The Death in the Garden: Examination of Death Pre-fall
The topic of death both pre-fall and post-fall are ones in an array of theological discussions across varying beliefs and theological frameworks. We will explore our view below.
Our thoughts begin with Genesis 2:17 which was written much differently and during a different period than that of Genesis 1. Genesis 2 has less poetic format than Genesis 1 whereas Genesis 2 seems to be more in line with direct prose.
To preface this portion, we must understand a few things. The first being that Adam and Eve were created "very good" which differentiates them from other portions of creation which were made "good." This is highly important to note because we can understand, simply, from the text that creation was not made "perfect" but rather "purposeful." The word used is "טוֹב" or "tov" means good, pleasable or agreeable [BDAG; HBL] and in this, we see something significant that may open our eyes to the truth of creation - it was not made holy or perfect. Allow me to be quick to say, this in no way means it was made evil or wrong.
In an article from Creation.com Dr. Ting points out that he believes "tov" means that there is no sin or evil or death. However, that is pure speculation as "good" does not necessitate any of those things being absent. Instead, today, we see good in the world but also evil, death and sin present. It can also be argued that the Devil had fallen by this point and thus evil did exist, sin did exist and [spiritual] death did exist. Therefore, I think Dr. Ting is off base when suggesting a single form of "tov" does not allow for death, sin or anything along those lines. -[https://creation.com/hebrew-scholar-affirms-that-Genesis-means-what-it-says-ting-wang]
Theologically (and linguistically) we know that "tov" is less than "holy" because the Hebrews have a word for holy and it was not used here. The writer had he wanted to use a word that indicated no death, no evil or sin, would have used a different word. The verse "and sin entered through one man.." in Romans indicates that sin existed elsewhere, most likely prehuman fall satan, and it entered into humanity through Adam.
Even further, it can be argued that "tov" means to be in harmony with God. This would be the supportive poetic prose that Genesis 1 is written in where we see when he created the seas, He saw that it was "in harmony" with the animals, Him and so forth. It is worth noting here that when we see Adam created, it is first "not good that he be alone" and then “Very good” (טוֹב מְאֹד) seems to suggest that everything was made fit for its purpose [eve is created to harmonize with Adam] In Jer. 24;3, when Jeremiah describes some figs, he says “the good figs are very good” (הַתְּאֵנִים הַטֹּבוֹת טֹבוֹת), “and the “bad [figs] are very bad” (וְהָרָעוֹת רָעוֹת מְאֹד). More importantly, those “very bad” figs, he says, “you shall not eat of the evil” (לֹא תֵאָכַלְנָה מֵרֹעַ), but figs were among those trees God created “good to eat” (טוֹב לְמַאֲכָל). In other words, what is “very evil” is no longer fit for its purpose.
What does this mean for sin and death?
It is widely assumed in western-evangelical thought that death cannot be "tov" but is a derived sinful consequence. The majority of Young Earth proponents question the seemingly provocative thought that death could ever be apparent before the fall and is a direct consequence of the fall. This theological stance can be supported and is worth noting, but I will be making the case that there was in fact death before the fall and it was in fact "tov" and in harmony with how God designed things.
First, I would like to examine the idea of death theologically in Scripture starting with the Genesis 2:17 scripture where we see "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will surely die.” The word "מוּת" is used in many different formats both meaning "expired"; "inflicted by God," "divine judgment" and so forth. The argument from most people would be that "Ah, Adam and Eve will not die eventually" which is a quick common thought but instead when you look at the text you see that it is speaking about SPIRITUAL death rather than physical death.
The word "when" in this verse means literally "in the very day, as soon as" which indicates immediate separation from God and no longer in harmony with Him and His creation. This is exactly what we see and would expect when Adam eats of the tree... he "runs and hides" "becomes aware of his nakedness" and is "in turmoil with creation." (Genesis 3:1-20). The breaking of the harmony or the "tov" of creation occurred which meant Adam had "on that very day" died the spiritual death. This flows in biblical theology seamlessly as we know "all are dead in Adam" and we all are born spiritually disconnected from God and in need of Jesus Christ the Savior. However, contrary to what I posit here is the belief that Adam brought physical death into this world which does not fit the context, the etymology of "when" and the biblical theology that flows from Scripture. If we take that Adam brought on physical death then according to the Hebrew, he should have died immediately. This would also disrupt what we now see as the Gospel being started in Genesis if it were physical death being brought into the world than we would not see the redemptive plan of God start to unfold before us which set out to reconcile our souls, not our bodies. It would also subsequently eliminate the actual original sin being passed on from Adam and eliminate the need for a savior to be born from a virgin, that is not of Adam. This leads us quickly into what Christ atoned for which was not death of our bodies but sin and death of our souls, sin causes the spirit to erode and be separated from the Father, in this Christ tore the curtain of the temple and reconciled us to the Father. He conquered what is known as second death which was brought on by the curse and fall in Genesis. If the curse was physical death than we would see no more death for believers since Jesus supposedly "conquered that on that cross" yet we know all will die, but not all will "taste second death" (Revelation 21:8). Here, we can conclude that theologically the death in Genesis was spiritual, not physical.
