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Ask A Franciscan: Did Adam and Eve Cause Death?

Would the first man and woman have experienced physical death if the Fall did not happen?

Not named in the Priestly account of creation (Gn 1:1—2:4a), Adam and Eve appear only in the Yahwist version (2:4b—3:24). The serpent says that disobeying God’s command will not cause them to die (3:4). Was the serpent telling the truth here? God does not address the issue of whether they would have died if they had not sinned.

It is very difficult to extract a doctrinal statement from a poetic account such as the Yahwist’s story. If the Church had respected this difficulty, it might not have condemned Galileo for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun.

Perhaps humans would have died even if Adam and Eve had not sinned, but death might have involved less pain and anxiety about the future.

The Yahwist author shared the older conviction among the Hebrews that there was no life beyond this one—or that there was a life that did not distinguish between those who had acted according to God’s values and other people who rejected those values completely.