Dispatches from the Forum: Death Before the Fall

| By on The Evolving Evangelical

This is the second entry in my occasional series featuring selections from the discussions happening at The BioLogos Forum (which I help moderate). As I said last time, I think it’s really amazing that BioLogos provides a space for people of all perspectives on origins to contribute and interact graciously. Such a space is very rare on the internet.

Today’s excerpt is from a discussion between a young-earth creationist (“Nareus”) and several evolutionary creationists about the subject of “death before the Fall”. I’m increasingly convinced that this is the One Issue to Rule Them All in the origins debate. It’s the place where the sometimes abstract discussions of Genesis, evolution, and science collide with the universal Christian question of why suffering and death happens in God’s good world. What follows below is not meant to resolve the difficulties but instead to highlight them, and encourage further conversation and reflection. I encourage you to join the conversation.


 

Nareus: The problem with evolution in relation to the Bible is that it's inconsistent with Christ's death and resurrection. If evolution is a good and natural way for God to make things, then why is death bad? Christ defeated death on the cross. Why would he do that if it were good?

beaglelady: Without death, wouldn't the planet soon be too crowded and miserable?

Nareus: We don't know exactly what the world was like before the Fall. But again, according to a worldview that accepts evolution as consistent with the Bible, how can you think of death as bad; why would Christ free us from it?

beaglelady: I think that ultimately we are redeemed by the defeat of death and are joined with Christ. But seriously, would you want to live on a planet where nothing died? Imagine being filled with immortal parasites.

Nareus: I don't think that parasites would work like that in a pre-Fall world, after all it was perfect. But why is it a good thing that Christ defeated death if what BioLogos teaches is true? If evolution was part of the pre-Fall world, then the death that came along with it was very good along with the rest of creation.

Mervin_Bitikofer: You seem to be treating death as only one concept. Given that assumption, why is everybody still dying if Christ freed us from death? Your definition of death needs some nuance.

Nareus: Because we're still in this world that's cursed by the Fall, we see it affected by death, and now that Christ has died for us, death has lost its power in that there is nothing to fear in it. The reason death is inconsistent with BioLogos's view is that the Bible makes it quite clear that death is a bad thing, while BioLogos says that it played an essential role in the construction of God's very good creation, and thereby, death itself was very good.

Also, I'm a little confused, what do you mean that my definition of death needs some nuance? Death is death.

beaglelady: Jesus took the sting out of death, but he did not eliminate death in this life. Besides, who would want to live on a planet that was so crowded that we could never bring new life into the world??

Mervin_Bitikofer: I struggle to understand this issue of death and whether it is really as simple as you see it. You may view death as a very monolithic or "one-dimensional" thing. But I don't get the impression that Jesus or the Apostles always share that view—at least not in every context. "...unless a kernel of wheat Falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (from John 12). And Jesus isn't just talking about horticulture here. As usual, his meanings run much deeper and we struggle to flesh it all out. Paul too speaks of needing to die to the law so that he can live for God (Romans 7:4 or Galatians 2:19). So is Paul only speaking of his eventual physical execution here? Of course Paul also speaks of death as the last enemy to be conquered (where is your sting, O death?) which you will no doubt be familiar with. In Ecclesiastes we learn that there are seasons for everything including being born and dying. Now I'll be the first to admit that this is offered in the context of a sinful world. (I'm an Anabaptist after all ... so what to do about an author who casually throws in there a season for war?) So I realize that we need to consider this in the context of a sinful world (and war is certainly a result of human sin!) But to take all of Job, Psalms, and the wisdom literature some of which has God boasting about feeding the ravens or the lions their prey in season, and with no apparent apologetic tone that these carnivores are now in a ruined state because we messed it up; it just doesn't seem to follow that death is all bad, or that there ever was a state where no death existed at all. If you find any verses that specify that, I'll be curious for references. And I offer that knowing full well of Paul's Romans passage: "...through one man death came into the world...". To make that passage work for you, you have to insist that death is all only one thing (and you have very consistently suggested just that). But the only problem on that score then is ... all the rest of the Bible, including Romans, where we find references to different kinds of death. Adam and Eve are told they will die that very day if they eat the forbidden fruit, but (if there is only one kind of death), they don't. I don't bring up all these problems because I have them sorted out, (I don't). I only bring them up to suggest that for most of us who want to take in all of the teachings of scripture, striving for higher understandings is rarely a simple task. Why does Paul characterize death as an enemy if it is built in to the fabric of creation as a good thing? You have your answer (by rejecting the latter premise in that question). But some of us don't see that in the rest of the teachings of the Bible or in the testimony of God's created works. So, speaking for myself anyway, I prefer to remain a bit unsettled on what Paul is teaching there, rather than settling prematurely on a simple answer that would do violence to other passages and understandings of God's two books.

