Doctrine of Original Sin: Part Two

What kind of death did Adam and Eve die?


       Image result for graphics for original sinGenesis 2:16-17 records God’s command to 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).

       It is believed 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. 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?  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 from God. It is believed Adam was created with a physical/biological body that by its very nature was not designed to live forever in that state. So to die biologically is seen as a given and not a direct result of eating the forbidden fruit. Under this perspective, physical death is not the result of sin but the natural consequence of being a mortal human. Therefore, when God told Adam he would die when he ate of the forbidden tree, it must be a spiritual death that is meant.

       However, the phrase “spiritual death” is not found anywhere in Scripture. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we find it said that people die spiritually.  As will be seen, it is physical/biological death that is consistently seen throughout Scripture as the consequence of committing sin.     

       This being the case, Adam being told that in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit “dying you shall die” appears to be telling Adam that in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he was as good as biologically dead.  Physical death was now resident within him. While it is true He didn’t immediately stop breathing when he sinned, in process of time he would stop breathing and the death resident in him would become manifest.

       Death being resident within one while still physically/biologically alive is seen in the writings of Apostle Paul. In Romans 7 Paul bemoans the fact that sin was at work in the members of his body causing him to do things he didn’t want to do. He concluded by asking how he will be delivered from his body of death. Since Paul speaks of the members of his body it is evident he is speaking of his physical/biological body (See 1 Corinthians 12;14-16) and not some spiritual body as some have conjectured.  Paul understood he was as good as physically dead if it wasn't for the Christ event.

       Romans 7:23-25a: but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!  

       God planted many trees in Eden, including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).  God told Adam he could eat of any of the trees except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).

       There is reason to believe Adam and Eve could have continued to live indefinitely if they would not have sinned and had remained in the Garden where they had access to the tree of life. This is strongly suggested by the fact God removed them from the Garden so they no longer would have access to the tree of life and live forever.

       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.  

       Removing them from the Garden and the tree of life was to initiate the process of their physical death.  They now had biological death abiding in them.  Such death became resident within them. They were now as good as dead even though they didn’t draw their last breath until many years later. Eating of the forbidden tree sealed their fate. They would no longer be allowed to eat of the tree of life. In the process of time they would return to the dust from which they were made (Genesis 3:19) which strongly indicates it is physical/biological death that is under consideration here and nothing more than that.

       Genesis 3:19: 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 2:17 shows human death to be the consequence of sin. Would Adam and Eve continue to have lived indefinitely as physical Beings if they would not have sinned?  While we can’t know the answer to that question, they apparently did have access to the tree of live before they sinned and were denied that access after they sinned. The implication is that if they would have had continued access to the tree of life they could have lived forever. Whether such forever would have been life in a physical state or at some point a transformation to a non-physical state we simply can’t know.  The indication from Paul’s discussion of the natural body versus a spiritual body in 1 Corinthians 15 would indicate the latter.

       However, Adam and Eve not sinning is a moot point as we know they did sin and died as the consequence of their sin.  Adam and Eve died because they sinned.  We die because we sin.  Sin causes death.  All indications are that the death caused by sin is physical/biological death and nothing more. 

       Jesus died a physical/biological death.  Yet He never sinned. Sin caused the death of Jesus because He took our sin upon Himself.  While we all continue to biologically die because we all sin, our death isn’t permanent because of the Christ event.  The Christ event doesn’t protect us from biological death but protects us from remaining dead.

      Adam began to biologically die the moment he ate of the forbidden tree.  The exact same Hebrew word construction of “dying you shall die” is used in other OT passages that show death occurring over a period of time.

       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.

       These Israelites didn’t all die at once but died over a period of 40 years.     

      In addition to Genesis 2:17, there are 32 other occurrences of the phrase “dying you shall die” (Hebrew mō-wṯ tā-mūṯ.) 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.

What about “in the day”?

       It should be noted that the phrase “in the day” 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.  Therefore, bə-yō-wm in Genesis 2:17 can mean a greater period of time than the specific day Adam would eat of the tree. 

       However, to see bə-yō-wm as an extended period of time in this passage is unnecessary as bə-yō-wm could easily mean that the specific day that Adam ate of the tree would be the day physical death would become resident within him and in the process of time he would draw his last breath.  When he ate of the forbidden tree he was as good as physically dead. His physical death became a certainty which is the meaning of the phrase “dying, you will die” as discussed above.

