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The problem of evil: pre-Fall animal death?

Published: 29 March 2011 (GMT+10)
iStockphoto lion lamb

Richard H. from Canada contacted us after reading Philip Bell’s book review article, The ‘problem’ of evil and the supremacy of Scripture, with questions relating to the type of death that is biblically permissible prior to the Fall of Man into sin. His message is printed in full followed by Philip Bell’s response.

I read with great joy daily articles from Creation. I hold strongly with a six day creation and death coming from the sin of Adam. I agree with Rom. 5 that tells that there was no human death before Adam sinned. But there are several biblical observations that I never encountered in Creation discussion.

Genesis is quite clear with the fact that eternal human life was dependent on eating the fruit. Adam and Eve, according to Genesis, were dependent on eating the tree of life to live eternally. The scripture is really clear, it was a real tree with real fruit with a real effect: conserving the life given by God. God, after the Fall, said :
Genesis 3:22 (ASV) And Jehovah God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever …

Gen. 1:30 … clearly teaches that every wild animal, flying creature and creeping creature was intended by God to eat plants originally (God Himself speaking). The verse ends ‘And it was so.’ This obviously implies that God’s intention was a reality in that pristine, sinless Paradise. That being the case, death by carnivory was certainly absent.

The text is quite clear. The eternal life was dependent on being able to go in the garden, taking the fruit of the tree of life, and living eternally. Being driven out from the garden guarded by angels, and not being able to take from the fruit of the tree of life meant death. That was the sentence, and from there on … death for any human being.

If my exegesis is good, it means that death was there in latent form in Adam & Eve, and it was only by his faithful obedience allowing him to take the tree of life, that this life would be permanent. It seems clearly to indicate that eternal life for Adam & Eve was not an “autonomous eternal life”.

My observation then is: could it be that death would also have been present in the animal kingdom which were probably not allowed to take the tree of life like Adam and Eve?
It would mean that a certain animal death would have been a reality in the animal kingdom even in paradise.

This means that a certain reality of death would have been possible in the animal kingdom. I know that Rom. 8 says that “all creation growns” now because of Adam’s sin. So when we talk about the animal kingdom, we have to make a distinction between consequences of Adam’s sin in the animal kingdom (thistles, pain at birth, and many other problems in all the earth), and the situation of death because of natural creation being dependent on the tree of life. It would mean animals could die in the perfect order.

I don’t think it is biblically solid to say that death in Rom. 5 (First Adam) is talking of death in general. Paul is talking of human death because of Adam’s sin imputed to us all. Death imputed to us because of the failure of the first Adam to obey the only commandment given by God with the consequence of human death.

Other Scriptures seem to back up this idea of animal death. Rev. 22:2, Isa. 65:20 where in the millennium, in the perfect order, men will die at a very old age.

I really think we need to study more the Scriptures on this line.
I fear we are exposing ourselves to deny the possibility of some animal death even before the Fall.

If we say that the tree of life was not real and did not have this capacity to sustain life so it became eternal, we are not taking Genesis as a real historical narrative like we claim.

It doesn’t mean that lions were not grass feeders like Genesis says. It only means that some kind of natural death was present in the animal kingdom before the Fall. It would explain some phenomena unexplained before.

Hope I don’t create much of a stir.

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your feedback on my review article of William Dembski’s latest book. You make some very thought-provoking points and raise some interesting questions. I will do my best to respond.

In what follows, I’m assuming that you believe that sin caused human death (and suffering in the rest of the created order). Also, please understand that the answer I’m going to give to your question is partly my own understanding. Of course, we cannot be dogmatic on any point on which Scripture itself is not clear and emphatic—we have to leave those things in a sort of pending tray. However, from what I have to say below, you’ll see that I’m inclined to take a different view. Please don’t take the following to imply that I’m point scoring—I recognise that you’re a fellow creation-believing Christian and that you aim to be consistent with what Genesis teaches.

So, with those introductory comments in mind …

Regarding your point about the way being barred for Adam and Eve to the Tree of Life, following the Fall, I agree with what you have written, up to the point where you write:

It means that death was there in latent form in Adam & Eve, and it was only by his faithful obedience allowing him to take the tree of life, that this life would be permanent. It seems clearly to indicate that eternal life for Adam & Eve was not an “autonomous eternal life”.

I have always understood God’s statement in Gen 3:22 to refer to Man now in his sinful condition. I can see what you are saying, but it doesn’t logically follow that they would have died in their pre-Fall sinless condition had they not eaten of this tree (which I believe was a literal tree, for the record).1

For what it’s worth, the Tree of Life as referred to in Revelation 22:2 is for the healing of the nations, implying that there is some ailment or harm from which rescue is needed. Romans 5:12 clearly teaches that human death was consequent upon Adam’s sin, as does 1 Corinthians 15:22. Death could have no dominion over Adam in his un-Fallen, perfect state. Likewise, death had no authority over Christ, the sinless Son of God. When He died at Calvary, this was only because He had willingly been made a sin offering (2 Cor. 5:21), thus bringing Him under the curse and the penalty of sin, namely death—but even then, having disarmed the evil principalities and powers, death was powerless to hold Him and He was able to take His life again, thus rising from the dead (see also The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?). The point is that if Christ in His sinless perfection could not die (except by becoming a sin offering), the first Adam (a type of Christ obviously) would also have been utterly unable to die as long as he remained in perfect obedience to God.

The Bible doesn’t teach in Gen. 3:22 that Adam and Eve would have needed to eat from the Tree of Life to stay alive prior to the Fall and while I understand your reasoning, I respectfully submit to you that it is incorrect exegesis at the final hurdle (i.e. the sentence of yours I quoted above). This is precisely because it doesn’t take account of other Scriptures, such as those I’ve mentioned from Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, plus many others; e.g. Ezekiel 18:20 makes clear that the soul that sins is the one who dies—the obvious implication being that sinless souls don’t die.