Nareus: But that doesn't explain BioLogos's position that there was death before the Fall. If death was part of the pre-Fall world, then it was very good like the rest of God's creation, but the Bible makes it clear that death is bad. Also pre-Fall humans were most likely more intelligent than us and more than capable of finding creative ways to spread out. And God could make it so that animals don't reproduce at the normal rate. But again, please try to explain death before the Fall.

OldTimer: Nareus, You are equivocating different kinds of death. Even before Darwin and the Theory of Evolution, both scientists and Bible-affirming Christians already understood that death is a very good thing—and that there is nothing in the Bible to declare that all death is bad nor that God doesn't use death for his purposes. The Psalmist praises God for hearing the hunger pangs of the young lions and delivering their dinner to them. (That meal depends upon the deaths of other living things. It is "very good", just like everything else in creation.)

God created a biosphere where life and death go together. Even in the garden reserve in the region called Eden, HA'ADAM [Adam in Hebrew] depended upon the death of plant cells to sustain his life. Obviously, death was part of that plan.

So what aspect of death was not so good? The Apostle Paul explains that God had another plan in mind for HA'ADAM and his descendents. Yet the rebellion we call sin led to Adam and Eve being banned from the garden and the Tree of Life which was their ANTIDOTE FOR DEATH. (If death had never existed prior to their sin, why did they need an anti-death antidote in the form of fruit from the Tree of Life? So obviously, death existed before sin. Indeed, the Genesis text makes clear that that garden reserve had been specially prepared and planted so that Adam would be shielded from the harsh burden of death, weeds, thorns, and wilderness which had always existed outside of that garden.)

Of course, even in response to that sin, God used death for his good purpose yet again! The death of God's Son on the cross is now the "antidote" for spiritual death. It is not only "good", but that death on the cross is the very heart of our Christian faith! Yes, death has a long and amazing history as a tool in God's plan.

Yes, I have a "natural" squeamishness about seeing a gazelle torn to shreds by a lion, but TOV in Hebrew ("good" in English) doesn't claim that I will find everything God chose to do "warm and fuzzy and fun". The nutrient cycle in nature depends upon death. The scriptures even praise God for that system which makes provisions for the meals of animals. Without the deaths of plant and animal cells, there would be no food cycle and therefore, no life.

Not all death is bad. But the spiritual death brought by sin is very bad! That's why God made a provision for that death via the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. However, that death on the cross does not end the biological life-death nutrient cycle. That is why even the post-resurrection Jesus was cooking fish over a fire on the shore (Yes, those fish died with Jesus' blessing) when the disciples came in from fishing. Jesus never said that he was ending all processes which the English word death happens to entail. Jesus' death on the cross was meant to address the death that came to humans through sin.

Thoughtful_Thinker: I've never understood the "no death before the Fall" insistence.

  1. If death didn't exist before the Fall, what did Adam and Eve eat? Some plant foods can be consumed without the plant dying. Yet, even then, that portion of the plant is killed and the cells die. When I've asked people about this, they say, "That wasn't the ancients' concept of death." Fine. But that means that even they recognize that some types of death existed before the Fall and so careful definitions are needed.
  2. If death didn't exist before the Fall, why was the fruit from the Tree of Life needed? Why did the Fall require them to be kept away from the Tree of Life?
  3. When Adam and Eve were told that eating the wrong fruit would mean "Ye shall surely die", why didn't they ask, "Die? What's that?" I'm not saying that everything said would have to be recorded in the Genesis story but isn't this a conspicuous omission?

I've never heard an answer to #2 that came anywhere close to making sense. However, if someone can correct my understanding of these three issues, I would be very appreciative.

Nareus: Specifically regarding question 2, I would say that it's quite possible to know what something is without having experienced it, especially seeing as God could simply put the knowledge of what death is into their minds. Also regarding plant death, the Hebrew word used for death in this instance is nephesh chayyah, referring to animal and human death, meaning that plants are regarded as a different kind of life than man and animals, thus, animals and humans ate plants before the Fall. So to summarize, YEC's [young-earth creationists] like myself believe that before the Fall, animals and humans ate plants, which don't die in the same way we do, and after the Fall, death in all meanings of the word was brought on man and animals as a result of the Fall.


Notes

Citations

MLA

Kramer, Brad. "Dispatches from the Forum: Death Before the Fall "
https://biologos.org/. N.p., 9 Mar. 2016. Web. 23 September 2018.

APA

Kramer, B. (2016, March 9). Dispatches from the Forum: Death Before the Fall
Retrieved September 23, 2018, from /blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/dispatches-from-the-forum-death-before-the-fall

About the Author

Brad Kramer

Brad Kramer is the BioLogos managing editor. He completed his M.Div. at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and earned a BA in politics, philosophy, and economics from The King’s College in New York City. His articles have appeared in The Daily BeastPatrol, and OnFaith.

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