Was there death before the Fall?

Many Christians claim that the consequence of the Fall was death, but claim it was spiritual death rather than physical death. This seems odd if one considers that when people in the Old Testament made animal sacrifices it was the physical death of the animal that released the person from his sins. Similarly when Christ died to release us from our sins it was his physical death that released us from our sins, not his spiritual death.

So when Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death…”, it seems it is referring to physical death and not spiritual death. Note that it may be that spiritual death requires physical death, but it seems that the Bible is saying that physical death is sufficient payment for sins.

Without physical death, the main mechanism by which natural selection occurs would be missing and so evolution would be impossible. So it seems to me that Evolution is not compatible with Christianity

Hi Anthony,

We have a lot of content on this topic.

Blessings on your journey.

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That was a tough one for me too. But death is used metaphorically in many places too. Paul talks about our old selves dying. Even in Genesis, Adam and Eve are told that they will “surely die,” and yet they physically stay alive for a long time. To me that’s another hint that their “death” is what takes place when they are expelled from the garden.

Physical life (where our bodies live after all) is going to be the concrete connection, that any scribe/teacher/prophet will use to help us understand a spiritual reality. So when Jesus refers to his body as bread or himself as a gate or when Psalmists refer to God as a Rock or a fortress or a Shepherd - they are speaking the language on connection to help people relate to God in terms of things they know. As Laura already suggested, Paul didn’t seem to have trouble seeing death at different levels and not just physical.

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@Anthony I personally am not a fan of calling this “spiritual death” which is a common interpretation. Mainly because belief in an after life is largely lacking in the OT as was belief in souls/spirit until later on. So that is probably not what was meant. I think death meant being cut off from God or as @Laura said, being expelled from the Garden in this case. This kind of ties into the documentary hypothesis but this is a P text. If you read Ezekiel 18, another P text, we see death being used in a similar sense of being cut off (the evil doers don’t literally die instantly and everyone eventually dies, good or bad). Which I guess can be considered “spiritual death” by modern standards but that seems to carry too much baggage to me to apply to the Old Testament. I am guessing it would be a bit anachronistic and not capture all of the original nuances intended. The OT has kind of a “bad things happen to bad people” vibe running throughout which I think a lot of us question now. I’d guess this ties in somehow.


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I think it is odd that you believe blood sacrifice has some kind of magical power. I think this was frankly just an incremental reform of religious practice from that which was already done all around them – to make it about repentance for sin rather than appeasing gods. You know, just like the laws given on slavery, was an incremental reform of the social practice in the cultures all around them. The first was not to affirm that blood sacrifice had any magical powers any more than the second was to give divine approval for the practice of slavery.

Ah but I see where you are getting this from… substitutionary atonement from the literal treatment of these metaphors in the Bible. The idea that Jesus and these animals were patsies to be punished in the place of the guilty. Goes very well with this mafia version of Christianity which has God running a protection racket requiring people to pay a price to be spared his wrath.

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I’m an atheist so I dont believe any of this. I’m just curious how theistic evolution is supposed to work?

Do you really think if you could go back in time and speak to those ancient Hebrews who sacrificed animals to god, that they would tell you that the death of the animal wasn’t really necessary and that forgiveness of sins could just as easily be obtained without it?

Regarding slavery, I’ve heard the argument that god allowed this evil practice not because he agreed with it, but because he wanted to reform it and eventually abolish it. If this was really true:

  1. Why didn’t he do the same with other evil practices which were (and still are) prevalent such as adultery, fortification, round haircuts, fortune telling, tattoos, wearing certain fabrics, eating shellfish etc. Instead he banned these practices. Why the inconsistency?
  2. If pagan rulers at the time could ban slavery (e.g. Cyrus the Great) why couldn’t the the omnipotent creator of the Universe?
  3. If god really thought chattel slavery of pagans was evil or even undesirable, where does god, Jesus or any of the apostles say so? Apparently chattel slavery was prohibited only when the slaves involved were fellow Hebrews

The Genesis story attempts to explain human separation from God in the human condition of mortality. Which is about our existential angst and, entirely separately, Him if anything. The angst is entirely natural and we make up stories, including God who feeds negatively in to the angst, to assuage it. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘sin’, whatever that is, apart from a victim child orphan’s self-blaming explanation of why life’s a bitch and then you die.

