Prime Rib Before the Fall

by David A. Sherwood

The Case for Death among Animals as Part of the Original Created Order Adapted from Kingdom Prologue by Meredith G. Kline

It is clear from Scripture that human death is a consequence of sin.  See Gen. 2:16-17; 3:19, 22-23; Rom. 5:12; 6:21-13; 8:10; 1 Cor. 15:21; Jas. 1:15.  What is not as clear—but often assumed—is that death among animals is a consequence of human sin and that therefore there was no animal sacrifice before the Fall.  We would argue that death among plants and animals was part of God's original design and that, furthermore, man was permitted to eat meat from the beginning.

In his Kingdom Prologue, Meredith Kline notes that consecration, the subordination of the interests of person or thing to those of another, is a prominent theme in the creation.  This often involves death.  When a banana or a pear or a potato is eaten, its life is sacrificed in the interests of a higher form of life.  It would be consistent with this principle for animal life to be sacrificed in ways that would benefit man (e.g. food and clothing).  Or, to put it another way, man has dominion over all of the creation, not just vegetation.  And his dominion over animals would not consist simply in the establishment of petting zoos, but in using animals in a wide variety of ways consistent with the cultural mandate to subdue the earth.

This supposition is confirmed by Ps. 104:21, which refers to animals feeding on other animals in the context of the creation; and by 1 Tim. 4:3-5 which, reflecting the terminology of Gen. 1:31, asserts the goodness of the foods that God had created but which the false teachers were condemning.  Meat is very likely in view.

Three arguments are offered against this thesis:

  1. Gen. 1:29 states that all plants are given for food.  Some have taken this to mean that we were originally created to be herbivores.  But there is nothing in this statement that is restrictive, as if plants were the only food for man.  Since animals would have such a wide variety of uses, only man's general dominion is mentioned in v. 28 (but this would have included their usefulness as food).  Also, the provision of all plants as food sets the stage for the single prohibition in 2:16-17.  This observation adequately accounts for the focus upon vegetation in v. 29.

  2. Gen. 9:3 is thought by some to be the first authorization to eat meat.  But since the postdiluvian covenant is characterized by a republication of creation ordinances, this may apply to the permission to eat meat.  So v. 3b could be translated, "Even as the green plants I gave you everything."  However, it is more likely that God is here removing the clean-unclean distinction that applied on the ark (cf. 7:2ff).  As in the case of the theocratic community of Israel, there were clean and unclean animals on the ark to symbolize the holy realm (in this case, the ark).  But when this "theocracy" came to an end, the principles of common grace resumed and man was permitted once again to eat all kinds of animals.  Kline summarizes:  "The point of Genesis 9:3 is not, therefore, that all edibles, not only vegetation were now permitted, but rather that all varieties of meats-not just the flesh of clean animals-were permitted, just as were all varieties of green plants."

  3. Some have thought that the idyllic descriptions of paradise, which include the lion's eating straw like the ox and the peaceful cohabitation of predators and their prey, argue against carnivorous activity prior to the Fall-the assumption being that the final state involves a return to the conditions of Paradise. (Is. 11:6-7; 65:25)  But it seems precarious to press the poetic and symbolic language of the prophets into the service of literalistic conclusions.  It is better to see these as metaphors for the consummate peace that will characterize the final state.

Death, therefore, is not inconsistent with the unadulterated blessedness of man's original state.  Indeed, this blessedness consisted, in part, in his dominion over the death that surrounded him.  Death, whether found among flora or fauna, was adapted to promote man's good and well being.  The tragedy of the Fall is that that over which man had dominion now has dominion over him.  We have become the subjects and victims of death.  Death no longer serves our interests; we serve the interests of death.

But is it not striking how this ties into the drama of redemption?  It is remarkable that, even prior to the Fall, this principle was established:  that life springs forth from death.  Or, in Jesus' words, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  And so it was that, in the fullness of time, when we lay dead in our sin, when we were under the sentence of death both temporal and eternal, God sent forth his Son to die.  And by his death we are given the gift of life, even life eternal.  It is thus in the death, resurrection, and life-giving power of the Son of God that this creation ordinance finds its consummate fulfillment.

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