And the Sea Will Be No More? (super interesting blog post by RJS)

(Brad Kramer) #1

So #humblebrag: This was the topic of my Masters Thesis in seminary. I personally think the “sea” motif is the key to freeing Scripture from the “everything was perfect and then Adam ruined it and then Christ fixed it” metanarrative that is so dominant.

Key section:

If the sea in Genesis 1 was good – a part of God’s perfect creation – why is there particular mention in Revelation 21 that there will be no longer any sea? The sea is not necessarily evil, and can be quite beautiful. If the sea, however, represents chaos, the elimination of the sea makes sense. But it isn’t a recreation of Genesis 1.

Thoughts, everyone?

(Peaceful Science) #2

Worthy goal.

Of course, Scripture itself rejects this “metanarrative” by (1) using the word “good” instead of “perfect” and (2) showing God continually adding to His good creation, (but if was perfect, i.e. complete, why add to it?).

The most interesting question is how this notion of “perfect” was added to interpretations Genesis, when it clearly contradicts the narrative in Scripture itself. Do you know how the “perfect” misinterpretation arose?

(Brad Kramer) #3

I don’t like the use of the word “clearly” when it applies to Scriptural metanarratives. I think it misconstrues how these sorts of things come together in the first place. Any metanarrative is trying to bring together a huge variety of Scriptural and extra-Scriptural points into a single system. I don’t think that the dominant “restorationist” metanarrative is clearly wrong, in fact I understand why a lot of people accept it. It allows for a trajectory of Scripture that (supposedly) absolves God of any part in death and suffering. This is very important for many Christians. Honestly, one you get away from that, the answers become a lot messier, and that’s also a big factor here.

I’m also not sure that the distinction between “good” and “perfect” can do as much hermeneutical work as you are suggesting here (I disagree somewhat with Walton on this point). I think it’s reasonable for people to interpret “good” in line with how they perceive God’s goodness. What you’re describing are the Scriptural outliers, i.e. the data points outside the metanarrative which, in concert with the testimony of nature, point us in a different direction.

I think @Jon_Garvey could give more perspective from the historical side of things. Perhaps @TedDavis too.

(Christy Hemphill) #4

Do you take it literally and think the oceans will be done away with in the New Creation? Or night is literally done away?

I thought the image was chaos is all finally ordered and creation is completed. Darkness (as in everything that rebels against the light) is no more. Not that some kind of new natural order will come into being in which there is significantly less water and the New Earth doesn’t turn on its axis.

(Jon Garvey) #5


Thanks for dealing me into the game, Brad. I agree with you that treating “good” and “perfect” as contradictory is unduly harsh. Context is everything: “Only God is good” on Jesus’s lips clearly suggests perfection, but the Bible still describes “good men”.

But I agree with Joshua that the Genesis text does not imply earthly perfection (what would it even mean apart from a subjective wish-list?). Though I haven’t researched that “perfection” directly in the history of theology, the work I did on the “fallen creation” for my e-book “God’s Good Earth” (plug) shows that the idea didn’t appear in theology till late, which I document in ch5 (and the later period in ch6).

Basically, early interpreters were pretty agreed that what changed in the Fall was man, not the natural world, although some of them added the idea that under God’s providence nature began to be used as a judgement on man as well as a blessing (so the rain remains good, even when God directs it in judgement in the Flood).

Thus theologians described in what ways it was “good” that there were fierce carnivores, thorns and so on. Some, like Augustine, stressed the goodness of the totality over our limited viewpoint. Some spoke about the didactic nature of what we might call “evils”, teaching us the good. But nobody taught that nature went from good to evil because of the Fall.

The idea that nature became deformed by the Fall only arises, somewhat surprisingly, in Reformation writers after 1500, and it grows thereafter to become what people wrongly call the “traditional view” of a satanically corrupted creation, only really in the 18th and 19th centuries. It becomes especially marked in the growth of Fundamentalist Creationism in the US.

That seems to be the broad data, and I hypothesize (in the book), as a possible explanation, that the Renaissance glorification of man, summed up in the prevalent Prometheus Myth, was specifically rejected by the Reformers. But in seeking to restore again the evil of man’s fall, as opposed to his becoming mature and free through it, they exaggerated the cosmic effects. Much as Pandora (in the Prometheus myth) messed up everything, so Adam ruined the whole creation. In that context, it seems logical to oppose the shortcomings perceived in the present world to an ideal perfect Edenic world.

The Greeks (again in the Prometheus cycle) pictured an idyllic golden age, which they may even have borrowed from the Hebrews, originally:

There was first a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronos when he was reigning in heaven. They lived like gods without sorrow or toil, and they did not know Old Age. And although they died, it was as if they were overcome with sleep. It is said that the earth bare them fruit abundantly and yielded without compulsion all needful things. For spring was everlasting, streams of milk and nectar flowed, and honey was distilled from the oak.

