This article was sparked by a follower comment on one of my older blog posts that attempted to answer if plants were alive. See the link Here for further information on that topic. The comment was aimed at encouraging me to consider viruses and other microbes and invertebrates in the context of what I said about life in the plant article. I will be expanding on my discussion of viruses in a future article. For the moment, I want to consider how the Bible defines life and why that definition matters in the light of origins.
The Biblical definition of life is important because of the potential consequences of the definition. The Bible clearly states that it was man’s sin in the Garden of Eden that brought death into the world. Romans 5:12 makes that clear. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Clearly death came as a result of sin. Thus nothing could have died before Genesis 3 and man’s sin. Since plants clearly would have been eaten and died before that time, and science defines plants as alive, the Biblical and scientific definitions have to be different. That being the case, establishing working definitions for both is a necessity.
Based on the above, we need to establish what the scientific and Biblical definitions of life are. Scientific definition first. Scientists believe that something is alive if it can reproduce, metabolize nutrients, grow from within, adapt to its surroundings, respond to external stimuli and is composed of cells. Even this definition is somewhat controversial among scientists because there are some organics, like the aforementioned viruses, do not fit all the criteria. However, with this scientific definition established, we can begin to see the conflicts with the Scriptures. Plants are alive by this definition, yet Romans 5:12 clearly tells us that there was no death before sin. If eaten, plants undoubtedly die. Therefore, for the Bible to be consistent with itself, it must define life differently than science.
Fortunately, the Bible defines what it considers alive. When God gave the Old Testament law to Israel, He put in laws that forbade the Jews to eat food that had been cooked with the blood. While this had health benefits, it also had another reason. Leviticus 17:11 tells us the reason. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” It was the blood that made something alive. Eating the blood was forbidden because it was symbolic of the cost of sin and was meant to be placed on the altar to symbolize the cleansing from sin. However, it is the fact that God considers something alive if it has blood that is of interest to us here. That has massive implications for defining life in a Biblical sense.
If life requires blood in the Biblical sense, then we need a definition of blood. From merriam-webster.com, the definition is as follows: “the fluid that circulates in the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins of a vertebrate animal carrying nourishment and oxygen to and bringing away waste products from all parts of the body” However, this definition is limiting because it does not include invertebrates. Probably the best way to define blood for our purposes is something like this: “any internal fluid involved in the circulation of oxygen from a pump or heart to the extremities in exchange for waste products such as carbon dioxide.” This definition of blood is not limited to vertebrates, and thus more useful. It permits such creatures as sea stars, insects, and jellyfish to be considered alive.
Blood has one major problem. As a liquid, it simply follows the path of least resistance. If left to its own devices, it would simply pool and do nothing. It requires a pump and conduits, such as veins and arteries. Thus at least a partial circulatory system is required for blood to function correctly. Therefore when looking for something that is alive in the Biblical sense, a partial circulatory system should be the measuring stick.
I will not go into the implications here of forming this definition of Biblical life. That will be reserved for a later article. However, comparing the scientific and Biblical definitions will prove very enlightening. Note that the scientific definition is very complex, with a number of different characteristics considered for something to be alive. God’s definition from the Bible considers just one. Life, something as complex as it is possible to find, can be boiled down to one simple characteristic in God’s eyes. Man tries to make things complicated, and in so doing creates problems for things like viruses. God’s way is much simpler and cleaner.