Was there any death in the garden? Rom 8:20-21

Ignoring for a moment the imperfect exposition of “very good” in Genesis, a difference emerges between literalists on the application of “very good” in Gen1:31.  Some limit it to Adam and Eve only – despite them not being even mentioned in the verse.  Others at least more consistently with the text apply their interpretation of ‘very good’ to everything.  This then leads them to suggest there was no death of anything in the Garden of Eden (if you insist very good = amortal and ignore the difference between Gen 1 & 2).

For example, Bro Ron Cowie states Adam was part of a very good creation which did not include “biological decay, ageing, parasites, disease, death or carnivorous activity”.[1]  There is a great logical inconsistency in such a position which simultaneously holds God ceased creating and then (without mentioning it among the consequences of Gen 3) made physical and genetic changes to thousands of creatures (including making new ones) post the Fall.  However such an objection seems not to concern some literal creationists.

This is not an isolated example.  Phil Perry tries to contrast evolution creation (or theistic evolution as he calls it) with what he claims is the correct understanding.  We shall ignore for the sake of the exercise his misrepresentation of EC.  First his misrepresentation:

God is all-powerful and does not need to use violence, pain, or death to create. God did not author evil, suffering, disease, or calamity. Several attributes of our Creator are love, peace, and joy. Right after the creation, everything was “very good.” (Gen 1:31) Suffering and cruelty entered the world when Adam sinned. (Gen 3)In this sense, man produced death. (Gen 2:17, Rom 5:12, I Cor 15:21) [11]

He repeats the same logic later on the same page – that the suggest that death started well before the garden of Eden and Adam’s transgression is wrong.  Given that most Christadelphians are old earth creationists, how he explains the evidence of death many years ago is a contradiction he fails to address.  It might also be noted that well after Genesis God identifies himself as the one who provides food to the roaring lions as much as any other creature (Psa 104:21,27-28).

Romans 8:20-21 is sometimes used to support this no death in creation prior to the Fall concept.  It says

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.

The Greek for vanity is shown below:

Vanity 3153. mataiótēs ; gen. matai – ótētos , fem. noun from mátaios ( 3152 ), vain. Vanity, futility, worthlessness, used in Ro 8:20 (see Sept.: Ps 39:6; 62:9; Ec 1:2,14) to show the emptiness of the present in contrast with the living fullness of the future ( Ep 4:17; 2Pe 2:18; Sept.: Ps 4:2; 26:4; 119:37; 144:8,11). [2]

This provides no evidence for a state of being amortal for Creation pre-Fall.  However what about the bondage of corruption?

Corruption 5356. phthorá ; gen. phthorás , fem. noun from phtheírō ( 5351 ), to corrupt. Spoiling, corruption, destruction, ruin, decay, generally a fraying or wasting away.

(I) Destruction, deterioration, slaughter, change of existing state ( 2Pe 2:12).

(II) Death, corruption in a natural sense (1Co 15:42; Ga 6:8 [cf. Ro 8:21]; Col 2:22; Sept.: Ps 103:4; Jon 2:7); the abstract being put for the concrete, what is corruptible or subject to corruption (1Co 15:50).

(III) Corruption in a moral or spiritual sense (2Pe 1:4; 2:19). [3]

Paul does not say Creation was made subject to mortality.  He says it was made subject to vanity and endures the bondage of corruption.  We have no warrant to change the words.  The passage cannot sustain the claim that there was no death in the Garden of Eden pre-Fall.

In Genesis, the Creation was made subject to man per Genesis 1:28-30.  Romans 8 is saying when the saints are revealed the curse will be nullified and the destructive dominion/exploitation of man will come to an end.  Instead, creation will be subject to Jesus Christ and his wise rule Heb 2:6-8.  This is consistent with the Greek Paul uses, which encompasses more than just death as noted above.  Such relief for all Creation is consistent with descriptions of the fruitful Kingdom Age (Psa 72:16) and of Edenic conditions being restored and expanded (Isa 51:3, Ezek 36:35).

