Was there no death before Adam’s fall?

Many Christians teach that the entire world (or universe) was physically different before Adam’s fall from grace, being perfect in every possible way. They are referring to not only the Garden of Eden, which I find plausible, but to the entire universe. They claim that all imperfections, death and decay occurred only afterward, based entirely upon one short passage: Romans 8:20-22. The claim is that before Adam, there was no suffering or animal death. I suppose that if the universe had only existed for five days prior, this would sound reasonable. However, other verses prior to this one make it abundantly clear that the Apostle Paul is talking about man, not all of creation, when he refers to death beginning with Adam’s sin. An earlier chapter in the Bible, Romans 5:12-20 shows this clearly:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (NIV)

The entire passage is about sin (death) and redemption. When death is being compared to redemption, what kind of death do you think is being discussed, spiritual death or physical death? Paul is clearly talking about sin and spiritual death — separation from God — which is exactly what Adam and Eve suffered immediately after they sinned. Yes, these two individuals suffered physical death as well, because they no longer had access to the fruit of the Tree of Life. However, they did not physically die until many years later. Although Adam and Eve suffered physical death as a result of their sin, this cannot be extended to life on Earth as a whole. Creatures, including biological humans, had been living and dying for millions of years before Adam and Eve. There are human-made artifacts which date to 40,000 years old, well before the time of Adam and Eve.

Unfortunately, many Bible teachers get fixated on Romans 8:20-22, which states:

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (NIV)

However, when we read these verses in context, it is abundantly clear that these Bible expositors who focus solely on those three verses are missing the message!

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father. 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (NIV)

Paul was talking about spiritual death, for us, not physical death for every organism that was part of creation. Timothy Martin and Dr. Jeffrey Vaughn explain this clearly in their book, Beyond Creation Science. While I disagree with some other aspects of theology covered in this book, they give a lucid explanation of why many Christian scholars have misread this critically important section of Paul’s letter to the Romans, believing it to mean that the entire world or even the universe became corrupt after Adam’s sin. The Greek word translated into English as creation is ktisis, which can also mean “creature,” and many times in the New Testament, it refers only to people — not to the entire universe. In Mark 16:15 and Colossians 1:23, we are commanded to preach the gospel to all of creation. Are Jesus and Paul instructing us to preach the gospel to animals, rocks, and trees? No, they are referring solely to mankind. Most importantly, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, kaine ktisis is “a new creation” or “a new creature,” referring to the renewal or regeneration of a person upon submitting to Christ.

The suffering that we experience now cannot be compared with the glory that will be revealed after we submit to Christ and become a new creation. Of course all of mankind, Jews and Gentiles alike, decay and groan without Christ! That is what Paul is saying in verses 19-22. He is talking about all of mankind. In verse 23, he then specifically talks about “we who have the first fruits of the Spirit” — we who have already accepted Christ. We groan inwardly, but we also eagerly await Christ’s return! The entirety of Romans chapter 8 is about the subject of redemption. Why would Paul sidetrack us into a discussion of how the universe was created? That is not the true meaning of “creation” as used in this chapter.

To emphasize even more strongly that a strictly literal interpretation of these verses will lead us astray from the true message, understand that sin did not actually enter the world through one man, as a strictly literal interpretation of Romans 5:12 would lead you to believe. It was Eve who brought sin into the world, not Adam. Eve was the first human to sin. Therefore, we can understand that the truemessage is that we all, as mankind (“Adam”), have a sin nature which is the cause of our separation from God.

In light of the true meaning of this chapter, the “corruption of the entire universe” interpretation that is widely accepted in evangelical Christian churches is puzzling. Are we to understand that there was no decay in the universe, whatsoever, before Adam and Eve sinned? There’s no mention in Genesis of God changing every physical law of His creation after that sin event. He did curse the ground and cast them out of the Garden in Genesis 3:17-24, indicating that God wasn’t going to make it easy for them anymore. Adam would have to toil for his food all the days of his life. However, this curse didn’t corrupt the nature of the entire physical universe. Such a belief is dangerously close to Gnosticism, and it is frightening to see so many Christian organizations promoting this view. Twisting Romans 8:20 into a commentary on the physical methods of creation will diminish the impact of Paul’s overall message to the Romans.

Physical death of animals, or of any of us, is not mentioned and is completely unimportant. The only physical death that had any significance whatsoever in this entire passage was that of Jesus on the cross! If physical death is the result of God’s punishment for Adam’s sin, then all people (including believers) who have lived and died since Adam’s time have paid the price for their own sin. If physical death is even a part of the penalty for sin, then we are still paying a part of the price. This is in complete opposition to the true message of this passage, and ultimately of the entire Gospel message, which is about Christ paying the full price for our sins and saving us from the consequence of sin. Paul is warning us about spiritual death and the need for us to be right with Christ.

Just as Christ lives today, we can live. Do not be misled by anyone who re-purposes the message in Romans to suit a “creation science” agenda. Understanding and accepting evolution does nothing to diminish what the book of Genesis and Paul’s letter to the Romans teach us about the reality of sin, the devil, the fall of man, and our need for redemption.

