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Animal death before the Fall

Cruelty to animals is contrary to God’s nature


Published: 17 March 2020 (GMT+10)

Biblical creationists teach the historic Christian view that all kinds of death, corruption, decay, etc. (anything less than ‘Very Good’ according to God) are ultimately a result of God’s just punishment for the sin of Adam in the Garden. Prior to the Fall and the Curse, this creation existed in a state which exactly matched God’s original will. One may call this ‘paradise’. This idyllic state would have been pervasive across all of creation, and all domains; there would have been no corruption or death in the animal kingdoms just as there was none for mankind.

In fact, we can even read in Genesis 1:29–30 that all animals and people were given only plants for food prior to the Fall and the Curse. There would have been no carnivory or predation in the animal world prior to the entry of sin. And in Isaiah 11:6, the prophet reveals that God promises to restore this paradise to earth in the future, including its lack of predation, by promising, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” Commentators say that Isaiah was making an allusion to the pre-Fall world. Furthermore, he summarizes this future state as “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain”—i.e. unlike the current world with animals tearing each other to pieces.

Revisionist Christianity

Sadly, many in the church are being led to forget this basic biblical teaching by individuals and organizations who have adopted various compromise positions, seeking to mix-and-match their worldview with both biblical and secular, non-Christian ideas. One of the key arguments on this front is the argument over animal death. Does the Bible teach that animals were free of death and suffering before the Fall, or were the consequences of the Fall limited only to humans?

If one is to accept the secular (old-earth) interpretation of the fossil record, the conclusion that death, suffering and disease predated humanity is part of the package—as we find strong evidence of all these things in the fossil record. This is a problem that plagues (nearly) all forms of old earth-ism,1 whether it be full-blown theistic evolutionism or a milder form, like old earth or progressive creationism. All of these viewpoints seek to harmonize secular deep time with the Bible’s history.

What kind of God do we serve?

However, the Bible clearly teaches that death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). So why would God purposely create the world in a less-than-perfect state from the start? Old earthers, such as Hugh Ross for example, argue that when the Bible says God called the original creation ‘very good’, he only meant that it existed exactly as God intended (not that it was literally perfect).2 But what does this response imply? It means God purposely engineered death, suffering, and disease in the animal world, apart from the Curse, and called that state ‘very good’. What sort of god would do a thing like that?

The earliest historic Christian understanding of death and suffering (including in the animal realm) is that it exists only as part of the Curse which came about as a punishment for the Fall of mankind.3 Tampering with that position, suggesting that animals have always suffered and that God intended them to suffer from the beginning (as the Rossites do) raises serious issues about the nature of God, and has ramifications for the Problem of Evil as well. Why would God needlessly and purposely engineer conscious suffering and pain (even in animals)?

Did God have good (but incomprehensible) reasons for all that suffering?

One common Rossite response here is to suggest that the animal suffering was not needless, but we simply cannot fathom what God’s good reasons might have been. But this fails because God is both omniscient and omnipotent. Barring any considerations of free choice (which are the reason why God allowed sin and the subsequent Curse to enter in the first place), how could God have needed to engineer such suffering? In this case, the animals would have been morally incapable of any wrongdoing of their own, and their suffering predated any human wrongdoing (you don’t punish crimes that haven’t happened yet)! Not only that, but this suffering would have gone on for an unfathomable length of time: millions of years! It’s inconceivable that God (an omnipotent being) would have needed to cause millions of years of suffering prior to the existence of any moral beings (humans) to react or respond to that suffering.

It gets worse: what would Adam and Eve have concluded, had they come innocently into this world of disease, death, and suffering? They would have looked around them and naturally concluded that death and disease were good, and were God’s will! In such a world, how could the Curse be viewed as a bad thing? Is God the author of confusion?

Was the Garden of Eden a ‘safe zone’?

