I just got back from a question and answer session with John Lennox at the Creation Conference here in Birmingham. Among the many questions he was asked, there was a question about Romans 5:12:
Therefore, just as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin, so death passed to all men because all sinned.
First, as an aside, let me point out that death passes to all men because all sin, not because they’re guilty of Adam’s sin. Let’s dump that version of original sin.
With that aside, the point of the question asked to John Lennox, and the one that’s been asked to me, and the one that all young earth creationists bring up, is that if evolution is true, then there had to have been death before Adam. How can there be death before Adam if death, by sin, entered the world through the one man, Adam?
John Lennox’ answer was that Romans 5:12 is only talking about human death. There could have been animal death before Adam–and there certainly was plant death because they were given for food even in Genesis one–just not human death.
My answer is, "Why in the world are y’all asking such a question?"
According to Ephesians 2, we’re already dead in our trespasses and sins. Romans 5:12 isn’t talking about physical death. It’s talking about spiritual death.
The same is true back in Genesis. I’m not the first person to bring up the point that the punishment for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was, "In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17). Yet Adam didn’t die for 930 years after eating of the fruit.
Yes, some Christians say that God meant that Adam would begin to die, or become susceptible to death, in the day that he ate of the tree. But at least as many say that Genesis 2:17 threatens a spiritual death, a separation from God, not a physical death, and that spiritual death did happen in the day that he ate of it.
Of course, I think that the Adam and Eve story is a creation myth that is not historical, and so it is not meant to be literally accurate in its details. I can’t get technical about "in the day," but I do think God included that story in the Scripture because it tells us something from the Spirit of God—yes, I believe Scripture is inspired. Man sinned, man died spiritually, and men today are separated from God by the death that is in their spirits through sin.
Thus, I don’t think Romans 5:12 has anything to do with death before Adam. It has to do with the rebellion of the first created man—And like all Christians, I believe that there was a first man or men into whose nostrils God breathed the breath of life, even if those men were formed from the dust of the ground over millions of years rather than in a one-day marathon of pottery by God–and all his descendants.
It’s not just Romans 5 that’s talking about spiritual death. It’s Romans 5, 6, 7, and 8. In Romans 8:12-13, we’re told that it’s those who live according to the flesh who will die, while those who put to death the deeds of the body through the Spirit will live. Is that really physical death in those two verses? Those who live spiritually will never die physically, only those who live according to the flesh?
I don’t think so, and neither do any of you.