Fall in America and throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere is a beautiful time of year. Bright reds, oranges, and yellows rustle in the trees and then blanket the ground as warm weather gives way to winter cold. Many are awed at God’s handiwork as the leaves float to the ground like Heaven’s confetti. But fall may also make us wonder, “Did Adam and Eve ever see such brilliant colors in the Garden of Eden?” Realizing that these plants wither at the end of the growing season may also raise the question, “Did plants die before the Fall of mankind?”
Before we can answer this question, we must consider the definition of die. We commonly use the word die to describe when plants, animals, or humans no longer function biologically. However, this is not the definition of the word die or death in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for die (or death), mût (or mavet), is used only in relation to the death of man or animals with the breath of life, not regarding plants. This usage indicates that plants are viewed differently from animals and humans.
Plants, Animals, and Man — All Different
What is the difference between plants and animals or man? For the answer we need to look at the phrase nephesh chayyah. Nephesh chayyah is used in the Bible to describe sea creatures (Genesis 1:20–21), land animals (Genesis 1:24), birds (Genesis 1:30), and man (Genesis 2:7). Nephesh is never used to refer to plants. Man specifically is denoted as nephesh chayyah, a living soul, after God breathed into him the breath of life. This contrasts with God telling the earth on Day Three to bring forth plants (Genesis 1:11). The science of taxonomy, the study of scientific classification, makes the same distinction between plants and animals.