Creation Essentials, Creation Non-Essentials

Part 1: Death Before the Fall

The theological linchpin of the Strong Young Earth Creationist (SYEC) interpretation can be summarized as follows: “…a blood sacrifice is only necessary if there is sin. …If there was animal death before the fall of man, then God and all those who followed his pattern (of providing skins to Adam and Eve for a covering, and therefore of necessity killing at least one animal), did useless acts. …If animal death existed before the fall, then the object lesson represented by the atoning sacrifice is in reality a cruel joke. …If we believe that death has always existed, then we make a mockery of the death of Christ…If death is not the penalty for sin, then Christianity is meaningless.” [see http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-191.htm for the complete article by James Stambaugh] Ken Ham notes “This [death, bloodshed, disease of animals before the fall] destroys the foundations of the gospel message…”.  [see http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/234.asp ].

 If the above statements are true, so the SYEC interpretation goes, then the days of creation could not have been long time periods, because this would have resulted in the deaths of many animals whose lives would have expired during the long time period. Therefore, the SYEC position concludes that the deaths of animals recorded in the fossil record must have happened after the fall, not before.

We will show that this theological linchpin of SYEC (no animal death before the fall) has Biblical, theological, and logical problems. We will look at a number of proofs that SYEC proponents advance to support their claim, and provide short rebuttals.

And it was very good (Gen 1:31 )

A common argument is that since God proclaimed his creation “very good” in Genesis 1:31 , this precludes any death, disease, or suffering.  The Hebrew word, towb, used over 500 times in the Bible, is used in a variety of situations, describing attractive women (Gen 24:16), fertile land (Exodus 3:8), and even a cheerful face (Prov 15:13 ). It has been suggested that when God apprises something as “very good”, it is infinitely good, or perfect, as opposed to when man apprises something as “very good”, in which case it may be less than perfect. However, the Exodus 3:8 passage refutes this notion: here God calls the promised land towb, obviously not a pronouncement of a death-free, disease-free, suffering-free land.  The use of “very good” instead of “good’ in Genesis 1:31 is not thought to have any exegetical significance in that it does not change the meaning of towb, but only adds emphasis and degree.

SYEC proponents are using their own, non-Biblical definition of “very good” to make assumptions about the state of original creation which are simply not found in this verse. The Bible seems to indicate that God believes that the cycle of life and death in the animal kingdom is “very good”. Job 38:39-41 indicates that God actually takes pride in providing food to lions and ravens. He boasts of the animal kingdom in all its splendor (including necessary bloodletting), with no hint of apology, without blaming man for introducing the curse of death on the animals, and in fact taking all the credit for the cycle of life (and death!) he has established.  A similar sentiment is found in Psalm 104:19-28 when the goodness of God’s provision to animals is extolled, as is His design of the night to enable predators to hunt their prey.

            Proponents of SYEC are unwittingly subscribing to a modernistic notion of what a “very good” creation should be. Ironically, they share the same definition as evolutionists who use the fact that “nature is red in tooth and claw” (i.e., full of bloodletting) as “proof” that there is no God, for certainly a good God wouldn’t allow innocent animals to suffer and die. However, this assumption, regardless of how much it appeals to our humanistic sense of fairness, is simply not based on the Bible. God is not bound by our sense of fairness. Therefore the pronouncement of God that the creation was “very good” is absolutely true, but we cannot infer on to this text our own definition of “very good” which excludes the cycle of life and death in the animal kingdom.

Three curses (Genesis 3:14 -19)

The SYEC interpretation of Genesis 3:14-19 claims that it was at the time of God’s pronouncement of curses that animal death began. This is simply not found in this text. There are three, and only three curses mentioned, one for each participant in the “original sin triangle”: the serpent, Eve, and Adam. In none of these curses is the animal kingdom mentioned or even implicated.

The curse on the serpent is explicitly only on him and his descendents: verse 14 makes a deliberate distinction between the serpent and the rest of the animal kingdom. Some hold that verse 14 is saying that all of the animal kingdom is cursed in addition to, rather than just the serpent (the main subject of the verse). There are at least three reasons why this is a questionable interpretation:

1)      The Hebrew word translated “above” in the NIV and “more than” in the NASB is min (Strongs number 4480). Look this up in a Hebrew lexicon and you will see that the primary use of the word min is to indicate SEPARATION and DISTINCTION, not INCLUSION or ADDITION. So a more literal translation of this verse would be: “cursed are you out of all the beasts of the field” NOT “cursed are you in addition to all the beasts of the field”.

