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Was there really no death before the Fall?

Published: 2 April 2016 (GMT+10)

Carson S from the US wrote:

iStockphoto mourning-lady


I have a question I’m sure not many, if any, have ever asked. I have been studying Genesis (the book) and have come to a question that has literally no real answer on the web. And it’s about death prior to the fall. I asked myself, "How could there be no death prior to Adam’s fall? Do you mean to tell me that humans never had a chance of stepping on a insect (such as a grasshopper or ant)?" I just find it hard to believe or even possible that, prior to the fall, there was no such thing as manslaughter, or any other accidental deaths like: drowning, catching on fire, falling off a cliff, etc. Your website also just had a picture of bees on the front page. You mean to tell me that bees have stingers for no reason? And if they ever used them, they wouldn’t die?

A provocative question, I hope you have the answer I need. Thank you for reading.

Lita Cosner, CMI-US, responds:

Thanks for writing in. One of the great things about being part of a millennia-old faith is that the odds of asking a new question are very low, because people have been thinking about these things for thousands of years. And there are a few aspects to the pre-Fall world that may help in thinking through these questions. You said this has no real answer on the web, but our website and publications address this issue extensively; I’ll be linking you to some articles (which I hope you read), and I will also be publishing this response on our site for the benefit of others.

First, we know that there are varying levels of sentience among various creatures. Plants seem to have no sentience at all; they are programmed wonderfully to react in response to sunlight, and even to bugs eating their leaves. But there is no capacity for communication or self-knowledge. They are basically biological ‘machines’ for converting energy into food. And in fact that is the stated purpose for plants in Genesis—to be food for humans and animals. So when we eat a salad, there is biological death involved in that, but not the cessation of a consciousness or death in a biblical sense.

Insects are another category of creatures that most creationists say could have died before the Fall with no theological problems resulting. Insects are wonderfully complex and show intricate design, but they are driven almost exclusively by instinct, and they don’t seem to have any self-awareness or capacity to feel pain, again not death in the biblical meaning. One biologist calls insects ‘God’s robots’.

Moving up the chain, we encounter vertebrates, which have a higher degree of awareness, and certainly have the capacity to feel pain and suffering. They have a measure of intelligence and ability to communicate (though only humans use language). Most people would have a problem with vertebrate death before the fall, because these animals, like humans, are classified as nephesh chayyah, which is the Hebrew term that can be translated ‘living soul’. Christians like William Wilberforce, recognizing the capacity for suffering in these animals, were the first to be concerned that they not be treated cruelly.

And then we come to human beings. You say, “I just find it hard to believe or even possible that, prior to the fall, there was no such thing as manslaughter”. Well, prior to the Fall there were only two humans, Adam and Eve, so one of them would have had to kill the other for there to be manslaughter before the Fall. Also, we believe the Fall happened really soon after Creation Week, so there wasn’t a lot of time for any accidents or death to happen. More importantly if God is capable of creating all these animals, He’s certainly capable of providentially controlling things so that animals didn’t die before the Fall.

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.

But if God intended there to be no death and suffering, why are there things (you mentioned bee stingers) that seemed designed to inflict death and suffering? Well, some things have other purposes. For instance, I recently wrote an article (soon to be published in Creation magazine) about how wasps actually have a critical created function in the ecosystem. As far as stings, wasp stingers are recognized as modified ovipositors (an organ used to deposit eggs on or in something); this is the same for bees (supporting this, only female bees have stingers). So we have something designed for one purpose that has degraded and is now used for something else in this fallen world.

I covered a lot of concepts in this response in a fairly ‘rapid-fire’ fashion, but I hope this, and the referenced articles, helps you begin to think through this. See Chapter 6 in our Creation Answers Book for more information.

Helpful Resources

From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
US $14.00
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

