Published: 29 March 2021

Was There Death Before Adam Sinned?

Isn’t it interesting how easily assumptions and misconceptions about the Bible become established dogma? Almost everyone assumes that the serpent was Satan, that Adam and Eve were created immortal, and that they “died spiritually.” 

Another common assumption is that there was no death in the world prior to Adam and Eve’s fall. It is said there was no pain nor unpleasantness in the world prior to Adam & Eve’s sin. Is this true? What does the Bible say?

Was there death before sin entered the world?

The Bible does not say one way or the other if there was death prior to Adam and Eve’s sin. At the very least we can safely conclude that plant life died because Adam and Eve’s consumption of food caused the death of whatever plants and fruits they ate. From this observation, can we extrapolate that animals also died? 

It would seem reasonable that if the pinnacle of God’s creation, Adam and Eve, were mortal, then it stands to reason the animals were as well. In the end, we can’t say with certainty. The Bible certainly doesn’t rule out death before the fall of Adam and Eve, but it doesn’t explicitly state it either. 

“Good” is not defined as the absence of death

The argument against death in the pre-fall world is based on the fact that God declared His creation to be good. It is reasoned that since death is not good then there could have been no death before sin. However, as we noted in a previous blog post, God’s statement about His creation being good spoke of its function. 

In the creation context ‘good’ refers to functional viability[1]Walton, John H. “Human Origins and the Bible: Human Nature in Theistic Perspective.” Zygon, (2012) no. 4: 883. which can be inferred, for example, from the fact that Adam was dysfunctional (unable to fulfill his role) without a partner. Everything God created functioned as intended – it was good, very good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).

Was there pain before Adam and Eve sinned?

While we can make some educated guesses about death before the fall, we don’t have to guess about pain. The Bible is clear that Adam and Eve could experience pain before they sinned. 

When God confronted Adam and Eve after their sin and explained the consequences of their actions, the Bible says:

“To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Gen. 3:16 ESV)

God said He would multiply the pain of childbirth. This necessarily infers there would have been pain in childbirth even if they had not sinned. You can’t multiply something that doesn’t exist. A number multiplied by zero is still zero. In order for God to multiply pain, there had to be at least a little bit of pain associated with childbirth before the fall. 

Traditional views are such that there was nothing negative or unpleasant in the world before sin. Pain, even if small, is not pleasant. Our traditional views about the Garden of Eden contain a number of misconceptions.

The unintended consequences of assumptions

Some people down through the ages have mistaken the curses which God pronounced for an ideal to strive for. For example, when God said to Eve:

“Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”” (Gen. 3:16 ESV)

God was not commanding husbands to dominate their wives. He was pointing out that there would be conflict between spouses. Many misguided men, even godly men, have taken this to mean that husbands should rule over their wives with an iron fist! 

Religious objections to anesthesia

Some have taken the idea of “curses as the ideal” to an extreme. When anesthesia was starting to be used by physicians, some people objected to its use for women in labor. The rationale was that since God said pain would be multiplied in childbirth then mankind has no right to dull the pain of labor and delivery.  

The objection to pain killers for women giving birth was short lived, but it was controversial enough that in 1847 Professor James Young Simpson published a pamphlet entitled “Answer to the Religious Objections Advanced Against the Employment of Anaesthetic Agents in Midwifery and Surgery.”

“In this pamphlet Simpson considered the assertion that the use of obstetric anaesthesia was a breach of the ‘primeval curse’ enunciated in Genesis 3, v16 – in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children’ – and with a clever use of logic and philosophy sought to establish that the use of anaesthesia during childbirth did not actually breach Holy writ.”[2]Farr, A D. “Early Opposition to Obstetric Anaesthesia.” Anaesthesia 35, no. 9 (September 1980): 905.

By this logic, if men are meant to force their wives into submission and withhold anesthesia from them, then we are also obligated to allow weeds to grow in the middle of our crops and vegetable gardens. After all, if part of the curse was the proliferation of weeds, thorns and thistles (Gen 3:18) then by what authority do we apply weed killer? 

God is working to remove the curse of sin

Fussing married folks, multiplied pain during childbirth, and weeds are all consequences of sin. Everything God has done since then has been setting the stage to reverse these curses and restore the Earth and mankind back to the ideal. Adam and Eve were ejected from the garden, but God is working to get us back in. 

In the new heavens and the new earth (2 Pet 3:13) all the curses of sin will be gone. We’ll have glorified bodies that will be like the body Jesus has. 

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 ESV)

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Cor. 15:49 ESV)

Our frail, mortal bodies will return to dust; a mortal seed which will be transformed into an immortal and eternal body  – “sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44 ESV). We’ll be home with God at last and free of the curses and consequences of sin.

References

References
1 Walton, John H. “Human Origins and the Bible: Human Nature in Theistic Perspective.” Zygon, (2012) no. 4: 883.
2 Farr, A D. “Early Opposition to Obstetric Anaesthesia.” Anaesthesia 35, no. 9 (September 1980): 905.