Monday, February 8, 2010

Was Prelapsarian Man a Carnivore?

Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue offers readers a nearly line-by-line exegesis of the book of Genesis and the major themes explored therein: creation, the fall, and redemptive covenant. One of Kline’s most fascinating arguments is in his treatment of death in prelapsarian Eden. In chapter 2, “Holy Theocratic Kingdom,” Kline highlights a consecration-sacrifice-death cycle in Paradise. He states that “when something belonging to the organic, living level of creation is sacrificially consecrated to the interests of a higher creature, as when plants are assigned as food for animals and men (Gen 1:29, 30), death is an appropriate term for this form of sacrifice” (p. 53).

Yet the reader may be left wondering whether such an analogy is applicable in this prelapsarian state. Nothing prior to the Genesis 2 fall suggests that man would experience death or that animals experienced death or were killed and taken as food. As for the death of plants, in Genesis 1:29-30, God states that “I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.” Kline, in reading this, implies that the assignment of plants for food equated the death of plants in a cycle of consecration and elementary sacrifice.

Yet such a reading does not necessarily follow from the Scripture. If man in paradise ate not the trees and plants themselves, but rather, their seed-bearing fruit, then the death of the plants and trees would not automatically follow thereafter. Rather, in taking of their seed-bearing fruit, man would be participating in the propagation of plants by helping them to spread their seeds and thus multiply. In such a state, man’s use of plants and of the seed-bearing fruit of trees for food would imply a harmonious cycle between man and the plant world in prelapsarian Eden. Man would be working to further the natural end of trees and plants as they multiplied. Neither man, plants, or animals would experience death in this perfect state.

Certainly, man would exercise dominion over the animals (Gen 1:28), but this does not necessarily mean that he would slay them to use as food. Rather, in his dominion, he might use the animals as beasts of burden or in other ways as helpers as he tilled the garden.

Kline argues that while it is true that Genesis 1:29-30 does not explicitly state that man was given animals as food, these passages should not be read as having restricted man’s diet to fruit and vegetables. Rather, they mention only plants and fruit and leave out meat because they prepare the reader for the “exceptional stipulation in Genesis 2:16, 17, prohibiting the use of the fruit of the tree of knowledge” (p. 55). To state that meat was forbidden would be to make an argument from silence.

Yet nothing in the prelapsarian passages of Genesis imply the death of animals. In postlapsarian Eden, in contrast, a multitude of passages imply the killing and death of animals. For example, God clothed Adam and Eve with “tunics of skin” (Gen 3:21) and Abel brought to God “the firstborn of his flock” (Gen 4:4), presumably, as an offering that foreshadows later sacrificial worship offering. Finally, in the first explicit sanction for man to take animals for food, God states in Genesis 9:3 that “every moving thing that lives shall be food” for Noah and his sons.  
It also seems counterintuitive that the cycle of consecration, sacrifice, and death would begin in prelapsarian Genesis, where man stood in a state of grace and full communion with the Lord, a God of life and creation. Prior to man’s fall, sacrifice and death would seem to have no place in such a state. Accordingly, death is only first mentioned in postlapsarian Genesis 3:19: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground … For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”
This is a view that has been held by great thinkers and writers throughout history. For example, in Milton’s classic Paradise Lost, the fallen Adam only first notices the animals hunting and killing one another in postlapsarian Book X. In prelapsarian Eden, the animals lived in peaceful harmony. Such a view is consistent with the Scriptures’ first having mentioned God’s explicit permission for man to eat the animals in postlapsarian Genesis 9:3, where death has already entered the world. In my view, animals prior to that moment were not killed and taken as food.

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