2) This verse doesn’t mention birds or fish. Does that mean that birds and fish aren’t cursed?  If we rely on this verse to indicate a curse on ALL the animal kingdom, why aren’t they specifically called out and differentiated as they are in Genesis chapter 1?

3) It seems that such a major event (the cursing of the entire animal kingdom) would receive much more attention than an indirect, oblique reference in one single verse. Also the verse is not even addressing the animal kingdom directly – the direct object of the verse is the serpent so drawing a substantial conclusion about the animal kingdom is not good exegetical process.    

The curse on Adam involves a curse on the ground, with no mention of the animal kingdom at all. If God actually initiated a drastic change in the animal kingdom at the time of this curse (e.g. changing animals from peaceful herbivores to bloodthirsty carnivores), why is the text totally silent about the animal kingdom? The only way to make such a conclusion is to read much more into these verses than is actually there. While there are different theories on the extent and specific nature of the curse on the ground, it cannot be extended to include wholesale changes to the structure of the animal kingdom without making significant assumptions. (Note that there is an implicit “fourth” curse, stated previously in Genesis 2:17 where God promises that if Adam eats of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then he will “surely die”. While there are various theories on the nature and extent of this death and its effect on man’s nature, it is obviously directed exclusively at man, not the animal kingdom.

The lion will lay with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25)

Another SYEC argument for no animal death before the fall is found in Isaiah’s vision of an idyllic state where former foes lie side by side. The SYEC claim is that in the eschatological state, the earth will revert to a pre-fall idyllic state. Isa. 65:17 actually says that the former things will not be remembered and a new heaven and new earth will be made. There is no indication of a reversion to a previous state. 2 Peter 3:10-13 and Rev 21:4-5 further reinforce the idea that all things will become new -- there is no indication at all that the end times will in any way be a restoration to a previous state. We cannot, therefore, based on the text, assume that Isa. 11:6-9 is describing anything other than a future state, nor is there any reason based on the text, to assume that this future state has any relation to the pre-fall environment.

In addition both of the Isaiah passages are prophetic and/or apocalyptic literature. This type of literature is known for its heavy use of symbolism. To draw a literal conclusion from imagery such as “the lion laying with the lamb” is not good exegesis.

            Acts 3:21 (“He (Jesus) must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything…”) is sometimes quoted out of context to indicate a restoration to a previous paradise. This does not in anyway fit the context of the passage which is referring to Christ’s first coming, his death, and the second coming at which time he will be restored to his rightful place at the head of his Kingdom. Again, no mention of a restoration of the pre-fall environment.

Vegetarianism (Genesis 1:29 -30)

In these verses, God offers man “every plant yielding seed … and every tree which has fruit yielding seed”, and he similarly offers all of the animal kingdom “every green plant” for food. From this, the SYEC interpretation would deduce that all animals were herbivores and that there was no animal death. It has been noted that these verses do not contain an explicit statement against eating meat, but rather a positive statement focusing on plants as food. The text says “I give every green plant for food”, NOT “I give only green plants for food.” Further supporting this notion is that verse 28 gives man the mandate to “rule over” and “subdue” all the earth, including the animal kingdom. This may include harvesting products from animals, such as skins, milk, and possibly meat.

However, even if we grant the herbivore claim for animals, the verse says nothing about “natural” death, only death which is the result of carnivorous activity. So the SYEC interpretation is not really helped at all by this verse.

A further problem with the view that animals were originally created as herbivores, with no killing of each other, is the fact that many animals seem to have been specially designed either to defend against attack, or specially designed to attack and kill. Examples include the huge fangs and jaw muscles of felines which seem to indicate a design specifically for carnivorous activity.  Other structures such as defense systems (the needles of a porcupine, the instinct to play dead or hide) also seem to indicate a highly designed system ready to deal with an environment in which death by attack from outside could occur. Ken Ham offers a couple of possible explanations, trying to maintain the SYEC interpretation. To his credit, he concludes that we don’t really have any good explanations. [For more detail see Ken Ham’s article at http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/bad_things.asp].  It is clear from Gen 2:2-3 that God finished creation before the fall, so no totally new animals were introduced as a result of the fall, and as mentioned in the section above on the curses, no indication of wholesale changes to animals are mentioned as a result of the fall. Thus the SYEC interpretation has a hard time accounting for the design of animals from the beginning as prepared for the cycle of life (and death).

