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Doctrine of Original Sin: Part Three

           What kind of death does sin produce?       Image result for graphics for original sin

       When we hear that a person has died, we generally think of that person as no longer drawing breath. Death is generally seen as cessation of physical/biological life. Such death occurs as the result of sickness, accidents, war, criminal activity and simply old age.  In Scripture we see this kind of death applying to both man and animals.

       Ecclesiastes 3:19-20: Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

       After Adam sinned, God told him that he would return to the dust of the ground from which he was made. "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Genesis 3:19).

       Did Adam’s sin cause his death?  Would Adam have lived indefinitely as a physical/biological Being if he had not sinned?   Genesis 2:16-17 records that God instructed Adam that he could eat of every tree in the Garden of Eden except for that of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He is instructed that “in the day” he ate of the forbidden tree he would surely die.  Some modern translations (NIV, NET) don’t contain the phrase “in the day” but substitute the phrase “when you eat of it.”

       Genesis 2:16-17: And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (NIV).

       Some believe the phrase “in the day” presents a problem because Adam did not physically die on the day he ate of the forbidden fruit.  He lived for 930 years and then died.  However, the Hebrew word bə-yō-wm rendered day in English translations is definitely in the Hebrew text and must be accounted for.

      Genesis 2:16-17: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day (Hebrew bə-yō-wm)  that you eat of it you shall surely (Hebrew mō-wṯ) die'' (Hebrew tā-mūṯ.)  NKJV.      

       The phrase “you shall surely die” can be literally translated from the Hebrew text as “dying you shall die.”  The phrase “you shall surely die” is in the Hebrew grammatical construction called an infinitive absolute and literally means, “dying, you will die.”  This phrase consists of an imperfect form of the Hebrew verb mō-wṯ  (you shall die) with the infinitive absolute form of the same verb tā-mū  (dying).  This grammatical form intensifies a sense of certainty. This is why most English translations render this passage as “you will surely die.”  The word “surely” denotes the certainty of death. 

       The Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar indicates that while this phrase strengthens the concept of certainty, it does so outside of any regard for a timeframe in which an event occurs.  It only means an event will definitely occur but does not indicate when it will occur.        

       What kind of death does the phrase “dying you shall die” identify here in Genesis 2:17?  Since Adam didn’t physically die on the day he ate the forbidden fruit, some believe Adam died a “spiritual death” which is generally defined as separation or alienation from God.  However, the phrase “spiritual death” is not found anywhere in Scripture. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we find it said that people die spiritually.  

      In addition to Genesis 2:17, there are 32 other occurrences of the phrase “dying you shall die” (Hebrew mō-wṯ tā-mū.) seen in the Hebrew Scriptures. In every one of these 32 occurrences, the context wherein this phrase is found clearly shows this phrase to be connected to physical death. There is nothing in these 32 occurrences of this phrase where it can be seen to be associated with a so-called “spiritual death.”   

       Many of the passages where the phrase “dying you shall die” is found, it is found in the context of a judicial declaration where a judgement of physical death is pronounced for a violation or potential violation of a command or instruction. We see this with the incident involving Abimelech and Abraham’s wife Sarah. 

       Genesis 20:7: "Now therefore, restore the man's wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die (dying you shall die) (Hebrew mō-wṯ tā-mū.), you and all who are yours.''

       Here the judicial declaration is made that Abimelech and his family would surely die if he failed to restore Abraham’s wife   Like is true of Genesis 2:17, a judicial declaration was made where a judgement of sure death is pronounced for a violation or potential violation of a command or instruction. In Genesis 20:7 the judgement is one of physical death as is seen in many other OT passages where “dying you shall die” appears. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures where death or dying is discussed is there any indication that something other than physical/biological death or dying is meant.

      As discussed above, the phrase “you shall surely die” denotes certainty of occurrence but not the time of such occurrence.  An example of this is seen in Numbers 26 where this same Hebrew phrase is used

       Numbers 26:65: For the Lord had said of them, "They shall surely die (dying they shall die) (Hebrew tā-mūṯ.) in the wilderness.'' So there was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.   

       It is evident these Israelites didn’t all die at once.  They died over a period of 40 years.  Being told that “dying they shall die” was to tell them their death was certainly going to occur.           

       It should be noted that the phrase “in the day,” as found in Genesis 2:17, does not necessarily mean a standard 24 hour day.  The same Hebrew construction found in Genesis 2:17 is found in Genesis 2:4 where a day is seen as referring to the entirety of creation week.

       Genesis 2:4: This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day (Hebrew bə-yō-wm) that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

       The phrase “in the day” (Hebrew bə-yō-wm), or some variation thereof, appears 197 times in the OT and while often seen by context as referring to a single day, it is also seen by context to at times refer to a period of time longer than a 24 hour day. 