But actually the biblical picture isn’t quite like that (I’m doing some work for a blog on that at the moment). If one takes the Eden story to rest on a historical core (a position I favour for various reasons), what is pictured is actually a real, particular and quite ordinary geographical land of Eden, in a recognisable wider world, with something rather special in a very localised garden planted by God.

Even that sheltered “garden of God” is described by the Genesis author in Gen 13 as like the plain of the Jordan or the delta of Egypt, and not like some unearthly Shangri-la. We temperate-climate types might find it rather hot. The garden is indeed an unusually good place (having access to eternal life in it!), but I’m coming round to thinking that the “paradaisical” aspect of it is intended to be because of (a) the innocence of man, and (b) the unusual presence of God in intimate relationship to them.

When sinful reality bites, the only physical change is exclusion from a garden - their life becomes tougher even within the land of Eden. But relative separation from God is the real loss of perfection.

In this way the goodness of the earth can be the goodness many of us find in any of the varied places we call home - I can’t imagine anywhere better to live than my Devonshire hills, whereas I can find web-pages of southern Iraquis boasting that their haven of palm trees and canals is the original Eden. “Paradise” could, plausibly, exist in any of those homelands, if we were all free of sin, and in unbroken relationship with God - especially that mysterious tree of eternal life were near to hand.

I don’t know if that helps.

(Daryl Anderson) #6

I also disagree with a literal believe that “everything was perfect and then Adam ruined it and then Christ fixed it” metanarrative."
Read in its context, Genesis 1 tells of an all-wise and all-powerful God who created everything exactly as he conceived it. People have imposed a moral connotation on “good” in that chapter that is not there. The pattern is that God commands what is to occur, it occurs (“And it was so”), and God is pleased with what he has created (“And God saw that it was good”). It is like a master craftsman who builds a beautiful piece of furniture and says, “I am pleased with that, it turned out good.” In that context, “it was good” is not commenting on moral perfection. The original recipients would have understood that the World was not the result of a struggle between warring deities, like in other ANE mythologies. It was the intended “good” result of the One Creator God.
At the end of the seven-day creation story the original recipients would have wondered, “If God created everything very good, then why is the world filled with sickness, sorrow, suffering, and death?” The answer follows in the second creation story: The story of humankind’s decision to disobey God. Evil and death are the consequences of sin. Humans were created with free will (part of God’s “good” intent for his creation) and sin is one consequence of our free will, however, another consequence is that we can choose to repent of our sin and turn to God for forgiveness. Revelation 21 and 22 is the culmination of God’s intent to live eternally in paradise in a loving relationship with humanity (those who repent and turn to God by placing faith in Christ). I agree that the absence of the sea in Rev 21:1 is symbolic. In the ancient world the sea and its storms symbolized a chaotic cause of death. The New Creation, in contrast, is depicted as exceedingly safe and orderly. A paradise without anything negative.

(Jon Garvey) #7

Quite so, Daryl.

On the original question, never let it be forgotten that Revelation is dealing with everything via apocalyptic. It may well be picking up on the Old Testament theme of the deep being the unoredred material from which God’s order was carved out or separated, but it’s also using the much newer language of apocalyptic, in which the ocean has sometimes acquired connotations of evil.

“A paradise without anything negative” sums it up well.

(Jay Johnson) #8

It reminds me a bit of Meredith Kline’s use of Gen. 2:5 in his essay “Because it had not rained,” which went a long way toward popularizing the “framework theory” of Genesis 1. [quote=“BradKramer, post:3, topic:35779”]
Any metanarrative is trying to bring together a huge variety of Scriptural and extra-Scriptural points into a single system. I don’t think that the dominant “restorationist” metanarrative is clearly wrong, in fact I understand why a lot of people accept it.

The metanarrative of “restoration” is not wrong, it just starts from the wrong place – a state of sinless, deathless perfection. What if, instead of Milton’s Paradise Lost, we conceive of the Fall as Purpose Lost? God’s stated purpose for creating mankind was to serve as his image. Adam forfeited that vocation through sin, but Christ, the true Image of God, wipes away our sin and restores us to our true vocation, which is to “image” him.

One problem that I have with the dominant way of conceiving the restoration metanarrative is its circularity. In other words, Eden was a perfect environment with no sin, no death, and perfect relationship with God. Adam messed it up, and then all of human history and Christ’s sacrifice serve only to return things to their original state of perfection. I don’t think God works like that in Scripture. If we look at the Eden/New Jerusalem typology, for example, the New Jerusalem is far more glorious than Eden. As O. Palmer Robertson put it, “Inherent in every OT type was an inadequacy that demanded some more perfect fulfillment.” Thus, the trajectory is upward, not circular, such that Isaiah can say that “the former things will not be remembered, nor will they even come to mind”!

