Several divisive issues in Genesis can be traced back to one question. Was Adam created mortal or immortal? The answer has significant consequences in your downstream theology.
This simple question encapsulates two opposing viewpoints that have occupied my attention in many articles. Perhaps I will review these other articles and replace discussions there with a link here. To imply that one is wrong and the other right raises barriers between believers who already see Adam as created 6,000 years ago and who have already captured the significance of this foundation to the Bible. My other articles are probably a little blunter, implying one is wrong, but I would like you to consider the alternatives here.
There are reasons to support both alternatives. The question is not so much about proving that one is wrong but in seeing the side-effects of which you chose. Also, this issue underlies a lot of opinions that are formed about the early Genesis chapters yet I even I had not seen this specific issue as the key point. Maybe that is why I had responded to these other issues with perhaps a little too much zeal and insufficient grace. So, if you see other articles I created before 2009/10/20 that discusses the side-issues of this question, maybe you will need to recall this article to get a better balance.
These and other references underlie a fundamental Christian principle also called Original Sin. The unavoidable conclusion is that there was no death before Adam sinned. I agree with this totally but let’s start looking at downstream assumptions that get made...
If there was no death before Adam sinned then man and animals lived forever and so must have been created immortal. Then Adam sinned and death (mortality) entered the scene.
But here is the other viewpoint...
Adam, the first man, was created mortal and because of his sin he lost access to the Tree of Life by which he could have lived forever. Hence man no longer lives forever.
Two opinions – one sees an immortal life cursed with mortality – the other sees a mortal life denied immortality. Both are as a result of sin. Both explain how death came through sin.
Now before I get into debates about which is better pictured in scripture, I want to point out that this is a passion point to me. It is not just about which interpretation is better represented by scripture; it is simply that I hate seeing God pictured as cursing man and bringing death to mankind. I’m passionate about this because He is a loving, gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and who has been drawing man back to Himself all through the rest of the Bible. I cannot stand the picture that He is the one who brought death by cursing an immortal life.
In Genesis 3:22, God clearly says that Adam needed to eat from the Tree of Life to live forever. I can find no other interpretation than that Adam was created mortal but God withheld nothing from Adam, giving him the potential to live forever via the Tree of Life.
I have heard it suggested that Adam was created immortal and then cursed with death and then God had to take away the Tree of Life to prevent Adam regaining immortality. Frankly, this is getting a bit bizarre. If Adam was created immortal there was no need for the Tree of Life. Why would God create a tree that was unnecessary knowing that He would then have to take it away? I know that this seems strange and that is why I mention it in support of my argument for Adam being created mortal. But recall that the Tree(s) of Life reappear in Heaven (Revelation 22:2). There are some interesting twists as you consider this and you might want to follow up it up in The Trees in Heaven.
Those who insist that Adam was immortal and re-interpret his obvious need for the fruit from the Tree of Life tend to forget two obvious things...
The blinding simplicity of the fact that God took the Tree away and Adam died. But not right away – 900 odd years later, according to his mortal life span.
If, as some argue, he could live forever (immortal) without eating from the Tree of Life, then did he have knowledge of good and evil without eating from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil? The fact that eating that fruit had direct and immediate consequence means that eating from the Tree of Life was similarly essential to living forever.
I was reading chapter 6 from “Refuting Compromise” by Jonathan Sarfati. This supports the immortal created state. It refers to some big name theologians and teachers going back hundreds of years and seems like an excellent overview. All these men are worthy of your respect, but as I read I was struck that all their arguments tended to make an assertion of perfection at creation, but this was no more than their opinion. All these men passionately adhere to what I would call the plain reading of Genesis, yet at the declaration of very good (1:31); at the allocation of plant food sources (1:29-30); and at the dust to dust verse (3:19); they all insisted that the only option was the created immortal option and seemed never to see that the created mortal option was a simple and clear alternative requiring no twisting of the plain text.
