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Paul says that creation was subjected to futility in Romans 8:20-21 ESV:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Who the one referred to by the phrase, "him who subjected it"?

The overall context of Romans suggests God, Adam and Satan as possible options.

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

God

If we read the entire sentence, we see that "him who subjected it" subjected it to futility.

"Subjected" here is the Greek word hypotassō, which means to "arrange" or "set in order" (reference).
"Futility" here is mataios which means "devoid of force", "useless", "vain" (reference)

So, "him who subjected it" is the one who [set it in order] of [vanity].

We can see quite clearly that it was God who set creation in the order of vanity and futility:

Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food
until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Furthermore, we can see this supported by a couple of verses in Isaiah:

Isaiah 2:5-6 (NIV)
5 The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.
6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.

In this passage we see that Adam and his descendants were the ones to violate the covenant (in verse 5), but it's the curse that consumes the earth. This is the same curse we see in Genesis 3 given by God. While humans bear the guilt of the curse, it was God who was the creator of the curse.

Summary

While as @Soldarnal answered, both Adam and God were responsible for subjecting the world (setting it in order) in the Garden of Eden, the one who subjected it to futility was God.

source and further reading

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The Isaiah passage seems to support Adam (and his decedents) rather than God as the defilers of the earth. I suppose it could be argued that God continues to allow the curse to consume the earth and is therefor the true force behind the defiling. Maybe you could expand on that? (But otherwise this is a clear and well researched answer. Thank you.) –  Jon Ericson Oct 7 '11 at 18:06
    
@JonEricson There we go. I threw a comment under the Isaiah verse to help illustrate that it does support God as the creator of the curse (even though humans bear the guilt of the curse). –  Richard Oct 7 '11 at 18:43
    
+1. While Soldarnal's answer is theologically correct, your answer is more exegetically precise: this is the divine passive. –  Kazark Apr 12 '12 at 20:59
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Apparently, Adam's sin of disobedience is what subjected the earth to futility

Genesis 3:17-19 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Also, in Romans 5, Paul talks about how sin/death entered the world through Adam and how Jesus is that hope that will turn that curse around - which is very near the same context as Romans 8 when speaking of ..in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned

and

Romans 5:21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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The words "in hope" strongly suggest that it was God who subjected the world to futility. Adam seems to lack not only the power to subject the world in such manner, but also he had no plan of hope. Satan, though perhaps powerful enough, is also an unlikely candidate to have subjected the world to futility in hope, especially in the hope of setting it free. In the context of Romans, this leaves God as the only option.

Matthew Henry, though, asserts that both Adam and God were responsible for subjecting the world:

Adam did it meritoriously; the creatures being delivered to him, when he by sin delivered himself he delivered them likewise into the bondage of corruption. God did it judicially; he passed a sentence upon the creatures for the sin of man, by which they became subject.

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Interesting point. Then, maybe, I should have worded my answer as "God subjected the earth to futility because of Adam's sin."? –  Jed Oct 6 '11 at 23:54
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This is John Piper's answer as well: desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/… –  Jon Ericson Oct 7 '11 at 0:04
    
Yeah, I definitely had heard it before; probably from him. –  Soldarnal Oct 7 '11 at 0:11
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"in classical Greek, has the general signification of expectancy, relating to evil as well as to good. Thus Plato speaks of living in evil hope (“Republic,” i., 330); i.e., in the apprehension of evil; and Thucydides, of the hope of evils to come; i.e., the expectation or apprehension." (Vincent, M. R. Word Studies in the New Testament Vol.) In context though ("hope that creation will be set free"), I agree that this is "hope of good" rather than "evil hope". –  Richard Oct 7 '11 at 14:50
    
Also, see my answer. Adam was responsible for "subjecting the land" (setting it in order), but the one who "subjected it to futility" wasn't Adam--just God. –  Richard Oct 7 '11 at 18:45
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