Christian emphasis on Jesus addressing our sense of guilt and shame completely misses the point of Jesus in the first place (incarnation) and last (resurrection) place. He is the only warrant we have for God. His faithfulness is more than sufficient to lift us all up and His competence will fix all we naturally lack. How does that conflict with geology?

Do you think Adam and Eve were real people? Was the Fall a real event and what do you think its real world consequences were?

Is there anything about the Genesis story that you don’t think is metaphorical?
Do you believe that humans were created with an evil nature i.e. a propensity for hate, greed, jealousy, anger etc?

You may get a better understanding of how death is viewed by looking at conditional immortality. Only God is eternal. Angels are not eternal. Humans are not eternal. Animals are not eternal.

Evolutionary theism is a loose term meant to denote a religious person who believes in evolution. It’s not a so racial type of evolution any different than the typical mainstream understandings of evolution. Ive seen it used by Jews and Muslims but mostly it seems to be a term used by Christians. The reason why the statement is made as a coined phrase is because now days the majority of atheists and the majority of Christians believes that science and religion are incompatible.

Evolutionary theism is not a biblical interpretation. It’s a byproduct of various biblical interpretations. So different believes will believe in different ways to read genesis and normally the emphasis in genesis is on 1-11.

Some believe that Adam and Eve were real people and some don’t. Some believe that original sin is a biblical doctrine and others don’t believe it’s in there at all.

I don’t believe original sin is biblical. I don’t think it’s in the Bible at all. I think it’s a made up down the road argument that ties into things like infant baptism and purgatory. I also believe in conditional immortality meaning that eternal life is given by God and not something anyone owns.

So in short this is my personal understanding of the garden story.

Sin has always existed. But before there was a line drawn in the sand by God for it there was no accountability. (Romans 5:13) we can look at a common biblical pattern again and again. We see so many people in the Bible being rescued out to by Yahweh and telling them to come to this promised land.

I believe that God called a man and a woman to a promised land which was the garden. They were just two, or a few, out of thousands but just like Moses they were picked. They came to a promised land which was a garden. There God was teaching them his will. Just like we saw the teachings being revealed to the Jews over a extended amount of time. They were tempted and failed. Something we see happening again and again throughout the Bible of people crumbling to their own way instead of Gods way. I believe that for some amount of time the humans in the garden could have kept living on the condition they trusted him. But they sinned and was cast out. They would not physically die, and metaphorically they spiritually died. Now we must all await until the resurrection where the good and the wicked will be brought back and the lost are destroyed and die a second time never to return. The Bible does not specific answers about this event in detail of when or how.

Death is used to refer to the ending of something several times. Physical and spiritual. Literally and non literally.

Ancient Israelites were not modern day Christians. I don’t think their notion of “the forgiveness of sins” was the same as ours. Judaism evolved over a long period of time just as Christianity did. Many later Jews might have told you precisely this:

Hosea 6:6: For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Now Hosea didn’t abolish this practice (see 9:4) but the idea is a dead animal is meaningless without obeying God. It would have been seen as a hollow and empty gesture to many. Now that doesn’t mean they didn’t think the blood did something magical when they did obey God. I really can’t comment. These laws were from people living 2500-400 years ago. By modern standards their outlook on many aspects of the world was very primitive.

This tends to be a bad argument made by people who have forced themselves intellectually to view every portion of the Bible as coming directly from God’s hand and relaying encyclopedic information about God’s will, history and faith. Moses and the Law, assuming some core of this legendary figure is historical, date back to 1400-1200 BC. The Pentateuch was finalized ~700 years later. The Jews came to believe in monotheism over time, believed God established a covenant with them and set them apart. Slavery was a reality of life. I doubt any of these OT writers thought what modern apologists are claiming. The number of servants and wives was considered by some to show you had found divine favor. I am reminded of Jacob’s wives just giving him their servants as they battled to give him children.

The counter argument will be two-fold, first, I think you might be claiming far more knowledge about what Cyrus did and didn’t do and the nature of slavery in Persia at the time. This is charitably interpreting something that goes different ways.

