Death Before the Fall

Lions hunting

Over on Jesus Creed, RJS asks about death before the Fall. Following Ronald Osborn, she suggests that the place of death within the creation is a problem, especially for those who take Genesis literally. As death is supposed to arise from the curse, she suggests three ways in which we might choose to reconcile the text with the reality that we observe:

Possibility One. After the sin of Adam, God gave over the animal kingdom to natural predation.
Possibility Two. God cursed or dramatically modified the animal kingdom after Adam’s Fall.
Possibility Three. Predatory animals are a result of demonic forces at work in the world.

I haven’t yet read Osborn, but the following are a few thoughts on a fourth possibility. I believe that this possibility is suggested by reflection upon the text of Genesis itself, rather than being a highly speculative theory to fill a crucial gap in the biblical account.

The fourth possibility begins by challenging the premise that there was no animal death before the Fall (along with the assumption that human beings were naturally immortal). The claim that there was no animal death before the Fall is not one that the text itself gives us, but arises out of the conviction that animal death is characteristic of the futility and bondage of corruption to which creation was subjected following the Fall of Adam. For this fourth approach, death is associated with the state of innocence, immaturity, wildness, and being unperfected.

How might we develop such a reading from the text itself?

The world was never created ‘perfect’, but was created ‘good’. In Genesis 1:2, the entire creation was formless, void, and untamed. In Genesis 2:5, this situation is recapitulated on a smaller scale. God begins to address this situation by creating a man. Then, after creating the man, he creates the Garden and places the man within it. It is not unreasonable to assume that the man would have witnessed both the unformed, void, and untamed creation and then God’s planting of the Garden within it.

The Garden is the divine sanctuary, the place where God walks in the midst of mankind, and the template for the solution to the problem of the wider world. The Garden is walled or hedged and there is limited access to it, enabling those within it to defend it against intrusion (cf. Genesis 3:24). In creating the Garden, God establishes boundaries within the land, preventing unauthorized access and dividing one zone from others. The act of creating the Garden is one of forming and filling, much like that of Genesis 1. The Garden is walled off from the untamed creation that surrounds it and then it is filled with trees and with beauty. Within the Garden itself there are further boundaries established. The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were placed in the heart of the Garden. These trees don’t only organize space—identifying the centre of the Garden—but also create a world with new ethical boundaries.

James Jordan suggests a set of parallels between the events of the creation days of Genesis 1 and the establishment of the Garden in Genesis 2, following the formless, void, and untamed situation of Genesis 2:5. The first day, the day when God created light, corresponds to the creation of man in his image, the human light of the world. The second day, when God created the firmament division between heaven and earth, corresponds to the division of the heaven-model of the Garden from the general formless void of the rest of the earth. The third day, the separation of dry land from the waters and the creation of grasses, herbs, and fruit trees, corresponds to the creation of the trees of the Garden and the river that flows out from Eden to water the Garden and to divide the earth into its respective lands.

The fourth day, the placing of lights in the firmament of the heavens, corresponds to the placing of the human light, Adam, in the firmament of the Garden as its ruler and priest. Jordan connects the fifth day, the creation of creatures to fly across the face of the firmament above and to teem in the waters beneath, with the blessing and judgment associated with the trees. I am more inclined to join together days five and six (the day of the creation of land creatures and humanity) and relate it to God’s formation of the birds and the animals and his bringing them to Adam to name. Just as the sixth day of the creation of Genesis 1 culminates in the creation of humanity, so the bringing of the animals to Adam to name culminates with God’s formation of a new human from his side, who is brought to him to name. The union of man and woman in the Garden that follows corresponds to the seventh day, the day of rest. In this manner, the larger order of the creation is recapitulated in microcosm in the creation of the world of the Garden, not merely in structural order, but also in its temporal sequence.

The man is placed within the Garden as the priest. As the priest, he is charged with the task of guarding and serving the enclosed sanctuary in the midst of which God walks. He is also given the law concerning the holy food, a law that he will be expected to treat his wife when she is created, and to their children after them. The priest is the one who maintains the ‘tamed’ and ‘domestic’ character of the Garden and the one who upholds, defends, and enforces its boundaries.

As the man upholds the order of the Garden, it will provide a model that he will bring out into the world and a temple into which he will bring in the riches of the world (we should note the references to precious stones and metals in the description of the lands surrounding Eden). He must make the world into a Garden and the Garden into a glorious garden city, clothed with all of the riches of the world, much like the city that we see in Revelation. He learns within and from the order of God’s own creative work, so that he can engage in creative work of his own as God’s image.

The world is unlike the Garden and doesn’t yet have any gardener working within it. It is formless, void, and untamed, and the beasts that dwell within it are also untamed. It remains to be subdued by a gardener and a tamer of wild beasts. God brought the animals to the man for him to name. Just as God had planted the Garden after the man’s creation, providing the man with a model for his own work within the world, the bringing of the animals to the man also served to acquaint him with the nature of his task. As God brought the great wild animals to the man to name, the man was like a son learning from his Father’s example. Just as his Father tamed the wild beasts—even the Leviathan and Behemoth—so he was to exercise God’s rule over them. The Garden is to be glorified as God’s ‘domus’ and the wild creation must be ‘domesticated’, as man shepherds God’s good yet untamed creation. The fulfilment of man’s rule is seen when the lion is made to lie down with the lamb, house-trained creatures in the temple of the Lord.

To fill out this picture, we must recognize that the original creation was good, yet imperfect. It is a world in its infancy. Adam and Eve are naked like infants in a kindergarten, under the training of angels, not yet clothed with glory and honour as rulers over the whole creation. God protects them from the wildness of the wider world within the walls of the Garden. The task within the world still remains to be done: they have yet to be fruitful, multiply, fill the world, and subdue it. Perfection was not the creation’s natural state, but its intended destiny (and salvation is not a ‘rebooting’ of creation to its primary state, but the restoring of creation to the future that God originally intended for it).

Death is related to immaturity in various ways. I have already mentioned the issue of being untamed. Death is also an engine of growth. It clears away the old to make way for the new. Without death the world could easily become stagnant. No wind would blow away the stale air of an older generation’s prevailing ideologies. The world would be a place of exhausted possibilities, with little space within which a novel departure could occur.

‘Death’ can be part of the means by which new life comes, as we die to an old form of existence and are raised up to another more glorious form (‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies…’). 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 would suggest that Adam’s original physicality was immature too, that it was always destined to become a glorious spiritually empowered mode of bodily existence, and that a ‘good death’ was an essential mechanism by which this would take place. As Christ bears the alienation of ‘bad death’, we are able to view death as a good thing, as that which delivers us from our old failing Adamic bodies in preparation for being clothed with a much more glorious physicality.

The immature world is also a world of inchoate ethics. Innocence is not an ideal moral state, but is characterized by moral naivety and a lack of knowledge of good and evil. The innocence of the newborn is its incapacity for moral action, either good or evil. The infant cannot morally ‘fall’, because it cannot yet ‘walk’. Animals can’t sin in the same way as human beings not because they are perfect, but because they do not possess our moral capacity. An immature world is one with limited capacity for moral responsibility with respect to life. As various people have observed, the violent criminal is just a two year old who never learned how to stop functioning as a two year old. On a related front, human sinlessness before the Fall shouldn’t be considered in terms of moral perfection according to the Ten Commandments, for instance. The commandment concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil assumed only a very limited moral capacity of those receiving it (also, biblical evidence strongly suggests that Adam and Eve would have been given to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when they had matured). The sinlessness of Christ is a radically different thing from the sinlessness of the pre-Fall Adam.

As infants don’t yet know good from evil, they must be directed to the good by external command, which is how God trained Adam and Eve. It is also why they were capable of falling. However, with maturity, we are more internally oriented to the good and ethics starts to function according to different principles (wisdom, persuasion, etc.). With perfection, our wills will be so capable of apprehending our good that we will no longer be capable of willing to do evil, not by virtue of some external compulsion, but by virtue of mature wills and natures and their appropriate mutual correspondence.

How does the judgment upon Adam following the Fall play into this picture?

First, after the Fall, in the task of taming, ordering, and mastering the creation, Adam would find that the creation would be far more powerfully resistant to his efforts. He would try to make the creation into a garden and the creation would fight back with thorns and thistles. He would have to engage in the task given to him with bitterness and pain. The beasts that he needed to tame might even take his life. He wouldn’t have the power to hold the creation in check and the violence of the natural order would increase (Genesis 9:1-7 is a significant development, as it gives men greater power relative to the wild animals).

Second, by expelling man from the Garden, God removed mankind from the protection of its walls and hedges. Cast out from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would have to operate in the wild, in an untamed and hostile world. Much as God removed the ‘hedge’ surrounding Job and protecting him from the assaults of Satan and his enemies (cf. Job 1:10), so God made Adam and Eve vulnerable to being harmed or attacked by wild beasts, natural forces, Satan, sin, and later human violence.

Third, picking up on the third possibility identified in RJS’s post and related to the previous point, there are suggestions in Scripture that demonic forces can exercise a measure of power within the created world and over its forces (not least in the instance of the serpent in the Garden). By lifting the hedge of protection from Adam and Eve, God gave Satan and his forces a longer leash with which to attack them. The serpent was to eat dust, but Adam was reminded that he was dust and that he would return to it: prey of the serpent. As his children rejected him, God would not protect them in from the hostile forces within the creation to the same extent.

Fourth, by expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden, they were denied access to the holy food of the Tree of Life and to the transfiguring presence of God. Cut off from the source of their life, they would wither, as they had no source of life in themselves. Cut off from God’s vivifying presence, we gravitate to the grave, physically as well as spiritually.

I submit that the proposal outlined above is a much richer, more biblical, and a considerably more satisfying way of understanding the role of death within the original creation as described by Genesis. In addition to its value in understanding Genesis, it also provides us with a number of key insights that help us better to understand the work and person of Christ.

First, Christ’s obedience is not about ‘innocence’ but about ‘perfection’. Christ brings humanity to the height and fullness of its divinely intended moral stature. He gives us, not merely innocence or obedience, but full maturity.

Second, humanity was always intended to die and rise again to a more glorious form of life. Christ death and resurrection achieves this destiny.

Third, as the last Adam, Christ will pacify and tame the entire creation, ruling until every enemy is placed under his feet.

Fourth, as we are in Christ, the bad character of death is minimized. We are not unclothed to be left naked, but in order to be more fully clothed, to have death swallowed up in life. We are still subject to the hostile attacks of the world and to the possibility of death within it, but Christ is the Tree of Life and we have unrestricted access to him. Death is no longer the alienating power that it once was.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Creation, Ethics, Genesis, OT, The Blogosphere, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

86 Responses to Death Before the Fall

  1. Bill says:

    Fascinating blog! I can agree with your comments about the future oriented goal of creation (good but not perfect, or holy). How would you answer the fact that Paul says “the wages of sin is death.” It seems that death is not presented as the natural outcome (a passage way to a higher life) of human existence. It is presented as an intruder (“the last enemy”).

    • Thanks for the comment and the question, Bill!

      Death in and of itself is a process of removal of life. As such, death deprives us of something good. Death only becomes good when one form of life is removed to be replaced with a richer and fuller form of life, as it is followed by resurrection. Within the fallen world, death is encountered as this negative and destructive force, unaccompanied by resurrection. The womb of the tomb is barren.

      This could be illustrated by the biblical analogy of unclothing. Death is unclothing. Unclothing is not a good thing in itself. However, when unclothing is followed by clothing in more glorious garments, then the removal of a good that occurs in unclothing actually becomes a means to a greater good.

      Death apart from more glorious resurrection is what Paul speaks of. This is what follows from sin: death as subtraction, destruction, separation, negation, and loss with no recovery. This is a bad thing. The final overcoming of death is when life and resurrection prove to be more final, as the dead are raised. Death only has the penultimate word.

      • I think the problem with your position is that you see a purpose in death in a fallen world (which it does have) and therefore you seem to be assuming that it had a purpose in an unfallen world. Suffering/Death in an unfallen world is simply an attack on the goodness or power of our infinite God. God has never needed death to accomplish anything. When death was imposed by God after the fall, he then uses it to bring about his ultimate purposes. However before the fall, the case is vastly different.

      • Thanks for the comment, Hermonta. This will be my only comment in response. I have tackled most of these issues in detail elsewhere.

        Unfortunately, you just seem to be asserting rather than arguing a position here. You don’t address any of the issues that I raise.

        First of all, let’s ask what exactly a world without death or decay of any form involves. Will there be recognizable seasons in such a world? Aren’t certain forms of death necessary for living processes of growth? Wouldn’t such a world just be overrun by swift breeding creatures? Is this really that good a world?

        Second, where in the text of Genesis does it say that animals would die as a result of man’s Fall? Is there a verse declaring that in the day that Adam eats of the tree, every creature in creation will die? Where in the rest of Scripture does it say this? Paul may speak about the creation being ‘in bondage’ to corruption and decay, but this really is far from sufficient to say that there was no death whatsoever before the Fall. Death can be an integral part of living and dynamic processes of growth. In and of themselves, processes of death don’t have to mean bondage. It is the ‘futility’ that accompanies these processes after the Fall that is the issue. This much can clearly be argued from the text of Genesis 3 itself.

        Third, where does the biblical text even suggest the sort of dramatic change in the nature of animals that would produce the sorts of predatory and carnivorous creatures that we encounter today? I find the position that you are advocating incredibly speculative, reading some fairly extreme positions into the text, with no actual textual evidence to back them up. If someone made a similar sort of claim to fill in a silence in the text on some other biblical issue, I am sure that you would strongly protest.

        Fourth, when the Scripture talks about death in association with the Fall, it is human death that it focuses upon. Furthermore, death in Genesis 3 seems to result from being cut off from the Tree of Life. Where do we have any evidence that the animals had access to this tree?

        Fifth, the logic of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 would seem to presume that man was always destined to bear the image of the heavenly Man. It also seems to imply that the means to receive this was always to die and rise again—the old body has to be sown ‘in corruption’ so that the new body can be raised ‘in incorruption’. Adam was not created perfect, but good.

        Sixth, regarding passages referring to a post-Fall state a number of points can be made. For one, passages such as Psalm 104 and Job 38-39 do not posit the sort of radical break between creation and later providence within a fallen world that your position demands. They speak of God ‘making’ the predators and providing them with they prey as a good gift, not as an expression of the curse. There is continuity between creation and God’s providence in our world. Once again, we have to read into the text to arrive at the sort of position that you hold.

        Seventh, regarding the new heavens and the new earth, once again I think that we should be careful of over-reading the text. Death in Scripture is focused on humanity. After the Fall, man dies like the beasts, the implication being that the beasts were always mortal creatures. We should also distinguish between the original creation and the new creation. The new creation is perfected. The old creation is one that is not perfected, which isn’t tamed, ordered, or filled, and which needs to mature. Death plays a different role in such a creation than it will in a perfected one.

