How Did Old Age and Death Come About?
THOUGH popularly accepted as normal, old age and death still puzzle man. This is evident from the fact that for centuries legends have been handed down attempting to explain why humans grow old and die.
One version of an ancient Greek myth tells of the woman Pandora who opened a box or vase that she had been told to keep closed. This act, it is said, released “Old Age,” “Sickness,” “Insanity” and other “Spites” that have continued to plague mankind.
In Australia, various aboriginal tribes believe that humans originally were to live forever. But they were to keep away from a certain hollow tree. When wild bees made this tree their home, the women very much desired their honey. Disregarding the warning of the men, one woman used her tomahawk on the tree. At that, the legend says, a large bat flew out. The bat was “Death.” Released from the tree, it proceeded to claim all that it touched with its wings.
It is significant that legends of other, widely scattered peoples similarly attribute death to disobedience, often with a woman initially involved.
WHY THE SIMILARITIES?
When reading such myths, some persons may be inclined to place the Bible’s explanation of the cause for old age and death in the same category. They may even point out that in some respects the myths seem to parallel the Bible account. But why do these similarities exist? Is it possible that these legends have a factual basis that has simply been distorted?
The Bible itself sheds light on the answers to these questions. It points to ancient Babel in Chaldea as the place from which humans who rebelled against God by defying his command were scattered. (Genesis 11:2-9) Biblical tables of genealogy show that this took place at a time when some men were alive who, as faithful servants of God, knew the truth about life and the reason for death. (Genesis 6:7, 8; 8:20, 21; 9:28; 10:1-9; 11:10-18; 1 Chronicles 1:19) The majority, however, since they themselves were showing disregard for the truth as to God’s purpose for man, could hardly be expected to preserve with accuracy the truth about how death came about. As they spread out, and with the passage of time, the facts became distorted and embellished; myths developed. There is great variety in their mythical explanations of the cause of aging and death, yet a common underlying basis is discernible.
This is no mere supposition. Available evidence clearly shows that religious myths, including those about death, spring from a common source. In his book The Worship of the Dead, Colonel J. Garnier observes:
“Not merely Egyptians, Chaldeans, Phœnicians, Greeks and Romans, but also the Hindus, the Buddhists of China and of Tibet, the Goths, Anglo-Saxons, Druids, Mexicans and Peruvians, the Aborigines of Australia, and even the savages of the South Sea Islands, must have all derived their religious ideas from a common source and a common centre. Everywhere we find the most startling coincidences in rites, ceremonies, customs, traditions, and in the names and relations of their respective gods and goddesses.”
And what place is this common source? Does the evidence point to Chaldea, as the Bible implies? Professor George Rawlinson notes:
“The striking resemblance of the Chaldæan system to that of the Classical [primarily Greek and Roman] Mythology seems worthy of particular attention. This resemblance is too general, and too close in some respects, to allow of the supposition that mere accident has produced the coincidence. In the Pantheons of Greece and Rome, and in that of Chaldæa, the same general grouping [of gods and goddesses] is to be recognized; the same genealogical succession is not unfrequently to be traced; and in some cases even the familiar names and titles of classical divinities admit of the most curious illustration and explanation from Chaldæan sources.”
What does he therefore conclude? He says:
“We can scarcely doubt but that, in some way or other, there was a communication of beliefs—a passage in very early times, from the shores of the Persian Gulf [where ancient Babel was] to the lands washed by the Mediterranean, of mythological notions and ideas.”
Thus what the Bible indicates as to the development of religious concepts is found to be consistent with other historical evidence. If the Bible really does preserve with accuracy the truth that religious myths later distorted, the Bible account should appeal to our faculties of reason. The account should make sense. Does it?
LIFE DEPENDENT ON OBEDIENCE
In discussing the reasons for aging and death, the first book of the Bible, Genesis, does not deal with some “once-upon-a-time” setting in a “dreamland,” but presents a factual account. It deals with an actual place, Eden, its general geographical location being identified by certain rivers. Two of these, the Euphrates and the Tigris (Hiddekel), are known to this day. (Genesis 2:10-14; New English Bible) The time can be fixed by Bible chronology as the year 4026 B.C.E. or shortly thereafter. Furthermore, the Bible’s reference to a first human pair is scientifically sound. Notes the publication The Races of Mankind:
“The Bible story of Adam and Eve, father and mother of the whole human race, told centuries ago the same truth that science has shown today: that all the peoples of the earth are a single family and have a common origin.”
After relating the manner in which the first human came to life, the Biblical account shows that the Creator, Jehovah God, started humanity off in a parklike home. He placed before man the prospect of unending life, while at the same time making its enjoyment conditional. God said to the man: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”—Genesis 2:16, 17.
