This study is to see what the Bible says – and doesn't say – about Adam's sin causing death on earth.
Not all Christians believe the common church tradition that the world was a perfect paradise until Adam ate forbidden fruit ... causing death to enter the world ... and ruining God's entire creation.
Many Christians believe that death is a part of God's original design plan and that there was death on earth long before Adam.
Which is it? This study brings scripture, history and science together to help answer the question.
Christians who believe that Adam's sin is the cause of all death on earth usually assume that this is a clear theme occurring throughout scripture.
Most Christians have never studied it themselves directly from the Bible but simply believe it because that's what their religious tradition has taught them.
Actually, the Bible says practically nothing to support this doctrine.
OLD TESTAMENT. The Old Testament reports the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-5 but, after that, Adam's name is never mentioned again except in a genealogy.
The Adam and Eve story does NOT say that Adam's sin brought death into the world. The curse that God put on Adam for his sin did NOT include death for all life, or even death for all mankind, or even death for Adam (death was already Adam's natural destiny because he was human).
Before Adam sinned, God told him that if he ate forbidden fruit he would 'surely die;' i.e., he would not get eternal life. Death has always been the default condition of life on earth. If we don't get eternal life, we're left with death.
The Old Testament writers, priests, prophets and kings obviously did not believe that Adam's sin is the cause of universal death or they certainly would have said something about it.
NEW TESTAMENT. Adam's name is mentioned or implied in only in five passages in the New Testament. However, two of those passages (Luke 3:38 and Jude 1:14) name Adam only in a genealogy list and one (I Timothy 2:13-14) speaks only about the marriage relationship.
The Gospels say nothing at all about sin being the cause of death.
Jesus and his twelve apostles apparently did NOT believe that Adam's sin is the cause of death or they certainly would have said something about it.
So the only potential scriptural support for this doctrine are these two passages about Adam written by the Apostle Paul:
Not only is this a very small biblical footing for such a momentous doctrine – and out of synch with the rest of the Bible – but these two passages themselves are subject to various interpretations.
It is important to note that both passages (yellow above) say that sin entered THROUGH one man (presumably Adam), not BECAUSE of one man.
The 'because' (causation) is NOT because Adam sinned, but 'because ALL sinned.'
The first law God ever gave to a human (don't eat this fruit) was given to Adam.
Verse 13 says there was sin but no accountability before the law. So when Adam violated the first law, given directly to him, he became the first sinner and progenitor of the spiritual human race as we now know it, having accountability to God.
Before the first law, humans were already doing bad things, but they just died like everything else dies – simple eternal death, no resurrection, no judgment, no punishment – without accountability to God. See Bible study here on people before Adam.
But ever since Adam, we are subject to spiritual law, so now death is 'through sin,' meaning that people are now on an extended route to eternal death, in order to deal with their sin. The route now is: physical death ... then resurrection, then judgment, then punishment in hell ... before eventual eternal death in hell ... or eternal life in heaven through Jesus. See Bible study here on death and hell.
See Bible study here on Romans 5 to examine this important portion of scripture verse-by-verse and to reconcile it with the rest of scripture.
'For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
This verse is often cited to show that Adam's sin is cause of death on earth.
But this verse doesn't say anything about Adam and doesn't say that sin is the cause of death.
This verse says only that death is all we get from sin. Death is the default human condition, but now God offers an exception to death, the gift of eternal life through Christ.
'For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.'
This Bible passage is sometimes cited to show that Adam's sin is the cause of all death on earth.
But this passage doesn't even mention Adam, death, or human sin.
This passage says only that Satan is now causing frustration to people in this creation, but some day that will all change for the better.
There is ample evidence that the cycle of life-and-death was functioning on earth long before 4000 BC, the time the Bible says sin first entered the world through Adam. (NOTE: 'through Adam,' not 'because of Adam,' as examined in Bible study here on Romans 5.)
The strongest evidence of long ages of prehistoric death comes from enormous deposits of limestone, coal and oil throughout the world.
LIMESTONE. Coral, clams, oysters, mussels and other ocean-dwelling organisms have shells that are broken down by waves and settle on the ocean floor where, together with fish bones, they are compacted over millions of years, creating limestone. As tectonic plates shift, sea bottom is often thrust up as dry land, and limestone is quarried in hugh quantities to make concrete and many other products.
COAL. Coal is created from plants and ferns that died hundreds of millions of years ago in swamp forests. The layers of dead vegetation were subjected to high temperatures and pressures that transformed it into peat and then into coal, now mined in hugh quantities deep underground for fuel.
OIL. Crude oil is created over millions of years from tiny plants and animals in sea water, called plankton, trapped and buried under layers of sand and mud. After about 150 million years of heat and pressure, plankton turn into oil and gas in pores of underground rock, like water in a sponge. The rocks fold and form vast domes which accumulate the slick ooze into advantageous drilling sites for crude oil, which we refine in staggering quantities into products like gasoline for power and plastics for physical shapes.
