Was There Death Before Adam?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

One of the most popular arguments from young earth creationists (YEC’s) that the “days” of Genesis must be 24-hour days is that if the “days” represent long periods of time (millions or billions of years), then there must have been animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve.  According to YEC’s, there could not have been any death before the Fall.  Because of this, they argue that old earth creationists (OEC’s), who believe the earth is 4 1/2 billion years old, must be incorrect.  An old earth would necessitate animal death before Adam and Eve’s Fall.

For many years, I heard this argument and just assumed that there must be some passages in the Bible that plainly state that there was a complete absence of death before the Fall.  I never bothered to look for myself.  Then, a couple years ago, I decided to actually look up the verses that are cited to show that there was no death before the Fall.  The two most common are Rom. 5:12 and 1 Cor. 15:20-22.

“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” (Rom. 5:12)

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-22)

Now, if you just read these two passages without ever having been told what they mean, it seems to me that they are clearly speaking of human death, not death of animals.  In fact, if you read these verses in context with the surrounding verses, you can easily see that the text is speaking of human sin and human death.  I cannot imagine how someone can interpret these verses to be talking about general animal death.  Animals cannot sin and animals are not redeemed by Christ, but that is exactly what these passages are referring to.  If you don’t believe me, go read the passages in context.  See for yourself.

If YEC’s want to prove that there was no animal death (OEC’s agree there was no human death) before the Fall, then they need to point to some other passages in Scripture.  Rom. 5:12 and 1 Cor. 15:20-22 just do not make their case at all.

17 thoughts on “Was There Death Before Adam?”

  1. There are a lot more problems with the YEC idea that there was no animal death before the fall:

    1. As you pointed out, neither Romans 5 nor 1 Corinthians 15 say anything about animal death, but these passages do refer specifically to human death being the result of Adam’s sin.

    2. YECs point to the curse in Genesis 3 as the origin of animal death. But just like in the previously mentioned passages, Genesis 3 does not say that animal death is a result of the fall. Again, this is something that YECs read into the passage, rather than something that they draw out of the passage. The curse had some sort of effect on the human relationship with creation (the futility and difficulty of work), but it was not necessarily a radical re-ordering of the creation as YECs insist. A related passage is Romans 8:20-22, which states that the whole creation groans. Just like in Genesis 3, the passage does not state the nature of that groaning.

    3. YECs often seem to assume that the entire Earth was the Garden of Eden, or that it was Heaven. On the other hand, the opening chapters of Genesis depict Eden as a limited geographic place somewhere in Mesopotamia, set apart from the wild lands outside of the garden. The lands outside of the garden could certainly have been a place where death (and predation) occurred as a warning to Adam and Eve of what would happen if they disobeyed. Without this visible illustration of what it meant to die, God’s statement that they would certainly die if they disobeyed could have been meaningless to Adam and Eve.

    4. We assume that in a pre-Fall world, God was only glorified by cute, gentle things like bunnies and daisies. But in the Scriptures, predation is portrayed as something that glorifies God (Job and Psalms). There is no indication in these passages that something is wrong with the creation.

    5. Another indication from the Garden of Eden that animal death could have occurred before the fall is the nature of the Tree of Life. In Genesis, the Tree of Life is provided so that humans could eat of it (one time? on an ongoing basis?) and live forever. There is no indication that the Tree of Life was provided also for animals. So, if we listen to the YEC line of reasoning, humans needed the Tree of Life to live forever, but animals did not.

    6. Even after the curse of Genesis 3, God never revoked the “goodness” of creation (1 Tim 4:4). We live in a world with animal death, and yet God calls it “good.”

    7. Could bacteria die before the fall? How about amoebas? How about near-microscopic nematode worms that you kill with every step on the soil? How about invertebrates? What is the cutoff? The Bible does not say.

    8. There is an obvious population problem. God told the animals to “be fruitful and multiply” but without death Earth would have been overwhelmed in a very short time.