At this juncture, another Rossite retort might be to suggest that Adam and Eve would not have been exposed to this animal suffering because it was exclusively confined to the world outside of the Garden of Eden (which was somehow an island of paradise among an otherwise dangerous and bloody world).4 But that serves to undercut the original justification given: that somehow God needed to engineer things this way. If Adam and Eve were to have no contact with the outside world anyway, then what possible purpose could all those millions of years of suffering have had, even for people? (And as an aside, just how long can a human population continue to grow within the confines of a single garden, anyway?) Doesn’t this view imply that most of the planet was useless and pointless until Adam and Eve sinned? Doesn’t it also imply that Adam and Eve really had no choice but to sin? But no matter, because nowhere in Scripture do we find this idea that the Garden was a protected zone in the midst of a scary, dangerous planet.

Imagine being in God’s position, able to do anything, and out of that limitless sea of possibility, choosing to create a planet full of creatures capable of experiencing pain and misery (both physical and emotional), and then making sure they would experience lots of both for millions of years, and doing nothing to help them. What would the character of this god be like? Would this at all resemble the God of the Bible? Based upon everything we know about God from his Word, this is simply not the sort of thing God would have done.

The biblical basis for animal cruelty laws

The history of animal cruelty laws in the west is tied to Protestantism, which was very much an attempt at a back-to-the-Bible movement within Christendom.5 One of the earliest legal documents from the American Colonies, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), makes heavy reference to the Bible, and includes the following line:

92. No man shall exercise any Tirranny [tyranny] or Crueltie [cruelty] towards any bruite [brute] Creature which are usuallie [usually] kept for man’s use.6

While this document doesn’t specifically reference a biblical text to justify this law, I have a good idea for a place in the Bible where one might find such a principle set forth. Proverbs 12:10:

“Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”

Note there is no escape route provided in this verse: it says, “whoever is righteous”. Is God righteous? Absolutely! That means God must have regard for the lives of beasts. But we know independently of this verse that God does regard beasts, because he comes right out and says so in Jonah chapter 4, in response to Jonah’s spiteful desire for the suffering of the city of Nineveh. God said,

“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” [emphasis added] -Jonah 4:11

Here we can see from God’s own explicit words that he does, in fact, regard even cattle with mercy. So why the millions of years of death, disease and suffering, then? It’s a major problem in old earth theology. The Bible clearly teaches:

“The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” Psalm 145:9

That simply doesn’t square with the picture of God painted by old-earth compromise views, as a god who purposely engineers death and suffering for his creatures from the outset, and then sits back and watches for literally millions of years and does nothing to help. The true biblical teaching on this is that all death and suffering are a result of the Curse, which came about as a punishment for the Fall of mankind. The animal world was affected because of the headship of Adam over all of God’s creation. God sent his Son (God the 2nd Person of the Trinity) to die on a torture device--the Cross—on our behalf so we could be restored to a right relationship with Him. He has also promised to restore this creation back to its original idyllic state as well in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Corruption, death and disease—they are all part of the Curse

As Paul wrote, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). Greatly increased pain in childbirth is actually specifically mentioned by God as part of the Curse in Genesis 3:16. By implication and extension, Paul is suggesting that all of Creation was affected by the Curse. God did not create death and suffering from the outset; they are a result of disobedience to our perfect and loving God, who desires only good for all that he has made.

