Dispatches from the Forum: Death Before the Fall

If God's good creation includes death, why did Christ need to defeat it on the cross?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/dispatches-from-the-forum-death-before-the-fall

The discussion from which this post is taken is now closed, so if you want to talk about anything related to this post, you’re welcome to do so below. Like I said above, I’m increasingly convinced that this issue is central to the origins debate.

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This is an excerpt from the thread featured in Brad’s link:

I’ve never understood the “no death before the Fall” insistence.
1.If death didn’t exist before the Fall, what did Adam and Eve eat? Some plant foods can be consumed without the plant dying. Yet, even then, that portion of the plant is killed and the cells die. When I’ve asked people about this, they say, “That wasn’t the ancients’ concept of death.” Fine. But that means that even they recognize that some types of death existed before the Fall and so careful definitions are needed.
2.If death didn’t exist before the Fall, why was the fruit from the Tree of Life needed? Why did the Fall require them to be kept away from the Tree of Life?
3.When Adam and Eve were told that eating the wrong fruit would mean “Ye shall surely die”, why didn’t they ask, “Die? What’s that?” I’m not saying that everything said would have to be recorded in the Genesis story but isn’t this a conspicuous omission?

I’ve never heard an answer to #2 that came anywhere close to making sense. However, if someone can correct my understanding of these three issues, I would be very appreciative.

Specifically regarding question 2, I would say that it’s quite possible to know what something is without having experienced it, especially seeing as God could simply put the knowledge of what death is into their minds. Also regarding plant death, the Hebrew word used for death in this instance is nephesh chayyah, referring to animal and human death, meaning that plants are regarded as a different kind of life than man and animals, thus, animals and humans ate plants before the Fall. So to summarize, YEC’s [young-earth creationists] like myself believe that before the Fall, animals and humans ate plants, which don’t die in the same way we do, and after the Fall, death in all meanings of the word was brought on man and animals as a result of the Fall."


You are missing the point of the Tree of Life. This Tree was AVAILABLE to Adam and Eve prior to their transgression. This tree was necessary because God didn’t make humanity genetically immortal. For them to avoid death, they would have to eat from the Tree of Life.

However, once they had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, God did not want the couple to access the last definitive indicator of DIVINITY (i.e., immortality) !


The following is just my own thoughts, and not backed up by any theological authority, so take it for what its worth. I do not see the word “Good” in Genesis as meaning moral goodness, or goodness as opposed to evil. When God praised the various steps of His Creation, I read the word Good (tov) as meaning “it works well”.

The first time God declares that something he did was good involves the creation of light. I don’t see how light contains the quality of moral goodness. The next time God pronounces His work as good is when he divides the land from the sea. That was a very useful thing to do for the sake of future humans and all the other animals who will breathe air and live on land. But I don’t see why having dry land rather than just ocean is better in the sense of essential goodness.

When God saw that each of his creations was good, he saw that they worked. And what does God’s creation work for? For us. For the coming of a conscious, intelligent, spirit-bearing, God- praising creature that God created everything for. The light, the land, the sun, moon and stars, the plants and other animals, all of this was good for us.

That is why he didn’t pronounce humans to be good- that would make no sense. Of course humans are good for humans. But the whole of creation, everything that was made, was very good. Very good for us. And as we study our world and learn its secrets, all we can do is agree and worship the One who made it possible for us to be here, to live, love and praise His glory.


I agree that this issue of death (and, I would add, suffering) before the Fall is crucial to the ongoing debate and creation and evolution; among other things, I think a review of the Answers in Genesis website (and the contents of their ‘Creation Museum’ in Kentucky) would bear this out.

The problem of death and suffering has many aspects; anyone who thinks it’s simple probably hasn’t thought about it quite enough (!). At its heart, I think the problem is bound up with a particular interpretation of some key texts in both the Old and the New Testaments. Taken together, some - but only some - Christians interpret these texts to mean: (1) that there was no suffering and death (i.e., death of sentient beings) in the world prior to the Fall; (2) that suffering and death were the penalty paid for the Fall by the whole of the sentient Creation; and (3) that Christ’s death on the cross uniquely redeemed the faithful from this penalty.

Quite apart from what historical geology and evolutionary biology have to say about all of this - and clearly, they are both incompatible with the view that no sentient beings suffered and died before the Fall - I think this particular interpretation of Scripture has multiple theological problems. Here are just 3 examples. First, this view requires not one divine creation but two: one at the outset, and a second (re)creation after the Fall, turning the entire sentient world from one involving no suffering and death into the one we know today. (This is a RADICAL re-creation, but there is no mention of it in Scripture!) Second, it involves the infliction of untold amounts of suffering on, for example, animals and infants that were in no way responsible for the Fall. (How is this just?) Third, it offers a rather pat solution to the problem of suffering that much of the rest of Scripture puzzlingly ignores or implicitly rejects. For example, why doesn’t God resort to this view in His dealings with Job?