By the same token, although you suggest:

My observation then is: could it be that death would also have been present in the animal kingdom which [was] probably not allowed to take the tree of life like Adam and Eve?

It would mean that a certain animal death would have been a reality in the animal kingdom even in paradise.

God clearly regards the life-blood as tantamount to the life of a human being, and since nephesh animals are like us in this regard, there is really no Scriptural warrant for the assumption that such animals would have died ‘naturally’. But in any case, death is clearly unnatural today (hence the grief that most human beings feel even for an animal that dies).

However, this doesn’t square with Genesis 1:30—this clearly teaches that every wild animal, flying creature and creeping creature was intended by God to eat plants originally (God Himself speaking). The verse ends “And it was so.” This obviously implies that God’s intention was a reality in that pristine, sinless Paradise. That being the case, death by carnivory was certainly absent. By “certain animal death” I presume you are referring to death by natural causes, other than by sickness or carnivory that does not involve suffering. While the death of plants and single cells2 is not death in the same sense as that of animals (clearly not, because plants were intended for food in that Edenic perfection), the Bible teaches that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Leviticus 17:11). Thus, animals which the Bible describes as having the ‘life principle’ (i.e. nephesh in the Hebrew) are those that are not only air (nostril) breathers but also those with blood coursing through their veins, as it were—see chapter 6 of the Creation Answers Book for more on this. Adam became a “living soul/being” (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה nephesh chayyāh) when God breathed His spirit into him (Gen. 2:7, also 1 Cor. 15:45). In my view, the death of such animals is thus ruled out by association, since they are also described as nephesh chayyāh in Genesis 1 (though I recognise that some of my fellow creationists, yourself included, will perhaps disagree). Gen. 9:3-6 is also pertinent in this regard—God clearly regards the life-blood as tantamount to the life of a human being, and since nephesh animals are like us in this regard, there is really no Scriptural warrant for the assumption that such animals would have died ‘naturally’. But in any case, death is clearly unnatural today (hence the grief that most human beings feel even for an animal that dies). I have observed childhood and adult grief over pets on dozens of occasions (even over something as humble as a mouse, but very keen grief over something like a cat or a dog, and even keener when a blind person’s guide dog dies, for example). I have often used the death of such animals, and the grief associated with it, to teach my own children the obvious lesson that this was not how God intended things to be originally—a lesson that is not at all difficult to put across! Few people will argue against death being an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) and most children or adults who are pet lovers would readily apply this to their beloved pets.

vultures lion
“The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.” (Psalm 104:21)—this is how God now sustains His fallen creation, but it was not that way in the beginning, and won’t be that way in the future restoration.

Interestingly, for what it’s worth, I’ve often noticed that people rarely exercise such grief over the death of invertebrates (including pets) or even fish. It’s possible that this is telling us something about the status of these animals (or some of them) prior to the Fall; i.e. I am open to the possibility that the death of some of these types of creatures might have occurred back then. This is because I can’t give chapter and verse to say that this didn’t occur and my observations of a lack of empathy in human beings upon the death of certain invertebrates might be hinting at the fact they did die in a perfect world, albeit not death in the strictest biblical sense (since they are not described as nephesh chayyāh in Scripture). If asked to jump down on one side of the fence, I’d still say, no, I don’t think so. Incidentally, I’m not sure why you quoted Rev. 22:2 in relation to animal death.

Finally, you may be familiar with Jonathan Sarfati’s book, Refuting Compromise. In this book, he writes (p. 202; 198 in the 2011 Updated and Expanded edition):

Was immortality part of Adam’s original state?

God prevented Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after the Fall, lest he live forever in sin (Genesis 3:22). From this, some argue that Adam was not created immortal. However, this does not follow, because God ordains both the means and the end. RTB [Progressive creationist organization Reasons to Believe, USA] theologian Kenneth Samples is a Calvinist, so would argue that God predestines who will be saved (the end) as well as the means (preaching the gospel). Similarly, in the original creation, the end is that Adam would be without death, and part of the means could have been the Tree of Life. I won’t argue for or against Calvinism because it’s outside the scope of this book, but it shows that a RTB staffer can have no problems in principle with my explanation. In the Eternal State, where death and Curse will be no more, the Tree of Life will once more flourish (Revelation 22:2).

In this view, God had ordained the Tree of Life as providing eternal continuance of life. Since God’s will cannot be thwarted, even by the Fall (which He foreknew), the tree’s property would need to be true even after the Fall. Since Adam and Eve would not be allowed to live forever in sin, they could not be allowed to eat any of this fruit. If they had, God would have been forced by his own perfect truthfulness to keep them alive forever. So the Tree of Life was not to become accessible till the Eternal State, when we will no longer have even the possibility of sin.

Another argument is made in 1 Timothy 6:16, quoted as God ‘who alone has immortality’. But here the Greek text is saying that God alone possesses (Greek ἔχω echō) everlasting undyingness (Greek ἀθανασία athanasia). So in God’s case, immortality is part of His essence, while creaturely immortality is based on God’s moment-by-moment sustaining power (Col. 1:16–17). This passage has nothing to do with teaching that Adam would have died without sin.

This section of the book was brought to my attention after I’d written my reply, but as you can see from what I’ve highlighted, Jonathan argues similarly to myself.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Bell

References

  1. This would commit the formal logical fallacy of denying the antecedent. Return to text.
  2. In fact, cell ‘death’—really the orderly breakdown of cells called apoptosis—would have played a vital role in all multicellular creatures from the very beginning; see this in-depth article Apoptosis: cell ‘death’ reveals Creation. Return to text.

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