We see the same thing in other metanarratives of Scripture. Take, for example, the “Immanuel Principle” of God-with-us, God’s dwelling with humanity. Beale, in The Temple and the Church’s Mission, traces this theme from Eden as symbolic of the Holy of Holies to the New Jerusalem, also symbolic of the Holy of Holies but now dramatically expanded. This is far more than a restoration of the original conditions.


Revelation is full of mysterious imagery! But It’s my understading that the “sea” in this passage refers to the mass of unbelieving people - due to ignorance or wilful rejection. If memory serves, this interpretation has in roots in ancient Judaism (unsurprisingly) - the “sea” traditonally referred to the Gentiles.

(George Brooks) #10


So, when you are in the mood, you can interpret a Biblical word for “ocean” to mean “humans”? Fine… I will use the @Dredge rule of biblical interpretation to interpret a “Day” = “millions of years”. Compared to your figurative use, mine is much less speculative.

(GJDS) #11

It is interesting to read the Bible as poetry, and literature, and this example of speaking of the sea fits in with this. So we have Isaiah

" But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot rest, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.”

and revelation providing a sea of glass (Rev 4:6). which I think may indicate tranquility. Water, river, are also terms that are used to designate washing and purity regarding sin, and tranquility s a river flows.

I do not know if this helps, but the Bible equates water with the Gospel in terms of baptism and cleanliness of the spirit.

(Bill Wald) #12

I suppose if God creates a new heaven and new earth then all the water will be fresh until it ages a billion years.

The moral of the koan, if you like lobster, clams, oysters, shrimp, rockfish, flounder . . . eat them while you can. Nothing in prophecy specifically mentions pork chops and bacon in the next life.

(John Dalton) #13

The “fiery lake” is a bit more concerning than the “sea” truth be told :slight_smile:

(Phil) #14

In related news, I was reading Walton’s “How to read Job” and was impressed with the parallels that you can bring with evolution and randomness when compared to the chaos monsters and the sea or waters. I will try to unfold that some more this evening when not catching a few minutes between work duties, perhaps in a new post if appropriate.

(Phil) #15

My impression is in agreement with the view that the sea represents chaos or lack of order,and that the statement of the sea being no more is a statement of the completion of order begun in Genesis 1, and continuing on throughout history, engaging mankind as image bearers.
It is interesting to think of how the chaos creatures are created and are controlled by God, and consider how that might relate to both aspects of physics and biological evolution as seemingly random processes that are nonetheless both created and under God’s control.
In Job, Leviathan is not seen as morally evil, but as a fearsome force that cannot be controlled by man, and seems to represent the power of nature in some respects.
RJS has another blog post that touches on this topic here:


Thanks for this answer Jay.
I was wondering why people tended to focus on what the “no more sea” had to to with Adam and his deeds or misdeeds instead of answering the question.
I understand the text to say that it will be NEW. Meaning that it might be an “earth” place to stay but that it will contain a completely NEW appearance and one of the chief characteristics would be that it has no sea.
That doesn’t mean that it cannot have large bodies of water as we do have lakes now. It just straight forwardly says there will be no sea. Now people want to attach all kinds of spiritual or metaphysical connotations to it.
Same as with the city not needing the light of the sun to shine on it.The sentence doesn’t provide enough information to jump to the conclusion that there won’t be a sun or moon, only that God Himself will have such a dazzling glory around Him that it will light up the whole city. For all intents and purposes we can imagine that there might well be a sun around. The text does not exclude it.

(Jay Johnson) #17

I don’t think you want to take the passages about the new heavens and earth too literally. Otherwise, the New Jerusalem would look roughly like this on the globe:

(Mervin Bitikofer) #18

Well – that might be one way problems will be resolved in the middle east. Of course if it goes into the ocean basins, then we’d better hope there is no sea. That would cause sea level rise like none other.

Those wanting more exercise in the new City of God can forego elevators and do stairs instead.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #19

I am curious: what of Genesis 3:17?

“And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;”

Does that phrase not imply that some sort of corruption of the ground/earth resulted because of Adam?

(George Brooks) #20


I’m hoping that I won’t need the exercise in the New Jerusalem… and that I’ll get a little color back into my silver locks… and all the free hummus I might want … Hummus is divine! (< pretty clever, aye?)

But frankly … when I googled images of the New Jerusalem … it made me a little anxious… I just can’t put my finger on it…