The first part of the argument goes like this (it’s my summary, not an actual quote):
“If we don’t accept an earth approximately 8 000 years old, then that would suggest that death existed before sin occurred. And the Bible says that death is the consequence of sin.”The argument picks up on the link that the NT makes between sin and death:
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…
1 Corinthians 15:21-22 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law…
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.That is, death is a consequence of sin—it is the wages of sin, or the just reward for evil. And so sin is the ‘sting’ that brings the poison of death. Sin is the cause of death.
And in this schema, Adam has a pivotal position because his primordial sin brought death into creation, and all other death flows from his welcoming death in and giving it lordship over creation by his rebellion.
If life existed before Adam, and presumably died (because, for example, dating of bones would be taken as more or less trustworthy) doesn’t this mean that the link between death and sin is broken?
The question here, I would suggest, is what ‘death’ means in these passages. Does it mean death of anything living, or is it referring specifically to human death?
Creation Scientists seem to assume that ‘death’ means ‘death of anything alive’. In fact, I would argue that the Bible has in mind only the death of humans when it talks of death being the judgement for sin.
The starting point is to recognise that there is no explicit statement that non-human death is one of the consequences of Adam’s sin in the Bible. I’d like to show you some Scripture to that effect but I can’t. You can’t show something that isn’t there.
What we do have is Romans 8:
Romans 8:19-22 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 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.Here there is a clear statement that creation was affected adversely by human sin, and that its redemption will be found when we receive ours—it will share in the ‘freedom of the glory’ that we will receive as God’s children. The key phrase would seem to be the statement of creation’s ‘slavery to corruption’. It’s an easy step to take this as alluding to non-human death, because death leads to the decomposition (corruption) of the body. But that’s too narrow. This part of Scripture is looking at creation as a whole. The whole of creation is in slavery to corruption—animals, and plants yes, but also rocks, water, wind, sun, moon and stars. Even more than that, such creaturely realities as light, sound, energy, even creaturely love and reason have to be included. All of it is under the slavery of corruption. So singling out animals dying as the meaning of the phrase seems a bit strange.
This is the best one has when it comes to establishing that a link between Adam’s sin and non-humans dying exists. And it doesn’t establish that. Not by a long shot.
In actual fact, the teaching of the Bible on the connection between sin and death suggests the opposite. The Bible is clear that sin and death are connected, that death is the wages for sin. Animals don’t sin. Sin is a distinctly human (and probably demonic) phenomena, something that only moral beings are capable of. So, the Bible’s teaching that death is God’s judgement on sin would seem to include only humans within it. Death in animals cannot be the wages of sin and that's the only link the Bible explicitly draws between Adamn's sin and death.
There are four other lines of evidence that I would suggest indicate that ‘death’ refers only to human death.
The first is that the tree of life in Genesis 2 and 3 seems fairly straightforwardly to be a tree intended for human beings only. That is, the gift of enduring life, seems to have been offered only to humans in the Garden, just as only humans are the focus of being driven out of the Garden and barred from the tree of life. So the gift of life without cessation seems to have only been intended for humans. Otherwise, you’d have to argue that the thrust of Genesis 2 & 3 is supposed to suggest that humanity needed the tree of life, but animals didn’t. This seems strange, to say the least. Why would animals contain life in themselves while humans don’t? Surely it is a more noble nature to contain life in oneself than to have to look to something else to sustain it? And if that’s the case, why do animals start dying once the tree of life is withheld? Immortal animals effectively ignores the tree of life.
The second is that only humans are in the image of God. The seriousness of human death seems to be linked to the fact that human beings are unlike anything else in all creation. We alone are in God’s image, hence the seriousness of murder:
Genesis 9:6 "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.And even cursing:
James 3:9 With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;It is fairly obvious, that such serious strictures are not placed around the death or cursing of animals. This suggests a unique sanctity of human life. This in turn would suggest a unique meaning to the ending of human life.
The third line is that only humans are spoken of as receiving the Holy Spirit and of being united to Christ. Both of these are, in the NT, directly linked to eternal life, and are given only to humans, by faith. They aren’t for animals, and so there is no means to enter into eternal life held out to animals.