        Finally, regarding the justification of animal death in a good world, Augustine has some helpful thoughts:

        But it is ridiculous to condemn the faults of beasts and trees, and other such mortal and mutable things as are void of intelligence, sensation, or life, even though these faults should destroy their corruptible nature; for these creatures received, at their Creator’s will, an existence fitting them, by passing away and giving place to others, to secure that lowest form of beauty, the beauty of seasons, which in its own place is a requisite part of this world. For things earthly were neither to be made equal to things heavenly, nor were they, though inferior, to be quite omitted from the universe. Since, then, in those situations where such things are appropriate, some perish to make way for others that are born in their room, and the less succumb to the greater, and the things that are overcome are transformed into the quality of those that have the mastery, this is the appointed order of things transitory. Of this order the beauty does not strike us, because by our mortal frailty we are so involved in a part of it, that we cannot perceive the whole, in which these fragments that offend us are harmonized with the most accurate fitness and beauty. And therefore, where we are not so well able to perceive the wisdom of the Creator, we are very properly enjoined to believe it, lest in the vanity of human rashness we presume to find any fault with the work of so great an Artificer. At the same time, if we attentively consider even these faults of earthly things, which are neither voluntary nor penal, they seem to illustrate the excellence of the natures themselves, which are all originated and created by God; for it is that which pleases us in this nature which we are displeased to see removed by the fault—unless even the natures themselves displease men, as often happens when they become hurtful to them, and then men estimate them not by their nature, but by their utility; as in the case of those animals whose swarms scourged the pride of the Egyptians. But in this way of estimating, they may find fault with the sun itself; for certain criminals or debtors are sentenced by the judges to be set in the sun. Therefore it is not with respect to our convenience or discomfort, but with respect to their own nature, that the creatures are glorifying to their Artificer.

        He goes on:

        All natures, then, inasmuch as they are, and have therefore a rank and species of their own, and a kind of internal harmony, are certainly good. And when they are in the places assigned to them by the order of their nature, they preserve such being as they have received. And those things which have not received everlasting being, are altered for better or for worse, so as to suit the wants and motions of those things to which the Creator’s law has made them subservient; and thus they tend in the divine providence to that end which is embraced in the general scheme of the government of the universe. So that, though the corruption of transitory and perishable things brings them to utter destruction, it does not prevent their producing that which was designed to be their result. And this being so, God, who supremely is, and who therefore created every being which has not supreme existence (for that which was made of nothing could not be equal to Him, and indeed could not be at all had He not made it), is not to be found fault with on account of the creature’s faults, but is to be praised in view of the natures He has made.

      • Alastair,

        “Thanks for the comment, Hermonta. This will be my only comment in response. I have tackled most of these issues in detail elsewhere.”

        As I go through the thread, I see you have written a great deal. When I responded to the above posts, I had read the article that you linked to, your article and the first few comments in this thread. I responded to what was put forward up to that point.

        “Unfortunately, you just seem to be asserting rather than arguing a position here. You don’t address any of the issues that I raise.”

        My comments were made in light of what I said above that I had read. Given those things, I believe that my response is/was fair.

        “First of all, let’s ask what exactly a world without death or decay of any form involves. Will there be recognizable seasons in such a world? Aren’t certain forms of death necessary for living processes of growth? Wouldn’t such a world just be overrun by swift breeding creatures? Is this really that good a world?”

        First off, my responses assume that an infinite God can never justify his actions by an appeal to lack of resources. Being infinite by definition means that you never run out of resources. Now I, being a finite human can make such a case due to my limitations but such a case cannot be made by the God of the Bible. Now if you wish to argue that death and suffering before the fall are simply morally fine, then that is cool. I would like to see such and would be happy to respond to such a case.

        Next, it sees that you assume that there was no substantial change in the way that the world operated before vs. after the fall. I know of no Biblical basis for such but instead the opposite being the case.

        “Second, where in the text of Genesis does it say that animals would die as a result of man’s Fall? Is there a verse declaring that in the day that Adam eats of the tree, every creature in creation will die? Where in the rest of Scripture does it say this? Paul may speak about the creation being ‘in bondage’ to corruption and decay, but this really is far from sufficient to say that there was no death whatsoever before the Fall. Death can be an integral part of living and dynamic processes of growth. In and of themselves, processes of death don’t have to mean bondage. It is the ‘futility’ that accompanies these processes after the Fall that is the issue. This much can clearly be argued from the text of Genesis 3 itself.”

        Um, why would I need a verse to be able to properly come to such a conclusion? Is not the position of no death/suffering before the fall (for animals or humans) a simply implication of the infinite power and infinite goodness/justice of God? If such is true about God, then why is suffering required for anything? Again there is no suffering/death in heaven, but we dont believe that heaven is somehow lacking compared to our life on earth.

        What does futile suffering and death mean compared to non futile suffering and death? (Especially as far as non moral animals are concerned).

        Next, I never said that death could not be an integral part of living and dynamic processes of growth. I believe today it behaves in such a fashion. However, it seems that you position implies that it is a necessary part of such growth. Because if it was not necessary, why would you argue that such was the case before the fall.

        “Third, where does the biblical text even suggest the sort of dramatic change in the nature of animals that would produce the sorts of predatory and carnivorous creatures that we encounter today? I find the position that you are advocating incredibly speculative, reading some fairly extreme positions into the text, with no actual textual evidence to back them up. If someone made a similar sort of claim to fill in a silence in the text on some other biblical issue, I am sure that you would strongly protest.”

        The issue for me is how do you avoid the implication of my position from having an infinite God and death and suffering not being necessary? If my reasoning is correct, then the suffering/death is simply a result of God’s judgment on Adam’s sin. When Adam’s sin is added to the mix, then one can have an infinitely good and powerful God, and suffering in the same world and have no justice claims that can be made against God.

        “Fourth, when the Scripture talks about death in association with the Fall, it is human death that it focuses upon. Furthermore, death in Genesis 3 seems to result from being cut off from the Tree of Life. Where do we have any evidence that the animals had access to this tree?”

        The question here is how does God justly impose death and suffering on his creation outside of sin? If an infinite God creates something and that something obeys him completely and immediately, how can he justify making it suffer and die?

        It seems that you are really trying to be fair to the text, but ignore what we know (and the church has always taught about God).

        Next, remember Genesis 3:17, says that the earth is cursed for our sake. Or put another way, “Because of Adam’s sin, the earth is cursed”. I have seen people attempt to narrow the meaning to “only man has to suffer because of the curse” but that improperly downplays Adam’s headship over all creation. My position also naturally leads to “The wages of sin is death” and “creation is subjected to futility” and “the whole creation groans”.

        “Fifth, the logic of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 would seem to presume that man was always destined to bear the image of the heavenly Man. It also seems to imply that the means to receive this was always to die and rise again—the old body has to be sown ‘in corruption’ so that the new body can be raised ‘in incorruption’. Adam was not created perfect, but good.”

        But doesnt your position hear make Paul’s claim of the wages of sin being death incoherent? If one dies whether or not sin enters the world, then what was Paul trying to tell us?

        Next, where does corruption come from in a world without sin? If corruption is tied to sin, then there is no basis to read this passage as justifying the belief in death before the fall.

        Lastly, yes Adam was created good not perfect but I think we are reading into that wording different things. Traditionally, we understand man as being in one of four states. Prefall man was – posse peccare aut non peccare (possible to sin or not to sin). So when we say not perfect, this is what it traditionally has meant. This does not imply that he was lacking something that he needed or that death was an inevitable consequence regardless of Adam sinning or not.

        “Sixth, regarding passages referring to a post-Fall state a number of points can be made. For one, passages such as Psalm 104 and Job 38-39 do not posit the sort of radical break between creation and later providence within a fallen world that your position demands. They speak of God ‘making’ the predators and providing them with they prey as a good gift, not as an expression of the curse. There is continuity between creation and God’s providence in our world. Once again, we have to read into the text to arrive at the sort of position that you hold.”

        We only have to read in, that which is known by General Revelation about God. And such was available for Adam at the time of his walking the earth.

        If such is true, why would they need to explicitly tell us, “This only applies post fall and not pre fall”?

        In a similar way, no passage on the death penalty explicitly tells us, “This is only a post fall institution. It is easy to make the case that it is, but we dont need a verse to explicitly say that it is.

        “Seventh, regarding the new heavens and the new earth, once again I think that we should be careful of over-reading the text. Death in Scripture is focused on humanity. After the Fall, man dies like the beasts, the implication being that the beasts were always mortal creatures. We should also distinguish between the original creation and the new creation. The new creation is perfected. The old creation is one that is not perfected, which isn’t tamed, ordered, or filled, and which needs to mature. Death plays a different role in such a creation than it will in a perfected one.”

        Where exactly are you reading that the beasts died before the fall? How can and infinite God justify such suffering outside of the sin of Adam

        Next, on what basis are you justifying that we have to act as if God is a blank slate to us when we read the beginning of Genesis.

        Next, death in Scripture is focused on man because no death happens outside of the evil actions of man, not because death of the animals is simply ignored.

        Next, I would separate the original creation from the fallen creation and separate the fallen creation from the new creation.

        Lastly, I dont have a problem with animal death having a proper place in a post fall world that eventually leads to a number of good things and still shows God’s care in a messed up world. My only claim is that death prefall is a problem.

      • Hermonta,

        I have addressed the issues that you raise in various places. I don’t think that you have brought up any new objections here. You seem to reject animal death before the Fall on grounds on principle, without really providing any satisfactory textual evidence within the Fall account itself for doing so. For this reason, I suspect that further discussion is going to be fairly futile, as the strength of your principled objection to death before the Fall seems to override any need for textual demonstration of your position within Genesis and the ‘evidence’ that you appeal to in such places as Romans is very far from decisive on the matter, as there are many ways that such texts could be read. Nor are you really answering the questions that I raise (you are largely just asserting your principled rejection of the possibility against them).

        Rather than thrashing this out further, let me just make a few observations:

        First, my position is not some departure from a historic position of the Church, but is a position with a strong pedigree. I have already referenced Augustine and Aquinas on the matter—perhaps the two greatest theological giants in the history of the Western Church. Similar claims can be found in no less a figure than Basil of Caesarea, who presented the perpetuation and succession of creaturely kinds through cycles of death and life as natural and good within the animal kingdom, both pre- and post-Fall.

        Second, my position is not a liberal one, nor is it exclusive to evolutionists. I have been reliably informed that James Jordan holds to animal death before the Fall, and he has written a book in defence of a six day, young earth creationism reading of Genesis 1. I know a number of other young earth creationists who also hold to animal death before the Fall. In the Peter Leithart post that I linked, where he expresses his belief in the existence of prelapsarian carnivores, he also references N.T. Wright’s support for the position. Wright is one of the foremost conservative Pauline scholars of our day and the fact that he doesn’t believe that Romans 8 rules this position out is also telling.

        Third, in order to maintain your absolute principle that there could not possibly have been death before the Fall, you have to posit an immense miracle, whereby God changes the natures of a vast swathe of the animal kingdom, but which he just fails to mention in the text itself. I find this sort of thinking incredibly unhealthy, even when it is supposedly in service of orthodox convictions. It is exactly the same sort of thing that liberals engage in when they speculate about complex possibilities behind the text that would protect their beliefs from being unsettled by passages that seem to contradict them. The readings that they present are technically possible, but they rely upon speculative leaps beyond revelation. I don’t doubt that you are well-meaning in what you are trying to do, but this sort of thing eats away at the authority and perspicuity of Scripture.

        Fourth, I don’t deny for a moment that there are difficult theodical questions to be answered here. The position that I am advancing is unsettling on a number of fronts. However, the fact that a reading of the text raises such questions doesn’t mean that we are justified in suggesting far-fetched alternatives to avoid the problem. Once again, this is exactly the same sort of thing that liberals do to avoid dealing with the troubling reality of the text. We really should be above that. The sort of thing that you are doing here isn’t altogether dissimilar from those who argue that God definitely couldn’t have ordered the killing of Canaanites, so we must hold that Moses was rebelliously claiming God’s support for a violent invasion without justification. Such a position may defend the character of God on one front and it may even be a technically possible reading, but it achieves its ends at great cost to the sufficiency, perspicuity, and integrity of God’s revelation. My conviction is that when the text points us in a troubling direction, we must follow it, rather than ruling it out a priori. We may never understand why something is the case (here we need patience and faith in God’s goodness), but we should have the courage to acknowledge where the facts point.

        Fifth, following on from my previous point, I really do not need to demonstrate why some form of death before the Fall is morally fine. All that I need to do is show that a careful, non-speculative, and common sense reading of the text leads us to believe that it happened. This is exactly the same way that we should handle any other potentially troubling biblical text. Apart from your theodical objections to my reading, you haven’t presented me with anything like a strong case for the reading that you presume.

        Sixth, if you read several of my comments, you will see that I do argue for a substantial change in the way that the world operates after the Fall. However, the Scripture just doesn’t support the claim that change involves the immense transformation in the make-up of a huge range of creatures in the animal kingdom that your position would demand.

        Seventh, you are far too swift to compare the pre-Fall situation to the glorified state in the new creation. The very fact that we were destined for new creation suggests that the old creation would have to die and rise again in a more glorious form, transforming the earthly body of the first Adam into the glorious heavenly body of the last Adam. I haven’t claimed that death is necessary to every order, just that death is presented as an integral part of the first creation, which, even in its good form, has yet to be perfected.

        Eighth, death only becomes a negative force when it is unaccompanied by the processes of glorifying growth. Genesis 2 presents man as the servant of the earth, charged with taming, ordering, filling, glorifying it, and shepherding it into God’s new creation. When man sins the earth is left without a good servant and futilely languishes in its state of imperfection, without attaining to glory. New creation—the original destiny of the old fleshly natural creation—was only possible when man returned to God. Until then, the creation is caught in unending birth pangs, without coming to delivery. Just as in Genesis, references to death in Paul only really focus on humanity. When he talks about the spread of death, it is the spread of death to ‘all men’ that is his concern. Besides, as humans and animals were to eat plants, implying plant death, we can at the very least recognize that ‘no death before the Fall’ doesn’t function in an absolute sense. At what point do we make the cut-off? Would bacteria die in a pre-Fall world? How about the tiniest insects? Would a butterfly die? Etc.

        Ninth, at some point we have to raise questions of basic common sense. Would a world of fruitful and rapidly multiplying flies that never die be a good world to inhabit? Wouldn’t such a world swiftly be overrun by rabbits? As Augustine observed, one of the good aspects of the natural world is that things are fitting in their place and time and that death is one of the forces that maintains the beauty of this order. If we do away with death, procreation and growth become problematic rather quickly. Perhaps a good comparison here is thinking about the human body. Good growth in the human body needs to be growth that is focused upon the well-being of the whole entity. Death is part of the processes of human growth. Cancer occurs when the natural processes of death break down and processes of growth operate against the good of the whole. Augustine’s argument suggests that we need to view the animal creation in the same way. Proportionate growth and death of individual creatures is a good and healthy thing, benefitting the natural ecosystem as a whole. These individual creatures are good and beautiful in their times and places and should be enjoyed as such. However, we need to see them as merely parts and servants of a more glorious whole.

