bible christianity science theology

pre-fall death

On the 5th day, God filled the skies and seas with all kinds of sky-life (‘every sort of winged bird’) and sea-life (‘swarms of living creatures’).  Everything that flies through the sky.  Everything that lives in the sea.  A few points:

  • Someone a lot more biologically inclined than myself could (probably? if indeed such short-lived organisms exist?) give examples of fast-reproducing organisms (microbes, gnats, etc.?) whose life-spans are only a few hours, and thus would have died on the same day of their creation.
  • According to ‘mature creation’ theory (creation created ‘mature’ – light already in transit from distant stars, trees with [very misleading!] annual rings only moments old, etc.), there would have been very, very ‘mature’-slash-about-to-die birdies and fishies created, some of which – conceivably – would have died on the same day of their creation.
  • Also, unless not one, single, fish-eating bird dipped down and tasted of the delicious bounty of the shimmering little fishies below, at least some fish would have died on the same day of their creation.

Beyond conceivable doubt, even given a 24-hour day understanding of creation (with 6, successive acts of ‘spontaneous creation’), there would have been physical death before the events of Genesis 3.

((note: I see no reason to doubt that the text of Genesis 1 was originally a poem/song expressing theological truths, as opposed to being a play-by-play, moment-by-moment, fact-by-fact account of the ‘how’ of creations’ origin.  Thus, the nit-picking-ly detailed exercise above ought to be unnecessary – but is merely noted in reference to those who insist that there could have been no death before the Fall.))

15 replies on “pre-fall death”

To play devil’s advocate…

Easy (Too easy?) answers, especially to the first and last bullet points, is that the nature of these animals changed drastically after the fall.
Eg: What we now know as fish-eatin’ birds originally ate blueberries. And gnats were immortal.

Well it makes sense if you subscribe to the 6-day deal.
I remember when I believed in a literal Genesis account, believing in the idea of everything being All Different And Weird (ADAW) pre-fall didn’t seem like any great length at all.
More of a logical (if untestable) conclusion, I guess?

It may be that the death only refers to creatures that have a ‘nephesh’ (soul). Apparently insects and bacteria therefore aren’t included, according to an article I found at

@Strahan: It is a logical possibility, no question. And yes, untestable as well :)

@Ross: The folks I’ve talked with seem very concerned about any death before the fall. And again, if, according to mature creation theory, everything was created mature, then some ‘ensouled’ creatures could well have been created moments before their death. Next time, link to the specific article, please, not just the general webpage.

It seems to me that there is no easy answer here, but that there are some answers which have not yet been suggested.

Firstly regarding the idea that animals “changed” at the fall.
1. Many predators and scavengers are such because it is integral to their design. Lets consider a cheetah. Its entire muscular and skeletal system enables it to produce short intense bursts of acceleration for hunting… hunting meat not daises. Its jaw and teeth are designed for tearing meat, they are not flat for grinding daisies. Its intestinal system is for handling meat… it does not have multiple stomachs like cows, which are designed for digesting daisies. Thirdly its sensory system is designed for hunting – it’s eyes give good binocular vision for judging distance rather than eyes on the side of its head for giving a wider range of vision. This animal would not have to have “changed” it would have have to have been completely recreated from it’s original “good” creation in a separate act of creation not described by the bible.

2. Ecosystems are laid out in intricate food-webs with different organisms exploiting different ecological niches. The nature of animal ecology would have to be entirely different “pre-fall”

3. All organisms are geared for reproduction. Rabbits alone reproducing pre-fall with no predation, disease or death due to age would have decimated the world in a very short space of time. Therefore organisms entire reproductive organs and behavior would have had to have changed post-fall.

4. Viruses and pathogenic bacteria would have had to have been created post-fall in a separate act of creation not documented in the bible

In all regards the pre-fall world would have had to have been so different from this one that we would have no comprehension or understanding of it.

Secondly, regarding “nephesh” – I do not know much about the word or where it occurs or what it means in its original Hebrew sense. However.. what sort of “soul” exactly? Are we positing a doggy heaven now? Lets assume animals are all nephesh. There are rocks containing animal fossils dating back to something in the realm of 500 million years. This would seem to indicate quite some death pre-fall. These rock layers are sequentially layered by order of first appearance of animals – they are not ordered randomly. They are not ordered in a manner consistent with “hydrological sorting”. Thus it would seem that animals have changed over time, but not in a pre-fall/post-fall consistent manner.

