PLANT AND ANIMAL DEATH, BUT NO HUMAN DEATH, IN THE PRE-FALL WORLD
Most of what is called “flood geology” is based upon the premise that no animal death occurred in the pre-Fall world. I believe this is a false premise, and I will seek briefly to sketch my reasons for believing it is a false premise in this paper.
All who consider this topic recognize Romans 8:19-22 as a chief Biblical text on the topic:
“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected [the same] in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
Romans 8:20-22 points to the relation between the future New Heavens and New Earth and the pre-Fall world, as well as to the current post-Fall world. The text implies in terms of the issue of corruption that the New Heavens and New Earth is a restoration of the pre-Fall world, at least in many respects. In order therefore to determine whether there was plant and animal death in the pre-Fall world, we can rightly ask whether there will be plant and animal death in the New Heavens and New Earth.
So we should ask whether there will be animal death in the New Heavens and New Earth, or at least whether animal death would be inconsistent with the New Heavens and New Earth.
It seems that there will be consumption of food by humans in the New Heavens and New Earth after their bodily resurrection:
Luke 22:29-30 – “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Jesus Christ in his resurrected body was the first fruits of this post-resurrection humanity
I Corinthians 15:20 – “But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept.”
It is clear Jesus Christ ate and drank food in His post-resurrection body:
Acts 10:41 – “Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, [even] to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.”
More specifically, Jesus Christ ate animal in His post-resurrection body:
Luke 24:42-43 – “And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took [it], and did eat before them.”
And this is consistent with how God in human form had eaten meat before:
Genesis 18:1-8 – “And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day…And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set [it] before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.”
If eating animal and animal death are foreign to the post-resurrection experience, then Jesus Christ’s eating fish in His post-resurrection body is quite problematic. But it is not problematic at all if animal death is not inconsistent with the New Heavens and New Earth. And if animal death is not foreign to the New Heavens and New Earth, then we should not assume it was foreign to the pre-Fall world either.
Indeed there is nothing in Romans 8:19-22 that implies animal death was foreign to the pre-Fall world. Human death obviously was foreign to the pre-Fall world:
Genesis 2:17 – “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
Romans 8:19-22 simply states there were negative implications even for the plant and animal world that came with the Fall, as obviously has been the case. For example, sinful mankind abuses animals (Deuteronomy 25:4). And fallen humanity sinfully takes care of the world. But there is nothing in the passage that says animal death did not occur pre-Fall.
Furthermore, Genesis 2:17 implies Adam well understood what God meant. If there was no animal death in the pre-Fall world, it would have been much harder for Adam to have had any conception of what God was talking about when mentioning “death”.
Assuming no animal death would place burdens on Adam inconsistent with a correct understanding of the moral law. For example, Adam had no moral responsibility to make sure he did not step on an ant when walking.
Theologian John Calvin certainly did not assume we could infer from Romans 8:19-22 that there would be no animal death:
“But he means not that all creatures shall be partakers of the same glory with the sons of God; but that they, according to their nature, shall be participators of a better condition; for God will restore to a perfect state the world, now fallen, together with mankind. But what that perfection will be, as to beasts as well as plants and metals, it is not meet nor right in us to inquire more curiously; for the chief effect of corruption is decay. Some subtle men, but hardly sober-minded, inquire whether all kinds of animals will be immortal; but if reins be given to speculations where will they at length lead us? Let us then be content with this simple doctrine, — that such will be the constitution and the complete order of things, that nothing will be deformed or fading.” – John Calvin, in his commentary on Romans on Romans 8:21
Some also look to Isaiah 11:6 as evidence there was no animal death in the pre-Fall world and will be none in the New Heavens and New Earth:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”
But such seems an unwarranted conclusion from the text. First, this passage should primarily be interpreted figuratively with respect mankind. Second, to the extent this does refer to animals literally, it at most is suggesting animals did not eat one another. But we cannot infer no animal death from no animal consumption. A baby bird could have fallen out of its nest and died even if there were no animal consumption.
