50 Day 1 according to ancient cosmology

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2).

Since Genesis 1:1 is a “headline,” Genesis 1:2 is where the story actually begins. The author is taking the reader back to a time when neither the land nor the sky existed. Saying that the land had no shape or contents is equivalent to saying that it had not yet been differentiated from the waters. It’s a kind of verbal shorthand, in which something the listener already knows to exist is described before it existed. It’s like saying, “The New York Yankees were called the Highlanders for the first few years of their franchise.”   The “Yankees” were not really called the “Highlanders” then, because there were no “Yankees,” and never had been. What is intended is this: “The team that eventually became known as the Yankees was at first called the Highlanders.” In the same way, the Genesis account begins by explaining that what would eventually become the land had not yet been differentiated or populated. The case is the same with the sky, which will eventually separate the “waters above” from the “waters below.” Right now it’s just “waters” – “the deep,” covered in darkness But the Spirit of God is hovering over it all, sizing up the possibilities and making a plan . . .

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:3).

During the time he was re-reading the Genesis account and reflecting on its intended meaning, Dr. Godfrey spent one early morning on a beach on the Chesapeake Bay, watching and photographing the sky before and during sunrise. Standing there with what he describes as child-like excitement, he was impressed at how much “light” filled the sky and how well he could see everything around him before the sun rose. When the sun did appear, it was a bright but tiny circle in the sky. It brightened everything up considerably, but he realized that if he had not known that this diffuse dawn and dusk light came from the sun, there would have been no reason for him to believe that it did. After all, the sun was a very bright spot, whereas the dawn and dusk light were soft and diffuse and lit up the whole sky even when the sun was not visible. Each of us can similarly witness the dawn and so experience this light that Genesis is referring to as the light God created on the first day.

It actually makes good sense, from the perspective of ancient readers, that the “days” of Genesis should be defined on the basis of this light, rather than on the appearance or non-appearance of the Sun. After all, this first light is more reliable than the sun; it always appears in the sky even when the sun does not (due to complete cloud cover, or to dust storms, sand storms, volcanic ash and the like). This may, in fact, be what Job was referring to when he said of God, “He commands the sun, and it does not rise” (Job 9:7). When we do not imagine that the light in the sky comes from the sun, we can picture God having the sun take a “day off” from time to time. But there is always light.

As we have noted earlier in this book, the fact that Genesis describes light on Day 1, but the creation of the sun only on Day 4, has long puzzled readers who are expecting an account of origins that can be verified scientifically. Some have asserted that “light” in Genesis 1:3 means matter, or electromagnetic radiation, or static electricity, or a divine light that no longer exists. But the simplest explanation is that it means the light that appears in the sky before the sun rises and remains in the sky after the sun sets, fading away until it can be seen no more. We now know that this light comes from our sun, but the Genesis author clearly believed that it was an independent entity that was present before the sun existed, and which appears even on those days when the sun is absent. Dr. Smith remembers a joke from grade school:

– Which is brighter, the sun or the moon?

– The moon, because it shines at night when it’s dark. The sun only shines in the day, when it’s light anyway!

In a simple but profound way, this joke captures the naïve cosmology of the Genesis account, although it admittedly does not also capture its reverential spirit.

49 In the beginning, God created the sky and the land

A close reading of Genesis 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1, NIV).*

When we read this statement, because of the way we understand the words “heavens” and “earth,” an image comes to mind of our terrestrial sphere suspended in the unimaginable vastness of space. But this is not what the Genesis author intended.

The word translated “heavens” in Genesis 1:1, shemayim, is actually the very same word that the NIV and most other English versions translate as “sky” in several other places in this account:

God called the vault “sky” (1:8)
The water under the sky (1:9)
Lights in the vault of the sky (1:14, 15)
God set them in the vault of the sky (1:17)
Across the vault of the sky (1:20)
The birds in the sky (1:26, 28, 30)

Only in Genesis 2:1 do our translations once again render shemayim as “heavens.” But there is no reason to change the reference of the word from “sky” to something suggesting “outer space” in 1:1 and 2:1, unless we expect that the Genesis author is trying to furnish us with an objective scientific account of the universe’s origins. We should read the Bible for what it actually says, not for what we expect it to say. (This is difficult much of the time!) And so shemayim should be translated as “sky” consistently throughout this account.