But then I noticed something that is probably very significant. In many of the quotes and in “Refuting Compromise” as well, the arguments presented for perfection were to counter false teachings that were prevalent in their respective times. The false teaching today is that there are long ages before Adam so man must have died earlier. Another false teaching suggested something like, the creation account was actually a recreation, a cleanup, from an earlier fallen state. It seemed to me that these false teachings seized on the declaration of “very good” as “not perfect” to justify the existence of evil in the form of death before Adam sinned.
So naturally, the simple defence was to insist that “very good” really did mean “perfect”. With the greatest respect to saints that have defended the Word of God, this was going beyond what scripture says (1 Corinthians 4:6). But in some way we all do this, and perhaps you will find places where you could point the finger at me. But I warn you up front to check out my suggestions and see if the Bible does say what I suggest.
But the issue here is that you don’t need to invoke perfection and immortality to counter the false teachings. In my opinion, as a result of invoking perfection they then were forced to read into the curses more than was there. So they were then forced to interpret the dust to dust scripture as cursing an immortal life with mortality. However I read it plainly as saying that a mortal life was being denied immortality. The following sections will deal with this in more detail.
In the above Historical Perspective, the assertion of perfection was primarily used to deny the possibility of evil at the end of day 6. Note that it was only these false teachings that suggested evil was present when God said it was very good – there is nothing in the word of God. I agree that if God said it was very good then there was no evil because God could not call evil good. So the arguments really did not need to invoke perfection. The declaration of good itself denied evil and denied the false teachings. But then things get murky and you have to define evil and that becomes a further interpretation that leads away from the plain text.
I offer this definition of sin...
Sin is doing what God has made clear you must not do.
So what rules were laid down at the end of day 6 that could be broken and so sin could have existed? None unless you count the, “don’t eat from the tree of knowledge”. That rule was certainly not broken at the end of day 6. With no declared rules to break there was no possibility of sin. It is my opinion that only by the spirit can you know God’s will and only by disobeying God’s will can you sin. So there was no evil at the end of day 6. All that God created (fish, birds, animals), did what God created them to do. And if He created them as carnivores, then they did no evil when they killed for food. So it was only Adam who could have sinned.
In fact, because I see Adam created on day 8 then there was no chance at all at the end of day 6. But if Adam was created on day 8 then there was also day-6 man. Could day-6 man have sinned before the end of day-6? Still no rules to break and no spirit given by which day-6 man could have known God’s will.
Though I have defined sin, I have not defined evil. Evil has many emotive connotations and I am not aware of any clear definition in the Bible though the concept of evil abounds in the Bible. The best I have heard is that evil is the lack of good. Well, nothing was lacking at the end of day 6. In fact the subsequent verse (Genesis 2:1) talks of everything being complete. There was certainly no sin at the end of day 6 even if you think that the initial created state was mortal and included carnivores. Certainly God declares that evil abounded by Genesis 6. But by then they had the knowledge of good and evil and so knew what God wanted. So the possibility of sin had grown. This is exactly what happened when the law was later given (Romans 7:11).
To close off this section... It was very good at the end of day 6. There was no sin because no rules were broken. The created state was exactly what God created it to be. Don’t interpret what God saw as very good through your personal emotive idea of evil. Don’t invoke perfection because this is not what Scripture declares and equally poor as a filter for your perceptions of the created state. Don’t get mixed up in arguments about what is evil or not. God made it clear that it was about sin. The only sin was clearly defined – don’t eat of the tree of knowledge. After Adam was created, sin could only come by one decision – to eat from the tree of knowledge. The decision to be like God through knowledge was really the same as our decision today. Choosing knowledge was a rejection of God as their father, wanting to be like or equal to God and not “under” God’s rule – it was a rejection of God.
