Creation in Genesis 1-2: Very good? Definitely! Perfect? Not so much.

"Very good" is not bad. But it ain't perfect. "Very good" is not bad. But it ain't perfect.

Editor’s note: Today’s post is a re-blog of “Exploring the Perfect Creation in Genesis,” an excellent look at whether the text of the Bible itself really supports the idea of creation being “perfect” before the fall of man. The post comes from Creation Reality and Jim Cole, a blog and blogger I highly recommend. All emphases are mine.

The idea that creation was perfect before the fall is very common. It’s a key part of the creationism framework, and is used in attempts to refute evolution. But how biblical is this concept? Is this something that is clearly spoken by scripture, or a human idea that people read into the early creation passages? The best way to approach this is to pay attention to the Word, and let God speak to us through it.

Notice that God used the term very “good” to describe His work. Although there are multiple Hebrew words that mean perfect, or flawless, or pristine, etc., he did not use them. Instead, he used a different word that has a milder force. Good, even very good, is not the same thing as perfect.

In Genesis 1:4, note that the light is called good, but not the darkness. Think about the connotation that darkness has through the rest of scripture. For example, consider the use of light and dark in John’s parallel creation account. If dark is not described as good here, on what basis can it be included as part of a perfectly good creation?

In Genesis 2:18, God describes Adam’s state as “not good.” This is before the fall. How could anything be described as “not good” in a perfect creation? Even if one finds a way to rationalize around this, doesn’t the fact that the Spirit used this particular phrase, after using the same word in other ways, raise a flag? After all, describing something as “very good” is not inconsistent with some part of it still being “not good.” But describing something as perfect leaves no such room.

It’s good to remember that Adam and Eve did not commit the first sins. Satan was fallen before he deceived them. Although his influence is limited by God, note how Job describes his ability to bring natural disaster, disease, conflict, and ultimately, death. It’s clear that he is at work throughout scripture, so on what basis are we to assume he wasn’t at work before Adam and Eve’s sin? Actually, the curse pronounced on him would only seem to limit him, not give him some sort of increased freedom. What kind of perfect creation would have Satan running around doing things?

In Genesis 1:28, God tells Adam to “subdue” the earth. The Hebrew word used generally means to “conquer,” “enslave” or “subjugate” something. Why use that word here when creation is supposedly at peace, with no conflict, death or pain? Some suggest the word has a different meaning here, but on what basis?

In Genesis 3:16, God speaks to Eve about the results of their sin. He says that he will multiply her pain. The Hebrew word used here describes an increase — a multiplication — of what already exists. It is used earlier in Genesis to describe God’s command to animals and man to be fruitful and multiply. It is not used to indicate the beginning of something. So it would seem to mean that the Lord was going to increase the pain that Eve already knew, not give her pain that had never existed before. In other words, it is not describing the beginning of her pain, but rather a change to something already existing.

In Genesis 1:31, God looks at all that he had made and declared it very good. Is that referring to all of creation, or to all that he did after the initial creation? In other words, there is room here for an interpretation that — although all of creation was not perfect — his actions in this imperfect creation were. The word often translated “made” can also be rendered “did,” and is used to describe human actions elsewhere in Scripture. It is not “bara,” the word to describe God’s unique creative action ex nihilo. So why assume that “very good” applies to all of creation, instead of some subset of actions that happened after the initial creation event?

In fact, consider Joseph’s use of the word “good” in Genesis 50:20. It’s the same Hebrew word, but here refers to God’s actions in an otherwise bad situation. In other words, it describes how God pulled good out of bad. In fact, the word translated “made” in 1:31 is also used here to describe God’s action in saving people through the famine. So, understanding the word “good” as that which God does in an otherwise imperfect situation, is consistent across both uses.

Considering God’s Word with an open mind gives a different picture than the traditional viewpoints. It certainly doesn’t give an unambiguous picture of a perfect creation, but rather the beginning of God’s redemptive work. We must not only focus on the Word when we consider such matters, but we must do so with an open, unbiased mind.

