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‘No death before the Fall’?

The importance of the distinction of nephesh chayyah life

It’s commonly said that biblical creationists believe in “no death before the Fall”. The problem is that there is a difference between what modern people conceive the word ‘death’ applies to and what the Bible applies it to. CMI writer and biblical scholar Lita Sanders points out the difference.

David H. from the United Kingdom writes in response to article Did God create over billions of years?, and CMI’s Lita Sanders responds, with her comments interspersed:

Dear David,

Your whole argument seems to hinge on the idea that there couldn’t have been any death before the fall.

Death of nephesh chayyah creatures, to be more precise. We don’t argue that plants and insects, etc., didn’t die before the Fall, and “what about skin cells” has always been a ridiculous straw man argument: we believe that certain forms of cell death would have had to be programmed at creation, as they are necessary for all multi-cellular life. Broadly speaking, there was no death of vertebrates.

But while humans clearly didn’t die before the fall, there’s no evidence that other life-forms didn’t die. The bacteria that help us digest food die every second, and if they didn’t die the world would be overrun with them in a few days-there would have been death of SOME things before the fall, whether creation took days or millions of years.

Again—bacteria are not nephesh chayyah life, so there’s no problem with them dying.

God told Adam he would die if he ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam apparently knew what death was-apparently he had seen it happen.

That’s not a strong argument. It is possible to understand a concept without seeing a concrete example of it.

And death was obviously possible before sin-Jesus was without sin, but he was capable of dying.

Jesus was incarnated in a fallen world, and was subject to its fallenness in every respect except sin. He aged, experienced pain and temptation, and all the other discomforts of a fallen world, because He made a distinct choice to add human nature to His being. Just because a sinless Man could die after the Fall doesn’t mean that sinless men would have died before the Fall.

Jesus died for our sins, not for the sins of spiders, dogs and goldfish.

Well of course; spiders, dogs, and goldfish aren’t morally culpable—they can’t sin, by definition. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by the Curse. See our article Can bunny rabbits be saved? We see innocent parties affected by someone else’s crime all the time—I didn’t fly a plane into a skyscraper on 9/11, but I have to take my shoes off every time I go through security because of it.

Those creatures committed no original sin, and have no saviour for it-they could assumably die before man sinned and paradise was lost, and they will assumably still die when paradise has been restored.

Elephants mourn their dead, and other animals have been shown to do the same. Why would God create a ‘very good’ creation that involved the suffering of animals? When a human being causes suffering to an animal, that’s called animal cruelty. If God called a world in which animals suffered diseases and die ‘very good’, then I would say that this would be the worst case of animal cruelty ever. Of course, I believe this isn’t the case.

And why would God consider there to be a problem with his creation just because animals were dying? He Himself commands animals to be slaughtered for sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, so he clearly doesn’t consider the death of animals to be a problem in itself.

Everything God commands post-Fall assumes the Fall—assumes a broken creation and a broken relationship between God and humans and now only blood could atone for sin. Prior to sin it was not necessary. He commanded animal sacrifices because sin is horrendous and offensive to God, and it must be atoned with blood—the animal dies to ‘cover’ human sin, until Christ came and gave Himself as a sacrifice ‘once for all’. Animals were slaughtered precisely because there was a problem.

The idea of a long period of time during which God created various creatures, and finally Adam and Eve, has no conflict with the Bible.

Respectfully, many of your arguments are strained and convoluted—stretching as it were to try to fit millions of years into Scripture. But please revisit the article to be reminded where the idea of billions of years comes from in the first place. It is not in Scripture itself. If you read the Bible by itself, you would never find billions of years—it’s an assumption that comes from outside Scripture because of uniformitarian geology and evolution—both need vast long periods of time. So you are trying to take a secular idea, originally designed to “Free the sciences from Moses” and then fit them into Scripture because you think the science behind it is authoritative. Jesus and the New Testament authors took Genesis as history, including creating in six days. Were they wrong?

Frankly, I have little trust in science’s claims about the age of the earth,

Then why on earth would you base your Bible interpretation on it? But you must believe those claims or have accepted them as your starting point, because the idea of long ages is clearly not a Scriptural one. You are looking for loopholes and gaps in Scripture to fit the millions of years in.

it seeming to be propped up by an unusually large number of assumptions, and the more assumptions a calculation is based upon, the more likely it is that one or more of them is wrong.


However, neither do I see any good reason for assuming that God intended us to believe that creation occurred in a week.