       However, to see bə-yō-wm as an extended period of time in Genesis 2:17 is unnecessary. It appears that on the specific day that Adam ate of the tree would be the day his death became a certainty and not that he would die on that specific day.  Before he ate from the forbidden tree, he had access to the Tree of Life. He was now denied access to the Tree of Life which means he would experience eternal death.        

       Genesis 3:22-23: And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.       

       That it is eternal death that sin produces is seen in the writings of Paul. When Paul writes that the wages of sin is death and contrasts such death with eternal life through Christ (Romans 6:23), it is apparent that the death that sin leads to is eternal death. 

       In Romans 5:12, Paul writes that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.´ Paul also wrote that “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). 

        Would Adam have lived indefinitely as a physical/biological Being if he had not sinned?  No he would not.  Paul made it clear that there is a natural perishable body that is of the earth and a spiritual body that is from heaven. Adam was created with a natural perishable body made of earthly elements as we all are.  The Scriptures show the human is body is mortal and subject to death.      

       1 Corinthians 15:42-49: So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam, a life giving spirit.’ The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.  

       The Greek word rendered "perishable" here in the NIV is φθορᾷ (phthora).  Greek Lexicons define this word as to decay, destroy, perish and be subject to corruption. The KJV renders it as "decay."  Thayer's Greek Lexicon shows it to mean the state of corruption or decomposition of the body at burial.  The word rendered "imperishable" in the NIV is ἀφθαρσίᾳ (aphtharsia).  Thayer's defines this word as incorruption, or perpetuity.  One English translation renders it as "immortal."

       The Greek word rendered "natural" in this passage is ψυχικόν (psychikon).  Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word as having the nature and characteristics of animal life which men have in common with the brutes.  The Greek word rendered "body" is σῶμά (sōma).  Thayer's defines this word as the body both of men and of animals.  While sōma is sometimes used to describe the church as the body of Christ, the great majority of the 142 occurrences of this word in the NT can be seen by context to refer to the physical/biological body.  This is certainly the case here in 1 Corinthians 15 where sōma is used in conjunction with other words such as earthly in identifying the composition of man.      

       Adam was created a perishable earthly body that would have died a physical/biological death whether he had sinned or not sinned. Adam was not created immortal. Sin did not change Adam from being immortal to being mortal.  Man experiences cessation of life as a consequence of being created mortal.  That cessation of life becomes an eternal cessation of life because of sin.  Sin prevents us from having life restored. It prevents us from access to the tree of life.  Sin causes eternal death.  After Adam sinned, he was denied access to the Tree of Life which means he would experience eternal cessation of life. We all would experience eternal cession of life but for the Christ event which has negated eternal death. Resurrection is all about moving from eternal cessation of life to the restoration of life. This has been made possible through the Christ event.   

      Is this movement from cessation of life to restoration of life a movement from spiritual death to spiritual life?  In 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Paul contrasts perishable, mortal life with imperishable, immortal life. There is noting here to suggest Paul is speaking of spiritual death versus spiritual life. He is simply speaking of mortal life becoming immortal life.

       1 Corinthians 15:53-54: For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

       2 Corinthians 5:4: For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

       When Paul addresses the issue of resurrection he sees it as moving from a state of eternal mortal death to a state of eternal spirit life and not of moving from spiritual death to spirit life. Paul makes it plain that the physical/ biological body is a natural perishable body that through resurrection becomes an imperishable (immortal) spiritual body.  It is through resurrection we experience a change in bodily composition.  We are transformed from having a perishable physical/biological body made of earthly elements to a body made in heaven.      

       As already discussed, some believe the sin of Adam and Eve separated them from having a relationship with God which is seen as "spiritual death." While it can be argued that they no longer had the kind of relationship with God that they had before they sinned, their sin did not separate them and their offspring from the presence of God.

       Eve is seen as giving birth to Cain with the help of the LORD (Genesis 4:1). God is seen as communicating with both Able and Cain in regard to the presenting of a proper offering (Genesis 4:3-16). Verse 16 shows Cain going out from the presence of YHWH which means he had been in the presence of YHWH.  Even though all humans have sinned (Romans 3:23) God is seen as interacting with man in numerous ways throughout Scriptural history. 

       While the sin committed by Adam and Eve resulted in they being removed from the Garden and access to the tree of life, nowhere does Scripture identify this as a “spiritual death.” The idea of Adam and Eve experiencing a “spiritual death” appears to be an unnecessary human construct.

Death in the Greek Scriptures:     

       As already discussed, death is clearly identified in the OT as cessation of physical life. Is death seen as something different in the NT?  When Paul writes that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a) is he speaking of something other than physical death? 