The case is the same with the word translated “earth” in Genesis 1:1, eretz. The author clearly does not have in mind a spherical planet floating in deep space. Why not? Because the word translated “earth” here connotes instead “the dry land,” as we learn from the way it is translated in several other places as “land” or “ground”:

God called the dry ground “land” (1:10)
Let the land produce vegetation (1:11)
Plants and trees on the land (1:11)
The land produced vegetation (1:12)
Let the land produce living creatures (1:24)
Creatures that move along the ground (1:24, 26, 28)
[The NIV phrase “move along the ground” in vv. 24,25 represents a different term, adamah.]

However, the NIV translates the term eretz as “earth” in some other cases:

To give light on the earth (1:15, 17)
Let birds fly above the earth (1:20)
Let the birds increase on the earth (1:22)
Fill the earth and subdue it (1:28)
The face of the whole earth (1:29)
The beasts of the earth (1:30) [The NIV renders this same phrase as “livestock” in vv. 24,25; in our translation we have “wild beasts” each time.]
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed (2:1).

Once we know that the same term is used in all of these places, we recognize that the NIV, like most other English translations, is seemingly reflecting a modern cosmology. When we render the term eretz consistently as “land,” we get a much better picture of what the account is more likely picturing. Genesis 1:1 really says, In the beginning God created the sky and the land.

Since the account later describes how these two entities were specifically created (the sky on Day 2 and the land on Day 3), we should realize that this statement is like a newspaper headline: It is a summary of what will be described in the entire account. We should not think of it as describing the creation of the universe and planet earth, with some detail work to follow. Everything is to follow. We should therefore understand an implied “and this is how he did it” with this opening statement.


*To illustrate how English translations are influenced by the “paradigm effect” and so suggest a modern cosmology in an ancient book, we will introduce each section of this account by quoting it in the New International Version. We have chosen the NIV because it is a widely-read version with which, we expect, many of our readers will already be familiar. We are not singling out the NIV for criticism; every English translation similarly exhibits the influence of the “paradigm effect” in this passage. (This discussion has been updated from our 2005 book to interact with the latest update to the NIV, released in 2011.)

48 Genesis cosmology and its implications

CONCLUSION

(Stephen J. Godfrey and Christopher R. Smith)

In the beginning, God created the sky and the land. At first there was no land, with any shape or with anything on it. There was just water, and darkness. But God’s Spirit hovered over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. And God saw that the light was good. God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “Day,” and the darkness He called “Night.” There was evening, and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And it was so. God made the dome, and separated the waters that were below the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And God saw that it was good. God called the dome “Sky.” There was evening, and there was morning, a second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the dome be gathered into one place and let what is dry appear.” And it was so. The waters under the dome were gathered together and what is dry appeared. God called what was dry “Land,” and the gathering of the waters he called “Sea.” And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the land sprout greenery: plants that bear seeds openly, and fruit trees whose seed is in their fruit, upon the land.” And it was so. The land brought forth greenery, plants that bore seeds according to their kind, and trees whose seed was in their fruit according to their kind. And God saw that it was good. There was evening, and there was morning, a third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and to set appointed times, and to mark days and years, and let them be for lights in the dome of the sky, to give light upon the land.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater one to rule the day, and the lesser one to rule the night – and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the land, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living things, and let flying things fly above the land, across the dome of the sky.” And it was so. God created the great sea creatures and the teeming living things with which the waters swarm according to their kinds, and every winged flying thing according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters of the sea, and let flying things multiply upon the land.” And there was evening, and there was morning, a fifth day.

And God said, “Let the land bring forth each living thing according to its kind, cattle and teeming things and wild beasts according to their kinds.” And it was so.  God made the wild beast according to its kind, and the cattle according to its kind, and everything that teems upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let us make humanity in our image and according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the things that fly in the sky, and over the cattle and the wild beasts and all the teeming things that teem upon the land.”

