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 are subject to varying interpretations.
It is important to note that both passages (yellow above) say that sin entered THROUGH one man, not BECAUSE of one man.
This passage (yellow above) is used to 'prove' that Adam's sin caused all death on earth. However, the passage says clearly that 'death came to all men, BECAUSE ALL SINNED,' presumably even people before Adam (based on ensuing statement about sin in the world before the law was given).
The first law God gave to a human (don't eat this fruit) was given to Adam.
The passage 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 (end of existence), no resurrection, no judgment, no punishment. They didn't have accountability to God. See Bible study here on people before Adam.
But ever since Adam, people have been accountable for the spiritual law given to them – and sin is violation of 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 through sin is: physical death ... then resurrection, then judgment, then punishment in hell ... before eventual eternal death (end of existence) in hell or eternal life in heaven through Jesus. See Bible study here on death and hell.
See deep verse-by-verse 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, which is all about free will and individual choices and consequences.
This passage (yellow above) is used to 'prove' that Adam's sin caused all death on earth. However, it says nothing about causation. It says only that 'in Adam all die' (the human default condition is death, end of existence) and that 'in Christ shall all be made alive' (salvation and eternal life in Christ).
The phrase 'in Adam all die' (verse 22) is NOT the same as saying that Adam's sin is the cause of all death on earth. That is too big a stretch.
This is a comparison between Adam, who is human ('dust of the earth'), and Christ, who is divine ('from heaven').
The default condition has always been eternal death (end of existence). Nothing on earth has ever been immortal, not even Adam. Death is the fate of being human, with only one exception: eternal life through Christ.
That's why 'The last enemy to be destroyed is death' (verse 26). Death is the enemy of eternal life. The only way to have eternal life – i.e., the only way to defeat death – is through Christ.
The first Adam (verse 45) became a 'living being' (spiritual being) when God gave him (in the Garden of Eden) the first law (don't eat this fruit) ever given to man. This initiated a new dimension of existence for humans, making man a spiritual being accountable to God and receiving an offer of eternal life.
The last Adam (Christ) is a 'life-giving spirit,' the only power who can overcome eternal death and give eternal life.
Reference to Adam is this passage is NOT about who was the first physical man on earth because it says 'The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.'
Obviously, Jesus was not the last man on earth because other men have lived after him. Likewise, Adam was not the first man on earth for reasons given in Bible study here on people before Adam.
The subject here is eternal life, not physical life. First and last refer to the two men in this comparison, not the first and last humans on earth.
➤ Because Adam was the first sinner does not compel a conclusion that Adam was the first human or that he caused everything on earth to die.
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.
God said to Adam: '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, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:16-17). In other words, Adam will no longer have access to the Tree of Life – will lose opportunity for eternal life – and therefore will 'die' (cease to exist).
How we interpret 'die' in the story of Adam and Eve sets the pattern for how we interpret death and eternal life in other parts of the Bible.
➤ THE INTERPRETATION FROM BIBLE STUDY ON THIS SITE is that the word 'die' is simply its normal meaning: final end of existence (now however, since Adam, final death comes after physical death, resurrection, judgment and punishment in hell). After punishment, no body. No consciousness. Nothing. Final eternal death. In Jesus' words: 'die ... burned up ... destroyed ... consumed ... perish', refered to as the 'second death' in Revelation.
People who receive and reject God's offer of eternal life will eventually die in hell. Not live forever in hell, but die in hell, duration and severity dependent upon individual sin and judgment.
See exactly what Jesus said about it in the Bible study here on burning in hell.
'For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord' (Romans 6:23).
Many people use this verse to prove that sin is the cause of death. But that's more than the verse actually says. The verse says that death is the consequence of sin, just as wages are the consequence of work. It's what you get. The verse says simply that eternal death is all you get from sin – no eternal life (unless forgiveness through Jesus).
By reading causation into this verse, theologians have made God look like He is not all-powerful and all-knowing ... that He made the universe so poorly that a man could foul everything by causing death in paradise ... and now God has to come back with Plan B (Jesus) to try to fix it. This is dishonoring to God. God always knew what He was doing, and death was always a part of His plan for everything He created.
By divine design from the beginning, ultimate death is the default condition for everything on earth, and the only exception to death is eternal life offered to us now through Jesus Christ.
'... but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death' (James 1:14-15).
This passage does not say that Adam's sin is the universal cause of all death. In fact, it says just the opposite, and it doesn't even mention Adam.
This verse says that sin is caused by the individual sinner who yields to temptation (not inherited sin from Adam). The verse goes even further by saying that death is not the result of sin until the sin becomes 'full-grown.' In other words, until the person fully understands that it is sin ... and deliberately continues in the sin ... then the result is death.
Death is the default condition on earth. This verse, like Romans 6:23 above, says that all anyone gets from sin is eternal death (after resurrection, judgment and hell); i.e., no eternal life, which comes only through forgiveness and salvation from Jesus.
Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke often about 'eternal life.' It is a central theme.
To connote the opposite of eternal life, Christians today often say 'spiritual death,' a term that is an oxymoron to everyone else. It is an invented term, not in the Bible.
'Spiritual death' is usually a polite way of saying burn in hell forever. People who use the term seem to be saying that, after bodily resurrection and judgment, death doesn't really mean death but really means living, forever, in torture, unable to die. See Bible study here on concept of spiritual death.
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.
The younger generations in particular will quickly dismiss the Bible as a book to be trusted when they hear statements like this which are completely contrary to what they have learned about the world.
To insist that death is something new – 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 ... and free will ... and salvation into His master plan.
The Bible is silent about the condition of the earth before Adam, so 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) as we would like to define it.
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 Bible tells that the earth was not a paradise.
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 Adam's sin cannot be the cause of death.
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. Only God is immortal.
By definition, it is impossible – an oxymoron – for something immortal to become mortal.
Adam was mortal when God placed him in the Garden of Eden, otherwise there would have been no reason for God to plant the Tree of Life as its centerpiece.
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 prominent theme in Christian tradition but is not a theme at all in the Gospels, the foundation for our faith.
The big theme throughout the Bible is that we are sinners because we have free will and, as individuals, we commit personal sins. We are individually accountable to God for our own sin, and we need a personal Savior for forgiveness and eternal life.