Animal Death Before the Fall?

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Did animals die before the fall? The short answer is “no,” but let’s unpack that answer. There are several reasons we believe animals did not die before the fall.

For one, God created the world “very good,” and a very good world would not include animal death. It is obvious from God's statement in Genesis 1:31 (at the end of day 6 of creation), which would mean no sin, no death, and no carnivory. Satan almost certainly rebelled after day 7 as well. God created everything perfect, but it didn’t stay that way for long. In Genesis 1:31 the Hebrew term translated as “very good” is טוֹב מְאֹד (tôb meōd). The word tôb refers to things that are pleasant, qualitatively good, morally good, or that has good character, while meōd serves as an intensifying adjective in this verse. Thus, Scripture did not merely say that all that God made was good—it declared that it was exceedingly good. This verse describes the Lord’s assessment of his creation, so we need to keep his character at the forefront when discerning what “very good” means. Since God is perfect, anything short of perfection could not accurately be identified as “very good.” Would the perfectly holy and morally pure Creator call a world full of death, suffering, and disease “very good”?

we need to keep God’s character at the forefront when discerning what “very good” means

The rebellious choice of Adam and Eve certainly was what opened the door for sin to enter the world, but it need not have. Adam and Eve were sinless, having no sin nature, and as such could have chosen not to rebel against God and therefore remain sinless. Perhaps this is what Solomon is referring to in Ecclesiastes 7:29: “Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes.”1 Jesus was also without a sin nature but did not fall. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Christ Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Of course God, being both sovereign and omniscient, knew Adam and Eve would sin. He therefore determined and planned with foreknowledge a remedy for mankind.

Death: Good, but Not Very Good?

If we were to postulate animal death before sin, one must then, by necessity, believe that death is a good thing, since God called the day of animal creation “good” (Genesis 1:21, Genesis 1:25). One must then believe that God created animals to prey on one another, get sick, and die. Therefore disease also becomes “good” in this worldview. If disease were good, then God must have directly and purposefully created pathogens and parasites to afflict animals in this “good” world.

We can show that God commanded animals to eat plants and declared it “good” and “very good”

It cannot be shown from even one Bible passage where any animal died before Adam sinned, therefore an argument for animal death before sin is from biblical silence and indeed is read into the text. We can show that God commanded animals (at the very least the land animals and flying animals) to eat plants and declared it “good” and “very good.” We can infer that fish (and many other sea creatures) have blood and so are considered “living” things (Leviticus 17:10–14 and 1 Corinthians 15:39) and that for them to have been eating each other would have been the death of a living being (nephesh chayyah in the Hebrew). This would not have occurred if death came as a result of sin, as Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 state. While both passages are primarily speaking of mankind’s death, it goes through a progression. Man sinned, death entered into the world, and death spread to man. But since death entered the world, can we say it did not affect animals? Obviously not, and we read in Romans 8:19–23 that all of creation groans (suffers) due to mankind’s sin.

Restored to What?

Paul’s argument in Romans 8:18–23 equates the relief of creation’s groanings with the redemption of the sinful mortal bodies of Christians. In other words, once Christ returns and gives all believers their resurrected and transformed sinless bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42–44), all of creation will cease suffering as well. If Christ’s resurrection of our mortal bodies into a sinless state and the end of suffering and death for all of creation (except those God will judge for rejecting him) are intertwined, is it not readily apparent that man’s sin caused death and suffering to “enter the world,” meaning all the rest of God’s creation? Since all of those in Christ and all of creation’s liberation are linked in being free from corruption, death, and suffering, it is most reasonable theologically to conclude that they also came into bondage to corruption at the same time. Surely the God who views death as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) would not proclaim a world full of death to be “very good.”

A third reason animal death did not happen before the fall is that God created everything to last forever at the beginning. When we look at Genesis 1 (cf. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16–17) we realize that God originally created everything perfectly, caused it to be alive, and—since in that perfect creation there was to be no death or suffering—created it to be eternal. Because of man’s sin in Genesis 3, we do see death in the world, but God will restore animals to a non-aggressive state one day (Isaiah 11:6–9). Many Christians believe that Isaiah 11 and 65 mention a future time where currently carnivorous animals revert to a vegetarian state, which supports the notion that this was their original state and leads to our next point.

A fourth reason animal death before the fall did not happen is the promise of future peace between animals and humans. Also note in the Isaiah passage that there is no aggressive behavior and no “bad accidents.” The nursing child need not fear the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den and not be bitten (Isaiah 11:8). These formerly carnivorous and aggressive animals “shall not hurt or destroy.” If aggressive and even instinctual self-preserving behavior is modified so that no harm can come to humans (and animals as in verses 6–7), then how could we think that a “very good” creation was full of death and suffering? In Acts 3:21, Peter mentions “the restoration of all things.” If the pre-fall world was full of death and suffering, then what is being restored?

The restoration must be to a “very good” and perfect pre-fall state where God himself will wipe away all tears (Revelation 21:4). Revelation 22:3 says that there “will be no more curse” meaning that the curse, which came about as a result of man’s sin (Genesis 3:14–19), will be done away with at the “restoration of all things.”

Evil

A final reason animals could not have died before the fall is that God cannot be the author of moral evil. Moral evil did not exist in God’s original creation; it was created “very good,” and moral good (since God is the standard of moral goodness) must be a component of this creation (Genesis 1:31). Because God created Adam and Eve and called all of creation very good (including them), Adam and Eve were not created with a sin nature at enmity against God, such as the one we inherited after the fall (Romans 8:6-7, 1 Corinthians 2:14). But Eve and then Adam chose to disobey God, and Adam’s sin corrupted that perfect creation (Genesis 3) and introduced evil into the world. We conclude that Satan’s fall and man’s subsequent fall did not take place until after creation week was over. After all, God rested from his work and blessed his creation on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2–3), right after we are told that everything was “very good.” Deuteronomy 32:4 tells us that God’s work is perfect and that he is a “God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”

How much plainer could God have made it?

We must also remember that Genesis 1 states six times during the creation week that God called what he created “good.” When he finished creating on the sixth day, the Bible states that everything was “very good.” How much plainer could God have made it? Therefore, we can confidently state that his work of creation was perfect, without a trace of evil.

Conclusion

Animal death before the fall did not happen since it would deny the clear teaching of Scripture and impugn the character of God. To presuppose that anything that Scripture calls nephesh life2 died before the fall is to deny what Genesis 1:29–31 teaches: all nephesh creatures were vegetarian, and a holy God pronounced everything “very good.” It also dishonors our righteous, holy, and perfect God, making him the author and a utilizer of death and suffering.

The author wishes to thank Tim Chaffey for his many invaluable contributions to this article.

Footnotes

  1. All Scripture verses are NKJV.
  2. Nephesh life is described in numerous places in Scripture, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll keep it simple and use it for all air-breathing land animals and all aquatic animals that have blood. This would, for example, exclude all bacteria and most invertebrates, like insects. Answers in Genesis does not have an official position on whether non-nephesh creatures died before the fall or not.

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