    9. What would carnivorous animals have eaten if they were forbidden to eat other animals? Many carnivores are very specialized for eating and digesting only other animals and would die on a plant-only diet. Consider animals such as the leach, anteater, or T-rex (no, I don’t buy the YEC ideas that T-rex teeth were designed to crush thick-rinded melons). As I said earlier, predation in the Psalms and Job is something that brings glory to God. Additionally, there is no Scriptural indication that there was a massive re-creation of animals either after the fall or after the flood to make them into predators.

    So much for “no death before the fall” as being the literal, straight-forward interpretation of the Bible.

  2. Bill, I am no YEC, but I don’t think you will get a lot of traction by claiming a difference between human death and the death of other animals. Yes, in your two quotes it is clear that the entry of death into this world is as a result of our sin, the other animals do not sin (at least not so that God has seen fit to tell us!) but it does not automatically follow that they are not in need of redemption in some fashion. The guys working the assy. line at GM were not responsible for the crash of the company, but they are as devastated by the actions of the corporate and labor leadership as if it was their own fault. And we are told that “All creation groans in travail…” I take that to mean that the consequences of our sin extend far beyond our own species, and the redemption will likewise be restorative to everything that has been made. Isaiah’s prophetic vision is that the “leopard and the goat shall lie down together” and that “the lion shall eat straw like the ox” I think it is death itself that entered because of our sin, not just that humans finally joined in with what was going on all around us.

    Now, part of the question my tirade raises is this:
    If I am so NOT a young earth creationist, what am I doing getting all literal over the bible?
    I do think God tells us illustrative stories in the bible, stories that tell truths that are deeper and truer than the geological and paleontological record could tell. But one thing that never does is tell stories that are more important than the actual truth. The truth is deeper than the story. If the story of the Garden says that our sin is the reason all creation is in such a sorry state, I think we can take that to the bank, and probably more.
    The issue, though, is that, if we allow this as true, what was a perfect unspoiled creation like, and what might it be like again? As an exercise in something that has been a “back of my mind” trouble, I spent some time with the idea of how predation fits with the idea of a good God here:
    Similarly, there is nothing intellectually dishonest, or contrary to scripture (as it never tells us what things would have been like if they were different than they are: it can be a frustratingly reality-only book!) to forbid us thinking that, at a certain time and age, Adam would know from God that this phase of his life was done, and he would put away this physical tent and go home. He may leave the tent here, or bodily assumption is not an insane possibility. But who can say what would have happened if things had happened differently? That’s a path to nonsense!
    The few things we know are that it would have been done volitionally, under obedience, out of love, and would not involve seperation from God.

    -R. Eric Sawyer

  3. Eric,
    I think that the existence of death in the plant and animal world is not obviously evil. I sometimes think that our peculiar modern, urban minds are turned off by a world where animals must kill to live because we are not familiar with it.

    The truth is that if animals did not kill other animals, there would be rampant over-population and death due to starvation (which is a more painful way to die). Predators also tend to thin out the weakest and sickest animals in a herd or group. This ensures that the herd will remain stronger in the long run.

    These ideas might sound “cruel,” but we must stop thinking of animals as people. They are not.

    I have long noticed that people who are hunters or who count on animals for their physical survival have a completely different view of animals then we urban Americans. They understand that animals must die, and they are OK with that. It is those of us who are distant from animal death, who never see it or experience it that have all these feelings of guilt and horror when it comes to animal death. I believe this to be a recent and quirky phenomenon that is the result of our modern lifestyles.

  4. Bill, I think you are right that modern urban society has a big disconnect regarding death. We do experience death only in humans, or in pets to whom we have given human characteristics. Other death, like that of cows and pigs, does not occur in experience. Meat is something in plastic wrap at Krogers.

    I grew up half the time on a farm, and have slaughtered pigs and chickens, have had meat in the freezer from animals who would come when I called their names, from calves it had been my job to feed from a bucket with a nipple every day before school. I am not anti-hunting although I don’t enjoy it myself, and your comments about predation acting for the good of the herd is exactly correct. I am thoroughly carnivorous, although I think that anyone who eats meat should at some point in their life participate in the process, so as to bridge that disconnect. If one is to eat animal flesh (I do, enjoy it and advocate it) then it should be done with full knowledge of what we are doing, and with respect for the creature whose life ended for my benefit, and with thanksgiving to the God who made us both. The idea I reject is that other living things are “Just stuff” and can be used or destroyed at will, and in an unthoughtful, uncaring manner. Life is a gift.

