Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dying You Shall Die

It has often been suggested that God was wrong in telling Adam that in the very day in which he would eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that he would, THAT VERY DAY, physically die. The following quotes demonstrate that that alleged discrepancy is false. Portions have been highlighted in red for emphasis.

2:17 Why Didn't Adam and Eve Die at Once?

Why did not Adam and Eve drop dead the same day that they disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit? Adam lived to be 930 years old according to Genesis 5:5. Was Satan's word in Genesis 3:4-"You will not surely die"-a more accurate assessment of the real state of affairs than what God had said in Genesis 2:17-"When you eat of it you will surely die"? Is Satan more scrupulously honest than God himself?
    This hard saying calls for an examination of at least three different concepts embraced within the quotation from Genesis 2:17-(1) the tree of the knowedge of good and evil; (2) the meaning of the phrase "when [more literally, in the day] you eat of it"; and (3) the meaning of the phrase "you will surely die."
    First the tree. There are no grounds whatsoever for believing that the tree was a magical symbol for that it contained a secret enzyme which would automatically induce a wide  body of knowledge that embraced the whole gamut of good and evil. Instead it is safer to assume that the tree functioned much as the New Testament ordinance or sacrament of the Lord's Supper or Eucharist does. The tree was a symbol embodied in an actual tree, just as the bread and wine of the Eucharist are symbols embodied in real bread and wine. In a similar way the tree of life was also a real tree, yet symbolized the fact that life was a special gift given to individuals from God. That is also why participants are warned not to partake of the elements of the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, for when the elements are eaten and drunk in a flippant manner and when a person has not truly confessed Christ as Savior, the unworthy partaking of tehse rather ordinary elements (ordinary at least from all outward appearances) will cause illness and, in some cases, death (1 Cor. 11:30).
    In the same way, the tree was a symbol to test the first human couple's actions. Would they obey God or would they assert their own wills in opposition to God's clear command? To argue that the tree had magical power to confer knowledge of good and evil would be to miss the divine point: the tree was a test of the couple's intention to obey God. That men and women can attain the knowledge of good and evil is not in itself either undesireable or blameworthy; knowledge per se was not what was being forbidden here. The tree only represents the possibility that creatures made in God's image could refuse to obey him. The tree served as the concrete expression of that rebellion.
    It is just as naive to insist that the phrase "in the day" means that on that very day death would occur. A little knowledge of the Hebrew idiom will relieve the tension here as well. For example, in 1 Kings 2:37 King Solomon warned a seditious Shimei, "The day you leave [Jerusalem] and cross the Kidron Valley [which is immediately outside the city walls on the east side of the city], you can be sure you will die." Neither the 1 Kings nor the Genesis text implies immediacy of action on that very same day; instead they point to the certainty of the predicted consequence that would be set in motion by the act initiated on that day. Alternate wordings include at the time when, at that time, now when and the day [when] (see Gen. 5:1; Ex. 6:28; 10:28; 32:34).
    The final concern is over the definition of death. Scripture refers to three different types of death. Often only the context helps distinguish which is intended. There are physical death, spiritual death (the kind that forces guilty persons to hide from the presence of God, as this couple did when it was time for fellowship in the Garden, Gen. 3:8) and the "second death" (to which Rev. 20:14) refers, when a person is finally, totally and eternally separated from God without hope of reversal, after a lifetime of rejecting God).
    In this case, spiritual death was the immediate outcome of disobedience demonstrated by a deliberate snatching of real fruit from a real tree in a real garden. Death ensued immediately: They became "dead in...transgressions and s ins" (Eph. 2:1). But such separation and isolation from God eventually resulted in physical death as well. This, however, was more a byproduct than a direct result of their sin. Spiritual death was the real killer!
- Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter Kaiser pages 91-92

We must also see what is the cause of death, namely alienation from God. Thence it follows, that under the name of death is comprehended all those miseries in which Adam involved himself by his defection; for as soon as he revolted from God, the fountain of life, he was cast down from his former state, in order that he might perceive the life of man without God to be wretched and lost, and therefore differing nothing from death. Hence the condition of man after his sin is not improperly called both the privation of life, and death. The miseries and evils both of soul and body, with which man is beset so long as he is on earth, are a kind of entrance into death, till death itself entirely absorbs him; for the Scripture everywhere calls those dead who, being oppressed by the tyranny of sin and Satan, breath nothing but their own destruction. Wherefore the question is superfluous, how it was that God threatened death to Adam on the day in which he should touch the fruit, when he long deferred the punishment? For then was Adam consigned to death, and death began its reign in him, until supervening grace should bring a remedy.
- selection from Calvin's commentary on Genesis (2:17)

