Question: “Can we know if death existed prior to the fall of Adam and Eve?”
Not only does this question pertain to humans (Adam and Eve) but also the various animals in the animal kingdom. Actually this is an important question that each Christian needs to investigate and find an answer for themselves that they are comfortable with.
It is also important to know that there are differing opinions about the answer to this question. I will try to keep this post as short as possible but at the same time give you links to information that articulate the differing opinions.
When it comes to creationism, there are different schools of thought within the Christian community. Two that I will mention are Old Earth Creationism and Young Earth Creationism. I personally adhere to Old Earth Creationism. A short definition of Old Earth Creationism is as follows:
Old Earth Creationism (OEC) is an umbrella term used to describe biblical creationists who deny that the universe was created within the last 6,000 to 10,000 years over the course of six consecutive 24-hour days. Rather, old earth creationists believe that God created the universe and its inhabitants (including a literal Adam and Eve) over a much longer period of time than is allowed for by young earth creationists.
The list of notable Christian leaders who are at least open to an old earth interpretation is a long one and that list continues to grow. The list includes men such as Walter Kaiser, Norman Geisler, William Dembski, J.I. Packer, J.P. Moreland, Philip E. Johnson, and Chuck Colson, as well the late Francis Schaefer and Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer. Contemporary Theologians and Apologists: John Ankerberg, Bill Bright (Founder, Campus Crusade for Christ), C. John Collins (Chairman, Old Testament Committee, The ESV Bible; Ph.D., Hebrew linguistics), Chuck Colson, Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler (author of numerous books, including Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics), Wayne Grudem (General editor, The ESV Study Bible ; author, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine), Hank Hannegraff (Bible Answer Man), Jack Hayford, Walter Kaiser (President Emeritus, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Phillip E. Johnson (founder of Intelligent Design movement), Greg Koukl (Stand to Reason ministry), J.P. Moreland, J.I. Packer, Nancy Pearcey, Vern Poythress, Earl Radmacher (President Emeritus, Western Seminary), Lee Strobel (author of The Case for Christ , The Case for a Creator ), and Dallas Willard.
Old earth creationists usually agree with the mainstream scientific estimates of the age of the universe, humanity, and Earth itself while at the same time rejecting the claims of modern evolutionary theorists with respect to biological evolution.
Here is a link to a comparison chart between OEC and YEC if you would like additional information: http://www.originscience.com/origin-views-comparison-chart.htm
Before I start I will share a link that I think articulates the problem surrounding this question very well. I would recommend that you read the entire article. Here is the link:
A quote from this source reads as follows: “When scientists investigate God’s creation, they find that humans appear very late in the history of life. The fossil record shows that many creatures died long before humans appeared. In fact, many entire species went extinct millions of years ago (the dinosaurs are the most famous example), long before humans lived or sinned.”
The point that should be obvious here is that there is an abundance of scientific evidence within the fossil record that clearly indicates that death was already in place prior to the emergence of Adam and Eve. Not to mention that our entire universe will eventually die. This link refers: http://www.icrar.org/scientists-measure-slow-death-of-the-universe/
There are some Christians who believe that Adam and Eve plus all of the animals that where there with them in the Garden of Eden were immortal, in other words they would not physically die (prior to Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Here are a couple of links that support this position:
I do not personally adhere to this position and fortunately I am not alone.
I believe that all of the created creatures (fish, sea creatures large and small, birds, insects, reptiles, all land animals etc ) were subject to death prior to Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This would include primitive primates and homo sapiens. In other words, they were not immortal and neither were the animals that lived with them or lived before them.
The scriptural objections to the idea that Adam was created immortal are actually stronger than the scientific objections. First, before Adam sinned, God warned him not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the warning, God told Adam that “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” However, not too long after, Adam did eat the fruit, but did not die that day, but lived until the age of 930 years.
Also note that after Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil he posted the cherubim with the flaming sword to block the way to the tree of life. If Adam already had eternal life then God wouldn’t have cared that he would eat of the tree of life. It only makes sense if God did not want Adam to physically live forever, since he had already died spiritually. Clearly, the tree of life, had its fruit been eaten, would have endowed Adam with physical immortality, something that he had previously lacked.
Two lines of evidence suggest that Adam was not created as an immortal being. First, immortality is not possible in this universe, since the universe itself will eventually die without God’s intervention. The second law of thermodynamics (entropy) guarantees that physical beings cannot live eternally. This is why those who go to heaven will eat of the tree of life, and be given spiritual bodies in the place of physical bodies. Second, the Bible indicates that Adam died spiritually the day he sinned. If he would have eaten from the tree of life, he would have lived eternally, though spiritually dead. This is why God went to such great lengths to keep Adam from the tree of life after he had sinned.
