Death and Evil existed before the Fall

I have recently been watching a nest of baby Jaybirds near the entrance of SEBC’s dorms. For the past two weeks, I have seen their little, weird frames grow and become encased with gray, wire-like feathers. The eyes spring open along with their mouths every time I move the leaves to see them. The chirps of baby birds longing for food will warm the heart. Yet, there is only one now. Recently, a friend shared a story with me where he saw an unknown bird of prey swoop down from the sky to catch a baby bird on the ground outside the dorm. To my dread, that was one of the little babies.  Needless to say, the baby Jaybird would not be raised as a baby eagle. He would be eaten. Walking back to the dorms today, I found the carcass of another stiff as a rock lying on the ground probably because of heat exhaustion. I looked to find only one little one left with his mouth open begging for food. Nature is cruel. There is no doubt about that. Baby birds fall out of the nests to succumb to heat exhaustion in the hot Alabama Spring or the talons of a bird of prey, one of God’s good creatures. The death of these insignificant animals got my mind running asking the question “Who is to blame?” Why do these animals die? The evangelical answer is to blame Adam. But, I think this is wrong.

Animals die because that is the way they were created. They were created to die. In fact, death and even some aspects of surd evil existed before the Fall of man.  This is most certainly opposed to many fundamental beliefs of well-meaning Christians. Animal death, natural evil (tsunamis, tornados, and earthquakes), moral evil (rape, murder, and incest), decay, and sin are all said to be a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Unfortunately, I think the Bible does not allow or afford us such an answer. The simple, bare-bones observation I see when reading Scripture is that Adam and Eve were the first people (homo divinas[ala John Stott]) to share a unique relationship with Yahweh their Creator. Despite their relationship and the blessing of that, they chose to disobey and fell into a state of sin. Bruce Waltke describes the Fall as

“Adam and Eve were created in a state of righteousness (acceptance with God) and innocence (a state of untested righteousness). They would have continued in a state of blessed sanctity with God and of enjoying life in the garden if they obeyed God and not eaten the forbidden fruit…God’s unique presence in the garden guarantees its sanctity. By Adam and Eve’s failure to trust the goodness of God’s character and the truthfulness of his word, they disobey and instantaneously “fall” from their state of bliss in the garden into a tragic state of irreversible sin and death and banishment from the garden. The consequences of Adam’s disobedience are catastrophic: they lead the race into original sin and death. (An Old Testament Theology pg. 276)”

Notice how the standard description of the Fall from Dr. Waltke does not say “animal death, natural evil, decay, or even moral evil came from Adam’s sin.”

I truly believe “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Rom. 5:12).” Adam’s sin brought original sin and death to the human race. The Fall of man brought sin and death to human beings. Just because death came to us because of sin, does not mean that death and some forms of surd evil did not exist at any level prior to the Fall (Paul’s analogy in Romans 5 breaks down if you apply it to animals and natural evil…Did Jesus die for tornados and frogs?). However, I have a hard time blaming Adam and Eve for everything else under the sun that looks bleak from our vantage points. In fact, I think it can be shown from the Bible that some sorts of evil, death, and decay existed before the historical Fall of man. The goal of this blog is to show from the Bible that natural evil and death existed in the world before the Fall of man. It should be clear that I am opposing some Young Earth Creationists’ ideas and beliefs. If you’d like to see what they believe, go here. I plan to one day deal more with the Fall of man and its subsequent Genesis of moral evil into the world. But, that is for later. As Bruce Waltke has pointed out, the “Biblical cosmogonies of Genesis 1—3, Proverbs 8:22—31; and Job 38—41 do not present a pristine original creation without decay and death. Rather these cosmogonies present a persistent evil from Urzeit (i.e., primordial time) to Endzeit (that is to a future eschaton when it will be eliminated).”

The reader should know that I view Creation from a canonical standpoint. The Bible says different things about Creation in different contexts. For a strong biblical view of Creation, one must consider all that is said about the subject (which includes various creation accounts or summaries in Gen. 1-2 [which are two different accounts], Job 36, 38-41, Psa. 8, 74, 89, 90, Prov. 8, and others). Saying you believe X about creation without consulting X, Y, and Z on that topic in Scripture is like saying I’ve read the whole Bible while only reading the book of Philemon.Gen. 1 presents a creation with no hint of battle or struggle. It came about by the word of the Lord. Genesis 2 presents a potter in the dirt painstakingly creating his works. Not so in Psa. 74 or 89. God is presented as battling & defeating the Leviathan or Rahab. There is a painful struggle that the valiant warrior, Yahweh, overcomes to become the highly exalted Lord of the cosmos. To be honest, I think the OT is less concerned with the actual how of creation but the who. Who’s jurisdiction is the cosmos? Peter Enns says “One of the main questions Israelites asked was how their God ranked among the dozens of gods in the ancient world—namely, what made him worthy of devotion rather than the gods of the superpowers like Babylon and Egypt.” Reading creation accounts within that framework sheds light on the numerous battlegrounds associated with Creation today. How did he bring it into existence: by word of his mouth, by defeating sea serpents, by birthing it, or by causing natural processes to bring about species? Scripture does not give us a uniform answer. Scripture does not tell us the process. It gives multiple answers (processes) with one ultimate cause- Yahweh. Now to the cause at hand.