And God created the human in His image;
In the image of God He created him;
Male and female He created them.

God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the land and tame it, and rule over the fish of the sea, and over the things that fly in the sky, and over the beasts and the cattle and the teeming things on the land.”

And God said, “Behold, I have given to you humans as your food every seed-bearing plant that is upon the face of the whole land, and every tree whose fruit makes it a seed-bearing tree. And to every wild beast and to everything that flies in the sky and to everything that teems upon the land, in which is the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning, a sixth day.

And that is how the sky and the land, and everything in them, were completed.

God ceased, on the seventh day, from the work that he did;
He rested on the seventh day from all the work that he did.

And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work of creating.

After many years of reflecting on the question of origins from the perspective of both the Bible and science, we have each concluded that the original audience of the Genesis creation account would have heard and understood that account in the way just presented. Dr. Smith has already related how his biblical research and teaching, combined with an extended opportunity to view natural scenes, led him to this conclusion. Dr. Godfrey had a similar experience shortly afterwards.

In preparing for a debate with a young-earth creationist, he decided—after several years of avoiding the Genesis creation account because of painful experiences associated with it—to reacquaint himself with it by reading it through many times. In so doing, he made a startling discovery. He realized that to that point he had not been able to make sense of what was written because he had automatically but subconsciously been interpreting the text based on a 21st-century cosmological understanding. His reading was suffering from the proverbial “paradigm effect.”

Therefore, in rereading the creation account, he made a conscious effort to forget what he knew about the structure of our solar system and the universe beyond. Some information from Dr. Smith about what certain words in the account meant helped in this effort. The result of this experience was a radical new appreciation for what this account actually says.

We hope, in the posts that follow, to enable you to have the same experience of seeing this passage with new eyes. We will walk through the first several days of the Genesis creation account slowly, showing that it presents an observational cosmology, rather than an objective scientific one. Once we have established this, we then will explore the implications of this discovery for the scientist and for the student of the Bible. Read along with us . . .

“And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.

47 Has the creation been getting better or worse? (Part 2)

A student of the Bible might object that however true everything we’ve said so far on this subject might be, we are still introducing a naturalistic definition of the curse, which the Bible portrays instead as a spiritual influence pervading and corrupting an originally good creation. But when we re-visit the Genesis account of the fall, we discover that the curse described there consists not so much in a radical reorganization of the natural world as in disordered relationships among already-existing entities.

Whereas the animals previously enjoyed a harmonious relationship with humans, for example, there will now be perpetual “enmity” between the serpent and the woman and between their descendants. Later in Genesis, after the flood, this is expanded to include all the other creatures: “The fear and the dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea.” The first pair, for their part, had originally enjoyed a relationship so transparent and blissful that they were “naked and unashamed.” But now, the account of the fall states, that relationship will degenerate into a contest for domination. The man and the woman used to enjoy the fellowship of God “in the cool of the evening,” but now they are driven out of his presence. Even the man’s relationship to the soil becomes disordered: Whereas the ground formerly nourished him, now it will take his life away, as he will have to work himself to death simply to stay alive. So the biblical understanding of the curse is that it consists primarily in disordered relationships, in the fracturing of God’s shalom.

Some physical changes do result immediately from the curse, according to Genesis, but they do not necessarily represent a dramatic reconfiguration of creation. The snake will now have to crawl on his belly, but does this mean that he formerly had legs that were then taken away? Or is the understanding of the Genesis author rather that he retained the same body shape but moved to a different form of locomotion? There is certainly no explicit statement that the serpent once had legs.

We are told that the woman’s pain in childbirth will be “multiplied” or “increased.” This may be an idiom that means God will punish her with “great pain” in childbearing, but read more literally it suggests that God will be increasing pain (physical discomfort) that she actually would have experienced even if there had been no fall. (Those to whom this seems implausible might ask whether they believe humans did not have the same kind of nervous system before the fall as they do now. If Adam had dropped a rock on his foot, would it have hurt?) This change, in other words, may be quantitative rather than qualitative.

