Mark 16:15, Preach to All Creation

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation…”

//Some time ago, I asked in a blog post whether or not the animal kingdom was part of “God’s creation.” Today I offer this verse in Mark. St. Francis of Assisi, you may recall, took this commission literally, preaching to birds, crickets, bees, wolves. Was the guy nuts, or are the animals part of God’s creation as well? The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, says Psalm 24.

When God told Jonah to preach to Nineveh, it appears to be partly out of concern for the animals. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.

This may seem like silliness to many Christians, but for others, who recognize humans as little removed from the same ancestry shared by the rest of God’s creation, this is a true concern. Homo sapiens are just a tiny, current-day stage in a vast evolutionary process that, for all we know, is far from complete.


  1. Thank you! I couldn’t remember where I read the quote to preach to all of creation.

  2. Hi Lee! Great question here today. Let me see if I can help.

    How was the term “all creation” (Gk ktisis) used in Ancient Near Eastern, Hebrew, biblical thought? Did it mean something different to them, then, than it does to us today? Let’s first look at other Scriptures to ascertain the nature of the term “all creation” – whether it be referring to people, or to animals and other aspects of the planet.

    Colossians 1:23 “…the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which WAS PREACHED to EVERY CREATURE (Gk ktisis) which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister…”

    I believe that this verse shows it to be, in 1st century context, referring to people. Specifically, people in the area of the Roman Empire in the 1st century. Though I appreciate animals and all, a further survey of how the term “all creation” is used in Scripture shows that it is referring to people, specifically, to the revolutionary idea that the Gospel was freed to go to BOTH Jews and 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 – the church. This also is why in the creation story, Adam, who represents Israel in relationship with God, is a man, and the others are beasts and sea creatures. The beastly part of creation were the Gentile nations to whom the Gospel would travel.

    So, both Jews and Gentiles together comprise the “all creation” used in 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 Hebrew, it is not “my land and my people” as it gets rendered in English. 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 why the beast of the sea, in Revelation, Rome/Nero, is coming up out of the horizon of the sea from Jerusalem’s stand-point. 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 anticipating this new covenant “consummation of the ages” in 70AD.

    Notice about Paul’s “all creation”:

    1) Encompassing inanimate beings would be too vague, especially for this argument about who is included in the new covenant kind of salvation.

    2) The creation is given sentient characteristics like it has intense longings, its own will, hope, its capable of being made subject to vanity (specifically meaning idolatry), it can be set free from corruption, and participate in the glory of the children of God.

    3) The anti-thesis in v 23 between creation (all people) as a whole and ‘ourselves who have the first fruits’ indicates that he is differentiating between Christians and other people.

    4) Was humanity at Paul’s time groaning in pain, waiting and longing for deliverance? Yes. Believers then lived in a time of deep corruption and degradation, yet somehow they sensed that deliverance was at hand. Especially the Jews and Christians who groaned under the yoke of Roman bondage, awaiting their Deliverer.

    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 the Jews and the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ before Jesus’ coming presence or Parousia in AD70.

    I also have a chart at my site 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 talking about people. It was not the whole world according to OUR modern definition, but to THEIR definition, which is the more important perspective when interpreting the nature of a concept in scripture.

  3. Lee Harmon

    Hey, Riley, great to hear from you! When you weigh in, you really bring some weighty stuff!

    While I agree with you in many places (you probably recognized that in my Revelation book), I do find that you carry the literary device a lot further than I do. I have a question: Take the flood as an example. If this story has an implied meaning beneath the surface, does that mean that creative liberties have been taken with the story, and it shouldn’t be read literally?

  4. Paul Ede

    “An inordinate stress on covenant to the neglect of land is a peculiarly Christian temptation and yields to a space/time antithesis.” p200 The Land

    I struggle with a lot of Riley’s exegesis. It seems almost gnostic in its re-interpretation of anything to do with embodied creation into metaphor. To say that the beasts of the Genesis narrative are designed to be metaphors of the Gentile people is one of the most extreme cases of anthropocentrism I have ever come across. So much as to be more redolent of manichaean dualism than legitimate biblical thought. I agree with a metaphorical interpretation of the ‘sea’ in Revelation (but understand it to mean ‘chaos’, rather than connected to people groups), so I am not against metaphorical interpretation. But to pretty much say that all references to beasts in scripture are metaphors of human people groups is (to me) bizarre.

    I mean, when Jesus asks the Pharisees as to whether they would rescue an animal on the Sabbath in order to make the point that healing humans on the sabbath is not a sin, by Riley’s logic, the animal here would just be a metaphor of the Gentile peoples? I don’t disagree that the gospel wants to reconcile Jew and gentile. We just don’t need to go to such extreme (and distorted) allegorical lengths to make the point.

  5. Lee Harmon

    Hi Paul, thanks for commenting! I don’t really have a feel for whether Riley’s metaphorical interpretation supersedes a literal interpretation, or just lends meaning, so I better not answer for her! But your example seems extreme.

  6. Dave Hammond

    I can understand why some folks wouldn’t want this to mean “all creation” but rather only people. It fits with a way of seeing preaching and evangelism I reckon.
    Pesky thing is translation especially when we already have the end in mind.
    Perhaps an idea might be to just sit with it and what it might mean to us? What may it ask about my relationship with all things? Evangelical evangelicalism has gradually let thee air out of my tires and as I look around the global car park seems to have a lot of flat tires. Funny, like the cigarette companies once sales dropped in the west they found a new market in developing countries and celebrate the sales. Many times I’ve heard this said of Christianity. “The church is growing in developing countries and soon they will come to evangelise us, like that’s a good thing.

  7. Mark 16:16 helps explain what creatures might mean… preach with the hope that they will believe then after they believe they get baptized. i guess you can preach to animals if you wish but i don’t think Believing and getting baptized is the result you are going to get from the animal audience.

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