Here’s a question: is it possible that there was death before Adam’s disobedience and the Fall of man? Or more precisely, is it possible that there was plant and animal death before the Fall? This is something that I’ve been thinking about lately (one of those off the wall topics that just gets in your head, I guess.)
As with all things, let’s first look at a couple passages of Scripture that talk about death and the Fall:
Gen. 2:15-17 – “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Ro. 5:12 – “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.”
1 Cor. 15:21 – “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
I believe the Bible is crystal clear that there was not human death before the Fall of Adam, especially in light of Ro.5:12. To deny such, I believe, would be to alter how in Christ, we find the Second Adam reversing the effects of sin. But how does this relate to non-human death? Before we go on, let me say that I believe that there was animal and plant death before the Fall. I’ll try to explain why I believe this, but for a fuller discussion, I would highly recommend reading this Reasons To Believe article dealing with this very issue.
First, Ro. 5:12 is not dealing with death in general, but rather is talking very specifically about human death – “death spread to all men because all sinned.” Likewise, the passage in 1 Cor. 15 deals specifically with human death since it is humans (not animals, etc) that will be made alive through Christ. I am not aware of any Scripture that mandates a belief that there was no death at all before the Fall of Adam.
Second, I doubt that there are many, if any, who would deny that plants died before the Fall. After all, it was vegetation that God told Adam to eat! It’s fairly safe to say that plant life died before the Fall. Is it then a stretch to say that animals also could have died?
Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments is the physical make-up of the plants and animals themselves. There are thousands of examples I could think of but will only highlight one kind in general and three more specific examples. The first is what we know as omnivores in general – those animals who depend on other animals for sustenance. Think of the general make up of these animals, their bodies and their killing capabilities designed by God for a very specific purpose – their survival. A counter argument might be that God created them the way we know them now with the anticipation of the Fall’s affect on their diet. This is indeed a possible explanation. However, just as possible is that God made them exactly the way they are, diet and all. Further, there isn’t any Scriptural support to show that God changed their diets, but rather this view reads into Scripture the notion that animals did not die before the fall. Furthermore, many animals were made with very specific abilities to capture and extract nourishment from animals. Let’s look at some examples.
First up is the angler fish, a very ugly looking fellow that got plenty of notoriety from Finding Nemo. The angler fish is a deep sea fish with a very distinct mode of finding its dinner. It has a growth called the esca protruding above its eyes that emits a light that attracts dinner. When the unsuspecting morsel, captivated by the glowing light (“Oooh, pretty!”), happens to touch the esca, the fish’s jaws are triggered by automatic reflex, often enabling the fish to swallow its dinner whole (so much for chewing each bite.) God created this unique fish with the ability of having its dinner delivered to its front door step. If there was no animal death before the fall, what did this guy eat that would require a flashlight?
Second example is your average, every day spider. These guys take a lot of flak, mainly because they’re creepy and scary looking and leave those annoying spider webs all over the place. But what is the purpose of those spider webs except to catch its next meal? The spider spins the web, then hides. Along comes an unsuspecting fly and gets stuck in the web. The spider senses the impact and struggle by vibrations carried along the lines of the web. Soon, the spider is chomping down on a nice meal of fly soup. If there were no animal death before the fall, what purpose did the spider’s web serve?
Perhaps the most compelling example of these three is the beautiful and deadly Venus Flytrap. The VFT is very unique in that it’s a plant that eats animals. There are a couple of reasons that makes the VFT so compelling in this argument. The first is its habitat. The VFT is only found nitrogen-poor environments and because of this, it relies on the nutrients provided by animals that the soil does not provide. Quite simply, without killing animals, the plant could not survive. The second reason that makes this plant compelling is the method that is used to trap its dinner. On its leaves are tiny hinged hairs that, when triggered, causes the leaves to rapidly clamp shut around its prey. What’s so compelling about this is that the hair triggers must be contacted twice in succession in order to shut. This acts as a safeguard against wasting energy in trapping non-living things or even falling raindrops. So here we have a plant in its very design that requires animal death in order to sustain it.
Again, God could have indeed created each of these things not to need the sustenance they need now and to have created them with the special abilities knowing what was coming. To believe this requires that a great percentage of the Earth’s ecosystem was changed well after God’s creation work was complete. I believe that God could also have created them exactly as we know them now – perfect and ”very good.”
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