Jim Cole

  • Nancy R.

    Very interesting post, thanks for sharing this. I have been puzzled by Christians who believe that Adam and Eve were created “perfect,” almost superhuman, when it is clear that they were not. They were gullible and easily misled even before the first sin.

    • No kidding — and also clearly capable of experiencing pain and loneliness, and also lying (or at the very least not being very good listeners, per the woman’s statement that God said they would die from “touching” the fruit, when he said no such thing).

    • Matthew Em Paras

      Rather they are the most neutral humans

  • Sam Haylor

    This is a good example of forcing one’s own understanding of a word or words into the text of Scripture. “Good” is never conveyed in Scripture as being “milder in force” than “perfect”. In fact, one could argue that the opposite is true, though really the words are never pitted against each other like that. Review the nearly 500 uses of “good” in the OT and one will easily discover that the word describes the intrinsic beauty of something. There is definitely a moral, as well as an aesthetic, aspect to the word, but it also denotes the thing’s ability to serve its intended purpose.

    A few things to note about the word “good”. One, it is often directly pitted against evil or “bad” (e.g. Gen. 2:9, 24:50; Lev. 27:10; Num. 13:19 just to list a few). There is no Miracle Max concept of it being “mostly good” when this word is used. It’s either all good or it’s all bad. Two, “good” is one of the (if not the) premiere term used in the OT to describe the character and nature of God Himself. It’s not just that His actions are good, but over and over it He Himself who is said to be “good”. This is not true for the word “perfect”. Three, fallen man is explicitly described as being completely devoid of “good” (Ps. 14 for example, which Paul quotes in Rom. 3).

    It is no coincidence that the Holy Spirit would choose to use “good” to describe the works of the “good” creator God. How could it have been otherwise? For as His nature, so are His works. “Good” is in fact a loftier word than “perfect” in that it speaks to the nature and value of something rather than it’s completion or maturity.

    • This is a good example of forcing one’s own understanding of a word or words into the text of Scripture. “Good” is never conveyed in Scripture as being “milder in force” than “perfect”. In fact, one could argue that the opposite is true, though really the words are never pitted against each other like that. Review the nearly 500 uses of “good” in the OT and one will easily discover that the word describes the intrinsic beauty of something. There is definitely a moral, as well as an aesthetic, aspect to the word, but it also denotes the thing’s ability to serve its intended purpose.

      Hey Sam! I must confess, I don’t understand your point here. The author wasn’t arguing that “good” doesn’t mean “good,” he was simply saying it doesn’t mean “perfect.”

      A few things to note about the word “good”. One, it is often directly pitted against evil or “bad” (e.g. Gen. 2:9, 24:50; Lev. 27:10; Num. 13:19 just to list a few).

      True. Your point? English speakers also often directly pit the word “good” against the word “evil,” yet the word “good” does not carry any prerequisite of being “entirely good.”

      There is no Miracle Max concept of it being “mostly good” when this word is used. It’s either all good or it’s all bad.

      I would dispute this. Again, the argument is not that the word means “not good” or “just OK” or even “mostly good.” The Hebrew word towb can mean good, pleasant, agreeable, excellent, rich, valuable and morally upright. It is a good word. But it doesn’t mean perfect, nor does it imply that the subjects it modifies are entirely good, pleasant, agreeable, excellent, rich, and so on.

      I’m not sure what kind of word study you’re coming from, but my study this morning has bolstered my own view. As you suggested, I looked at other times the word is used in the OT, specifically in Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel, Psalms, Proverbs and Jeremiah. Towb is frequently used to describe the land of Israel (was the land of Israel “all good? Even when it was still full of pagan tribes and nations as it was through most of the Pentateuch? It never had a dry period? It never had a flood? It never had a single pest that preyed upon the crops of its residents?), arable land, plentiful years, good houses, good treasure and morality (as you said, contrasting good and evil, or doing what is “good and right in the sight of the Lord.”).

