DEATH BEFORE SIN?
By James S. Stambaugh*
Most people are familiar with the creation/evolution issue, yet not
many people realize the importance of death to each view. The fact is
that, for evolution, death is a sort of creative force. Those who
believe in evolution must believe that death has always existed. This
is exemplified by theistic evolutionist Dr. Howard Van Till, who says:
"It is an incontrovertible scientific fact that there is a long
history of life and death for a period of billions of years before
people like you and I appeared on earth. So physical death before the
fall must be accepted as a fact of science."(1)
Those who accept the Bible believe that death is a punishment for sin;
death must have come into existence after Adam fell. This article is
designed to provoke the thinking of God's people about the
significance of death and will examine various aspects of the creation
as recorded in Scripture, both before and after the fall. We will
explore the state of God's original creation and the effects of God's
cursing the creation, and consider the eternal state when death will
MEANING OF "GOOD"
How are we to understand the original state of God's creation? Here
we must explore what God meant when He declared His creation to be
"very good," in Genesis 1:31. The Hebrew word for "good," like the
English word, has many meanings. In fact, the Hebrew word has ten
meanings.(2) The majority of the occurrences can mean "beautiful" or
"expensive." When it is used of men, it often has moral implications.
The word "good" is here modified by the word "very." "Very occurs in
the Old Testament 300 times, and carries with it the idea of a
Elsewhere, the phrase "very good" is used by menÄmen who have I been
affected by the fall of Adam. But in Genesis 1:31, the statement is
made by GodÄthe One who is perfect in all that He does. The very least
one can note about God saying this of His creation is that He has I
given it His approval. Dr. John Davis says that the statement is
according to the purpose of God,(5) denoting that the original
creation was suitable according to God's purposes. This is also noted
by Nigel Cameron: "The world which God made for man to inhabit was
'very good.' It had been prepared to receive him as its crown, and the
setting was constructed so as to be ideal for the probation to which
Adam and Eve were called. The world was not created with the Fall in
prospect, still less with the curse already let loose."(6)
There is not much said about the diet of man and the animals in the
Garden of Eden. An integral part of the evolutionary scenario is that
both men and many of their animal ancestors have always been
carnivorous. Yet God said very clearly that both man and animals were
only to eat plants, in Genesis 1:29. This we can see as part of being
"very good," and is God's best for His creation. We are not told when
animals became carnivorous, yet we do know that man was not to eat
meat until after the Flood (Genesis 9:3).
This raises an interesting problem for the evolutionist. He must
believe that God intended man and animals to be carnivorous, even
though God's words are very clear (Genesis 1:29). He must, in all
reality, call God a liar, he must say that God did not mean what He
said. If men and animals were vegetarian, then the possibility of
death in the original creation becomes remote.
PLANTS NOT ALIVE
The above statements do not rule out death of plants. Some see this as
a major stumbling block. Dr. Hugh Ross observes that plants die. He
says: "Some have interpreted this verse (Romans 5:12) as implying that
there was no death of any kind before the sin of Adam, and, therefore,
only a few days could possibly have transpired between the creation of
the first life and the sin of Adam. However, the absence of death
would pose just as much a problem for three 24-hour days as it would
for three billion years. Many species of life cannot survive for even
three hours without food, and the ingestion of food requires at least
the death of plants."(7) This is, of course, true, except that the
Bible never ascribes to plants the status of "life" (nor to the
"lower" animals, for that matter).
The Bible is very clear about the nature of life. Life, according to
the Bible, resides in the "soul," or the Hebrew word "nephesh." This
might be equated roughly with the concept of consciousness. This
quality is ascribed only to man and some animals, but never plants.
The Bible is also very clear as to what happens to plantsÄ"they wither
and fade" (Isaiah 40:6-8; James 1:10) but plants never die. They have
biological life, but not Biblical life. Men and animals could eat
plant life without death, in Biblical terms, taking place.
ADAM'S SIN BROUGHT DEATH
Let us consider death in God's original plan. The passages most often
referred to on this topic, Romans 5:12-21 and I Corinthians 15:20-26,
clearly illustrate the fact that our death resulted from Adam's sin.
Yet the Bible has more to say which helps us bring this issue into
The wording of Genesis 2:17 is very clearÄ"but of the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day
that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." What did God mean by
"die?" If we examine the events of the fall, we will find that Adam
did not physically die when he first ate the fruit, tempting many to
say that Adam fell only in a spiritual sense. But we must note two
things that differentiate Adam from ourselves. First, Adam was created
perfect and sinless. Second, because he was created sinless, he was
not originally condemned to physical death. When Adam ate from that
tree, he truly died, just as God promised he would. He died
spiritually at that moment, but he was also cursed with the ultimate
reality of physical death. Physical death is the result of spiritual
death, so that 930 years later, Adam's body finally caught up to his
Adam's sin had a tremendous effect on the entire world. We can see
this clearly stated in Genesis 3:17,18 and Romans 8:19-21. The Genesis
passage states that all creation was cursed by God for man's sake. It
seems that God wanted to give the human race an object lesson. The
lesson, it would appear, is to make the outer world of man like the
inner world of man. Man is now a fallen sinner, and so God shows him
what his spiritual state is like when he looks at nature. So when man
looks at nature, he can see the glory of God, although it is veiled by
the curse of sin. Such a demonstration of the results of sin should
drive men back to God for His solution to sin and death.
