A Biblical Argument for Animal Death Before the Fall

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”  — Romans 5:12-15 (ESV)

Dr. David W. Snoke, physicist

Dr. David W. Snoke, physicist

When I posted a citation from Chapter 1 of David Snoke’s A Biblical Case for an Old Earth several weeks ago, one of my readers asked for more posts from & about this book. As it happened, I got sidetracked with two or three other books and only recently returned to reading Snoke… on occasion. I also mentioned this book in my recent “So, You Want to Learn about Old-Earth Creationism” post.

Chapter 3 is about animal death (specifically, before the Fall of Man), since that is a HUGE issue for Young-Earth Creationists and one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Christians (and some unbelievers) to accept an Old-Earth Creationist position like mine and Snoke’s. The following citation is from the section “Death Came into the World”, wherein Snoke addresses an issue I am quite familiar with, as you may be, yet he articulates it in a way (and with a couple additional considerations) that I found fresh and insightful.

The above passage is often used to argue that all animal death started only after the fall — after all, doesn’t Romans 5:12 say “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin”?

This passage clearly teaches that Adam was one, real, historical man, not a symbol. But what kind of death came into the world when he sinned? Romans 5:12 goes on to say, “death spread to all men because all sinned.” This passage clearly refers primarily to the death of humans, not animals.

Let us look closely at the story of how death came into the world. In Genesis 2:17, God say, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Did Adam die physically on that day? No, he lived another nine hundred years or so (unless one is willing to equate that ‘day’ with an ‘age’). Then did God lie, and prove Satan correct when he said, “You will not die”? No — on that very day Adam died spiritually. Adam lost his soul. [Note: Just to be clear, Snoke here is using the phrase in the vernacular (i.e., being “cut off” from God; see below) and not to mean that Adam became soulless, which is impossible.] This was the primary death; physical death was a later consequence.

The concept of “spiritual death” is common in Scripture. The Bible often contrasts the dead heart with the living heart (Ezek. 11:19, 39:26). Jesus talks of people as “dead” though they are physically alive (Matt. 8:22), as does Paul (Eph. 2:1).

This kind of death is unique to humans. Only humans have the image of God (Gen. 1:27). The primary meaning of the death that came into the world when Adam sinned is therefore the spiritual death of alienation from God.

This spiritual death had the consequence of physical death — for Adam and Eve. When Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden, they no longer had access to the Tree of Life. God specifically mentions this as a reason for exiling them (Gen. 3:22). Without the Tree of Life, they could not live forever.

Notice the significance of this: Adam and Eve had to eat from a special tree in order to have eternal life. Without the tree, they could not live forever. Did the animals eat from the Tree of Life? As far as we know there was only one [such] tree, and it was located in the Garden (or Adam and Eve could have found one somewhere else), so animals outside the Garden clearly could not eat of the Tree of Life.

Hyena w/ "leftovers"

Hyena w/ “leftovers”

If physical death was impossible to any animal life before the sin of Adam and Eve, then why did Adam and Eve need to eat from a special Tree to have eternal life? Would not all animal life, including Adam and Eve, have already been immortal? The discussion of the Tree of Life seems to me to clearly indicate that eternal physical life was a special blessing given only to humans, not to animals. This is further supported by passages like Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 and Psalm 49:12,20 that state that part of the curse on unbelievers is that “he is like the beasts that perish.” In other words, animals naturally die, but humans should be different.

Above, I argued that perhaps animal death was an object lesson for Adam so that he would have some idea of what God meant when he said “in that day you shall die.” If I am now arguing that the death Adam experienced on that day was spiritual, do I negate that argument? No — unless there were examples of spiritual death around for Adam to see. The physical death of the animals could serve as a visible token of the spiritual reality, as well as a concrete reminder of the physical death Adam would eventually suffer as a consequence of the spiritual death. The distinction between spiritual death and physical death need not have been sharp in Adam’s mind. Just as hell may be worse than fire, so the spiritual death Adam died was worse than the physical one, and using the latter as an illustration of the former can be quite proper.

Jesus undoes the work of Adam by bringing life where Adam brought death. How does Jesus do this? Does he give eternal life to all the animals? There is nothing in Scripture to warrant that belief, much as we might like to say that “all dogs go to heaven.” No — Jesus brings spiritual life to humans right away, as Adam brought spiritual death right away, and Jesus brings physical immortality for humans as a consequence, just as Adam lost physical immortality for humans as a consequence.

Just as the symmetry of Romans 5:12-19 has been used to argue that just as Jesus was one historical man, so Adam was one historical man, one can also use the same symmetry to argue that Adam did not bring animal death unless Jesus brought animal life. Did Jesus die for every dog, ant, and bacterium? No — he shared in our humanity to die for “all men” (Rom. 5:18), not the animals.

So, what do you think? Obviously, this argument only addresses one of several YEC arguments/concerns regarding suffering, disease, predation, and death in general. But, I think Snoke makes some great points and lays it out quite nicely. I am curious what both YECs and non-YECs think of this argument and how they might respond. Care to offer some thoughts? (As always, please keep it civil and respectful.)

Just f.y.i., I will likely have another post or two about this book somewhere down the road….


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6 Responses to "A Biblical Argument for Animal Death Before the Fall"

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