Animal Death before the Fall
As little girls, my sisters and I deeply mourned our pets’ deaths, be they lizard, fish, bird, or other. But no pet of ours experienced a demise as gruesome as did our lop-eared rabbit, Chewy. We allowed Chewy free reign of the backyard. But one afternoon it dawned on us that we hadn’t seen her for a few days. Had she escaped? Was she hiding? My youngest sister solved the mystery of Chewy’s disappearance when she visited the nearby field. Around the base of a eucalyptus tree known for housing red-tailed hawks and owls she found tufts of soft, white fur. Poor Chewy, it seemed, had become some creature’s lunch.
Picturing our fluffy bunny rabbit struggling in the talons of a sharp-beaked hawk filled me with horror. Was the natural world always this harsh and violent?
Before or After?
Animal death before humanity’s fall from grace represents one of the biggest disagreements between young-earth and old-earth creationists. It seems paradoxical that an all-loving Creator would purposefully include carnivorous activity in pre-Fall creation; yet fossil records indicate that this may have been the case.
Young-earth proponents argue that Scripture teaches no death was part of God’s original creation, but rather entered the world as a result of sin. Thus, today’s carnivores started out as herbivores. (Some young-earth creationists stipulate that plants and certain lower life-forms, such as bacteria and insects, do not qualify as life in the same sense as birds and mammals.) Biblical passages used to support this viewpoint include Genesis 1:29–30 and 9:1-4 and Romans 5:12–19 and 8:18–21.
Yet the physical evidence remains. The fossil record reveals billions of years of death, from the first bacteria to the mighty dinosaurs to the mysterious hominids. Can this reality fit with the Bible? Yes, it can.
The case for animal death before the Fall can be argued from Scripture. For example, RTB philosopher/theologian Kenneth Samples points out that Psalm 104:19–28 shows “carnivorous activity…was ordained by God (the lions ‘seek their food from God,’ verse 21).” In Job 38, God himself reiterates his role as provider for the carnivores. He goes on in chapter 41 to praise the leviathan (thought to be a crocodile). It is obviously a very violent creature, yet God extols the very merits that make the leviathan so frightening and dangerous. Revelation 5:5 calls Jesus “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” thus using the fearsome king of beasts to illustrate a facet of Christ’s holy character.
Even Scripture passages used to support the young-earth view can also be explained from an old-earth perspective.
- Genesis 1:29–30 and 9:1-4: God gave humans and animals “every green plant for food,” but forbade eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Later in Genesis 9:1-4, God blessed Noah and added “everything that lives and moves” to man’s diet. RTB founder Hugh Ross writes in chapter 9 of A Matter of Days that the removal of the prohibition of meat consumption needs to be interpreted with context and circumstance in mind. Prior to the Flood humans lived for hundreds of years, thus making “a vegetarian diet…essential for their long term health.” But when God restricted man’s life span to 120 years (Genesis 6:3) suddenly eating meat did not pose the same health risks and so God permitted it. However, as Hugh explains, these dietary restrictions never applied to any creature beside humans. So from this perspective the ban on meat was enfored due to health concerns, not because carnivorous activity is evil or sinful. (Remember, as Paul tells Timothy, “For everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).)*
- Romans 5:12–19: Paul explains that “death came to all men” through sin (emphasis added). He doesn’t say death came to all biological life through sin.
- Romans 8:18–21: Paul writes that “creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice,” and waits to be liberated from “bondage to decay.” Some assert that this frustration and bondage include death, carnivorous activity, disease, etc., all of which was introduced to nature as a result of Adam’s sin. But Reverend Lee Irons suggests that Paul may have been writing with a passage from Isaiah in mind. That passage predicts that in the end times the dead will be resurrected and judged alongside the living; thus the earth could be yearning for “deliverance…from its conscripted service as the graveyard of humanity.”
So animal death, even before the Fall, seems in tune with Scripture. I’ll be continuing this series with an exploration of the purpose behind God’s inclusion of carnivores within his “very good” original creation.
*This portion of the post has been rewritten to include Genesis 9:1-4 and to correct a misunderstanding, on my part, of RTB’s stance on these Scripture passages.