Dying Plants and Animals in the Era Before Sin

And, quite possibly, in the era after sin, in the New Creation.

After both the First (blessed!) and Second Resurrections, after the Judgement, after the end of the Old Heavens and the Old Earth, and after the New Heavens and the New Earth arrive. ( II Peter 3:8-13)

From Do Leaves Die?, from Answers in Genesis by Michael Todhunter on October 5, 2019

Featured in The New Answers Book 4

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Fall in America and throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere is a beautiful time of year. Bright reds, oranges, and yellows rustle in the trees and then blanket the ground as warm weather gives way to winter cold. Many are awed at God’s handiwork as the leaves float to the ground like heaven’s confetti. But fall may also make us wonder, “Did Adam and Eve ever see such brilliant colors in the Garden of Eden?” Realizing that these plants wither at the end of the growing season may also raise the question, “Did plants die before the Fall of mankind?”

Before we can answer this question, we must consider the definition of die. We commonly use the word die to describe when plants, animals, or humans no longer function biologically. However, this is not the definition of the word die or death in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for die (or death), mût (or mavet or muwth), is used only in relation to the death of man or animals with the breath of life, not regarding plants.1 This usage indicates that plants are viewed differently from animals and humans.

Plants, Animals, and Man — All Different

What is the difference between plants and animals or man? For the answer we need to look at the phrase nephesh chayyah.2 Nephesh chayyah is used in the Bible to describe sea creatures (Genesis 1:20–21), land animals (Genesis 1:24), birds (Genesis 1:30), and man (Genesis 2:7).3 Nephesh is never used to refer to plants. Man specifically is denoted as nephesh chayyah, a living soul, after God breathed into him the breath of life. This contrasts with God telling the earth on day 3 to bring forth plants (Genesis 1:11). The science of taxonomy, the study of scientific classification, makes the same distinction between plants and animals.

Since God gave only plants (including their fruits and seeds) as food for man and animals, then Adam, Eve, and all animals and birds were originally vegetarian (Genesis 1:29–30). Plants were to be a resource of the earth that God provided for the benefit of nephesh chayyah creatures — both animals and man. Plants did not “die,” as in mût; they were clearly consumed as food. Scripture describes plants as withering (Hebrew yabesh), which means “to dry up.” This term is more descriptive of a plant or plant part ceasing to function biologically.

A “Very Good” Biological Cycle

When plants wither or shed leaves, various organisms, including bacteria and fungi, play an active part in recycling plant matter and thus in providing food for man and animals. These decay agents do not appear to be nephesh chayyah and would also have a life cycle as nutrients are reclaimed through this “very good” biological cycle. As the plant withers, it may produce vibrant colors because, as a leaf ceases to function, the chlorophyll degrades, revealing the colors of previously hidden pigments.

Since decay involves the breakdown of complex sugars and carbohydrates into simpler nutrients, we see evidence for the second law of thermodynamics before the Fall of mankind. But in the pre-Fall world, this process would have been a perfect system, which God described as “very good.”

What Determines a Leaf’s Color?

When trees bud in the spring, their green leaves renew forests and delight our senses. The green color comes from the pigment chlorophyll, which resides in the leaf ’s cells and captures sunlight for photosynthesis. Other pigments called carotenoids are always present in the cells of leaves as well, but in the summer their yellow or orange colors are generally masked by the abundance of chlorophyll.

In the fall, a kaleidoscope of colors breaks through. With shorter days and colder weather, chlorophyll breaks down, and the yellowish colors become visible. Various pigments produce the purple of sumacs, the golden bronze of beeches, and the browns of oaks. Other chemical changes produce the fiery red of the sugar maple. When fall days are warm and sunny, much sugar is produced in the leaves. Cool nights trap it there, and the sugars form a red pigment called anthocyanin.

Leaf colors are most vivid after a warm, dry summer followed by early autumn rains, which prevent leaves from falling early. Prolonged rain in the fall prohibits sugar synthesis in the leaves and thus produces a drabness due to a lack of anthocyanin production.

Still other changes take place. A special layer of cells slowly severs the leaf ’s tissues that are attached to the twig. The leaf falls, and a tiny scar is all that remains. Soon the leaf decomposes on the forest floor, releasing important nutrients back into the soil to be recycled, perhaps by other trees that will once again delight our eyes with rich and vibrant colors.

