Death, the Fall, and Darwin: Roman Legions of Death, Part 2 of 7

Faulconer appleSo to begin. Assume that the story that science tells is tout court correct. That humans evolved from apelike ancestors and have existed as a species for roughly two-hundred thousand years and became behaviorally modern about fifty-thousand years ago. They have been living and dying for almost eight-thousand generations.

Dying. What do I mean by that? Actually, it can mean a lot of things. For example, it can mean the cessation of living. Scripturally it can also mean a number of things. Paul’s letter to Romans is a great place to start. No I take that back, Jim Faulconer’s book on Romans is a great place to start. Look at the attached photo It shows the index entries for ‘death’ in his book on Romans giving a short peek into the way Paul uses the word.

We can pare this down a bit. There are four principal ways death enters into Paul’s discourse. The first as a kind of ogre, often combined with Hell such that Death and Hell reign as metaphorical monsters defeated by Christ. Secondly, it is used in the usual sense as cessation of life. Third, as sin itself. Sin is a kid of death. Forth, death is seen as a separation, usually from the Law or from God. I’m drawing on several commentaries [1, 2, 3, 4] for these interpretations of Paul’s letter to Romans. (Seriously Jim’s is the best if you ever wanted to understand Roman’s from an LDS perspective get Jim’s book.)

For now I’m going to ignore the death as monster view (Despite my being a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan). What unites the last three, is the idea of the end of a certain kind of life. While many have tried to work out a definition of life or a set of characteristics that define and condition life. Eugene Thacker, here seeking a way to understand life of both earthly and divine instantiations, captures some of the relevant features of how to recognize life and thereby, I’ll infer, death. He says:

“First, life must be characterized as something that is generous, productive, proliferative, and germinal. Life is that which flows or pours forth-whether one posits a transcendent source of that flowing, or whether life-as-process simply flows from itself. This implies a second requirement, which is that the generosity of life is itself irreducible and unlimited, though the particular manifestations of life may in and of themselves be constrained. one posits a “life-force,” “All-Soul,” elan vital, or emergent properties, there is something, some Life, that conditions the possibility of the conditioned, or the living-even if this conditioning principle is itself fully immanent within the conditioned.”  Eugene Thacker. After Life (Kindle Locations 519-523). Kindle Edition.

Perhaps death can be contrasted as becoming-nonlife-of-the-once-living. Anytime something transitions from generous, productive, proliferative, and germinal it can be defined as death.

Now back to the Fall. The Fall is seen as a transgression that ushers the possibility of death into the world. What kind of death? What sort of generous, productive, proliferative, and germinal thing was lost? Back to Paul in Roman’s 5 we read:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 

14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

Here it appears that sin becomes a kind of death. Fitzmyer writes about these verses [2]:

“Death” is not merely physical, bodily death (seperation of the body and soul), as it has often been interpreted by theologians in the past, but includes spiritual death (the definitive separation of human beings from God, the unique source of life). p. 412.

The life without freedom from sin is what is lost. Notice the wording ‘sin’ enters the world and a kind of death comes in, not physical but death as a separation from God.

20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 

21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Here Paul is arguing that the Law makes it easier to identify sin and the impossibility of living a sinful life, but also to point to the kind of life the atonement life. As he says in Chapter 7:

11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

Death through sin though the atonement becomes eternal life through the grace of Christ.

Romans suggests that the Fall was the entrance of sin into the world. Paul seems fairly clear on this point. The Law is given as Fitzmyer says, to make sin obvious so that need for Christ’s atonement becomes clear. There is much play in Paul and his use of death seems to move back and forth with death-as-sin being compared and contrasted with temporal death. However, his comparison seems to be one of analogy rather than a focus on temporal death. He is pointing out that the death that comes from sin is analogous in its possible finality and seriousness to that death that comes as cessation of life.

In what way is sin death? To explore that more, we must turn to the Book of Mormon.

However, before turning to reading the Book of Mormon, however,and using Paul to provide an interpretive framework for its explication, I need to make two detours. French thinker Badiou, provides another useful interpretive framework for understanding the Fall, so we’ll visit him. And Meillassoux, a contemporary French Philosopher, I will use to dismantle the idea that any kind of ‘absolute being’ relevant.

