Death before the fall 

by Mike Gana – 24 March 2017 

 

Introduction Death before the fall of mankind

Most Christians are aware of the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), and how Satan in the form of a serpent tempted and deceived them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The lie that he told was that, contrary to God’s Word, the prime couple would not die, but would become like God, knowing good and evil. Adam and Eve unfortunately believed the lie and ate from the tree; the result was that they were separated from God (Genesis 3:9 and 3:23-24), the good order of Creation was destroyed (Genesis 3:14-19), and both Adam and Eve, as well as all their descendants, would ultimately physically die (Genesis 3:19 and 5:5). Many Christians rightly understand this story as being the origin of Mankind, as well as the source of sin and death, and the resultant evils in the world. 
 
However, due to the increase in the scientific method, empiricism and specifically evolutionary theory, there are many today who question the validity of a world created, or one created without the processes of death. The claim is that death is a 'natural' part of the cycle of life, and therefore a necessary part of the creative process. For example, astrophysicists point to the birth and death of stars and star systems – which result in the creation of galaxies, supernovas, black holes and other cosmic phenomena – as proof that death and destruction are a 'natural' part of the creative process, the scientific creative process of course being the “Big-Bang”, and the resultant evolutionary pathway to life. Similarly, the evolutionists look to the fossil records and conclude that the death of plants and animals are necessary key mechanisms for balanced ecosystems, the survival of species and for the evolution of various life forms to occur. 
 
But how is the Christian to reconcile these scientific assertions with the Biblical account of the origin of sin and death? Does the Biblical understanding of the nature of death, and its impact upon God’s Creation, allow for it to be a part of His creative process? Furthermore, how does such a view impact upon the purpose of redemption in Jesus Christ, His victory over death and the hope of glory in a future world without pain, sickness and death? 

 
Where did death come from? 

Romans 5:12-14 plainly states that sin came into the world through one man – Adam. Throughout the Bible, sin is understood to be much more than just moral wrongdoing; it is also explained as being a primaeval and an all-pervasive influence, and the agent that brings about death in all its forms. It is an active and powerful force that exerts an all-corrupting and fatal outcome on everything it touches, the effects of sin being in the first instance a separation from God; and secondly, a defacing and destroying of God’s created order; and ultimately, the ceasing of physical life. This is the power of sin which was released into the world when Adam sinned. It is interesting to note that in the original Greek language, the word used in Romans 5:12 for ‘world’, is actually the Greek word 'kosmos', which is also used to refer to the created universe. The passage could rightly read, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the cosmos, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”. We therefore understand that Paul is saying that death entered the cosmos, or more appropriately the created universe through sin. In other words, the effects of sin are not limited only to mankind, but actually affect the whole of God’s created order. 


 
Creation subjected to sin and death 

Paul goes on to explain in Romans 8:19-22 that the whole of Creation has been subjected to futility because of the bondage of corruption from sin. He explains that Creation itself is groaning, as if in labour pains for the revealing of the Son of God, which is also the occasion for the redemption of Creation. God made it clear to Adam that as a result of sin, the earth itself would be cursed, and would no longer respond in the same way, but would instead grow thorns and thistles, and would need to be toiled upon to produce food (Genesis 3:17-19). In other words, the Bible is clear that death (in all its forms) is a direct result of sin, and sin was not a part of the created order.  
 
Death is a direct consequence and result of sin’s influence upon the created order. Throughout the Bible, sin and death are consistently viewed as aberrations in God’s Creation, to the extent that God’s plan of Redemption is primarily concerned with the abolishing of the presence and effects of sin and death – with a view to inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth where sin and death no longer exist. 


 
God’s war on sin and death 

Far from accepting death as being a part of the ‘status-quo’ as far as creation is concerned, God decided, through the plan of redemption in Jesus Christ, to completely destroy sin and death. It was to this end that the promise was given to Adam and Eve – that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). The Bible makes it clear that as a result of the Fall, Satan held the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). However, rather than accepting death as a part of the ‘natural’ order, we see that God was immediately determined to undo the power of sin and death that had been unleashed into the world. 
 
In giving the Ten Commandments, God made man aware of the law of sin and death, however the Bible is clear that the law itself was unable to reverse the effects. It was only by sending Jesus Christ in the form of man – to die on the cross on account of sinful man – that God was able to completely destroy the power of sin and death (Romans 8:3-4). The Bible tells us that as a result of His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has now abolished the power of sin and death and gives life and immortality (2 Timothy 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). He has all power and authority, and reigns over sin and death (Revelation 1:18) to destroy it completely and usher in a new heaven and new earth without the presence or the power of sin and death. 


 
Conclusion 

Both Old and New Testaments consistently have in view a coming Heavenly Kingdom that is specifically characterised by righteousness and immortality, ie the absence of sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:50-56). Isaiah 11:5-9 tells us that in this new Kingdom, “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb… the calf and the young lion together… and a little child shall lead them. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My Holy Mountain…”. Isaiah gives the reason for this new state of affairs, and explains that “death has been swallowed up forever” (Isaiah 25:11).  
 
Similarly, in John’s Revelation, he saw a New Heaven and a New Earth that were characterised by righteousness and everlasting life, and in which there is no more pain, or sickness, or death (Revelation 21:1-4); in other words, John saw a new Creation without the corrupting presence and power of sin and death. 
 
Far from presenting a view that death (and by its virtue – sin) is a ‘natural’ part of Creation, or the creative process, the Bible makes it clear that both sin and death are unwelcome aberrations in God’s Creation. Moreover, it is apparent that the purpose of redemption is not only to redeem man and Creation from sin and death, but also to usher in a new Creation without sin and death.  

Although we have come to accept death as a natural part of life, it is clear from the Bible that this current state of affairs is not what God intended for His Creation; furthermore, rather than accepting death as a normal part of the created order, He has gone to great lengths to undo and abolish the effects of sin and death, and to permanently remove it from His new Creation. 


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