Was the Fall Physical or Spiritual?

As the war rolls on between evolutionists and denominational creationists, more extreme and more interesting positions are taken by people on both sides of the controversy. It is the position of this author and of the Does God Exist? program that bad science and bad theology are the foundation upon which this war is based, not science and the Bible. If God created the creation in a logical and systematic way, and if He told us what He did in the biblical account, the two cannot possibly conflict because they have the same infallible author (Creator).

One of the more curious mixes of physical and spiritual issues is the view point of the Fall of mankind and the forbidden fruit. Some religious groups and a large percentage of denominational creationists maintain that there have been two different physical existences on the earth--those before the Fall and those after the Fall. The former maintains that before man sinned there was no death of any kind in the world. All of the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry were different than they are today. There were no carnivores and in fact the lion and the lamb would have been literally lying down together. The second law of physics did not exist and so nothing aged or died. Heaven literally existed on earth.

 When man sinned, according to this view, the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology changed. Not only was man condemned to die but so too was every living thing. The world changed from a heavenly peaceful paradise to a violent world of death and abuse. All of this was caused by man's sin and his violation of God's commands. It is not the intent of this article to minimize the effects of sin or to denigrate the significance of the Fall. On the other hand, there are a number of misunderstandings and weaknesses in this approach, and conflicts with evidence are created by all of these misunderstandings. Let us clarify some errors we need to correct in dealing with this subject.

The Physical World Cannot Exist Without the Physical Laws in Place and Working

The world in which we live is not just a happy accident. Even such basic processes as breathing obey and depend upon physical laws to work. The second law of thermodynamics and its stepchild, diffusion, allow you to breath air. Without these physical laws in operation, the carbon dioxide you exhale would accumulate around you and increase in concentration until you asphyxiate. In order to actually live on the earth and not float off into outer space, gravity (a physical law) has to work. Atoms themselves cannot exist without a variety of physical laws controlling the forces that keep the atom together. These forces include electrostatics, magnetism, nuclear forces, and gravity.

 To insist that the physical laws governing the earth before the Fall were different than those operational today throws any discussion into such a low level of reality as to have no meaning. The Bible gives no indication that the world of Adam and Eve before the Fall was a world where no physical laws existed. Phrases and words like eating, coolness of the day, walking, good to eat, etc., suggests a world that was indeed physical.

Death is Necessary for Life!

The suggestion that there was no death of any kind on the earth until the Fall is a poorly thought out idea. You cannot eat anything without something dying. When you eat any plant or fruit or nut--something dies. When you breath, things die. You get a new body every seven years, because in seven years every cell in your body dies and is replaced by new cells (except in your brain--if brain cells died you would have no memory). Not only is death a normal part of the design of the physical world, but it is also part of the balancing mechanism of nature. Soil is produced from decayed organic material. Without the death of vegetative and microscopic materials, soil would be sterile. When living things eat, their digestive processes frequently utilize the death of microscopic organisms.

 Suggesting that nothing died until the Fall is not compatible with the fact that Adam and Eve could eat. It denies the biblical picture of their existence in the Garden of Eden. Unless the Genesis account is taken as totally allegorical and not literal, death had to be present.

Death is Not the Ultimate Tragedy

Perhaps the main reason people would like to deny that death existed before the Fall is that death is viewed by many of us as the worst thing that can possibly happen. The older I get, the more I see the fallacy in that view and the more destructive I see it to be. Three different times I have had a senior citizen in their nineties say to me, "John, let me give you a piece of advice. Don't live to be 93," (or whatever their age was).

 Death is a natural part of existence. Plants do not fear death. There is no evidence that animals have an awareness of self or a fear of death. Their instinctively programmed behavior helps them avoid death, but there is no evidence that they are conscious of it. Humans fear death and construct monuments and elaborate religions and philosophies to deal with death. We would suggest that man's awareness of self and his fear of death (in the sense of the fear of ending self) is a part of his spiritual design. The fact that we are created in God's image with a spiritual component that has the potential of not dying makes death of minor consequence, even for us.

 The significance of the Fall is not a physical significance; it is a spiritual significance.

The fulfillment of God's Curse logically has to be spiritual

When the consequences of eating of the "forbidden fruit" were explained to Adam and Eve, the statement made is: "For in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). The passage clearly says that the immediate consequence of eating of the fruit was death. Adam and Eve did not drop dead when they ate of the fruit--at least not physically. Eve seems to have continued normally as she offers Adam the fruit. Later, God walks in the Garden and confronts them with what they have done. The indication is that time has passed and Adam and Eve are functioning normally in a physical sense.