    And we find that life is very, very typically sustained by death. This seems bizarre to me, given a loving creator God. How am I to understand it? Do I change my initial points –Loving creator, goodness of life, other living things have value because of the life bestowed to them, life sustained (and the herd improved) by death, etc.? I find that intellectually I cannot rationally abandon any of these paradoxical statements. I find though that I can reconcile them by looking at another attribute, perhaps the central attribute of God as redeemer –Taking the weapon of the enemy, death, and transforming it for good, both for me and for the herd; “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

    Following that theme, life sustained, renewed through the death of another, this central theme of the redirecting of the enemies sword-thrust into victory, the crowning example of that is our life sustained by the death of Jesus on the Cross, and taken to the final teaching point, “take, eat; this is my body…”

    I find the themes of doctrine make much more sense to me when I see them reflected in other things God does, as if it is done by One, and all things show the marks of who He is. The more I see all things hanging together, the more assured I become of the truth of them.

    R. Eric Sawyer

  5. The bible does not say Adam & Eve were created physically immortal apart from the Tree of Life. If they were, then why was it there ? It would be a redundant waste of space. Nor did they die physically “in the day” they sinned. God does not mince His words. And if He had meant physical death, then they would have died physically “in the day” they sinned. That’s as irrefutable as 1+1=2 ! And so therefore God meant spiritual death. And spiritual death only. And so anything anyone says to try and include physical death comes from either self-deception at the least, or a lie at the worst. Which either way would be more in agreement with Satan than God. And so only spiritual death can be linked with Romans 5:12 & 6:23 and physical death can not, because they both are the result of sin. Therefore, because there can be no denial from the context that Romans 5:12 & 6:23 can only refer to spiritual death, oddly however there can likewise be no denial from the context that 1 Corinthians 15:21&22 does refer to physical death. Yet what is uniquely different is that unlike Romans 5:12 & 6:23 which both reference (spiritual) death as the result of sin, 1 Corinthians 15:21&22 makes no mention of (physical) death being the result of sin. It is just always assumed that it is. However, we know that man was made from perishable dust. And we also know from the same chapter that flesh & blood can not inherit eternity. And that we must put off corruption, and put on incorruption. Most people assume again this means repentenance from sin. But it is the Greek word “phthora” which means to perish by decay. And so we can now see from 1 Corinthians 15 (especially verse 53) that it has been so from the beginning that we would live in two bodies. The first made from perishable dust (v50) But the second made from some unknown imperishable heavenly material (v35-49). And so, since we can now see that Adam & Eve were never created physically immortal in the first place, nor did they die physically “in the day” they sinned in the second place, we can now conclude in the third place with unquestionable certainty that had they never sinned, nor ever ate from the Tree of Life either, that they would have eventually died then a natural physical death from old age. Which should put to rest once and for all the false teaching that there was no physical death before sin. And notice I didn’t say one word about animals either.

  6. I agree that God is more concerned with our spiritual lives. God made it possible for humans to reproduce knowing that each generation would die off. I also agree that without death there could be no life physically or spiritually. The history of the planet was long enough for plants and other life forms to die and decay and provide food for the soil and fossil fuels for the future life forms to make electricity to power these computers and on and on etc. Our God is the God of the universe, time, space, change and wants to be the God of our lives so we can live with Him now and forever.

  7. Interesting thread, brothers. There are a few texts that you may find of interest. “Earth’s Earliest Ages” by Pember, and various notes by John N. Darby in his bible and other published writings.

    After considering this debate and others like it, it seems that there are two sides to reconcile: The mountains of “facts” presented to us by science, and the biblical narrative. Reconciliation attempts of various sorts have performed backflips with the data in order to bring these two sides together.

    Those who promote the scientific side constantly beg the question by presenting arguments as foregone without proving (or sometimes even supporting) them with adequate evidence. Those who side with what they would call a literal interpretation seem to like to hide from obvious facts that disagree with their view.