A Creation That Groans

It is conceivable that God withdrew some of His sustaining (restraining) power at the Fall to no longer uphold things in a perfect state when He said, “Cursed is the ground” (Genesis 3:17), and the augmented second law of thermodynamics resulted in a creation that groans and suffers (Romans 8:22).4

Although plants are not the same as man or animals, God used them to be food and a support system for recycling nutrients and providing oxygen. They also play a role in mankind’s choosing life or death. In the Garden were two trees — the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit of the first was allowed for food, the other forbidden. In their rebellion, Adam and Eve sinned and ate the forbidden fruit, and death entered the world (Romans 5:12).

Furthermore, because of this sin, all of creation, including nephesh chayyah, suffers (Romans 8:19–23). We are born into this death as descendants of Adam, but we find our hope in Christ. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22, KJV). As you look at the “dead” leaves of fall and remember that the nutrients will be reclaimed into new life, recognize that we too can be reclaimed from death through Christ’s death and Resurrection.

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Some more bits and pieces, from here and there:

Quotes from The problem of evil: pre-Fall animal death? by Creation.com

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By the same token, although you suggest:

My observation then is: could it be that death would also have been present in the animal kingdom which [was] probably not allowed to take the tree of life like Adam and Eve?

It would mean that a certain animal death would have been a reality in the animal kingdom even in paradise.

However, this doesn’t square with Genesis 1:30—this clearly teaches that every wild animal, flying creature and creeping creature was intended by God to eat plants originally (God Himself speaking). The verse ends “And it was so.” This obviously implies that God’s intention was a reality in that pristine, sinless Paradise. That being the case, death by carnivory was certainly absent. By “certain animal death” I presume you are referring to death by natural causes, other than by sickness or carnivory that does not involve suffering. While the death of plants and single cells2 is not death in the same sense as that of animals (clearly not, because plants were intended for food in that Edenic perfection), the Bible teaches that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Leviticus 17:11). Thus, animals which the Bible describes as having the ‘life principle’ (i.e. nephesh in the Hebrew) are those that are not only air (nostril) breathers but also those with blood coursing through their veins, as it were—see chapter 6 of the Creation Answers Book for more on this. Adam became a “living soul/being” (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה nephesh chayyāh) when God breathed His spirit into him (Gen. 2:7, also 1 Cor. 15:45). In my view, the death of such animals is thus ruled out by association, since they are also described as nephesh chayyāh in Genesis 1 (though I recognise that some of my fellow creationists, yourself included, will perhaps disagree). Gen. 9:3-6 is also pertinent in this regard—God clearly regards the life-blood as tantamount to the life of a human being, and since nephesh animals are like us in this regard, there is really no Scriptural warrant for the assumption that such animals would have died ‘naturally’. But in any case, death is clearly unnatural today (hence the grief that most human beings feel even for an animal that dies). I have observed childhood and adult grief over pets on dozens of occasions (even over something as humble as a mouse, but very keen grief over something like a cat or a dog, and even keener when a blind person’s guide dog dies, for example). I have often used the death of such animals, and the grief associated with it, to teach my own children the obvious lesson that this was not how God intended things to be originally—a lesson that is not at all difficult to put across! Few people will argue against death being an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) and most children or adults who are pet lovers would readily apply this to their beloved pets.

Interestingly, for what it’s worth, I’ve often noticed that people rarely exercise such grief over the death of invertebrates (including pets) or even fish. It’s possible that this is telling us something about the status of these animals (or some of them) prior to the Fall; i.e. I am open to the possibility that the death of some of these types of creatures might have occurred back then. This is because I can’t give chapter and verse to say that this didn’t occur and my observations of a lack of empathy in human beings upon the death of certain invertebrates might be hinting at the fact they did die in a perfect world, albeit not death in the strictest biblical sense (since they are not described as nephesh chayyāh in Scripture). If asked to jump down on one side of the fence, I’d still say, no, I don’t think so. Incidentally, I’m not sure why you quoted Rev. 22:2 in relation to animal death.

Finally, you may be familiar with Jonathan Sarfati’s book, Refuting Compromise. In this book, he writes (p. 202; 198 in the 2011 Updated and Expanded edition):

Was immortality part of Adam’s original state?

God prevented Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after the Fall, lest he live forever in sin (Genesis 3:22). From this, some argue that Adam was not created immortal. However, this does not follow, because God ordains both the means and the end. RTB [Progressive creationist organization Reasons to Believe, USA] theologian Kenneth Samples is a Calvinist, so would argue that God predestines who will be saved (the end) as well as the means (preaching the gospel). Similarly, in the original creation, the end is that Adam would be without death, and part of the means could have been the Tree of Life. I won’t argue for or against Calvinism because it’s outside the scope of this book, but it shows that a RTB staffer can have no problems in principle with my explanation. In the Eternal State, where death and Curse will be no more, the Tree of Life will once more flourish (Revelation 22:2).