The following commentaries of Matthew Henry and John Calvin allow for such interpretations:
Matthew Henry’s commentary on 11:6 - “Unity or concord, which is intimated in these figurative promises, that even the wolf shall dwell peaceably with the lamb; men of the most fierce and furious dispositions, who used to bite and devour all about them, shall have their temper so strangely altered by the efficacy of the gospel and grace of Christ that they shall live in love even with the weakest and such as formerly they would have made an easy prey of....The lion shall cease to be ravenous and shall eat straw like the ox, as some think all the beasts of prey did before the fall.”
Calvin’s commentary on 11:6 – “He again returns to describe the character and habits of those who have submitted to Christ. As there is a mutual relation between the king and the people, he sometimes ascends from the body to the head, and sometimes descends from the head to the body; and we have already seen that Christ reigns, not for himself, but for those who believe in him. Hence it follows that he forms their minds by his heavenly Spirit. But the Prophet’s discourse looks beyond this; for it amounts to a promise that there will be a blessed restoration of the world. He describes the order which was at the beginning, before man’s apostasy produced the unhappy and melancholy change under which we groan. Whence comes the cruelty of brutes, which prompts the stronger to seize and rend and devour with dreadful violence the weaker animals? There would certainly have been no discord among the creatures of God, if they had remained in their first and original condition. When they exercise cruelty towards each other, and the weak need to be protected against the strong, it is an evidence of the disorder (ἀταξίας) which has sprung from the sinfulness of man. Christ having come, in order to reconcile the world to God by the removal of the curse, it is not without reason that the restoration of a perfect state is ascribed to him; as if the Prophets had said that that golden age will return in which perfect happiness existed, before the fall of man and the shock and ruin of the world which followed it. Thus, God speaks by Hosea: I will make a covenant with the beast of the field, with the fowl of the heaven, and with the creeping things. (Hoseah 2:18.) As if he had said, “When God shall have been reconciled to the world in Christ, he will also give tokens of fatherly kindness, so that all the corruptions which have arisen from the sinfulness of man will cease.” In a word, under these figures the Prophets teach the same truth which Paul plainly affirms, that Christ came to gather together out of a state of disorder those things which are in heaven and which are on earth. (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20.) It may be thus summed up: “Christ will come to drive away everything hurtful out of the world, and to restore to its former beauty the world which lay under the curse.” For this reason, he says, that straw will be the food of the lion as well as of the ox; for if the stain of sin had not polluted the world, no animal would have been addicted to prey on blood, but the fruits of the earth would have sufficed for all, according to the method which God had appointed. (Genesis 1:30.) Though Isaiah says that the wild and the tame beasts will live in harmony, that the blessing of God may be clearly and fully manifested, yet he chiefly means what I have said, that the people of Christ will have no disposition to do injury, no fierceness or cruelty. They were formerly like lions or leopards, but will now be like sheep or lambs; for they will have laid aside every cruel and brutish disposition. By these modes of expression he means nothing else than that those who formerly were like savage beasts will be mild and gentle; for he compares violent and ravenous men to wolves and bears which live on prey and plunder, and declares that they will be tame and gentle, so that they will be satisfied with ordinary food, and will abstain from doing any injury or harm. On this subject it is proper to argue from the less to the greater. “If Christ shall bring brute animals into a state of peace, much more will brotherly harmony exist among men, who will be governed by the same spirit of meekness.” And yet Isaiah does not mean that any are mild and peaceful by nature before they are renewed, but yet he promises, that whatever may have been their natural disposition, they will lay aside or conquer their fierceness, and will be like lambs and sheep. “
There obviously was plant death in the pre-Fall world. For example, Adam certainly could and may have eaten carrots, lettuce and beets. And there is no sound reason to assume there was no animal death in the pre-Fall world.
So “flood geology” is wrong to assume there was no animal death in the pre-Fall world. In reality, this assumption derives from the role Seventh Day Adventism has played in “flood geology”. Seventh Day Adventism denies animal death in the New Heavens and New Earth and pre-Fall world, and advocates vegetarianism. Seventh Day Adventist geologist George McCready Price’s writings served as the foundation for Whitcomb and Morris’ “flood geology”. They assume there could have been no animal death in the pre-Fall world, and assume that most of the fossil record must relate to the Noahic Flood. These assumptions are at the very least questionable.