One concern I have heard frequently is how could there be physical death before Adam and Eve sinned? Wasn’t God’s creation “very good?” How could anything “very good” include death? For the most part I think people are really concerned about animals, rather than plants, with the question so that is what I'm going to focus on. In order to answer these question we need to look at a number of scriptures that related to both the creation of the earth and humanity as well as God’s plan of redemption.
Let’s start at the beginning with Genesis 2:15-17 - "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
It says in verse 15 that God put man in the Garden of Eden. This indicates that the Garden was a special place on the face of the earth; in fact its geographical location is described in the prior verses. Within the Garden there were special provisions for Adam and Eve including the Tree of Life. The conditions in the Garden were ideal; it was the paradise that we imagine when we hear the word “Eden”. The rest of the earth, however, was “natural” or “wild” as we might call it. I believe that in that natural world animals behaved the same way they do today - the way God created them to act:
- Job 38: 39-41 - "Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?”
- Psalm 104:21-22, 24 “The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens...How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”
When Adam and Eve sinned what happened? God said they would surly die! They did not drop dead that very minute, but they did experience something profound and they had something else to "look forward to" in their future. The death that Adam and Eve experienced was spiritual death. They were immediately expelled from the Garden and separated from God. God did kill animals to make cloths for Adam and Eve, but I believe this was more of an object lesson to them about the seriousness of sin – that the penalty of sin is death – rather than some kind of initiation of death into the animal kingdom. Adam and Eve’s physical death would come later.
Another reason I think animal death was not caused by sin is that it is that animals are not spiritual beings. Romans 5:12-13 “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world.” Death through sin is something that only humanity is subjected to. Also, see I Corinthians 15:21 “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.” This verse discussing death and resurrection is only directed towards people, not animals.
Some people like to suggest that all animals were herbivores before the fall. This seems kind of strange because there are a lot of physical differences between animals that eat plants only and animals that eat meat at least some of the time. Did God originally create these animals to be herbivores and then change their physiology after the fall? Did the carnivores outside of the Garden just not eat? If there was a significant change in animal behavior such that they were now a threat to man would God not have warned Adam about them when He sent him out of Eden?
There is another argument that can come up in a discussion of this topic and that is the “curse” that God gave in Genesis 3:17b-18 ”Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” Some people would like to take this verse to say that God somehow changed the laws of nature when He expelled man from Eden. There is no physical or scientific evidence for this claim. The ground will become more difficult to work for Adam – life will not be easy as it was in the Garden.
Finally, we cannot leave this topic without looking at Romans 8:18-21 “ consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” This text is often used to argue that the curse of the fall effected all creation including the instigation of animal death, carnivorous behavior and even the second law of thermodynamics being set in motion. There are a number of other interpretations of this “corruption to which creation is enslaved.” One is that Paul was thinking of Isaiah 24-26 where the earth is pictured as a graveyard and then prophecies about the future resurrection of the dead. After this resurrection the earth will then be renewed and be the dwelling of the redeemed.
I would like to propose that just because God pronounced His creation “very good” does not mean that it was perfect. It was very good for His purposes which are to bring a complete end to sin and evil. Is it not possible that death is actually part of this “very good” plan?
- We know that deathhttp://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=8557011049474543137 and suffering is only temporary. God’s new creation will be perfect.
- Evil existed before the fall of man – Satan had already disobeyed God before Eve took a bite of the apple.
- Revelation 13:8 “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” This indicates that it was part of God’s plan that Christ would die for the sins of humanity even before He began the work of creation. This must then allow for death as part of the creation.
- Physical death is a way to restrain evil in this world; bad people only live so long and can only hurt so many people.
- Plants and animals do not see death in the same way humans do.
- Death is what sustains life.
- To deny that physical death occurred defies scientific observation and data. Without death (and lots of it over a long period of time) where did we get limestone, oil, gas, kerosene, peat, and coral reefs.
So, I hope this at least gives you some ideas to think about. If it is a topic that is of significance to you I would suggest that you study it further. Below are some of the resources I consulted.
- Creature Mortality: From Creation Or The Fall?
- No Death Before the Fall - A Young Earth Problem
- Animal Death Before the Fall: What Does the Bible Say?
- Animal Death before Human Sin
- Animal Death Prevents Ecological Meltdown
- The Genesis Question; Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis, Hugh Ross, chapter 12 "How Far the Fall."