      In 1 Samuel the word is used several times to refer to Saul, who was not “all good” by any stretch. David is also described in such a way, and although he was a great king, he wasn’t perfect either. Genesis 26:29 has an interesting use of the word in Abimelek’s comment to Isaac, “We have done unto thee nothing but good,” which seems an unnecessary distinction, if “good” inherently implies “all good” without the modifier.

      Two, “good” is one of the (if not the) premiere term used in the OT to describe the character and nature of God Himself. It’s not just that His actions are good, but over and over it He Himself who is said to be “good”.

      I couldn’t find a single place where the word referred to God until Psalms where I found only a couple such uses (“The Lord is good and upright,” “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” etc.), but that certainly doesn’t seem to be enough to merit it being called the “premiere term used in the OT to describe the character and nature of God.” Indeed, if I may, it seems the premiere word used to describe God is “holy,” which does imply perfection, without spot or blemish, and interestingly, is never used to refer to creation or to man — neither before the fall nor after.

      This is not true for the word “perfect”.

      God isn’t described as “perfect”??

      Three, fallen man is explicitly described as being completely devoid of “good” (Ps. 14 for example, which Paul quotes in Rom. 3).

      Does Psalm 14 describe all people, or does it describe the morally deficient “fools” who have said in their hearts, “There is no God”? It certainly seems to be the latter, because verse 4 makes a distinction between “all these evildoers” and “my people.” If Psalm 14 is describing everyone, then it means God’s people are being destroyed by…God’s people.

      I’m sort of playing devil’s advocate with you here. I do believe that Paul, at least, is certainly referring to all people in Romans 3. However, I would dispute that this passage could be taken to mean fallen man is “completely devoid of ‘good,'” since I’ve already mentioned places where Saul and David are described as “good,” and there are many more. Also, the Pentateuch and the Book of Proverbs would seem misguided in their frequent exhortations toward living justly and righteously, if fallen man is inherently incapable of doing so in any way.

      • Sam Haylor

        Hey Sam! I must confess, I don’t understand your point here. The author wasn’t arguing that “good” doesn’t mean “good,” he was simply saying it doesn’t mean “perfect.”

        I apologize if I wasn’t clear in what I was stating. I’ll try again. The author is erroneously comparing the word “good” with the word “perfect”, when the two are not relative to each other. There is no correlation between them like with “good”, “better”, and “best”. “Perfect” in the OT is never the equivalent of “best”. In fact, part of the problem with the author’s entire argument is that “perfect” can have multiple meanings, thus my initial statement that he’s taking his own understanding of the word and forcing it into the text (or rather, the word that isn’t there!). I found only two Hebrew words that are translated “perfect” and that are pertinent to our discussion; one (tam) is used 15 times and refers to a completeness, moral innocence, or having integrity, and the other (tamim) is used 91 times and has the meaning of spotless, without blemish, complete, sound. 51 of those 91 times are in reference to an animal sacrifice. The rest are either in commands to be “perfect” (often translated “blameless”), descriptions of men’s character or actions, completion of a period of time, or the works, word and way of God.

        Incidentally, the article’s author finds himself in the very problem he argues against in that “perfect” is used to describe men. So is “perfect” not really perfect? Of course it is, just not in the way presumed by the author.

        True. Your point? English speakers also often directly pit the word “good” against the word “evil,” yet the word “good” does not carry any prerequisite of being “entirely good.”

        I couldn’t disagree more. Words have meaning. “Good” means good and “bad” means bad. They do not share bits of each other’s nature like a yin yang symbol. The use of the word might vary, but the word itself always means “good”. “Pleasant” does not in any way connote “unpleasant”, nor does “desirable” “undesirable”, etc. That’s why there are antithetical words to describe their opposites.

        If by “entirely good” you mean “good in every conceivable way”, you’re again placing a meaning onto the word that isn’t there. The word doesn’t have to mean “entirely good” as you put it to not include some degree of bad. If so, you’re going to have a real problem dealing with the 15 passages in I & 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Jeremiah, Lamenations, and Nahum that describe God as “good”.

