I suggest: "Vanity" describes either Adam's sin [ the first recorded sin] or God's reaction to that sin, the curse of Gen 3.

The A.V. always translates "mataiotei" as "vanity". It comes in three places:

1) In Eph 4:17 vanity, the hardness of human hearts not the ground, sounds like a human attitude, sin, rather than God's response to sin.

2) In 2 Peter 2:18 again sounds like sin rather than God's response.

3) In Romans 8:20 it is more ambiguous. Hence the reason for this question.

In 1 Peter 1:18 we are not redeemed from the curse but from the our vain [mataios] conduct which brought the curse.

In Romans 1:24 God did give them over to uncleanness, but, before that happened they were already vain. Rom 1:21. Mataios again seen as a starting point.

God's cursing is not vain. Nothing God does is vain.

The curse did not render Adam and Eve's efforts futile, but difficult.

What is vain/futile is that man should not obey God's spoken commands as in Gen 2:16-17 and other commands e.g. the Ten Commandments.

If I am right that "vanity" is sin and not God's response to sin, does, "for the creature was made subject to vanity" challenge this conclusion?

The Westminster Confession of Faith says that God is not the author of sin thus making something without Him a first cause (see John 1:3). God is holy and uncreated, sin is created. The uncreated does not become created by creating that which is other than Himself, namely, sin. This question is based on New Testament references to one Greek word. It seeks to compare two specific possibilities.


Although, as you note, ματαιότης (mataiotēs) appears only 3 times in the New Testament, it appears over 50 times in the Septuagint. The meaning of the word generally means something like futility, pointless existence, or, as one Eastern Orthodox commentator describes it, "a departure from the norm or from God's will for man and his life."1. I think this meaning is captured our expression "in vain" (e.g. "He did it in vain"). Examples from the Septuagint include:

Ῥήματα Ἐκκλησιαστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυιδ βασιλέως Ισραηλ ἐν Ιερουσαλημ. Ματαιότης ματαιοτήτων, εἶπεν ὁ Ἐκκλησιαστής, ματαιότης ματαιοτήτων, τὰ πάντα ματαιότης.

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king of Israel in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, said the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, Brenton translation)

υἱοὶ ἀνθρώπων, ἕως πότε βαρυκάρδιοι; ἵνα τί ἀγαπᾶτε ματαιότητα καὶ ζητεῖτε ψεῦδος;

O ye sons of men, how long will ye be slow of heart? wherefore do ye love vanity, and seek falsehood? (Psalm 4:2 LXX)

οὐκ ἐκάθισα μετὰ συνεδρίου ματαιότητος καὶ μετὰ παρανομούντων οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθω,

I have not sat with the council of vanity, and will in nowise enter in with transgressors (Psalm 25:4 LXX)

The other key word here is κτίσις (ktisis), which your title translates as creature, but was more widely understood (at least in antiquity) to mean creation. This would be consistent with how modern versions translate the word and is probably the meaning intended by the KJV (AV) translators as well. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "creature" in Elizabethan times meant anything created, not necessarily something animate. Take, for example, the Coverdale version of 2 Peter 3:4 (c. 1535):

For sence the fathers fell on slepe, euery thinge contynueth as it was from the begynnynge of ye creature

The understanding of Romans 8:20 in antiquity was that man's transgression corrupted (made vain) not only himself but all creation. The explanation offered by John Chrysostom in the 4th century was:

What is the meaning of, “the creation was made subject to vanity?” Why that it became corruptible. For what cause, and on what account? On account of thee, O man. For since thou hast taken a body mortal and liable to suffering, the earth too hath received a curse, and brought forth thorns and thistles.2

1. Archbishop Dmitry Royster, St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2008), p.210.
2. Homily XIV on Romans (tr. from Greek; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, 1.11

  • 1
    I agree with your assessment. And the reason Creation was made futile was because now it has to be replaced with something incorruptible and lasting (eternal). Essentially no matter what you achieve in this realm of material creation because it will all burn up ultimately it is not considered true riches, true riches are those that are eternal. It’s almost, almost like but not the same as virtual reality or a simulation. Except this reality influences and determines your eternal destiny. +1. This is partly why God will not receive any works of the flesh because it has no eternal value, futile. – Nihil Sine Deo Apr 27 '19 at 14:47
  • @user33515 2 events: 1. man's sin 2. God's response. Though these are related can we apply "vanity" to one and not the other as per my 1st para, "either" "or"? – C. Stroud Apr 27 '19 at 15:04

The operative word in Rom 8:20 is ματαιότης (mataiotés) which BDAG defines as "state of being without use or value, emptiness, futility, purposeless, transitoriness" Thus we have several renderings of the text:

NIV: For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope

NASB: For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope

The Pulpit commentary observes:

For the creature (or, creation, as before) was subjected to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who subjected it in hope. Because (or, that; i.e. in hope that) the creature (or, creation) also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. The aorist ὑπετάγη ("was subjected") seems to imply that the present "vanity" and "bondage of corruption" were not inherent in the original Creation, or of necessity to last for ever. Thus the assertions of Genesis 1: and 31, stand unshaken, viz. that in the beginning God created all things, and that all at first was "very good." The ideas, resorted to in order to account for existing evil, of matter (ὕλη) being essentially evil, and of a δημιουργός, other than the Supreme God, having made the world, are alike precluded.

Thus, the curse of sin is seen as resting, not only on mankind, but our entire world. The only way out is our hope in the redemption found in Christ Jesus, Rom 8:21. It is significant that the other occurrences of ματαιότης (mataiotés), Eph 4:17 (see v18) and 2 Peter 2:18 (see v20) also make a link to the coming restoration offered by Jesus.

  • My question tries to give reasons why "vanity" =sin and not, God's response to sin. Your answer does not appear to me to say whether these can be separated or to treat them separately. – C. Stroud Apr 29 '19 at 17:38
  • "Vanity is NOT sin as is never declared as such in Scripture. It is correctly understood as futility as any good lexicon makes clear. – user25930 Apr 29 '19 at 21:29
  • 2Peter2v18 "speaking loud boasts of [E.S.V.] folly/vanity/matataiotetos" sounds like sin to me. – C. Stroud May 1 '19 at 11:49
  • I agree - futility leads to sin but futility in itself is not sinful and never equated with sin. – user25930 May 1 '19 at 21:32
  • If you are right that futility leads to sin, then, Romans 8v20 would read "the creature was made subject to that which leads to sin". Are you agreed? – C. Stroud May 3 '19 at 12:00

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