        Tenth, and finally, although it is often read in such a manner, there is no textual reason to believe that the earth was the direct object of God’s curse. Rather, the earth was cursed with respect to man, becoming the bearer of God’s judgment to Adam. The creation in itself was still good and blessed, but as God’s faithful servant it would bring bitterness and pain to his rebellious children. [On a related note, there is no reason to believe that thorns and thistles only came into existence post-Fall. The point of the curse was not that these didn’t exist before, but that these would be the response that the creation would give to Adam’s labours.] Of course, this role would mean that the creation itself would be frustrated and held back from attaining its own purpose, but this didn’t make the creation evil. An important parallel can be seen in the role that the Torah played with respect to Israel. The Torah desired to bring life and blessing but, with an unfaithful people it could only bring death and be a curse. The Torah itself was nonetheless good and blessed. The liberation of the Torah from its own bondage occurred as Christ bore its judgment and curse for us and ensured the realization of its intentions by the formation of a new Spiritual people within himself, in whom the Torah will be fulfilled.

  2. 1. I believe that the death penalty is a result of the Fall.
    2. We are getting pretty far into the realm of speculation here, so I think that we need to be cautious. In answering such a question, a lot depends on how broadly we define ‘salvation’.

  3. whitefrozen says:

    Wright’s book ‘Evil and the Justice of God’ takes an interesting view – if I recall, he argued that things that we take for granted, like the changing of seasons, will be changed in the life to come when there is no death (thinking of the seasons as death-based was odd to me at first). I don’t usually get into discussions about pre-fall things, as it ends up being speculation of a high order, but it is interesting in this case to to tease out the details here.

  4. Caned Crusader says:

    Interesting to see you use Jordan’s premises to come to very un-Jordanian conclusions (as he is a consistent YEC who bites the bullet on the apperanace of age problem.) Agree with most of your conclusions though; much of this has been said before, but now I’ll have something short to point people to if they have questions. Are there any books (besides the Jordan commentary) on the subject of creation/Genesis that you especially find helpful?

    • As I pointed out in one of my other comments here, Jordan’s position is not so straightforwardly opposed to death apart from Fall as many others’ are. Leithart, who is the other chief representative of the Biblical Horizons approach to interpretation, pretty much articulates the position that I present above. For this and other reasons, the question of predation apart from Fall should definitely not be limited to an old earth or evolutionary position.

      Chris recommends some other sources in his comment below.

  5. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    This would appear to make God the direct author of some pretty appalling things.

    • Animal predation isn’t pretty, nor are untamed predatory instincts ideal. However, Scripture describes predation as natural and part of the goodness of his creation in such places as Psalm 104:21 and Job 38:39-41. Scripture doesn’t present predation itself as ‘appalling’, although it can take forms that we might consider appalling. As I have argued in another comment response here, there are eschatological texts in Scripture that speak of a curbing of predatory instincts. We should also expect that the Fall led to a significant intensifying of the process and the painfulness of predation within the creation, although it was not its origin.

      • Death is a part of the normal and just operation of creation post fall, but those passages cannot be used to justify death and suffering prefall.

        If death is linked to sin, then how can passages describing the world in a post fall state be used to justify various actions/situations from a prefall world?

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      1. I would be wary of putting too much weight on your interpretation of those passages in Psalms and Job. Interpretation of highly figured language is extremely tricky.
      2. Is there any evidence of a period in evolution when predation etc. were less nasty, particularly prior to when humans arrived?
      3. I think you’re seriously soft pedalling the awfulness of what goes on in the natural world. I don’t think it is any wonder why biologists have the lowest level of belief among scientists (matched only by psychologists). They have their noses rubbed in this stuff constantly.

      • 1. While I think that we need to be careful in our handling of more poetic texts, I am always wary of under-reading them. If predation were necessarily a negative thing, one would not expect such portrayals of it. Also, we should recognize that God authorizes and blesses meat-eating, even when it is not necessary. The risen Christ brings about a miracle in which 153 fish have their lives taken and then cooks and eats some.

        2. Not that I am aware of. I am uncertain of what such evidence would look like.

        3. Yes, the natural world can be an ugly and brutal place. I’ve had lengthy discussions with friends who have done PhDs on such subjects as parasites in insects and the horrific things that they can do to their victims. Similar realities could be described within other parts of the animal kingdom. Various questions could be raised here: about the character of animals’ consciousness of pain/suffering, about the nature of suffering as an ‘evil’, about how to consider the self-inflicted pain of an ‘amoral’ creation morally, about the levels upon which key goods are seen to reside (for instance, Augustine justifies animal suffering by pointing to the part that creatures play within the beautiful tapestry of a wider creation), or about how the suffering of a good yet not yet perfected creation in time relates to and participates in its ultimate good. I don’t want to pretend that these questions are easily answered, though.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        If predation were necessarily a negative thing, one would not expect such portrayals of it.

        What the language is portraying is the issue. The reading remains highly dubious.

      • Alastair,
        1)God blessings something post fall does not imply that it would also have been blessed prefall. As you believe that the death penalty is a post fall situation/the death penalty could not have been justified prefall, why is it problematic to believe that death itself is a post fall situation?

        3)I would like to hear your thoughts on how animals suffering pre-fall could be considered anything other than evil. At least with humans, suffering could be justified (on some level) as leading to higher goods. But with animals not being moral beings, that justification path doesnt work.

        There is also the issue that there is no death in heaven and yet heaven is better than life on earth in every phase imaginable. So using death as necessary to reach a goal of an infinitely powerful God, seems to fall flat.

      • Let me preface this by saying that I have now read the original post with a fine toothed comb and have read almost every post in the thread. and am now updating my previous post here.

        1)God blessings something post fall does not imply that it would also have been blessed prefall. As you believe that the death penalty is a post fall situation/the death penalty could not have been justified prefall, why is it problematic to believe that death itself is a post fall situation? It seems that you are downplaying the differences between pre and post fall

        2)If death is really brutal for animals and always has been, then how can you somehow set it aside as something to be discussed almost separately and after we have done the “real” work of understanding the text.

        3)Augustine doesnt seem to be very helpful here. One has to first justify animals suffering pre fall as just before attempting to justify it by its good results. Otherwise, we have a case of the ends justifying the means. So those who believe that animals suffering outside of the context of sin is simply unjust should not be phased by an appeal to Augustine here. There is also the problem here of there being an assumption of there being no other way to get to the beautiful tapestry of the wider creation without animal death, which simply seems to be an attack on the infinite power of God. The God who rained manna from heaven for 40 years, and made continuous oil for the widow until rain came, etc is somehow limited here?

        Next, you continually make reference to creation being good instead of perfect, but isn’t the contrast between the formless and void at the beginning (which God didnt call good) and the creation which God called good and then very good when he had finished. That creation is not perfect, does not imply death of any kind and we do not need to invent a second kind of death in order to understand what is happening.

        Next, isnt the traditional YEC position much easier and fewer hoops to jump through? My case for justifying death only after the fall would be analogous to 1 Chr. 21. There David sinned by numbering his armies. The punishment? People who had absolutely nothing to do with conceiving or executing the sin were killed. 70 thousand of them. Why? Because their head sinned against God. In the same way, Adam was head over all of creation and all creation now suffers due to God’s punishment due to Adam’s sin. Or in the words of Genesis 3:17 (For your sake).

  6. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I also wonder if God working on already existing things implies a somewhat limited God, like the Mormons have.

    • I am not really sure where you are getting this from my statements. God created all existing things without exception. However, the creation of the world is described in terms of the forming and taming and filling of a sort of unordered substrate that God created at the outset. This is what Genesis 1 presents us with. The fact of God’s creation of all things is not at all in dispute here: rather, I am drawing attention to the manner. I am also arguing that God gives mankind the task of forming, taming, and filling the world as his images in continuity with his own creative action.

  7. thetotuschristus says:

    Alastair, I can agree that creation was ‘wild’ and ‘untamed’ originally, but I don’t see how this can be understood in a dangerous way. Basically, the curse of Genesis 3 teaches that creation has no ‘teeth’ (thorns) until after the fall, so whilst the animals may have needed taming in some sense by Adam, I think you’ve taken what that means too far. It also goes against the explicit statement in Genesis 1:30 that “every” beast of the field, bird of the air and creeping thing ate green plants. It also ignores the many connections between animal and human death established throughout Leviticus, suggesting that both kinds of death (negatively understood) arise from the fall. Granted, God may have intended to use some kind of ‘death’ in the pre-fall creation, but it would not have been painful, predatorial death like we currently observe in nature. It would have been painless, with no associated “toil”.

    • thetotuschristus says:

      Sorry, by ‘teeth’ I was referring to sharp, carnivorous teeth. The thorns cause toil and pain, just like the sharp teeth of animals do after the fall. Such toil and pain would have been absent prior to this. Also, whilst Adam and Eve were not ‘immortal’ in the full, resurrection sense, they would have been kept alive by the fruit of the tree of life as Genesis 3:22-23 clearly suggests.

    • Thanks for the comment and the questions. I realized just after I had posted that I hadn’t dealt with Genesis 1:30, so I am pleased that you have brought it up.

      A few things need to be pointed out here, not merely in response to your comments.

      First, the position that I am advocating here is not one that falls out along existing fault lines between young earth creationist and evolutionist lines, nor between more traditional and more novel readings, nor even between ‘literal’ and ‘figurative’ readings of Genesis. Here, for instance, is Thomas Aquinas on the subject of animal predation apart from the Fall:

      In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man’s sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. Nor does Bede’s gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals. They would not, however, on this account have been excepted from the mastership of man: as neither at present are they for that reason excepted from the mastership of God, Whose Providence has ordained all this. Of this Providence man would have been the executor, as appears even now in regard to domestic animals, since fowls are given by men as food to the trained falcon.

      Even people who hold very similar exegetical approaches to the text can differ on this one. For instance, James Jordan seems to hold to vegetarianism among animals before the Fall (although in a ‘soft’ way, about which I will comment later), while Peter Leithart appears to hold animal death apart from the Fall.

      Second, as Jordan and others argue at length, predation is not presented as evil in Scripture, nor is vegetarianism presented as some ideal. The vegetarianism of Adam in the original creation was related to his immaturity. Infants subsist on milk and soft foods, while adults eat solid foods and meats. Leaving aside the question of whether Abel’s sheep would have been eaten (I see no reason to exclude this possibility: Genesis 9:2-4 may have been a more extensive giving of the animals into man’s hand), the development from vegetarian Adam to carnivorous Noah is not one of degradation, but one of maturation. In the great psalm of creation, Psalm 104, we see that God gives the young lions their prey (v.21).

      Holding this view, much hinges upon how we read Genesis 1:30, which I will discuss in a moment. The general pattern which Jordan and others observe, whereby different realms of the earth are correlated with different stages of development and maturity (garden/sanctuary —> land —> world) may come into play here. The realm of the Garden was a safe realm without predation, like the ‘holy mountain’ described in Isaiah 11:6-9. However, the wider world was a place where predation occurred, a world within which Adam could participate and tame when he was more mature. I also think that we should be careful of reading texts such as Isaiah 11:6-9 as describing all carnivore actions as less than ideal (even the resurrected Christ eats fish). The image of Isaiah 11 is rather one of safety and peaceful co-existence in the holy place. Predatory instincts have been curbed and domesticated to the extent that all creatures can live together on the holy mountain. However, the curbing of predatory instincts and the possibility of co-existence in a single place isn’t the same thing as a complete rejection of carnivorous actions. Humans can peacefully co-exist with domesticated and farm animals, yet still eat them from time to time, not on account of some untamed predatory instinct, but through a prudential animal husbandry. We should distinguish between the untamed predation that precludes peaceful co-existence and the sort of carnivorousness that is consistent with domestication.

      Third, Genesis 1:30 shouldn’t be read to teach that the animals were only permitted to be vegetarian. While you claim that the ‘explicit statement’ of Genesis 1:30 is that every beast of the field, bird of the air, and creeping thing ate green plants, this is not the case. The explicit statement is that God gave all animals vegetation for sustenance. We should recognize that, on account of the food chain, all animals are ultimately receiving their sustenance from vegetation, which God gave to support the whole creation. As God is addressing the entire animal food chain here, it makes sense to speak in such a manner: while only some species are carnivorous, every species ultimately depends upon God’s gift of vegetation as sustenance. If God were speaking to each species separately, he would have given them a diet appropriate to their place in the food chain. In Genesis 9, God addresses the species of humanity in particular and raises their power in the food chain.

      Fourth, the claim that creation has no ‘teeth’ until after the Fall is a bit of a reach exegetically. The point of the curse is that the creation will not cooperate with man’s attempts to subdue it. This is a very different thing from saying that no form of predation would have pre-existed this within the animal kingdom itself, even though it may imply that the level and violence of this predation was kicked up several notches, as the world become a more dangerous and hostile place for man. As Aquinas argues, we also need to distinguish between the tameness of animals with respect to man and their tameness with respect to each other.

      Fifth, I agree with the suggested textual implication that Adam and Eve would have been kept alive by the fruit of the Tree of Life, although there is more that we could say on this.

      • thetotuschristus says:

        Thanks for your response, that gives me much to think about. I would certainly want to distinguish between the way in which death would have occurred before and after the fall. Prior to the fall, death would have been a positive thing, an entrance into a greater, more glorified form of life. This sort of death could have been undergone by both humans and animals, until the whole earth had been finally glorified by Adam and his descendants and the general resurrection took place.

        However, your approach towards Genesis 3 does not seem particularly satisfying. If toil and pain are part of the curse of the fall, then why would they have existed beforehand, within the animal kingdom? Since the destinies of animals and humans are tied together in scripture e.g. In the various sacrifices, on the ark (a baptism), in the New creation, why separate them prior to this point? Also the ritual washing of those who have made contact with unclean dead animals and dead humans suggests that both share in the same curse of death.

      • I am quite unconvinced of any straightforward analogy between animal and human death. Here are a few reasons:

        1. There is a sharp distinction between animal and human life. Man’s life is personal in a way that the sentient life of animals is not. In creating man, God fashioned him as his image and breathed into him the breath of life. Although animals have ‘spirits’, there is no evidence that they were created in the same manner as man. Rather, they were mediately ‘brought forth’ by the earth (Genesis 1:24). Belief in some afterlife seems to be connected in places with a distinction between animal and human death. Both animals and man return to the dust and we have no empirical evidence that the spirit of man goes up to God in distinction from the spirit of the beasts, which returns to the earth (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:18-21). The impression in such texts is that a sort of mortality is more natural to the beasts as mere creatures of the earth (cf. Psalm 49:12, 20), yet is a more problematic issue in the case of man as those who bear God’s image. Ecclesiastes 12:7 declares that, though the dust of man will return to the earth, his spirit will return to God who gave it.

