Those of us who have encountered creationists online or perhaps in real life will have encountered the claim that "There was no death before the fall". Examples of this claim may be found on blogs such as this one, internet forums (my chosen reference seems to have disappeared, sorry) and is the main viewpoint for Answers In Genesis (AIG). This viewpoint also appears in their Creation Museum. However, such a claim is blatantly false, and is, in fact, not supported by scriptural interpretation.
Assumptions, Bible Version and Notation
The following are the assumptions made in this post:
- The Bible is 100% accurate (i.e. non contradictory)
- The Bible is infallible
- The Bible interprets itself (Sola Scriptura wiki)
The Bible version used is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), all links to scripture sources (in superscript) will take you to an online copy of the NRSV.
Citing will be done by superscript link. For ease, links to bible verses will be lettered while links to sources will be numbered.
The idea of "the Fall" bases itself on the "second" account of creation in Genesis 2[a]. This second account is considered to be non-contradictory and is in fact a more detailed description of the creation of mankind.. In it God creates man[b], creates woman when God thinks that it is not good that man should be alone in the garden[c], and then created animals for man to name[d].
The event known as "The Fall" starts with Genesis 3[e]. In this event we see woman being tricked by the serpent, which in modern Christianity is said to be Satan in disguise. Man and woman eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and are punished for their transgression by being banished from Eden.
Death in the Garden
The fall is considered to be the point in time where death is said to have started and all of the worlds ills appear. According to Tommy Mitchell of AIG:
"To have been very good, God’s creation must have been without blemish, defect, disease, suffering, or death. There was no “survival of the fittest.” Animals did not prey on each other, and the first two humans, Adam and Eve, did not kill animals for food. The original creation was a beautiful place, full of life and joy in the presence of the Creator."
This is based on Genesis 1:31 in which it is stated:
"God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good... "[f]
In the article Two Histories of Death by Ken Ham, Ham questions whether creation can be considered "very good" if there was so much death. The article, although presenting two sides and "letting the reader decide", makes the answer obvious. The nature of God is good, therefore you cannot have a creation that has death.
The idea that death came after the first sin is also mentioned in Romans 5:12 :
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—[g]
What could be considered to be the last verse that supports the claim that there was "no death in Eden" is Genesis 1:29-30:
"God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so." [h]
This also gives rise to the claim that carnivores in the garden were herbivorous.
Verses Verses Verses
When arguing using Sola Scriptura this is what the argument can end up becoming. Since a literal Bible is also one that supports itself arguments will end up being ones with verses thrown around. This argument is no different.
The first question is "do we know that life in Eden was immortal"? Based on scripture the answer is no.
As Glen R. Morton said in Death Before the Fall: The Theology, why would life need to reproduce if it was immortal?
God says in Genesis 1:22 that animals should "be fruitful and multiply"[i]. Logically, as well as using scripture, this would seem to be contradictory. Under the "no death" argument, had the fall never happened all animals on Earth would reproduce while never dying. This would start to cause stress on the flora, which would be the food source for all life and would cause suffering due to food shortages - the exact opposite of what the concept of "the Garden of Eden" is supposed to be about.
The closest non-biblical modern example would be the Koala population of Kangaroo Island. Without any natural predators on the island (and the reason for putting them there in the first place) they have been able to reproduce at a much faster rate then they normally would, only dying of old age or from various accidents. This has put much stress on the ecosystem of the island. This is what is being suggested by AIG, except on a larger scale.
Next we have an interesting passage in Genesis 3:22:
Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—[j].
A tree of life would be redundant in a place where there is no death to begin with, so why would God fear man reaching out and eating from this tree?
It appears that the tree of life is a once off, possibly hereditary way of becoming immortal.
This really is the strongest piece of biblical evidence that there was death before the fall.
The majority view from a theological perspective is that the "fall" was not a physical death, or the appearance of death, but a spiritual one.. However, it should be noted that this is not a literal literal interpretation, which states "death" which would imply physical.
The second view, which I share, is that it's a very nice story, but none of it is true.
The claim of "no death before the fall" does lead to an interesting conundrum. Had there been no fall, would that mean that God would have a more active role in the world because he would have to feed a large number of immortal beings? And would he be a loving God if he didn't?
The answer to the second question would be no, he wouldn't be a loving God.
But, the clear answer is that no, there was no immortality before the fall, because the Bible itself states that there was an additional requirement for man to become immortal. It forces a literalist to accept that there would be death before the fall, however that creates a contradiction in their view of God. The result from the literalist side is that there is a group of people who have picked and chosen their verses that supports what they want to support, but left out the verses that show they are wrong.