I think Y-E-C’s would do well to think hard about the theological as well as the scientific implications of their views about the Fall and the origins of suffering and death. If they do so, I think they will find some of these theological implications to be rather worrisome.


John Durant


Yes, and the lengths people will go to hypothesize about this to maintain their idea of a perfect creation before the fall and everything else a product of “post-curse” recreation can be disturbing. Not only do you have God genetically altering DNA to make herbivores into carnivores, which is just weird, but you have God proactively designing and creating diseases, killer parasites, mosquitoes, etc and inserting harmful mutations into the genetic code, purely as a punishment. Or, as one guy tried to tell me, you have to ascribe creative powers to Satan, who created all the bad stuff. How in the world this is theologically preferable is beyond me,


Yes! Yet so many young earth creationists casually dismiss this with “supporting evidence” which is downright arresting. For example, when reminded that carnivores don’t have the digestive system of herbivores (multiple stomachs and provisions helping out the bacteria through chewing cud), a creationist on these forums posted a link to the Creation.com article about some tiger (or was it as lion) who was fed some sort of eggs and dairy slurry when it refused to eat meat. That was not a joke! Apparently the ministry leaders thought that that actually established their claim that carnivorous animals could get by grazing on grass if they really really needed to do so.

The last several posts here have done a great job of demolishing the “no death before the fall” tradition but the fact that so many tradition-bound YECs can so casually dismiss those arguments reminds us that this goes beyond cognitive dissonance. It is a complete abandonment of even trying to make sense and applying basic logic (let alone science) to their tradition-based claim. For many, it all comes down to “Which side are you on?” and “God’s people should be on this side and that is that.”

Many confidently tell me: “God is perfect. Therefore, I feel God would only create a perfect world. And no perfect world could ever include death in it—unless you think that God is weak and can’t create a perfect, death-free world!” For those who argue in that manner (who are convinced that they know what God would and wouldn’t ever do), the question goes no further. Most simply won’t delve any deeper than that.

At some point we have to acknowledge that we share the same species label but not the same “reality”. Many make decisions entirely on FEELINGS, not thinking. And that is why I used bold italics for I feel that in the above summary of their argument.

Do we have to choose between death being an evil and death being a means by which God chose to create? One might think so if one thinks that a “very good” creation cannot contain any evils at all. But that’s too hasty. What if God has a good end in view from the very beginning, but some temporary evils are a necessary condition for achieving that “very good” end? The good end would be the basis for declaring the creation to be “very good,” even before it was really very good. And death might indeed be every bit the evil that it has always seemed to be, and yet it was worked into creation from the beginning because… [insert here any good that God might want His creation to contain, but which cannot be realized without death].

As a possible suggestion for a good that might be inserted above, perhaps God wants creatures who have learned from experience to oppose death and affirm life. Joining one’s own life to the life of a Messiah who conquers death would be a good way to learn that.


Justification of the ways of God to mere humans is and has always been difficult, WHATEVER the particular view of death and suffering before the Fall one cares to adopt. For me, the Book of Job is the single most important book of the Bible for wrestling with this problem. Job starts from a totally different place than the Fall, and the one thing it really doesn’t do is offer neat “gotcha!” solutions to the problem.
A really great movie that deals with these issues is Terence Malik’s Tree of Life; I really recommend this to Biologos members!
John Durant


Oh the poor souls bound to materialistic thinking. In Jesus you can eat from the tree of life if you understand what the Eucharist is about. God gave us access to it in Jesus when he was put on that tree. If people think this everlasting life to be their poor materialistic existence constraint by time and space they just don’t get it.
To a spiritual being physical death is irrelevant as you live in the spirit and the physical existence is a temporary existence. The physical life on earth is being in the womb of mother earth.

A person that has not eaten from the tree of self realisation - after all it is the Baum der Erkentniss, (nicht der Baum des Wissens oder der Weisheit) cannot experience death as s/he is unable to lose him/her self. This is why young children have a far more open concept of death.

If anyone believes that death is a punishment of God for eating a fruit from a literal tree they are a lost case to the poetic language of the bible- particularly if they think it to be an apple. If people consider God’s perfect world having to be materially perfect - let them have a nose job and a few other jobs as well and let them have their head examined. Look at Joni and friends or Nick Vujicic and it should become obvious that the perfection is not in the physical. Let alone, why would he have Jesus to be released from his physical existence?

To those who think that Jesus died for us so God would not hate us any more - they are a lost case to Christianity. Only an atheist can think that God killed himself in the form of Jesus to forgive himself as he does not get the evidence for God to begin with, thus happily divides by zero. If God would have had a wrath about humanity or would hate he could logically not be the perfect truth as he would have cocked it up. If we put the logos into the title of this site we should as well be able to apply some logical thinking here or hang our heads in shame. If your physical death brings you into the presence of God, how can it be bad? Does anyone here want to say that being physically separated from God is a good thing and remaining space time constraint is a desirable state?