        2. We are nowhere told that the general resurrection includes animals.

        3. Man’s enduring in life was not by virtue of natural immortality, but by virtue of his presence with God ‘above the firmament’ and his participation in the Tree of Life. We are nowhere told that the animals had such access.

        For these reasons, I disagree with your claims that animals and humans are so closely tied together. Humans definitely have much to do with animals: we were created on the same day and exercising dominion over the animals is integral to our calling. Animals can also symbolize man in various ways. However, you are failing to take into account the degree to which human life is set over against animal life as something distinct.

        As for your claims connected to the ritual washing following contact with dead animals and dead humans, we should start by observing two things. First, the text of the judgment nowhere declares that animals would die as a result of Adam’s sin. Second, the curse of death upon Adam was not the removal of natural immortality, but resulted from his being cut off from God’s presence and the Tree of Life, a privilege not generally shared by the animals. In light of these facts, the consequence of the Fall was that man would die like the brute beasts, rather than living forever in God’s presence as his glorious image. Once this has been appreciated, the parallels between animal and human death can better be understood.

      • Chris E says:

        “If toil and pain are part of the curse of the fall, then why would they have existed beforehand, within the animal kingdom?”

        Perhaps a useful parallel to consider in this context is the difference between ‘work’ which also existed before the Fall, and ‘toil’ which is caused by the Fall.

      • That is a helpful parallel. While I think that such a position is speculative, we could argue for the possibility that the reality of predation was not a really painful one within the animal kingdom prior to the Fall.

      • First,
        Appealing to Aquinas does not imply that the paradigm of YEC vs. OEC etc is being transcended. Aquinas was a YEC but that doesnt imply that his position here is compatible with that any more than saying that some famous Calvinist said X so that X must be compatible with Calvinism. In a similar way, Augustine (another YEC) was in favor of instantaneous creation instead of six day creation. Such does not imply that any other YEC must somehow respect that position (I believe that he let his philosophy run the show on that point).

        Next, Aquinas does nothing to show that reading Genesis 1:30 as meaning all animals were vegetarians before the fall is somehow an inaccurate reading. He seems to be saying, that such simply cant be the case, so the verse must mean something else. This also seems like a case of letting one’s philosophy determine what Scripture can and cannot mean.

        In a post fall world, vegetarianism is not an ideal. It was simply an ideal in the prefall world.

        A big problem with your reading of Genesis 1:30 is that it is a very convoluted way of telling us that animals could eat anything. If God had wanted to tell us that animals to eat only plants, how would the verse be different?

        Next, if Genesis 1:30 is not telling us that animals were vegetarians before the fall, then Genesis 1:29 is not telling us that man was vegetarian before the fall because the same language is used. How can you argue that the same language in two consecutive verses mean the exact opposite in the second verse?

        Next, if someone wants to question if 1:29 is telling us that man was told to be a vegetarian, then one can simply go to Genesis 9:3, where God explicitly expands what man could then eat and makes reference back to Genesis 1:29 with “even as the green herb have I given you all things.” So I think it is unavoidable that man and animals were vegetarian before the fall.

        I see no basis to narrow the curse to only apply to the animals as far as their interaction with man goes. The curse was due to Adam not simply as far as Adam was directly affected. Creation groans period, not that creation only groans with respect to only how creation acts in direct interaction with man.

        If Adam and Eve would have been kept alive by the Tree of Life, then how can one argue that without sin God would have somehow prevented man from continuing to eat from the Tree in order for man to be able to die and to “mature”? Death and sin are simply intimately related and and without sin there would be no death (good or bad).

  8. Chris E says:

    As Kelly says above a lot of this material can be found elsewhere. One very good Reformed resource would be John Fesko’s book “Last Things First” (and like other WSCal people he isn’t so wedded to YEC as the necessary interpretation – or at least considers it tangential to the real purpose of Gen 1-3).

    Other resources that include useful material would be the first parts of Andrew Linzey’s book “Animal Theology”, and Robert Capon’s “Genesis: The Movie”. The Linzey book is especially interesting as there are lot of things that follow from his particular construction of animal rights that he doesn’t touch on (a very powerful critique of torture of the sort that a lot of American Christians seem to have come to terms with).

  9. Alastair –
    appreciate this interaction with this text. Not sure I follow some of your chronology (man witnessing disordered creation) or specifics (a walled garden from Gen. 3:24?) or your understanding of what it means when God calls His creation “good”. I take some different lines for sure. A lot of that stems out of our understanding of ancient eastern writing and what the author of Genesis was trying to communicate (and what he wasn’t trying to communicate) as well as an understanding that predation (as you allude to earlier) is not a result of the fall but of God’s good created order. I think for most people, much of the debate really stems around human death and is physical death the penalty for man’s sin. Love it is you could take a minute and read my post on that and get your reflections .
    many thanks –

    • Thanks for the comment. Briefly in response to your points:

      1. Man didn’t witness the disordered creation of Genesis 1:2. The creation account of Genesis 2:4ff. is nested within the first creation account, like a Russian doll. Within this creation account we start off with the reality created by God in Genesis 1:1-25. Within this reality there is a relative level of disorder and emptiness, analogous to that of Genesis 1:2, described in Genesis 2:5. Man is created within this situation, in a world that hasn’t been populated, ordered, planted, or tamed by any civilizing or domesticating agency. He is created before and outside of the Garden, so it is perfectly reasonable to presume that he witnessed this reality and recognized the difference between it and the ordered and planted Garden.

      2. The idea of an enclosed or bounded space is intrinsic to the meaning of the term ‘garden’, in Hebrew (gan) as in English. It is also related to the Hebrew verb for defense or hedging in (ganan). The typical use of the term refers to a walled nursery garden or large enclosed orchard. Various parallels in Scripture would strengthen this picture. Drawing upon the imagery of Genesis 2, in Song of Solomon, the bride is compared to a walled garden and spring, like Eden and Eve (Eve was to be defended by Adam, like the Garden, and this parallel is fleshed out in greater detail elsewhere in Scripture). The description of God’s planting of the vineyard of Isaiah 5 on the fruitful hill has parallels with Eden too. Establishing a firm boundary to restrict access is so intrinsic to this act that the reader will just have assumed that the hedge and wall that are torn down in verse 5 were put up as part of the formation of the vineyard, even though they are not explicitly mentioned. The vineyard also has a defensive watchtower in its midst (v.2).

      The man’s task of guarding and serving the garden corresponds to the task of the Levites, which involve enforcing and defending the physical boundaries of the tabernacle and the moral boundaries of the people. The cherubim with flaming swords are guardians of the garden who perform the task that Adam failed to (it was Adam in particular who had this duty, not Adam and Eve in the same manner). In Genesis 3:24, angels are placed only at the east of the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the Tree of Life, not in the midst of it, where the Tree of Life was actually located. As the term for garden means enclosure and as there were no cherubim situated on the north, south, and west of the garden, it seems reasonable to deduce that the garden was walled or hedged in some manner. Like the tabernacle, the only entrance to the Garden of Eden was on the east side and there was no other way in.

      3. Concerning God’s calling the creation ‘good’, there is considerable evidence within Genesis and the rest of Scripture that the world of Genesis 1 was not yet perfect and was destined for glorification. The new creation does not merely reboot the old creation, but replaces its glory for something much more glorious. Man’s created body is not the glorious body that he will one day have either. Consequently, when God refers to the creation as ‘good’, it is appropriate to understand this, not as denoting the achievement of the pinnacle of maturity and perfection, but as speaking of a relative goodness and fittingness and of its conformity to his purpose and will.

      I am wary of jumping too quickly to ancient near eastern parallels. In my experience, such parallels, while important in a more general manner, too easily distract us from the particularities of the account of Genesis and deracinate the text. Genesis gives us very specific details for a reason and I want us to do business with the text on its own terms, while being cognizant of partial parallels and the more open question of what its details mean. Too often people try to settle the question of what the author of Genesis was and wasn’t trying to communicate in the abstract. My contention is that such a question can only properly be addressed as we grapple with the particulars of the text. The primary way to determine what Genesis was or wasn’t trying to communicate is by paying extremely close attention to it as a textual communication. Unfortunately, most people I encounter have already settled the question of what Genesis was meaning to communicate, while being largely ignorant of the text itself (everyone who has been a Christian for more than a few years should be able to recount in considerable detail from memory the sequence of events from Genesis 1-3). Assumptions about what the text was trying to communicate serve as a Procrustean bed upon which many significant details are lopped off and thoroughly ignored. My basic conviction is that the text does not have extraneous elements and so we must pay close attention to every detail, even if we do not yet appreciate why they were communicated to us.

      Thanks for the link to your post. When dealing with questions of possibility, it is always necessary to distinguish between different senses of possibility. Was it physically possible for human beings to die before the Fall? Yes, man wasn’t naturally immortal. If a super-volcano had erupted right next to Adam, would he have been invulnerable to its effects? I don’t think so: Adam’s body wasn’t physically invulnerable to all harm. However, I believe that such an event, while possible according to the natural operations of God’s world, would have been a providential impossibility. The fact that man didn’t die before the Fall had to do with providence and access to the Tree of Life. In that sense, man couldn’t die without a Fall.

      I quite agree with your penultimate paragraph. However, the sharp distinction between spiritual and physical death that you draw in the final paragraph doesn’t follow for me. Cut off from the Tree of Life and the presence of God, Adam and Eve were cut off from the source of their life and would wither as a result, finally dying like the beasts. There is continuity between being cut off from God covenantally and spiritually and dying physically. It is a passage further into death and alienation. The difference in the case of the Christian who dies is that the movement is in the other direction.

      • I appreciate your thorough interaction Alastair; time for all of us is precious and so I am thankful for the gift of some of yours in responding to my questions and interacting with my post.
        It does seem from some of your fist responses, that however much you want to “do business with theft on its own terms” you appear to lean towards a cosmic temple view of Genesis in some of your interpretations. Is this accurate? Who would you say are your key influences (besides the Holy Spirit) in interpreting the first 2 chapters of Genesis?

        As to your conclusions about my conclusions in my post, I do see your point about alienation from God (which is what sin brings about for all mankind federally) also being the cause of physical death. Even granting that, one has to ask still was that the primary purpose of the curse or simply a necessary result of it? Viz. If I kill someone on purpose, the intended curse/penalty that will be placed on me is that I will go to jail, however, I may also lose relationships as a result of that incarceration, or not be able to complete my university degree, or attend my daughter’s wedding, etc. The corollary for me at it relates to Adam and Eve (and all of us) then is that physical death is a necessary consequence of being barred from the tree of life but that spiritual death (and eternal) is God’s intended result/penalty for their breaking of the covenant of works. It could be argued even that the barring from the tree, and resulting physical death, was actually less curse and more sever mercy.

      • I am not sure what you see to be implied in a ‘cosmic temple’ reading of Genesis, but my position could fairly be described as one species of this. I also believe that this is a position that can be derived from the text itself: there is no need to speculate beyond it or to rest upon ANE parallels. The following are some of the key claims that I would make about the text:

        1. The pattern of the world’s creation in Genesis 1 also appears in such places as the creation of the tabernacle

        2. The Garden of Eden is a proto-sanctuary and later sanctuaries are developed forms of the Garden of Eden. Like later sanctuaries, the Garden of Eden is: a) a place where God walks in the midst of his people and where fellowship with him is enjoyed; b) a place where there are divinely established boundaries that must be preserved; c) a place where sacred food is found; d) located on a holy mountain with a life-giving spring that flows out into the world; e) a divinely-patterned/created model for activity in the wider world.

        3. Adam is a priest, given the task of ‘guarding and serving’, the same task that the Levites had. He is also entrusted with the law, which he had to uphold and teach to his wife.

        Key influences? James Jordan, G.K. Beale, Meredith Kline, Peter Leithart, probably in that order. However, the position is one that I have encountered in many other authors from across the theological spectrum.

        I think that your question still relies upon a false separation between Adam’s spiritual and physical death. When it comes to the death of Adam, it doesn’t have to be understood primarily as a directly imposed sanction—‘in the day that you eat of it, I will surely kill you’—but as a necessary consequence of action. Is God’s judgment upon and expulsion of Adam the ‘killing’ of Adam, or is it the removal of one who has brought spiritual death upon himself?

      • Good points. I see much of how you read Genesis from the text though at times I still find those connections allegoristic. That said, the connections are compelling and undeniably form the text.

        I see your point on the separation of physical and spiritual death. Need to think on that more. Appreciate the interaction Alistair!

      • Most of the particulars of the position that I have outlined here can be supported or fleshed out with further argumentation or evidence. Is there a particular connection of which you are uncertain?

      • Not particularly. As I say, I see all the connections you are drawing in the Scriptures. Where I struggle, and maybe you can help me with that, is in understanding who is drawing from whom unmaking those connections? Viz. Did God, through Israel, intend to have Moses and Arron pattern the tabernacle after his creative pattern in Genesis? That seems likely. But then, is it meet to read the tabernacle back into the Genesis account, allegorically or otherwise?

        The reason I find that problematic is b/c the Sabbath, for instance, is a command of God given to His people based out of the pattern of creation in the Genesis “days”. What I find problematic though is when YEC guys try to read that understanding directly back into Genesis 1 in particular as a way of “proving” 6 literal 24 days of creation.
        There are times when it feels like the pre-figured temple view of Genesis/Eden feels like it has some of the same anachronistic misapplication, to me anyways.

        Could you help in clarifying that?

      • First of all, I think that establishing the logical sequence of texts isn’t as essential as we might initially imagine, on this and other issues. The relationship between the tabernacle and Eden is one of analogy and that analogy holds whichever one has temporal priority. Eden is a proto-tabernacle and the tabernacle is a new Eden. Both stories help us to interpret the other on account of their ‘family resemblances’.

        Second, in this particular case, both Eden and the tabernacle were created or patterned by God and both followed the model of the original seven-day creation. Thus, neither is the Ur-model, but both share a deeper pattern. The typology here is ‘vertical’—the impression of the pattern of heaven upon the earth—not just ‘horizontal’—the relationship of two events in history.

        Third, such typology is consistent throughout the biblical text. For instance, there are at least four more ‘Fall’ events within the text of Genesis alone. The text describes such events in a way that highlights analogies.

        Fourth, as with the tabernacle/Eden parallel, I believe that we should be reading the analogy between the seven days in both directions. I don’t think that this requires us to believe that the two things (the weekly celebration of the Sabbath and God’s rest on the seventh day of the creation ‘week’) are exactly the same. However, both can help to illuminate the meaning of the other. The weekly celebration of the Sabbath points back to and bears witness to the original creation. However, it also expresses the sacred meaning of Israel’s own labour. By following the pattern of God’s own creation ‘week’, Israel is marked out as those who are co-creators with God, as those who follow in his pattern. This is why the Sabbath is given covenantal significance. The point of the relationship, then, is not primarily located in the temporal sequence of the texts, but in the analogy that they both establish from their respective directions between God’s creative work and that of his people.