        Indeed, if I may, it seems the premiere OT word used to describe God is “holy,” which does imply perfection, without spot or blemish, and interestingly, isnever used to refer to creation or to man — neither before the fall nor after.

        I would agree that “holy” is the foremost attribute of God and after doing some more checking I see that it is used more times than “good” to describe God. It’s not a huge amount though when you look just at passages that directly refer to God Himself (as opposed to His works for example), which is why I described it as “one of the premier” words.

        “Holy” means “set apart”, consecrated, totally distinct, not like anything else. It doesn’t really connote perfection or unblemished though it requires them when it’s in reference to God.

        God isn’t described as “perfect”??

        Nope, and if you consider how the word is used in Hebrew OT that actually makes sense. The best word you’ll find in the OT to describe God’s “perfection” (as you and the author seem to mean it) is, ironically, “good”.

        Does Psalm 14 describe all people, or does it describe the morally deficient “fools” who have said in their hearts, “There is no God”?

        Both. Psalm 14 is an indictment against all mankind. We are all born fools, “dead” in sin. Only those whom God saves are capable doing anything good in God’s eyes.

        However, I would dispute that this passage could be taken to mean fallen man is “completely devoid of ‘good,'” since I’ve already mentioned places where Saul and David are described as “good,” and there are many more.

        Clearly Ps. 14 and Rom. 3 are talking about a moral goodness. Because we are born enemies and haters of God it is impossible to please Him (do good). Saul being describe as “good” is best understood as referring to his physical appearance, not moral quality. David was saved and therefore capable of good.

        Also, the Pentateuch and the Book of Proverbs would seem misguided in their frequent exhortations toward living justly and righteously, if fallen man is inherently incapable of doing so in any way.

        That’s actually the entire point of the Law, to show us unequivocally that we are incapable of keeping it. The Gospel enters in and shows us that Christ kept it on our behalf and offers forgiveness of sins and righteousness, something the Law cannot provide.

        • I apologize if I wasn’t clear in what I was stating. I’ll try again. The author is erroneously comparing the word “good” with the word “perfect”, when the two are not relative to each other.

          Oh, I see what you’re saying now. Well, the fact is that the claim didn’t originate from this author. He didn’t arbitrarily pick the word “perfect” to see if it could be applied to Genesis 1 and 2. Other Christians have done this, and they continue to do so. I hear it all the time, that the world was a “perfect paradise” before the fall. Sometimes, this is said just while speaking generally, other times, it is used as an argument against evolution (in my experience).

          At any rate, that is what the author was analyzing: Whether scripture really supports the idea that creation was “perfect” and he was arguing that it doesn’t.

          In fact, part of the problem with the author’s entire argument is that “perfect” can have multiple meanings, thus my initial statement that he’s taking his own understanding of the word and forcing it into the text (or rather, the word that isn’t there!).

          Again, the author is not at fault here. I guarantee it would take you no more than a few seconds to find an article from AiG, ICR, CMI or Creation Today expressing the idea that the prelapsarian world was “perfect,” according to the Bible. In fact, just to make sure I wasn’t leading you astray, I went and found one for you. This article, “Biblically, could death have existed before sin?” makes the claim numerous times, including, “According to the Bible, a perfect God created a perfect creation,” and “When God finished creating at the end of Day 6, He declared everything “very good”—it was perfect. God’s work of creation is perfect. We expect nothing less of a perfect God.”

          I do hope you take as much issue with Mr. Bodie Hodge at the above link as you have with our author, since it is actually Hodge and likeminded individuals who originated the claim you dispute so strongly. Unfortunately, AiG doesn’t allow comments on their articles.

          Words have meaning. “Good” means good and “bad” means bad. They do not share bits of each other’s nature like a yin yang symbol. The use of the word might vary, but the word itself always means “good”. “Pleasant” does not in any way connote “unpleasant”, nor does “desirable” “undesirable”, etc. That’s why there are antithetical words to describe their opposites.

