Archive for interpretation

Death before the Fall?

Posted in Genesis with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2008 by airtightnoodle

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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