Does Death Before the Fall Make God a Liar?


(system) #1
There are very good biblical reasons to question whether all death and suffering began at the Fall.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/does-death-before-the-fall-make-god-a-liar

(Jon Garvey) #2

Thanks for the citation, Ted. As you say my work is still unpublished, but it is freely available to read. The complete case for an unfallen creation is to be found here, in which Section 2 is the survey to which you refer in your post.


(George Brooks) #3

Nice discussion on the first church fathers… who had not yet invented the magical corruption of the entire universe!!

"God’s Good Earth – Jon Garvey
Jewish sources overlapping the Christian era for hints on any connection Jews perceived between
the garden events and the present natural world, before proceeding to the Christian sources. "

Philo of Alexandria
"The great Jewish philosopher Philo (c25BC-c50AD) wrote both an allegorical commentary on Genesis, and a more “popular” set of questions and answers on it."

" In commenting on the judgements of God in Gen. 3 (Q48-Q50) he takes the curse on the serpent as grammatically plain (but then allegorizes the serpent as “human desire”), the punishment of the woman as the inevitable fruit of sinful people living together, and the curse on the soil as, principally, an allegory on cultivating vice (leading to “sorrow and other ills” and loss of rationality) as opposed to virtue
(leading to health)."

" No change to the natural world is mentioned. The expulsion from Eden (Q56) Philo takes entirely spiritually as an exclusion from wisdom into ignorance. "

Flavius Josephus
The historian of the Jewish revolt (37-c100) apparently received training from Pharisees, but was no
religious sage. He naturally commences his Antiquities, a Jewish history for a Roman readership, with
Genesis. His “Fall” is treated in a low-key and almost trivial manner: Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of wisdom against God’s command and find themselves naked. "

“In punishment: God told Adam that the earth would no longer produce anything of itself except in return for grinding toil. He punished Eve through childbirth, and deprived the serpent of feet so that it would have to wiggle across the ground. Then God removed Adam and Eve from the garden to another place.”

Patristic to mediaeval periods
Theophilus
"The first of the Church Fathers to write on the creation was Theophilus, who was seventh Bishop of Antioch from 169-183. Describing the days of creation he writes:

"Moreover, the things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this might also be a sign of men’s being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and laver of regeneration… But the monsters of the deep and the birds of prey are a similitude of covetous men and transgressors. For as the fish and the fowls are of one nature – some indeed abide in their natural state, and do no harm to those weaker than themselves, but keep the law of God, and eat of the seeds of the earth; others of them, again, transgress the law of God, and eat flesh, and injure those weaker than themselves. "

“…The quadrupeds, too, and wild beasts, were made for a type of some men, who neither know nor worship God, but mind earthly things, and repent not… And the animals are named wild beasts from their being hunted, not as if they had been made evil or venomous from the first…”

Nice work!


(Dr. Ted Davis) #4

Further thanks to Jon Garvey, for the link to the full version of his important, very original work on the history of this interpretive question.


(Paul Nelson) #5

Very interesting piece, Ted. Maybe the next time we see each other (in person – you don’t need to reply here, I’m just noting something for future discussion), you can give me your reading of Isaiah 11:6-9.


#6

Here is my logic as to why the death of animals most probably occurred before mankind sinned:

  • Many, in fact most, organisms’ morphologies are adapted to either avoid death or cause it to another organism. In fact, in biological death did not happen before the fall, why then do lions have teeth and claws designed to kill? Why do so many animals have camouflage, as it’s only useful if there is another organism that could harm it?

  • Animals are not made in God’s image, only man ( at least on this planet) is. This means that animals have no sense of right and wrong. Stealing, adultery and murder are not considered to be wrong when animals do it. Much as what is called sin, especially physical sin, is often these things that animals do freely. In fact, in the New Testament, when it refers to our “flesh” making us fall into sin, the Greek word for “flesh” means “meat,” or “animal flesh.” This leads me to the conclusion that one aspect of sin may be acting like animals who don’t know better instead of the higher beings God has made us. This also leads me to conclude that while human death was not meant to be, the death of animals is not evil. In fact, most ecosystems are kept healthy by predation and other forms of animal death.


