The specific term "new creation" (kaine ktisis [kainov"ktivsi"]) occurs only twice in the New Testament (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). It is, however, the anthropological and individual side of the broad concept of the renewal of creation that is developed more widely in the New Testament. It is the broader idea, which goes back to passages in the latter part of Isaiah, developments in apocalyptic Jewish thought, and Qumran, which probably gave rise to Paul's specific application. Consequently, it will be helpful to consider this background before attempting to explain the concept in its final form.
Renewal in Isaiah. In the latter half of Isaiah (42:9; 43:18-19; 48:6; 65:17-25; 66:22) two strands of teaching begin to emerge that seem to have played a part in Paul's thinking about salvation. On the one hand, the prophet declares that God is about to do something new (42:9; 43:18-19; 48:6). Salvation is described along the lines of a new exodus ("I am making a way in the desert and streams in a wasteland, Isa 43:19), and what God is about to do will completely surpass old categories ("new things, hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago you have not heard of them before today, 48:6b-7). These passages together declare the promise of God's intervention to deliver his people by doing a new thing.
Then, repeating and enlarging on the themes of newness and renewal, chapters 65 and 66 declare God's intention to "create new heavens and a new earth" (65:17). This act of God involves a complete reorganization of life; the hazards of life are removed (65:19-20, 23, 25). The God who has seemed far off will now be near (65:24), and the existence of his people will no longer be precarious and uncertain but perpetual and safe (66:22).
Both strands of teaching brought hope to the nation, whose sin threatened to destroy its hope in God. The punishment of the exile was replaced by the promise of renewal of the covenant and the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. It is clear that a drastic change was necessary. God himself would carry out this new thing, and it would affect the life of his people.
The Renewal of Creation in Apocalyptic and Sectarian Judaism. During a period of time when Jewish communities felt increasingly the pressure of dominion under foreign powers, religious literature emerged to encourage hope in an imminent, final intervention of God. These extracanonical writings picked up on the theme introduced in the last chapters of Isaiah of the creation of a new heavens and new earth. First Enoch 91:16 speaks of the passing away of the old order and the appearance of the new ("And in it [the great judgment] the first heaven shall pass away, and a new heaven shall appear"). First Enoch 72:1 classifies this as a "new work" of God ("until the creation will be made anew to last forever" cf. Isa 43:19). Similarly, Jubilee 1:29, which casts this message of hope in the form of a revelation from God to Moses on Mount Sinai, speaks of "the day of the new creation, when heaven and earth will be renewed." In 4:26 the term "new creation" appears to have become a technical term within the vocabulary of this stream of Jewish eschatology ("the Garden of Eden, and the Mount of the East, Mount Sinai, and Mount Zion will be sanctified in the new creation"); connected with the concept are the ideas of the purification of the earth and God's people from sin. In what is probably the latest phase of Jewish apocalyptic literature (4 Edras 7:75; Syr. Bar. 32:6; Bar. 57:2; Apoc. to Abraham 17:14) the hope in a final eschatological renewal of the world is repeated without much variation. The literature of Qumran also registers the firm belief in the new creation of the world by God on the final day (1QH 13:11-12:; "For Thou has caused them to see what they had not known, by bringing to an end the former things and by creating things that are new" = Isa 65:17; 1QS 4:25: "For God has allotted these [spirits] in equal parts until the final end, the time of renewal" = Isa 43:19). 11QTemple 29:9 shows evidence that "creation" in the sense of the day of the new creation has become a technical term ("for I shall cause my glory to dwell upon it until the day of blessing on which I shall create [anew] my sanctuary"). But while the apocalyptic literature of Judaism and Qumran reflect a growing belief in God's final solution, it is limited to a future, eschatological event (however imminent) and never "individualized" or applied as a description of a new condition of life as in Paul (though these developments may have influenced the apostle's thought).
The Renewal of Creation in the New Testament. That the early church also believed in the ultimate renovation or re-creation of the heavens and the earth at the close of history is clear from 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1-5. Both passages draw on Isaiah 65 and 66, but 2 Peter 3:13 is unique in its emphasis on the destruction of the heavens on the day of God. In this vein, Paul writes of the creation's longing to be set free from the futility and bondage to decay, to which is linked the promise of the completion of redemption (Rom 8:19-22). When creation is viewed in these general terms, the focus continues to be on God's intervention on the last day.
