Retroactive death!

What’s wrong with that?


iStockphoto Retroactive death

Christian comedian Tim Hawkins discusses a skit where he describes his mom spanking him for something he didn’t do. Wondering why she doesn’t seem remorseful after discovering he wasn’t at fault she says “That’s for something you’ll do later!” He quips; “You mean I have a spank account?”

Although many parents might relate to this amusing situation, this form of punishment is what some long-age compromisers have suggested as an answer to the powerful ‘no death before sin’ argument that biblical creationists have used for years.

Millions of years required

Since all compromise positions regarding Genesis (Gap Theory, Progressive Creation, Theistic Evolution, etc.) require a time-frame of millions of years (Ma = mega-annum), long-agers have to believe that the fossil record (a record of death, suffering and disease) must have occurred before Adam sinned. (Almost no-one argues for Ma after Adam because of the chronogenealogies listed in Genesis.) In the standard ‘deep time’ view, mankind came near the end of this time, so hundreds of millions of years of death occurred before people supposedly appeared. However, this view that death came before people makes it impossible to take verses like Romans 5:12 (“ … as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin … ”) as plainly written, because death—even human death— preceded the biblical date of the creation of the first man and his sin by millions of years.

Exodus 20:11 (‘ … in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is … ’) dispels the long age paradigm conclusively, but … compromisers have attempted a variety of theological gymnastics over the years to overcome the obvious problems …

Furthermore, as humans were the appointed rulers of creation (Genesis 1:28), the Fall affected all those under mankind’s dominion. Thus the whole creation is groaning because God subjected it to futility, as Romans 8 shows. One consequence is that the original vegetarian diet of all animals, taught in verses like Genesis 1:29–30 (“ … to everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food … ”), was changed. Obviously if all creatures were only eating plants before the creation was cursed then biblically, fossils showing carnivorous activity, including tooth marks on bone and coprolites (fossil feces) containing bones of other creatures, must have occurred after the Fall of man. (The great Flood recorded in Genesis 6–9 makes sense of the evidence; see also Feeding carnivores on the Ark). (Also see The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals).

Exodus 20:11 (“ in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is … ”) dispels the long age paradigm conclusively, but since long-agers typically defer to ‘science’ over scripture, compromisers have attempted a variety of theological gymnastics over the years to overcome the obvious problems the Ma paradigm creates.

Retroactive death

To counteract what many long-agers have admitted is the clearest exegesis (most plain and obvious understanding) of the Genesis text, a new concept developed by Christian philosophy professor and Intelligent Design leader Bill Dembski proposes that God ‘spanked’ mankind by cursing the cosmos before Adam sinned. He did this because He knew the Fall would happen, and so extended the effects of the Curse backwards, before it actually occurred. (In effect man arrives on the scene ‘pre-punished’ for what he would later do!) In his book “The End of Christianity” Dembski argues that Mankind’s Fall into sin not only marred the creation after Adam but was also ‘retroactive’. (Dembski admits that the clearest exegesis supports the young-age position, but explicitly says that he rejects it because of ‘science’).

The rationale behind this stems from the concept that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was retroactive. The Bible clearly states (speaking of Jesus) that “ … there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) So there was no different way of being saved in the Old Testament; salvation has always come by grace, through faith in the one true God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning death and bodily resurrection.

The argument is then that if God saved people retroactively before the event of Jesus’ crucifixion to pay for sin (in effect ‘saving’ people before the ‘cause’ of salvation occurred), perhaps God could have cursed the world prior to Adam sinning (causing bad things to be in effect before the cause of bad things happened). But is this concept justified?

Before (not after) the foundations of the world

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, ‘retroactive’ means: “extending in scope or effect to a prior time or to conditions that existed or originated in the past.”1 Most people are familiar with the concept of a retroactive pay rise. It means you are given a lump sum payment calculated on the difference between your former and current pay extending back to a certain point in time, in addition to the pay increase from now on.

In effect, it is a method of choosing how much of a bonus a person will get and does not actually change the rate of pay you received before you got your pay raise. Note that it is an effect of a decision made by someone after the time the bonus is based upon has passed, or after the ‘fact’.

And unfortunately, we are aware of immoral governments imposing retroactive (or ex post facto) laws. They are expressly verboten by the constitutions of many free countries, since they punish people for committing acts that violated a future law that they had no way of knowing at the time. God doesn’t do that, hence Cain and Abraham did not sin when they married sisters/half-sisters, despite the Levitical prohibition God imposed many years later (see Who was Cain’s Wife?).

The Bible speaks of God’s work of salvation being done from before the beginning of creation, not afterwards.

A quick look at the related scriptures (something Ma proponents sometimes appear to neglect) reveal several passages in the Bible that actually show that God acted in the completely opposite way. The Bible speaks of God’s work of salvation being done from before the beginning of creation, not afterwards. For example Hebrews 4:3, in discussing salvation rest, says, “ … his works were finished from the foundation of the world.”

As Matthew 25:34 reminds us, at the eternal judgment those that are saved will, “ … inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Why? Because “ … he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:4) This is forward looking, not retroactively backward looking.

So to me, I was saved at 27 years of age. But Jesus saved me before the foundation of the world according to God’s word. The things God will do (in the future from our perspective) He has already done. We are in time that God created, but the Lord is not, as He is in eternity and is the Creator of Time. I am not one whose name “ … has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 13:8) My name was in the Lamb’s Book of Life from before the foundation of the world.

So according to God’s word, salvation occurred from the beginning and extended into the future, not ‘retroactively’ into the past. (For further discussion of these passages, see The Book of Life predated creation from The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?)

The bride of Christ

Why then did Jesus have to be born, die and rise again at a specific time in history? What then was the significance of that event? Perhaps a look into the relationship of God’s church to Himself will help explain. God’s word often talks about the bride of Christ, His chosen people in relationship to Him in a metaphorical sense in the framework of marriage.

In context, Jewish marriages were often arranged and betrothal was considered being lawfully married already. This is why in Matthew 1:19 we read:

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

(Joseph was going to show Mary a great act of mercy by divorcing her [even though there had not been an official wedding ceremony] as even though he thought she had been unfaithful, he did not wish her stoned as an adulteress.)

The betrothed weren’t permitted to have sex (the most intimate and personal aspect of the relationship) before the ceremony but were otherwise committed to each other completely. That physical act was the consummation of a promise as the two became “one flesh” (cf. Genesis 2:4, cited by Christ in Matthew 19:4–5 as the words of the Creator).

In the same way, the church (the Bride of Christ) was betrothed before the foundations of the world. The physical ‘ceremony’, if you will, that consummated this was the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection (which will be followed by the wedding feast—the “marriage supper of the Lamb” referred to in Revelation 19:9).

Because of what God has done/is doing/will do, Christians now experience a close relationship with God and have the constant indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is true that Jesus came once to put away sin, however this was the fulfillment of a contract already in place. It’s not like people weren’t saved before, and then became saved after Jesus came!

So the concept of a ‘retroactive Fall’ (an event extending punishments backward), is unbiblical and is totally different from the pre-ordained salvation explained in Scripture.2 Like all compromise opinions, it is simply an attempt from the minds of men to blend man’s illusory deep time into the Bible.

Published: 30 June 2011


  1. Dictionary.com, "retro active," in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law; http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/retro active. Accessed: December 13, 2010. Return to text.
  2. Note that Christians hold different views on the concept of how preordained salvation is accomplished. As a non-denominational ministry CMI does not take an official stand on this. All Christians agree however that God knows who will be saved at the great judgment. Return to text.

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