Monday, 28 May 2007

Animal Death Before the Fall?

Joel Kontinen

Progressive creationism with its belief in millions of years of earth history has to postulate that animals were dying for eons before Adam and Eve were created. Lee Irons, though he claims to represent the framework interpretation of the days of Genesis 1, nevertheless seems to agree with the tenets of Reasons to Believe. In his article Animal Death Before the Fall: What Does the Bible Say? he argues biblically for Adam’s fall resulting only in the introduction of death for mankind. He quotes four Scripture passages (Rom. 5:12-14; Rom. 8:18-21; Gen. 1:29-30, 9:1-4 and Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25) that he claims young earth creationists have misunderstood. He also quotes two passages that in his opinion support the view that animals died before the Fall.

I will discuss these six Scripture passages,[1] hoping to show that they can validly be used to support a biblical (i.e. ca 6000 years) view of earth history with no death before the Fall. I will also touch on some other views mentioned by Irons in his article, as I think that they contradict both what the Bible says and what we known from operational science.[2] I will also address the view that in addition to the Bible there is “the book of nature”. While Irons does not explicitly elevate “the book of nature” to the level of the 66 books of God’s revelation, this is a view often promoted by Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe organisation (Sarfati 2004, 41).

· Romans 5:12-14

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned — 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

Irons makes two assumptions: 1) Death (Gr. thanatos) does not necessarily refer to the “cessation of biological life”, and 2) the world (Gr. kosmos) does not necessarily mean the world but “the world of humanity”. He points out that Adam did not die immediately after eating the forbidden fruit, although eventually he did die. It thus started the process leading to physical death. Paul is quite explicit that sin leads to death (Rom. 6: 23). Irons claims that eternal life (Rom. 5:21) does not mean biological life, so death cannot be the opposite of life. This seems to be a very odd interpretation. Eternal life cannot be an illusion. The risen Jesus was not merely a spirit (John 20: 27) and Paul speaks of the resurrection of the body in 1 Corinthians 15. Moreover, the basic meaning of thanatos is death.[3]

There is a similar difficulty with the interpretation of “world”. Irons seems to think that the Greek word kosmos only refers to mankind in Romans 5:12, since in his view sin cannot be in the “non-human realm”. However, Paul explicitly says that the entire created world is groaning because of sin (Rom. 8:22). While I would not say that animals are capable of sinning, the consequences of sin are obvious in the animal kingdom. It no longer is the original “very good” creation.

According to Strong, kosmos refers to “the world (in a wide or narrow sense, incl. its inhab., lit. or fig…)” [4] Paul and the other New Testament authors repeatedly use the word kosmos in its wider sense. Thus, there is nothing in the Greek meaning of the word that excludes its more comprehensive use, i.e. the world includes people, animals and everything else on this planet.

Irons also equates plant death with animal death, a favourite strategy of RTB: “For if ‘world’ means the entire creation (both human and non-human), then Rom. 5:12 would logically imply that death entered the plant kingdom as a result of Adam's sin. But no one denies plant death prior to the entrance of sin.” This fails to make a distinction between animals, who have nephesh or life, and plants that do not. Plants do not have the breath of life that animals have. They do not have emotions, muscles or a blood circulation system. Scripture says that the life of living creatures is in the blood (Lev. 17:11- 14). Thus plants are never alive in this sense (van Bebber and Taylor 1994, 44-45).

· Romans 8:18-21

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Irons quotes Meredith G. Kline’s view of a metaphorical description of a mourning earth in Isaiah 24:4, saying that Paul must have had this scene in view when writing Romans 8: 18-21. However, this is mere speculation. Moreover, Isaiah uses the word erets, which can also be translated as “land”, thus weakening this argument even more.

Irons even presents the straw man argument that some YECs claim that the second law of thermodynamics (the law of entrophy) began with the Fall. The Creation Ministries International website has an article warning against using this argument, so this claim is not really valid.

Genesis 1:29-30, 9:1-4

1:29 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. 30 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.
9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. 4 "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.

Irons says that Genesis 1:29-30 does not explicitly forbid the eating of meat. He says that basically Genesis 9:1-4 merely repeats that what has been said in Gen. 1: 29-30, since both mention the commandment to be fruitful. This, however, amounts to reading more into the text than it explicitly says, a clear case of eisegesis. Genesis allows the eating of meat only after the Flood. Contrary to his claim, there is no support for the view that Gen. 9: 1-4 merely repeats Gen. 1:29-30 and thus the latter passage should include the mention that eating meat is allowed. He draws on Meredith Kline’s suggestion that Gen. 9:3 is merely a removal of the prohibition of eating unclean animals that was forbidden in the ark. Once again, this is not supported by any biblical facts. The word “now” in this verse should make it obvious that eating meat was not allowed previously.

Irons also says that since God set man to rule the animal world, man could naturally use animals for food. Even this is an argument that lacks any biblical support. While God obviously killed an animal to provide clothes for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21), this was a special case that has nothing to do with eating animals. [5]

· Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25

6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.

Irons believes that YECs have misunderstood the connection between Eden and the coming world. He uses the Reformed doctrine of the fourfold state of man to state his case. According to it, man has lived or will live in the following states (in chronological order):
1) the state of innocence
2) the state of sin and condemnation
3) the state of grace
4) the state of glory

Each state differs from the previous one and at least states 2-4 are in some way improvements on the preceding states. Thus, he argues, since state 4 is higher than state 3, state 4 must be much higher than state 1. Therefore, the final state should not be restricted to what the pre-fall conditions were. While this is true, it in no way speaks of animal death before the Fall. The most logical interpretation of “very good” in Genesis 1:31 is the absence of bad things, such as death, which the Bible calls the last enemy(1 Cor. 15:26). It is significant that the mention of very good comes immediately after God’s promise to give the animals “every green plant” for food.