(George Brooks) #7

@paulnelson58

If I might ask you a question:
" Isa 11:6-9
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. "

Isn’t this a description of the End of Days? How does it apply to Eden? If God expected weaned children to exist within the confines of Eden, what was going to happen after a few rounds of reproduction?

You should also know that this description of carnivores and herbivores living happily together is presented in Sumerian cuneiform literature.

If this part of Isaiah was relevant to Eden, why isn’t it included anywhere in Genesis?


(Jon Garvey) #8

Hi Paul…

My book, chapter 3, final section: detailed exposition!


#9

An important, obvious point people seem to miss is that

  1. “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)

  2. “[Eve] took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (Gen 3:6)

  3. They did not die (for hundreds of years).

So, does this make God a liar?

Or, assuming God is not a liar, is Scripture speaking about a specific kind of death (e.g., spiritual death, separation from God)? “Death”, in this case, must refer to something other than or more specific than what we typically think of when we speak of death. Perhaps this is as multivalent a term as our word for love, which single word in English requires several words in Greek (e.g., agape, eros, philia, pragma, philautia, ludus). “Death” doesn’t refer to physical death at all, at least not immediate death. And if so, it doesn’t refer to the death of animals either. Death is different than mere mortality leading to death, eventually. All this says something about the way in which the text means for itself to be understood (i.e., not literally, not legalistically, not pedantically).

In short, if God is not a liar and Scripture is true, then the penalty of death for eating the forbidden fruit is not “Death” and this is a poor argument for YEC and biblical literalism in Genesis.


(Larry Bunce) #10

When God created animals male and female, He intended them to reproduce. If there were no death, the world quickly would have become overpopulated. Edward Hitchcock said that predation prevented the prey species from suffering long, cruel deaths by starvation caused by overcrowding, or the increasing infirmities of old age.
Saying that death came only after the Fall does not imply that God is a liar, but only that the YEC reading of God’s Word is incorrect.


#11

How would the world have become overpopulated in the very short time between the creation and the fall? You have assumed a long time, but that is an assumption and one that is, so far as we can tell, without basis.


#12

In short, if God is not a liar and Scripture is true, then the penalty of death for eating the forbidden fruit is not “Death” and this is a poor argument for YEC and biblical literalism in Genesis.

This only makes sense if you don’t understand “death” in the sense that the Bible uses it. I think this is what happens when you try to force a meaning on Scripture apart from its context.

If the penalty for eating the forbidden fruit is not “death” then God is a liar. But if that “death” doesn’t look like you expected it to look (as you indicate here), then you should consider that your understanding of “death” is the problem.


(Larry Bunce) #13

Genesis is not specific about the timescale for creation. During each “day” in Genesis 1, plants and animals reproduce according to their kind. This would require more than 24 hours for each day, and more likely many years. If Adam’s and Eve’s sin had never happened, the Garden of Eden would have been overrun very quickly. If God knew in advance that humans would sin and bring death to His perfect world, and forearmed life with the ability to reproduce, we would still have to blame God for creating evil. Wouldn’t a loving God just not created humans? This is just one more reason why we get into trouble by taking Genesis overly literally.


#14

During each “day” in Genesis 1, plants and animals reproduce according to their kind.

Where is this in this text? All the text says with respect to this is that the plants and animals that were created were created to reproduce a certain way. So far as I can see it says nothing about reproducing in day, much less in that creative day. It seems you have read something into the text to support a conclusion rather than just listening to what the text says.

If Adam’s and Eve’s sin had never happened, the Garden of Eden would have been overrun very quickly.

Again, where is this in the text? It just isn’t there. You have imagined it without considering that perhaps God would have had another plan or that reproduction would have been different in an unfallen world. You again have just read something into the text to support a conclusion without listening to what the text says.