FOSSILS. Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of dinosaurs skeletons, some with bones of other creatures in their stomach cavities, showing that they killed both vegetable matter and flesh. Dinosaurs went extinct long before God created humans, and we can see them now with our own eyes in museums. See Bible study here on God's 'days' of creation.
MORE EVIDENCE. DNA, migration tracking, archaeology and scientific dating methods are further evidence of death before Adam sinned.
Faced with this evidence, some Christians say that God just made the world to look old right from the beginning ... that limestone, coal and oil were created that way ... that God just planted dinosaurs bones even though such creatures never existed.
If God perpetuated an elaborate hoax to make us think the earth is old by planting fake bones and fake cities, then we cannot be certain that God is not deceiving us in other ways too. Then the Bible would not be credible, and we would not know what to believe.
'Apparent age' is contrary to God's character. God is not a deceiver.
It is honest to acknowledge that there was death on earth prior to Adam (first sinner, approximately 4000 BC), so therefore sin is not the cause of death.
Stars are born when large gaseous clouds collapse from gravity. The more massive the star, the faster it burns its fuel supply and the shorter its life. The largest stars burn out and explode after only a few million years. Stars the size of our sun burn out in about 10 billion years. Smaller stars burn out slower.
We can now observe the death of stars – supernovas to black holes – with telescopes catching light emanating from them millions of years ago, long before Adam's sin. There is no indication in the Bible that death of stars throughout the vast solar system is caused by someone's sin.
Everything God created in our universe has always been subject to death, whether large or small, whether long life or short life. Nothing was created immortal.
God's plan uses slow topographical, climatological and physiological changes and adaptation and improvement of life forms to those changes. Death is essential in this process.
Death prevents suffocation from over-crowding ... clears the way for new and better life ... is necessary for the food chain ... and ultimately leads to God's offer of eternal life (an offer that would be meaningless without death).
Imagine the Garden of Eden, for example, if it were perfect (from our point of view) and nothing ever died. Over time, with uncontrolled growth and multiplication, the Garden would have become so overgrown and tangled with trees, vegetation, animals and insects that people's movements would have become so restricted, and their lives so imperiled, that they would hardly be able to move ... and not reach the Tree of Life ... unless they cut down branches, bushes and vines ... but that would cause death, and then the Garden would no longer be a no-death paradise.
'Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food ... And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ...' (Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17). See Bible study here on Garden of Eden.
Adam had a normal human body and needed food to survive. Before Adam sinned, God told Adam to eat. But eating food as God directed is death to the food, which means that Adam's sin is not the cause of all death.
In Genesis 1, when God created the first human beings, He said: 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.' (Genesis 1:28)
There would be no need for people to subdue and rule over the earth if the earth's condition was absolute perfection without any death or change.
'Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.' (Genesis 4:10-17)
If the Garden of Eden were a perfect paradise without death before Adam sinned, God would not have wanted someone to 'work' it and 'take care' of it.
Obviously, the life-and-death cycle was operative even before Adam sinned, otherwise there would be no need for work and care.
'... you must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:17)
It would make no sense for God to warn Adam (before he sinned) that the penalty for disobedience is death if no death on earth had ever yet occurred.
The concept of death would have been totally incomprehensible to Adam unless he had already observed death outside of the Garden before being placed in the Garden. God would not say things to Adam that God knew Adam could not understand.
'Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return' (Genesis 3:17-19).
Adam's punishment was hard work and painful toil in ground with thorns and thistles, a sentence that Adam could not have understood if everything had been perfect up to that time.
Adam's punishment was not death but rather eviction from the Garden and denial of eternal life which had been offered. Adam as an individual – not as humanity – no longer had access to the tree of life and would now have to work and die like everyone else.
Certainly if the punishment for Adam's sin were death to every living thing on earth for all time forward – a monumental horrific punishment – we would expect God to say so clearly through His living word (Jesus) and His written word (Bible).
It is inconceivable that God would declare punishment of that severity and global magnitude – to all people everywhere for all time – because of the first offense of a single person. That would clearly be contrary to God's own character attributes of love and justice.
Some people interpret the Bible to say that God intended the world to be perfect – all beauty, no pain, no sorrow, no death – and that Adam's sin fouled God's wonderful plan and brought death into the world and condemned everyone to hell.
That interpretation of death – thought to be a bad and unintended tragedy – seems completely out of context with other things we know about God and creation.
If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then no man's action is unforeseen or able to disrupt the divine plan.
God created the world for life and multiplication ... which requires a food chain ... and a food chain requires death.
Genesis 1 tells us that at the end of each 'day' of creation, God said it was 'good.' Then, as the final statement, God looked at all that was happening – including death in every life form He created – and said it was 'very good.' Just as He planned it.
