This Old Earth
Part 3: Death Before the Fall?
Perhaps the strongest objection to the theory of evolution is the fact that the fossil record shows that there was death for millions of years before the fall of man, yet it is commonly held (especially by YECs) that death entered the world because of sin. Romans 5:12 says, “as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…” We also read in I Corinthians 15:21-22 that “by man came death” and “in Adam all die.” One must notice, however, that the context in both passages is referring to man and man’s sin, and by man came both death and resurrection. Neither passage says anything about animals.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
I Corinthians 15:
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. [see NASB]
Notice it says that death reigned from Adam to Moses, not that it originated with Adam. Why would a righteous God condemn animals to death because of man’s sin? These verses do not say that all death is the result of sin, only death in man. It is frequently assumed that man was inherently immortal from his creation, until he sinned. But that is not what the Bible teaches. I Timothy 6:15-16 tells us that only God possesses immortality, and that Adam and Eve’s life was only unending as long as they had access to the tree of life.
22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. [see NASB]
We see the Tree of Life again in Revelation 2:7; and 22:2, 14, and it is again presented as conditional. The whole idea that man has an “immortal soul” that survives death either in heaven or in hell is a Pagan concept and foreign to the Scriptures (see The State of the Dead).
Although God had said that Adam would die in the day he ate the fruit (Genesis 2:17), Adam didn’t die the day he sinned. He went on to live a total of 930 years (Genesis 5:5). Some commentaries say that it was “spiritual death” which means separation from God. Others say that it was a “moral death.” Still others say that the “seeds of death” were planted in Adam, but he actually died hundreds of years later. But the Bible nowhere refers to any of these phrases.
How then do we explain that Adam did not literally die in the day that he ate of the tree? The literal translation of the Hebrew for “Thou shalt surely die” is “dying ye shall die.” The process of dying would begin to work in him from the day he sinned, and without access to the Tree of Life he would eventually die. This is how death passed on to every man. But nothing is said about death in animals. They do not have the capacity for sin as they have no moral decisions. They did not have access to the Tree of Life.
YECs claim there was no death of any kind before Adam and Eve’s sin. But this would present a number of problems. The natural ecosystem is designed so that organisms die and return nutrients to the soil, which are then absorbed by plants. Small animals eat those plants and are eaten by larger organisms and so on, until the top organisms of the chain die and again return nutrients to the soil.
Furthermore, certain animals eating other animals helps to keep the population of those animals in check. Without the delicate balance certain animals would overrun the environment and end up starving to death and wreaking havoc on the delicately balanced ecosystem. We only think of death as bad or evil because of our conditioning, and our association of it with the death of humans. But death was part of the natural cycle, although God had something better in mind for man.
The food cycle would have worked in the majority of God’s creation, but God planted a garden and put man in it. There he would have a perfectly controlled environment which included cultivated plants and animals, as well as access to the tree of life. This arrangement was conditional on man’s obeying God, and when he sinned, God drove him out of the garden and separated him from the tree of life.
God warned Adam that if he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil he would die. If there had been no death of any kind before Adam sinned, how would Adam have known what dying meant? He must have seen animals die and known what God’s warning meant.
One argument against the above scenario is that God gave animals and man plants for food.
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. [see NASB]
However, it doesn’t say that all animals ate only plants, or that certain animals couldn’t eat anything other than plants. Besides, all animals – even carnivores – rely ultimately on plants for food, since the plants provide food for the herbivores, which the carnivores then eat. In addition, after the Flood God changed what He would allow man to eat.
1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
3 Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.
4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. [see NASB]
Notice He didn’t say the fear of each other would be on every beast from that time forward, as they were already part of the food chain. But the fear and dread of man would be on them from that point, since God now allowed man to eat meat. The declaration that God gave of what was allowed for food was not changed for the animals as it was for man in verse 3. There is no verse in the Bible that indicates when animals became carnivorous. Thomas Aquinas wrote about this in his Summa Theologica:
In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man’s sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon.
God did not judge animals based on man’s sin, which would be unjust. The three guilty parties – Adam, Eve, and the serpent (Satan) – each received individual judgment. Adam would have to work harder for his food, Eve would have greater pain in childbirth, and the serpent would crawl on his belly and his head would be bruised by the seed of the woman. No other judgment is given.
