O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
Taken from Richard James Fischer’s book, Historical Genesis: From Adam to Abraham, Pages 26-29. By Rich Duncan
DEATH THROUGH SIN
A contention exists among some traditionalist that there was no death even in the animal world until Adam sinned. To support this idea, about one half of one verse in Romans is cited: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin…” (Rom. 5:12a). Did sin inflict both man and animals in the eyes of Paul?
One consideration is that the fossil record is replete with over half a billion years’ worth of animal death from the Cambrian period until now, and traces of animal life can be found long before then. Further, that is not what the complete verse implies. What follows the oft-cited text is the second half of the verse, usually overlooked. Romans 5:12b: “and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”. According to Paul it was men who suffered the consequences—not animals.
Continuing with Romans, in 1656, Isaac de la Peyrere argued eloquently in Men Before Adam that a literal interpretation of Romans 5:12-14 indicated the world was populated before Adam.8 The key was verse 13: “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”
Peyrere reasoned that the law was given to Adam shortly after his creation and if there was “sin in the world” at that time, there must have been people to do it:
…it must be held that sin was in the world before Adam and until Adam: but that sin was not imputed before Adam; Therefore other men were to be allowed before Adam who had indeed sinn’d, but without imputation; because before the law sins wer [sic] not imputed.9
Although men and sin were in the world before Adam, the manner of sin was in the form of offenses against nature, violations of “natural law,” and all died a natural death. It was not until God imposed moral law, with Adam the first to be subject to it, that men were capable of “legal sin,” trespasses against God’s law.10 Beginning with Adam’s Fall, human beings died both a natural death and a “legal” or spiritual death.
Ten years before Peyrere wrote Men Before Adam, the Westminster Divines penned their Confession of Faith. They sought to avoid any implications that all of humanity did not commence with Adam by putting the law on Moses. But if Mosaic law, and not Adamic law, was intended by Romans 5:13, it could mean that sin was not charged before Moses! No, the interpreters were not stepping into that trap. The Divines clearly recognized that the moral law, the “covenant of works,” was given to Adam and said so:
The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in him…was the moral law.11
If moral law was given to Adam, and already “sin was in the world,” then wouldn’t this involve people? The Westminster Divines were unwilling to entertain that possibility. They believed humanity started with Adam, and sin was passed to his posterity by “natural generation.” The harmonizing device employed (although not mentioned specifically in the Westminster Confession) was to maintain that imputation of sin was through the law of Moses, but that it somehow applied retroactively to Adam and his descendents. This made no sense, of course, but they were torn between the illogical and the unthinkable. So, according to the Divines, the moral law was not “comprehended” until the Ten Commandments were delivered by God to Moses.12
Pryrere railed against the position taken by the Divines and their insistence that “the law” was the law of Moses:
The Interpreters being between two such inconvenience, were at a stand, nor did [they] know which way to turn themselves; But because it seemed lass prejudicial to affirm, that sins were not imputed before Moses, and until Moses, than to affirm that there were any men before Adam! Therefore they preferred the first inconvenience before the second.13
In Peyrere’s mind, since the law transgressed was the law given to Adam of Genesis, the sin was perpetrated by those who co-existed and pre-existed Adam. Sin was not imputed to those forerunners, however, until Adam disobeyed God’s law.
Before the Law of God, or till that Law of God was violated by Adam, sin and death were in the world, yet had gained no power over it: they had got no lawful possession, they had got no absolute power. The reason is, because before that time there was no Law given by God.14
Clearly, sin was imputed from Adam to Moses. What brought the flood? Was the flood not judgment for sin? Or for that matter, what about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? And if the subject of Romans 5:13 was Adamic law, the sin that “was in the world” was committed by men other than Adam.
We will never know Adam’s mission on earth with certainty. Probably it was intended that he was to bring news of God’s kingdom to the polytheistic heathen to introduce them to accountable behavior. Adam had life to offer, perhaps tied to the tree of life some way. But regardless of what Adam was supposed to have done, however, he would have done it, being human, he failed. The “second Adam” was God incarnate, and succeeded.
9. Isaac de la Peyrere, Men Before Adam. Or a Discourse upon the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth Verses of the Fifth Chapter of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans. By which are prov’d, That the first Men were created before Adam. (London: 1656), 19.
10. Peyrere, Men Before Adam, 3-5
11. “The Larger Catechism,” The Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1838): 246.
12. “Larger Catechism,” 251.
13. Peyrere, Men Before Adam, 19.
14. Peyrere, Men Before Adam, 19.