      • sorry. line 5 should read, ““do business with the text on its own terms”

  10. thetotuschristus says:


    You’ve got some good points regarding animal and human death. Let me explain how I would approach these issues from my perspective.

    1) There is a personal distinction between humans and animals, especially in that humans are images of God which rule over the animals. There are also differing degrees of sentience between animals and humans.

    However, I would take issue with your reading of Ecclesiastes 3. Psalm 104:29-30 teaches us that when God takes away the spirit from an animal, it dies, returning to the dust, but when he sends out his spirit, animals are created and the ground is renewed as New life emerges. Taking this into account, Ecclesiastes 3:21 continues in the same vein as verses 18-20 in showing that man has one and the same spirit as the animals and that this spirit departs at death and he returns to the dust. The second half of verse 21 highlights this even more, showing that even as a man dies and the spirit goes up, new animals are being born into existence as the spirit descends to the earth to bring new life!

    Man is dust and when he dies, he returns to dust like the animals. The spirit which departs from him at death also departs from the animals, for they too have the breath/spirit of life, as you have already mentioned. Psalm 49 also teaches that despite man’s pride in life, in death he is the same as any animal. Even if you don’t agree completely with any of this, I hope you can appreciate where I am coming from. I do agree that the language of “brought forth” for the animals suggests a distinction though, and this ties in with the meaning of humans being made in the image of God.

    2) I think 1 Corinthians 15 teaches that animals are resurrected along with humans, particularly verses 35-39. Paul appears to equate “flesh” with “seed” and argues that just as seed ‘dies’ and goes into the ground and grows up into a more glorious form (resurrection) at the harvest, so too does all flesh at the judgement. And “flesh” includes animals, birds etc as verse 39 makes clear.

    He also alludes to the ritual washing associated with the dead (baptism for the dead) in verse 29 as an argument for the necessity of the resurrection. His argument seems to be that when a person dies, their body is still ‘potent’ with life which is yet to be realised at the resurrection. I could be mistaken about this, but if I am correct, his logic would also apply to animals, since a similar ritual washing was used in cases of contact with unclean animals.

    You could also point to the flood and other similar events to show that animals are ‘rescued’ into the New creation along with humans. But enough on that for now. You have at least conceded that there will be tamed animals in the New creation, even if this is not via a resurrection.

    3) This is think is the strongest of your arguments and so my response will only go part of the way towards an answer. I agree that man did not have natural immortality and depended upon the tree of life. So animal death was a reality prior to the fall. But my argument here is about the nature of that death. I don’t think that it would have been a painful death, a curse, since pain and toil come after the fall, not before it. In Genesis 3, the serpent is cursed “above all livestock”, which could suggest that all livestock is cursed in some way, but not to the same degree as the serpent. Either way, there is no evidence that painful death, associated with the curse, was a reality in animals prior to the fall.

    • Thanks for the comment: my response will have to be short.

      1. Both animals and humans are given life by God’s Spirit. However, the manner in which they are given life differs. Animals are given life as God gives life to the earth by his Spirit. Animals’ life is received through the earth, while human beings receive their life more directly from God. The spirit of both returns to its source. This is a key detail: the impersonal earth, in relation to which animals find their source, is a very different thing from a personal God, in relation to which human beings find their identity. The Spirit of God preserves the fauna of the earth, so that the earth should not be barren. However, the Spirit of God preserves the children of God in a rather different way. The connection here is not primarily between humanity and the animals, but between humanity and the earth, both being directly sustained by God.

      2. I don’t share your reading at all. The question in 1 Corinthians 15:35-39 concerns the nature of the resurrected body. He proceeds to distinguish between several kinds of bodies of differing nature and glory and says that the resurrection body will involve a change in the nature of our bodies. Nothing in this text teaches or implies the resurrection of animals.

      As for verse 29, only human bodies are washed in such a manner, which actually suggests that only human bodies are to be raised. Why don’t we baptize animals? As for the Flood, all that we see is the preservation of kinds. Noah’s preservation of the animals is for the replenishing of the world’s fauna after the Flood. One could argue that God will preserve all kinds of animals in the new creation, without teaching a general resurrection of every beast that has ever lived. We are promised a general resurrection of all human beings and a new heavens and new earth. The latter quite likely involves a world of rich flora and fauna. What it does not involve is the resurrection of every beast.

      I don’t categorically claim that there will be tamed animals in the new creation, just that tamed animals appear in the figurative vision of Isaiah 11, a vision that may not refer to the final renewal of creation, but to an earlier restoration. I think that it is likely, but that is as far as I would go.

      3. I think that you misread Genesis 3:14. Nowhere does the text declare God’s curse upon the cattle and the beasts of the field. The meaning is much more straightforward in the text itself. Genesis 3:1 introduces the serpent as the shrewdest of the ‘beasts of the field.’ In Genesis 3:14, God banishes the serpent from that class of creatures and makes him one of the lowest of the lowest classes of creatures—the crawlers.

      Concerning how painful the death of creatures prior to the Fall was, we can only speculate. A connection between the pain and toil that afflicted man following the Fall and that afflicting animals cannot be so simply drawn. I certainly see absolutely no biblical evidence whatsoever that creatures that died were to be resurrected and rather a lot to suggest otherwise.

      • I will try as best I can to respond to the points which you have raised.

        1) All life comes from God and his heavenly Spirit, so I’m not sure I see a distinction here. Psalm 104, as I mentioned before, sees God’s giving of his Spirit associated with life and his taking of his Spirit associated with death. This same language is used both with regard to humans and animals, so I’m not sure where you’re getting the distinction from. The psalm also teaches that animals look to God to receive their food (vs 27-28) so they do appear to have more of a heavenly outlook than we might be tempted to think. Both humans and animals are formed from dust (albeit in different ways) and both are given the same breath of life, constituting them as living souls. There are distinctions to be made, but I’m not convinced that they are as strong as you suggest.

        2) With regard to animal resurrection. let me explain why I take the reading that I do to be the correct one. Paul distinguishes between the “seed”, which goes into the ground (dies) and the resurrection “body” which will be. Since “flesh” in the New Testament usually refers to the fallen nature, prior to the restoration of all things, I doubt that Paul has in mind a comparison with the resurrection body in verse 39 – rather, he is speaking of different kinds of “seed”, that which is to go into the ground prior to being raised. Verses 40-41 deal with the distinction between “heavenly” and “earthly” bodies. Currently humans and animals have earthly bodies, but one day we will have heavenly ones, becoming like the sun, moon and stars in their glory. You may not agree with this reading, but I hope this explains where I am coming from.

        With regard to the “baptism for the dead”, I was thinking more of the dead body than of the person being baptised, Paul’s reasoning, as I see it, is that if you touch a dead person you become polluted with their death and need to be cleansed. The reason why the curse of death still hangs over the dead person is because they still have potency of life in them ie. they will one day rise again. To me, this seems to be the only way to explain Paul’s reasoning in 1 Cor 15:29, though i would be interested in hearing another reading, if you have one.

        With regard to the reference to tamed animals, I was thinking more of the reference you made to Adam’s mission to tame the animals and bring them into the sanctuary. If that’s the goal, the you would expect to see them in the New Heavens and New Earth as well, though you are right that this in itself wouldn’t require a resurrection of all animals.

        3) I may well have misread Genesis 3:14 and my comment on that verse was a tentative suggestion, to say the least. However, the language of one animal devouring another is often used to refer to the righteous ‘devouring’ the wicked and vice versa, so I’m not sure that symbolically, it generally represents something ideal (however, the imagery can also be used in positive ways at times), rather a temporary arrangement necessary in a fallen world. In the New Creation at least, noone will be ‘devouring’ anyone, either literally or metaphorically! But it’s definitely something worth reflecting on.

      • Thanks for the continued interaction. This will have to be my final response: I think that we are probably reaching the point of very diminished returns of progress in the conversation for the time that we are devoting to it.

        1. Returning to Ecclesiastes 3, which I raised earlier, it is important to appreciate the force of the reference to the death of animals. This reference is pejorative: all empirical evidence suggests that man dies like the beasts. The implicit assumption is that there is no afterlife for the animals. This is why a case for the claim that we have no proof that there is anything beyond death should take the form of a case that all empirical evidence suggests that men die like animals. The possibility—later affirmed in 12:7—that the breath of human beings, unlike that of animals, would return ‘upward’ to God is without proof.

        2. I think that your reading of 1 Corinthians 15:35-41 is rather strained and I think that you misunderstand my claims at certain points. The ‘flesh’ referred to in v.39 is not that of the resurrection body. However, the analogy still works perfectly well. Paul is observing that, just as currently existing flesh and celestial and terrestrial bodies have many different forms and levels of dignity and honour, so the glory of the resurrection body will differ from that of our current bodies. Your reading doesn’t really explain why Paul starts comparing the relative glory of sun, moon, and stars in v.41. Paul is merely taking us through the whole order of this current creation to make his points: from grain, to land creatures, fish, birds, sun, moon, and stars. The comparison to the resurrection body doesn’t come until v.42. Also, the word for ‘earthly’ in verse 40 (a different word from that in verse 47), refers to the location of the body, not to its composition.

        As to 1 Corinthians 15:29, we must begin by recognizing that it is far from a clear text and that, whatever its merits (and it has many), the Numbers 19 argument for its meaning isn’t a slam dunk. A few further points should be made. First, the baptism of Numbers 19 occurs because death is contagious and because the person who is baptized belongs to the living congregation of God. Animals do not undergo this baptism, which suggests a crucial difference. Second, the ritual of Numbers 19 only applied in the case of a human corpse. Animal bodies were not defiling and could be eaten in the camp (animals’ lives could freely be taken, but human lives could not). If the animal died, a person touching its carcass washed their clothes and was unclean until evening. However, in the case of a human body, the process was considerably more involved. Animal death defiles, but not in the radical way that human death defiles. It defiles to the same degree as touching a creeping thing or having a nocturnal emission.

        3. The language of devouring can be used in many positive senses in Scripture. Also, the eating of meat is connected with maturity and blessing. God himself ‘consumes’ meat on the table of his altar. How do we know for sure that there won’t be any flesh eaten in the new creation? The resurrected Christ eats fish. People just seem to presume that we will all be vegetarians and, while there are definitely considerations that weigh in favour of such a position, the evidence provided really doesn’t settle the question.

        One final remark as an aside. We should probably distinguish more carefully between a number of distinct questions about the pre-Fall situation:

        1. Was it appropriate to take the lives of animals (for clothing, etc.)?
        2. Did animal predation exist?
        3. Did animals naturally die apart from predation?
        4. Were animals that died resurrected?
        5. Were any animals carnivorous?

  11. thetotuschristus says:

    Hi Alastair, you’re probably right that the discussion is reaching its end, though it has been good. I will offer a final response to your points though.

    1) When animals die, they cease to be conscious. Both of us agree that that is the case. When animals die, their bodies return to the dust and their spirit returns to God (as per psalm 104 and other passages). Where we differ is that I believe this to also be true of humans, since identical language is used to describe both animals and humans dying. When a person dies, they return to the dust and their spirit returns to God. Both animals and humans die and cease to be conscious – the spirit which once gave them life departs. The bible teaches that death is the end of conscious life in a number of places, not least in Ecclesiastes.

    2) In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul raises the question of different ‘kinds’ of seed. He never explains what these different kinds of seed are though. Are they different races? Different individual humans? Different species? But in verse 39, he unpacked this and explains to us what these seeds are, they are different kinds of “flesh” – animals, birds, fish etc. Verses 40-41 are not about the flesh which will be resurrected, but about the nature of the resurrection bodies. He uses the analogy of ‘earthly’ bodies and ‘heavenly’ bodies to teach us about the difference between our bodies now and those we receive in the resurrection. My interpretation treats v39 as the answer to the different kinds of ‘seeds’ mentioned previously, which would otherwise be left unexplained. I think it makes for a much more consistent flow in Paul’s argument.

    3) I have some more thinking to do about this one, especially given the uncertainties involved. You raise some good questions, well worth thinking about. Thanks for the interaction 🙂

  12. Andrew says:


    A tangential but related question:

    In Gen 4, Eve bears two sons to Adam, Cain and Abel, and they grow into men. When Abel’s offering is acceptable to God and Cain’s is not, Cain slays Abel in jealousy, and then tries (uselessly) to first pull the wool over God’s eyes and then escape His judgement. But what happens next is interesting:

    (1) Cain protests that being a homeless wanderer means that “whoever finds me will kill me”. It seems unlikely that he means his parents, because he is as vulnerable to them at home as abroad.

    (2) Cain heads eastward, bears a son, and founds a “city”, which he names after his son (this in itself is curious given his curse is to be “a fugitive and a wanderer”).

    (3) Once these events and the telling of the line of Cain is done, we are told that Eve bears Adam another son, Seth, to replace Abel. Seth then bears Enosh, in whose “time people began to call on the name of YHWH”.

    (4) After fathering Seth, Adam had “other sons and daughters” (Gen 5:4).

    According to the account of Gen 4, there are only 4 people of significance around when Cain and Abel grow to manhood, and one of them promptly dies. Yet Cain (1) is worried about being found and slain as an exile, (2) finds a wife and (3) founds a city (settlement?), all without further reference to his later siblings.

    Would you care to speculate about what is going on here? You present a model of Eden as a refuge or place set apart rather than the functional totality of existence. Does this model also bear on the story of Cain, and if so, how?

    • Thanks for the question, Andrew.

      The issues that you highlight here are definitely important ones to which we should attend. I also think that these are clues that the historical reality to which the inspired text makes its extratextual reference is not as simple in its contours as it might sometimes appear to be within the text itself. I don’t believe that this is a challenge to the text’s inspiration. However, I believe that it is an indication that the text has a deeper purpose than a mere prosaic recounting of history. Rather, it is presenting—what I believe to be historical—events in a more theologically figurative fashion, meaning that, if anything, we should be more attentive to the details than we would be otherwise: they are not just recorded for historical verisimilitude.

      Going beyond this, we are getting into some fairly speculative territory. I would rather stick with the inspired text and not get too caught up in the question of what lies ‘behind’ it. The inspired text presents things in the way that it does for a reason. I do have some rather speculative theories about what could be taking place, but I really would prefer not to muddy the waters by going into them here.

      That said, I think that it is important to notice the particular significance that the realm of Eden plays in the text. The issue isn’t merely that a sin takes place, but who it is who sins, where it is that he sins, and the consequent meaning of that act. The Fall is also less akin to the flipping of a binary switch than it is to the fall of a first domino in a line, or the first contact that the blob of ink makes with the white paper. The chapters that follow describe the way that the rebellion begun in Genesis 3 spreads out into the wider world.