I see several:

  1. The Genesis creation account says that God created in six ordinary-length days, resting on the seventh. Every other time in Scripture when the word ‘day’ occurs with an ordinal number plus ‘evening and morning’, it’s a literal day.
  2. If we believe the Flood is global, that explains the billions of fossils in sedimentary rock—then there’s no geological evidence for billions of years. We know that catastrophic geological events can change the landscape quickly on a local scale, we simply posit that in Noah’s Flood, the same thing happened on a global scale (see the relevant parts of our Geology and Noah’s Flood Q&A pages … ).
  3. If that wasn’t enough, God inscribed with His own finger that He created the heavens and earth in six days and rested on the seventh Exodus 20, 32:16).
  4. Jesus said that God made humans male and female “from the beginning of creation” (Mark 10:6). If we’ve only been around for the last few million years out of several billion, we weren’t “from the beginning of creation”. But if Jesus is thinking of Day 6, about 4,000 years before He said this, then it makes sense to say “from the beginning of creation”.
  5. Paul clearly sees death, both human (Romans 5) and in the rest of creation (Romans 8) as a result of Adam’s sin. But every non-historical understanding of Genesis has death before the Fall.
If he did mean us to have that understanding, it was very strange for Him to refer to the whole week as a day in Genesis 2:4.

See, this is an example of a non-literal use of day. You may be thinking, “Wait, you just said that the days in Genesis were literal!” I did—but not this instance. The grammatical construction basically means that “in the day that” should be roughly translated as “when”—and some translations do this. See The meaning of yôm in Genesis 1:1–2:4 for more information.

It seems more likely that God said that because he was using the word day in some other sense of the word.

There are multiple meanings for the word ‘day’, and for most other words, in fact. For example, “word” can mean—a unit of language (Why did Paul use this word and not that one in Romans 5:12?), Speech or talk (Pastor Bill gave an encouraging word in the service last Sunday), a short conversation (I’d like a word with you), a promise (I give you my word), or an argument (Bill and I had words and then he stormed out). To complicate things, “word” is also a verb (I carefully worded the contract to avoid loopholes). But when the word ‘word’ is used, you don’t have any problem differentiating between the various meanings. This is because you’re a native English speaker who automatically understands the meaning from the context.

Now here’s the cool thing—Hebrew does the same thing. We just can’t automatically understand the grammatical cues—we need to study the language and dissect it in a way that we just don’t do with our native language. But the grammar and context still gives us the cues for how we need to understand a particular word.

It also seems like the seventh is still ongoing-there is no record of that day ending and being declared ‘good’ like the other six,

But God’s rest ended—Jesus said in John 5, “My Father is working even now” as a justification for working on the Sabbath. So the seventh day cannot be ongoing. The author of Hebrews is arguing from analogy, using a non-literal Sabbath, but presupposing a literal Sabbath to which it can be compared.

and certainly creation couldn’t be declared good YET, not until God’s Kingdom has taken effect over the world and restored it to it’s proper state.

But this is before the Fall—before there was sin. And you yourself used the word ‘restoration’, which presupposes that something is wrong. We can’t see a time before something was wrong in the geological record—there are thorns and cancer and animals eating each other. And by the way, human remains are dated by standard dating methods as older than any possible date for Adam, so you have human death before Adam sinned, too.

With no reason to think that day is 24 hours, and reason to think ‘6 days’ can be called ‘1 day’, there’s no reason to think any of the days are 24 hours.

I covered this above.

I think the earth may well be considerably younger than 4 billion years-I think geologists probably choose data to support that date in order to fit an evolutionary timescale.

Of course they do—and there are a lot of chronometers that indicate a considerably younger earth—see this article for several.

But the Bible gives us no reason to think it’s only 6000 years.

See my list above. Also The Use of Genesis in the New Testament and Biblical chronogenealogies.

If anyone asks me how old the earth is, I just say, “I don’t know-the Bible doesn’t say, and science doesn’t seem very reliable on that subject.”

And that line of approach will not see you win anyone to the Lord, particularly atheists as even they can clearly see that the Bible refers to a comparatively young creation (compared to an evolutionary view). You’d be saying that the Bible does not mean what it says, so why should he/she trust any of it. See a timeline about what the Bible says about the age of the earth.

That’s not rejecting the Bible. That’s just accepting that a word can have more than one meaning.

It can, but no word actually carries its full semantic range in a particular context. The context is vital because it provides the framework of understanding of most words we use.

It’s vital to understanding English, and assumably Hebrew as well. If you don’t accept that fact, you might come to some very strange understandings-like thinking that an ant never got stood on before the fall, because there was no ‘death’.

Respectfully again, it is you who does not seem to understand Hebrew. Ants are not referred to as nephesh chayyah creatures. But could God have created a world in which an ant never died? Seems pretty simple for the God who created the stars as an afterthought. And regarding your misunderstanding of the Hebrew word yom, may I recommend reading the links provided to gain a better understanding?

I hope these thoughts have been helpful.


Lita Sanders
Information Officer
Creation Ministries International (US)

Published: 3 June 2012

Helpful Resources

Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft cover
Refuting Compromise
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
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15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $4.00