Second, slavery has existed in virtually every advanced civilization in the world.In some cases it was indentured servitude without unions and modern labor laws. In others it was what we all think of as slavery, even for ancient Israelites. It would have done as much good for God to tell everyone to release all their slaves as it did Jesus to tell the rich man to sell everything he had and give all his possessions to the poor. The better position leading to the greater good was to slowly correct behavior and instead impose regulations and restrictions on the practice. Society was too entrenched in it to listen. I personally don’t find this very satisfying nor any attempts by theologians to justify why God regulates primitive and immoral practices. Whether its true or not is a different issue. There seems to be some wisdom in the notion that you can’t just stop the world from working and overthrow an institutionalized system that probably pervades all aspects of life and society. Free will gets in the way. How many former American slaves died right after being emancipated from starvation and disease? As a newly freed slave, do you have any possessions? How do you feed your family tomorrow? Without an alternative to turn to what real choice does a slave have? Give me liberty or give me death was a white-privileged thing to say.

Why didn’t Jesus comment on it? Jesus was probably a poor, lower-class Palestinian Jew under Roman occupation. I’d be willing to bet this tekton from Galilee did not own or possess any slaves. Instead he used the slave-master analogy in parables depicting our relationship with God. Slavery was a brute fact at the time, an accepted practice and many slaves would have presumably owned slaves if the roles were reversed. The world has never been egalitarian to all people. Whether or not the incarnate Son of God was a product of his times in this regard we cannot say for certain because there are no comments on it. We know that in the Gospel record we are told to love our enemies, to give charitably to all in need, to turn the other cheek, treat others as you wish to be treated etc. We know he ministered to the alienated and outcast members of society. Jesus was very much against the grain on many issues at the time and he is still a flouter convention to us moderns with our advanced moral codes and sense of superiority who cannot live up to his teachings. That is why Col 4:1 says, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” And Ephesians 6: 5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Slavery was a brute fact of the world and it was still being regulated. I don’t think the early Christian version based on the teachings of Jesus was open to treating slaves however you want based on them being property or allowing them to be raped and so on. Of course, with time this all changed when the original and mind-numbingly radical message of Jesus was lost.

I won’t comment on them all, but modern scholars attribute the fabric rule to the mixed garments being reserved for priests at the time (Josephus. Antiquities 4:8:11.). Do women who aren’t nuns dress like them today? Why would they. But many statements in the OT were written down because they simply represented Jewish beliefs and practices at the time. I personally don’t believe God hand-picked all 613 precepts of the Law.

Of course in some respects we agree. Many of the things God seems to care about, when the OT is taken as a literal and inerrant declaration of His will seem petty and silly compared to the grotesque practices of slavery, misogyny and other things he seems to turn a blind eye to. But your questions seem to be with wooden fundamentalists and inerrancy touting protestant evangelicals.


The implication of what you’re saying is that god created us with an evil nature? i.e. one that is predisposed towards anger, hate, jealousy etc.Is this what you believe? Also how do you interpret Romans 3:23 " for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"? Is this not because our evil nature makes it impossible for humans to live a sinless life to a ripe old age? And any free will we have is useless in this regard because the probability we can avoid sinning over a normal lifetime is zero. It seems strange that an omni-benevolent god would set humans up to fail in this way and then judge us worthy of damnation or some other kind of punishment because of it?

There can’t be anything about Genesis - an artefact - that isn’t made up one way or another. It has nothing to do with nature apart from being a product of it. A product of human nature created by nature. If anything at all God is the instantiator of eternal nature. That’s how He creates, if at all, if He exists, is the ground of being. If He is then He could prompt, inspire by the Spirit which would enhance human cultural evolution. The Spirit doesn’t teach cosmology, geology, biology, psychology, literary analysis.

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We can avoid sinning but the deck iss tacked against us due to enculturation.We learn sins from our parents and grow up as products of our environment. But people can swim against the current. It happens all the time. We are also judged based on what we know and what we do with what we are given. God understands our lot in life better than we do. If anyone goes to hell, whatever that place may be, they don’t go there because they were predetermined to or because they were unfairly judged or received a poor hand in life. That version of god is a sadistic monster and should be rejected by everyone. Or maybe if real, someone we should falsely worship to avoid a lot more trouble down the line. Such a being does not deserve our love or worship, however. Though their doctrine tends to be self-conflicting, wvwn most conservative Christians generally believe we have free will.