    However, there is a difference between a literal interpretation and a traditional religious interpretation. For example, the idea of the earth being only 6k years is viewed as a literal interpretation when it is really the traditional interpretation. If the Bible is to be considered as the Word of God, then it must be taken as a whole.

    Where would be the time of Lucifer on the earth? If the earth was judged because of Lucifer’s fall, then the entire earth was deemed guilty and worthy of destruction. It may be that God’s original intent and creation is expressed by Genesis 1:30, but there was clearly a fall. There is no mention in Genesis of how Lucifer fell, so it is clear that the timeline as given in Genesis cannot be taken alone, but needs to be understood in the light of the rest of the Bible.

    I would propose the following timeline:
    In the beginning, God created. Out of this creation came the Heavens and all that is in them. Over all this, He set Lucifer as a priest and king over all his fellow angelic brothers as a priest to bring the praise of all creation to God, and as a king to bring God’s authority to creation.

    God eventually created the Earth, either by processes set in motion by His earlier creation or by His direct hand. God sets Lucifer over the Earth upon which there was no death. The geological record indicates that Lucifer was Lord of the Bacteria for several hundred million years before higher life forms emerged. Lucifer’s fall — which could have taken billions of years, as God gave him much time to repent, and during which time Lucifer fully corrupted the original creation by injecting his fallen, evil nature into it just as the ‘sons of God’ did in creating the race of the giants — finally culminated in the first flood and destruction of the earth.

    Much time passed. The Spirit of God brooded (the actually meaning of the word means to brood like a mother bird on its eggs) upon the face of the deep and eventually recreated or rebuilt the earth in 6 days.

    So, the earth was already in rebellion against God when Adam was created. This is why He instructs Adam to replenish and subdue the earth. The original word “replenish” is the same original word given to Noah after the 2nd flood.

    Also, the earth was still the realm of Lucifer. Recall that he says to Jesus that all the kingdoms on the earth are his to give to whom he wills? Even to that day, Lucifer was still the ruler and power of the earth. 1st John says that the whole earth lies in the hands of the evil one. God’s instruction to Adam to subdue the rebellious earth was for this reason.

    By this proposed timeline, it is easy to see that the evil of Lucifer has infected and damaged the earth for a very long time. If the original creation and intent of the Creator was not death, Lucifer seems to have wasted no time in introducing death soon after his fall. It is this evil corrupting nature that produces things like disease, predation, decay and death in what was otherwise a creation that expressed God. The entire universe exists, not as God created it, but in a state of collapse. Some things still function as they were originally made but most things have been fully usurped and corrupted.

    This is why God will eventually roll up universe like a scroll. The old Heaven and the Old Earth will flee away and there will be no place found for them. Eventually, all remnants of the old creation -including everything within them — will be swept away. The process may take a long time but eventually, it will be accomplished. Like my workshop after I create a complicated piece of furniture, eventually, I sweep up the mess, burn the scrap pieces, turn out the light, lock the door, and carry the new furniture to a place of honor in the house.

    And I saw a New Heaven and a New Earth.


  8. Thanks for the comment, Christopher. Where do you get the idea of the first flood? I have never heard that before.

  9. Hi Bill,

    But the earth became waste and emptiness, and darkness was on the surface of the deep.
    Genesis 1:2

    The ‘deep’ means waters. The verse is indicates that the earth is in a ruined state. This is not the earth originally created by God, of which the ‘sons of God shouted for joy’ when its foundations were laid. In fact, that the earth was completely covered in water is clearly shown because the dry land does not appear until the third day, in Genesis 1:9-10.

    Further, the original text says that the earth ‘became’ waste and emptiness. This indicates a change from a former state which was the opposite of waste and empty.

    Here is more proof. 2nd Peter says, “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;..” This is a clear indication that there was a judgement on angelic beings at sometime in the past before Adam.

    Darby and Pember both talk about a pre-adamic race upon the earth. In other words, there were people (of some type) on the earth before Adam. They would have been a part of the Kingdom of Lucifer and would have been judged along with the rest of the first world before Adam. Just like in the days of Noah, God wiped them off the earth in a flood.