In this view, God had ordained the Tree of Life as providing eternal continuance of life. Since God’s will cannot be thwarted, even by the Fall (which He foreknew), the tree’s property would need to be true even after the Fall. Since Adam and Eve would not be allowed to live forever in sin, they could not be allowed to eat any of this fruit. If they had, God would have been forced by his own perfect truthfulness to keep them alive forever. So the Tree of Life was not to become accessible till the Eternal State, when we will no longer have even the possibility of sin.

Another argument is made in 1 Timothy 6:16, quoted as God ‘who alone has immortality’. But here the Greek text is saying that God alone possesses (Greek ἔχω echō) everlasting undyingness (Greek ἀθανασία athanasia). So in God’s case, immortality is part of His essence, while creaturely immortality is based on God’s moment-by-moment sustaining power (Col. 1:16–17). This passage has nothing to do with teaching that Adam would have died without sin.

This section of the book was brought to my attention after I’d written my reply, but as you can see from what I’ve highlighted, Jonathan argues similarly to myself.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Bell

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A useful follow-up can be found in Animal Death Before the Fall? by Troy Lacey on June 12, 2020.1

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Did animals die before the fall? The short answer is “no,” but let’s unpack that answer. There are several reasons we believe animals did not die before the fall.

For one, God created the world “very good,” and a very good world would not include animal death. It is obvious from God’s statement in Genesis 1:31 (at the end of day 6 of creation), which would mean no sin, no death, and no carnivory. Satan almost certainly rebelled after day 7 as well. God created everything perfect, but it didn’t stay that way for long. In Genesis 1:31 the Hebrew term translated as “very good” is טוֹב מְאֹד (tôb meōd). The word tôb refers to things that are pleasant, qualitatively good, morally good, or that has good character, while meōd serves as an intensifying adjective in this verse. Thus, Scripture did not merely say that all that God made was good—it declared that it was exceedingly good. This verse describes the Lord’s assessment of his creation, so we need to keep his character at the forefront when discerning what “very good” means. Since God is perfect, anything short of perfection could not accurately be identified as “very good.” Would the perfectly holy and morally pure Creator call a world full of death, suffering, and disease “very good”?

The rebellious choice of Adam and Eve certainly was what opened the door for sin to enter the world, but it need not have. Adam and Eve were sinless, having no sin nature, and as such could have chosen not to rebel against God and therefore remain sinless. Perhaps this is what Solomon is referring to in Ecclesiastes 7:29: “Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes.”1 Jesus was also without a sin nature but did not fall. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Christ Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Of course God, being both sovereign and omniscient, knew Adam and Eve would sin. He therefore determined and planned with foreknowledge a remedy for mankind.

Death: Good, but Not Very Good?

If we were to postulate animal death before sin, one must then, by necessity, believe that death is a good thing, since God called the day of animal creation “good” (Genesis 1:21, Genesis 1:25). One must then believe that God created animals to prey on one another, get sick, and die. Therefore disease also becomes “good” in this worldview. If disease were good, then God must have directly and purposefully created pathogens and parasites to afflict animals in this “good” world.

It cannot be shown from even one Bible passage where any animal died before Adam sinned, therefore an argument for animal death before sin is from biblical silence and indeed is read into the text. We can show that God commanded animals (at the very least the land animals and flying animals) to eat plants and declared it “good” and “very good.” We can infer that fish (and many other sea creatures) have blood and so are considered “living” things (Leviticus 17:10–14 and 1 Corinthians 15:39) and that for them to have been eating each other would have been the death of a living being (nephesh chayyah in the Hebrew). This would not have occurred if death came as a result of sin, as Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 state. While both passages are primarily speaking of mankind’s death, it goes through a progression. Man sinned, death entered into the world, and death spread to man. But since death entered the world, can we say it did not affect animals? Obviously not, and we read in Romans 8:19–23 that all of creation groans (suffers) due to mankind’s sin.

Restored to What?

Paul’s argument in Romans 8:18–23 equates the relief of creation’s groanings with the redemption of the sinful mortal bodies of Christians. In other words, once Christ returns and gives all believers their resurrected and transformed sinless bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42–44), all of creation will cease suffering as well. If Christ’s resurrection of our mortal bodies into a sinless state and the end of suffering and death for all of creation (except those God will judge for rejecting him) are intertwined, is it not readily apparent that man’s sin caused death and suffering to “enter the world,” meaning all the rest of God’s creation? Since all of those in Christ and all of creation’s liberation are linked in being free from corruption, death, and suffering, it is most reasonable theologically to conclude that they also came into bondage to corruption at the same time. Surely the God who views death as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) would not proclaim a world full of death to be “very good.”

