Animal Death — Due to Man's Sin?
By Robert E. Gentet
Did God create immortal animals? Did Adam's sin also doom the animals? Or, was animal death a part of the original Creation?
The idea that animal death was not a part of the original creation is widely believed and taught today among young-earth creationists. In fact, it has become for some a "proof text" argument against an ancient age for the Earth.
The thought goes something like this: If the Earth is indeed old that means the fossils are also very old. If they are old, that means that animals (who are now obviously found as fossils) must have died for millions of years before the recent creation of Adam and Eve. And, since, according to this interpretation of the Bible, Adam's sin brought death on the Earth (to all creatures, not just mankind), then the Earth can't be ancient. It would contradict the Bible. It seems to be a simple argument against the idea that the Earth is ancient (which, by the way, Old Earth Creationists firmly believe).
But, the question is: Is this a correct interpretation of the Bible? Did Adam and Eve's sin bring death to them and also to the animal kingdom? If it isn't true, then Young Earth Creationists should not be using this line of reasoning as an argument against the supposed ancient age of the fossil record.
With this in mind, let's look at the biblical record. St. Paul wrote two conclusive Scriptures regarding the entrance of death on the human world:
I Corinthians 15:21-22: "For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
And Romans 5:12: "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...."
This all refers back to God's original warning to Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Genesis 2:16-17: "And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'"
One of the basic rules of biblical interpretation is carefully noting the context of any biblical statement. What is being discussed? In all three cases quoted above, no mention is made of the animals. The context is only that of humans. When Adam disobeyed God, and since we have all also disobeyed God, "...death came to all men...."
Animals can't and therefore don't "sin." They are what they are. Never is an animal said to have sinned or needed forgiveness. God did not die for animal sin. As human beings, made in God's image, we have alone been given certain duties and responsibilities which warrant death when disobeyed.
[Note: Animals do, however, have an "accounting" (Genesis 9:5) to give — as do humans — for the innocent shedding of human blood. This is reflected in the Old Testament laws (see Exodus 21:28-32).]
Humans have certain similarities with the animal kingdom. The Bible recognizes this fact. Many remember that the Bible says God created the first man directly out of the dust of the Earth (see Genesis 2:7) but overlook that the same is true also of the animals (see Genesis 2:19). And this natural, earthly existence was subject to all the laws of Creation that God set in motion "in the beginning."
[Note: There is also the statement in Romans 8:20-23 that the present Creation was subjected to "futility/vanity/frustration" not by its own choice, but by God himself. This "frustration" is understood to apply to the sub-human (both living and non-living) aspects of the world and universe. (It would exclude man and fallen angels since they willingly sinned, but the animals, plants, non-living things did not.)]
This unwilling "frustration" has to do with their inability (after human sin entered the picture) to fulfill their purpose without painful or chaotic consequences. St. Paul later calls this the "groaning as in the pains of childbirth" (v. 22). Sin affected the whole creation, including plants and animals who suffer as a result of the Curse on the Earth. The first creation had been made temporal (unlike the second one which is yet to come — see I Cor. 15:46). The first creation's temporality is not the point in question. From the beginning, reproduction was necessary to continue its existence generation after generation (unlike the second creation which will not reproduce because it will be eternal).
But, now with man's sin, and the Curse on the Earth, all the first creation experiences further problems and frustrations God never originally intended. The Good News is that man's liberation from sin through Christ also will someday liberate all Creation. (Christ's wearing of the crown of thorns before His crucifixion — pointing back to the "thorns and thistles" of the Curse (Gen. 3:17-18) seems to point towards His redemption of even the sub-human world.) All that is now subject to both "frustration" and "decay" will be made "new" (Rev. 21:5) in the world and universe to come.
It is undoubtedly for this very reason that God issued the command for the animal and plant worlds to reproduce. Reproduction was necessary because otherwise the world would no longer have life on it due to death. Contrariwise, if death had not been a factor "in the beginning," the earth would eventually have been filled to overflowing with plants and animals that couldn't die.