A popular doctrine is that animals did not die before the fall of man. This doctrine may be termed original animal immortality. It is presently held among many evangelicals, particularly the group termed young-earth creationists. Not all Bible believers have agreed that this doctrine is true and Biblically supported.
To properly examine the issue requires a lengthy treatment necessitated by the interrelatedness of many issues. I will only briefly cover some of them here:
1. Man’s physical sensitivity. As a physical being, man was created with a sensitive nervous system. The sensitivity it affords is an enablement for physical life. For example, the human ear has otoliths for sensing physical balance in the presence of gravity. The skin has touch receptors for all manner of physical needs, including avoidance of physical injury. Thus the needs associated with living in a physical environment demand a physical body with nervous sensitivity. Man and animals are constructed with other systems for survival. The blood’s clotting factor and tissue repair mechanisms contribute to recovery from physical injury. The immune system fights bacterial and viral attack. The existence of all these bodily protection and repair systems points to a design for life in a natural world potentially dangerous and harmful in the physical sense.
2. Sensitivity to pain and suffering. Thus a susceptibility to a certain measure of pain and suffering is necessary to physical existence as a living being. Some such susceptibility is integral to the notion of man’s mandate for dominion over the earth. Dominion involves struggle and with it an exposure to pain.
3. Pain increased since the fall. Pain and suffering are of course greatly increased since the fall because man lost spiritual authority over the creation and now fights against nature and works in it less effectively. Eve was promised an increase of pain in childbirth (Gen 3:16), presumably via either increased fecundity or more difficult labor. Also much pain and suffering are due to evil and persecution directly. God in his manifold wisdom nevertheless uses pain and suffering to bring us to Christ and to help us grow.
4. Death physical and spiritual. Historical Christianity has always held that man dies because of sin. Based on Genesis 3, the death of man is seen as the direct effect of the fall. The technical nature of death, however, has been variously explained. The fact that Adam and Eve persisted biologically after sinning, while having been warned that “in the day that you (sin) you will die” (Gen 2:17), leads most interpreters to conclude that when they sinned they died spiritually – they died in the sense of spiritual separation from God. Physical death came later as a consequence. At the death of the body, the soul went to either heaven or hell.
5. The view that Adam’s immortality was contingent may be developed further. The whole of Scripture teaches that man’s existence is never autonomous but is always dependent on providential support from God. Genesis 3:22, furthermore, declares that Adam and Eve had to be banished from the Garden of Eden. This was necessary to deny them access to the tree of life, which itself was necessary for eternal life. Taken first in the literal sense, the verse implies that eating a physical fruit was necessary for eternal life, and hence Adam and Eve were not immortal inherently.
6. The tree of life and immortality. The usual view is that eating from the tree of life would have maintained Adam’s immortality or conferred it permanently. Taken more broadly the tree of life had a spiritual character, the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. The tree of life “in the paradise of God” appears in Rev 2:7, offered by Christ to those who overcome in his name. It also appears in 22:2, located on each side of the great “river of the water of life” (v. 1; one tree standing on two sides of the river?).20 In v. 14 Christ says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life.” In v. 19 John says, “If anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life.” These verses imply that the tree of life provides access to God’s eternal fellowship and thus conveys a gift of heavenly status to its partakers.
7. Loss of eternal life. It is concluded, therefore, that Adam and Eve before the fall were not by nature immortal but instead had access to immortality as provided by the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Disfellowship because of sin produced immediate loss of eternal physical life (via the Tree of Life) and eternal spiritual life as sin had distanced them from Christ, who is the source of eternal life.
I have included some links which support and provide much more expanded logic on this position:
It is very important to have a logical understanding of our Christian faith, which includes how our faith ties in with scientific discovery and our planet’s history. In future posts I will take a look at other issues that need to be confronted and explained such as how a God of love correlates with what we see in nature and the brutality we are confronted with in the Old Testament.
Final Note: Ken Ham, is the founding president and CEO of Answers in Genesis. Ken Ham adheres to the Young Earth Creationism viewpoint. Ken Ham acknowledged that old earth creationists can still be Christians because salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ, not the age of the earth. Jay Richards, senior fellow at The Discovery Institute co-author of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery, holds to the Old Earth Creationism view.