A third reason animal death did not happen before the fall is that God created everything to last forever at the beginning. When we look at Genesis 1 (cf. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16–17) we realize that God originally created everything perfectly, caused it to be alive, and—since in that perfect creation there was to be no death or suffering—created it to be eternal. Because of man’s sin in Genesis 3, we do see death in the world, but God will restore animals to a non-aggressive state one day (Isaiah 11:6–9). Many Christians believe that Isaiah 11 and 65 mention a future time where currently carnivorous animals revert to a vegetarian state, which supports the notion that this was their original state and leads to our next point.

A fourth reason animal death before the fall did not happen is the promise of future peace between animals and humans. Also note in the Isaiah passage that there is no aggressive behavior and no “bad accidents.” The nursing child need not fear the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den and not be bitten (Isaiah 11:8). These formerly carnivorous and aggressive animals “shall not hurt or destroy.” If aggressive and even instinctual self-preserving behavior is modified so that no harm can come to humans (and animals as in verses 6–7), then how could we think that a “very good” creation was full of death and suffering? In Acts 3:21, Peter mentions “the restoration of all things.” If the pre-fall world was full of death and suffering, then what is being restored?

The restoration must be to a “very good” and perfect pre-fall state where God himself will wipe away all tears (Revelation 21:4). Revelation 22:3 says that there “will be no more curse” meaning that the curse, which came about as a result of man’s sin (Genesis 3:14–19), will be done away with at the “restoration of all things.”

Evil

A final reason animals could not have died before the fall is that God cannot be the author of moral evil. Moral evil did not exist in God’s original creation; it was created “very good,” and moral good (since God is the standard of moral goodness) must be a component of this creation (Genesis 1:31). Because God created Adam and Eve and called all of creation very good (including them), Adam and Eve were not created with a sin nature at enmity against God, such as the one we inherited after the fall (Romans 8:6-7, 1 Corinthians 2:14). But Eve and then Adam chose to disobey God, and Adam’s sin corrupted that perfect creation (Genesis 3) and introduced evil into the world. We conclude that Satan’s fall and man’s subsequent fall did not take place until after creation week was over. After all, God rested from his work and blessed his creation on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2–3), right after we are told that everything was “very good.” Deuteronomy 32:4 tells us that God’s work is perfect and that he is a “God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”

We must also remember that Genesis 1 states six times during the creation week that God called what he created “good.” When he finished creating on the sixth day, the Bible states that everything was “very good.” How much plainer could God have made it? Therefore, we can confidently state that his work of creation was perfect, without a trace of evil.

Conclusion

Animal death before the fall did not happen since it would deny the clear teaching of Scripture and impugn the character of God. To presuppose that anything that Scripture calls nephesh life2 died before the fall is to deny what Genesis 1:29–31 teaches: all nephesh creatures were vegetarian, and a holy God pronounced everything “very good.” It also dishonors our righteous, holy, and perfect God, making him the author and a utilizer of death and suffering.

The author wishes to thank Tim Chaffey for his many invaluable contributions to this article.

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The blindingly obvious just struck me: Old Earth “Creationists” and those eager to compromise with the uncompromising evolutionists and atheists have re-defined “good” and “very good” to include a world that includes pain, theft, and murder. (Implicitly rape, as well, and any and every other form of lawless destructive activity).

That may well be the definition of “good” in the eyes of powerful men who will benefit from such widespread evil, at least for a time.

And it would definitely be “good” for those demons who hate God, hate His goodness, hate His creation, hate Justice and Divine Law, and hate Life itself.

But such a twisting of the very concept of “good” and “very good” is corrupt and full of sin, evil, and madness. It is the express road to Hell and the Lake of Fire. I would suggest that it is a close brother to the unforgivable sin that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees when they saw the healing works of God done by Jesus’ hand and called it the evil work of Satan.

Better to call evil evil, and good good.

Better to call the world broken and crippled – and so, in need of healing and restoration – than to call the sin-poisoned world of pain, death, grief and sorrow “good”.

Or, to play the sophisticated materialist intellectual, to claim that “good” and “evil” are meaningless concepts.

As if Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler were moral equals.


1Note the different view of fish that Lacey as compared with Philip Bell above, seeing them as animals with blood, and so they would be immortal beings if there were no sin.

I agree with Lacey here.

Philip Bell does good work and is definitely to be honoured as a strong and worthy servant of Our Lord. But I love the emphasis Lacy puts on the the exact words of Scripture, compared to the feelings that a man has on the value of fish.

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