B. G.
I think the definition of our and the Bible's definition of 'life' is different.
The Bible speaks of life being in the blood, i.e. sacrifices, remission of sin, the blood of Christ shed, etc.
Plants don't have blood, therefore by the Bible's definition are not alive, though they share some attributes of animals like growth and reproduction.
Similar case can be made for insects.
James Dickie V.
Reasonable answer and right but I wonder how you are correct about the millenium where there no marriages and no reproduction. That's not ours to answer, that's God's business, but husbands and wives here should still be husbands and wives up there if they are saved!
Lita Cosner
James, I absolutely agree that God defines this issue, and Jesus speaks about it directly. Matthew 22:30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven."
Hendrik V.
The problem I see with this question and (I believe) some of the responses is that it is judging what the earth was like before the fall into sin by what we know of this world after the fall. However, this cannot be done. We are stuck on this side of the fall. Trying to discern just how things were before the fall is like trying to peer through a piece of shattered glass, which is one reason why we need Scripture to guide us. On this side of the fall the creation is groaning, was subjected to frustration, and is now in bondage to decay (Romans 8:20-21); there is death and suffering and we cannot fully comprehend how the world could have existed without that death and suffering such as stepping on a bug and squishing it. I know that some at CMI believe that creatures that are not nephesh chayyah were subject to death before the fall but I disagree. We must remember that God is not limited by our own imagination. An Eskimo that has only seen the arctic tundra cannot fully comprehend the Amazon jungle even though it is located on the same earth. I don’t believe it is wise to judge what happened before the fall by what we see after the fall.
Melvyne C.
Thank you Lita for your reply. True, Adam would not have died in any sense. My words were loose. What I meant to convey, was that surely Adam and Eve would eventually have been admitted to the full heavenly Paradise. Was that through a form of sleep, or would Adam ascend into heaven? In that sense, he would have left the earth.
Keep up the excellent work.
Lita Cosner
Why would Adam need to leave the earth, which was designed so specifically to be his home, if sin never ruined it? God's plan was for Adam and his descendants to rule the earth as His stewards. Adam was created a physical being, not only spirit like the angels.
Jean L.
Have you ever tried stepping on a grasshopper? They are fast. If one steps on an ant on a hard, flat surface (e.g., pavement) while wearing shoes, you can kill it. However, without shoes on an unpaved surface, I doubt you would seriously hurt one if you step on it. So accidental injury and/or death of insects doesn't seem as likely as some assume. Also, while some creationists believe that insects don't qualify as nephesh creatures, a number of creationist biologists I know believe they do.

P. K.
Atheism permeates the very structure of our thinking, whether it is a church goer or non-church goer, for those with a lot of schooling or those with a little. It is reinforced in all levels of school, government and many churches; and is daily reinforced by all media forms and a wide foundation of group think. In fact, many of us would instinctively scoff at any explanation of metaphysical or non-operational science that is hints of a supernatural 'just so' story. Explanations involving an impersonal 'force' may be acceptable, but one that involves a personal being outside of this natural world, wholly non-dependent on it (aka, super-natural) is the modern heresy. Harsh? Yes, but this is about competing philosophies; not people. Either there is only matter, energy and motion; no underlying purpose – it just is. Or, there is the Personal super-natural and what is ‘natural’ has been made by this being; there is purpose…His purpose (that we can apprehend, though not fully comprehend). Atheism’s dishonesty is that it hides its epistemology and then commits the same for which it accuses the (Christian) church of doing to the ‘enlightened’. There is a real struggle, since we were created in the supernatural Creator’s image and have eternity set in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). Apart from supernatural life imputed by God, because of His Son Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, this atheism is natural to our (otherwise dead) relationship with the Creator. Thank you for being salt and light, for those who are seeking (and are being pursued, even if they don’t recognize it yet!)
Robert W.
Death for any living thing could not possibly have occurred before The Creator decreed it. Death is as "created" as life is. Adam and Eve were forewarned that they would bring death in should they choose to disobey God. And so the fall brought about the implimentation of justice as well.
Melvyne C.
Thank you for answering a difficult subject. Some questions may remain. Agreed, God must have created everything alive in six days, a made it possible for humans and animals to live off the fruits and vegetation. The command was changed after the Flood. However, that does not say that animals or insects, or grass did not die, after the six day creation. Clearly, grass dies in some fashion.
Adam would have died in one sense, in that he would, if he had not sinned, left this earth for the spirit heavenly Paradise, but not in the sense of animals do. Otherwise, Jesus should have died to save animals? What is good in God's eye may not seem good in our fallen state? It could have been good that animals are subject to death, when they are free in the widest sense, and with no judgement of hell? Adam and Eve would then truly know the meaning of death.
Lita Cosner
Melvyne, Adam and Eve would not have died in any sense if they had not sinned, and neither would the nephesh animals. Even now, we do not wait for a 'spiritual' realm, but a physical resurrection and eternal life with Jesus in the restored New Heavens and Earth that He will bring about when He returns. See The New Earth.
Jack M.
One of the great things about being scientist is that the odds of asking a new question are extremely high, even though people have been thinking about these things for thousands of years.
Lita Cosner
Surely you're not saying that science in its modern form has existed for thousands of years? The earliest precursors to science proper were philosophers, who had very different ideas about reality than anyone would today. And historically speaking, most of the answers science has come up with have been wrong, sometimes catastrophically so. For instance, less than a century ago, eugenics and phrenology were respectable scientific ideas.

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