A Question I Was Asked:

Was There Really No Death in the World Before Adam's Sin?

Was there really no death in the world before Adam's sin? I struggle with this.

If sin had never entered the world (therefore, presumably no death being possible), what would have happened to decaying fruit? Or, to annual plants at the end of their cycle? Could they have just disappeared into the ground without any decay (plant decaying is surely a form of death)? Would these things have been absorbed into the ground in a non-decaying manner? Do you see what I'm getting at? Was no death possible before sin came into the world? Or does that just refer to human death?

UK Apologetics Reply:

I have to say that this is an excellent philosophical question. I also note that a very similar question was put to my fellow Christian Apologist, Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries. Possibly the questioner is even the same person - who knows? Anyway, Lenny gave what I consider to be an excellent answer and I happen to follow his own understanding on this point.

As we know, God instructed Adam to eat from any tree in the Garden but not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:17).

Actually, nothing in the Genesis account states that there was no death in the world at all, it only implies that Adam would die if he disobeyed God's command. It does not refer to plant or vegetable life at any point. For sure, many people (especially the older brand of fundamentalists) have believed that there was no death at all before Adam's sin, and they base their argument principally on two passages in Romans. In Romans 5: 12 Paul writes, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." This however, is discussing 'men' - not all plant and animal life! Paul is here showing that Adam's actions reached beyond himself and Eve; his sin caused death for all mankind.

Then, in Romans 8, Paul explains that Adam's sin also had consequences for the rest of God's creation. Starting in verse 21 we read,

"the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:21-23).

So, because Romans says death entered through sin and there was no sin until Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, it is sometimes believed that there was no death of any sort nor kind, presumably no sort of decay either. Yet this view goes beyond the Scripture. Sometimes we all have this tendency to read too much into a text and make a point which was probably never intended by the author. Serious Bible interpretation must avoid this tendency.

In responding to the version of this question which was sent to him, Lenny Esposito also makes one or two further very good points, which I am going to quote. As he writes,

When we look more closely at Genesis 2, we see that God said "in the day you eat from it you shall surely die." But Adam didn't die physically in the very same day that he ate from the tree. In fact, he fathered Cain, Abel, Seth and other children and lived a total of 930 years! Now it may be true that the natural aging process we experience began in Adam on that day (to some extent at least), but in order for God's word to be accurate, the idea of death has to mean something other than cessation of biological life.

One point I always make in speaking of passages such as these is that it's important to remember that in the Bible death always speaks of separation, not annihilation. Sometimes this can mean separating the soul from the body as in physical death. But it can also mean separating the soul from God, which is defined as spiritual death or "dead in our sins" (Col 2:13, Eph 2:5).

It is this spiritual death that Paul is speaking of in Romans 5 and indeed throughout the entire book of Romans.... In Romans 8 he continues this analogy, writing, "the mind set on the flesh is death... Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile towards God." (Rom 8:6,7).

Even if we were to grant that Romans 5 was speaking of physical death, Paul makes it clear that the "death through sin" applies to mankind. The verse says "death spread to all men because all sinned", not death spread to everything. Paul's comments about death entering the world are directed toward men only. (Quoted from Was There Death Before Adam Fell?).

I think that my fellow Christian Apologetics man Lenny makes some very fine and valid points here. So I agree that the Bible only talks about human sin leading to death for men and women. It neither states, nor infers, that this would also apply to animal and plant life. Human sin or not, plant and animal life would - in my opinion - have continued on their own physical-only course of life; for plants and animals only a cycle of life is offered - nothing more permanent. Man was - and is - offered eternity because man was - and is - made in the image of God!

But Would God Have Created Imperfection?

Here is a possible objection to the view expressed here and, again, I closely follow Lenny Esposito in outlining and explaining it.

For some, the idea of death before the fall comes from the idea of God creating imperfection. They reason that when God created the heavens and the earth, He saw all that He made and said it was very good (Genesis 1:31). So, how could there possibly be death in God's perfect creation? But this objection stems from a misunderstanding of the role of death. Since God is the Creator, He most surely has the prerogative of creating certain things for limited use. Just because something dies doesn't mean that death is necessarily a bad thing. For example, in order for human consumption to occur, something must die. We know that God gave Adam and Eve freedom to eat of all the fruit in the Garden but one. Fruit is a living thing, but once Adam ate of it, it would die. It's not a bad thing that this fruit died, for it provided nourishment to Adam, and thus fulfilled its purpose. After the Flood, permission was also given for the consumption of animal flesh.

It is also worth noting that in John 12, Jesus says,

Very truly I tell you, 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. (John 12:24).

Obviously, seeds and fruit were part of God's original creative act (Genesis 1:11), therefore it is very clear that God intended these things to bring forth greater fruit through their death.

Putting all of these factors together it seems to me that there were forms of death in the world prior to the sin of Adam and Eve and these things would have continued whether the first human couple fell into sin or not. Following their sin and The Fall what was new was that human deaths started to occur.

Robin A. Brace. July 24th, 2015.