    Traditional religious Christianity presents us with a very shallow view of the history of the earth. In order to fully understand and comprehend this history, it is necessary to know what God is after in all His creation and work. With billions and billions of years to get this far, and with such marvelous complexity, there is a deeper plan than what we have been told. We have such a thick bible, and yet have only the most superficial understanding of what it contains and reveals. Consider: Why go through all this history, effort, and trouble if our faith is just to go to church and behave ourselves while we’re alive, and then go to happyland in the sky to be with Jesus.

    There has to be something more and something much deeper. What is God after? What is His eternal plan? And what is our part in that plan?

  10. Hello Dan,

    You said, “The bible does not say Adam & Eve were created physically immortal apart from the Tree of Life. If they were, then why was it there ? It would be a redundant waste of space.”

    The Tree of Life is not the “Tree of Eternal Human Life.” It is the “Tree of the Life of God.” God did indeed create Adam without death (we know this because He said that Adam would die if he partook of the Tree of Knowledge).

    But he was created only with the human life. God desires more for his created Man. He desires to be fully one with Man. God desires Man to go from Mankind to Godkind by sharing His Life and Nature (but not the Godhead). So, He set His Man in front of the Tree of Life so that he would partake of this tree.

    How do we know this? God made man’s body out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him and Man became a living soul. Here you have the three parts of Man: Body, Soul and Spirit. This is also mentioned in 1st Thesolonians when Paul says he prays God would bless us body, soul and spirit.

    You said: “Nor did they die physically “in the day” they sinned. God does not mince His words. And if He had meant physical death, then they would have died physically “in the day” they sinned. That’s as irrefutable as 1+1=2 !”

    I have to disagree with your comments. There are many instances where God does not execute judgement on the day it is pronounced. For example: Satan was judged but still seems to be running around loose. The fallen angels were judged but still had access to human females and made giants. Jesus says to allow the wheat and the tares to grow side by side until the harvest comes when they will be separated.

  11. @Christopher, isn’t it more proper to day that Adam died because of the act of disobedience, rather than the actual eating of the “forbidden fruit”. And we KNOW that he did not immediately die, he live on Many years. Thus the idea that many have, the death mentioned being not physical death, but rather spiritual death (separation) from the creator. The fact that God ordered the first couple out of the garden and protected the tree of life can reasonably be interpreted to indicate that the “Tree of Life” was God’s provision for indefinite physical life.

  12. i have found no information that adam knew exactally what “DIE” meant…if there had been NO DEATH” before adam sinned how could he know…if death had happened in his sight (animals) then he could have known that the “body would “die” but would know nothing of the “spiritual death” ie separation from GOD….If you can help me understand this matter I would be open to your understanding….dwburt27@yahoo,com

  13. Bill,

    I think you’re giving us an overly simplified sketch of the YEC position. What’s probably the most popular YEC ministry? I think you would agree that it is Answers In Genesis. So when you go to their website and read what they have to say about animal death, we don’t see them pointing to a single Bible verse and saying “See must be talking about animal death!” Maybe that’s how you simplistically used to think, but it’s not really fair to project your simplistic thought processes onto other YEC.

    If you want to debunk a common YEC argument, interact with the actual argument. For example, here:http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v7/n1/problem-millions-of-years-natural-evil

  14. As geochristian pointed out a lot of things that could be accepted as logical however, as a YEC he has done a lot of what I view as EISEGESIS. IOW since a verse may not say something about animal death, THEREFORE, animals died BEFORE the fall. I fail to find evidence outside of EISEGESIS Biblically, that animals did die before the fall.

    I go back to Genesis 1:31 and the sixth day where it is written…

    31 God saw ALL that he had made, and it was VERY GOOD. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.

    I’m sorry. but creating DEATH for the animals is NOT VERY GOOD for ALL. Even the Serpent (Satan) was yet NOT cursed as shown in Gen 3:14

    14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “BECAUSE you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
    For me a YEC, it appears to make MUCH MORE common sense that animals were cursed with death the SAME DAY as the serpent.

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