Animal Death in Eden?

Numerous arguments demand that animal death results from God’s curse on creation after Adam’s fall, rather than being a feature of God’s original creational activity. Consider the following:

First, by divine decree man and animals were herbivorous originally. In Genesis 1:29-30 God grants only vegetation for food, for both man and animals. As Hamilton notes regarding man’s dominion over the animals: “such dominion does not allow him to kill these creatures or to use their flesh as food. Only much later (9:3, post-Flood) is domination extended to include consumption” (Hamilton, 139). He continues: “Man is to have as his food the seed and fruit of plants. Animals and birds are to have the leaves. . . . At no point is anything (human beings, animals, birds) allowed to take the life of another living being and consume it for food. . . . What is strange, and probably unexplainable (from a scientific position), is the fact that the animals too are not carnivores but also vegetarians” (Hamilton, 140; cp. Wenham, 33).

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Second, the “death” of vegetation is of a qualitatively different order, and not as a result of divine curse, for:

(1) God expressly designs vegetation alone for food consumption (Ge 1:29-30).
(2) Plants lack a nephesh, unlike animal and man (Ge 1:20, 24, 30; 2:7). In fact, both animal (Ge 1:20-21, 24; 9:10) and man (Ge 2:7) are called “living creatures” (nephesh hayah). Of Genesis 1:20-24, Waltke explains: “Man is here being associated with the other creatures as sharing in the passionate experience of life and is not being defined as distinct from them.”
(3) Plants do not possess the “breath (ruach) of life,” as do animals and man (Ge 6:17; 7:15, 22).
(4) Scripture never ponders the loss of a plant’s ruach, as it does animal’s and man’s (Ecc 3:20); in fact, a similarity exists between man’s ruach and animal’s (Ecc 3:19).
(5) When animal life “returns to the dust” it is because God “hides his face” (Ps 104:29). Scripture does not present God responding to plant death in such a way.

Third, the creation account does not record God’s “blessing” creation until the creation of sentient life on Day 5 (Ge 1:22). By this means of blessing, God draws a distinction between the zoological and the botanical orders of life. In that “blessing” often implies fecundity — which plants also have (Ge 1:11-12) — the lack of God’s “blessing” plant life indicates this divine benediction is more than endowing living organisms with the capacity to multiply (contra Kline, “Space and Time,” 6; Irons, 28).

Fourth, Paul relates the effects of the curse upon the creation in such a way that surely implies the post-fall creation must be quite different from the original, uncursed world. He even strongly suggests that animal death is a consequence of it: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Ro 8:20-23). Note that this “slavery to corruption” and “groaning and suffering” result from God’s “subjecting creation to futility” — obviously by divine curse.

In fact, according to the Westminster Larger Catechism 29: “The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself.” According to Murray, the bondage of corruption in the creation itself (Ro 8:21) “must be taken in the sense of the decay and death apparent even in non-rational creation.” (For more information on this matter see later arguments.)

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11 thoughts on “Animal Death in Eden?

  1. Ardel Caneday July 7, 2014 at 8:39 am

    This is, as you know Ken, now a point of significant disagreement among Evangelicals. The trend among leading voices on the beginnings seems to be a belief that animal death, but especially animal suffering and predation existed from the beginning prior to humanity’s rebellion and that the death which God threatens according to Genesis 2 was the death of humans only. This is a very important issue that needs to be addressed, for as I posted last week, IVP Academic has published Ronald Osborn’s book, Death before the Fall.

  2. Robert Hays July 8, 2014 at 6:01 am

    Ardel, I hope you are being sarcastic, because if you are serious, then that helps explain why the church is tottering in the brink of total insignificance by so many. In many places, they are right!

  3. Ardel Caneday July 8, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Robert, I’m fully serious and not at all sarcastic with my comments above.

  4. David Stark July 8, 2014 at 6:18 am

    I think it was Jack Handy who wrote, “Would we still cut down trees if they screamed? Well, yea, maybe, if they did it all the time and for no reason.”

  5. David Stark July 8, 2014 at 7:32 am

    As to whether Physical Death was in view in the curse that followed Adam’s sin, I think most Evangelicals point out that there was a physical death that very day when God provided clothing for Adam & Eve from “coats of skin” (i.e. Animal hides), to cover their nakedness. The idea of a substitution dying instead of the guilty is how that is generally understood. This would also explain why Abel later knew to come before the Lord with a blood sacrifice. So, Adam’s sin did bring about physical death that very day, but because God was (and is) willing to accept a substitute in place of the sinner, Adam and Eve were spared that day.

  6. Shaun Snyder July 11, 2014 at 2:44 am

    Animal Death in Eden? Consider reading Navigating Genesis by Hugh Ross for a fresh perspective on the Creation account as it relates to the latest scientific research. It’s the Genesis Question for a New Generation that must be addressed as New Earth Creationists are being left in the dust of critical thinking across most major universities across America and the world.

  7. Kenneth Gentry July 11, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Those same universities are engaging in critical scholarship regarding the New Testament as well — and leaving biblical Christianity in the dust. See especially The International Critical Commentary on the Bible. Such is the popularity of liberalism. For scientific research supporting the integrity of the biblical record regarding creation, see:

  8. Shaun Snyder July 11, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Yes, those same universities are engaging in critical scholarship regarding the New Testament and actually turning to Biblical Christianity as they see the validity of reformed theology. It leaves them speechless. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. On the other hand, Old Earth Creationism is not equal to ‘liberal’ thinking but based upon the latest scientific evidence for an Old Earth as it relates to the chronology of the Bible. We do not believe in the ‘godless’ goo-to-you-via-the-zoo concept that Young Earth Creationists believe is wrapped in all old earth schools of thought. It’s progressive creationism over a long period of time. Reader beware of straw-man arguments on either side of the debate. Once Christians understand the last book of Revelation in its postmillennial school of thought, I hope the next book of discussion will be Genesis (Job, Psalms, etc.) as we all get on the same page. 🙂

  9. Kenneth Gentry July 11, 2014 at 9:37 am

    We will have to agree-to-disagree on this one. Young Earth Creationism also has strong scientific arguments. For example, astrophysicist Jason Lisle’s study regarding the speed of light.

    Progressive creationism logically requires that God is still creating and that there was no “creation week” that has ended. On their view God has been creating for billions of years, and man has only been here for thousands. Whereas Jesus says man was created “from the beginning” (Matt 19:4).

  10. Shaun Snyder July 11, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Man was created from the ‘beginning.’ However, the beginning was not on day one but on day six. Yes, God rested on the seventh day and is still resting – no progressive creation while He is resting. Ok, we agree to disagree. On another note, I’m looking forward to your Revelation commentary that you will hopefully be done with ‘soon’ so that you too can ‘rest.’ 🙂

  11. Kenneth Gentry July 11, 2014 at 10:42 am

    It WILL be a rest when I am finished!

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