All men today are descended from Adam through Noah. All have a spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:8), because they do not believe in Jesus. But those who do believe in Jesus are not convicted of sin, not because they do no evil, but because Jesus paid the price of all sin, except the rejection of Jesus. Today all sin comes down to one decision – accepting or rejecting Jesus.
In Genesis 3:14-19 God says that the snake is cursed more than all the animals. The animals are not specifically cursed here. Further it suggests that the animals are already cursed and cursing has to do with being cut off from God. It simply means that they were created mortal, devoid of an eternal spirit and were never in God’s plan for eternity. (Sorry if you have a favoured pet that you want to be in Heaven with you, but I don’t think it will happen.)
Adam and Eve then receive strong discipline – increase in pain during childbirth and painful toil to provide their own food. Adam and Eve had wanted to be like God and in so doing had rejected God who was to be their provider and the source of life. This caused God great pain because He could already see all the suffering that would come to those he loves – to man and to His own dear son who would have to come and suffer. So His judgement, not curse, effectively gave them what they sought – to be like God. Eve was to be the source of life and so her pain was in child birth. Adam was now to be provider and his pain was in supplying food. To put it another way, they ate from the tree of knowledge and Ecclesiastes 1:18 says that with much wisdom comes much sorrow. These are not described as curses but we know that God does discipline those He loves. I discuss this more in The Curses.
The statement that Adam came from dust and would return to dust is most easily read as stating that Adam was created mortal and would remain mortal. This is entirely consistent with God then declaring that Adam could not have access to the Tree of Life. But again I can see how people have chosen to interpret this statement as God cursing Adam with death. But in my opinion it is because they have presupposed that Adam was created immortal.
Does the “death” described in Romans 5:12-15 come to both man and animals or just to man? If you assume that it is both man and animals, then you have to assume that both man and animals were created immortal. The argument goes like this...
God certainly knew that man would sin. But God himself would have failed had He not provided the potential for no death before Adam sinned even if Adam was several hundred years old before he sinned. So clearly animals that we see today, with quite brief life-spans, would have to have been created immortal.
I do not casually disregard the possibility that God created animals to live forever. If God did plan that, then He could do it. Also recall that what we see today is not the created state. There are references in the Bible that show God’s concern for animals. (Genesis 9:9-16 and Jonah 4:10.) So I can understand that some people have the opinion that death of animals is a bad thing. But that brings us back to the murky discussion on what is bad or imperfect and what is sin. I don’t want to go there just now, but to say that this passion or concern for the life of animals, which God has placed in our care, is a good thing but may be biasing our decisions about what scripture declares.
But I don’t think that the “death” that came through sin applied to animals. I think they were created mortal right from the start along with Adam. But Adam had the option to live forever by eating from the Tree of Life. Both the placement of the Tree of Life in the centre of the Garden of Eden, probably fenced off by rivers, and by God’s declaration that fruit was created for man and not for the animals, means that animals did not have access to the fruit and so could not live forever.
Updated Mar 2015: Jesus paid the price of sin on the Cross. If sin brought death to animals, should we expect animals to be raised to eternal life? The answer is a definite no! (Hint - Jesus is our kinsman redeemer. He is the son of man, not animals.)
Updated Nov 2015: Romans 5-12 says that death entered through one man but then spread to all men. There is no implication that it spread to animals. This verse makes it clear that death spread to all men because all men sinned. Again, animals don’t sin.
In Genesis 2:17, God told Adam that “...the day you eat … is the day you die”. Adam was judged by God the very same afternoon as he ate. But Revelation 20:6-14, 2:11 and 21:8 make it clear that judgement is the second death – and that is what you must avoid. I use these scriptures in many places because it shows clearly that God sees things totally differently to us. In the immediate context here it shows that the death is judgement, the eternal separation of man and God. It is not merely the death of the body.
In Revelation, the judgement occurs after the living and the dead; people, not animals, are raised. But Adam, who was in God’s full-on presence in the garden, was judged before his mortal body died. Then according to Romans 5:12, the resultant judgement/death spread to all men. I like to picture this as a contamination of their spirit passed down through Adam. Again, animals were not judged. No need because they had no spirit and were never getting to heaven.