Life on earth is temporary by God's intentional design right from the beginning, not by unforeseen events or miscalculation or the action of any man.
The doctrine of Adam causing death on earth is understood by most Christians to mean all death ... to mean that the earth was a perfect paradise before Adam sinned.
Realizing that this an untenable position in light of modern knowledge, some Christians back off a bit and say that Adam's sin brought death only to humans, not death to every living thing on earth.
But there's a problem with that limited view too. Christians who believe that there was no human death on earth before Adam sinned are usually the ones who also believe that God created the entire universe in six 24-hour days ... that Adam was the first human on earth ... and that, as the Bible clearly states, Adam committed the fatal sin before birth of his first son.
This makes humans-only a moot distinction because there would have been no other humans to live immortal lives in this paradise.
'Just as man is destined to die once, and after that face judgment ...' (Hebrews 9:27).
People are destined to die because that's the way God designed us, not because Adam sinned. After physical death, there is resurrection, judgment and punishment ... no reincarnations as taught in many religions.
The Bible teaches that God alone is immortal. '...God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal ...' (Timothy 6:16). Nothing on earth has ever been immortal, not even Adam.
To say that there was no death on earth prior to 10,000 years ago is an indefensible position in light of modern knowledge, and most people think it's just ignorance or mindless religious indoctrination to hear Christians say it.
To ascribe this to the Bible – when the Bible doesn't say it – hinders our mission and is a barrier to Christian faith for millions of people.
Most Christians just shrug off the issue by saying: It doesn't matter to me whether or not Adam's sin is the cause of death. What matters is that we have a sin problem and Jesus in the answer.
But that attitude misses the real issue: It's not about us! It's about them!
If, based on what Christians say, doubters and unbelievers think (or know) the Bible is wrong about death on earth, they conclude that it is probably wrong about other matters, too, and that it cannot be trusted as a book of truth.
Maybe the subject of Adam's sin causing all death on earth will never come up in open conversation, but every Christian should be prepared with a satisfactory answer if it does.
Even if unbelievers and doubters don't raise the issue, they have thought about it, consciously or subconsciously, when seeing the subtle mockery in caricatures of Eve handing Adam an apple ... wondering how Christians can believe that this is the cause of all death on earth.
If I have to believe this to be a Christian, they reason, I could never become a Christian.
In some situations, Christians should raise the issue just to flush out hidden misunderstandings and establish better rapport.
Most Christians seem to think that others are altering the Bible if a particular interpretation of scripture does not align with their own tradition. It rarely occurs to them that maybe it is their tradition that is altering the Bible!
The purpose of this study to go directly to scripture and read for ourselves whether or not it actually says that the earth was a perfect paradise without death until Adam sinned. Is the Bible saying it? Or is tradition saying it?
If the Bible is saying it, we must accept it.
If tradition is saying it, we should be careful about what we repeat about Adam and not add to what the Bible actually says. Adding to the biblical account creates unnecessary push-back and argument, reduces confidence in the Bible and hinders our mission of making disciples.
To say that the earth is less good now than when God created it is to imply that God didn't make it good enough, or that it had design flaws.
God knew exactly what was going to happen because He intentionally designed death, free will and salvation into His master plan.
The Bible is silent about the condition of the earth before Adam and thus we are free to follow historical and scientific evidence wherever it leads.
We know now that there were colliding tectonic plates, fiery volcanos, fierce storms and flesh-eating dinosaurs long before Adam. The earth has always been a dangerous and violent place.
God created humans to 'subdue' and 'rule over' the earth ... and God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to 'work it and take care of it' ... so it was not 'perfect' (no death) from our point of view.
The Bible says that Satan was already at work on earth – sinning – before Adam sinned. With Satan lurking around and convincing Adam and Eve to disobey God, the earth was not a perfect paradise.
Furthermore, if the earth were perfect before Adam sinned, then Adam himself would have been perfect and unable to sin, because perfect beings cannot be lured into sin.
Nothing on earth has ever been immortal.
There is ample evidence that the cycle of life-and-death was functioning on earth long before 4000 BC, the approximate time Adam lived according to Bible genealogies.
If there was death on earth before Adam ... and if Adam was the first sinner ... then sin cannot be the cause of death on earth.
The Old Testament reports the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-5, but thereafter Adam's name is never mentioned again except in a genealogy list.
In the New Testament, neither Jesus nor any of the twelve apostles ever mentioned Adam's name or said anything to indicate that the action of any person is the cause of death on earth.
Adam's name is mentioned only five times in the entire New Testament: Two of the mentions are in genealogy lists and one mention is about the marriage relationship. The remaining two mentions are comments by the Apostle Paul and are subject to varying interpretations.
Adam's sin being the cause of death on earth is a theme in church tradition but not a theme in the Bible.