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‘No death before the Fall’?

The importance of the distinction of nephesh chayyah life

Published: 3 June 2012 (GMT+10)

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 Cosner 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 Cosner 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 Cosner
Information Officer
Creation Ministries International (US)

Helpful Resources

Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft Cover
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Katalin P.
To Lita Cosner, Thanks the article and the thought you have given me too! Now I am looking forward to understand all of the word you have written down, for I have never thought the way you know about life and death-biblically, plant die, etc. Thanks again, Keep up the good work, Regards Mrs.Paulik
Katalin P.
I like the report on No death before the Fall?" but I can not agree with Lita Cosner,quoting "The bacteria that help us digest our food die every second,and if they didnt die the world would be overrun with them in a few days-there would have been death of some things before the fall" This is my arguing point, but all my respect to Lita Cosner. I do see God, at the creation, He saw everything was good"-that mean no death yet. When the Fall of man happened, God in His anger cursed man and the creation Genesis 3:14-20,therefore death did not come at once as we know Adam was over 900 years old when he died. With curse came death first the spirit man then the human body,and of course creation received those curse, plant began to die, the bacteria had to die, for God said it, and happened. Until the Lord God had not spoken a curse,no death occured. Adam and Eve had the perfect health,communion with God daily, until they disobeyed Him. Please keep up the good work, Kind Regards. Katalin P.
Lita Cosner
Dear Kaitlin,

Thanks for writing in response to my article; you've obviously given this issue some thought. I agree that at the end of Day Six, when God proclaimed everything 'very good', that meant that there was no death or suffering. But we have to define 'death' biblically. The Bible wasn't going by our modern biological definition of life; only some things were considered 'alive' in the biblical sense, and these were called nephesh chayyah which means 'living soul'. This includes humans and vertebrate animals. Plants and insects were not considered nephesh chayyah, and no one in biblical times even knew about bacteria. So for a plant or an insect or a bacterium to die isn't evil, because they weren't designed to live forever; they weren't designed with consciousness, awareness, etc. They're more like 'biological machines'. See Apoptosis: cell 'death' reveals creation.
David K.
Hi Lita,
Great plain talking responses!
It makes me sad that someone could be so negative to something the bible says so simply. Genesis creation is a wonderful beautiful thing! I’m glad God made the world the way he did. He is truly a marvellous God!
I believe a perfect world would require some death for the planetary environment to function. It couldn’t be a truly regenerative balanced environment without it. Just like cell death is required for us to function and heal. Our world is a balance of cycles. Humans and animals were special to God and gifted not to die. Everything else was a well-oiled machine with no suffering to support us. But it was us humans who were put in charge and we sinned. Now the whole of creation groans under the curse. I believe animal sacrifices were to remind us of that fact, not because God didn’t care about them. It just goes to show how much he cared about us, that He was willing to sacrifice so many animals through history to cover our sins. I'm sure every single one saddened Him.
Henry D.
David from Australia made an interesting comment:

"David M., Australia, 16 June 2012

I would also like to comment on your rhetorical question "Why would God create a ‘very good’ creation that involved the suffering of animals?" It reminds me a little of Matt 16:21-23 where Jesus talks of his suffering and death and Peter indicates that he doesn't think that this would be a good thing to happen to Jesus and then receives a stern rebuke. I wonder whether using our fallen sense of good & evil to determine what God would call good in what he created, to establish a point of doctrine is in fact the best way to go about things, and would be pleased to see in addition some Bible references related to this aspect of the problem."
I think people would appreciate a response to his question.
Lita Cosner
Dear Henry,

Well, we don't use our fallen sense of good and evil to determine what God would call good—we use what God Himself calls good or evil. 1 Corinthians 15 calls death the 'last enemy' to be destroyed; if it's an enemy, it couldn't be part of God's 'very good' creation. Also, the last chapters of Revelation depict a world that is finally completely in harmony with God's will, and there is no death, suffering, pain, or mourning. The very phrase "restoration of all things" (Acts 3) presupposes that the earth is in need of restoring, which means that it isn't good. Isaiah 65 presents 'new heavens and a new earth'(v. 17) where there is no predation or animal suffering.
That our sense of good and evil is fallen and fallible is precisely the point; that's why we need revealed Scripture to help us.
David M.
Thank you Lita for this article, as it has answered a question I have been pondering for some time about CMI's position on whether Christ (hypothetically) had he not died on the cross, though sinless whether his physical body could / would have eventually died of old age/disease.
I would also like to comment on your rhetorical question "Why would God create a ‘very good’ creation that involved the suffering of animals?" It reminds me a little of Matt 16:21-23 where Jesus talks of his suffering and death and Peter indicates that he doesn't think that this would be a good thing to happen to Jesus and then receives a stern rebuke. I wonder whether using our fallen sense of good & evil to determine what God would call good in what he created, to establish a point of doctrine is in fact the best way to go about things, and would be pleased to see in addition some Bible references related to this aspect of the problem. But thank you again for addressing these issues.
Jim P.
The commenter David wrote, "Frankly, I have little trust in science’s claims about the age of the earth,". This is a regular assumption people accept when the do not examine what is being told them. Science does not make claims, scientists (people) do, and some use or misuse the tools of science practiced according to their presuppositions to interpret evidence examined. Science is a tool for discovering truth. Though many people will 'bang' something into place with a handy wrench, that doesn't make the wrench a hammer, nor does it make the claim that the object hammered needed to be moved; the person wielding the hammer made the claim, and used the tool to act upon the claim. A mechanic does not credit or blame the wrench for the observations made; and a scientist or any human being be permitted to hide behind making the claim that the tool of science "told them something"; science doesn't speak, scientists do.