We are also told, finally, that the ground will now bring forth “thorns and thistles” as humans seek to cultivate it for their daily bread. But literal interpreters will have to admit that this, too, does not represent a dramatic new development, since God had already created “every kind” of seed-bearing plant, on the third day. Thorns and thistles already existed. This part of the curse may simply mean, therefore, that instead of dwelling in a well-watered orchard, humans will now be living on the plains, tilling the soil and fending off encroaching weeds.

In none of the foregoing do I wish to minimize the importance of the “fall” as a theological doctrine. I do not believe we can understand the human condition rightly if we do not posit an essential disordering of relationships with God, others, and self that has had cumulative devastating effects on our physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, effects that are leading us to have an equally devastating effect on the world around us. I rather wish to combat the minimization of the “fall” through essentially physical definitions of it as something whose extent we could trace in the rocks of the earth.

Much more could doubtlessly be said about this question, as about all of the questions I have discussed in recent posts and other questions of a similar theological nature. But I hope that what I have written has been sufficient to show that adopting an evolutionary paradigm for natural history is not inconsistent with believing in the story of redemption as it is narrated in the Bible.

46 Has the creation been getting better or worse? (Part 1)

We may conclude our “fishing in the middle of the lake” by taking up the question of how, if the world has come about through an uninterrupted evolutionary process that has led to greater and greater complexity, we are to understand the Bible’s teaching that the world has rather “fallen” from a formerly pristine state, because of human disobedience. Has the creation been getting better and better all this time, or has it been getting worse and worse?

We should specify that what we are addressing here is a theological question, not a chronological one. We are not asking how human actions could have affected all of natural history if humans have appeared only at the very end of that history. Creationists would respond to this question by placing humans at the beginning of natural history, while biologists with methodologically-naturalistic commitments would ask a different question: Do we find evidence in the fossil record that the natural order was qualitatively different before there were people? There is no such evidence, and so the question we must ask is the theological one: Can there be any validity to the biblical notion of a “fall” if natural history tells the story of an uninterrupted increase in complexity and capability?

Our first response to this question must be to observe that those who speak of increasing complexity and those who speak of a “fall” are actually using two different definitions of “better.” These definitions differ to such an extent, in fact, that the world can have been getting both better and worse at the same time.

If we are to assign value judgments within biology (which we may perhaps allow ourselves to do from our mid-lake vantage point), we may say that increases in complexity which permit species to have greater brain capacity, sensory acuity, agility and the like result in “better” or “higher” life forms. From the biblical perspective, however, “better” does not mean more complex or capable; it means more in keeping with God’s intentions, which are for rightly-ordered relationships among all creatures. The Genesis account of creation, it will be recalled, describes “a place for everything and everything in its place.” This is God’s vision of shalom or community welfare: all things in right relationship to one another. We can see, therefore, how things could be getting both better and worse at the same time. They might be getting more complex and capable, but also into more and more disordered relationships.

In fact, this is precisely the story the subsequent stories in Genesis tell about human civilization. After its “fall” and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the human race develops into a civilization whose cultural achievements are increasingly more complex, but in which relationships become more and more disordered. These stories describe how humans pursued the arts of metallurgy, architecture and animal husbandry, how they built great cities and accumulated large flocks, how they wrote music and poetry. At the same time, these stories tell about murder and violence, of the lust for power and fame, and of the earth being so filled with wickedness that God was sorry he had made humans. Increasing cultural complexity and badly disordered relationships: Human society became both better (by one definition) and worse (by another) at the same time.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Tower of Babel” (1563). The book of Genesis describes the building of this tower as both an unprecedented architectural achievement and as an expression of human arrogance and the lust for fame.

But did the same process occur in the natural world? Our concern has specifically to do with the effect that humans have had on the rest of creation, since it is the consequences of human actions that are in view when we talk of the “fall.” And when we contemplate these consequences, we realize that humans have indeed been making the natural world around them both better and worse at the same time.