Do I appear to de-value animals? I have grown up with pets. My father had a small farm and we cared for sick animals but sometimes we had to put them down. We brought up orphan lambs in the back yard, but at the right time they were also butchered. Not often the shed became a home to injured birds. I know what it is to have compassion for animals. This compassion was ordained by God. But I cannot equate this to God creating animals to live forever, or the death of an animal to be a bad or evil thing. But this is what seems to happen. I will expand on this in the next section, but take note that the consequences always corrupt the image of God.
Once you decide that animals were created to live forever you are faced with the problem that some animals are carnivorous and kill other animals for food. Or what if Adam killed an animal? Associated with this is the strong opinion that killing, even animals, is bad. So you end up assuming that the initial immortal state must also mean that there was no killing of animals either by other animals or by man. Then you look at the allocation of plant food sources in Genesis 1:29-30 and conclude that all animals and man were vegetarian. Hence no carnivores and no death of animals before Adam sinned.
But again, if you don’t presuppose immortality as the created state at the end of day 6 then this interpretation can slide and Genesis 1:29-30 is just an allocation of plant sources. You don’t have to assume that God was implying that “only” plants were available to animals and “only” seed and fruit was available to man.
Is this important – whether the created state was vegetarian or not? Yes. Here are the implications if we see the initial state as immortal...
If animals were all vegetarian then we again require God to curse His very good creation. So God becomes the source of death to animals, and not just death from old age but death by active predation. This curse is misread into the curse on the serpent (Satan) in Genesis 3:14. But here it is Satan being cursed more than the other animals. Why? Because Satan will be cast into the Lake of Fire but animals have no eternal existence and hence punishment.
The follow on is that God also becomes the author, not of life, but of death, by apparently cursing Adam and Eve, in removing their immortality. There is no clear evidence for this from scripture but rather it is a misinterpretation of Genesis 3:19, “dust to dust” discussed earlier in the section on “The curses”. What most surprises and grieves me, is that so many people seem blind to the implications this has on the image of God we portray. There is more on this in the section “Just one rule” in Rules of Paradise.
We also accuse God of being the first to kill an animal, and so to do a bad thing, when He provides leather garments for Adam and Eve. This disguises the truth that, despite their sin and grieving God, God still sees their need and provides a covering for them.
Then we accuse God of later changing His mind about what is bad and allowing animals to be killed for food in Genesis 9. If He can change His mind about one bad thing the He can change His mind about what sin is and let sinners into heaven. No need for the Cross any more.
If killing animals is a bad thing, how could God command the Israelites to sacrifice animals? One bad thing cannot atone for another.
If God had said that animals were NOT to be eaten, then there were two rules at work in the garden. Don’t eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and don’t eat meat or kill an animal. This is subtle but significant.
Looking at this another way, God said that seed and fruit were given to man for food. Eating of animals was not mentioned so by some people’s logic, this says that it was forbidden. Do you want to try extending that logic a little? Drinking water is not mentioned. Drinking wine or fruit juice or milk is not mentioned. Were these things forbidden until Genesis 9:3? (See also Reviewing Genesis 9:3.) So omitting to mention something is not a reason to say that it was forbidden. Verse 30 says that green plants were for animals. Does that mean that man was not allowed to eat garden herbs, lettuce, potatoes and carrots? You might be able to interpret the body of something like a potato as being the “seed” of the plant, but it would still seem to exclude lettuce and herbs. Yet the words used for shrubs in Genesis 2:5 would seem to indicate such plants. These were seemingly waiting for a man to cultivate them which suggests that these plants were to be eaten by man. So the giving of green plants to animals was not denying them to man. Similarly the declaration that seed and fruit were given to man was not denying that some animals may have eaten seed and fruit in the created state before the fall.