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Genesis is correct. We live not only after the disobedience of Adam and Eve but we also live outside of the Garden of Eden since we were banished from making domicile there. Therefore any reflection made whether scientific or not is made outside the Garden and in the inescapability of living within the arena of original sin.

Until humans upset him by sinning, at which point his perfection did not get in the way of creating a whole bunch of messy bad stuff to curse us with. How is that consistent?

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I’ve always been amazed at how someone can devise more logical inconsistency to “solve” the logical inconsistencies.

Yet, what I think most of those outside the Young Earth Creationist world miss is this: the logic problems and even the contradictory hermeneutical problems aren’t the main issue for them. The big problem is daring to consider that one’s spiritual heroes (parent, pastors, Sunday School teachers, radio preachers, favorite authors) could all be wrong—and that God would allow them to be wrong despite their prayerful sincerity. And that is where the fear factor comes in.,

Daring to doubt the traditions of one’s church is not just a matter of Pharisaic legalism. It is the fear of the unknown and the questions: How much else did I get wrong? How much did my pastor get wrong? Why did God allow us to our flounder in errors? It is the fear of these questions which often immobilizes their thinking. They dare not consider the evidence.

An awareness of these factors should encourage more compassion for our brethren. It is not an easy reality to take in. And it can seriously shake up one’s view of God.


I thought Brad has done a good job of featuring important, foundational topics from “Dispatches from the Forum”. Also, a new reader who focused only on these Dispatches would come away with a very good grasp of the central arguments. I don’t see a lot of that sort of thing online. (It certainly isn’t happening on the young earth creationist websites where they seem to be paranoid about letting their readers know what other positions say in their own words. The fear they have is so obvious.)

I’m hoping that more young earth creationists will address the Why was the fruit from the Tree of Life needed if there was no death? issue. I used to say that I had only seen YECs dodge that question. But finally I saw one of the major ministries (can’t remember which) basically mock the question by saying “What may seem not to make sense to us makes complete sense to God. We have faith that God has the answers.” Talk about kicking a problem upstairs. I’m amazed that anyone would find that “answer” anything but embarrassing.

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They really don’t have much of a choice…

There is absolutely no point to God talking about expelling Adam and Eve from Eden so that they would NOT eat from the tree of life … a tree that they were invited to eat from up until the transgression.

I have always interpreted the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall as a poetic way of saying that humans were once like all other animals, until we became aware that some of our actions were good, and others evil. The Garden of Eden represents our life as ordinary animals. We can easily think of features of a world that seems ‘perfect’ to us, such as no one ever getting sick or dying, but we know that in our life on earth, certain unpleasant things are necessary. A child might pick a world where a meal consisted only of dessert, and piles of candy would lie around for between-meal snacks. As adults, we know that that world would not provide sufficient nutrition, and result in really bad teeth.

We have to be careful when making up features of the world of Eden that we don’t apply shortsighted human ideas of perfection. Genesis says that God created man and animals male and female. This clearly indicates that God intended animals to reproduce. Without death, the earth would quickly have become overrun with life. Without genetic change from generation to generation, life would have been unable to adapt to the changing environmental conditions on earth.


So, what’s preferable or weirder then… God altering Dna to change herbivores to carnivores, or changing dna to create microbiologists from microbes?

As far as punishment goes… your statement, “merely as punishment” is assuming a lot. First that none of these organisms could possibly have less harmful ancestors, (just like herbivores being converted to carnivores), and second that punishment by God is somehow anathema? The hailstones on the enemies of Israel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues on the Egyptians… Why is there some limit on God’s right to change dna for consequential purposes?

I’ll make an effort to respond. First, we don’t know if they ate from this tree; nowhere that I recall does it say that they did. It seems that they also did not eat from the tree of good and evil knowledge for awhile, although we have no idea how long that was. So we cannot argue that either one of these trees was “needed”… that is more than what we can conclude from what we read.

However, if they did eat from this tree of life ocassionally, perhaps it was part of God’s good creation that this tree provided something, whether physical or spiritual, that would have led to life conquering death. In any case, it is speculation, other than that we know that from that time on, man was not destined to live forever in his physical condition. It was not something that inherently needed to be, but it was a result of man’s actions, basically his disobedience to God.

It’s not theologically coherent to me to say that pre-fall creation couldn’t have certain things in it because God in his perfection could not have created them, but after the fall, God in his perfection can create them because…sin. I think it is a theodicy cop-out that leads to theologically problematic assertions about God’s character. There is a significant difference to me in God manipulating creation to discipline people and orchestrate his will, and God creating evil intentionally, as a punishment.

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I agree that God can do what he wants. But scripture says he created things good. God said it was good. So if God’s definition of what is good, is different than our definition, then we have a problem. It’s not because of “God in his perfection”, but its because “God said it was good”.