Selective breeding has accelerated the process of genetic variation to produce a great variety of useful and beautiful natural products. More recently, genetic engineering has achieved even more dramatic results, although the character of its ultimate effects remains to be determined. Humans have also expanded the habitat of many species through irrigation, land reclamation, greenhouses, and other measures. In some cases, humans have even saved some species from extinction and helped rebuild their populations.

At the same time, however, it must be admitted that the overall effect of human activity on the rest of creation has run counter to the process that biologists hold to have brought about the great variety of life forms on our planet. In other words, human activity as a whole has had a tendency to produce homogeneity rather than heterogeneity. The homeowner who uses chemicals ruthlessly to eliminate the biodiversity of his lawn in favor of plain grass is a fitting symbol for humanity in general. We have converted entire ecosystems into single-product cash crop farms; we have razed rain forests to create grasslands for fast-food beef; we have introduced plants such as kudzu into new environments where they have choked out the former inhabitants. If we do believe that it pleased God to cause a great variety of life forms to flourish through processes such as genetic variation, then anyone looking for the “curse” humans have brought to the ground need look no farther than our relentless tendency to eliminate biological diversity.

45 Was there death before the fall of humanity? (Part 2)

That Paul has spiritual death, not physical death, in view in his argument in the early part of Romans becomes even clearer when we observe that he makes a statement about sin and death but then restates it in two different ways that bring out its spiritual emphasis. He first says, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned . . .” But this is later restated, “Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” And then Paul expresses this same meaning in yet another way: “Just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” We see from these parallels that coming under the reign of death is equivalent to being condemned and to being made a sinner. The death in view, in other words, is the spiritual death of separation from God.

We find final confirmation of this understanding in the exhortation Paul gives as the argument of these section of the epistle reaches its culmination: “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.” We see here that the “death” Paul has been talking about is a state we can be in even as we are physically alive, and which we can leave without being resurrected from physical death. It is thus, once again, the spiritual death of being under the power of sin, alienated from God.

We should therefore make no more appeal to the book of Romans than to the book of Genesis to argue that physical death only entered the world after the fall of humanity. Both books describe a spiritual death from which physical death necessarily resulted, but neither thereby excludes there having been physical death beforehand, from other causes.

One more observation we may make is that the objection we have been considering expresses a misunderstanding of the evolutionary process itself. Death is not, strictly speaking, necessary for evolution, and so this process could have been responsible for human origins even if there had been no death before there were people. Evolution simply posits that new life forms originate from previously existing ones through genetic variation under propitious conditions. It is not necessary that the older life forms die in order for the newer ones to come into existence.

We often think of evolution, in misleading popular terms, as “survival of the fittest” (and thus the extinction of the less fit). But the “fittest” need to be there in the first place if they are to survive a changed set of conditions that others may not survive. They thus come into existence not through the death of their predecessors, but through genetic variation. At least in theory, new life forms could have become established as adaptable variants moved into or emerged within new habitats, worldwide environmental conditions remaining unchanged, with those forms not adapted to the new habitat staying behind alive in the old one.

Creatures adapted to life in the ocean depths have features such as bioluminescence, that is, generating their own light in the blackness of the deep sea.

But because environmental conditions have changed dramatically and repeatedly, the matter may be stated even more strongly. Far from being dependent on death, the evolutionary process as seen in the fossil record is actually the antidote to death. If new species were not formed by the process of genetic variation, there would be no survivors when environmental conditions did change and existing species proved so poorly adapted to the new conditions that they became extinct. So death is not necessary for evolution, but evolution has been necessary for the continuation of life.

One might object, however, that even if death were not necessary to the evolutionary process itself, it would nevertheless have been necessary to have kept the earth from becoming overpopulated to the point where all of its inhabitants starved. Such overpopulation would admittedly have been the result if no creatures had died during the long periods of time evolution is understood to require.

