How was the term “all creation” (Gk ktisis) used in biblical thought? In other words, how was this term used by Ancient Near Eastern, Hebrew writers? Did it mean something different to them, then, than it does to us today? Let’s first look at some Scriptures to ascertain the nature of the term “all creation” – whether it be referring to rocks, trees and animals, or primarily to people.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to ALL CREATION (ktisis)…” Mark 16:15
“…the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which WAS PREACHED to ALL CREATION (Gk ktisis) which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister…” Colossians 1:23
“Because the CREATURE (ktisis) itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that ALL CREATION (ktisis) groans together and labors in pain together until now.” Romans 8:21-22
How was the term “all creation” (Gk ktisis) used in first century Hebrew biblical thought? How did this term hit their ears? There has been much assumed about this term “all creation,” for example, that it meant the same thing to them as it often does to us, so we think of nature; animals, rocks and trees. But by assuming this are we pressing our 21st century cultural bias onto an ancient text? Are we missing a different way of thinking about this concept?
The Colossians verse shows “all creation” to be, in 1st century context, referring to people. Afterall, the Bible is a thoroughly relational story about the redemption of PEOPLE. Specifically, the “all creation” who had heard the Gospel in Paul’s time were referring to “all people” in the area of the Roman Empire in the 1st century. Paul didn’t mean the whole world as we think of it today and he didn’t mean inanimate objects or pets. Though I appreciate animals and all, a further survey of how the term “all creation” is used in Scripture shows that it is also elsewhere referring to people. It is specifically used to express the revolutionary idea that the Gospel was freed to go to BOTH Jews and Gentiles, or all the rest of the “beasts” and creatures of the world. The ancient near eastern Hebrew culture and language was rich with word-pictures. God is an amazing poet and artist who chose to reveal Godself through this ancient pictorial culture – very different from ours today. In Scripture, the “beasts” are people of Gentile nations. This is why getting “trampled by beasts” is a metaphor for judgment. It was a way of describing when God sent a Gentile nation, an army of people, to punish Israel. Anyone outside of God’s covenant with the Jews were considered beasts. This is why “beasts” entered Noah’s ark. Through Christian history this has been considered a foreshadow of Gentile nations coming into relationship with God, a foreshadow of the church sharing the ark or “dry land” with Israel amidst the sea. This also is why in the creation story, Adam, who represents Israel in relationship with God, and Eve, who represents the church, are humans. And the others are beasts and sea creatures. The beastly part of creation were the Gentile nations to whom the Gospel would travel. The story is told and retold through typology, like a guide or an overview.
So, both Jews and Gentiles together comprise the “all creation” used by Mark and also by Paul.
Look at Romans 8. Its a common misconception (often tied to futuristic eschatology rather than a fulfilled and covenantal view) that Paul, in Romans, meant that all the physical earth and animals were the “all creation” that would be redeemed by the Gospel. But, instead, they were talking about ‘PEOPLE, not PLANETS’, or animals or inanimate objects. Animals and the physical earth do not need saving. This is also why the Ark of the Covenant could fall and touch the ground and be ok, but it could not be touched by humans else they would die. Animals and physical land had no covenant, curse, law or sin. The land cursed in Genesis was symbolic of Israel, who is typified as the land all through the Bible, “hear oh earth what God is saying to you” and “hear oh Israel” are used interchangeably and are synonymous. “My land, my people” God says in the Hebrew language it is not “my land and my people” as it gets rendered in English (there is no comma separating the words as two separate concepts, they are one). God is not talking to rocks, who need no saving, but to people, who do. This relational and covenantal reading makes more sense if you’re in a culture and language of picture-stories and hearing a story of the redemption of a relationship with people. We’ve separated categories and defined things differently today than they did back then.