Lita did her usual excellent job of responding to David's comments. Keep up the good work.
Don S.
The Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:4 is "b'yom" instead of the usual form "yom" used throughout Genesis 1 and elsewhere. As the following article explains, "b'yom" is always used adverbially in Genesis meaning "when" and never used as a noun like "yom" is, so this usage of "b'yom" doesn't help the case for taking the days "yom" of Genesis 1 metaphorically: http://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j23_3/j23_3_119-122.pdf
Don S.
Jesus' death indicates that He did what Isaiah 53 foretold that He would do: He took the penalty of our sins upon Himself. The wages of sin is death, and I believe that He would not have died had He not been "imputed" our sins.
John S.
Lita, you have hit the ball out of the park with this article. Thank you for your clear, Biblical thinking. Thank you for reminding us about the role of death in the discussion of young earth vs. old earth. Sometimes folks outside the young-earth camp think that we want to argue for the young earth just for its own sake. Of course, that's not true, as your article so ably shows. If the earth is billions of years old, then death is not the result of sin. Death would then appear to be a 'good' thing, as part of God's 'very good' creation. This is what keeps me motivated to defend the young earth. The point is not the age of the earth itself, but the relationship of death to sin.

Andrew H., I am sure that you and I would agree on many things. I differ with you, though, on your idea that if a person believes an ungodly thing, such as an old earth, even after being exposed to true Biblical teaching on the matter, then we may assume that this person is not saved. I think that idea goes too far. The age of the earth is not a salvation issue. Christians today disagree on many things, such as the mode of baptism, or the nature of the second coming. But if a person affirms the essentials of the faith, we can't assume that person has a false faith if he differs with us on a non-essential.

Having said that, those who deny the young earth have a much harder time understanding a number of important Bible doctrines. Thanks to Lita and CMI for your faithful defense of the Word of God.
Lita Cosner
Thanks for these comments. And we would affirm your statement that someone is not necessarily unsaved if they aren't a biblical creationist, because Christ's sacrifice, not complete doctrinal accuracy, is how we're saved. See Can compromisers really be saved? for an example of something we've written in the past on this subject.
Josef L.
>"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."

How did Adam know the meaning of *any* words? How did he understand how to communicate? Obviously God pre-programed Adam with a full blown language and understanding of that language. This seems like a rather silly argument (sorry if that is too blunt).
Andrew H.
Dear Lita
Good responses to post-modern errant thinking. Thank you.
God had His Scripture written for us to understand; He did not write it for Himself.
In addition, He expects us to understand all of it as it is written, and He has given us the key - the indwelling Holy Spirit as a result of salvation.
It therefore follows that those who wilfully fail to understand it or deliberately twist it to mean something ungodly are not yet saved.
But the fact that David H. is interacting with the Word offers some hope!
Jack C.
All Christians agree God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning of time. The question as to when that beginning is relative to today is what's in question, as well as how long it took. Genesis explains when that was and how long it took in sufficient detail. Yet most Christians don't trust it or won't admit openly they agree with the young earth explanation and the literal six-day creation period. The reason is simple. Everyone is taught at school to believe the earth (and Universe) took billions of years to evolve. It's hard to go against such prevailing teaching. Then you see a lot of Christians trying to insert all sorts of notions into the Bible to try and convince themselves the earth may be billions of years old to accommodate secular science. Yet the Bible says in several places not to add to the Lord's words. Such misguided Christians are committing such an offence against the Lord. What's even more unusual is many of these Christians who believe in the old age of the earth also reject the theory of evolution, which is a corollary of the secular science's belief of the old age earth. If only they understood how hypocritical they are. On the one hand they trust secular science instead of the Bible, and on the other hand they trust the Bible instead of secular science, despite the fact the two theories (age of the earth and evolution) are not only very closely tied together but so dependent on each other that if one is false then so the other must be false. Anyway, those of us who follow the true teachings of the Lord know the earth is young and it took six literal days to create the Universe, as per the teachings of the Lord in Genesis and elsewhere. It's very clear.

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