  13. Hannah Malcolm says:

    Hi Alastair,
    Sorry for adding to the already numerous comments/arguments people have raised below this – you have Jon Mackenzie to blame for that, as he directed me here. (also, apologies if I say something that you have covered in a further comment – I did skim them, but there are rather a lot…)

    Leaving animal death to one side:

    In terms of what seems to be your basically Irenaen position regarding the fall/its fall-out, your extension of that to assert that death is required in order to become mature seems to run counter to Christ’s full/perfect humanity prior to death. You say that death is a ‘good’ thing, and yet, while death has lost its sting, death itself must still, surely, be deemed a reflection of the broken state of the world and therefore something to be mourned? There must remain a distinction between death itself and what follows for the Christian. Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb before he raised him – death is not ‘good’, resurrection from it is.

    As to innocence/knowledge of good and evil, I’d agree with Bonhoeffer here – the opposite of knowledge of good and evil is not naivety, but knowledge of the will of God alone. The alternative to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the tree of life – true life being the state of living under the will of God. (I’d also therefore argue that Christ’s ‘full maturity’, as you call it, is in fact his ‘obedience’ – ‘maturity’ is not a progression from obedience, as though being obedient to God is what children do before they are able to make good decisions on their own.)

    I’d be interested to hear your responses, and promise not to get into a comment debate with you.

    • Thanks for the comment and the questions, Hannah.

      There is no need whatsoever to apologize for commenting. I always enjoy discussion and some vigorous but friendly sparring in the comments of my posts. Often the interactions below the line are far more interesting than the post itself. New comments—and commenters!—are always welcome, especially when they raise issues that haven’t yet been addressed.

      Human death in the sense that I am speaking about it pre-Fall should be sharply distinguished from human death post-Fall. While I believe that it is appropriate to speak of both of these as ‘death’, there is an inescapable degree of equivocation here. Further distinction could be made between both of these forms of death and the death of those in Christ, which is more complicated.

      Death after the Fall is not good. It involves separation from the realm of fellowship with God and with each other. Even though Mary and Martha knew that Lazarus would be raised on the last day, his death was still tragic. Death after Christ’s resurrection has a different significance, no longer being as bitter (cf. Philippians 1:21-23; Revelation 14:13). There is a shift in personal eschatology from being gathered to the fathers or Abraham’s bosom, awaiting the resurrection, to going to be with the risen Christ. Even such death, however, retains an element of bitterness as, although we are with Christ, we have not yet received our resurrection bodies. Being ‘unclothed’ by death in such a fashion, without being immediately ‘clothed’ with the resurrection body, is not an unmixed blessing for the person who dies and is definitely an expression of the evil of death for those left behind.

      The sort of human death that I am arguing for before the Fall was not tragic in such a manner. Rather, it would have been a passage from one mode of existence to another. It would be akin to an intensified version of Adam’s deep sleep in Genesis 2:21 (the familiar typological parallel between the creation of Eve and the Church’s formation from the blood and water flowing from the dead Christ’s side might be illuminating here).

      Paul’s description of the first Adam in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 is an important part of this picture. The humanity described, while good, is natural and of the dust. Paul presents the new humanity of Christ as the intended destiny of the human race, Spiritual and heavenly. The passage between these two modes of humanity is ‘death’, described in terms of the natural process of sowing a seed (vv.36-37, 42-44), an image that Christ also employs with reference to his own death in John 12:24. In both places, death is described, not as a tragic event, but as a natural liminal process leading to a glorified form of life. It is the passing of one form of physicality to give way to another. The connection between Christ’s death and glorification in the gospel of John is important in this context. The sting of death is situated within the broader frame of the bursting forth of a greater form of life. John’s two key images of Christ’s death as the seed falling into the ground and dying or of the woman in birth pangs (I commented on this passage a few years back here) both present death as a means of enabling or serving as a transition towards a richer life.

      Regarding Christ’s maturity, once again it is important to beware of equivocation. Christ was fully human and entirely faithful in his humanity prior to death. However, he was not yet ‘perfect’ or ‘mature’, much as an entirely obedient child still isn’t mature. Christ comes in the likeness of sinful flesh and is born as a Son under the Law so that through his faithfulness he might redeem and perfect those under the Law, taking us from the state of childhood under bondage to guardians to the status of full and free heirs (Galatians 4:1-7). He comes in the flesh, ‘learning obedience’ through the things that he suffered so that he could be ‘perfected’ (Hebrews 5:7-9).

      Christ does this as the author and perfecter of Faith (cf. Hebrews 12:2), the one who recapitulates and completes the entire story of faith in Hebrews 11, bringing it to its climax and fulfilment in the cross, offering the full, true, free, and mature response of humanity to God, of grown child to Father. Now that his faithfulness has been brought into history, there is no need for us to be under the tuition of the Torah any longer. Christ’s faithfulness fulfils the Torah by the Spirit, without being under the Torah. He obeys God, not just as a young child obeys rules, but as an adult who has internalized their parents’ instruction lives that out in freedom. Through Christ’s maturity he becomes the first to undergo the transformation to a new mode of glorified human existence, becoming the firstborn of the dead according to the Spirit, the first of the sons of Adam to open the womb of the grave. Through his faithful life and death, he raises the human race to its maturity and this is what we receive in him: not merely the overcoming of development in Sin, but perfection in free righteousness. Christ doesn’t become the last Adam and the head of the new humanity until he is raised from the dead.

      The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil should be interpreted in light of a broader biblical picture, which helps to clarify the meaning of this. The following are a few texts that I believe are relevant here:

      But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.”—Genesis 31:24
      “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.”—Deuteronomy 1:39
      “Your maidservant said, ‘The word of my lord the king will now be comforting; for as the angel of God, so is my lord the king in discerning good and evil. And may the Lord your God be with you.’”—2 Samuel 14:17
      “To bring about this change of affairs your servant Joab has done this thing; but my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of the angel of God, to know everything that is in the earth.”—2 Samuel 14:20
      “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”—1 Kings 3:9
      Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.—Isaiah 7:14-16
      But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.—Hebrew 5:14

      Taken together, such verses suggest a number of things:

      1. The knowledge of good and evil is associated with (kingly) judgment and wisdom.
      2. The lack of knowledge of good and evil is especially associated with childhood.
      3. The knowledge of good and evil is gained with maturity and the developing of senses. It is associated with eating.
      4. The knowledge of good and evil is a good thing (Solomon is blessed for requesting it).
      5. The knowledge of good and evil makes one like the Angel of God, who was a theophanic representation of God in the Old Testament.

      Feeding this back into Genesis, it suggests a number of things about how to the text. First, God really did make all of the trees for Adam and Eve to eat from. The restriction upon the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was only a temporary exception. The tree wasn’t created merely as a test, but as something that they would be blessed by when they were ready. Second, the Garden of Eden was a state of childhood. Like young children, they would have the chance to eat ‘solid food’ in the appropriate time, but should not do so before then. Like other ‘food laws’ in Scripture, things change as the people of God mature. Third, Adam and Eve would one day follow God’s example in judging things to be ‘good’ or ‘not good’. Declaring things ‘good or evil’ is about royal judgment and the knowledge of this is the wisdom associated with that. On this front, note the movement in Scripture from the earlier period of Israel’s history associated with the priesthood and the black and white commandments of the Law to the wisdom literature, associated with the kings (the literature associated with King Job—people generally miss the fact that Job is presented as a powerful ruler—David, Solomon, and their courts). Fourth, the serpent was right to associate eating of the tree to becoming like God: the kingly judge is like God’s theophanic angel within the world in his wise rule (kings, like the angels, are described as ‘gods’ at various points in Scripture). Fifth, Eve was correct to associate the knowledge of good and evil with the attainment of wisdom. This wisdom was not a bad thing in its appropriate time, as the story of Solomon reveals. Sixth, the ‘angelic’ serpent was likely playing the role of a tutor to Adam and Eve, as Paul describes in Galatians. When Adam and Eve matured, they would play a role like his in the wider world (man was created ‘for a little while’ lower than the angels, but in Christ would one day rule with and over them).

      Christ undergoes a similar sort of encounter with the ‘serpent’ in his temptations. Once again, he is offered the chance to seize rule prematurely, apart from the path of obedience (and death). He recapitulates the temptation of Adam but acts faithfully. Satan is the powerful vizier who wants to prevent the rise of the royal heir. Christ resists the temptation to judge before his death, through which he is exalted and given rule at God’s right hand and judgment over the whole earth.

      I hope that this helps to flesh out my position somewhat. Much more could be said, of course, and if you have any push-back or further questions, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts. The comments are here for debate: feel free to press me further on any of the issues raised above or on other matters that I haven’t addressed. Thanks again for the comment!

      • Hannah Malcolm says:

        I suppose I have a couple of more general issues with your approach-
        1) You seem to be assuming that, because animal death is a logical necessity for understanding the Genesis account in the context of evolution, human death is also a necessary argument – though I would argue that, while the Genesis account has very little to say on whether animals died or not, the introduction of human death is *the* significant punishment which shapes their interactions with the serpent/their departure from Eden. The introduction of human death before the fall seems inappropriate on the basis of scripture, and unnecessary in order to align Genesis with evolutionary accounts – Adam might be seen as the first humanoid being ‘called’ by God into relation, thereby making him the first human – where humanity is defined by its relationship to its Creator. (He is also described as being ‘alone’, before Eve – so any idea of human death would have to be based on the premise that Adam and Eve had borne children pre-Cain, that had died. A bit of a stretch.) Of course, this is taking quite a ‘literal’ view of the way that the Genesis account tells it, but then I think that’s fair enough in response to your quite ‘literal’ view of a walled garden in the midst of a brutal world. I suppose I’m therefore questioning the premise of needing to establish the nature of human death before the fall. You seem to be arguing that what we know as ‘death’ is entirely different to what ‘death’ was like pre-fall – in which case, we might not call it ‘death’ at all.

        2) Say we agreed that human ‘death’ before the fall took place – the only reference point we have for the nature of human death is our experience of death post-fall – which is entirely a bad thing – in a) reflecting a broken creation and b) itself being a moment of broken relationships. Even if one argued that death pre-fall was not due to a broken creation, a human death would still emphatically be a broken relationship. The difference between animal death and human death post-fall is clear: animals are not aware of their fate, and humans are – and fear it, particularly the pain of human separation it causes. Given that scripture doesn’t provide any indication of what death might be like before the fall, I’m not sure of your basis for arguing that, while not ‘perfect’, it was basically ‘good’.

        On to 1 Cor. 15: The context of the passage – Paul is arguing for the truth of resurrection, a rescue from the state of death. It is clear that death came through a human being (v21), and that human being is ‘Adam’ – who is ‘the man of dust’ (v47). Given that Paul is discussing resurrection, and has just described the way in which ‘all die in Adam’, and ‘being dead in your sins’, it seems to make sense to interpret ‘the man of dust’ as a reference to Adam’s sinful state – as Paul does elsewhere in his letters, comparing being ‘in Adam’ to being ‘in Christ’ as a comparison of being in rebellion and being in submission. (Romans 5). This would also make sense of the Genesis account’s condemnation of the state of being ‘dust’ post-fall. Pre-fall, Adam’s creation out of the earth is ‘good’, not a basis for condemnation. The state of being ‘in Adam’ is being in Adam post-fall. This why we have ‘borne the image of the man of dust’ – because we are in the broken, sinful state of having to die. ‘Flesh and blood’ cannot inherit the kingdom of God (v50) because it is in the sinful, perishable state we find ourselves.
        I’d also say that, even if the ‘man of dust’ is a reference to his pre-fall state, this is not necessarily to say that such a state would inevitably end in ‘death’. We will also ‘bear the image of the man of heaven’ (v49) but I don’t think that means our physical bodies will cease to be ‘of dust’ – it is our physical, human bodies that are raised. There’s something important in declaring the goodness of human form here, I think – so good that it will be perfected in the new creation, but its ‘dustiness’ will remain in terms of physicality. It ‘puts on’ imperishability, but it will still be a body composed of God’s good, created, carbon.
        The image of the seed being sown is a response to a specific question: what will the bodies of the raised be like? And so Paul uses the analogy of a seed to demonstrate that they will be ‘the same’ but ‘different’ – of the same kind of flesh, but the raised flesh will be imperishable. This is not an image arguing that death is a necessary, even cleansing process, but that God will raise good out of an evil process. It is designed to allay the fears of the Corinthian church regarding being raised again.

        I think I’ll leave the stuff about knowledge of good and evil to one side, as I’ve written quite enough to be going on with – and I think our disagreement on that front is likely to be based on quite differing approaches to exegesis – but thank you for the reference to those texts regarding knowledge, they were interesting and helpful.
        (For some context – I am currently researching the ethics of disposal of the dead and mourning them, and so am interested in trying to discern whether ‘death’ might be argued as ‘natural’ from a Christian perspective.)

      • Thanks for the follow-up response, Hannah.

        In answer to your points:

        1. First, this discussion has never been about evolution, but about the meaning of the text itself. In fact, a number of the figures that I have brought forward in defence of animal death (and also a form of human death) apart from the Fall are strongly opposed to evolution. While the differences on this issue would typically play out along creationist-evolutionist lines, it isn’t that straightforward. I would really prefer not to raise questions of evolution and the exact nature of extratextual referentiality before we have some sort of grasp upon what the text is saying on its own terms.

        Second, I do not draw a direct connection between animal and human death pre-Fall. They are very different sorts of things. The following is the picture of each that I would get from the way that things are presented in Genesis and more broadly, dealing within the world of the text:

        Animal Death: Animals were created mortal and would die after a period of time to make place for others of their kinds. This was part of a natural process whereby the environment of the world would be enriched and develops and was ‘good’. There were also wild predatory animals in the original creation. In time, when humanity left the safe environment of the Garden, they would be permitted to eat meat. As time went on, humanity would tame and domesticate animals and curb their unchecked predatory instincts.

        Human Death: Humanity was created with a mortal body of the dust. This mortal body was good, but not the final and glorified form of existence that God intended. In the Garden Adam and Eve would have access to the Tree of Life. As they ate of this sacramental tree, they would have been preserved in their otherwise mortal life. We can surmise that God would also have providentially preserved them from disaster or accident. If any human beings had died like the animals apart from the Fall, this would have been ‘not good’. The time would come when this mortal body would be exchanged for a more glorious resurrection form of existence, returning to the womb of the earth to be ‘born again’. As the corruptible flesh body perished to be replaced by the incorruptible Spiritual body a form of ‘death’ would be experienced, followed shortly afterwards by resurrection. This form of death wasn’t merely ‘good’ but not ‘perfect’: rather, it was death as a means of being made perfect.