What are the other potential solutions – which granted are still difficult? Here are a couple:

1. When Adam sinned death spread to all MEN – not animals
2. When the bible refers to death being the result of sin it is referring to “spiritual death” Adam ate the fruit and on the same day he did die- he became separated from God. Jesus said that all who believe in me will NEVER DIE – our bodies do indeed die, even those for whom Christ died, but our eternal communion with God and our future resurrection body which is wholly different from our current body are assured.
3. The story of the fall is not an historical occurrence. It is a portrait that details how our sin results in separation from God and a spoiling of God’s good creation.

It would seem to me that animals have always died and that humans have always died and have been dying for 1-2 million years. The death of our bodies is irrelevant and inconsequential. The life or death of our spirit is what the bible is primarily concerned about.

I see no reason to doubt that the people of the day took genesis 1 to be completly factually true.

@Simon: the people of “the day”?? I’m assuming you mean the original writers/hearers?

I (and not a few commentators – ancient/modern – who would know better than I – and I presume you too?) see every reason to see the text as a mix of poetry/art/theology/philosophy. What isn’t debatable is that the original author(s) were certainly doing poetry and certainly doing theology. What is debatable is whether or not they were also intending to create a ‘factual’ account of historical events (the first 5 days of which no humans were around to witness). And btw, it’s more than a little anachronistic to suggest that people thousands of years ago were concerned with the ‘factual’ nature of a text?

Hi Dale,

I find Simon’s statement and your response to be interesting. I know Dennis O’Lamoureux regards Genesis as playing the role in Jewish society of giving them an understanding about the natural world around them and where they as a nation came from. He regards Genesis as the “science of the day” in that it contains “ancient science” as much as it reflects their understanding of the world at that time. All societies around them had similar, yet theologically very different, stories. Wether they thought it to be factually true, or even found myth and fact to be useful or separate categories… I dunno? Jesus and Paul seem to refer to Adam and Eve as historical characters, perhaps simply because that was societies understanding of the world in their day. I think what it does mean is that even if they did, or did not regard Genesis as factual, we do not need to regard it as scientifically or historically factual in order to still learn the same theological lessons that they used the narrative of Genesis to convey. In fact, I feel that more profound theological lessons can be learnt from the text by acknowledging its poetical/artistic/philosophical aspects. Treating it solely as a scientific text can lead to dry and irrelevant lines of inquiry such as speculation and argument surrounding the possibility of a layer of water in the sky above the firmament being released by the windows in heaven as the source of water for the flood.

You, I feel, are more of an expert in this regard than me! Besides, I don’t wear the title of “proper expert” too comfortably

I have held exactly the same opinion as O’Lamoureaux for some time, though I have never heard of him.

It’s not that the lines between science and art and poetry and philosophy and theology back then were blurred. It’s that they didn’t exist.

I think that the people of the day [when genesis was written] believed genesis to be literally true because I think it absurd to believe that, if a person of the day was asked, he would respond “Oh, no, it’s not supposed to be taken literally”. In a time where the brand of mould on the wall was written into theological books, of course the physical world was believed to be under the control of god(s)! And so their physical descriptions of the world were subservient to their theological ones.
To be sure, this is a rather less useful/correct model of the world than we have today. It is towards the Theological Occasionalism end of the scale – and that is a bad thing. Which is why I find any manifested theology to be….well, potentially dangerous.

No one here has suggested that an original writer would have said anything about a ‘literal’/’metaphorical’ distinction, so thanks :)

The rhythm and structure of the text places it beyond question in the poetry genre, and the main point is that the writer(s) would have held the theological convictions expressed in the text as more important than the ‘this is actually what happened’ understandings which may or may not have been in mind.

No one here has suggested that an original writer would have said anything about a ‘literal’/’metaphorical’ distinction, so thanks

??! I’m lost, sorry.

sorry if i was unclear – you said you found it absurd to believe that a person of the day would say “it’s not meant to be taken literally, to which I replied that no one here has suggested that an original writer would recognise such a distinction.

Perhaps a better question is what would the original writer have written if living today with our current understanding of the universe’s origin? I presume it would read quite differently as far as the description language inherent in it goes, but still would have every single bit of the monotheism, judaeo/christian anthropology, anti-idolatry (and more) in it.

The theology, etc. of Gen 1 comes to us with in the wrapping of an ancient cosmology, but the theology was what was being wrapped, not the other way ’round :)

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