Sin entered the world (Rom 5:12 -14)

In this passage, Paul links the sin of Adam with the introduction of death into the world. The SYEC interpretation of these verses is that with the sin of Adam, physical death was introduced not only to mankind, but animals as well.

            Verse 12 makes it clear that the death only pertains to mankind (“death spread to all men”). The verse also attributes the death to the fact that “all sinned”. While the topic of the imputation of guilt from Adam to the rest of humanity is quite a complex theological subject, the verse is quite clear that the death of animals is not even vaguely in view here (animals cannot sin, so the primary argument of the passage that all men experience death because we have all sinned, is not appropriate for animals and outside of the scope of these verses).

            A corollary verse is 1 Corinthians 15: 21-22. Verse 22 says that in “Adam all die”, but verse 21 makes it clear that this is referring to humans only. This conclusion is drawn because only humans are promised a resurrection from the dead – animals will not experience a resurrection, therefore these verses make no claims about animal death.

Futility and slavery to corruption (Rom. 8:19 -22)

This passage is typically used in the SYEC interpretation as proof that the entire creation was drastically implicated in the curses of Genesis 3 and that it is currently “subjected to frustration” and in “bondage to decay”, and that all death, including animal death, was introduced after the fall. As we’ve already discussed, the primary text on the subject (Gen 3) is very clear about the nature and extent of the curses. We should follow good hermeneutical process in which clear verses are used to interpret less clear verses. So how are the verses in Romans to be understood? Two possibilities will be discussed here.

Meredith Kline suggests that Paul had in mind Isaiah 24-26 which presents the picture of the earth as a graveyard subjected to the corruption of human beings.  Isa. 24:4-6 says “The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away. The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statues, broke the everlasting covenant.  Therefore a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty.” These verses correspond well to the “slavery to corruption” and “futility” mentioned in Romans 8:20-21.  Isa. 26:19 picks up the story with the glorious resurrection: “Your dead will live, their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. …and the earth will reveal her bloodshed and will no longer cover her slain.” These verses in Isaiah correlate well to Romans 8:19 (“the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God”) and 8:21 (“the creation itself also will be set free”). The “give birth” of Isa 26:19 also correlates well to Romans 8:22 (“the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.”) If Paul was in fact echoing Isaiah in the Romans 8 passage, the conclusion that must be drawn from this text is that the creation (i.e. the created order) is subject to the corruption of humans who are steeped in sin, not that creation was cursed with its own death (animal death) and decay. [See http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/other_papers/animal_death_before_the_fall.shtml for the complete article in which Meredith Kline’s analysis is mentioned.]

Another view on Romans 8:19-22 revolves on the proper translation of the Greek word ktisis, which occurs 20 times in the NT and can be translated as either “creation” (i.e. the non-rational created order) or “creature” (rational beings, i.e. mankind, usually referring to the non-believing, Gentile world). In Mark 16:15 (“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”) ktisis is referring to the rational creation (i.e. humans) to whom the gospel can be preached. In 1 Peter 2:13 ktisis is translated as “authority”: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men”, referring to the rational creation (i.e. humans). Colossians 1:23 states “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven”, again referring to mankind, not to non-rational creation. Romans 1:20, on the other hand, uses ktisis to refer to the non-rational creation: “For since the creation [ktisis] of the world…”. Therefore the context of the passage must be examined to determine if the word is referring to the non-rational creation (i.e., the earth, plants, animals), or to mankind.

The context of Romans 8:19-22 is a discussion of the role of the Spirit in setting believers free from the law to serve God.  Various contrasts between believers and unbelievers are made. The context does not seem to support a switch to a discussion of the non-rational creation, but rather view the verses as an extension of the discussion of the rational (i.e. mankind) creation. Incidentally, the King James Version of the Bible translates ktisis as “creature” in these verses; this practice is unfortunately not followed in many modern translations.