        The Fall changed this situation by cutting Adam and Eve off from access to the Tree of Life and from the sphere of God’s particular protection, which would have preserved them in life until the time came for them to receive glorified and incorruptible bodies. Humanity was spiritually cut off from God, the source of life, and they would die like the beasts. The womb of the earth became a barren tomb. So, yes, I completely agree with your claim that death was the consequence of the Fall, both in terms of being cut off from the continuation of life (eating of the Tree of Life) and in being cut off from the glorification of life (receiving an incorruptible heavenly body instead of the body of flesh). When talking about human death pre-Fall, I am referring to the sort of ‘death’ that is a part of the transition from being one form of bodily organism to being another.

        As I have already stated, the question of evolution and extratextual referentiality is not being addressed here. My account is a ‘literal’ one, in the narrower sense of the word: I am trying to deal with the text on its own immediate terms. I am not literalistic in my understanding of extratextual referentiality. The hypothetical possibility of some form of human (or even animal) death pre-Fall is not the same thing as proof that any such death actually occurred (at least within the world presented to us within the text). I do not believe that any human death occurred prior to the Fall. Further, we must distinguish between forms of possibility. Human death prior to the Fall may have been physically possible (man’s body was mortal and corruptible), but it wasn’t providentially possible as long as man remained in fellowship with God and ate of the Tree of Life. If human death occurred between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, we would have more of a problem.

        2. I can quite understand why some would dispute whether, given the sharp distinction between the hypothetical character of death apart from the Fall and the actual character of death after, it is appropriate to speak of both using the same term. My argument is that it is appropriate as it is technically an accurate use of the term: the biological organism of our body of flesh has to cease functioning in order to be replaced by the glorified body and the cessation of function of a biological organism is death. Scripture also speaks of the passage from Adam’s protological body to Christ’s eschatological body in terms of death. Finally, speaking in terms of ‘death’ helps us to hold a number of Christian teachings in an appropriate relation. In particular, it highlights that, while the form and circumstances of Christ’s death are those of a sinful and fallen reality, Christ’s death and resurrection are not merely occasioned by the Fall, but serve to perfect and glorify the original creation. New creation isn’t just the answer to fallen creation but also to first creation.

        Death apart from the Fall wouldn’t have to involve separation or tragedy at all. Here the analogy between the womb and the tomb is important. The womb and the earth/tomb are aligned at various points and in various ways in Scripture (I discuss some of these here). The Fall renders the womb of the earth barren. However, had the womb of the earth remained fertile, dying would have been little more than a sleep of very brief duration. Once again, it is crucial that we attend to key biblical images for death, which frame it as a good thing in principle. It is when a seed falls into the ground and ‘dies’, so that it may come to life and bear much fruit. It is a period of gestation, following by a glorious ‘new birth’. It is a ‘sleep’, from which we will later wake. All of these descriptions serve to naturalize death in principle, without affirming the bad form that death has taken after the Fall. All of them present death as the precursor or threshold to something better. The death that would lead to resurrection in a glorious form would not be that much different from the ‘deep sleep’ that Adam experienced and would be of short duration. This wouldn’t involve a tragic separation at all.

        Being ‘in Adam’ certainly has consequences post-Fall. However, I don’t believe that these are primarily in view in 1 Corinthians 15. Notice that Paul alludes to the text referring to Adam’s creation (v.45, cf. Genesis 2:7), drawing the contrast between that state pre-Fall and the humanity of the last Adam. Adam was always ‘of the earth’ and ‘made of dust’: the Fall didn’t alter Adam’s composition in this respect. N.T. Wright expresses my position fairly well in commenting on this passage:

        What humans now need is not to get away from, or back behind, such an existence [that of Adam as he was first created], but rather to go on to the promised state of the final Adam, in which this physical body will not be abandoned, but will be given new animation by the creator’s own Spirit. Paul does not believe in a return to a primal state, but in a redemption from the sin and death which has corrupted the primal state, in order that a way forward be found into the new creation which, though always in the mind of the creator, has never yet existed. [RSG, 353]

        As regards the state of flesh, as it is contrasted to that of Spirit, I think that Johannine theology provides a helpful parallel to Paul’s treatment here. Within Johannine theology, ‘flesh’ does not have the same sort of pejorative moral connotations that it has within Pauline theology. However, the flesh-Spirit contrast is still operative. The Spirit is the promised eschatological life-giving glorification of the people of God, the divine agent of new birth and the one who establishes its nature. The association between the Spirit and the giving of life is strong, as it is in Paul (John 6:63; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45). The ‘new birth’—death and resurrection, entering into the womb of the earth to be born again—is the means by which we come into this new form of Spirit-powered embodied existence, a form of existence realized in Christ and proleptically participated in by Christians who have the Holy Spirit.

        None of this is to deny bodily resurrection for a moment. The distinction here isn’t between material and non-material, but between animating principles. The human form will be retained in the resurrection. Nor do I believe that the contrast between ‘dust’ and ‘heavenly’ need entail that the resurrection is without material continuity with our existing bodies of dust. The new creation is the removal of the firmament veil between heaven and earth and the marriage of the two. Consequently, while dust may remain, it will be within a more glorious form of materiality animated by the Spirit, one that doesn’t operate in the way that we are accustomed to dust operating (as can be seen in Christ’s resurrection body). It won’t be dominated and limited by that material principle any longer, but will possess its ‘dustiness’ in a heavenly freedom.

        Your research sounds really interesting. I would love to hear what you come up with!

      • Hannah Malcolm says:

        Thank you for replying, and taking the time/having the patience to flesh out your position for me – I haven’t come across anyone arguing for the hypothetical possibility of human ‘naturalized’ ‘death’ prior to the fall, so I missed the subtlety at first. Not sure what to make of a kind of ‘counterfactual history’ for Biblical interpretation, but it’s certainly given me plenty to ponder – I wonder whether the transfiguration might play a role in understanding a glorified, human body without the experience of ‘death’…

      • Thanks for the stimulating conversation!

        The transfiguration is definitely worth considering, although it is still prior to the resurrection, and occurs to mortal bodies (Moses’ ‘transfiguration’ on Sinai would be another example). Other interesting accounts to ponder would be the translation of Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5) and the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2). Moses might be another interesting case. The fact that Moses and Elijah appear with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration might also be significant in this context.

      • Chris E says:

        Just to say; that it’s not clear from the text that Adam and Eve had already eaten from the tree of life. In fact the wording of the dialogue prior to the Curse, seems to imply that they hadn’t. In which case one could adduce that the fruit from the Tree of Life would be given to them once they reached maturity.

      • It does seem to imply that they hadn’t eaten of the Tree of Life. I am not sure that I would follow you to your second claim, though.

      • Not sure if you are still following this thread, Hannah, but, in light of your area of research, I thought that you might find this interesting: 101 Ways to Say ‘Died’.

  14. Andrew says:

    Hi Alastair

    When you write about human death prior to the fall, do mean simply that human death was possible (but providentially prevented) or would you go further and say that actual human death prior to the fall is compatible with your wider proposal?

    • I don’t believe that any actual human death occurred, nor do I believe that human death in the sense that we know it would have been providentially permitted in an unfallen world.

      However, I believe that, in a world where man never fell, human death would have occurred in the various naturalized senses of Scripture (seed falling into the ground and dying so that it may come to new life and bear much fruit, ‘sleeping’ before waking to more glorious existence, re-entering the womb of the earth from which we were first created to be ‘born again’ in resurrection). Each of these ‘naturalized’ senses of death present it as a process leading relatively quickly to greater, glorified life. I believe that in a world without sin, humankind—created in the image of God—was always intended to be conformed to the model of Christ—the Image of God. The good protological man, Adam, was always going to be succeeded by the glorious eschatological Man, Christ, and ‘death’ would have been the good transition between the two.

      • Tim M. says:

        Hi Alastair! I love this perspective. I understand that you’re no longer active on this blog but in case you saw this, I was hoping if you could just provide additional information about how–in a works where Adam had not sinned–Christ would have been glorified by bringing many sons to glory. Would Christ have had to die?

  15. This is really fascinating. Do you think tour thoughts would explain why Christians still die physically despite having the curse of the law removed – that we will just die the ‘natural’ death that Adam would have died pre-fall anyway?

    • The ‘natural’ death that Adam would have died apart from the Fall would have been followed very shortly after by more glorious resurrection. So, no, there is a difference. However, it does help to explain the problem that you raise. In Christ we will be raised again in a new form. Our Adamic bodies were always designed to be temporary. Christ removes the alienation from God in death, giving us to participate in the Spirit of resurrection and giving us a guarantee of our own resurrection to come.

  16. andrebanzai says:

    Couldn’t it be that animal death was in fact necessary for the crown of Creation, man, to exist at all? And also for the Creation in which man was inserted to be of the shape and form that God actually desired man to witness? This video is important to clarify what I’m trying to say:

  17. Alastair – apologies for coming to this discussion so late. Very helpful post, and subsequent discussion (not read in its entirety, I confess!)

    I’m drawn to your position In many ways. Main area of discomfort is the notion of “good but not yet perfected”. I sense that needs some development.

    Sometimes I find it hard to tell whether “good but not yet perfected” is different in meaning to “good … well, actually not good”. In other words, I’m struggling to be clear about the difference between “not perfected” and “not good” (not least because, in some sense, it is not good not to be perfected). But, in this particular case, I struggle to see how one animal suffering an agonising death in the jaws of another animal is just not yet perfected, but still “good”. Good in what sense?

    Hope that was reasonably coherent – I’d love to hear more from you on the topic!

    • Thanks for the comment, Anthony!

      I think that the quotations from Augustine above are important here. The judgment ‘good, but not yet perfected’ pertains to the reality as a whole, whereas your question is about a particular element of this reality, regarded in isolation from the rest.of the order. I don’t think that such an element is necessarily to be regarded as good in itself.

  18. Thanks Alastair. I suppose there is a sense in which even evil things can be considered “good”, when viewed as part of a larger whole. Judas, for example. But it’s difficult to think of the pre-fall world having any elements in it that were other than good. So it seems that either predation and the violent death of some mammals at the teeth of others are actually good things in themselves, or that such things are alien to the original creation. (I hesitate from using the category of neither good nor bad.) I struggle with both of those. The latter for the reasons you outline, and the former not least because of associations between blood and life, animal death being linked with sin in the sacrificial system, and the combined fate of humans and (blood-carrying, breathing) animals in various scriptural passages (e.g., the flood). I’ll send you a paper on the topic when I’m next able to.

    • Sorry, replied via wrong box – do correct if you like!

    • Anthony,
      There is also the option of something not being good in and of itself being in some way necessary for something that is good in and of itself. I think such is a relatively common way to justify predation etc before the fall. However, as I have stated before, such reduces down to an attack on the infinite power of God, that he would be forced to use something not good to bring about something good. This is of course setting aside the huge problem of Genesis 1:29 and 30

      • Hermonta – thanks. I mentioned Judas, who is the obvious example of what you describe. Here is someone who committed one of the most heinous sins ever, but who was predestined to do so in order that the Son of Man might be handed over, and that the world might be saved. So God most certainly does use things that are not good to bring about things that are good. But to use that kind of reasoning to explain the presence of evil *before* the fall seems to be a denial that the fall actually happened. Otherwise what changed at the fall? So I’m really not comfortable saying that predation is not good, *and* that predation was present pre-fall. It seems to be one or the other.

    • Anthony,
      Sorry about the very delayed response.

      This really comes down to what we believe is entailed in the original goodness of the creation. I believe that this original goodness entails a general yet immature integrity, ordered towards a destiny of glorification. There is good reason to believe that ‘growing pains’ of various kinds are part of this (the judgments on Adam and Eve don’t involve the introduction of such pains where none existed at all, but their intensification). There are dimensions of goodness to the untamed carnivorousness of creation. It gives food to animals, provides a check upon disproportionate multiplication, is a mechanism of maturation through natural selection; it creates and develops ecosystems, and establishes tighter interactive relationships between species than would otherwise pertain. There is blood and pain involved, but plagues of unchecked multiplication, the overrunning of habitats, or the keeping down of numbers through starvation alone rather than predation are arguably all uglier realities.

      I don’t think that there is a straightforward connection between animal death and sin in the sacrificial system. The connection is more one between animal life and human life, which it symbolizes. Also, the good of animals in Scripture relates more to the good of their species or kind, rather than to the good of particular animals. For instance, while a particular set of human beings were saved in the Flood, provided that a male and female animal of various kinds was on board, it didn’t matter which. While God may know of the individual sparrow that falls, Scripture arguably does not place the same value upon the life of the particular animal that we might (as God’s actions in the Flood would seem to suggest).

      Finally, I was just reminded of Bavinck’s point that belief in humanity’s pre-fall eating of meat was the general norm among Calvin and Reformed theologians. It is those arguing strongly against this position who may find themselves on the minority end of the Reformed tradition.

      • Alastair – apologies for my very delayed response! Those are all very helpful comments. I suppose my main area of puzzlement at the moment is the nature of the transition that will take place at the resurrection. It seems that will be twofold: a removal of all that corrupts, such as death, the last enemy, and a removal of elements of the original creation that have now served their purpose (e.g., marriage). I don’t see that transition as being a translation to a completely new mode of existence. So it seems most natural to suppose that the present biodiversity will continue post-resurrection. But it also seems most natural to suppose that predation will not continue, otherwise the image used in Isaiah makes no sense at all, even as a picture. But I find it hard to fit those different considerations together…! E.g., if animals can live eternally without predation, then what is the purpose of predation in the pre-resurrection period?

      • Predation and death are limits placed upon animals’ multiplication and a mechanism of their development and the development of their ecosystems. The end of animal death and predation would only present a problem if their procreation hadn’t ended.

      • Alastair,
        The problem with the use of predation and death as limits placed on multiplication and for development is that it reads like a common grace solution to a pre fall problem. What I mean by this is that it makes sense to appeal to common grace in a post fall world – “Due to common grace, things are not as bad as they could be due to God having mercy on a fallen world. Man is not as evil as he could be etc.” Above you defended predation etc by saying that it could be worse under alternative circumstances. This is of course true, but why are such alternatives the only alternatives with an omnipotent God in a world which has not fallen and God’s wrath is not being revealed.

      • I don’t think that predation is evil or bad per se and much of your arguments seem to depend upon the assumption that it is. Let’s be very clear about this: Scripture does not explicitly teach that animals could not die before the Fall. Not at all. Rather, this position is deduced from various claims that are supposedly biblical, such as the claim that predation is bad or the claim that the death brought in by humanity’s fall includes animal death. I dispute these claims, as do many others (not least a significant number of key names in the Christian tradition such as Augustine and Aquinas, or in the Reformed tradition more particularly, such as Calvin, as the Bavinck section I linked to above suggests).

        Since you are the one who is, in the face of the silence of the text, suggesting a dramatic changing of the constitution of much of the animal creation at the time of the Fall, I would like to see you make more of a textual case for it than you have done to this point.

        You may not find the implications of my suggestion of animal death before the Fall easy to understand or reconcile with other things, but this really is besides the point. There are many things in Scripture that I find difficult to reconcile with other truths of Scripture but I believe them anyway. The idea that we have the liberty to suggest dramatic extra-textual solutions to tensions within the text troubles me. I would rather live with the tension. I don’t feel that I need to prove that a position is entirely free of tensions before generally holding to it.

