Several readers of Who Told You That You Were Naked? have sent me emails asking about the scenario in the opening chapter where a lioness killed Lively’s mother. They had been taught that death did not exist in the world before the fall. So, why would I weave such an event into my book?
I appreciate questions like these very much because it gives me an opportunity to share my struggles in presenting the events surrounding the fall.
Genesis 1:26 ESV states, “Let us make man in our image and likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
After creating them in His Image, He said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
Finally, in verses 29 and 30, God gives the couple and all the other creatures the plant kingdom as their food.
In chapter 2, God planted a garden east of Eden and put Adam in the garden to work and keep it. Then, He said that Adam could eat everything that grew in the garden except the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord warned Adam he would die in the same day that he ate the fruit of that tree.
Let’s examine the bolded words from these passages in light of their ancient Hebrew meaning. But before I do, it is important to understand that the Hebrew characters began as pictographs — symbols representing some concrete reality — and that their inclusion in a word helps define its meaning. I say this because English offers no such clues. For example, the letters in the word “father” provide little direct meaning to the reader. A person would have to consult the word’s etymology.
But Hebrew is different. The word for “father” is made up of two characters, Aleph and Bet, the first two letters of their alphabet. The original pictograph for Aleph was the head of an oxen and signifies strength, a leader, the person who is first. Bet was represented by a symbol for a tent or house and signifies home, family. The word is pronounced Ab — where we get Abba from — and means father is the strength and head of the family. Unlike the word for father, most Hebrew words are made up of three characters. With that preface, let’s look at the words I bolded above:
Reysh — The pictograph was the head of a man and meant head, chief, top, first.
Dalet — The pictograph was a door. Think of Jesus as the door to the sheepfold.
This character means a door, path or way of life
Hey — The pictograph was originally a man with his arms upraised in wonder or
admiration of something spectacular. It means behold or reveal.
Taken together, “Dominion” means to rule, have dominion, prevail, reign, dominate — literally, function as the chief/head person revealed/chosen to be the door.
Kaf — The pictograph was originally an open hand and focused on the palm or
hollow of the hand, meaning to tame or to bend to one’s will — to the shape of one’s palm.
Bet — As with the second character for father, bet means house or family.
Sheen — The original pictograph was shaped like a person’s two front teeth and stood for what
teeth are or do: sharp, consume, devour, destroy.
Taken together, “Subdue” means to subdue, force, tame, dominate — literally to force, tame or bend to one’s will the house that consumes, devours or destroys.
Dalet — We defined this character above.
Ayin — The pictograph was originally a person’s eye. — visual perception
Tav — The last character in the Hebrew alphabet was originally symbolized by two crossed sticks —
a final sign or signature. Think of signing with an X or the meaning of Alpha and Omega — Aleph and Tav.
Taken together, “Knowledge” means that which is gained through visual observation/achieved through experience — literally, your mental image/sign of the door — the way you have learned through visual observation/experience. Because of the concrete nature or Hebrew words, the image gained through this door is enabled by an intimate relationship with another person, idea or experience. (Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and bore Cain.)
Mem — The pictograph was originally a wavy line indicating water waves, the ocean or sea, and stood for chaos, the
Vav — The pictograph was originally a tent peg and stood for secure, unmovable.
Tav — We defined this character above.
Taken together, “Die” means mortal death — literally a final sign of a state of existence that is unknown/chaotic.
Now that we have a better understanding of the Hebrew words, lets look at the texts again. God told Adam and his wife to have dominion over the creatures and to subdue the earth. Given the Hebrew definition of these two words, there must have been something about the state of their world and the creatures that lived there that needed to be conformed to their will.
The Lord’s directive states that they were to subdue the earth. But it is hard to imagine the earth or its vegetation as a house (the family of plants) that consumed, devoured or destroyed. A more plausible explanation for me is that the creatures living on the earth were eating, not just the plants, but each other as well. The lion was not laying down with the lamb. So, Adam and Eve were commissioned to extend the peace of their relationship with God and each other to all the creatures of the earth, conforming them to the hollow of their hands by reigning over them and taming/domesticating them like pets or cattle.
Next, let’s look at the other two Hebrew words: knowledge and die. The tree was named the knowledge of good and evil, and the warning attached to eating its fruit was that the person would surely die in the day it was eaten. The meaning of knowledge indicates Adam must have had some intimate visual association with death, or the Lord’s injunction would have had little impact. To get a better grasp of what I mean, substitute a nonsense word for die. “In the day you eat of it, you will most certainly qryst.” If you didn’t recognize qryst, you would likely ask for a clarification. But Adam didn’t ask for a clarification. He must have had some intimate visual association with this verb.
It is also doubtful that the Lord would have couched this injunction in terminology that could be misinterpreted by Adam. While it is possible that Adam’s comprehension of death was gained by his observation of the death of plants, I again appeal to how hard it is for me to imagine vegetation as a domain that needed to be tamed because it was devouring or destroying the environment.
You might choose to believe that since there is no mention of death in Genesis chapter 1, there was no death until after the fall. You might also appeal to the fact that God declared His creation to be “very Good.” So, death could not have been part of that creative activity. But the only mention of death after the fall was toward Adam and Eve. God cursed the ground for their sake. But nowhere does it say He also cursed the animal kingdom. So, if they were subject to death after the fall, what brought it on?
After wrestling with this scenario, I chose to have a lioness kill Lively’s mother so that Adam would have a visceral experience of death to relate to when the Lord issued His warning. Am I hard over on this interpretation? NO. There are a host of gray areas in the Bible like who are the Sons of God and the daughters of men in Genesis 6:2? Should we worship God on the Sabbath or on Sunday? Do you have to speak in tongues in order to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? Is immersion the only true form of water baptism? All of these side issues tend to divide us rather than bring us into unity with the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ.
We must focus on the main thing — the Gospel: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” “Love one another as I have loved you. By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”
If after reading my explanation of when death entered the creature world you are still convinced that they did not start dying until after the fall, I am perfectly OK with your decision. Why? Because I trust the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth and that truth is broad enough to include the sincere and very different beliefs of the Jewish and Gentile church in the first century. So, why shouldn’t we have differences? I trust Him to lead you into His truth. We all see through a glass darkly meaning all these side issues will not be fully understood until we see Him face to face. They are nothing to divide us and keep us from loving one another.
If you would like to learn more about the meaning of ancient Hebrew words, you can purchase Ancient Lexicon of the Bible by Jeff A. Benner.