Old-Earth Creation Views and Death

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One of the bigger difficulties of an old-earth view of the early chapters of Genesis is how to deal with what seems to to be the biblical teaching that death came into the world through sin, since old-earth views usually involve lots of animals dying, eating each other, and even extinction of species long before humans even existed, never mind sinned. David Heddle has some very interesting thoughts on what old-earthers can say about death, some of them entirely new to me.

The most important suggestion is perhaps that death was already around before the human fall because of the earlier angelic fall, but this was not death for humans. That's what made Eden special. What separates Eden from the rest of the world on the young-earth view? If there's no good answer to that (and there are some answers in the comments, but nothing as huge as death), then this problem, originally against old-earth views, one of the few that I consider serious enough to worry about) actually favors old-earth views on one score rather than undermining them.

5 Comments

Just to note that "death cam through the fall" is a credal statement, not a scriptural one.

Paul, the concept of a fall, while biblical, is not in the Bible under that term. So I agree that death coming from the fall is not biblical if you mean the literal terms I used. But I do think scripture teaches that death (at least for humans) came from the event that we now call the fall.

Genesis 2 and 3 contain the essential elements right at the outset. Adam and Eve died as a result of eating the fruit. While it's true that this is primarily spiritual death that was immediate, it's probably also talking about the eventual physical death, whose process would have begun immediately.

I think Romans 5 is pretty clear that what we call the fall was the origin of death for human beings. Death came into the world through sin (v.12). Death reigned from Adam to Moses (v.14), suggesting that it wasn't there before Adam. Death reigned through that one man Adam (v.17). I Corinthians 15:21 also refers to death coming through a man. Rom 6:23 calls death the wages of sin, and Rom 7:13 and James 1:15 also refer to sin producing death (cf. Ezekiel 18 and 33, where death is tied to individual sin). Rom 8:2 refers to the law of sin and death, tying them together yet again as if they are bedfellows.

Unless you're just thinking along the picky lines of the term 'the fall' not being in the Bible, I'm not sure what you're getting at, because the basic concept of the fall as the origin of human death does seem to me to be biblically based.

Thanks for posting this!

Interestingly Dembski has recently put up on article suggesting a distinction between Eden and the rest of creation similar to what you are talking about. His employment of this suggestion is different in that he combines this with a preemptive divine action of God, but it is interesting that he makes a similar suggestion regarding Eden.

Do you think Beale's work on the temple can provide another possibility of what distinguishes Eden from the rest of creation? Although some may not accept all the temple connections and allusions that Beale finds I do think he makes a strong case for the bulk of his ideas regarding the theme of the temple. Beale suggests that Eden was to be expanded to fill the whole earth. Broad scholarship seems to acknowledge the parallels between Eden and temple (some examples, Wenham, T. D. Alexander, Beale). This would seem to indicate that what makes Eden distinctive is God's dwelling in a special way as in the temple. In some way God dwells in the entire world, but in the OT a more special sense in Israel, even more special in the temple, and finally the Holy of Holies. So the goal of creation was the presence/glory of God in Eden to be spread across the earth such that temple expands to be coextensive with all of creation. To me this seems to be in line with the biblical/theological contours and categories of Scripture so that it gives us an answer as to what distinguishes Eden that is not speculative.

Keith, I haven't really seen any of Beale's work on that, but it sounds interesting and certainly could explain the purpose behind a distinction between Eden and the rest of the earth (or the rest of creation, perhaps). What it doesn't do, though, is explain in detail what the difference is between Eden and the rest of the earth. What are the effects of Eden being a more special place for God to manifest his presence? In exactly what ways is Eden special? A plausible element of that would be that death is suspended in Eden, especially if an angelic fall had already occurred (though we don't know the timing of that fall with respect to the creation of the earth, just that it must have occurred before Genesis 3).

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