Another argument against death before the fall is that God saw all that He created and said it was “very good.” YECs claim that if there was death in the original creation it wouldn’t be called very good. But is all death evil by nature? Death is an enemy, according to I Corinthians 15:26, but we saw above that the context is death in man. Death in the animal kingdom is part of the natural cycle, and even God Himself participates in that cycle.
39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,
40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?
41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.
20 Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
21 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
26 There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? [see NASB]
If the death of animals for food were evil, God would be a sinner, which is impossible. Many YECs respond that these verses refer to the fallen world after Adam’s sin. But this would make God a poor designer, whose perfect creation is ruined by Adam and Eve’s sin, forcing Him to resort to a “Plan B.” But Isaiah tells us that God’s plans have stood from the beginning.
9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: [see NASB]
Furthermore, while God called the creation “very good” He didn’t call it “perfect.” In the New Heaven and Earth, there will be perfection.
6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. [see NASB]
Death of animals as well as man will be eliminated in the New Earth, but the Bible doesn’t say that it was so in the original paradise.
Some YEC’s refer to Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” and interpret it as saying that everything bad in the natural world is the result of Adam’s sin. But is that what the passage says? Does sin have the power to corrupt God’s creation? We are told, in fact, that creation became the way it is because God subjected it to vanity.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. [see NASB]
The word "vanity" in verse 20 means "futility." The world is subject to futility because it is not currently able to measure up to its intended purpose. God subjected it to that futility "in hope," because His plan involves one day delivering it from the bondage of corruption and establishing it in its intended glory. This is the foundation of the good news about the Kingdom of God.
Dr. Hugh Ross wrote in The Genesis Question:
When we consider that the second thermodynamic law is essential for life’s existence, essential for eating and mobility and countless other activities that most of us agree are enjoyable and good, we see no reason to suggest that the law should be judged as bad. Thermodynamic laws were included when God declared His creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
We must be careful, however, not to confuse God’s very good creation with His best creation, or more accurately, His ultimate goal for His creation. In the new creation there will be no thermodynamic laws – no decay, no frustration, no groaning, no grieving (see Revelation 21:1-5). The thermodynamic laws are good, in spite of the “decay,” “frustration,” and “groaning,” because they are part of God’s strategy for preparing His creation to enjoy the blessings and rewards of the new creation.
So, for Adam and Eve, if they did any work in the Garden, then a loss of energy and a certain amount of decay was present. Why? Because work is essential to breathing, circulating blood, contracting muscles and digesting food. These are all virtually life-sustaining processes. Adam was working, tending the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) before he sinned. Thus, Romans 8:20-22 could not imply that Adam’s sin inaugurated all of the decay process.
There is much evidence in the natural world for evolution, and ignoring it only makes Christians look foolish. Do science and the Bible contradict one another? Not when both are properly understood.
God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing in the beginning (whenever that was) and then took His time preparing it to be inhabited. There is no reason to insist that the days in Genesis 1 are limited to 24-hour days. The Hebrew word for ‘day’ can mean a long period of time and still be literal rather than allegorical.
Young Earth Creationism estimates the age of the earth to be around 6,000 years, but this was based on faulty calculations in the 17th century. It has since been established that the genealogies in the Old Testament are not complete but present only highlights.
The description of God’s work in Genesis 1 describes the earth and the sea bringing forth life as God designed them to, rather than God creating it directly. This fits with evolution better than the commonly held view.
The commonly held belief that there was no death of any kind before the fall of man has been an argument against long creation days and an old earth. But seen as part of the natural cycle in a delicately balanced ecosystem, death must have been prevalent among God’s creation, but man was spared from death by having access to the Tree of Life. This access was conditional, however, and when man sinned he was cut off from it, and thus death came upon all mankind. But God will create new heavens and a new earth in which there will be perfection and no death.
When we consider the vast amount of time needed for evolution to take place, it should remind us of the vast amount of space in God’s creation. Just as we cannot fathom the size of the universe, we cannot fathom the eons of time God used to make His creation habitable. Both time and space from our perspective give us a sense of wonder and awe at God’s marvelous creation.
12 For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13 Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.
14 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
15 Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.
16 The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun.
17 Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.
24 I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.
25 Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end. [see NASB]
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This page last updated January 19, 2018