In support of this understanding of the Bible, we have an overwhelming amount of evidence that animal death occurred before the appearance of man. The world has existed for billions of years and death has always been a crucial part of the ecosystem God’s created. Many organisms simply must die in order that others may live, not just for population dynamics, but because of predator-prey relationships. This is the natural order that God has ordained. How can we ignore the entire animal food chain that we see today? Is this the result of Adam and Eve’s sin? Really? Lions and sharks throughout the world, with teeth perfectly adapted for ripping flesh, were actually vegetarians but suddenly started eating other animals because Adam sinned? Isn’t it more likely that there is currently being promulgated a false understanding of what Paul had to say in Romans 8:20-22 based entirely on the interpretation of a single Greek word? A reading of Romans with ktisis interpreted in the same way we interpret it in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Mark 16:15 and Colossians 1:23, along with an understanding that that God did not create the entire universe with the intent to deceive us, will reveal the truth.

The first biological humans lived much longer than 6000 years ago. In addition, from what we now know about population genetics, the population of the human species at the point that it diverged from a prior species was never less than a few thousand individuals. This is true even though we all have certain genes which were inherited from specific individuals who lived tens of thousands of years ago and which spread throughout the population. Did God supernaturally create Adam and Eve’s bodies in addition to their souls? Or did they have biological parents, creatures who were biologically human but did not have everlasting souls? We will probably never know for certain. The special creation of their bodies 6000 years ago and having them be the parents of the entire human race sounds good, but the evidence found by science tells us otherwise. Not only do all humans have a shared ancestry with other animals, but the number of alleles in our genes indicate that the human race could not have originated from a single pair of people only 6000 years ago. The DNA evidence is conclusive.

Why do some of us feel comfortable enough, as Christians, to advise our governments to use DNA analysis to sentence people to death, and yet we lose trust in the very same DNA analysis performed using the very same equipment when it reveals results about the recent history of humanity that we find distasteful? This is pride and hypocrisy. God could have planted the evidence, but I don’t believe that God, as the author and creator of DNA, is a deceiver.

We can recognize that Adam and Eve existed as individuals, but that other humans existed as well, and they also gave rise to much of the human population. Many Bible study guides show that the Hebrew word adam is translated elsewhere in the Bible as “man” or “mankind”. Indeed, the similar word adamah is translated as “the earth” or “the ground,” indicating man’s origin. Adam existed as an individual, but we can understand that he also represented his species. Genesis chapter 5 states,

“This is the written account of Adam’s family line.
When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.
He created them male and female and blessed them.

And he named them ‘Mankind’ when they were created.”
Genesis 5:1-2 (NIV)

In this verse, the Hebrew word that is translated as Mankind is actually adam! Adam’s sin is what caused the fall of mankind. Christ’s atonement paid for the sins of mankind, for those He chose to save. We will see that the Bible draws more parallels between Adam and Christ.

If we ignore the genetic evidence and say that Adam was miraculously created as the first biological human and also that the entire human race has descended from only Adam and Eve, where did Cain’s wife come from? And why would Cain fear being murdered when he left his parents in disgrace? Some will come up with all sorts of explanations which they have no Biblical authority to make, including the permissibility of incest. This is an incredibly hypocritical doctrine for an evangelical Christian community professing to promote family values. If incest were truly God’s intent, wouldn’t He have explained this in the genealogy? Elsewhere in the Bible, God explicitly teaches against incest over twenty times, with the same weight that He teaches against other sexual sins. Even though this was before the Levitical law, this was still after the fall, and Adam and Eve had knowledge of good and evil. For this reason, I don’t accept that Cain had sex with his sister. If Adam and Eve were the progenitors of the entire biological human race, Cain or some of his future siblings would have had to have had sex with each other.

Instead of these doctrinally weak notions, it is more straightforward and consistent with what the Bible teaches elsewhere to say that Adam and Eve were simply the first biological humans to receive a soul and be placed by God in the garden of Eden. Plenty of other humans were already on the Earth, but remained outside of the garden of Eden. Adam was the first man created in the complete image of God — body and soul. The Bible is unclear about this, but I would assume that from that point on, all humans had souls, regardless of who their parents were. One thing that we can be certain of, from the Biblical record, is that the houses of Israel can trace their genealogy back to the person of Adam. From the time of Adam onward, all humans had the potential for everlasting life — a soul; from the time of Christ onward, we all have the opportunity of everlasting life with Him. In the same way that gentiles are now grafted into the family of God through Christ, all people were grafted into the possibility of everlasting life through Adam and Eve. The Bible draws more parallels between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21 (as we have seen) and in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, showing that mankind’s spiritual death began with Adam’s sin, and redemption and everlasting life come only through Christ’s atonement. After the judgment for Adam and Eve’s sin, Genesis chapter 3 tells us they were cast out of the garden and they lived a life of toil outside with the rest of humanity. After Christ’s return, Revelation chapter 20 tells us that the faithful will live with Christ in His earthly kingdom for 1000 years (in a sense, returning to the garden for a time) while those who do not accept Christ will remain outside, awaiting the final judgment.

