Was There Death Before the Fall? Of Course There Was…

by Max Andrews

Let’s have a thought experiment.  If Adam, before sin, had tripped and fell on a big sharp rock and cut his head open, would he die? Think about it, the neurological and cranial damage would be tremendous and even if that wasn’t damaged, there is still the risk of infection. What if Adam wanted to enjoy a swim in the river, what if he got a cramp and couldn’t swim anymore and drowned?  I hear the objections already, “Well God could alter the physics or perform a miracle,” or, “Adam would have seen that rock or would have known not to swim at that time.” Sure, these are possible, but not plausible.  I think those objections won’t work because you have a problem of a theodicy on your hands, why wouldn’t God interfere with Adam sinning?  Both were free decisions.  Also, you have a problem of noetic sin if you play the cognitive card.  Was Adam’s cognitive faculty super human (in comparison to today’s faculty) in that he would have known where all the big and sharp rocks were and would he have known where to step and what to do and when to do it to avoid any harm?  I think both objections are too ad hoc and are cases of special pleading.

The issue rests with Romans 5.12.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.

The result of sin is both physical and spiritual death to mankind.  Wait, didn’t I just advocate physical death before the fall? Yes, of the natural order.  Adam was removed from Eden, which prohibited him from partaking in the fruit of the tree of life.  I believe that the tree of life provides the needed substance for overcoming physical death.  You’ll notice in Revelation 22 the tree of life returns so we may live eternally.  Spiritual death is what separates us from God and is only a consequent of the fall of Adam.

So, did plants die before the fall? Yes. Did animals die before the fall? Yes.  Did humans (homo sapiens sapiens) die before the fall? No.  Could humans die before the fall? Yes, but only of the natural order previously discussed.

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12 Responses to “Was There Death Before the Fall? Of Course There Was…”

  1. I think you nailed this one. Great post. I can already hear the critics accusing you of making God responsible for natural evil. I dont see animal death before the fall or natural disasters as “evil” though. I think a world with entropy built in was the proper stage for the human drama to play out. Romans 5:12 is clear that human death came through sin and leaves open the possibility of plant and animal death before that.

  2. I love this. My brother and I go back and forth on YEC vs OEC, and his sticking point is death was post the fall of Adam, not pre. I disagree.

  3. Of course, my old prof John Mark Reynolds would argue that the garden of Eden might have been a place where God’s providence kept Adam and Eve “in phase” with natural law, thus avoiding accidental events.

    So … Here’s a question for you Max. Do you think men are alive spiritually before they first sin? Or are we born dead?

  4. Wisdom 2, 23-24
    For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it.

    Romans 5, 12-14
    Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus death has passed unto all men because all have sinned — for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law; yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin after the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him who was to come.

  5. Interesting view. I have primarily viewed the death of Rom. 5 as entirely spiritual, and asserted that God must have intended the Tree of Life to be used in a due end, mode and cause to make humans incorruptible and immortal… but man’s defiance with the Tree of Knowledge brought about the expulsion from the garden, and hence the divine grace and energies he had at first received through special creation gradually if not altogether immediately receded, and thus man died….. I am also wondering though (even though it is another question) whether the Bible substantiates that Adam and Eve were the first two human beings ever, given the unexplained woman who becomes Cain’s wife in Gen. 4.

    • I think there’s good reason to believe that Adam and Eve were the first human beings (at least homo sapiens sapiens). They had sons and daughters. Cain’s wife was just one of his sisters.

  6. This is an interesting perspective. I think you raise a good & valid point. I also think you were correct to mention the similar scenario with the eternal state. To be entirely honest, that is something that I, as a YEC, have often thought about and I will confess that I do not think I have a definitive answer at this point.

    Regarding Romans 5 and other passages, I feel confident that there was not of any kind death before the first sin. Genesis is clear that the entire Earth was cursed as a result of the first sin (and even a trivial empirical observation of physical world will verify that the Earth was cursed in more ways than those specifically mentioned in Genesis 3). Comparing that with the wording Paul uses in Romans 5 and 1 Coronations 15 seems to imply that the death that was introduced into the world following the first sin was also the introduction of death to the animals and plants. Incidentally, this same implication is found in Genesis 3:14 where God mentions all of the animals when cursing the serpent. It is also notable that we do not see animal sacrifices, the provision of animal skins, or any mention of animal (or plant) death prior to the fall. (However, it might be worth disclaiming that I would not consider something like a flower or a leaf being picked death, because the tree and root of the flower remain alive [also see Genesis 2:15]. I should also note that, of course entropy was in the original creation, but entropy does not necessarily imply death.) Thus, from a theological perspective alone, I am convinced that death did not exist prior to the fall.