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28
Next, we examine the reason and logical side of the death in Genesis. At this time we can know that Adam and Eve were upon the earth, that bugs, insects, animals, sky creatures and sea creatures all existed. In the argument that creation was some sort of utopia, there was no carnivore, there was no death, there was no cycle of life, there was nothing but eternity and blissfulness. In this view we logically have an issue in that if Adam and Even continued to have children, their children having children, their children having children and so on, they would eventually overpopulate the earth. There are 7 billion people on this planet right now and there are several areas like Singapore that are overpopulated and require special birthing laws that restrict reproduction. This is contrary to what God calls blessing "be fruitful and multiply". That is the promise and blessing to humanity, but in the argument of utopia this could not be and God's own command would issue a problem once it reached a certain point. The Bible passages that teach about sin and death are clearly referring to the death of humans. Do these passages also refer to animals? Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) didn’t think so. He believed that God’s original creation included animals that killed each other, writing that “the nature of animals was not changed by man’s sin.” Animal death is also necessary to maintain population levels in a balanced ecosystem (see below for more). Some Bible passages portray predatory animals as part of God’s original plan for creation (Job 38:39–41, 39:29–30, Ps. 104:21, 29). Other passages speak of the “wolf laying down with the lamb” instead of killing the lamb (Is. 11:6–7, Is. 65:25), but these verses refer to the future kingdom of God, not the original first creation as we will address. Notice I have only pointed out the main issues regarding humanity reproducing but if we consider animals in full context imagine all the rabbits.
Next, we examine how creation actually operates as we know it and how animals are created to act feed and so forth. I think we can make the argument that the 24-hour fruit fly may not have existed in the time of Adam and Eve, though if it had, that sort of squashes the entire argument of "no physical death" as fruit flies only live a day, fulfill their purpose and die out. Take the common bird for an example, as we can assume birds existed with Adam and Eve, birds play a crucial role in several ecological systems, like aiding in decomposition [which comes from decay, death], helping with plant pollination and seed distribution, controlling pests and insects [death of pest and insects], and so on. Birds are also important indicators of how healthy the ecosystem is in general. Scientists can look at declining populations and see if there is a negative consequence from certain pollutions, like chemicals and pesticides. Next, we see bats as one of the "scary" creatures in nature, bats often get a bad reputation. However, bats are extremely beneficial to the ecosystem and not nearly as scary as they seem. There are over 1,200 species of bats and they all play a key role in sustaining our ecosystem. First and foremost, they are leaders in pest control -- they consume millions of pest insects each year [that is eating and killing insects]. Thus, biologically we can see that creation allows for death and even necessitates it. This is without examing the cycles of seasons and the importance of certain algae, plants and microbiological life death cycling simply so that you can breathe.
Here we can now examine the theological significance more closely. In the garden, in the first creation, we know that reproduction is a blessing and a command. However, in the new earth and new heaven, there will be no reproduction and thus, no more physical death. There will be no sin, thus no more spiritual death. In fact, Revelation 21:4 says,
"and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."
The term "first things" is referencing the first creation. Therefore, mourning, crying, pain, and death are all reasonably part of the first creation. John could have easily said "the fallen things" or "the sinful things" but he referenced the first, the first creation. This again reinforces the idea that the redemptive plan of Christ was foreknown by God and in His sovereignty, it came to pass. The Gospel is unfolding in Genesis and finishes a mission in Revelation. The spiritual death of our hearts we were
"who were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once lived" (Ephesians 2:1-3)
and as we try to follow the law without Christ we are as Paul says,
"I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died." (Romans 7:9)
but when we confess with our mouths and lives that Christ is Lord we are redeemed through Him to the Father (Romans 10) because we first were dead in sin but now we are alive in Christ and dead to sin (Romans 6:11) and like the lost son we are,
"But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found (Luke 15:32)."
Therefore, we can see that the redemptive plan of God was always about the theological and spiritual death and resurrection of humanity. Christ having died and rose again on that third day, He bridged the gap that was chasmed in Genesis 3. He reconciled humanity back to God through Himself and fulfilling the Scriptures.
Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:23–25). Jesus thus pointed to the role of death in a healthy ecosystem as a parable for the importance of His own death. Just as the death of an organism allows for the rebirth and flourishing of life, so the death of Jesus leads to rebirth and new life for Jesus’ followers. Perhaps the biological death in the epic was not a purposeless waste, but a hint at the way God redeems the negativity of death for the sake of new life.
Scripture has always been, always will be and is today about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The body contains nothing within it of use other than a place for the soul, the same soul that Christ sought to save. Christ did not die to save the body but the soul. As CS Lewis once said, "“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
Article Notes and Thoughts -----
The physical death is still of importance as that was the atoning route that God chose throughout the Old Testament up until Christ. Physical death can be seen as returning the spirit (Gods breath, Genesis 2) to God the Father which is why atoning sacrifices were done in the first place. However, these bodies were never meant to function throughout eternity, nor was the "tov" creation. In the new creation, we will have different bodily form, creation will be sustained in a new fashion (by God's light), it will be much different than we have now.
It can be argued that sin caused entropy and decay, in fact, I am for this. However, it does not necessitate that entropy did not exist prior to the fall, as we've shown, seasons occurred, entropy existed.