Romans 8:21 cannot be understood to say the Creation was cursed with death post the Fall.  To demand this interpretation requires the removal of death in all Creation in the Kingdom.  This isn’t consistent with Ezekiel’s description of future animal sacrifices (Ezek 43:13-27).

Bro Hayward (himself no fan of evolution) also dismissed this understanding of Rom 8 on the same grounds

To insist on one particular interpretation is risky, especially when that interpretation leads to the conclusion that in the age to come the earth will be filled with immortal plants, immortal animals, and even immortal bacteria![4]”) and concluded the futility was indeed man “abuse [ing] their position of power, and ruthlessly exploit[ing] the rest of creation[5]”.

At a natural level, there are copious examples of species which God commanded to reproduce (Gen 1:21-28) which necessitates death.  Suicide reproduction (technically called ‘semelparity’) is surprisingly common:

  • Octopus die around the time their eggs hatch, salmon travel upstream to mate and die, squid also die post-mating[6]
  • Honey bee drones die in the mating process [7]
  • Die off in males occurs in around a fifth of all known species of insectivorous marsupials, including all 12 species of antechinus, three species of phascogale, and kalutas. Some populations of northern quoll and dibbler also experience die-offs to a lesser extent, as do some other South American species. [8]
  • There are 630 species of plants that “attract and trap prey, produce digestive enzymes and absorb the resulting nutrients” [9]
  • Parasitoids lay their eggs in temporarily living hosts. Ie death is integral to reproduction.

A further challenge from the witness of God’s creation to this misunderstanding of Rom 8 and Genesis 1-3 is the so-called ‘immortal jellyfish’ which can essentially live forever through clonal reproduction.  Ie there is direct physical evidence that the literalist dating the reading of Bro Cowie is just incorrect.  Similar properties are present on sea anemones, as noted by decidedly anti-EC brethren like David Burgess who wrote in the Testimony Magazine that

unlike other animals, they show no signs of ageing and appear to be immortal. In the absence of direct predation or poisoning, they proliferate and just keep growing larger. If tentacles are cut off they regrow, and if the mouth is cut off a new ‘head’ is formed. There are few reports of diseases associated with ageing, such as cancer, and they appear to stay young and fully functional.  So far the researchers have been unable to find any genetic clues to this remarkable longevity which could possibly shed light on the human ageing process…the existence of an animal that is apparently not subject to such a limitation suggests that the prospect of human immortality, which was withdrawn from Adam after his transgression (Gen. 3:22,23), will be a small thing for the Almighty to restore, when “we shall be changed” and “this mortal [will] put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53,52)”[10]

A consistent misreading of “very good” in Gen 1:31 leads to asserting everything is amortal/undying in the garden.  The passage used to support the idea (Rom 8) definitely does not support the idea, as has been observed by non-EC members of our community.  Such exposition does demonstrate the unfortunate conclusions the special creationist can get to.

[1] Cowie, Ron (2015) “Why we believe what we believe” Study 4, 25 Min 30 sec

[2] AMG Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament

[3] AMG Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament

[4] Hayward, A. Creation & Evolution:  The facts and fallacies p. 182  (1985)

[5] ibid (p. 183).

[6] http://animals.pawnation.com/animals-die-giving-birth-9247.html

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drone_(bee)

[8] http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2013/10/08/3863851.htm   Rachel Sullivan 8 Oct 2013

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivorous_plant

[10] Ed. Thomas, . Testimony Magazine Vol 87 (2017).

[11] Perry, Phil (2016) “Theistic Evolution Refuted” Version 1.9 page 6-7

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4 thoughts on “Was there any death in the garden? Rom 8:20-21

  1. Pingback: Terugblikkend op de eerste mens en eerste gebeurtenissen 2 Daad van ongehoorzaamheid eerste mens – Jeshua-ists

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  3. Pingback: Zombie caterpillars in the garden | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

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