Was There Death Before the Fall?

May 28, 2013 | 3 comments

Someone recently wrote to me asking, “Christians believe that death entered the world through sin. Check out Romans 5:13-14 if you don’t believe me. Yet evolution proves that death existed before the fall. How do you explain that?”

This is a great question, one which I suspect many Christians haven’t given much thought.

In this post I’d like to argue, from the book of Genesis, that death did indeed exist before the Fall—the death of animals and plants—and that when the Bible speaks of death entering the world through sin (as in Romans 5), it’s talking about human death. But first, let’s take a look at the passage in question:

Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come (emphases added).

As you can see, Paul’s focus here is on death spreading to men. He’s not talking about the death of animals or plants. Before we look at each of those, let’s take a look at why Adam and Eve were originally intended to be immortal in the first place.

The Tree of Life

The second chapter of Genesis seems to suggest that the tree of life, which was in the midst of the garden (Gen. 2:9), was the means by which Adam and Eve were to live forever. God had given them permission to eat from that tree, since he said they “may freely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen. 2:16)—except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

By losing access to this tree through original sin, man lost the opportunity to live forever. In Genesis chapter three we read that God drove him out of the Garden of Eden, “lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”  It then says that God placed “cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Animals

Okay, if the tree of life was necessary for Adam and Eve to live forever, one might reasonably ask, did animals have access to the tree of life? The answer seems to be no.

If the tree of life was unique, it might have been enough for Adam and Eve to eat from, but it would never have been enough for all of the animals of the world to eat from. This may be another sign that the animals were not understood to have the tree of life for their food. If so, then the text of Genesis itself would suggest that, while man was meant to be immortal, animals were not. That would support the idea, based on St. Paul’s statement, that it was human death that entered the world through the Fall, not animal death.

Furthermore, we should note that giving “every green plant” to animals as food does not mean that some of them weren’t also carnivores. It’s not as if, before original sin, lions ate dandelions and toadstools and only afterward did they begin picking on poor old wildebeest. This is something Thomas Aquinas wrote about in his Summa Theologica:

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.

(We should add, lest anyone be tempted to think that this is a forced retreat in the face of modern evolutionary theory, that Thomas wrote these words nearly 550 years prior to the birth of Charles Darwin.)

Plants

What about plants? Is there evidence in Genesis to suggest that plants died before the Fall?

My colleague Jimmy Akin addressed this in a recent post of his:

We can go even further, though, because of God’s permission to eat fruit. That means death. Specifically, the death of the fruit’s flesh (and its seeds, if those get chewed up, too).The fruit’s flesh (and its seeds) are alive. They’re made of living cells.

The seeds are even little fruit embryos, which makes them independent organisms. Of course, they aren’t human. They aren’t rational beings, so they don’t have rights or a right to life, and it’s okay to eat them. But they do die when we eat and digest them. The same thing is true of other plant matter we eat. So we have reason to think, even on a highly literal reading of Genesis, that there was plant death before the Fall.

Of course, there is the question of how literally the details of this text should be taken. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the early chapters of Genesis contain symbolic elements:

The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents (CCC 390).

But even if you take some of the details very literally, it still looks like animals and plants died before the Fall—consistent with the findings of modern science.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy: Evolution Vs. God? & Evolution Vs. Genesis?


Matt Fradd is Australian by birth and Catholic by choice. After experiencing a profound conversion at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, Matt committed himself to inviting others to know Jesus Christ and the Church He founded. As a missionary in Canada and Ireland, Matt proclaimed the Gospel to over ten...

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Kindel Stubblefield - mine, Texas

Death did not exist before the fall. Death is the consequence for rejecting the Source Of Life.

Genesis 1:29–30
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

The animals and people were vegetarians. It was not until after the flood, in Genesis 9:3 that people were given animals for food.

The first recorded death of occurs in Genesis 3:21, after the original sin, when God covered Adam and Eve with coats of skins to replace their fig leaf coverings they assumed would cover their nakedness.

This fist animal death is a reflection of Christ's death on the cross, when His blood sacrifice ultimately covered, not our nakedness, but our righteousness.

Hebrews 9:22
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

1 Corinthians 15:26
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

"We know that animals and man were not eating meat originally according to Genesis 1:29–30. So, meat-eaters today were all vegetarian originally, which also points to death not being part of the original creation. Plants are not “alive” in the biblical sense of nephesh chayyah, only animals and man. So, plants being eaten did not mean death existed before the Fall. One would not expect a God of life to be a god of death. When we look at God’s restoration in Revelation 21–22, there will be no death, pain, or suffering."

You might sit on a dead, and rotting log, but I doubt many would enjoy a romantic gaze at a sunset upon a decaying animal carcass. This type of death is repulsive to us, and for good reason. Death is the enemy.