· Psalm 104:19-28

19 The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.
20 You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
21 The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
22 The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens.
23 Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.
24 How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
25 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small.
26 There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
Irons sees a connection to Gen. 1-2 in this passage. He claims that verse 21 says that God sanctions predators to kill their prey and that this is His gift to them. However, using a post-fall poetic passage to interpret the historical narration of Genesis 1-2 is an example of very poor eisegesis. In Genesis 1:30 God explicitly promises “every green plant” as food for animals. There is not even a hint of red meat.

· 1 Timothy 4:1-5

1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Irons claims, “ If marriage was a pre-Fall ordinance given to man in his innocence and, on that ground, is not to be rejected, there must also have been a divine permission before the Fall to partake of ‘every creature of God.’ ” However, this passage does not address pre-fall animal death at all and every attempt to make it do so is doomed to fail.

Other considerations

In this section I will briefly deal with some other aspects Irons mentions in his paper.

Science proves that the earth is millions of years old.

At the beginning of his paper, Irons states, “I find the empirical evidence for an old earth and universe to be compelling, if not incontrovertible.” This cannot be deduced from Scripture, since even those who hold to a old earth view, will admit, “ From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression would seem to be that the entire creative process took place in six twentyfour- hour days. … This seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago.”[6]

Creation scientists have come up with many evidences supporting a young world. D. Russell Humpreys (2000) mentions the following: Galaxies wind themselves up too fast, comets disintegrate too quickly, there is not enough mud on the seafloor, not enough sodium in the sea, the earth’s magnetic field is decaying too fast, many strata are bent too tightly, injected sandstone shortens geological ‘ages’, fossil radioactivity shortens geological ‘ages’ to a few years, helium is in the wrong places, there is not enough stone age skeletons, agriculture is too recent and history is too short. We could add the recent sensational find of blood cells and soft tissue in T-rex bones as well as the discovery of carbon 14 in diamonds to this list. In other words, the evidence against an old earth is rather substantial.

The fossil record speaks of a nature “red in tooth and claw”.

However, if we interpret the fossil record from a YEC perspective and accept a catastrophic Fall and a year-long global flood in Noah’s days, the evidence does not speak of pre-Fall animal death at all.

Creation is progressive, taking millions of years

Irons writes that new kinds appear repeatedly in the fossil record. However, Genesis teaches very clearly that God created everything in six ordinary, 24-hour days. As James Barr, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University, has admitted,

As far as the language of Genesis 1 is concerned, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience, (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story, (c) Noah’s Flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark. [7]

There is a strong case for regarding the creation days of Genesis 1 as ordinary days (see Sarfati 2004, 67-105). Extra-scriptural influences are needed to produce interpretations that encompass millions of years.

“The Book of Nature” is the 67th book of Scripture

RTB teaches what Sarfati (2004, 59) calls the Dual Revelation Theory, i.e. that nature is the 67th book of Scripture. However, if General Revelation were sufficient for salvation, there would be no need for Special Revelation. Moreover, RTB fails to make a distinction between facts and interpretations, which are often based on fallible theories. It is thus not valid to equate the infallible Word with subjective interpretations based on observations of the present state of nature.


The Bible clearly shows that the Fall of man was a catastrophe for both man and the entire creation. Attempts to make the Bible sanction pre-Fall animal predation are not based on sound hermeneutics but rely on the fallible views of man who is often in rebellion with His Maker. It would thus be wise to heed what the Bible clearly teaches and not attempt to re-interpret Scripture to make it compatible with man’s opinions.


Creation on the Web. Arguments We Think Creationists Should NOT Use.

Ham, Ken, Jason Lisle, Terry Mortenson, Paul S. Taylor and Mark van Bebber. Exposing Progressive Creation: Serious Biblical & Scientific Errors that Promote Billions of Years. Answers in Genesis booklet

Humpreys, D.Russel. 2000. Evidences for a Young Earth. Answers in Genesis booklet.

Irons. Lee. n.d. Animal Death Before the Fall

Sarfati, Jonathan. 2004. Refuting Compromise. Green Forest, AR. Master Books.

Strong, James. 1996. The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Van Bebber, Mark and Paul S. Taylor. 1994. Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross. 2nd ed. Gilbert, AZ: Eden Productions.


[1] I will use to New International Version (NIV) translation since it is the version I am most familiar with.
[2] I would make a distinction between operational science, i.e. that what can empirically be seen happening in our world, and origins science, which is mostly based on interpretations of what is thought to have happened in the distant past.
[3] Strong 1996, 631. Although thanatos can also be understood figuratively, it means literally death. That Paul speaks about spiritual death (e.g. Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13) does not mean that physical death is an illusion.
[4] Item 2889
[5] Abel seems to have understood the deeper meaning of sacrificing animals to God (Gen. 4:4), but the Bible does not say that he ate the sacrifices.
[6] Archer, G. 1994. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Moody Press, Chicago, pp. 196–197. Quoted in Ken Ham, Jason Lisle, Terry Mortenson, Paul S. Taylor & Mark Van Bebber.
Exposing progressive Creation: Serious Biblical & Scientific Errors that Promote Billions of Years.
[7] Letter to David C. C. Watson, April 23, 1984, quoted in Ham and al.