Death before the Fall?

One of the stumbling-blocks for Christians accepting evolutionary theory is the idea of death before the Fall of man. How can this notion possibly be reconciled with the accepted scientific viewpoints of the history of life on Earth?

Many Christians insist that the Bible teaches there was no physical death before the fall of man. This notion is not well-supported Biblically, and it certainly isn’t well-supported scientifically.

If there was no physical death before the fall, several interesting questions arise.  For instance, if animals couldn’t die prior to the fall, why did God give them reproductive abilities?  Recall that God instructed them to “be fruitful and increase in number”.  Furthermore, animals not being able to die creates problems such as the following: An ant crawls along the grass.  A cow comes along and eats that patch of grass, ingesting the ant in the process.  The ant cannot perish if there is no physical death; it somehow must survive the trip through the cow’s digestive and excretory systems.  For that matter, why would the cow even need to eat?  If there was no physical death, starvation would certainly pose no problem–yet God granted the plants to the animals for food.  Speaking of plants, they would have the same dilemma as the aforementioned ant–how would the plants survive being eaten without dying?

Literalists who accept the idea of no death before the fall run into a problem right away when reading the Genesis account of the fall. God told Adam that he would die the day he ate the forbidden fruit. Note that nowhere does it say that before this time Adam was destined to be immortal. If someone hands you a venomous snake and says, “If this bites you, today you will die”, does that imply you were going to live forever otherwise? Of course not. In any case, on the day Adam ate the fruit, he certainly did not physically die! He went on to live many, many years, according to Genesis. One could, of course, suggest that the term “day” here did not literally mean a 24-hour period…but that’s pretty inconsistent for a literalist who insists “death” here MUST mean physical death.

A much more consistent reading would mean that the death here refers to spiritual, not physical, death.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 supports this reading (and is ironically often quoted by others to support physical death): “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

The verse alludes to Adam’s death at the Fall, which was certainly not physical since he did not physically die that day. The verse parallels death in Adam to life in Christ. Do we have physical life in Christ or spiritual life in Christ? Regardless of religious beliefs, people continue to be physically born every day. Many people have lived physically just fine for years without believing in Jesus Christ as their savior. The passage is much more meaningful if taken as a reference to spiritual death and life. Jesus even referred to himself as granting spiritual life. “…Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11). Since we do still obviously physically die, Jesus was speaking of spiritual death…which is a death far worse than physical death ever could be.

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7 Responses to “Death before the Fall?”

  1. Wow…good thinking. Yeah, I’ve always heard people say that it was a spiritual death….but never heard or thought of how we don’t apply that to death before the fall….woah.

  2. You said: “Many Christians insist that the Bible teaches there was no physical death before the fall of man. This notion is not well-supported Biblically, and it certainly isn’t well-supported scientifically.”

    Your premise that physical death did NOT exist before the fall of Adam violates basic doctrine 101. In fact, righ away in Genesis chapter two, God points out the “Tree of Life” and later, guards Adam from access to it because of willful disobedience! Why? Because Adam, prior to God’s judgment of his sin, had free access to that same tree – eternally.

    Now that Jesus Christ has reconciled fallen man through his death and resurrection – he promises eternal life once again to all who are found blameless before Him. Thus, that same “Tree of Life” kept from Adam as mentioned in the Genesis account – shows up again in the new Jerusalem described in great detail in the Book of Revelation – with all the Saints having full access to its fruit!

    As far as death goes – Adam died spiritually as soon as he disobeyed and began dying physically too. That process toward original death was prolonged by Adam’s original physical perfectness – but, die he did!

    In fact, even death by God’s judgement played perfectly into His timetable for bringing about his judgment on an unbelieving world via His castostrophic flood.

    So… unless a man is “born-again”, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God!

  3. Clarification:

    Related to man – there was no physical death prior to Adam’s fall.

    Related to God – God forknew that He must needs be slain “before the foundations of this world began.”

    Doctrinally then, God, who is not restrained by time – sees Adam’s sin in His presense even before he created Adam in the garden.

    Just a thought…

  4. Regarding the tree of life–

    Genesis 3:21-24 states: “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side [e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

    If Adam already had eternal life, why would God be so worried about him eating from this tree after he sinned? God did not want Adam to live eternally (physically) since he had already died spiritually.

  5. I was always taught that when “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” it was the first physical death. Due to our sin, a few animals lost their skin.

    Also, I was always under the impression that the fall happened pretty shortly after the 6 (7) days of creation. So I mean, not eating for a few days and looking out for stray ants wouldn’t have been such a big deal.

    Remember this: taking nuts, corn, spinach leaves, etc from a plant doesn’t kill the plant. Animals, including Adam and Eve, could still eat without killing things.

    I think it is obvious that eating occurred. Eating can be such a wonderful and enjoyable experience, and for it to not be present in paradise/Eden would be a major letdown.

    Am I right in assuming that evolutions (of any kind) would disagree with the notion that there was no death (physical/spiritual) before the fall for the mean reason of defending the fossil records?

  6. Hi Ian. Thanks for commenting. A few quick thoughts:

    “Also, I was always under the impression that the fall happened pretty shortly after the 6 (7) days of creation. So I mean, not eating for a few days and looking out for stray ants wouldn’t have been such a big deal.”

    I believe you are missing the point. Regardless, why are you under the impression that the fall happened shortly after the days of creation?

    “Remember this: taking nuts, corn, spinach leaves, etc from a plant doesn’t kill the plant. Animals, including Adam and Eve, could still eat without killing things.”

    I’ll grant that taking certain parts from a plant does not necessarily kill the entire plant itself. Yet what about cellular death?

    “Am I right in assuming that evolutions (of any kind) would disagree with the notion that there was no death (physical/spiritual) before the fall for the mean reason of defending the fossil records?”

    I cannot say if you are right or wrong as I am unclear on exactly what you are trying to say. Evolution does certainly pose a problem with the belief that there was no physical death before the fall.

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