Thou shalt surely die.] twmt twm moth tamuth; Literally, a death thou shalt die; or, dying thou shalt die. Thou shalt not only die spiritually, by losing the life of God, but from that moment thou shalt become mortal, and shalt continue in a dying state till thou die. This we find literally accomplished; every moment of man's life may be considered as an act of dying, till soul and body are separated. Other meanings have been given of this passage, but they are in general either fanciful or incorrect.
-Adam Clarke's commentary on Gen. 2:17

"for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die"; or "in dying, die" {z}; which denotes the certainty of it, as our version expresses it; and may have regard to more deaths than one; not only a corporeal one, which in some sense immediately took place, man became at once a mortal creature, who otherwise continuing in a state of innocence, and by eating of the tree of life, he was allowed to do, would have lived an immortal life
-selection from John Gill's Commentary on Gen. 2:17

Perhaps Lee is alluding to the timeframe: “on the day.” But that’s a Hebrew idiom for "when." And, in fact, Adam and Eve did die. They lost the hope of immortality.
- Steve Hays from the blog  Randolph is mentally incompetent-http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/08/evan-is-mentally-incompetent.html

Gen. 2:17 (also Gen. 2:4, and 1 Kings 2:37) has a preposition before the word "day" (bay yom) which qualifies it so that it means "when".


  1. The bible never discusses spiritual death. Never, not once, why? Because the Jews don't believe in spiritual death. You have to first create the assumption of spiritual death and then you will interpret the scriptures to fit that belief.

    1. The bible never discusses spiritual death.

      Of course the Bible does, if you include the New Testament. If you're referring to the Tanakh, one must realize and factor in the principle of Progressive Revelation. Latter books display the doctrinal development of the people of God as God has revealed and providentially guided their theology. The earliest OT book will obvoiusly have less developed doctrine than the latter books. But even some of the earlier books (e.g. the Torah and others), there was a belief in an afterlife, a hope for a resurrection and to some extent (occasionally) even a conscious intermediate state.

      Because the Jews don't believe in spiritual death.

      Which Jews and when? Jewish theology was never completely monolithic both during and after the times when inspired revelation was being given. You can see this also after the close of the OT canon and the Jewish intertestamental literature. While some didn't believe in an afterlife, many Jews did and often wrote differing views of punishment of the wicked in sheol. Some held to everlasting punishment for some or all the wicked. Some held to annihilation for some or all wicked. Some held to a form of purgatory, while others mixed and matched these views. Such views didn't emerge out of a theological and cultural vacuum. Jews where thinking about these things before the close of the OT canon.

      I made some comments in the combox of another blog that might be relevant. I'll copy and paste some of that below even though my view has changed somewhat:

      There's such a concept as Progressive Revelation. God progressively revealed more and more, deeper and deeper truths and realities down through the generations of humanity till His final revelation in, of and through His Son (and His appointed emissaries the Apostles). The nature of humanity (anthropology), of death and the end times (eschatology) was progressively revealed.

      The bible teaches that humans have both a material and an immaterial aspect to them. Their 1. body and 2. spirit/soul (dichotomy) or 1. body, 2. soul and 3. spirit (trichotomy). The body does turn to dust, but the spirit continues to survive after death during the intermediate state while it waits for the resurrection of the body and final judgment.


    2. Some believe that spirits of the unsaved go immediate to hell (Gehenna) awaiting final further judgment on "Judgment Day" near the end of the world. After which they will be sent back to hell. Others, like myself believe the unsaved wait in sheol/hades till final judgment then sent to hell (Gehenna) after the final judgment.

      Can we find the concept of afterlife, elsewhere in Genesis and/or books of Moses?

      The nature of the afterlife was uncertain the OT. There's some indication in the OT that some Israelites may not have believed it, or wondered about it (e.g. Job 14:14; Eccl. 3:21). However, there are many evidences in the OT of either 1. a future resurrection simpliciter 2. a conscious intermediate state, 3. or both in combination.