 

Charles Spurgeon, the distinguished Baptist preacher and sermon writer of the 19th century, had no problem with “millions of years” and he acknowledged death before sin. Spurgeon is one of the most quoted Christian scholars on the web site of Answers in Genesis, a prominent six-day, young-Earth creationist organization. And yet, when he is quoted by Answers in Genesis in a passage concerning a creation of Earth “millions of years before the time of Adam”, they casually excise the phrase from the quoted text. Only when they were caught did they correct themselves, and their correction was only a footnote. However, they have no problem labeling other Christians who accept this view as “compromisers”.

Quotes

“But if you look in the first chapter of Genesis, you will there see more particularly set forth that peculiar operation of power upon the universe which was put forth by the Holy Spirit; you will then discover what was his special work. In the 2d verse of the first chapter of Genesis, we read, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” We know not how remote the period of the creation of this globe may be certainly many millions of years before the time of Adam. Our planet has passed through various stages of existence, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, wherein man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion.”

— Charles Spurgeon

“Years ago we thought the beginning of this world was when Adam came upon it; but we have discovered that thousands of years before that God was preparing chaotic matter to make it a fit abode for man, putting races of creatures upon it, who might die and leave behind the marks of his handiwork and marvellous skill, before he tried his hand on man.”

— Charles Spurgeon

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren’t meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man… whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.”

— Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man

“…that man is physically descended from animals, I have no objection.”

“For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends.

“Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say ‘I’ and ‘me,’ which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past. This new consciousness ruled and illuminated the whole organism, flooding every part of it with light, and was not, like ours, limited to a selection of the movements going on in one part of the organism, namely the brain. Man was then all consciousness.”

— C. S. Lewis: The Problem of Pain

“If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man,then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, He were outside time.”

— G. K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy

“There is a Christian conception of evolution, and in light of it, I propose to interpret the fall and the redemption of man. To prevent misunderstanding, I must define what I mean by evolution. Evolution is not a cause but a method. God is the cause. He is in his universe, and he is the source of all its activities with the single exception of the evil activity of the human will. When I speak of evolution as the method of God, I imply that the immanent God works by law; that this is the law of development; that God, and the old the basis of the new, and the new an outgrowth of the old. In all ordinary cases God works from within and not from without. Yet this ordinary method does not confine or limit God. He is transcendent as well as immanent. His is not simply ‘in all’ and ‘through all’ but he is also ‘above all.’ “

— Augustus H. Strong

“It should scarcely be passed without remark that Calvin’s doctrine of creation is, if we have understood it aright, for all except the souls of men, an evolutionary one. The ‘indigested mass,’ including the ‘promise and potency’ of all that was yet to be, was called into being by the simple fiat of God. But all that has come into being since- except the souls of men alone – has arisen as a modification of this original world-stuff by means of the interaction of its intrinsic forces. Not these forces apart from God, of course…”

— Benjamin B. Warfield

“I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution.”

— BenjaminB. Warfield

“There have been many evolutionists who have been and have remained theists and Christians.”

— Benjamin B. Warfield

“‘Evolution,’ in short, is coming to be recognized as but a new name for ‘creation,’ only that the creative power now works fromwithin, instead of, as in the old conception, in anexternal, plastic fashion. It is, however, creation none the less.”

— James Orr

“Not many Christians today find it necessary to defend the concept of a literal six-day creation, for the text does not demand it, and scientific discovery appears to contradict it. The biblical text presents itself not as a scientific treatise but as a highly stylized literary statement (deliberately framed in three pairs, the fourth ‘day’ corresponding to the first, the fifth to the second, and the sixth to the third)…

“It is most unfortunate that some who debate this issue (evolution) begin by assuming that the words ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’ are mutually exclusive. If everything has come into existence through evolution, they say, then biblical creation has been disproved, whereas if God has created all things, then evolution must be false. It is, rather, this naïve alternative which is false. It presupposes a very narrow definition of the two terms, both of which in fact have a wide range of meanings, and both of which are being freshly discussed today…

“But my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic hominid may have existed for thousands of years previously. These hominids began to advance culturally. They made their cave drawings and buried their dead. It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. You may call them homo erectus. I think you may even call some of them homo sapiens, for these are arbitrary scientific names. But Adam was the first homo divinus, if I may coin a phrase, the first man to whom may be given the Biblical designation ‘made in the image of God’. Precisely what the divine likeness was, which was stamped upon him, we do not know, for Scripture nowhere tells us. But Scripture seems to suggest that it includes rational, moral, social, and spiritual faculties which make man unlike all other creatures and like God the creator, and on account of which he was given ‘dominion’ over the lower creation.”

— John Stott: Understanding the Bible: Expanded Edition

This article is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of “On Matters of Faith and Science” at http://truecreation.org.