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Which history of death do you accept?
Annie’s cruel death destroyed Charles’s tatters of beliefs in a moral, just universe. Later he would say that this period chimed the final death-knell for his Christianity. . . . Charles [Darwin] now took his stand as an unbeliever.”1
When Charles Darwin wrote his famous book On the Origin of Species, he was in essence writing a history concerning death. In the conclusion of the chapter entitled “On the Imperfections of the Geological Record,” Darwin wrote, “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.”2
From his evolutionary perspective on the origin of life, Darwin recognized that death had to be a permanent part of the world. Undoubtedly, he struggled with this issue as he sought to reconcile some sort of belief in God with the death and suffering he observed all around him, and which he believed had gone on for millions of years.
This struggle came to a climax with the death of his daughter Annie—said to be “the final death-knell for his Christianity.”
Belief in evolution and/or millions of years necessitates that death has been a part of history since life first appeared on this planet. The fossil layers (containing billions of dead things) supposedly represent the history of life over millions of years. As Carl Sagan is reported to have said, “The secrets of evolution are time and death.”3
This phrase sums up the history of death according to those who believe in evolution and/or millions of years. In this system of belief:
Rather than “time and death,” the phrase “sin and death” sums up the history of death according to the Bible. From a perspective of the literal history of the Book of Genesis, there was a perfect world to start with described by God as “
very good” (Genesis 1:31)—but it was marred because of Adam’s rebellion. Sin and its consequence of death entered the world that was once a paradise (Romans 5:12 ff., 8:20–22; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22).
In 1 Corinthians 15:26, Paul describes death as the “
last enemy.” And that’s the point—death is an enemy—it’s an intrusion. The death of man and the animals was not part of the original creation. And even though death reigns in this present world, one day in the future there will be no more death: “
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4, KJV).
The idea of millions of years came from the belief that most of the fossil-bearing layers were laid down millions of years before man existed. Those Christians who accept the idea of millions of years and try to fit it into the Bible also must accept death of animals, disease, suffering, thorns, and animals eating each other before sin. But all of this flies in the face of the clear teaching of Scripture that such things could not have existed until after sin.
Consider the following biblical truths in support of that conclusion.
Scripture makes it very clear there could not have been human death (physical death) before Adam sinned. For example, Romans 5:12 states:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. . . .
death” referred to in Romans 5 cannot have just been “spiritual” death, but also included physical death. The context confirms this. In Romans 5:6–11 the Apostle Paul speaks repeatedly of Christ dying for us, and of someone dying for a good man. Christ did not merely die spiritually on the cross, but physically. When we go back to Genesis we find that after Adam sinned God said:
Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”: Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. . . . In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:17, 19).
God decreed that our bodies would return to dust (physical death) as a result of sin. There is no doubt there could not have been human death before sin.
Unlike the case of Romans 5:12, there is no verse of Scripture that specifically teaches that there was no animal death before sin. However, there are passages of Scripture that, when taken together, lead us to conclude this.
First, it should be noted that the Bible is not about animals—it is about man and his relationship with God. Thus, we would not expect as much specific teaching concerning animals as there is about man. However, consider the following passages:
A. Genesis 1:29–30—And God said [to Adam and Eve], “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.
These verses seem to clearly teach that man and the animals were to be vegetarian originally. This is confirmed by the fact that in Genesis 9:3 after the Flood, concerning the diet of man, God said to Noah, “
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”
In other words, it is clear that originally man was to be vegetarian, but now God changed that diet so that man could eat the flesh of animals. As Genesis 1:30 concerns the diet of animals, and it is connected to Genesis 1:29, it is a strong indication that the animals were to be vegetarian originally (before sin).
Problem: For those Christians who believe in millions of years, the fossil record that is claimed by secularists to be millions of years old has in it numerous examples of animals having eaten other animals—supposedly millions of years before man! This is contrary to the Bible’s clear teaching that animals were vegetarian originally (before sin).
B. Genesis 1:31—Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
At the end of the sixth day of creation, God described the entire creation as ”
very good.” However, in the fossil record, there are many examples of diseases in the bones of animals (e.g., tumors [cancer]; arthritis; abscesses etc). Such diseases could not be described as “
very good,” when in the rest of the Bible diseases are always viewed as bad and a result of sin and the curse. These diseases simply could not have existed before sin, if the Bible is true (and it is).
Problem: Those Christians who believe in millions of years for most of the fossil layers to form must accept that diseases like cancer were in the bones of animals before sin, and that God described such diseases as “
C. Romans 8:20–22—For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
Paul makes it clear in Romans 8 that the “
whole creation” groans because of sin. Most commentators on this passage in the history of the Church have interpreted this “
whole creation” to refer to the whole non-human creation (including the animals).4 That is the only interpretation that makes sense. First, Paul already established the connection between sin and human death in Romans 5. Second, the reference to “
birth pangs” (Romans 8:22) seems to be an allusion to the judgment on Eve in Genesis 3:16. Also, the groaning of the creation is linked in this passage (Romans 8:18–25) to the groaning of believers in this sinful world. Furthermore, the liberation of the whole creation will happen with the future final redemption of believers (when they get their resurrection bodies) at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:23–25). Since the Christian’s and the creation’s liberation are linked, it is most reasonable theologically to conclude that they came into bondage to corruption at the same time also.
Finally, if we reject that conclusion and imagine that the whole creation was in bondage to corruption as soon as God created it (Genesis 1), then what kind of God would He be to call that corruption “
very good”? So the whole originally perfect creation was put into bondage to corruption by God’s curse recorded in Genesis 3.