But this very same objection can be made to the creationist scenario. Until and unless humans sinned, creatures with a potentially infinite lifespan and no natural predators would have reproduced exponentially and in a few generations have exhausted the world’s available food supply. We have already seen that the Bible regards eating to have been necessary for their survival. The only way to address this objection is therefore to say that God foresaw or perhaps even foreordained the fall and so created the world the way he did knowing that death would intervene before the world’s creaturely population all starved. But this position is really not very far away, theologically, from “death before the fall.”

44 Was there death before the fall of humanity? (Part 1)

We may next take up the question of how death could have been active within the evolutionary process for billions of years before there were any people, if the Bible teaches that death first entered the world through the disobedience of humans. Our first response to this question must be to establish whether the Bible indeed teaches this.

When we study the Genesis account, we discover that it actually does not teach that no creature could have died, or that no creature actually did die, before the fall of humanity. It rather suggests just the opposite.

For example, at the very end of the story of creation and the fall we read, “Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’—therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden.” If God’s concern was that the man might eat of the tree of life after the fall and live forever, and took steps to prevent this, the clear implication is that if he did not eat of the tree of life, he would not live forever. But this would have been true whether or not he had fallen. In other words, not dying is shown here to be something that does not follow directly from having been created. It requires something further: eating of the tree of life. According to this account, therefore, it appears that if the humans had not eaten of this tree, they would have died, even in an unfallen state.

The fact that the food that humans and animals were to eat is specified in the opening creation account in Genesis also implies that they were not created immortal. Why would creatures have to eat, if they could not die? The clear implication is that this food was to sustain them and keep them alive, and that they would die of starvation if they did not eat. (For that matter, do we suppose that if Adam, when innocent, had fallen forty feet out of tree and broken his neck, he would not have died?) While we have this passage in view, we should also specify that the fact that humans were not permitted to eat animals does not mean that the only way an animal could have died at this time was if a human had killed it in order to eat it.

A further consideration is that the plants that humans and animals ate died when they were uprooted and consumed. If we are going to argue that there was no death before the fall, then we must argue that no living thing ceased to live before the fall. But the Bible itself describes the opposite. It suggests that innumerable plants not only died but were “killed” by people and animals for food in the Garden of Eden.

It is sometimes argued that since vegetation is “insentient,” its “death” before the fall is not really significant. But this is to introduce a definition of death as “the cessation of consciousness,” and this would actually allow a great deal of the evolutionary process to have taken place without “death.” There will be varying understandings of where on the scale of complexity we should locate the least complex “sentient” beings, but it is doubtful that all animal life should be considered sentient. Thus creationists themselves would have to allow for the death before the fall of worms and spiders and perhaps even dinosaurs if they wish to discount the death of plants before the fall.

A final consideration from the Genesis account is this: The warning that God gave to the first pair of humans about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—“in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die”—would have been incomprehensible and therefore useless if death were an entirely unknown thing in the pre-fall world. Here the biblical account itself therefore suggests that death was part of the human experiential knowledge base even before the fall. In other words, humans were able to understand what God meant by “death” because they had already seen other creatures die.

In light of all of these considerations, we must recognize that the objection we are discussing here comes much more from the book of Romans than from the book of Genesis. It is there that we find such statements, frequently quoted by creationists, as, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all” (Rom. 5:12). This would seem to imply that before the fall of man there was no death in the world. But we must pay careful attention to the kind of “death” that is actually in view in this part of the book of Romans.

It is probably most accurate to say that it is a spiritual death (separation from relationship with God) that leads, among other things, to physical death. This, we should note, is precisely the definition of death that literalist interpreters use to explain how it was that Adam did not die physically “in the day” that he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He died spiritually that day, they insist, and physically as an eventual result. (Otherwise, we would need to appeal to a “day-age” theory to explain the statement, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.”)

Recognizing that Romans is speaking of a spiritual death with eventual physical consequences enables us to make the best sense of its teaching. For example, Romans 5:14 says, “Death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam.” What is in view here is clearly the reign of spiritual death over those who sin, that is, over morally responsible beings—humans. This is not a discussion of the progress of physical death throughout the created world.