Verse 21 also contains a strong hint that ktisis is not referring to the non-rational creation: “…in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption in to the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Will the non-rational creation (i.e. the created earth) ever be set free? The Bible indicates no: it will in fact be burned up and replaced by a new heaven and a new earth. It is problematic, therefore, based on the context of Romans 8 as well as internal evidence in verse 21, to assume that ktisis in these verses refers to the created world. The SYEC position requires that these verses speak about the created world, however.  (For a fuller treatment on the interpretation of ktisis in Romans 8, see Rich Deem’s article at http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/romans8.html )

Sacrificial Death versus non-Sacrificial Death

Here again are quotes from Stambaugh reminding us of the SYEC position under consideration: “…a blood sacrifice is only necessary if there is sin. …If there was animal death before the fall of man, then God and all those who followed his pattern (of providing skins to Adam and Eve for a covering, and therefore of necessity killing at least one animal), did useless acts. …If animal death existed before the fall, then the object lesson represented by the atoning sacrifice is in reality a cruel joke. …If we believe that death has always existed, then we make a mockery of the death of Christ…If death is not the penalty for sin, then Christianity is meaningless.”

In addition to all of the above exegetical problems with the SYEC interpretation of animal death before the fall, the position also suffers a severe problem of logical inference.  To state the SYEC position simply in terms of logical inference:

a.       Since God required animal sacrifices to atone for man’s sin after the fall (and ultimately provided Christ as the perfect one-time sacrifice), and

b.      Since God did NOT require animal sacrifice for sin before the fall,

c.       Therefore, animal death before the fall was not necessary because man had not yet sinned.

We have no dispute that blood must be shed for the forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22 ). The logical fallacy with the SYEC interpretation is in statement “c” above, and it is the result of confusing sacrificial death with the death of animals outside of sacrifice.  The writer of Hebrews explains the role of animal sacrifices in Heb. 10:34: “But those sacrifices (animal sacrifices) are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Nevertheless, those animal sacrifices were required by God. If the SYEC interpretation were true, why would God require special animal death via the ritual of sacrifice, rather than just point to the death of animals all around them as a “reminder of sins”? Answer: the normal death of an animal is not because of its sin (it cannot sin) and it has no atoning effect on man’s sin. However, faith in the sacrificial death of an animal does have an atoning effect on man’s sin (although a temporary one). There is obviously a huge difference between sacrificial death and the normal death of animals.  This distinction, however, is blurred in the SYEC interpretation and it is assumed based on data outside of the Bible that all animal death has implications in mankind’s sin.

Thus to summarize the logical fallacy in the SYEC position:  it assumes that because God required animal sacrifice after the fall, and because God did NOT require animal sacrifice before the fall, that this somehow can be extended to all types of animal death before the fall.

            This same logical fallacy is extended in the SYEC position to apply to the sacrifice of Jesus. Looking again at Heb. 10:34 the writer makes a distinction between the sacrifice of animals (which are not “useless acts” or a “cruel joke”, even if animal death existed before the fall), and the sacrifice of Jesus (which is not a “useless act”, even if animal death existed before the fall.) Heb 2:9-15 gives several reasons for Jesus’ sacrifice: 

a.       that He might “taste death for everyone” (from the context speaking about mankind, definitely not animals).

b.      The He might destroy  “him who holds the power of death” (referring to Satan and his stronghold over mankind)

c.       And that He might “free those who all there lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (again obviously referring to mankind)

The horror of death implied in these verses is not in reference to animal death, and is in all likelihood speaking more of spiritual death than a physical death. There is no reason to believe that Christ’s sacrifice was negated or “made a mockery of” if animals died before the fall. Just as God called for sacrificial death of animals, even with natural death all around, so too he gave himself as the ultimate sacrifice to save us from spiritual death.

  Conclusion of Part 1

We have shown significant weaknesses in the SYEC position which attempts to tie the issue of animal death before the fall to the sacrifice of Jesus, and thereby transform the debate on the interpretation of Genesis 1 into a theological issue of primary importance. It is suggested that this position has severe Biblical problems, as well as a severe logical fallacy, and that it should not form the basis for any doctrinal positions regarding creation.

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Young Earth Creationism. Old Earth Creationism. Was there Death before the Fall? What is the relation between Science and the Bible? Do they ever conflict? Can science help us interpret the Bible? What was the original intended meaning of Genesis 1?