Of course from your perspective they offer a dubious proposition. 'Accept factual statements about me as true or burn in hell." That is how fundamentalism appears to me as well but even that is a little more nuanced. But yes, they over-apply statements in John’s gospel as universal mandates condemning anyone who does share their intellectual beliefs to hell. A dubious practice in my mind. In the end, Jesus came to save us from ourselves and show us how to live. He came to bridge the ontological gulf between God and man and create solidarity with the human race. Just follow the teachings of Jesus, not because you think you are an amazing person and can warrant an omnipotent deity’s affection through your personal awesomeness and creativity, but because they are the right things to do. Admit your limitations and faults, your-shortcomings, failure as a person to live up the the standard set by Jesus. Be absolutely sorry for them. Hate your complacency and the things you do that you know are wrong. Strive to grow at all times. Do that and you will have stumbled into God’s grace whether you know it or not. Albeit, it will be a bit easier if you ground your quest in prayer with Him.


Knowing that you are an atheist might take this thread in a different direction. Hear me out. It seems you are under the view that many conservative Christians are, that all death and sin came into existence in the world during a mythological garden narrative. Before this there was no suffering, God made the world perfectly good, the lion slept with the lamb in the Garden and so on. Then humans went and ruined it all. I wish that were true. Unfortunately it is not.

I can’t officially speak for Biologos but the website in general appears to accept modern science. Death, cancer and natural disasters were all here long before anyone dreamt up that magical garden. Most here I think accept that death, disease and so on pre-existed human civilization. So it seems then that your problem from many of our perspectives is not garden story and science, but the problem of evil. Am I on the right track?


No I’m well aware that many Christians dont take a purely literal view of Genesis. But many of these Christians will still claim that there are certain facts that can be deduced from Genesis such as “all humans are descended from a single man and single woman” or “our evil nature is the result of human rebellion against god” or that “god directed evolution with the aim of producing humans”. I think many of these claims are still unscientific. The only way I can see how someone can reconcile Genesis and evolution is to take a view that everything in Genesis is just a myth (which it seems that many do on Biologos)

I wasn’t referring to a single act of deciding to sin or not sin. Rather I was referring to Romans 3:23 " for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". According to my understanding of the Bible, no human can live a normal lifespan without ever sinning because humans have a sinful nature that is predisposed towards hate, anger, jealousy etc

Thank you for clarifying. I take this latter view. Reading Genesis as a myth is as sensible as cooking with a pot to me. Pots are made to cook food in and mythological narratives are not meant to be historically read --whether they evolved from some tiny kernels of history or not. There is scarcely any good hermeneutic for distinguishing what is true or false in these myths for some who think it is a mixture of both. It is all a whimsical guessing game. The work itself and the rest of the Bible treats it all the same. Of course, they may say the only thing essential to their theology per Paul in Romans 5 is that there be first pair of humans God chose to reveal himself to and they failed to listen to him. I don’t subscribe to that view.

If you want to understand the point of Genesis, the best way is to compare it to the other creation myths and flood accounts which 2-9 mirror pretty heavily at least. Looking at how Genesis changes things in the other accounts gives us glimpses into the redactional hand of the authors (there are two different creation accounts) and their intended meaning. For example, most of Genesis 1 comes from one author who gives a pretty omnipotent view of God that sets it apart from other, old creation stories. The second account with the garden and then the flood describe a more primitive conception of God (doesn’t know where Adam is, has Adam name all the animals only to realize none of them are actually suitable as a helper, worried man might become like one of us etc). It is a retelling of Atrahasis and Gilgamesh. Differences will help reveal the purpose and meaning IMO.


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I agree with much of what you said about the culture in ancient times. But if you are going to claim that humans inserted things in the bible that god did not agree with, then you have a big problem because how do you distinguish between what god did or didn’t agree with? How do you know the story of the resurrection wasn’t something that someone just dreamnt up one day?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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