Thursday, July 21, 2011

Calvin on the Death of Animals Before the Fall

I have heard people say before that John Calvin didn't support the idea of no death of animals before the fall.

Here are his comments on Genesis 1:28...
"Some infer, from this passage that men were content with herbs and fruits until the deluge, and that it was even unlawful for them to eat flesh. And this seems the more probable, because God confines, in some way, the food of mankind within certain limits. Then after the deluge, he expressly grants them the use of flesh. These reasons, however are not sufficiently strong: for it may be adduced on the opposite side, that the first men offered sacrifices from their flocks. This, moreover, is the law of sacrificing rightly, not to offer unto God anything except what he has granted to our use. Lastly men were clothed in skins; therefore it was lawful for them to kill animals. For these reasons, I think it will be better for us to assert nothing concerning this matter. Let it suffice for us, that herbs and the fruits of trees were given them as their common food; yet it is not to be doubted that this was abundantly sufficient for their highest gratification. For they judge prudently who maintain that the earth was so marred by the deluge, that we retain scarcely a moderate portion of the original benediction. Even immediately after the fall of man, it had already begun to bring forth degenerate and noxious fruits, but at the deluge, the change became still greater. Yet, however this may be, God certainly did not intend that man should be slenderly and sparingly sustained; but rather, by these words, he promises a liberal abundance, which should leave nothing wanting to a sweet and pleasant life. For Moses relates how beneficent the Lord had been to them, in bestowing on them all things which they could desire, that their ingratitude might have the less excuse."
So it seems here that his main argument is about whether it was lawful to kill animals for food before the flood (not before the fall). His main argument seems to be that the lawfulness of killing animals for sacrifices would imply that it cannot ever be inherently wrong or sin to kill animals (before or after the flood or fall). And therefore Genesis 1:28 does not *necessarily* say that animals could not be eaten for food before the fall.

However, his comments on Isaiah 11 seem pretty clear of his view (at least at the time of writing) of animals killing other animals before the fall:

Calvin's comments on Isaiah11:6..
"But the Prophet’s discourse looks beyond this; for it amounts to a promise that there will be a blessed restoration of the world. He describes the order which was at the beginning, before man’s apostasy produced the unhappy and melancholy change under which we groan. Whence comes the cruelty of brutes, which prompts the stronger to seize and rend and devour with dreadful violence the weaker animals? There would certainly have been no discord among the creatures of God, if they had remained in their first and original condition. When they exercise cruelty towards each other, and the weak need to be protected against the strong, it is an evidence of the disorder (ἀταξίας) which has sprung from the sinfulness of man... For this reason, he says, that straw will be the food of the lion as well as of the ox; for if the stain of sin had not polluted the world, no animal would have been addicted to prey on blood, but the fruits of the earth would have sufficed for all, according to the method which God had appointed. (Genesis 1:30.)"
Similarly his comments on Isaiah 65:25..
"“The lion” shall eat harmlessly, and shall no longer seek his prey. The serpent, satisfied with his dust, shall wrap himself in it, and shall no longer hurt by his envenomed bite. In a word, all that is disordered or confused shall be restored to its proper order. Yet beyond all controversy the Prophet speaks allegorically of bloody and violent men, whose cruel and savage nature shall be subdued, when they submit to the yoke of Christ. But first we must carefully consider that confusion which befell all the creatures in consequence of the fall of man; for if this were not taken into view, it would be impossible for us to have sufficiently just and correct views of this blessing of restoration. "

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