          I wasn’t arguing that words don’t have meaning. They do have meaning. They also have nuance, and they are often relative and may mean different things in different contexts. Hot means “hot.” It does not imply coldness, but it also does not inherently imply that the word being described is the hottest temperature that a thing could ever be. In other words, two things may be “hot,” but that does not mean they are exactly the same temperature. One may be more hot, and the other may be less.

          It is the same with the word “good.” As I pointed out to you in several examples, the land of Israel and Saul and David were among the many things the OT authors described as “good.” And they were “good.” But that does not mean they were entirely good in every possible way (i.e., perfect).

          “Holy” means “set apart”, consecrated, totally distinct, not like anything else. It doesn’t really connote perfection or unblemished though it requires them when it’s in reference to God.

          God isn’t described as “perfect”??

          Nope, and if you consider how the word is used in Hebrew OT that actually makes sense. The best word you’ll find in the OT to describe God’s “perfection” (as you and the author seem to mean it) is, ironically, “good”.

          Yes, you are correct about what the word holy “means,” but in the context of how it is most often used in the Bible, it clearly implies perfection in regards to God. It is often used in the context of the moral and ceremonial laws and standards of the Old Testament — the strict and complete (i.e., perfect) adherence to which was required in order to make one worthy of God. A perfect adherence to a perfect law (as you point out, scripture does explicitly define God’s word and precepts as “flawless”) would not be required to be worthy of a Being, unless that Being is himself perfect.

          I acknowledge that there is not a single word that sums up the qualities of God (even God alluded to this impossibility by naming himself to Moses as simply, “I AM”), the full testimony of the OT indeed portrays a perfect being. Jesus, who often taught the “weightier matters” of the Law that the other teachers had missed by focusing too closely on its specific requirements, pointed this out by declaring in his sermon on the mount that we are to “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In so doing, I do not believe he was not unveiling some revolutionary new teaching about God; he was summarizing something that was already clearly attested, as he did in other places in the same sermon.

          • Sam Haylor

            I’m really sorry, Tyler. I must just be terrible at articulating an argument! I wasn’t disputing the Creationist idea that the world was “perfect” on day 7, but in fact agree with it. Since this is attempt three, I think I’ll just try and be as brief as I can and not respond inline to your other points.

            Here are the problems I’m having with this article:

            1. The author defines “perfect” (as do you) as “entirely good in every possible way” which is not how the Hebrew word for “perfect” (ta-mim) is defined. In fact, “good” (tob) is the only Hebrew word I can think of that actually has the potential to mean “perfect” as you’re defining it. It certainly fits best when it describes God, so the word itself is not lacking. It is only in the context that its degree of “goodness” can be ascertained. The author’s suggestion that there are “multiple Hebrew words that mean perfect, or flawless, or pristine, etc.” in the way he means by “perfect” and that could have been used to describe such perfection, is plain false.

            The paragraph discussing the “not good” aspect of Adam’s aloneness is such a poor argument I hesitate to even give it “air time”. It wasn’t Adam’s state that was “not good”, it was his aloneness. To even argue that this somehow makes what God had created imperfect is ridiculous (same goes for the “darkness” idea). And again, to suggest that “good”, let alone “exceedingly good”, can somehow also mean “not good” is preposterous. Describing land or people that we know had flaws as “good” in no way changes the meaning of the word “good”. It just means they weren’t describing every conceivable aspect of said land or man.

            2. The author falsely argues that since a potential for evil existed on day 7 that the world could not have been perfect. There are a number of biblical reasons why this is patently false. I’ll just use Christ as one example. As a man, He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Temptation, by definition, requires the possibility of sin. Jesus was perfect and never sinned, yet somehow was genuinely tempted, and therefore had the potential to sin.

            3. The author falsely argues that somehow God’s actions in creation were “good” but that the product of His actions were not. This is unbelievable to me. How could perfect action produce something imperfect?? An imperfect result necessitates an imperfect action. To quote Christ, “there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.” (Luke 6:43).