        An omnipotent God could have created things very differently. He could have created us so that we were already perfected and would not fall. He didn’t. What was the purpose in God’s creating humanity with the capacity to fall in the first place, when he could have created things otherwise? Why court the possibility of so much sin and death? But underlying all such questions is a picture of God choosing between various possible ways to create and possible worlds. I don’t grant the implicit premise. God created this way rather than any other ways. While I will happily argue that this way has a purpose and is good, I see no need to argue that it is better than all other supposedly possible ways, because I don’t grant the legitimacy of the picture that question is founded upon.

      • “I don’t think that predation is evil or bad per se and much of your arguments seem to depend upon the assumption that it is. Let’s be very clear about this: Scripture does not explicitly teach that animals could not die before the Fall. Not at all. Rather, this position is deduced from various claims that are supposedly biblical, such as the claim that predation is bad or the claim that the death brought in by humanity’s fall includes animal death. I dispute these claims, as do many others (not least a significant number of key names in the Christian tradition such as Augustine and Aquinas, or in the Reformed tradition more particularly, such as Calvin, as the Bavinck section I linked to above suggests).”

        First, I have already dealt with the Augustine and Aquinas quotes, so let me briefly deal with Bavinck’s use of Calvin. Simply if one looks up Calvin’s commentary of Genesis on the passage in question, he does not advocate death before the fall. He even says that the position of no human eating of animals until after the flood is the easiest position to defend from the text, but is comfortable with not pushing the point one way or the other.

        Next, if you want to hold to the position that predation is neutral, then you need to hold to the position that intense suffering by animals (in the process of predation) is also neutral. If that is in fact your position, then when the Bible says that the way that a man treats his animals is a moral issue, how exactly do you understand such?

        If you have other names in Christian tradition that you would like to reference and their arguments, I would be happy to read and interact with them.

        “Since you are the one who is, in the face of the silence of the text, suggesting a dramatic changing of the constitution of much of the animal creation at the time of the Fall, I would like to see you make more of a textual case for it than you have done to this point.”

        Here I dont see how the change claimed for animals is bigger than the changes claimed in humans due to the fall.

        If you really want to push on this point, I would like to see your analysis of this widely reported situation –

        “You may not find the implications of my suggestion of animal death before the Fall easy to understand or reconcile with other things, but this really is besides the point. There are many things in Scripture that I find difficult to reconcile with other truths of Scripture but I believe them anyway. The idea that we have the liberty to suggest dramatic extra-textual solutions to tensions within the text troubles me. I would rather live with the tension. I don’t feel that I need to prove that a position is entirely free of tensions before generally holding to it.”

        Wait a moment here. You are the one suggesting tensions due to extra scriptural positions. How is arguing due to the dramatic nature changes somehow more biblical than my arguing from omnipotence? My position can be explicitly defended from Scripture while yours….

        I agree that one does not blow up Scripture simply due to not understanding how to reconcile everything, but I dont see how my position is any more guilty of such than your position is. You seem to be willing to tone down God’s omnipotence in order to make your position viable.

        “An omnipotent God could have created things very differently. He could have created us so that we were already perfected and would not fall. He didn’t. What was the purpose in God’s creating humanity with the capacity to fall in the first place, when he could have created things otherwise? Why court the possibility of so much sin and death? But underlying all such questions is a picture of God choosing between various possible ways to create and possible worlds. I don’t grant the implicit premise. God created this way rather than any other ways. While I will happily argue that this way has a purpose and is good, I see no need to argue that it is better than all other supposedly possible ways, because I don’t grant the legitimacy of the picture that question is founded upon.”

        Here you are misunderstanding my position. I am not arguing that God had to do it this way vs. that way etc in some abstract fashion. I am arguing that death before the fall is unjust. God is just therefore no death before the fall. If the phrase, “God is just” has meaning then that implies that some things can be ruled out because it would contradict God’s justice. In such an argument, one cannot then appeal to “God’s hand was forced” because such would conflict with God being omnipotent. Given such a set up, it would seem that you could take one of two paths in defense of your position. 1)Arguing that predation in absence of sin is compatible with the goodness and justice of God or 2)Argue that we cannot know what Justice means when talking about God in absence of an explicit statement in the Bible.

        I will be happy to address either line of thought.

      • Hermonta,

        I really suggest that you reread Calvin’s actual claims and reflect upon their implications for your position:

        Some infer, from this passage that men were content with herbs and fruits until the deluge, and that it was even unlawful for them to eat flesh. And this seems the more probable, because God confines, in some way, the food of mankind within certain limits. Then after the deluge, he expressly grants them the use of flesh. These reasons, however are not sufficiently strong: for it may be adduced on the opposite side, that the first men offered sacrifices from their flocks. This, moreover, is the law of sacrificing rightly, not to offer unto God anything except what he has granted to our use. Lastly men were clothed in skins; therefore it was lawful for them to kill animals. For these reasons, I think it will be better for us to assert nothing concerning this matter. Let it suffice for us, that herbs and the fruits of trees were given them as their common food; yet it is not to be doubted that this was abundantly sufficient for their highest gratification.

        Calvin doesn’t say that the no meat before the flood interpretation is the most probable—he doesn’t hold it himself, as one can see in his comments on Genesis 9 and in his Genesis sermons, where he says that it is ‘likely’ that humanity was free to eat meat before the Fall—but reports the opinion of other commentators. He has his opinion on the matter, but claims that he doesn’t believe that the matter is important enough to affirm anything either way.

        It is important to recognize that the question of the right to eat meat being given to humanity from the beginning is distinct from the hypothetical possibility of meat-eating apart from the Fall. For instance, I am quite happy to hold that humanity was originally only given herbs and fruits to eat (and would thus be prepared to differ with Calvin on his immediate point). However, I believe that, even apart from the Fall, God would later have granted them meat as a good sign of their increased dominion over the creatures.

        The important detail of Calvin’s argument is not whether he believes that God directly gave humanity the right to eat meat before the Fall, but whether he believes that God could have done this. On that point, Calvin is clear. Apparently, it would have been perfectly consistent with God’s justice and the biblical teaching concerning death and the Fall for human beings to kill and eat animals apart from the Fall (or to kill them for clothing or sacrifice, for that matter). Your entire position rests upon claims that Calvin, like various other Reformed theologians (Bavinck not least among them), dismissed either explicitly or by implication.

        Our treatment of animals is definitely a moral issue. However, we are perfectly within our liberty to kill and to eat them, which makes me wonder what if any strength your objection has. Wanton cruelty is forbidden, but predation is not the same thing as such cruelty. Natural predation is untamed and amoral, practiced by brute beasts which lack the personhood of human beings or the capacity for the sort of moral action expected of us, and which also haven’t yet been tamed or domesticated by a higher intelligence. It is also typically not practiced for the delight of cruelty, but through the necessity of appetite.

        The difference between speaking of dramatic changes for animals and speaking of dramatic changes for human beings is that the Bible explicitly teaches the latter. The former is not a biblical teaching, but something that people suppose to be a ‘good and necessary consequence’ from the teaching of Scripture, from the fact that there was supposedly no death of any type at all before the Fall and from the belief that any form of animal suffering is inconsistent with the goodness and justice of God.

        One problem with this is that, when probed, each of the beliefs that the deduction rests upon turn out to be deduction in its turn. The Scriptures nowhere teach that animal predation is inconsistent with the goodness of God. Indeed, it would seem to imply the opposite: in his goodness, God provides prey to the animals (Psalm 104:21). The Scriptures also nowhere teach that there was no death of any sort before the Fall. Once again, this is a deduction from texts that speak about human death and the Fall.

        To claim the occurrence of some vast miraculous intervention of God on the basis of uncertain deductions founded upon uncertain deductions is a rather dangerous and somewhat embarrassing position for people who take the sufficiency of God’s revelation in Scripture seriously. It is a sort of theological deus ex machina, designed to spare our theological sensibilities from having to deal with uncomfortable questions. Of course, the people who employ this particular deus ex machina are often the very same people as those who will protest when others appeal to much more plausible extra-textual possibilities to reconcile what they perceive to be textual tensions to allow for such things as the legitimacy of same sex relations.

        As for the link, I really don’t see what the significance of it is. The fact that there have been some anomalous cases of higher carnivores which haven’t eaten meat is interesting, but it definitely doesn’t make the Scriptures say something that they don’t. The fact that there has been an unusual case of a lion that doesn’t eat meat does not mean that, before the Fall, lions didn’t eat meat. Let alone that no creature died or ate meat.

        Where have I invoked an extra-scriptural position? Your claims suggest that you haven’t been reading me very carefully at all. My argument is not that dramatic changes of nature are hard to believe, privileging extra-scriptural assumptions and observation over biblical teaching. I am quite prepared to believe in such things when they are taught by Scripture. No, my argument is far more damning: my claim is that this particular dramatic change of nature is not taught by Scripture at all, yet is vociferously and dogmatically insisted upon by many people who should know better. It is asserted on the shaky foundation of accumulated deductions, deductions that are widely dismissed among leading names of the Christian and Reformed traditions, not least among them Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Bavinck. It is also insisted upon as a way to avoid some tough questions that we would otherwise face about animal suffering and God’s justice. These questions are definitely not easy ones—largely because Scripture just doesn’t seem to care that much about animal death and suffering in the natural order of things—but we have no right to create a way to avoid them just because they make us feel uncomfortable. The same principles that we face when we are dealing with God commanding the killing of woman and children apply here. There are always easy ways out that will preserve our sensibilities, yet being faithful to the text requires a much more challenging approach from us.

        None of this has any bearing on God’s omnipotence. I am quite happy to grant that God could have made a world without animal suffering. He could also have made a world without the possibility of a Fall, yet he didn’t do either. I don’t believe that God’s hand was forced at all. Your assertion that God’s justice means that there must be no death before the Fall hasn’t gone beyond the level of an assertion.

        One could even more easily make the assertion that God’s justice would rule out any command to kill women and children. Unfortunately, God’s actions are not always easy to reconcile with our notions of his justice. Rather than presuming that we know what is and is not consistent with God’s justice and making bold extra-textual claims on the basis of such assumptions, I believe that we should stick with what the Scripture actually says and cut out the extra-textual speculation in service of our sensibilities.

        The actual biblical evidence that we have suggests that the suffering and death of animals due to predation really isn’t something that Scripture regards as that serious of a theodical problem. The scriptures can speak of ‘natural brute beasts’ as ‘made to be caught and destroyed’ (2 Peter 2:12). There are no biblical laments over animal death and suffering due to predation, as we might expect if it were the consequence of the Fall. Rather, predation within the natural order is regarded and even celebrated as natural and good. For instance, in Psalm 104, the great psalm celebrating the goodness of God in creation, we are told that God gives the lions their prey (Psalm 104:21; cf. Job 38:39-41). While some might claim that this is just about observation of God’s activity in the post-Fall world, we don’t have biblical psalms of praise to God for his spreading of the thorns and the briers, do we?

        As for the biblical concern for the suffering of animals, beyond odd verses like Proverbs 12:10 or Deuteronomy 22:6-7 (traditionally designated the least of all of the commands of the Torah), which speak about our duty to show concern for the animals and birds, there is precious little to go on and definitely not much to suggest that animal suffering at the hands of other animals is regarded as a big theological problem. Even verses that would seem to be focused upon animals (e.g. Deuteronomy 22:10; 25:4) often turn out on closer examination to be symbolically about human beings (as Paul says of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, ‘God is not concerned about oxen, is he?’).

        Of course, animal suffering is a serious theodical problem for us. However, this shouldn’t lead us to impose our moral prejudices and valuations upon the text of Scripture. My argument is: 1) That Scripture nowhere expressly teaches that animals were changed from herbivores to carnivores after the Fall; 2) That making such a huge claim to address our sensibilities in the face of Scripture’s silence is presumptuous and sets a dangerous precedent; 3) That whenever Scripture talks about death coming after the Fall, it is quite clearly referring to human death; 4) That, far from presenting animal predation and suffering as a serious theodical problem or lamenting it, Scripture even presents the provision of prey as an evidence of God’s goodness: rather than animal predation of other animals appearing in psalms of lament about natural evil, it appears in psalms of praise for God’s provision and concern for his creation; 5) That our notions of God’s justice should be more attentive and responsive to what the text actually supports and teaches and less indulgent of our preconceptions and prejudices.

        At this point, I’m not interested in discussing this further with you: we aren’t going to get anywhere. Your claims rest almost entirely upon layers of preconceptions and presumptions, preconceptions and presumptions that I don’t share. The claims themselves function more as assertions than as arguments and tend to fly in the face of the limited biblical evidence that we do have on the subject. You presume that it should be self-evident to any thinking Christian that animal predation prior to the Fall is incompatible with the goodness and justice of God. However, many of the most brilliant minds in Church history disagree with you, which suggests that it is nowhere near as obvious as you seem to think it is.

  19. It’s rather late, but if I may leave a few comments:

    First, regarding Jordan and death before the fall: I can’t track down the source from Jordan, but here’s an article that (in part) criticizes him for holding there was death before the fall, and Pr. Wilson’s response, which confirms Dr. Fesko’s account of Jordan’s view of death before the fall. (There’s also, it seems, a citation for Jordan in Dr. Fesko’s work, but I don’t think the book is available online.)

    Click to access res_pdf_44.pdf

    Second, I’d like to push back on the terms “wild” and “tame” (and “domesticated”):

    The world is unlike the Garden and doesn’t yet have any gardener working within it. It is formless, void, and untamed, and the beasts that dwell within it are also untamed. It remains to be subdued by a gardener and a tamer of wild beasts.

    I think you haven’t quite found the correct names to describe this movement from glory to glory.

    When something is tame, it is no longer terrible. It is declawed, and poses no danger. It is not radiant (halal) with a terrible radiance. And while the lion, or the forest, is not now fully mature, it nevertheless shines (halal) with a terrible radiance–a terror it will not lose. The trees will be, as Stanhope’s, terribly good. Fangorn forest will still be dangerous and perilous. And when the Lion shall lie down with the Lamb, it will not become a “tame Lion”. Rather, they will, like the Angels, be “radiant” (halal), with untamed glory.

    Perhaps, drawing off Rosenzweig’s discussion of Redemption, a more useful way to frame the issue is in terms of a chorus. We are called to love our neighbor, joining with him in a chorus of praise (halal). And this choral “we” (Ps 115:18) now does not include nature, but, it shall. Even now all men hear the day and the night speaking (Ps 19). But they shall (Ps 148) join with us in that great multitude, and, with one voice, as of many waters and mighty thunderings, together with us–or rather, together as us–say “Hallelujah”.

  20. Pingback: 2014 Retrospective | Alastair's Adversaria

  21. Hey Alastair, great post! Could you point me to some of the James Jordan resources that you have found informative to this view?

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