It is difficult to understand and accept the message of the cross without the foundation of the Gospel, which begins in Genesis. We live in a cursed and fallen world, which was once "very good" until Genesis 3, when Satan deceived Eve into questioning God's authority, and become her own god, which separated mankind from God, and cursed the earth and its inhabitants. Roses grew thorns, and disease, pain, and suffering entered our world.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:1-5)

Jesus is the Word, and The Word is also the supernatural Word of God, the Bible. And Jesus is the physical part of God. Our origins are a life-light that was in Jesus. Genesis tells us that we were made in God’s image, but it is said like this: “Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26) “Us” and “Our” refer to the Trinity of God. And He made us a trinity also. We are a mind, a body, and a spirit, just like God is The Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We are one in our trinity, and God is one in His Trinity. But each part works differently. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

We came from the body of Christ. If you look at a tree and its branches, it is all one tree, even though the branches go off in different directions, they are all connected to the same trunk. That is just like us and God. Sin is like the clippers that chop the branches off the vine. Once that branch is disconnected, it is no longer attached to the life source. It can not produce fruit. It can stay alive physically for a little while, but it eventually withers and dies, and it is destroyed. Jesus‘ blood became like the supernatural super glue than can reattach us branches back to the vine, in such a way that life flows through us again, and we can also produce fruit. This happens when we comprehend that we are sinners and have broken God's laws, we repent, which means we change our minds about our sins, and we confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and only His blood can redeem our souls.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.

1 John 4:8 - “God is love”

John 14:6 - “I am the way and the truth and the life”

When we are disconnected from God, we lack the connection to the source of love, the source of truth, and the source of life. But we still have access to these things for a short time, long enough to choose Christ by our own free will. Eventually our branches wither and die and are destroyed, but until then, it is not too late to go back to our Source Of Life, to be reunited with love, from the Source Of Love, permanently.

Look here for more information regarding the account of Creation based on God's authority. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/03/02/satan-the-fall-good-evil-could-death-exist-before-sin

Psalm 118:8
It is better to trust in God, than to trust in man.

Also, read here for information regarding the Biblical account of the 6 literal days of Creation. God said what He meant, and meant what He said. http://www.answersingenehttp://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v5/n2/six-literal-dayssis.org/articles/am/v5/n2/six-literal-days

May 8, 2014 at 3:45 am PST
#2  Kindel Stubblefield - mine, Texas

Death did not exist before the fall. Death is the consequence for rejecting the Source Of Life.

Genesis 1:29–30
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

The animals and people were vegetarians. It was not until after the flood, in Genesis 9:3 that people were given animals for food.

The first recorded death of occurs in Genesis 3:21, after the original sin, when God covered Adam and Eve with coats of skins to replace their fig leaf coverings they assumed would cover their nakedness.

This fist animal death is a reflection of Christ's death on the cross, when His blood sacrifice ultimately covered, not our nakedness, but our righteousness.

Hebrews 9:22
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

1 Corinthians 15:26
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

"We know that animals and man were not eating meat originally according to Genesis 1:29–30. So, meat-eaters today were all vegetarian originally, which also points to death not being part of the original creation. Plants are not “alive” in the biblical sense of nephesh chayyah, only animals and man. So, plants being eaten did not mean death existed before the Fall. One would not expect a God of life to be a god of death. When we look at God’s restoration in Revelation 21–22, there will be no death, pain, or suffering."

You might sit on a dead, and rotting log, but I doubt many would enjoy a romantic gaze at a sunset upon a decaying animal carcass. This type of death is repulsive to us, and for good reason. Death is the enemy.

It is difficult to understand and accept the message of the cross without the foundation of the Gospel, which begins in Genesis. We live in a cursed and fallen world, which was once "very good" until Genesis 3, when Satan deceived Eve into questioning God's authority, and become her own god, which separated mankind from God, and cursed the earth and its inhabitants. Roses grew thorns, and disease, pain, and suffering entered our world.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:1-5)

Jesus is the Word, and The Word is also the supernatural Word of God, the Bible. And Jesus is the physical part of God. Our origins are a life-light that was in Jesus. Genesis tells us that we were made in God’s image, but it is said like this: “Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26) “Us” and “Our” refer to the Trinity of God. And He made us a trinity also. We are a mind, a body, and a spirit, just like God is The Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We are one in our trinity, and God is one in His Trinity. But each part works differently. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

We came from the body of Christ. If you look at a tree and its branches, it is all one tree, even though the branches go off in different directions, they are all connected to the same trunk. That is just like us and God. Sin is like the clippers that chop the branches off the vine. Once that branch is disconnected, it is no longer attached to the life source. It can not produce fruit. It can stay alive physically for a little while, but it eventually withers and dies, and it is destroyed. Jesus‘ blood became like the supernatural super glue than can reattach us branches back to the vine, in such a way that life flows through us again, and we can also produce fruit. This happens when we comprehend that we are sinners and have broken God's laws, we repent, which means we change our minds about our sins, and we confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and only His blood can redeem our souls.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.

1 John 4:8 - “God is love”

John 14:6 - “I am the way and the truth and the life”

When we are disconnected from God, we lack the connection to the source of love, the source of truth, and the source of life. But we still have access to these things for a short time, long enough to choose Christ by our own free will. Eventually our branches wither and die and are destroyed, but until then, it is not too late to go back to our Source Of Life, to be reunited with love, from the Source Of Love, permanently.

Look here for more information regarding the account of Creation based on God's authority. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/03/02/satan-the-fall-good-evil-could-death-exist-before-sin

Psalm 118:8
It is better to trust in God, than to trust in man.

Also, read here for information regarding the Biblical account of the 6 literal days of Creation. God said what He meant, and meant what He said. http://www.answersingenehttp://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v5/n2/six-literal-dayssis.org/articles/am/v5/n2/six-literal-days

May 8, 2014 at 3:50 am PST
#3  Ronald Brandmayr - Ocean, New Jersey

Your links on evolution, God and Genesis don't seem to be working. I'd be interested in reading them.

December 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm PST

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