The lesson to take from all this is rather simple: Death can mean a lot of things, as it does here in Romans, and we need to be careful when reading the scriptures to get both the context of its use and the possibilities its use offers to interpretive communities if the scripture.
[1] Faulconer, J. 2012. The Life of Holiness: Notes and Reflections on Romans 1, 5-8. Neil A. Maxwell Institute. Provo, UT.
[2] Fitzmyer, J. A. 2008. The Anchor Yale Bible: Romans, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Yale University Press, New Haven.
[3] Byrne, Brendan. 2007. Sacra Pagina: Romans. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MI
[4] Moo, Douglas J. 1996. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. William B. Eerdmns Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  1. Leonard R. says:

    Ironically, we finished Romans in the seminary class I teach yesterday (we’ve done the epistles out of order) and today spent much of our “question period” talking about evolution. The two must be natural matches.

    And while I tend to avoid using the scriptures in this fashion (as in, we don’t strive to prove a point with them), I was struck by the verses you quoted as I read them.

    12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

    In this verse, Paul connects sin’ entrance by Adam. And with it, death.

    13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 

    But note here how he points out that sin was in the world before the law given (while oft read as ‘Law of Moses’, that he connects it to Adam’s fall implies the broader ‘Law of God’), as in the same actions of sin existed, sin only existed as ‘attributed sin’ after the Law.

    Could we need read the implication that as sin existed ‘before the law’, but Sin only ‘began with Adam’, in a similar fashion death existed before the fall as well, but that ‘death’ also ‘began with Adam’. Thus, while the was much death before the fall, there was no Death before the Fall.

    Both of which point us towards the spiritual understands undergirding our physical experience.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Great intro, Steve. And is that a mango? If served with sticky rice and sweetened coconut milk it is a nice approximation of the tree of life (perhaps one of the all-time tastiest deserts), I’m more of a traditionalist and have to go with olive.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    …though I guess it would be the knowledge of good and evil fruit. In that case perhaps it is mango; though if eve had the time to ferment and roast the seeds I’d probably go with cacao.

  4. On Death personified as a monster, Dan Belnap (PhD UChicago, was a few years ahead of me) has a good paper with a section on it. Go half way down to the section called “That Awful Monster . . . ”

    I’m with Stapley on the sticky-rice and mango, esp. with some black sesame atop.

  5. Leonard R. Yes, I think you see where I’m going with this!

    J. and Ben. Oh man! I wish I would have thought of using a magno (I went with the faux traditional apple), and of course surved with sticky rice and coconut milk was an Edenic concoction.

  6. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say that the effects of the Fall were retroactive? We don’t seem to have a problem with the foreordained Atonement being effective on earth before it actually took place, why then not the foreordained Fall?

    I imagine both the Atonement and the Fall both had to take place to satisfy the laws of justice (and mercy); but just as the Atonement was the means by which people could repent before Christ came to earth, so also I would imagine we could say that the Fall was the means by which death/mortality came into the world long before Adam and Eve ever entered the Garden.

    You could say something like–no death before the Fall was a foreordained event.

  7. …That said, I find the post very interesting and useful. I think it is helpful to see all the ways in which we can view the Fall as having brought death into the world.

  8. Can someone sum up why LDS philosophers are currently infatuated with Badiou?

  9. Thomas Parkin says:

    I can, Jason, but I’m not going to. I want to retain at least one or two friends here.

  10. JasonU, I’ve noticed that certain philosophers seem to leak into the forefront of Mormon theology and philosophy almost accidentally depending who in the field happens to be reading who. This is skeptical on my part, but it seems a matter of fashion to me. When I was an undergrad it was Kierkegaard, I think there was an Levinas phase, and now Badiou is hot. While I’m using him for this, I find much of his thought, especially about set theory flawed to the point of being a new kind of mysticism. But then I’m still struggling to come to terms with Continental thought, which for a philosopher of science not easy, but I’ve not given up.

  11. SteveP, thanks for responding. What aspects of his thought seem to resonate with Mormon theology?

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