References and notes

  1. I cannot say ‘all’, because technically there is a viewpoint called Young Life Creationism that essentially proposes a roughly biblical perspective of life (going back only around 6000 years), but then attempts to insert billions of years prior to the creation of first life. Handling this view is outside the scope of this article since these individuals would not believe in animal death prior to the Fall. But see ‘Soft’ gap sophistry for problems with this view. Return to text.
  2. See Ch. 6, Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, 2014; also Was God’s finished creation perfect?. Return to text.
  3. Zuiddam, B., 2nd Century Church Fathers: God will make lions vegetarian again, Creation 36(3):46–47, 2014; Early Church Fathers on creation, death and eschatology, J. Creation 28(1):77–83, 2014. Return to text.
  4. This concept is alluded to by the old earth perspective given at Could thorns have existed outside of Eden, and what about the Framework Hypothesis? though specifically thorns are mentioned. Return to text.
  5. Davis, J., The History of Animal Protection in the United States, oah.org, accessed 2 December 2019. Return to text.
  6. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), history.hanover.edu/texts/masslib.html, accessed 2 December 2019. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Rob E.
In support of the position of no carnivory (with resulting death) before the fall, I would ask: "How could it be safe for God to bring the animals to Adam for him to name, Genesis 2:19-20?" - this included "all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals" (NIV, v.20). I take "all" to mean representatives rather than every single one.
David M.
Thank you for this thought provoking article and also the interesting comments. Joshua M. thinks that Romans 8:19-23 are very important here as well, and I am inclined to agree, as it caused me compare verse 20 with a verse in Psalm 89:47 which I had only come across recently and was thinking of including in my own comment. I quote them below from the Apostolic Bible Polyglot (includes the LXX) to allow a NT – OT comparison of the words.

Rom 8:20 For to vanity (mataiotes) the creation (ktisis) was submitted (hupotasso), not willingly, but through the one submitting it (hupotasso), upon hope;

Psalm 89:47 Remember what my reality (hupostasis) is; for acting in folly (mataioo), did you create (ktizo) all the sons of men?

ktizo is the same word as in Deut 4:32 …from the day of which God created (ktizo) man upon the earth…

In case you wonder what I am trying to do, I refer you to Matt 13:52
Steve B.
Donald E. is arguing from an assumption of his own namely that God did not know there would be a fall from grace through sin. God has always been, is present today and lives in the eternal future, He had to know and by knowing knew that there would be no over population of the perfect creation. Donald E. is the one who has avoided what the scriptures say in order to make an argument and that is a sad state to live in.
Donald E.
Sorry for delay, at work. A number of questions come up. Were animals created to be immortal like humans? Where does it speak of their immortality? If so, then those creatures which feed on dead animals such as buzzards, hyenas, etc, all the way down to the micro-organisms which are basically an environmental clean up crew were created to be something else and therefore “evolved” into these kinds? Or were they then created later after the fall when animals allegedly began to die? To say they became this way due to man’s fall is a stretch. How does the action of Adam or otherwise directly affect all animals and creatures like that? It says when Adam and Eve eat of the so-called fruit, they would die, not all of creation. (I have an answer but not allowed to discuss that here). I also see it very self-serving that, to support this idea of animals not over populating, God would then (have to) step in and stop their reproduction to balance the food supply. Something not written, nor implied anywhere. Maybe being predatory was not intended but animal deaths were? Creatures feeding on decaying carcasses would then be a natural part of Creation. Animals aging out may be expected. With animal immortality, what about an accident? Are accidents then miraculously eliminated, no creature falling, accidentally drowning or similar? What then? The concept of animal immortality it doesn’t make sense when thought fully through. This world is one of continual change, it’s what time is, a measurement of the rate of change. Trees change through the seasons, age, “die” are reborn in the Spring. Are animal life cycles different? BTW, I’d love to continue this, only so many postings allowed in a year with limited space. Thank you for your time. Email me if you like
Paul Price
God said, "Cursed is the ground for your sake." God didn't just curse Adam and Eve, he cursed all of creation. To be honest, I can see that you've written a lot but I can't tell you've really bothered to deal with the points I made in this article. The idea that animals would age (decay) and die, before the Fall, is not compatible with either the clear teaching of Scripture on this, or what we know of God's loving nature toward everything he made, including animals.
Neal P.
I went to the article referred to:
‘Non living life’

Insects and other invertebrates are likely not regarded as nephesh creatures. While the group translated as ‘creeping things’ in Genesis 1:24 (remes) are regarded as nephesh, this is referring to small vertebrates such as lizards, frogs, mice, etc. This term is not used to refer to insects or other invertebrates.