Problem: Christians who believe in millions of years have to accept animals eating each other, diseases like cancer, and animals dying and going extinct over the course of millions of years before man, and then on into the present. This would mean that the Fall of man didn’t change anything, and that God described all this death and disease as “
very good.” In this case, the creation is not “groaning” because of sin. But as we have seen, Paul makes it clear the creation is groaning because of sin. This only makes sense if a “
very good” creation (perfect creation—no death, disease, suffering, etc.) was subject to “
futility” and now “
groans” because sin changed everything.
D. Acts 3:21—. . . whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
The Bible teaches that there will one day be a “
restoration” of “
all things.” This is because something happened (sin) to cause a problem (the whole creation groans). We look forward to a new heaven and new earth where there will be no death (which the Bible describes as an enemy) or suffering, because there will be no more Curse (Revelation 21:3–5, 22:3). It will be a perfect place—just as everything was once perfect before sin.
Problem: For those Christians who believe in millions of years, and thus must accept death, disease, and suffering of animals before sin, what will this restoration look like? More death and suffering and disease for millions of years or forever? That would be a horrible prospect. No, the restoration will look like things were before sin—all was “
very good.” And that indeed is something to look forward to!
From the above and other passages of Scripture (including Colossians 1:15–20, which speaks of Jesus Christ as the Creator and Redeemer of “
all things”), we have good reasons to believe that animals could not have eaten other animals and died of diseases before sin. The only other ways animals could have died would be from old age (wearing out) or accidents (catastrophes, etc.)—but these would not fit with everything originally being “
very good,” and would not fit with Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 that the whole creation groans now because of sin.
We can therefore conclude with confidence there was no animal death before sin.
Some people argue that there was death before sin, because plants were given for food for man and the animals (Genesis 1:29–30), thus plants died before sin.
However, this objection fails to note carefully what the Bible says about life and death. Biblically speaking, plants do not have a life, as animals and man do. At the end of Genesis 1:30 we see that humans and animals have “
life,” but plants do not. The word “
life” is a translation of two Hebrew words there: nephesh chayyah. Nephesh is the word usually translated “soul” or “creature” depending on context, and chayyah is the noun form of the verb “to live.” Nephesh or nephesh chayyah is never used to describe plants in the Old Testament. They only describe people and animals. Just as plants are not “alive” in the same sense as animals and man are, so also they do not “die” in the same sense. In only one place does the Old Testament use the Hebrew word for “
die” (mut) when referring to plants, and in that passage (Job 14:7–12) it is very clear that the death of a plant (tree) is categorically different from the death of a man. So when animals and people ate plants in the world before sin, it did not involve death, because plants do not “
die” in the sense that man and animals do.
If the Bible makes it clear there was no animal death and disease and no carnivorous animals before sin, then we cannot add millions of years into the Bible—to do so undermines the authority of Scripture, and comes with severe implications.
In reality, the battle between creation and evolution, between young-earth and old-earth views, is in fact a battle between two totally different histories of death.
For the Christian, which history of death you accept has major theological implications.
1. If a Christian accepts the history of death over millions of years, then when God stated in Genesis 1:31 that everything He had made was “
very good,” this would mean that death, suffering, violence, and diseases like cancer (as represented in the fossil record) were also “
very good.” This situation is represented in the following diagram:
This view of history, if consistently applied, would lead to the situation summed up by the heretical Bishop John Shelby Spong:
But Charles Darwin says that there was no perfect creation because it is not yet finished. It is still unfolding. And there was no perfect human life which then corrupted itself and fell into sin. . . . And so the story of Jesus who comes to rescue us from the fall becomes a nonsensical story. So how can we tell the Jesus story with integrity and with power, against the background of a humanity that is not fallen but is simply unfinished?5
Bishop Spong accepts the history of death over millions of years. As a result of this, he cannot accept a perfect creation that was marred by sin. Thus, the groaning (death and suffering, etc.) we observe today has continued for millions of years. This is also true of all “long-age creationists.” These are those who accept the secular belief in an old world, while opposing evolution in favor of “progressive creation” or “intelligent design.”
2. However, if a Christian accepts the history of death as given by a literal reading of the Genesis account, then this history can be represented by the following diagram:
The perfect creation with no death, disease, or suffering is described as “
very good.” The Bible makes it clear that God does not delight in death. We read in Ezekiel 33:11, “
Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn you from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ ” God takes no pleasure in the afflictions and calamities (death, etc.) of people.
The Bible makes it obvious that death is the penalty for our sin. In other words, it is really our fault that the world is the way it is—God is a loving, merciful God. When we sinned in Adam, we effectively said that we wanted life without God. All of us also sin individually (Romans 3:23). God had to judge sin, as He warned Adam He would (Genesis 2:17, cf. 3:19). In doing so, God has given us a taste of life without Him—a world that is running down—a world full of death and suffering. As Romans 8:22 says, “
The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs.” Man, in essence, forfeited his right to live.
However, even though we are sinners, those who have turned from their sin and trusted Christ for forgiveness will spend eternity with their Creator in a place where righteousness dwells—and there will be no more crying, suffering, or death.
The true history of death, as understood from a literal Genesis, enables us to recognize a loving Creator who hates death, the enemy that will one day be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).
Which history of death do you accept? Is it one that makes God an ogre responsible for millions of years of death, disease, and suffering? Or is it one that correctly places the blame on our sin, and correctly represents our Creator God as a loving, merciful Savior who wept at the tomb of dead Lazarus (John 11:35)?