So why did God allocate the foods? There may be several reasons, but rather than read this a restriction on what man and animals might eat, I see it as God telling man that the fruit and seed were created for man and so it is OK for man to fence off his crops, vineyards, and orchards and deny them to the animals that have pasture land. It is a giving of permission to man, not a denial of access to fruit and seed by animals. It does not imply that the created state of animals excluded the eating fruit or seed. In fact, if this was the case, then the allocation would not need to be stated.
Note that God had given man dominion over the animals in the verse 28, just before this food allocation in verse 29. I read this dominion as giving man the choice to eat meat. And similarly in verse 29, man is given first rights to the fruit and seed. So man could fence in his gardens, vineyards and orchards. This right is associated with, and consistent with the giving of dominion. And without writing down rules God has also indicated consideration for the animals, that they should not be denied pasture land. (I think God did a great job of describing just what He wanted with just a few words but our legalistic minds have failed to see the simplicity of it.)
And by the way, I accept that Adam may well have been vegetarian while in the garden, by choice, not by any commandment.
Romans 8:18-23 declares that creation was bound over to futility and decay until the sons of God were revealed. Those who choose and immortal created state see this “binding over” as happening during the curses in Genesis 3. But with a mortal created state we see simply that this decay was part of the created state from day 1. Have the “sons of God” already been revealed? Not in the sense of this scripture. (Though I have high hopes for something dramatic in the prelude to Jesus returning.)
It is well accepted to see Adam as the first son of God. I also agree. Some arguments draw on this to imply that as the son of God, everything was (must have been), perfect for Adam – no decay and no death, that is, until Adam sinned.
I tend to agree that Adam, though mortal was perfect and not subject to any diseases. In the Day-8 view I even think that this immunity to all diseases and degenerative conditions was passed on to his descendants, yes, after he sinned, and that this was only lost as a consequence of their decision to interbreed with day-6 man.
But this argument from Adam’s perfection is used to then imply the created immortal state. There are lots of presumptions in this assertion. And then there is the problem that Genesis 6 talks about the sons of God. Also Jesus is the son of God revealed. Jesus has described his disciples as sons of God. So there are many references to the son(s) of God after Adam – so why has the decay not gone away already?
You see how messy things get when you try and prove stuff. There is always a counter argument somewhere. The point to learn is that we can be personally tolerant of alternate points of view held by believers but yet still be passionate. (I don’t know if I’m there yet but I think it’s on God’s agenda.)
So the futility and decay scripture is simply compatible with either created mortal or immortal.
So, was the created state very good or perfect? Some issues crop up....
Genesis 1:31 only says “very good”. It does not say perfect, but by the time God declares things good seven times we can get a little excited about just how good it was.
My personal take on “very good” is that it signalled completion and readiness and fit for purpose. It was now ready for Adam.
Was it as good as the New Heaven and the New Earth? I don’t think so, and if there was room for improvement, it was not perfect.
If God knew that the world was temporary, why create perfection?
If everything was good, as required by perfection, why was there no pronouncement of good on day 2 when the sky was created? (Chapter 6 of Page-1-God explains this.) Well, verse 31 does say that He looked at “everything” He created and described it as “very good”.
There is a related debate about whether there could have been evil if God called it good. This has been discussed in an earlier section.
If you see the created state of man and animals as immortal then the initial state MUST have been perfect, not just very good. Once it’s perfect all the bad things can be attributed to Adam’s sin. This makes things very simple but takes a lot onto ourselves. You see God’s ways are not our ways and He tends to do things in ways that we don’t (at least initially), like. So we end up making judgements about things. Obvious example being about killing animals for food, but it extends to predation and right down to mosquitoes that spread disease. Of course the downhill spiral since Adam’s sin and mutation do explain a lot of the bad things, but does not in my opinion explain the clear design and hence created state of carnivores.