For example, all through Scripture, the categories heaven, earth (better translated land) and sea refer to the covenant, Israel, and Gentiles. This is why Jonah (man of Israel, land) who was sent to preach to Nineveh, was acting like not-God’s-people (Gentiles, sea) he was swallowed and held under the sea (like Gentiles) until he repented and acted like a Godly man again. This is also why he was not merely let out of the fish into the sea to swim to shore. No, the reason he was “spit out onto dry land” is because the story is telling you that he was once again obeying God and acting like a Godly man of the land (of Israel). I would imagine then, as part of this narrative, the mention of animals in Nineveh is really referring to Gentile people who did not yet know God.
This typology runs through every major Old Testament narrative. David, man of the land, conquers Goliath, a Philistine, the “people of the sea”. Its why Moses crossed through the sea on “dry land”. Its why Elijah and Elisha crossed the river on “dry land” and its why Jesus walked “on the water” and calmed the sea. This is one reason why the ‘beast of the sea’, in Revelation is considered by many scholars through history to be Rome/Nero, because it is coming up out of the sea, which, from Jerusalem’s stand-point, on the horizon is the Gentile nation that was to attack them, namely, Rome. These details are not random or meaningless. When seen through a covenantal lens, they tell an amazingly consistent and starkly repetitive story.
Most notably, perhaps, it is why John says, at the end of Revelation, that in the New Heaven (New covenant world – I believe he means the one we live in spiritually, now) and the New Earth (new covenant people universal – now) that there would be “no more sea”. He is not saying that God has anything against seas. He is saying that in the new covenant world, i.e. the church universal, there is now no more separation between Jew and Gentile, or land and sea – all are ONE in Christ. This came as a result of Paul and disciples preaching to “all creation” – Jews and Gentiles both. (by contrast, Jesus preached to Jews).
You’ll see this in Romans 8 if you read closely. Paul means all kinds of people – humanity. Like one of the definitions of creation/ktisis states “after a rabbinical usage by which a HUMAN converted from idolatry to Judaism was called”. A person in Christ (in the new covenant) was a “new creation”. Paul is adopting this use to say that the One New Man or new humanity in Christ is, finally, reaching its destiny. It is now ALL kinds of people. Now, a relationship with God is open to all. Together all kinds of people are the all creation and those redeemed are the NEW CREATION in Christ. People together were groaning and eagerly anticipating this atoning work, this new covenant “consummation of the ages” in 70AD.
Notice some things about Paul’s “all creation” in Romans 8:
1) For “all creation” to encompass inanimate beings would be too vague here, especially parked in a long argument specifically about who is included in the new covenant kind of salvation.
2) The “creation” is given human emotions and sentient characteristics like; intense longings, its own will, hope, the capability of being made subject to vanity (specifically meaning idolatry here), it can be set free from corruption, and it can participate in the glory of the children of God.
3) The contrast in v 23 is between “creation” (all people) as a whole and ‘ourselves who have the first-fruits.’ This indicates that he is differentiating between people, specifically, Christians and other people.
4) Was humanity at Paul’s time groaning in pain, waiting and longing for deliverance? Yes. Paul’s Roman audience of believers lived in a time of deep corruption and degradation. Yet, they believed Jesus’ teaching that deliverance and salvation would be at hand toward the end of their generation, which was “much nearer now” when Paul was writing Romans “than when they first believed”. Jews and Christians both groaned under the yoke of Roman bondage, awaiting their Savior.
So, the case I seek to make is that the Gospel going out to “all creation” makes the most sense to mean that it went to people – not animals or inanimate objects, but the Jews and the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ before Jesus’ coming presence or Parousia in AD70.
I also have a chart HERE that shows that the Bible says at least 5 times in 5 ways that the Gospel was preached to ‘all creation’, ‘every nation’, ‘every creature under heaven’, before 70AD. This suggests these terms are synonymous and definitely talking about people. Their definition of “whole world” was not the whole world according to OUR modern definition. But THEIR definition is the more important perspective when interpreting the nature of a concept in scripture!