Finally, only humans are offered the resurrection of the body. Only humans are actually given redemption from death. When I die, I die in the hope that death will one day release its hold on me and I will stand and see my Lord with my own eyes. No such hope is there for the goldfish or faithful Fido. Even if fish and dogs are in the New Earth, there is no promise that any dog that has existed will be resurrected.
What God offers human beings is not offered to animals. It’s not just the continuation of a species but the life of the individual that is the Christian hope. And that is promised to humans alone.
In other words, the general thrust of the Bible’s teaching about human beings and eternal life tends to draw a distinction between human life and non-human life. ‘Life’ and ‘death’ as blessing and judgement tends to be significant only for human beings, in the Bible’s spotlight. So death as a consequence of Adam's sin is most naturally read as human death being the result of one human's sin.
Creation Scientists, in my experience, tend to obscure this distinction between human and non-human. They replace it with a distinction between plant life and animate life (human and animal). The reason for the distinction is argued to be the way the Bible speaks of the latter as having ‘the breath of the spirit of life.’ Plants don’t have this, and so, on this view, plant ‘death’ is not linked to sin (it’s not biblical ‘death’). Both animals and humans do have ‘the breath of the spirit of life’ and so, on this view, both ‘die’ in the Biblical sense, and hence as a consequence of Adam’s sin.
I have already given the substance of my response above, namely that the fact that both have the breath of the spirit of life is not enough to indicate that ‘death’ as a consequence of sin encompasses both in the absence of any explicit text to that effect and against the lines of evidence drawing a distinction between humans and everything else.
But I’ll add a small extra point just to point out (again) how this kind of approach only selectively reads the Bible literally.
In the Flood, God states his intention as:
Genesis 6:17 And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.Here God states that he intends to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, ‘from under heaven’, and then restates it in good Hebrew parallelism with a complementary statement: ‘everything that is on the earth shall perish’. So all flesh under heaven which has the breath of life shall be destroyed and all life on the earth shall perish.
This suggests, fairly straightforwardly:
- everything that has the breath of life will die.
- everything that lives on the earth will die.
Genesis 7:21-23 And all flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.All ‘in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life’ died. All ‘living things that were upon the face of the land’ were blotted out. Only Noah and those in the ark were left.
The problem is what do we do about life in the water?
Is it classified as having ‘the breath of life’ in it? Do turtles, dolphins, whales, and seals have the breath of life? How about fish life? If so, then they should be included in the total death that God was brought through the flood.
Yet, that can’t be done because they don’t live on the earth, and the two terms (has breath of life/lives on the earth) are in parallel. This therefore suggests that they are not included as entities that have the breath of life in them. They are effectively ‘plant life’.
And so we get the bizarre position that the death of land animals and birds is the result of Adamn's sin, but the death of water life (mammal and fish) is not….
In fact, the Flood, like Genesis 2, has no interest in water life at all. And this in an account which another part of the Bible (2 Peter 3) states is an account of the destruction of the world on a par with the destruction by fire of the Day of Judgement! It again suggests that it isn’t trying to answer scientific questions…
This is a bit of an excursus, but the basic point is to show that ‘having the breath of the spirit of life’ is not the primary category of division. It is not animate life on the one hand and plant life on the other as the big issue when it comes to ‘death’. For in the great OT experience of the day of judgement, water life is left out of this division (and that’s a lot of life to be left out if you’re concerned about trying to square things with science).
So, I’d suggest the following:
- The Bible makes a far bigger division between human life and the rest of creation than between animate life and plant life.
- Life and death is primarily linked to humanity.
- The link between sin and death is only linked to humanity
- Animal death as the consequence of Adam’s sin is nowhere explicitly stated by the Bible.
In other words, death is natural for Fido, and is a scandal for human beings. That’s why we have funerals for humans but don’t (or at least shouldn’t) for animals. ‘Death’ is more than just ‘cessation of biological activity’. Looked at theologically, it means something very different when a human dies and when an animal dies. Humans were never meant to die. Animals were never intended to have eternal life, because they are not human beings and are not in the Image of the eternal God.
Or in other words, Christ came into the world to save sinners, which means he came to save human beings, not dogs or cats or humpback whales. Redemption may catch them up as well (and it may open up a kind of life for them that is radically new), as it brings in a New Heavens and a New Earth that is different from everything that has gone before it. Nonetheless, the gospel of salvation from sin and death is for the children of Adam alone.