Many overlook the comparison that St. Paul makes in this regard between the first Creation (before the Fall) and what will be in the coming Creation:
"If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being,' the last Adam [Christ], a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven" (I Corinthians 15:44b-47).
God specifically created man (and the animals as well) with bodies from the dust of the Earth. This in itself showed a temporal existence in the body of dust.
But, you may be saying, what if Adam hadn't sinned? Would he have died?
Of course, this is a hypothetical question since Adam (and all people) sinned. But, a clue as to God's intentions in such a case may be found in two men who lived most unusual lives — Enoch and Elijah.
Of Enoch, the Bible says:
"Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away" (Genesis 5:24).
And the New Testament book of Hebrews further clarifies Genesis by saying:
"By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away" (Hebrews 11:5).
And also of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, the Bible says:
"...Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind" (II Kings 2:11).
[Note: Some say that Elijah was not taken bodily into God's presence without seeing death, but was merely transported to another place on earth, only to die later. It is true that God did, at times, miraculously transport people (see Acts 8:39) — and this earthly movement was assumed to be the case by certain ones at the time of Elijah's departure into heaven (see II Kings 2:16-18). However, Elijah is not to be heard of after this until his appearance hundreds of years later on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus (Matt. 17; Mark 9 and Luke 9). II Chronicles's sole mention of the prophet in 21:12 where King Jehoram received a letter from the prophet is said by some to prove Elijah was merely transported to another earthly location by the chariot. However, his translation may well have taken place as late as 848 BC, five years after the beginning of Jehoram's reign (see footnote on II Chronicles 21:12-15 in the NIV Study Bible).]
Here we have two biblical examples of humans who were directly taken from this life into the next without seeing death. This should not surprise us since the Bible promises that all the faithful at Christ's Second Coming will be instantaneously changed from mortal to immortal "...in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (I Corinthians 15:51-52).
Since God will do this for us who have sinned, how much more is it to be expected that He would have done so to Adam if he had not sinned!
The whole first Creation was made subject to the laws of thermodynamics and the resultant entropy where even non-living things automatically tend to "grow old" (see Psalm 102:25-27; Isaiah 51:6). In contrast, in the future New Heavens and New Earth these laws will be revoked and all in that Creation will exist forever (Isaiah 66:22; 65:17; Revelation 21:4). Some creationists have tried to make the first Creation into something God promises for the second one.
To this conclusion the great Reformer Dr. Martin Luther agreed when he wrote:
"The death of man is not like the death of animals, which die according to a natural law. Nor is it a death that comes by chance or is temporal. It is rather a death that was, so to speak, threatened and brought on by an angered and alienated God; for had Adam not eaten of the forbidden tree, he would have been immortal. But now that he has sinned through disobedience, he is punished by a death that is not concreated as is that of the animals, which are subject to man, but imposed and inflicted upon him by wrath and deserved because of sin or disobedience" (Ewald M. Plass (compiler), 1959, What Luther Says, No. 1066, page 363, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis).
"The future glory will be far greater than was the glory of Adam in Paradise before the Fall. Had Adam remained in innocence and not violated the command of God, he would have begotten children but would not have forever remained in this state in Paradise. On the contrary, he would have been received into yonder glory, not by death — for he would have remained immortal — but by translation" (Ibid. No. 1901, page 621).
"We look forward to the restitution of all things, not only of the soul but also of the body. On that Day we hope to have a body which is better and nobler than the human body was in Paradise. For then we shall not be placed into a natural (animalem) life, subject by its very nature to change, but into that spiritual life into which Adam, too, would have been translated if he had continued to live without sin" (Ibid. No. 3885, page 1219).
The attempt by some Creationists to disprove the ancient date of fossil remains by saying the Bible teaches an immortality of animals before the Fall is false and misleading and should stop. It only brings needless doubt into the picture. The Bible elsewhere gives us many indications that the age of the Earth and universe is young (more on this later). It's on other basis that we can believe and know from Scripture that the fossil record is also recent and not billions or even millions of years old.