Two questions:
1) In the conclusion, partly quoted above, is not this passage, "referring to small vertebrates", an assumption? (You do say 'likely' in the previous sentence....) If this is the case, it seems to me that there is a huge hole in our reasoning!

2) If God did not bring the "non-living life" onto the ark, how did they survive the flood?
Paul Price
1) No, I don't think there's any evidence anywhere in the Bible that insects are regarded as Nephesh Chayyah (having the breath of life). Not only do insects not breathe in the same way that vertebrates do, but they also do not have blood in the same way, either. The Bible says, "The life of the flesh is in the blood." (Leviticus 17:11)

2) I can think of several different places that insects would have been which would have allowed them to survive the Flood.

1. In and on the animals that Noah brought onboard.
2. In and on the food for the animals
3. In and on the ark itself (Noah did not need to bring them in, they would have simply come of their own accord).
4. On floating vegetation mats that would have been created by the Flood.
Ken D.
Just a question for you.
Does the absence of death in the world before the fall include insects? I am not being facetious when I ask if Adam and Eve never stepped on a bug in the garden. If the fall had not occurred wouldn't the planet be overrun with bugs? Did mosquitos suck blood before the fall? Would Adam have swatted it? Were bats originally given to the world in order to control the mosquito population? Again, I am not trying to say your position is wrong. I would just like to know if insect death is a problem for your position.
Paul Price
I would direct you to the important article, Nephesh Chayyah. I do not believe insects are 'Nephesh' life (they do not have the breath of life from God, but are akin to biological 'robots'). As a result, I do believe it would have been possible and even perhaps unavoidable for insects to 'die', even before the Fall. It would not fall under the scope of the biblical concept of 'death'.
Donald E.
I disagree, it is apparent these are assumptions. It's only fairly simple if one begins making assumptions. It is an assumption the population would level off once a certain point was reached. That's not stated anywhere in Scriptures. It is also an assumption this is based on whether or not the fall occurred. It may have been God's plan / design, true it may not, but it is an assumption to say it inherently was not. It's an assumption reproduction would have "served its purpose". These are all assumptions based on personal opinions injected as Scripture. Also, the New Heaven and New Earth cannot be seen as how Eden and the first earth was. It's new, not renewed. It's something completely different. Please do not confuse this with advocating an old earth theory or similar. Of late I've been reading and writing extensively on the fall and its dynamics.
Paul Price
Could you be clear about exactly what idea you're trying to promote here? If you are saying that it was God's will for animals to engage in killing (predation) to bring down population levels, I have addressed that claim here in this article. It is contrary to God's nature.
Donald E.
What would then be the long term effect of animals reproducing to the point of exceeding the food supply? Not saying any kind of old earth mindset, but a long term creation on the other end of the timeline. True, it will all be rolled up at some point, but, until then, if animals were created to breed "after their own kind", as it says in Genesis, what happens if the population gets too big for its own food supply? Aside from the personal opinions of what cruelty is or is not. Something being cruel is, sorry to have to use this analogy, but the difference between noise and sound.
Paul Price
I assume you mean to ask something along the lines of, "If the Fall hadn't happened, would the world get overpopulated?" Lita Cosner wrote on this:

"But often people ask what would have happened if Adam and Eve didn’t fall. Wouldn’t the world be overwhelmed with overpopulation if nothing died? The answer is fairly simple: God intended reproduction to fill the earth with the right number of animals and people. Once that population level was reached, reproduction would have served its purpose and there wouldn’t be any more. We know that on the New Heavens and Earth, humans won’t be married to each other (the Church as a whole will be married to Christ), and no one will be having babies; the population of the New Heavens and Earth will be exactly what God intended, and since there will be no more death, there will be no need to replace the population."
Tim L.
So what would you say to a person who argues (like a friend of mine does) that only humans are capable of suffering? Specifically, he thinks animals can feel pain, but suffering is something that is uniquely human.
Paul Price
I would respond that it is nonsensical to say animals can feel pain but are incapable of suffering. In the most basic evaluation, suffering is the act of feeling pain (either emotional or physical).
William H.
The Jewish people were constantly offering animal sacrifices, burnt offerings and smearing blood around doorways for honoring God. Even in the New Testament doves were sold at the temple for sacrifices.
Paul Price
I'm not sure I understand your point. What you said is obviously true, but this happened in the context of a post-Fall world, not a pre-Fall one.
Norman P.
Your article rightly defends the view that death came in with the Fall, and that there'll be a restoration in Christ's Kingdom. The Christian who feeds on 'every word that comes from the mouth of God', i.e. the whole of the canon of Scripture (The Bible), will know this, and be thoroughly satisfied with it.
The problem is that many today are swayed by other 'authorities', including many pulpits that do not preach the whole counsel of God, hence the destructive apostasy of our time.
We all start our journey of faith from an earthly perspective, but in the fullness of time, we grow up into a heavenly one. This is borne out in Paul's glorious revelation in 1 Corinthians 15 - first comes the natural, then the heavenly, and that there are various kinds of flesh - human, animals, birds, fish, etc - but first the earthly, then the celestial. And just as in Christ 'we shall all be changed in the twinkling of an eye', so death that reigned in us since Adam's Fall will be swallowed up in victory.
Scripture hints that the Fall happened first in heaven, and that what happened on earth was a consequence of it. But there was was also an eternal redemptive plan from the outset, to restore all things through the Son, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 5; 13:8).
Ephesians 1:4 and 1 Corinthians 2:9 tell of this most glorious journey we are engaged upon, and its eternal outcome.
Joshua M.
Great article, I also think that Romans 8:19-23 are very important here as well.

I do have a question though you said, " But no matter, because nowhere in Scripture do we find this idea that the Garden was a protected zone in the midst of a scary, dangerous planet." certainly the scary dangerous planet is not anywhere in scripture as regards this time, but the last bit of Genesis 3 does make it clear that Eden was a special place, and is regarded as the "paradise of pleasure" just for the sake of it, because I do believe there wasn't any animal death before the fall either, what would you say if someone objected, "because Eden is a garden, and it is constantly referred to as the paradise of pleasure, even before the fall, doesn't that mean that for there to be a paradise of pleasure, it would therefore require it's opposite to exist, or at the least a contrast?"

Thank you, very much
Paul Price
What exact verse are you referring to, and in what translation? I checked the end of Genesis 3 in the ESV and found no reference to a "paradise of pleasure" there. I'm unfamiliar with that phrase. I do think Eden was a special place, but that doesn't mean the rest of the planet was anything less than "very good" prior to the Fall. Since the Bible doesn't specify exactly what the difference would have been at that time, I will refrain from speculating.
Rob R.
if only eve had eaten the apple, then adam would be stuck inside, and eve stuck outside.
so no human babies.
Paul Price
The Bible doesn't say the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was an apple. It also does not say what God would have done in the hypothetical situation where Eve sinned but Adam did not. It's always best to avoid speculating on things about which we cannot know. I do think it's clear that there would have been many possible options available to God at that point--this is not some kind of 'defeater' for the Christian worldview!
Vlad S.
Thank you for the article and some of the historical references that were not quite widely known. That may be helpful to unbelievers to understand that human lordship over the creation wasn't supposed to be cruel but, instead, caring. However, for me - and thank you for that, Creation! - the main winning apologetical argument is that death entered the world as part of the curse and it never existed prior to it.

Now regarding suffering in animals. In one of the articles, https://creation.com/wasps, Creation mentions that wasps most likely were engineered to be predators, to keep insects population under control. That's because of the behaviour of both wasps and their larvae. The article explained that there was no suffering in living creatures, nephesh chayyāh, while insects are not considered as such (which is understandable, otherwise eating grass by animals can be called "the death of the grass" which is technically true, but not morally.) So, in articles like this one it's good to refer to such explanations because unbelievers will keep on asking the same question.

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