That was a simple command. Yet is this not what we should expect? The man Adam was alone at the time. Life was simple, uncomplicated. There were no problems in making a living. There were no pressures from a greedy commercial system. Complex laws were not needed to control sinful inclinations within the first man. As a perfect man, Adam had no sinful tendencies.
Simple as this command was, it involved moral issues of serious consequence. Disobedience to God’s command on the part of the first humans would have meant rebellion against Him as Ruler. How so?
It was God’s prohibition that made partaking of the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and bad” wrong. There were no poisonous properties in it. The fruit was wholesome, literally “good for food.” (Genesis 3:6) Hence, God’s prohibition regarding the tree simply emphasized man’s proper dependence on his Creator as Ruler. By obedience the first man and woman could show that they respected God’s right to make known to them what was “good,” or divinely approved, and what was “bad,” or divinely condemned. Disobedience on their part therefore would mean rebellion against God’s sovereignty.
Jehovah God stated the penalty for such rebellion to be death. Was that too severe a penalty? Well, do not many nations of the world consider it within their right to designate certain crimes as capital offenses? Yet these nations cannot give nor indefinitely sustain the life of anyone. But man’s Creator can. And it was because of his will that Adam and Eve came into existence. (Revelation 4:11) So was it not right for the Giver and Sustainer of life to designate disobedience to him as worthy of death? Surely! Then, too, he alone fully recognized the seriousness of the damaging effects that would result from disobedience to his law.
By obeying the prohibitive command, that first human pair, Adam and Eve, could have demonstrated their appreciation and gratitude to God for all that he had done for them. Rightly motivated obedience would have prevented them from becoming selfish and ignoring their Benefactor, God.
The command was of a nature that we would expect from a God of love and justice. It was not unreasonable. He did not deprive them of life’s necessities. There were many other trees from which they could satisfy their need for food. Hence, neither Adam nor Eve had any reason to feel a need for the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and bad.”
The account shows that one day, however, while not in the company of her husband, Eve fell victim to a deception and partook of the forbidden fruit.* Later she succeeded in persuading her husband to join her in breaking God’s law.—Genesis 3:1-6.
Now, it might be argued that God could have taken a permissive attitude toward this rebellion of the first humans. It might be suggested that he could have shut his eyes to their wrongdoing, leaving it unpunished. But would that have been the best course? Is it not true that failure to uphold law among humans today has led to disrespect for just laws and to increasing crime and violence? For God to have left the wrongdoing of Adam and Eve unpunished would have meant emboldening them and their descendants to carry on further lawlessness. This would have made God share responsibility for such acts.
Then, too, permissiveness would have called into question the reliability of God’s word. It would have made it appear that he does not mean what he says and that his laws can therefore be violated with impunity.
Thus it becomes clear that it was the only right and just thing for God to uphold his law and to let the first humans suffer the rightful consequences of their willful, deliberate disobedience. Not to be overlooked is that there is no evidence of any repentance on their part. They gave no evidence of a change of heart.
THE BASIC REASON—SIN
By their rebellion against God, Adam and Eve cut themselves off from a good relationship with him. They did not possess an indestructible, immortal life. The Bible says that by means of his power God ‘keeps the sun, moon and stars standing forever, to time indefinite.’ (Psalm 148:3-6) So, too, with the first human pair. They were dependent upon God for continued life.
By refusing to submit to God’s law, Adam and Eve deprived themselves of his sustaining power. Moreover, alienated from God, they were without his divine direction and guidance. In time, then, the sin that had alienated Adam and Eve from God brought about their death.
However, following their transgression against God they still had in themselves tremendous potential for life. This is evident from the historical record, which shows that Adam lived for 930 years. (Genesis 5:5) Yet, fulfilled upon Adam was the warning: “In the day you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and bad] you will positively die,” for God sentenced Adam to death on that day.—Genesis 2:17.
Through his disobedience, Adam, as the progenitor of the human family, brought death, not only to himself, but also to his unborn offspring. That is why the Bible says: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 5:12.
Having forfeited perfection, Adam could not pass it on to his offspring. From the start his children were born with weaknesses. The outworkings of sin in his body made it impossible for him to father offspring without limitations and weaknesses. This harmonizes with the Bible’s statement at Job 14:4: “Who can produce someone clean out of someone unclean? There is not one.” Hence, the aging and death of humans today can be traced initially to the sin inherited from Adam. As his offspring, they are receiving the wages that sin pays—death.—Romans 6:23.
What does that really mean? Does death mark the end of all one’s life processes, or is there some part of man that lives on? Does conscious existence continue after the death of the body?
The details about this deception and its instigator are discussed in chapter 10.
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THE MYTHOLOGY OF MANY LANDS HAD ITS ORIGIN AT BABEL
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The Bible says that God gave the first humans the prospect of unending life