      The OT often refers to dead as having "slept with his fathers". Sleeping implies an expectation of a future waking up (i.e. bodily resurrection). This refers to what happens with the body (not the spirit), which has the appearance of sleeping.

      48 That very day the LORD spoke to Moses,49 "Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession.50 And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people,- Deut. 32:48-50

      If materialism and an afterlife wasn't believed, then it makes no sense for Moses and Aaron to have been "gathered to their people". The phrase implies something that happens after death. It cannot always refer to having their bones placed into an ossuary. At least in the case of Moses and Aaron. Moses wasn't allowed into the Promise Land and Aaron died before entering. The Israelites were on the move and so wouldn't have had the time to wait for the flesh to moulder off the bones. Presumably being gathered to one's people is immediately upon death and is a conscious existence, since that's what many other surrounding pagans believed about death. God often corrected and rebuked the Israelites about the beliefs of pagans, but God never told the Israelites that there is no conscious afterlife. God forbade attempts to contact the dead, but never said it was futile on account of the fact that there is no afterlife. Or on account of the afterlife being ONLY at the end of time with the resurrection. The fact the Israelites often committed necromancy suggests a conscious intermediate state was a common belief among them.


    3. The book of Job repeatedly teaches an afterlife. For example:

      25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!- Job 19:25-27

      Job 26:5 uses poetic imagery to imply or directly teach the dead are conscious.

      And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.- Gen. 35:18

      Gen. 35:18 could possibly be interpreted as implying an immaterial soul departing Rachel's body.

      Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s LIFE come into him again.”- 1 Kings 17:21

      Similarly, in 1 Kings 17:21 the word "LIFE" (ESV, et al.) could technically also be translated "soul" (as in the KJV). So, Elijah could be asking God to return the child's immaterial soul to the body.

      "All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." Thus his father wept for him."- Gen. 37:35

      Some scholars have translated and interpreted Gen. 37:35 as having Jacob say that he's so saddened by the death of Joseph, that he'll join him in sheol. Also, Jacob wrongly thought that Joseph was eaten by an animal. And so, sheol couldn't mean the grave (at least in this context).


    4. There are verses in Psalms that suggest it. Here are just two.

      You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.- Ps. 73:24

      YHWH receiving the psalmist "into glory" suggests an afterlife.

      As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.- Ps. 17:15

      This verse suggests an afterlife.

      As you know the book of Daniel states:

      "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."- Dan. 12:2

      Though, an atheists would say that this is a later development and not necessarily an indication of what the earliest Israelites believed regarding the possibility of an afterlife.

      The following two verses in Ecclesiastes suggests an afterlife. Chapter 3:21 wonders about it. Chapter 12:7 positively suggests it.

      Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?- Eccl. 3:21 (KJV)

      12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.-Eccl. 12:7 (KJV)

      They are dead, they will not live; they are SHADES, they will not arise; to that end you have visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them.- Isa. 26:14

      The word "shades" is "rephaim" in Hebrew (the same word used in Job 26:5 for "dead"). Rephaim can refer to the giants, OR to dead human beings. [[UPDATE: I'm not completely sure about this complicated issue any longer given Michael Heiser's work.]]

      BTW, Isa. 26:14 doesn't necessarily mean that the author is saying there is no resurrection of the dead at the eschaton. Only that they will not rise again in this world/age to interact with and affect the living.

    5. Many commentaries point out that Daniel refers to his spirit "within" his body like a sword within its sheath/scabbard. See the commentaries here:


    6. The 19th century Messianic Jew Alfred Edersheim wrote the classic book "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah" and one of his appendices dealt with the Jewish understanding of punishment around the time of Christ.

      While modern scholars might disagree with Edersheim's interpretation of the data, the data (sans interpretation) nevertheless remains and proves that Jews had been thinking about the postmortem punishment of sin/sinners both before and after the advent of the Christian era.

      See appendix 19 here:

      See also the following links to Rabbis who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and the teaching of the New Testament here (which includes spiritual death):

      Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves PART 1

      Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves PART 2

      Rabbis Who Believed in Jesus the Messiah

    7. I'm not saying that all the Rabbis listed believed every doctrine of "orthodox" Christianity. But in general, those listed believed in Jesus as the Messiah, and so most would have believed the prima facie teaching of the New Testament regarding (some kind/version of) spiritual death.