 What is different is that they know that they are naked. They have not dropped dead physically, but I would suggest that they have dropped dead spiritually. Man has cut himself off spiritually from the Creator. It will not be until God sends His Son to redeem man that the relationships can be fully restored. Even in Jesus' day His followers had a hard time understanding this. In the religious world today people struggle with "My Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Elaborate theologies are set up to try to maintain the physical and reduce or eliminate the spiritual. This is an old problem--rooted in a failure to understand that the Fall brought man into a terrible predicament, but the physical nature of that predicament was much less of an issue than the spiritual part of it.

The role and action of Satan in the World is primarily spiritual

"[The seed] shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15).

How do you understand this passage? Is the prophecy about Satan bruising the heel of Jesus emphasizing the crucifixion spike driven into Christ on the cross? Is the war between good and evil one in which God and Satan duel with physical weapons? What was really happening in Satan's affliction of Job? When 1 Corinthians 10:13, promises Christians "God is faithful and will not allow you...," does this mean God is going to stand between us and evil and never let anything bad happen to us? Do we have a guardian angel that protects us from the destructive forces in the world around us? If so, why are some of our guardian angels so woefully inept?

 The more you think about these questions and passages the more obvious it becomes that Satan's primary interest and role in mankind is spiritual and not physical. Job had physical problems brought upon him, but the objective of these things was to "curse God and die." Job was not enlisted as a soldier of Satan to physically assault God. 1 Corinthians 10:13 does not guarantee tragedies will not come our way. It just promises we will not have such a load that it causes us to lose our soul. When Jesus rose from the dead overcoming Satan, He did not establish a physical Kingdom but rather a spiritual one--the Church. We are told to "resist Satan and he will flee from you" (James 4:7) but Jesus said "turn the other cheek.love your enemies..do good to those who do evil to you...of the second mile." etc. (Matthew 5:39-44). These statements only make sense in a spiritual framework for Satan.

Word Studies in the New Testament suggest sin's consequences are primarily spiritual

The traditional view of Romans 5:12-17 and 8:19-22 has been that the current laws of physics did not operate until Adam and Eve sinned. The basic idea is that if the second law of thermodynamics were not in operation, then nothing ever wore out or died. Not only does this idea not work from a scientific viewpoint as we have already discussed, but it is also not consistent with the language of the passage.

 In Romans 5:12, the word "world" is taken from the word "cosmos" not the Greek word ktisis. Ktisis suggests created order in all natural things. Cosmos peculiarly relates the concept to man and his relationships. This implies the concept is relative to man's sphere of existence, not the whole creation. In verse 12 the phrase "entered into" is taken from the fusing of a verb with the preposition "into" (eis). The word translated "come" in verse 12b indicates who reaped the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin--namely mankind. In verse 17 the word chosen by Paul for sin is paraptoma (not hamartia). This word is translated "trespass" and describes willful transgression of a known rule. The clear indication is that the sins of man do not close down the physical world, but apply specifically to man himself. Another word Paul could have used is metaschematizo for indication of change or transforming "of the overall scheme of things." This word in not chosen by Paul indicating God did not redo the creation because of man's sin. In verse 13, the phrase "Sin was in the world," the verb used is in the imperfect tense emphasizing unbroken perpetual action in past time. Paul could have used the secondary tense (aorist) indicating sin came into the world, but the imperfect tense takes it back to the creation.

 Similar results come from a careful study of Romans 8:19-22. The word "hope" in verse 20 is elpis and refers to confident expectation, not chancy hope. The Greek for frustration is mataiotes meaning something that prohibits the ultimate and intended goal. In verse 22 the word "groaning" is present tense describing continuous action. All of this suggest that the physical creation is not the primary recipient of the consequences of man's sin. The laws of physics have been continuous.

The cure for Sin (Jesus Christ) promises a perfect world in which the physical realm is dissolved

The major point of every passage we have discussed is that man has separated himself from God, and God has provided a way for man to return. The final relationship of man and God is one in which there is no rust, moths or corruption (Matthew 6:20) and matter itself ceases to exist. It is not a physical condition where temptation and serpents and sin are still available. Making the consequence of sin physical destroys the whole point of the story of the Bible.

--John N. Clayton

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