Genesis 1:2 entails that chaos exists before the Fall of man. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” There was a dark time when the earth was without form and void. It was not functioning properly. This supplies the context in order to interpret the significance of the creation. Namely, Israel’s covenant-keeping God overcomes the chaos to bring about his good pleasure. The Genesis account, like many other ancient cosmologies, includes the dark primordial waters. Where it came from is unknown. We do know that only God is eternal. The words “form and void” (תהו  tohu and בהו  bohu) indicate a negative within God’s good creation. The phrase is found only elsewhere in Jeremiah 4:23 where the land exists under God’s judgment. Tohu is used of a ruined city that is desolate (Isa. 24:10), of Edom reduced to chaotic desolation (Isa. 34:10), of howling destruction that is barren (Deut. 32:10) and trackless (Job 6:18; Psa. 107:40). It functions as an antonym for create (bara). Tohu always connotates something terrible or eerie.  Borrowing imagery from pagan myths, Israel’s poets depict Yahweh as ascending to cosmic mastery by his victory over the primordial waters. There is evil present in creation.

There exists darkness in God’s good creation. God restricted the darkness by light, the sea by land and sky. Any reader of the Bible can see that darkness is a motif for evil and badness. From Genesis 1 to the Exodus judgments to the knowledge of the Gospel that makes darkness flee to the elimination of the current heavens and earth in the end, darkness is bad. But alas, It existed in the beginning. How can darkness exist if things are said to be good by God? The answer lies in what God means when he declares something is good. “It is good” is a statement of functionality. It is doing what it was created to do. It is fulfilling the purpose for which it was made. It does not have to be a statement of ontology or ethics. Something is good if it is doing what it was created to do by it’s Sovereign.

There are things that appear in Genesis 1 that would always indicate danger to an ancient Hebrew reader. One such example would be the sea. N.T. Wright eloquently stated:

The sea is part of the original creation, part of the world of which God says that it is “very good.” But already by the story of Noah the flood poses a threat to the creation, with Noah and his floating zoo rescued by God’s grace. From within the good creation itself come forces of chaos, harnessed to enact God’s judgment. We then find Moses and the Israelites standing in front of the sea, chased by the Egyptians and at their wits’ end. God makes a way through the sea to rescue his people, and again to judge the pagan world; like the Noah story, though now in a new mode. As later poets look back on this decisive moment in the story of God’s people, they celebrate it in terms of the old creation myths themselves: the waters saw YHWH and were afraid, and they went backwards. But then, in a passage of enormous influence on early Christianity, we find in the vision of Daniel 7 that the monsters who make war upon the people of the saints of the most high come up out of the sea. The sea has become the dark, fearsome, threatening place from which evil emerges, threatening God’s people like a giant tidal wave threatening those who live near the coast. For the people of ancient Israel, who were not for the most part seafarers, the sea came to represent evil and chaos, the dark powers that might do to God’s people what the flood had done to the whole world, unless God rescues them as he rescued Noah.

Examples where the sea is used with a negative connotation are as follows: Exo. 15:19, Job. 7:12, Psa. 78:53, 93:4, 107:23-29, Isa. 5:30, 17:12, 57:20, Jer. 5:22, 50:42, 51:42, Eze. 26:3, 27:32, Dan. 7:2-3, Amos 9:3, Jon. 1:15, Zech. 10:11, Luke 21:25, Acts 28:4, Jude 13, and Rev. 31:1.

The Leviathan is conspicuously mentioned in Gen. 1:21 (sea creatures or monsters is the Hebrew for tannin). Isa. 27:1 says “In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon (tannin) that is in the sea.” Psa. 74:13-14 says “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters (tanninim) on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” The term tannin used in Genesis 1:21 is variously translated sea creature, monster, dragon, or coiling serpent and generally refers to a dangerous beast. This is an ugly, evil beast that God is said to control. God restrains the evil already present as he sovereignly creates. In the Mesopotamian cosmologies, people and creation came about through the destruction of evil sea creatures/monster. Yahweh is described as defeating the ancient sea monsters. God is in control of the evil sea monsters. God is sovereign over the terrible mythological sea creature of evil, the Leviathan. He controls the vicious seas, Yamm. He defeats the proud beasts, Rahab.

