Ibid., 99. Compare also his statement that “God will redeem the whole universe; Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of that new life” (123).

[9] Ibid., 91, 97, 99, 107, 123, 129.

[10] Middleton, A New Heaven, 15.

[11] Ibid.,131.

[12] See the following representative statement: “resurrection is integrally connected to the restoration of earthly rule for the redeemed, and this rule is best understood as a fulfillment of the original human dignity of imago Dei. The earth is clearly the original context or environment for the exercise of the imago Dei, and this is also the implied context for the eschatological rule that accompanies the resurrection” (ibid., 155).

[13] Ibid., 206. Richard Bauckham also refers to resurrection and cosmic renewal as being “parallel” (The Theology of the Book of Revelation [Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993], 49).

[14] Ibid., 204.

[15] Mark Forman, The Politics of Inheritance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 242.

[16] Craig Koester, Revelation and the End of all Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 192.

[17] Thomas Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 155.

[18] Griffiths, 273.

[19] Ibid., 289. Griffiths’s main interlocutor on this question is Aquinas. Aquinas does not apply resurrection to plants and animals. Aquinas does, for a moment, compare the possibility of animals rising again to human resurrection – but only to argue that animals are not resurrected (Summa Theologica, Supplement, 91.5).

[20] See Jürgen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, Arise!: God’s Future for Human and the Earth, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), 68.

[21] Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection, 155.

[22] Griffiths, Decreation, 64-65. Griffiths asks about the telos of plants and animals: “…may they remain in the resurrection … joining there the resurrected flesh of the saints, the assumed flesh of Mary, and the ascended flesh of Jesus?” (273).

[23] Parry, Biblical Cosmos, 159.

[24] Ibid., 159-161.

[25] Maximus writes that “The universe, as a man, will then have perished in that which can be see, and it will be raised again – new from that which has grown old – at the resurrection that we presently await” (Maximus the Confessor, On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy, trans. Jonathan Armstrong [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2019], ch. 7,  p. 71). The resources mentioned in footnote 2 provide other leads, especially Blowers, 234-244. However, there is no survey available which tries to pull together a full range of sources on the question of whether it is appropriate to say that creation is resurrected.

[26] Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, 72. For other examples, see 67, 71, 73.

[27] Forman, Politics of Inheritance, 242. See also 216, 217, 242, 85, 119. In each of these instances, Forman stresses the material continuity between the old and new creation in Romans and I Corinthians.

[28] Surprised by Hope, 208.

[29] Annihilation or Renewal, 257. Biblical scholar Mark Stephens flags a number of other biblical scholars who refer to the possibility of using death and resurrection as a metaphor for the telos of the cosmos. See ibid., 257 n. 409.

[30] David Yeago, “The New Testament and the Nicene Dogma: A Contribution to the Recovery of Theological Exegesis”, in Stephen Fowl, ed. The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings, (Malden: Blackwell, 1997): 87-102.

[31] Ibid., 88.

[32] Ibid., 96.

[33] Ibid., 95-96.

[34] Ibid., 94-95.

[35] This follows N.T. Wright’s exegesis of this text (Resurrection of the Son of God [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003], 350-354).

[36] See Craig Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 838.

[37] That is, if the water of life is a way of talking about Spirit, as it is in John 7.38-39. Revelation does not state this explicitly, but comes close at 22.17 and 7.17.

[38] Note Gordon Fee’s comment: “the will of the one and only God will be supreme in every quarter and in every way. In Paul’s view this consummation of redemption includes the whole sphere of creation as well (cf. Rom. 3.19-22; Col.15-20) . . . at the death of death the final rupture in the universe will be healed and God alone will rule over all beings, banishing those who have rejected the divine offer of life and lovingly governing all those who by grace have entered into God’s ‘rest.’” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014], 841).  For other similar statements about the range of redemptive activity including all of creation: Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1236-1239; Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 778-779.

[39] Bauckham, Theology, 140-141.

[40] I Cor. 15.27.

[41] Biblical commentators have various ways of putting together the grammar and timing from vs. 23-28. One way is to lay out a kind of timeline as I have done, or as a series of consequences. Another way is to put all or some of these clauses in apposition to one another, through a synchronic reading. I am choosing one approach here, knowing that other approaches are also possible. If all of these events are to be interpreted as simultaneous and in apposition to one another, that would further strengthen my argument. See Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 229-1236 and Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 833-841 for an orientation to the options with regard to a diachronic or synchronic approaches. For example, it is perhaps most natural to read the “handing over” language and the “subjecting” language as simply synonymous.