The New Creation. With this background in mind, we can now consider the two passages in which "new creation" (kaine ktisis [kainov"ktivsi"]) actually occurs, along with three others in Paul's writings that seem to reflect the concept.
Paul's earliest recorded use of the term occurs in Galatians 6:15. The question is, To what does the term refer? The passage shows that the issue was the proper grounds for boasting. To base one's boast on one's confidence in the rite of circumcision or one's refusal to be circumcised amounted to reliance on "the flesh, " or in this case on a ceremony or ritual. Paul's point is that these things provide no grounds for confidence; only Christ's death in our behalf is sufficient (5:12-14). Verse 15 then restates this in principle form: "For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything" (NRSV). Verse 16 reveals that this has indeed the force of a principle or rule: "As for those who will follow this rule (kanon [kanwvn])." In Paul's logic, the death of Christ stands parallel with the "new creation." But the return to the personal perspective suggests that the new creation is the status of the genuine Christian that Paul has been seeking to elucidate for the misguided Galatians in the letter. The old creation would be represented by life in the flesh (1:1, 10-12; 2:16; 6:1). The new creation, which stands in need of some clarification here (though presumably the Galatians knew the concept already), is characterized by all that participation in Christ's death (5:24; 6:14) affords: new life from death (2:19-20) "in Christ" (3:26-28); "belonging" to Christ (3:29; 5:24); possession of the Spirit (3:3; 4:6); life lived in dependence on and submission to the Spirit (5:16-18, 25; 6:8). These are the images that combine to define new creation. According to Paul's theology, salvation, an eschatological promise, has begun now in the present age; the renewal, which is to affect the entire universe, has begun in the hearts and lives of those who respond to the gospel. This means for the Christian the possibility of experiencing life in the Spirit, marked by the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23) in the present situations of life.
The same connections are evident in 2 Corinthians 5:17. In response to a situation in which some so-called superapostles were putting confidence in what Paul calls "outward appearance" (whether he means the way one carries oneself, or one's speaking ability, dress, etc.), that is, things that have no eternal significance (v. 12), he drives home again the basic fact of Christ's death for us (vv. 14-15), which should force people to view life in a different way. Again, new creation describes the condition of the one now "in Christ, " for whom "everything is new." The imagery depicts the experience of renovation which, though future in final completion, has already begun in the believer. This participation in "the world to come, " while yet living in the present age, brings a radical reorganizing of priorities (described as living for Christ; v. 15) and a "new" way of looking at life and the people around (v. 16).
Several passages in Ephesians (2:10, 15; 4:24) employ the verb "create" (ktizo [ktivzw]) to describe aspects of the new existence in Christ. The first two are again concerned with grounds for boasting (see 2:9): salvation from God (2:8) is defined in anthropological terms as being "created in Christ" (2:10), all of which implies that there is no human ground for boasting. Then, with the Jew/Gentile debate in view circumcision versus uncircumcision Christ's work of "creating" a "new" humanity is introduced to demonstrate how the old distinctions and privileges have been rendered obsolete. Finally, in 4:24 Paul says that God has solved the dilemma of the old way of life (sin leading to death) by "creating" a "new" human, whose life is characterized instead by righteousness and holiness. New creation, then, is a Pauline concept in the New Testament. It is clearly related to Paul's belief that the new age (salvation, life in the Spirit) has broken into the old age. The idea of a new heavens and earth or of a renewal of the universe may be behind Paul's concept. If there is a direct relationship, what we have is Paul's anthropological and soteriological application of the broader future promise to the life of individuals in the present age. New creation status implies newness of life and a new manner of life that accords with God's will. The two thoughts are inseparable.
Philip H. Towner
Bibliography. J. Baumgarten, EDNT, 2:230; H. D. Betz, Galatians; R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament; W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism; W. Foerster, TDNT, 3:1033-35; V. P. Furnish, 2 Corinthians.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'New Creation'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".