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.

8 Answers 8



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.


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

  • 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.) Commented Oct 7, 2011 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
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 18:43
  • +1. While Soldarnal's answer is theologically correct, your answer is more exegetically precise: this is the divine passive.
    – Kazark
    Commented Apr 12, 2012 at 20:59
  • How did you determine that God cursed the earth? Genesis says, "Cursed is the ground because of you." It seems that "your actions resulted in a curse," but doesn't explicitly say that God levied the curse. For one example, it could be a natural consequence of Adam's choice.
    – pbarney
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 17:53

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.

  • Interesting point. Then, maybe, I should have worded my answer as "God subjected the earth to futility because of Adam's sin."?
    – Jed
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 23:54
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    This is John Piper's answer as well: desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/… Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 0:04
  • Yeah, I definitely had heard it before; probably from him.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 0:11
  • 1
    "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
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 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
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 18:45

Sin was what caused the curse on the earth. And sin came as a result of Adams alignment with the man of sin called Satan. We see God telling Adam the effect of what he has done, "cursed is the ground for thy sake..." in other words, "your actions have corrupted the earth, brought upon it a curse."

Genesis 3:17 KJV

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.

God was literally telling Adam the consequences of his action. Adam allowed Satan take dominion of the earth and God was telling Adam the effect of that.

It was not possible that God was the one who subjected the earth to the curse. Sin brought about the curse, corrupted the earth.

Later we see Paul teaching that sin came through Adam:

Romans 5:12 KJV

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

Sin entered into the world through Adam.

In hope: God immediately initiated His salvation plan when he killed a lamb and clothed Adam and Eve with it, a type of the death of Christ.

Thank you


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


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.


I can see now that folks with a Calvinistic bent are having trouble with this line of reasoning. Remember that God presented creation with all the manifestions that come with choice... free will, individualism, differential natures, duplicity, forms,types, shadows, 5 senses, uniqueness, ideas, and with all of this comes a form of rot or decay. Materialization of what actually started as an infinite spiritual essence, or presence- has become finite. And what was once truth has now become something other. We may call this a lie, or a "version" of the truth.
This is what Jacob Arminius was trying to tell us when he wrote the 5 points of disagreement with Calvin-in 1610- to which the Calvists wrote back to these remonstrants their 5 points- now known as TULIP.. Jacob taught that God's "preventing" grace was sufficient for both the "elect and the un-elect" to be saved from our material bondage to decay. And this is accomplished in our unification of the Spirit of God which lives within us and the individuated spirit of our unique self. Those of us who are condemning ourselves by mistaking this material world for the real thing are missing out on the truth.

  • 1
    This answer isn't appropriate for this site at all - it doesn't even refer to the text at hand. Keep in mind that this site is focused on Biblical exegesis, not on systematic theology, so Calvinism vs. Arminianism is off topic here. You may want to read the site tour as well as How to Answer to learn more about how things work here. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 3:07

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

At Romans 8:20 Paul wrote.

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.

Humans born with futility facing them.

In other words, God did not destroy man’s forefather Adam at the time of his sin, but he allowed men to be born from an imperfect father, with futility facing them not because of any deliberate fault of their own, but because of inherited imperfection. However, God did not leave them without hope but kindly set forth hope through the promised “seed”

Genesis 3:15 (NASB)

15 And I will [a]make enemies Of you and the woman, And of your [b]offspring and her [c]Descendant; He shall [d]bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise Him on the heel.”

Genesis 22:18 (NASB)

18 And in your [a]seed all the nations of the earth shall [b]be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”


In no Bible version/translation could I find the words "one" or "him" capitalized (capitalization implies God). Neither word (one or him) was found in the Strong's Concordance which also implies its definition is not God. And since Adam's will subjected creation to vanity (mataiotes) the culprit is most likely Adam. Also confusing are the remaining 2 words in 8:20, and all of 8:21. "... in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." God wouldn't hope for such a thing since He already knows the outcome. This sounds like "Adam hopes" creation itself will be liberated just as all humans hope for the same thing.

As a matter of follow up to another post, the word "subject" or "subjected" is defined as "to subordinate; reflexively, to obey:- be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto. The word appears to refer to the effect and not the cause. Therefore, this verbiage may not refer to the action of one subduing creation, but the reaction of creation after being subdued. (i.e. "I subjected myself to his will", and not "I subject others to my will").

Still, mine is just conjecture (along with potential faulty reasoning) for this relatively enigmatic passage. Blessings.

  • 1
    Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics-Stack Exchange! The ancient Greek texts did not have capitalization, so that's more evidence of how the translators interpreted the text than what Paul might have intended it to mean. I'm not convinced either that God doesn't hope for the new creation in the anticipatory sense. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 1:46

The creation that is in view in Romans 8 is not "the earth" but rather the new creation. Paul is saying that the new creation (the body of Christ) has been subjected to futility and is not presently living in a "realized eschatology" as some teach (ie: prosperity gospel).

But God subjected the body of Christ and the body of Christ in hope and the believers look forward to their adoption:

[Rom 8:15-30 NLT] (15) So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, "Abba, Father." (16) For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children. (17a) And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory.

(17b) But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (18) Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. (19) For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. (20) Against its will, all creation was subjected to God's curse. But with eager hope, (21) the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. (22) For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (23) And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.

(24) We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don't need to hope for it. (25) But if we look forward to something we don't yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) (26) And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. (27) And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will. (28) And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (29) For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (30) And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

Note that the believer is not waiting to be adopted but is like a very poor little boy who has in his hands papers telling him that he has been adopted by a king as he is travelling on a train to join his new family. He is a pauper and a child of a king simultaneously. What he experiences is futility though he is unimaginably rich because he is a co-heir with Christ. All that Christ inherits, so does he. This is the picture. And it was God who decided that it should be so.

Note also that the passive without a subject is used in the scriptures as a signal that the implied subject is God.

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