       The Greek word rendered “death” in Romans 6:23a is θάνατος (thanatos).  This word occurs in various tenses 119 times in the Greek Scriptures.  Greek Lexicons define this word as death of the body. In reviewing the 119 occurrences of this word in the NT, there is nothing that indicates this word means something other than death of the physical body.  In most cases the context wherein this word is found clearly shows it to mean death of the physical/biological body.

       Physical death is simply the cessation of life.  The death and resurrection of Jesus is seen as facilitating the restoration of life. The sacrifice of Jesus is seen as doing away with eternal death. Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).  Death is contrasted with life.  Paul appears to be contrasting the eternal cessation of life due to sin with the restoration of life through Christ.  He is contrasting eternal death with eternal life facilitated by the Christ event. 

       1 Corinthians 15:20-22: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

       Christ is seen as being raised from the type of death Adam died, cessation of life. Being the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep is to say Christ is the first to have been resurrected to eternal life of those who have fallen asleep. To fall asleep is a Biblical acronym for physically/biologically dying.

       This is the strongest of evidence that the death Adam experienced was a physical/biological death and not a so-called spiritual death.  In Revelation 1:18, Christ is quoted as saying “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”  It would appear that the death Jesus experienced and the death he holds the keys to is the cessation of life. Jesus speaks of death in association with Hades which Scripture shows to be the place where dead physical bodies are buried.  It is written that that Jesus was not left in Hades and did not suffer decay.

       Acts 2:31-32: Seeing what was ahead, he (David) spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave (Greek ᾅδην (hadēn), nor did his body see decay (φθορᾷ (phthora). God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  

       The body of Jesus did not decay because He was resurrected to life before his body could decay. If Jesus' body had not been resurrected in the short amount of time that it was, He would have decayed like any other human body that is buried. The association of Hades with decay shows that Hades is a place where dead bodies are buried and not some kind of subterranean place of abode for conscious souls or spirits as taught by some.       

       Paul wrote that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). Sin entered the world through Adam and death through sin. Death spread to all humans because all humans sin.  There is noting in Paul’s reflection on how death came to be suggesting a death other than physical death.

       Paul wrote that “just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).  This is another reference to sin producing eternal death (eternal cessation of life) as compared to eternal life through Christ. 

       When Paul speaks of death he appears to be thinking in terms of the cessation of life and not in terms of a spiritual separation from God. Sin is seen in Scripture as that which causes eternal cessation of life.  The whole purpose of the Christ event was to facilitate movement from perishable to imperishable, mortal to immortal. 

       1 Corinthians 15:54-56: When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."  "Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 

      It is our physical self that is perishable and mortal and subject to the cessation of life (death).  Sin makes our physical/biological death permanent. The Christ event has reversed this. Through the Christ event death is swallowed up in victory.  This is a victory over eternal death.  So-called “spiritual death” is not under consideration here nor does it need to be.  

        Jesus taught that those who hear Him and believe the Father who sent Him have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24 and 8:51).  Since presumably all those Jesus was addressing physically died, some believed He could not have been talking about crossing over from physical death to life.  Therefore it is believed Christ must have been speaking of passing from spiritual death unto spiritual life. 

       However, it is evident Jesus was speaking of having life abiding in oneself and upon physical death continuing to live in a new dimension of existence. Jesus taught that eternal life can be resident within a person even though such person physically dies.

       John 11:25-26: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"  

       When Jesus speaks of never dying, he obviously is speaking of not remaining dead. He clearly acknowledges we die physically but because we have life through Him abiding in us, there is life beyond the grave.  Crossing over from death unto life through faith in the Father and the Son was clearly taught by Christ. 

       John 5:24: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

       What kind of passing from death to life is this?  Jesus instructs that all in their graves will rise. To be in a grave is to have biologically died (returned to the dust).  It is biologically dead people who are seen as being restored to life.  There is nothing here about being raised from a so-called spiritual death. Only one kind of death appears to be apparent in Scripture and that is the cessation of physical/biological life. This is the death we are seen as being raised from.   

       John 5:28-29: "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (judged). 

     In the above passage from John's Gospel, we see death identified as physical/biological as witnessed by the phrase "all who are in their graves."  Life is identified as eternal life as witnessed by the John 5:24 passage.  Physical/biological life is contrasted with eternal life.  It is apparent Jesus understood death in physical/biological terms. It is apparent Paul understood death in the same way.

