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"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope". ESV.

  1. If Adam was not asked before it happened if he would like to be in a garden, tempted to disobey God, and not given the grace to obey; if all of this was imposed on him, then that might be the meaning of "not willingly". i.e. it was imposed on him.

  2. Or, if Adam did not want to eat the fruit out of respect for God but scared of what refusing Eve's suggestion might do to his relationship with her, then "not willingly "might mean "scared and so willing".

  3. One issue, it appears to me, is first to be clear what "futility" refers to. If it was futile thinking on Adam's part to consider that disobeying God would be to his advantage, then futility has entered creation. Adam and Eve realise that their lives are empty, vain and foolish which they try to hide in Genesis 3:7-8.

    Adam and Eve compound their initial futile [vain-mataioteti] act of disobedience by trying vainly to cover up their shame with leaves and hiding. Thus vain futility is established in creation before the curse of Genesis 3:17-18.

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was bohu and tohu. The translation of these words is complex and I have catalogued the details in print, but - for the moment - I simply state 'inglorious' and 'markedly so'.

There was a deep. There was darkness. God's spirit 'hovered', Genesis 1:2.

Something was wrong.

Then a serpentine spirit makes itself known (Genesis 3:1) by communicating and that communication is deceitful and misrepresents the word of God.

All of this was foreknown. There was a liability in creation and that liability was immediately and faithfully warned of : thou dost not eat of it (see Young's Literal Translation of the warning to Adam, Genesis 2:17).

The only alternative to this whole scenario was : not to create at all.

But God had a purpose. There was 'hope' in it all. Far off, requiring redemption. Requiring the seed of woman and the bruising of the head of the serpent (from above, by another humanity, Genesis 3:15).

The creation did not willingly suffer all this catastrophe - the entering of sin by the rebellion of 'principalities and powers' (Ephesians 6:12) against the Creator, causing a conspiracy against the Creator of both spirit-being and humanity.

But God subjected creation to this scenario - by creating.

Yet was the whole enterprise a matter of an hope yet to come. A better future, a better creation, but that New Creation needed the first creation in order to exist at all.

The liability was unavoidable, the liability of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the inevitable result of creatures (sentient, intelligent creatures) doing what creatures would always do.

But God did create. And thus did God subject the creation to this woeful scenario, but not that it willingly desired it.

Knowing the liability, aware of the consequences, God still created.

And Jesus Christ, the Son of God (he by whom all things were made and without whom was not anything made that was made, John 1:3) bore the responsibility of that liability, in himself, in death. He was 'made sin' and he 'taketh away the sin of the world' being the 'Lamb of God', 2 Corinthians 5:21 and John 1:29.

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    For clarification please would you define the "higher powers" you mention. Higher than what? And, despite being "higher" do they have any autonomy from God?
    – C. Stroud
    Aug 6, 2020 at 14:04
  • @C.Stroud Thank you for pointing that out. I had introduced an unwanted ambiguity which I had not noticed myself. I had meant 'higher than Adam and Eve' but it was ambiguous. Again, thank you. Edited and referenced.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 6, 2020 at 14:21
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    @C.Stroud I have tried to explain in my answer that the subjection was foreknown and the subjection is of 'creation' and that the subjection was almost immediate. I think you and I are looking at different concepts. Adam was banished. He had no alternative. A flaming sword prevented him entering Eden. He was forbidden access to the Tree of Life.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 6, 2020 at 16:20
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Rom 8:20 has a few little ambiguities that need to be cleared up before we tackle the main question.

1. What was "subjected"?

Most modern versions make the subject of the verb "subjected" the creation, eg, NIV, NLT, ESV, BSB, BLB, NASB, NKJV, CSB, CEV, GNT, etc. The KJV is almost alone in rendering κτίσις as "creature". In this case, the standard lexicons (Thayer, BDAG, etc) agree with the more modern versions.

2. Who did the Subjecting"

The ESV renders Rom 8:20 reasonably well as but the BSB is slightly more literal: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because of the One who subjected it, in hope ... " While not stated, I do not believe that the verse or the context suggests that God is responsible for subjecting the creation to futility, but rather, the great tempter, Satan. It is not difficult to see an allusion to Gen 3 in this passage of V18-21.

"not willingly" or, "not by its own will"

I will be be bold enough to suggest here that Paul is using a little literary device by personifying the creation by attributing to it a free will, or, to use a more modern technical term, "agency". While the creation is governed by God's laws (Col 1:15-18) it does not possess free will or agency in the same way that intelligent beings have.

By this very subtle literary device or personifying the creation, Paul almost regards the creation and its behavior as an extension of the vicarious will of God in the sense that it is now subject to sin, something that God never intended to occur. The unwilling creation appears to be in contradistinction to Adam who chose to sin.

Paul then extends this personification of creation by attributing to it another human characteristic, "hope", (21) "that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."

Thus, even the creation is given hope of redemption from futility by the great Divine work of Salvation.

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