            I guess the bigger problem for me is that none if his arguments actually prove that “good” can never mean or imply “perfect”. At best, they might show that the word doesn’t always mean “entirely good in every way” but clearly the word can mean that. The article just comes across (at least to me) as a haphazard, floundering attempt to allow for the existence of death before the fall, rather than expressing a genuine desire to understand what the Bible actually says.

          • Hey Sam, I will respond to a couple of your points here but I think we are going around in circles. I’m sorry that I’ve clearly misunderstood your point, but I thank you for laboring so much to attempt to explain yourself.

            The author defines “perfect” (as do you) as “entirely good in every possible way” which is not how the Hebrew word for “perfect” (ta-mim) is defined. In fact, “good” (tob) is the only Hebrew word I can think of that actually has the potential to mean “perfect” as you’re defining it.

            We are spending a lot of time discussing the nuanced meanings of Hebrew words, but again, the author’s main point was not based on what the words “tob” or “tam” mean. His overall argument was based on the text of Genesis 1-3 and whether that text portrays a creation that is perfect (meaning both “unblemished and flawless” and “entirely good in every possible way,” which is what creationist organizations like AiG clearly claim it teaches).

            It wasn’t Adam’s state that was “not good”, it was his aloneness. To even argue that this somehow makes what God had created imperfect is ridiculous (same goes for the “darkness” idea).

            “Aloneness” = state of being alone, does it not? And why is this claim so ridiculous? If “good” does not mean “entirely good in every possible way,” then we have no problem. But if “good” does mean that in this instance, which is what you seem to be arguing, then there is an issue. “Entirely good in every possible way,” “perfect,” “flawless,” etc. — whatever word or phrase you want to use, they do not allow for the coexistence of at least two things (three if you count Satan) that God clearly seems to view as “not good.”

            Describing land or people that we know had flaws as “good” in no way changes the meaning of the word “good”. It just means they weren’t describing every conceivable aspect of said land or man.

            Agreed. In other words, it doesn’t mean perfect.

            2. The author falsely argues that since a potential for evil existed on day 7 that the world could not have been perfect. There are a number of biblical reasons why this is patently false. I’ll just use Christ as one example. As a man, He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Temptation, by definition, requires the possibility of sin. Jesus was perfect and never sinned, yet somehow was genuinely tempted, and therefore had the potential to sin.

            I agree with this point, but I’m not sure what you’re responding to. Where did the author make this argument?

            The author falsely argues that somehow God’s actions in creation were “good” but that the product of His actions were not. This is unbelievable to me. How could perfect action produce something imperfect??

            I think this is valid. This was the main point on which I personally disagreed with the author, unless I misunderstood him. The only way this would seem to make sense would be if the author believes God created out of pre-existing material (creation ex materia) rather than the more traditional view of God creating everything from nothing (creation ex nihilo).

            I guess the bigger problem for me is that none if his arguments actually prove that “good” can never mean or imply “perfect”.

            I think I addressed this above. A single flaw is inconsistent with something being described as “flawless,” and a single aspect of something being described as “not good” is inconsistent with that something being “entirely good in every possible way.” You are, of course, more than welcome to dislike and disagree with the article, but I think the author made an excellent case and I’m delighted to be able to host it on my site.

        • One last thought about “holy” being the premiere descriptive term for God: Isaiah wrote that in heaven, God is continually hailed as “holy, holy, holy.” Nowhere in scripture is he called “good, good, good,” or “love, love, love,” or “just, just, just,” etc. All of these latter terms are qualities of God, but “holy” is clearly given special treatment.

  • Markus Cromhout

    Seeing this good post it reminded me of lecture we had while I was doing my honours in biblical studies. Genesis 1-2 is neither science nor history, but it uses the literary techniques of structure, purposeful repetition, and artful omission to communicate that creation is ordered, and that humans beings are

    1) Incomplete,
    2) Free, and
    3) Blessed with authority.

    For those interested, my post may be an interesting bible study exercise.

    http://markuscromhout.blogspot.com/2013/10/creation-in-genesis.html