Martin Luther on Physical Death Before the Fall

I am an Old Earth Creationist who has had two children baptized in the LCMS, so I am a fan of the denomination. So far as I can tell the great majority of the church (leadership) seems to hold to the view that there was no physical death before the fall of Adam. Now, a lot of conservative denominations in the United States lean that way these days, but I find it surprising that they do. The reason is simple: It appears that Martin Luther himself did not hold that view.

Here are some examples (from here) of things Luther wrote which pertain to the subject of death before the fall of Adam…

“…man[, unlike “cows, pigs, and other beasts”] is a creature created to inhabit the celestial regions and live an eternal life when, after a while, he has left the earth. For this is the meaning of the fact that he can not only speak and form judgments (things which belong to dialectics and rhetoric) but also learns all the sciences thoroughly”

Page 46 Luther’s Works, American Edition, volume I, or AE I

But it gets better, and more explicit…

On Page 92 he posits that the Tree of Life was put in the garden to keep Adam and Eve in

“full bodily vigor, free from diseases and free from weariness”.
This fits what I said in “Early Genesis, the Revealed Cosmology”. Freedom from physical death was not baked into the cake of the world before the fall, it was something available due to access to the Tree of Life.

On page 57…

"“Adam was not to live without food, drink, and procreation. But at a predetermined time, after the number of saints had become full, these physical activities would have come to an end; and Adam, together with his descendants, would have been translated to the eternal and spiritual life. Nevertheless, these activities of physical life – like eating, drinking, procreating, etc. – would have been a service pleasing to God; we could also have rendered this service to God without the defect of the lust which is there now after sin, without any sin and without the fear of death. This would have surely been a pleasant and delightful life, a life about which we may indeed think but which we may not attain in this life….”

and also on that page

"“Adam had a twofold life: a physical one and an immortal one, though this was not yet clearly revealed, but only in hope

There is more, but surely that is enough to make my point. Martin Luther did not believe in the doctrine that there was no physical death before the fall.

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Great finds @anon46279830.

That is not quite right. We’ve covered this before.

Most members of LCMS do not only accept death before the fall, but also affirm evolution.

Perhaps @J.E.S or @Philosurfer or @acuriousmind can comment more.


I should have specified “church leadership”. I don’t know the feelings of the average member sitting in the pews, but anything coming from the pulpit has been “no physical death before the fall” in my experience. So that is an interesting juxtaposition there where you have the founder and half the congregants with views which differ from the pastors and elders.

I think @J.E.S is out of phaser range for the rest of the month.

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Thanks for the reference, I’ll definitely take a look. Luther is so great to read as he is always surprising in how non-Lutheran, in terms of American synodical lines, he ends up sounding! I often find a certain intellectual freedom found in Luther that is very refreshing!

This fits with my experience as well.

I’ve yet to look at the Pew research that Josh keeps bringing up, but it doesn’t surprise me that the laity trend a different direction than the leadership. It will be interesting to watch how all of this unfolds in the near-term and long-term future.

The LCMS recently released a position paper on science and religion called, “In Christ All Things Hold Together.” If you google search it, you can find a free PDF. I can’t remember if it deals with death before the fall, but it is a document that would have had to pass doctrinal review and can give a glimpse of what is allowed to pass LCMS publication criteria in terms of science and religion. Might be worth a look and a discussion.


I’m a pastor in Lutheran Church Canada. We’re LCMS north :-). I have served in the parish for nearly 18 years.

This is my first post. I’m glad I found this website and forum. I very much appreciate the tone here. I know I’ll learn a lot and I hope I can contribute in a small way.

I think you’ll find that Lutherans are comfortable with paradox more than most. In fact, we revel in it. Our theology leaves us with all kinds of tensions. Rather than resolve the tensions we allow them to remain. It provides a certain vitality to our theology. However, from the outside it looks like we’re contradictory. Generally, we drive everyone nuts because we don’t fit categories.

So, I think if we remain true to our Lutheran theology we will be open to such discussions of first death/second death. However, because of the “battle for the bible” in the 70s we conservative Lutherans have a tendency to be a strange mix of fundamentalist approach to the Scriptures with some sense of decent biblical hermeneutics that take into account ANE influences, genre study, etc…but we tend to revert back to fundamentalist presuppositions if it feels like we’re going to far from comfortable home.


So, what you’re saying is: you’re not overly dogmatic?


Great to meet you and to get to know more folks with a Lutheran background! Let’s get right to the questions! In your church, how would you expect most to respond to this question?

If Adam was intended to obtain his immortality from the Tree of Life, would it not be so that if he refused to eat of it, he would die like all flesh?

No, I don’t think I could say that.

Generally speaking there are two groups of Lutherans. One group is considered more “conservative” and one more “liberal.” Though the group’s share the name Lutheran - there are significant differences. One group tends to merge into liberal mainline Protestantism and the other group refuses to do so.

I’m with the more conservative bunch. We can be rather dogmatic.

However, an example of Lutherans revelling in paradox would be our approach to Faith. We believe that faith is a gift from God. It is not an act of will. So we reject Arminianism. However, we also reject double predestination. So, the Arminians don’t get us and the reformed don’t get us. :slight_smile:

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That’s an interesting question. I think that many in my church body would be troubled by the idea of there being the possibility of death before the Fall.

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Hmmm… I guess I didn’t expect that. How would they explain how they arrived at this notion to begin with?

If Adam was already immortal, why would there need to be a Tree of Life?

God uses the continued access of the UN-NECESSARY Tree of Life the reason for evicting Adam.

If Adam didn’t need it … God could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had left the Tree of Life in his “Eden Rocks!” van …

I don’t disagree with you. I’ve come to agree with the view that it was via the Tree of Life that life was maintained. This fits very well with the Lutheran sacramental view of the world, btw.

It would be my judgement that most in my church body would view death as a direct result of the Fall. There was no death before the Fall. Indeed, that’s how I viewed it up until a couple years ago.

“No death before the Fall” would seem to require a complete young-earth creationist package: All of the fossil record must be post-Fall, and there must be a worldwide flood to account for most rocks, etc. True?

There’s a lot of options for a YEC. You can try to squeeze all the evidence into a 6,000 year timeframe and many/most(?) fossils would be from the flood or perhaps in the singular ice age planet Earth had:

Or you can go with God put them there to test your faith or you can go Satan put them there or you can go its all a big hoax: