Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Question: Did animals die before the Fall?

My wife and I were just having a discussion: Did animals die before the Fall?

Now, I won't tell you what stance I took- I'm just interested, what do you think?

Couple of arguments:

Paul says in Romans- death entered by Adam.  So, that means all death, even death at the cellular level.  So, animals didn't die either.

Counter argument: Cats (such as my cat Eleanor Aquinas) and other animals have fangs- so they were built to kill.  So there must have been death in terms of animals (though of course not humans!) before the fall.

Also, Luther, Gerhard, and Aquinas all agree that a unique part of the imago dei is that fact that human were deathless- that is, immortal like God.  Now, since animals are not made in the imago dei, then of course they would die.

Lastly, it is not certain that Paul means death for all creation, since he says death entered through sin- but of course animals don't sin (as far as we know!).

So, put in your two cents- I'd be interested in what argument you buy more.


  1. Jack,

    I would take the "No, animals did not die before the Fall" side. I just don't see how dying animals fits with the picture of the perfect, sinless, deathless Paradise we're shown before the Fall. Besides, it would have no doubt been pretty horrific had Adam come upon his favorite saber-toothed tiger only to find him dead (lacking the knowledge of good and evil and all). :) Plus, the fact that St. Paul speaks about the whole creation groaning to be released from sin and its effects seems to punch a hole through the theory you espouse about him not meaning death for all creation. Nope, I believe that the first animals to die were those the Lord slew in order to clothe Adam and Eve after the Fall. Just a few quick thoughts - you asked! :)

  2. I don't buy the "cats have fangs so there must have been death" argument, but the image of God one is a bit more convincing to me. Without thinking much about it I would still lean toward no death before the Fall at all...that's what I've always considered to be the better understanding.

  3. No, animals didn't die before the fall. Look at how God talks to Noah about blood and the eating of animals. Also, God giving Adam/Eve skins for clothing is the first "sacrifice" whereby God kills an animal to cover their nakedness. The whole sacrificial system is based on the idea that the life of an animal is in some way comparable to human life.

    However, be careful about "death at the cellular level." That definition of life is from a modern scientific point of view. That's not what normal people mean by life, nor the biblical understanding. Life is in the blood (Gen 9:4, Lev 17:11-14, John 6:53-54) and the breath (cf. Gen 2:7, 6:17, 7:15, Rev 11:11). To deny death in the modern scientific sense would be to say that every physical process has been completely changed from Eden to now. I mean, when fruit is eaten their cells die... so what would that mean for the eating of every fruit of the garden?


  4. I see I'm a bit late to this one; I'll post a couple thoughts anyway.

    I think the point about design is understated, both in terms of predation (were there no prelapsarian spiderwebs? No scavengers? What did sharks and starfish eat, etc.) and reproduction (were prelapsarian fruit flies and locusts endowed with a prudential faculty preventing overpopulation?), or even more basically how eating fit into God's plan at all if continued life wasn't contingent on it. But I guess if we're debating whether there was prelapsarian skin sloughing or even entropy then this probably isn't a fruitful line of argument.

    I'd say the big textual reason to think that there was animal/plant death prior to the fall is that God warns the man and the woman that if they eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that they will die. If Adam and Eve lived in a world where nothing living stopped living, how would this warning have been intelligible? Wouldn't the command by itself be rendered less effective by the promise of a consequence they had no way to interpret? Indeed, it's by denying this consequence that the snake convinces Eve to eat the fruit. If we only had Eve repeating the warning to the snake, that wouldn't by itself show that she understood the warning, but the snake trying to persuade her that she wouldn't die shows that death was something they both understood, and wasn't just a meaningless concept with no analogy to their present lives.

  5. I am always interested in these discussions b/c they presuppose an extended prelapsarian period. I think that Luther is right in that the fall happened on literally the next day.

    "I am easily convinced that all these events took place on the very Sabbath—and that one not complete!—on which Adam lived in Paradise and enjoyed its fruits."
    Luther, Martin: LW Volume 1:82)

    I think this answers the question of design as well. God could create predators, and there still would not be any death prior to the fall.