We see God do other strange things like place his chosen people of the day, the Israelites, in the Promised Land and then leave them surrounded by enemies on all sides. It seems that God uses things that we don’t like to turn us back to Him. I think it’s really bad when someone gets martyred, but God sees it as giving Him glory and a great reward awaits them.
I’ve tried telling God about all the things that are wrong. Subtly I’ve tried blaming Him for not correcting it. He listened to me and always showed me that I was wrong, and is bringing me around to just trusting Him.
If you get tired of seeing God curse the initial perfect state of the entire Universe because Adam alone ate some fruit, then perhaps you can take comfort that this Universe is temporary and will pass away. God’s eternal plan is for us to be with Him in heaven. So then perhaps you won’t place requirements of perfection on this temporary Universe and get very frustrated, but simply long for the perfection that is yet to come.
There is an emotional argument in the background. The debate is not just about death. Many want to exclude suffering in the created state and re-insert it as part of the curses. Now suffering is a very emotive word used frequently in the Bible. Jesus suffered. But though death came through sin I can find nothing to say that suffering came through sin. Certainly if we had a perfect initial state then we would expect no suffering and then we could account for suffering as a result of sin. But I cannot find a reference that says that suffering came through sin; only death.
Of course death, separation from God, and man’s sinful nature resulted in suffering to mankind and with bad consequences for animals as well since they suffered under our dominion and through the flood – man’s causing. But given all that, I find no reason to exclude presumed suffering of an animal if it is killed by a predator, or by accident, from the created state prior to Adam’s sin. If man had not sinned then He would have been living for-ever in fellowship with God. So there is no suffering by man.
So the origin of both man’s death and suffering was when Adam sinned. Certainly Adam and Eve suffered pain as a result of God’s judgements in Genesis 3. But I cannot find cause to require the created state of animals to be without what we presume is suffering via predation, old age, or accident. The created state for animals was most certainly much better than we see today but I think it incorrect to require initial perfection in order that a lamb is not killed by a lion; nor that a mouse die of old age; nor a young bird fell out of a nest; before Adam sinned.
Technically we suspect that God created animals by kinds. Then, by various known genetic mechanisms these adapted to a variety of environments giving rise to multiple species. It’s nearly impossible to look back from what we see today to picture just how good these initial created kinds were. But we can be confident that there was less suffering than we see today.
At the start of this article I declared that I’m passionate about this because He is a loving, gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and who has been drawing man back to Himself all through the rest of the Bible. I cannot stand the picture that He is the one who brought death by cursing an immortal life.
So someone laughs and says, well is that any worse than creating Adam mortal in the first place and then taking away the Tree of Life? Yes, it is totally different. God held nothing back from Adam. He created Adam with god-like status in this realm – superior to all other creatures – with servants – with perfect health and a custom-built partner. God did not with hold Adam’s ability to live forever via the Tree of Life, nor even his ability to be like God via the Tree of Knowledge. But sin cannot enter God’s presence which must have filled the Garden. Sin cut Adam off from God and the Tree of Life. It was not God punishing Adam but a consequence of SIN.
I find it strange that someone actually wants to debate this. Do they want God to be angry with them and want Him to punish them? But they will look to various parts of the Old Testament and not understand the covenant that was at work. They will find places where God seems to do bad stuff. But they will forget that when Jesus paid the price of sin on the Cross, he brought man back to the days of Adam in the Garden. That is where I live now by the grace of God, and if I do stumble God is not there waiting to punish me. (I think you will find this developed in several other articles.)
I have argued a point of passion. I have offered up scriptural support. Perhaps you will see someone else with a different passion promote the “created immortal” option somewhat better than I have. Perhaps you don’t really care which option is correct because you see God in it. I hope you feel free to defend your passion while being tolerant of the other option. But if someone denies a real first man, Adam, mortal or immortal, then you will know that he has totally lost the plot because the plot literally starts with the creation of Adam!