[42] Richard B. Hays states clearly that “God has put all things (including death) under Christ’s feet” (First Corinthians [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011], 266).  See similar statements in other commentators: “we should think in the most comprehensive terms possible . . . the comprehensive submission of everything to Christ” (Ciampa and Rosner, First Letter to the Corinthians, 774); “all concerning concerns the domain of human as well as cosmic life” (Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1239, commenting on verse 28); “this consummation of redemption includes the whole sphere of creation as well” (Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 841, commenting on verse 28).

[43] Some readers may object that Paul’s claim that all things are made subject to God in Christ is imperialistic and colonizing. This cannot be sufficiently addressed here. However, one important starting point will be the recognition that the powers in first century Jewish thinking are regarded as taking authority that belongs both to God and other creatures (See Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015], chs. 10-15). Given that bodies are made imperishable by the Spirit in the resurrection (Romans 8.11), the resurrection is the final and definitive re-empowerment by the Spirit of those who suffer and die at the hands of the powers. To be imperishable is to be made impervious to powers that bring death. To be subject to God, then, is to give freely to God what God has given freely to creatures – one’s very life and power.

[44] Koester, Revelation: A New Translation, 799-800; Gregory Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 1056-1057; David Aune, Revelation 17-22 (Dallas: Word, 1998), 1128.

[45] Koester, Revelation: A New Translation, 823; Beale, Revelation, 1107-1108.

[46] Bauckham, Theology, 133.

[47] Thomas Schreiner states the following: “Paul envisions a future salvation that will engulf the entire cosmos and reverse and transcend the consequences of the fall” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 437 in Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan (England: Apollos, 2015), 137; “Paul is referring to a time when the heirs of Abraham will inherit the world, the eschatological world of a restored creation, an earth when the heirs of Abraham will reign” (Mark Forman, The Politics of Inheritance, 85); “Paul is concerned to show that the true inheritance of the people of God is the kosmos, or the whole earth. If Jesus is the Lord of creation, then Creation is the Inheritance” (James Hester, Paul’s Concept of Inheritance [Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1968], 83).

[48] First Letter to the Corinthians, 829.

[49] Andrew Johnson makes the following important point, drawing on Dale Martin’s description of Greco-Roman views of the body – influential in Corinth – as a microcosm of the universe: “If indeed the psychikon body is understood as a microcosm of the cosmos and as having all types of material substances coursing around and through it, to affirm the final redemption of all the human body’s elements would be to affirm the final redemption of all the elements of the cosmic body (and vice versa)” (Andrew Johnson, “Turning the World Upside Down in I Corinthians 15: Apocalyptic Epistemology, the Resurrected Body and the New Creation,” Evangelical Quarterly 2003 75, no. 4 [2003], 307.) Cf. Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale University Press), 16-18.

[50] Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 560. Craig Koester writes that “The inheritance of ‘these things’ includes a share in the new creation, New Jerusalem, deathless life, relationship with God, and the water of life” (Revelation: A New Translation, 800).

[51] See Trevor Burke, Adopted in God’s Family (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 60-71 and 96-98.

[52] At the same time, those who rule in the city are those who chose to undergo violence on its behalf (Revelation 12.11). Likewise, inheritance in Paul – inheritance to rule creation, that is – comes about when those united to Christ are enabled by the Spirit to hold to this inheritance “through the suffering of self-giving love, not violence” (Forman, Politics of Inheritance, 127). The inheritance and rule are the power that comes from self-giving to the object of love, not from violent enforcement or exclusion.

[53] Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 304-306.

[54] Ibid., 307. Richard Hays comments that “they themselves did not explicitly justify eating idol eat and gorging themselves at the Lord’s Supper by connecting these behaviors with their denial of the resurrection, but Paul suggests that there is a hidden inner connection” (First Corinthians, 268).

[55] Revelation 2.14 (Pergamum) and 2.20 (Thyatira). Koester asserts that this is similar to what’s happening in Corinth (Revelation: A New Translation, 468).

[56] The stock image is also used at 19.10. Koester notes that, given the references in 2.14 and 2.20, these images are meant as rhetorical device that increases his “credibility” with for whom “worship was an issue” (Koester, Revelation: A New Translation, 739).