The passage in Romans 8:19-21 confirms the thought of Genesis. In
fact, these verses are Paul's commentary on Genesis 3:17,18. Here Paul
tells us that the whole of creation has been subjected to "vanity" by
God because of man's sin. The word "vanity" refers to that which fails
to attain its basic goal. This means "that the non-human creation has
been subjected to the frustration of not being able to properly
fulfill the purpose of its existence."(8) The entire creation
experienced the same fate that man did when he fell. Now, since man is
the initiator of the curse on the earth, he must also somehow be the
initiator of the restoration of the creation, and this is exactly what
Paul is trying to tell us. God was to be glorified by the smooth
running of nature. When man fell, his act brought sin and death.
Therefore, if death prohibits the smooth running of nature, then death
must not have been a part of God's original plan.
THE EFFECTS OF SIN REMOVED
Scripture plainly tells us that God will remove the effects of man's
sin. This is the conclusion of Romans 8:19-21, yet we can see other
passages which picture the results of God's intervention, such as
Isaiah 11:6-9 and Revelation 21, 22.
The Isaiah passage clearly depicts a totally different picture of
nature than we presently experience. Animals are eating only plants.
Once again, there is no more carnivorous activity. Animals, even
poisonous snakes, can play with infants. This is a totally different
future for the world than is predicted by evolution.
The two chapters in Revelation show that after sin is vanquished,
death, pain, and sorrow will also be vanquished. If this is the
restoration of the creation, we are left with a plaguing question
about death if we believe in evolution. Why is death being done away
with? If God originally intended death to be an integral part of His
creation, then God should allow death to continue into eternity. So we
are left with the conclusion that death is an abberation caused by
man, in God's plan.
There is a very practical side to the above discussion that affects
every believer in Jesus Christ. This study has suggested a causal
relationship between sin and death. Yet because of God's grace and
mercy there is another aspect to that relationship, for the Bible also
presents a relationship between sin, death, and atonement.
When man fell, God cursed him with both physical and spiritual death.
God took it upon Himself to provide an atonement for the original
couple; He took two animals and made clothing. In order to get animal
skins, the animals must have been killed. Sin always brings with it
death, and this is the first recorded death. These two animals
provided a blood sacrifice atoning for Adam's and Eve's sin. We are
told in Hebrews 9:22, "without the shedding of blood there is no
remission of sin." So a blood sacrifice is only necessary if there is
sin. The rest of the Old Testament has similar treatment of sacrifice
for atonement. If there was animal death before the fall of man, then
God and all those who followed His pattern did useless acts. One must
observe that in the atonement the animal loses its life in the place
of the human. If animal death existed before the fall, then the object
lesson represented by the atoning sacrifice is in reality a cruel
The New Testament has one sacrifice for atonement, for Jesus Christ is
called the "Lamb of God." If we believe that death has always existed,
then we make a mockery of the death of Christ. This is exactly what
evolution means. The atheist is at least honest about his position. We
can observe this by the statement of G. Bozarth. He says:
"Christianity has fought, still fights, and will continue to fight
science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution
destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus' earthly life was
supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin,
and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the Son of God.
If Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what
evolution means, then Christianity is nothing."(9) If death is not the
penalty for sin, then Christianity is meaningless. The death of Christ
was made necessary because of man's sin. Man's sin brought death,
which in turn brought God's Son to pay the penalty in our place.
* Mr. Stambaugh is the Librarian for ICR.
1. Van Till, Howard. Audio taped debate held on October 27 1988.
2. Brown, Driver, Briggs. Hebrew Lexicon. Oxford Press, 1915. pp. 373-
3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody Press, 1980. p.
4. See for example: Genesis 24:16; Numbers 14:7; Judges 18:9; 1 Samuel
25:15; II Samuel 11:2; Jeremiah 24:2, 3.
5. Davis, John. Paradise to Prison. Baker Book House, 1975. p. 62.
6. Cameron, Nigel. Evolution and the Authority of the Bible.
Paternoster, 1983, p. 66.
7. Ross, Hugh. Biblical Evidence for Long Creation Days. Unpublished
paper, n.d., p. 7.
8. Cranfield, C.E.B. Romans. 2 vols. T & T Clark, 1975.1:413.
9 Bozarth, G. Richard. "The Meaning of Evolution" American Atheist 20
(Sept. 1979), p. 30.
Index - Evolution or Creation1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65 | 66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | 76 | 78 | 79 | 80 | 81 | 82 | 83 | 84 | 85 | 86 | 87 | 88 | 89 | 90 | 91 | 92 | 93 | 94 | 95 | 96 | 97 | 98 | 99 | 100 | 101 | 102 | 103 | 104 | 105 | 106 | 107 | 108 | 109 | 110 | 111 | 112 | 113 | 114 | 115 | 116 | 117 | 118 | 119 | 120 | 121 | 122 | 123 | 124 | 125 | 126 | 127 | 128 | 129 | 130 | 131 | 132 | 133 | 135 | 136 | 137 | 138 | 139 | 140 | 141 | 142 | 143 | 144 | 145 | 146 | 147 | 148 | 149 | 150 | 151 | 152 | 153 | 154 | 155 | 156 | 157 | 158 | 159 | 160 | 161 | 162 | 163 | 164 | 165 | 166 | 168 | 169 | 170 | 171 | 172 | 173 | 174 | 175 | 176 | 177 | 178 | 179 | 180 | 181 | 182 | 183 | 184 | 185 | 186 | 187 | 188 | 189 | 190 | 191 | 192 | 193 | 194 | 195 | 196 | 197 | 198 | 199 | 200 | 201 | 202 | 203 | 204 | 205 | 206 | 207 | 208 | 209 | 210 | 211 | 212 | 213 | 214 | 215 | 216 | 217 | 218 | 219 | 220 | 221 | 222 | 223 | 224 | 225 | 226 | 227 | 228 | 229 | 230 | 231