Paul on the issue of death:

       Because of the manner in which Paul sometimes speaks of death, it is believed he is speaking of “spiritual death” as opposed to physical death. In Romans 5 20-21 Paul speaks of sin reigning in death.  In Romans 6:16, Paul speaks of being slaves to sin which leads to death. In Romans 7:5-6 Paul speaks of being controlled by the sinful nature bearing fruit for death.  In various other passages of Scripture we see Paul showing death is the result of sin (Romans 7:10-11, 7:13, 7:24, 8:6, 8:13).

       Nowhere does Paul use the phrase “spiritual death” when discussing the matter of sin and death. As already discussed, Paul made it clear that since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  It is clear that Paul’s understanding of death was it being a cessation of life and through resurrection such life can be restored.

       This being the case, when Paul speaks of death in his writings there is no reason to conclude Paul is speaking of death in any way other than the cessation of physical/biological life and not a so-called spiritual death where physical/biological life continues while at the same time one is spiritually dead which is to be spiritually separated from God.  As already discussed, the Greek word rendered death occurs 119 times in the NT and by context can be seen over and over again to clearly identify physical/biological death.

       Paul sees the association between sin and death as an actual law which he contrasts with what he called the law of the Spirit. Paul frequently speaks in terms of sin leading to death while behavior in line with righteousness leads to life. There is no reason to conclude Paul is using the term death to describe spiritual separation from God as opposed to literal biological death. 

       Romans 8:2: because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

       Romans 8:6: The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

       Paul told the Ephesians they were dead in their transgressions and sins but made alive in with Christ and adds it is by grace they were saved.

       Ephesians 2:1: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,

       Ephesians 2:4-5: But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.

       How were these Ephesians dead?  Where they dead in some spiritual sense or where they dead in that they were doomed to eternal death because of sin?  Paul concludes they were saved by grace. We see in Scripture that because of the grace of God we are saved from the penalty of death.  Throughout the NT we see death as the cessation of physical life.  As already discussed, nowhere is death defined as spiritual.

       When Paul told the Ephesians they were dead in their sins, there is no reason to believe Paul is talking about any kind of death other than the eternal death sins produces.  Being made alive with Christ is to be given indwelling spirit life which is the seed of the eternal life.  Upon physical death this eternal life is manifested in the granting of a spiritual body to replace the physical body that died. This is the spiritual rebirth Jesus spoke of in John 3.

       Now it could be argued that the spirit in man is what generates sin and therefore sin is spiritual in nature. However, even though sin may be spiritual in nature, the fact remains that it results in eternal biological death.  While it can be argued that spiritual sin causes separation from God, nowhere in Scripture is such separation defined as spiritual death. The death that is seen in Scripture is cessation of physical life not cessation of a spiritual relationship with God or the cessation of spirit life. Paul speaks of sin reigning in death and contrasts it with eternal life through Christ.  There is nothing here to suggest Paul is speaking of spiritual death.

       Romans 5:20-21: The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

       It is clear that when Paul says that the body is dead because of sin, he is speaking of being eternally dead.  Jesus taught we physically die but can be made alive through Him. Jesus is recorded as saying in John 11:25 “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Paul shows how this is accomplished.

       Romans 8:10-11: But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

       Our bodies are mortal, subject to biological death. Death is seen throughout Scripture as pertaining to our physical bodies. On the other hand, life is associated with spirit. It is through spirit we are restored to life, not mortal life but spirit life.  As discussed above, Paul taught there is a natural body and there is a spiritual body. 

       Adam was a natural biological perishable human made from the dust of the ground. As such he was subject to biological death. When he sinned he became subject to eternal death. All humans have the same perishable body as did Adam and reap the wages of sin which is the eternal death of the perishable body. Jesus was born a physical/biological human subject to physical/biological death.  Because Jesus never sinned, He was not subject to eternal death. However, Jesus took our sins upon Himself thus making Himself subject to eternal death. Because Jesus never personally sinned, death couldn’t hold Jesus and God the Father resurrected Jesus and gave him a transformed spiritual body.

       Acts 2:24: But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.   

Conclusion:

       While it may be appropriate to say sin creates a spiritual separation between God and man, it may be best to classify such separation simply as spiritual separation and not spiritual death.  The terms spirit and spiritual are not seen in Scripture to be connected with death. Instead these terms are frequently connected to life.  As already discussed, Paul wrote that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”  Paul also wrote that “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

       The term spirit in Scripture is associated with life, not with death. Therefore, the concept of spiritual death appears contrary to how spirit is seen and used by Scriptural writers.  It should be apparent that we are all subject to physical/biological death because of having been created mortal and we become subject to staying dead because of sin as was the case with Adam and Eve.  The Christ event does not do away with physical/biological death.  It does away with staying dead. The Christ event facilitates removal of sin death (eternal death). The removal of sin death results in being given an immortal spiritual body.  Thus eternal death is replaced by eternal life.    

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