[57] Middleton, 201-202.

[58] Ibid., 202.

[59] Ibid., 204.

[60] Ibid., 204.

[61] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 36 and 97.

[62] Ibid., 158.

[63] Ibid., 100-101, 147, 198, 15, 104.

[64] Ibid., 66. See also 36.

[65] Ibid., 156, 248.

[66] Ibid., 264, 101, 212, 198, 99.

[67] Ibid., 105.

[68] Ibid., 101.

[69] Ibid., 248.

[70] Ibid., 211-212.

[71] A similar result happens when we compare Middleton’s descriptions of resurrection and renewal. For Middleton, “resurrection is God’s restoration of human life to what it was meant to be” (154, cf. 218, 18). In addition, as he exegetes various biblical passages, he regularly refers to resurrection as “awakening from the dust” (139); “this reversal of death” (139); “coming back from the dead” (138) or “rising up from death” (141). Thus, for Middleton, resurrection seems to be God’s restoration of human life to what God intends by reversing death. Creational renewal, for Middleton, is God’s restoration of the creation to what God intends by removing the effects of sin. Interpreting Acts 3.21, he describes “the eschatological saving activity of God” as “restoration . . . applied as comprehensively as possible” (157). Restorative salvation, in turn, means that God “repairs what sin has marred” (157). He also summarizes creational renewal as the “comprehensive transformation of this world” (267). In both resurrection and creational renewal, God’s restores, transforms, and renews. The chief result of resurrection and final creational renewal is the same: both human bodies and the heavens and earth are made “imperishable” (204). The only difference seems to be that resurrection remedies death, while creational renewal does not.

[72] See Surprised by Hope, 96, 99, 100-101, 104, 162, 197-198 for more similar statements.

[73] Edward Adams, The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and its World (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2007), 1. Cf. 17.

[74] Stephens, Annihilation or Renewal, 137.

[75] Adams, The Stars Will Fall, 257.

[76] Stephens, Annihilation or Renewal, 2.

[77] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 122. See also 129, 194, 211-212.

[78] Middleton, A New Heaven, 197.

[79] Ibid., 205.

[80] See Koester, Revelation: A New Translation, 69, 123-125 for a discussion of whether the author of Revelation utilized the Septuagint.

[81] As is well-known, a common worry among scholars, especially biblical scholars, is to avoid what James Barr called an “illegitimate totality transfer,” or reading the whole of a lexical range of a word into each use of a word (The Semantics of Biblical Language [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961], 222).

[82] Griffiths, Decreation, 15.

[83] Ibid., 174ff.

[84] Ibid., 16.

[85] It is telling that all Middleton says about this image is that “one must die for the other to become a reality. But this is not simple replacement. Paul is careful to stress the continuity of identity between the seed (mortal body) and the plant (resurrection body)” (A New Heaven, 202). Middleton does not use the image to show that the creation is not annihilated or destroyed, because it will not help him do that.

[86] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 123, 208. Greg Beale comments that “renewal does not mean that there will be no literal destruction of the old cosmos, just as the renewed resurrection body does not exclude a similar destruction of the old” (Revelation, 1040). Again, this statement converges toward making the language of resurrection and renewal interchangeable while not quite getting there.

[87] Middleton, A New Heaven, 133-134.

[88] NT Wright, “Mind, Spirit, Soul and Body: All for One and One for All Reflections on Paul’s Anthropology in his Complex Contexts,” (paper presented at Society of Christian Philosophers: Regional Meeting, Fordham University, March 2011),

[89] Middleton, A New Heaven, 32 n. 30; idem, “Humans Created Mortal, with the Possibility of Eternal Life,” Sapientia periodical, May 17, 2018,; Wright, “Mind, Spirit and Body.”

[90] See Wright, “Mind, Spirit and Body”; Middleton, A New Heaven, 155-156.

[91] Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, 80 (7). Carol Walker Bynum has noted that this problem “had lurked in discussions of resurrection . . . at least since Celsus and Origen debated the consequences of material flux for immortality” (The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 [New York: Columbia University Press, 1995], 259).

[92] Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, 81 (6).

[93] For Aquinas, both the form and matter of plants and animals are corruptible and so they are, by definition, “in no way subjects of incorruption” (Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 91, A. 5).

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