If God knew in advance that humans would sin and bring death to His perfect world, and forearmed life with the ability to reproduce, we would still have to blame God for creating evil. Wouldn’t a loving God just not created humans?

Why would still have to blame God for creating evil? And why would a loving God just not have created humans? Do you not see how much you are imposing on God and Scripture based on your ideas about how things should or should not work?

In this short post you have said two things that are nowhere in Scripture and drawn a conclusion that has no scriptural support for it. If your last sentence was only to raise a question, it is a good one that could be discussed. But it sounds like a point made with a question mark at the end of it. I think there is a better way to consider these things.

At the end of the day, Rom 5 is specific that “death comes by sin” and it doesn’t limit that to only human death. The second statement (so death came to all men) is a specific example or application of the first statement. But if that wasn’t clear enough, Rom 8 makes it clear that all creation groans and travails, so it is not just


(Brad Kramer) #15

[quote=“LT_15, post:14, topic:36961”]
You have imagined it without considering that perhaps God would have had another plan or that reproduction would have been different in an unfallen world. [/quote]

Your criticisms can cut both ways, @LT_15.


#16

I may not have been clear but this was my point. Elizabeth Mitchell is basing her argument on the idea that if one accepts “physical death” existed before the Fall, then God is a liar. Her definition of death is not consistent with the supposedly clear meaning of Scripture she purports to be defending.


#17

Your criticisms can cut both ways, @LT_15.\

How so?


(Brad Kramer) #18

@LT_15 You made two claims in the previous post. Neither claim has any clear scriptural support. You are inferring something in the text that is not explicitly there. I found that ironic, in the context of your conversation with @Larry_Bunce.

I’m not saying that inferences are automatically wrong. But part of the point of @TedDavis’s article is that YEC theodicy is built on inferences, not just the plain words of Scripture—even though it is usually presented as much.


(Joshua Hedlund) #19

I used to believe “no death before the Fall” was clearly stated in Scripture, until I came across good arguments for an opposing position… I didn’t know Christian geologists like Edward Hitchcock had written about this stuff over 150 years ago (and he was an “old-earth creationist” who didn’t believe in evolution!)

So you are correct that it is reading things into the text to say that it explicitly allows animal death before the Fall. However, it is also true that you are reading things into the text (as I once did) to say that the text explicitly rejects animal death before the Fall. (I now believe that the objective text of Scripture does not explicitly include OR exclude animal death before the Fall. In fact the text seems to almost intentionally leave things open to either possibility.)

Here are a couple examples of how your criticism cuts both ways.

At the end of the day, Rom 5 is specific that “death comes by sin” and it doesn’t limit that to only human death. The second statement (so death came to all men) is a specific example or application of the first statement.

Your first sentence is correct. However, it doesn’t include animal death, either. Your second sentence is a possible interpretation, but it is not the only one.

But if that wasn’t clear enough, Rom 8 makes it clear that all creation groans and travails, so it is not just

Romans 8 used to be my clincher for the position I once held, but Romans 8 does not explicitly connect the groaning to Adam’s sin, nor does it explicitly state that such groaning includes animal death. In fact, within YEC there is not even a clear consensus on what kind of death was initiated by Adam’s sin - many leading organizations allow for cell death and even insect or fish death, based on interpretations of verses about the connection of “life” to “breath” and/or “blood”. And there is simply nothing specific in the text that states that Adam’s sin caused mammals and reptiles to leave the immortal ranks of humanity and join the mortal ranks of bugs and basses.


#20

Thanks, Josephson. I am not following you here. It seems that you are imposing a meaning of death on the verses in question and then asserting it can’t be right. I don’t think that is good methodology.

It seems to me we look at the word and see what it means in its context and when we do, it is very obvious that it doesn’t mean immediate physical death. So I am not seeing where you are coming from on this.