The book of Job refers back to creation in chs. 38-41. God is shown to be sovereign over the chaotic forces and creatures though they are hostile to humanity. There are dangerous and dark forces out in the world that have always been there along with what is considered by humans to be good. God is sovereign over all of them. God boasts in Job about his creative power that includes the bounding of darkness by light (38:19-20), snow and hail, which are kept in storehouses and reserved for the time of troubles (38:22-23), drought and harvest (38:26-27), wind and storms (38:34-35), predators and prey (38:39-41). All these forces are present at creation (when God “laid the foundations of the earth” 38:4). God even boasts about his creative power over certain unkind animals: the mountain goats and deer who have labor pains (39:3), the donkey who lies in the wasteland (39:6), the ostrich who deals cruelly with her young (39:16), the horse who strikes terror with his proud snorting (39:20), the hawks who suck up blood (39:30), and the mythical monsters who strike fear and terror in the hearts of all who cross them (the Leviathan and Behemoth).

What about the Serpent of Genesis 2 and 3? He would certainly be in God’s creative control as one of the creatures of the land. The second creation account does not explain the origin of the diabolical Serpent that brought social death into the world. Rather God restricts, not eliminates, the Serpent by subjugating him to defeat and death by the heel of the woman’s seed.  The Serpent is evil and yet, he existed before the Fall. Evil and death were present before Adam and Eve tasted of the forbidden fruit.

It is also fitting to point out that humans and creatures were commanded to eat the flora (Gen. 1:29-30). The animal life and Adam/Eve probably walked around while they were in the garden. If they walked on the plants, some were probably damaged and killed (sarcasm implied). Furthermore, the process of which plants grow involves death at every stage. The cycle of sprouting leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds is one that involves decay. The system only functions if death is present. A caterpillar eating a leaf brings death. A bird eating a caterpillar brings death. A larger bird eating the smaller bird brings death. Fruit flies, bacteria, and some other species multiply so fast that, without death, they would be overpopulated by the creation of Adam and Eve. Can you imagine a world where no animals die and the ecosystem is not immediately overwhelmed? It is not scientifically possible. If animals and insects did not die, they would overwhelm their environment and the ecology would suffer. Even humans have a layer of dead skin on their bodies (epidermis). Adam had skin right? The idea that Adam and Eve and the animals were vegetarians is unsupported from the text. God does say “I give you plants for food.” But, the command is a positive proposition that does not entail a negative. I give you X does not mean you can never eat Y. Another quick question for naysayers: How would Adam know to obey the commandment to not eat the fruit lest he die if he had no knowledge of what death even was? Other arguments for animal death preceding the Fall can be found here and here.

The reason why Adam and Eve did not die was because they had access to the antidote for death, the tree of life in the garden. The first man by nature is susceptible to death but his continued sacramental eating from the tree of life renews life and prevents aging and death. The tree of life allows humanity to transcend its original mortality and move to a higher dimension, life beyond the creation to eternal life and immortality (Gen. 2:9, 3:22). The tree of life that guaranteed healing and unending blessings is mentioned in Gen. 2:2,3:22, 24, Prov. 3:18, 11:30, 13:12, 15:4 and in later Jewish eschatological writings (Esr. 8:52, Rev. 2:4, 22:2).

Death in the human realm is a result from sin. Adam and Eve became like the animals…they would one day perish (Psa.49:12,20, Ecc. 3:18-20). The baby birds outside the dorms died because that is what they were created to do. One day the world will be put to rights. It will not be a return to Eden. It will be better than Eden. There will be no sea, no darkness, and certainly no Leviathans.  As Dr. Waltke as pointed out:

In the final creation, unlike the first creation, God will eliminate, not circumscribe, the primordial surd and the Serpent (Rev 21:1-5, 23). This final, consummate salvation implies that before mankind’s fall, the cosmos was not pristine but threatened by a persistent chaos and moral evil. The creation is grand but groaning.

There will come a day when the groaning of creation will stop. Our groaning will cease as well. The groans for creation have been present since the beginning. But, God is before the beginning. I close with a quote from Buechner: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

Carlson, Richard F., and Tremper Longman. Science, creation and the Bible: reconciling rival theories of origins. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010.

Snoke, David. A biblical case for an old earth . Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2006.

Waltke, Bruce K., and Charles Yu. An Old Testament theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007.

Walton, John H.. The lost world of Genesis One: ancient cosmology and the origins debate. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009.

Other information gathered from papers by the following: Bruce Waltke, John Walton, C. John Collins, Richard E. Averbeck, Peter Enns, and David Tsumura.


5 responses to “Death and Evil existed before the Fall

  1. Pingback: Another Look: Surd Evil, Serpents, and the Cosmic Battle |·

  2. Can you tell me where you found the Waltke quote: As Bruce Waltke has pointed out, the “Biblical cosmogonies of Genesis 1—3, Proverbs 8:22—31; and Job 38—41 do not present a pristine original creation without decay and death. Rather these cosmogonies present a persistent evil from Urzeit (i.e., primordial time) to Endzeit (that is to a future eschaton when it will be eliminated).”?


  3. Pingback: Evolution and you? - Page 24 - Christian Forums·

  4. Beautifully written. My prayer (and active pursuit) is that articulations such as this one gain ground or, at the very least, a seat at the evangelical table. The popular evangelical fairytale of the perfect world ruined by sin needs to die.

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