    The idea that the Tree of Life was a essential resource needed for the perpetuation of eternal physical life is an interesting one. If I understood you correctly, I believe you were suggesting that eating from the Tree of Life in a crucial time when life was threatened would provide a healing the the body that would sustain its function. For example, if a bolder rolled onto Adam’s leg and he began to bleed to death, the fruit would possess the ability to heal him by (what we would label as) a supernatural process. If this is an accurate understanding of your view, then this view equally has its own difficulties. Suppose the fatal event occurred too quickly or somehow prohibited Adam from being able to physically eat the fruit (supposed Adam’s jaw was blown off or he was somehow beheaded)? Would he die? Further, let’s take this scenario into the New Jerusalem where we find similar circumstances. 1 Corinthians 15:53‒55 and other passages strongly suggests that there will be no death in the eternal state (that is the state of being the regenerate will find themselves in following their resurrection at the end of the present age). Despite the fact that, granted, the Tree of Life will be present in the New Jerusalem, scripture always refers to the tree as if it were a single tree and finite in nature. Suppose someone had a deadly experience in the eternal state and they were no where near the tree. Will they die? Decidedly no. But how will the fruit be brought to them quickly enough? Will the physics be altered there? (Probably.) And what happens if Adam’s head is somehow blown off? Can a person’s head be blown off in the New Jerusalem? By your system, why not? I have often joked with friends that I will one day climb to the top of the wall around the New Jerusalem and jump off ‒ just for the fun of it! But I do not believe, in that case, that I would die. But what would happen to my body (which I do believe will be physically composed very similarly to our current ones)?

    These questions remain unanswered, even by people, such as myself, who believe that there was not death of any kind prior to the fall. I am not sure. Personally, the idea that the physics were (and will be) different than their current structure does not seem extraordinary or implausible to me. We see that God is unafraid to alter physical properties in a number of specific circumstances when Jesus and many other Jew and Christians have performed repeated miracles via the power of God throught all of the Earth’s history. Some passages seem to imply that angels can travel extraordinarily fast through space-time and Jesus, Philip, and others were seen disappearing in one place and appearing in another instantaneously. Jesus was also known to travel through locked doors and crowds of people, not to mention Peter as well as Himself walking on water. Thus, altered physics does not seem, to me, to be an implausible explanation. Yet, we just don’t know.

    • I think what’s fundamentally wrong about this position is that animal and plants are not moral agents and for the YEC desire to extend the effects of sin and role in atonement is superfluous. Of course there weren’t animal sacrifices before the fall, there was no need for atonement for human sin. So, would you deny that the fruit they ate in the garden did not cease to live? Or, are you going to attribute a different definition of biological death to plants and animals? If so, why? I think your examples of overcoming natural order death are extremely ad hoc. A boulder rolls into his leg and he happens to have a fruit there? What if it rolled on his head? I think your grasping at straws and contriving too much ad hocness to defend it. The YEC doesn’t even need to commit to denying death before the fall. It’s honestly one of the biggest shots in the foot for the YEC to make this commitment when it’s scientifically impossible to defend, exegetically untenable, and explanatorily ad hoc for no reason. The whole premise contributes nothing to the YEC position.

  7. I’ve always held the view the “no death” result of original sin meant all sentient life, not just man. Plants have never been in the picture, as in Gen. 1:29-30 has God giving to man and animals “every seed-bearing plant … every green plant for food”. I’m right with you on the thought experiment though. It’s seems implausible to expect humans and animals to live very long without accidental death for animals (Adam walking along and squashing a bug, or a unseen insect on a blade of grass gets eaten by a grazing animal) or himself. Exponential reproduction of everything from bacteria to “beasts of the field” would overpopulate the place fairly quickly without physical death keeping it in check. I admit it’s not satisfying intellectually.

    You explain how Romans 5:12 could refer to spiritual death that “spread to all men”. This makes sense. How do you deal with other passages that seem to relate original sin to physical death and physical consequences?

    Gen. 3… Curse on the serpent: “You will move on your belly and eat dust ” and Eve’s intensified labor pains: “bear children in anguish”; and the curse of the ground of the earth for Adam’s sake: “eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life”, the addition of thorns and thistles and eating bread “by the sweat of your brow”. “For you are dust, and you will return to dust” refers to Adam’s material substance. Both the serpent and Adam’s difficulty would be in the context of “all the days of your life.”

    Romans 8:20-23 says that “creation was subjected to futility… has been groaning together with labor pains”, waiting for “the redemption of our bodies.”

    1 Cor. 15:21 “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.” is a parallel to death from Adam and another physical occurrence.

    Rev. 21:4-5 describes restoration in terms that seem physical: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death,nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away”, spoken by our Creator who will “make all things new” (vs 5).

    Terry Mortenson uses the above passages and others in a similar argument in a refutation of Dembski… http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v2/n1/dembskis-theodicy-refuted

    He also makes an interesting point that if Adam followed millions of years of physical death and disease, following 5 hypothesized major extinction periods where most of the planet’s life was wiped out, the Fall actually represents the beginning of a far better world, being only a few thousand years thus far with only one worldwide extinction period, rather than a “cursed creation”, a premise on which the whole of Scripture and the Gospel rests.

    I rather think that levels of physical death Adam wouldn’t have been able to observe and comprehend—i.e. bacterial death or cellular death, essential for the growth/reproduction of anything—was not in view in God’s curse in Gen. 3. God’s revelation in scripture seems to be given in consideration of the perspective of man on the face of the earth. Even so, it’s hard to see logically what long term plan God may have had to prevent any physical death of sentient life. We know such a long term plan was not realized, since the time between Adam’s creation and the Fall seems to be very short (days or weeks perhaps; the lack of any mention of A&E’s children until after the Fall makes me think it was not many months or years). “Spiritual death” is certainly the more essential death we overcome through Christ in Rom. 5. But what do we do with the larger context of Scripture that seems to point also to physical death beginning with Adam?

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