       In view of the foregoing discussion, it would appear that the death Adam and Eve experienced was a physical death and nothing more. Some believe it was both physical and spiritual. The belief that they experienced a “spiritual death” is based on the belief that the Scriptures show that sin produces a separation from God.  It is believed that such separation is "spiritual death." This belief is largely based on Isaiah 59:1-2 where the prophet is making an observation regarding Israel and the consequences of disobedience.

       Isaiah 59:1-2: Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 

       Did the sin of Adam and Eve separate them from having a relationship with God and therefore they experienced a "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 completely 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 so-called “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 indentified 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?  Is he speaking of a combination of physical death and spiritual death?  If so, is there evidence for such a conclusion? 

       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 body.

       Adam and Eve suffered the wages of sin.  God said in the day they ate of the forbidden tree they would die.  When they sinned they immediately became subject to death.  As already discussed, the death they became subject to appears to be physical death.  It is physical/biological death that is referred to when death is mentioned in the OT.  Is there reason to believe when death is referred to in the NT that it is something other than physical death?

       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 reversing the consequence of sin death. While the phrase sin death is not found in Scripture, it is a phrase that fittingly describes the consequences of sin. Sin death is simply the death that results from committing sin. 

       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 cessation of life as we know it with eternal life in Christ.  He appears to be contrasting physical 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, a cessation of physical life. 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.  

       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 death (cessation of life) as compared to eternal life through Christ.  Again physical death appears to be contrasted with life.  It is interesting that the phrase “eternal death” is not found in Scripture. Human death is simply seen as resulting from human sin and is often contrasted with eternal life as seen here in Romans 5:21.   

       When Paul speaks of death he appears to be thinking in terms of the cessation of physical life and not in terms of a spiritual separation from God. Sin is seen in Scripture as that which causes physical death (sin death), not spirit death. The term spirit in Scripture is often used to describe cognitive activity.  When cognitive activity results in behavior contrary to the will of God it is sinful behavior. It is such behavior that is seen as causing physical death.  Nowhere in Scripture do we find sinful behavior resulting in a so-called “spiritual death.”

       The whole purpose of the Christ event was to facilitate movement from perishable to imperishable, mortal to immortal.  These are all terms that pertain to movement from physical death to eternal life.

       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. 

       Paul clearly shows sin to be the cause of death and death to be associated with being perishable and mortal. It is our physical self that is perishable and mortal and subject to the cessation of life (death).  The Christ event has reversed this. Through the Christ event death is truly swallowed up in victory.  This is a victory over physical 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). 

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 used 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.  Paul sees physical/biological death resident within us as the result of sin, a death that becomes complete when we draw our last breath.

       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.  Paul was well aware that biological death results from sin.

       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 physically die 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 physical/biological sin death pronounced upon Adam, a death that has passed to us all.  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 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.

       The death seen in Scripture is cessation of physical life due to sin. The consequence of sin is biological death.  Biological death is sin death.   The sin Adam and Eve committed resulted in sin death which was a biological death where they returned to the dust from which they were made.   Biological death is the only death that is indicated for them and the only death indicated for all humans.  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.

       Paul clearly taught that the body is dead because of sin. We all physically die because of sin.  Jesus taught we physically die but can be made alive through Him as we seen in John 11:25 “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Paul further 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.  Paul taught there is a natural body and there is a spiritual body. 

       1 Corinthians 15; 42-50: 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. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

       Adam is seen here as a natural biological perishable human made from the dust of the ground. As such he was subject to biological death when he sinned. All humans have the same perishable body as did Adam and reap the wages of sin which is biological death as did Adam.   Jesus was born a physical/biological human but never sinned.  Therefore, Jesus did not become subject to biological death. However, Jesus took our sins upon Himself thus making Himself subject to biological death which He suffered on the cross. Because Jesus never personally sinned, death couldn’t hold Jesus and He was resurrected with 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.   


       Spirit is often seen in Scripture as conscious cognitive function. This is true of both God and man. Paul wrote this to the Corinthians:

       1 Corinthians 2:11: For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

      It is within spirit that thoughts are generated that lead to behavior. Scripture shows that when the spirit in man chooses behaviors pleasing to God, the result is a positive spiritual relationship with God. Paul often uses the term “spiritual” to define such choice of behaviors.  Scripture also shows that when we behave in ways that are not pleasing to God we make sinful choices and sin results in death which in Scripture is seen over and over again as cessation of physical/biological life.  

       It is instructive that the author of Ecclesiastes, in writing about death, writes that “the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).     

      While we can’t be sure how the writer is using the word “spirit” here, the implication is that while the body is made from the dust of the ground and returns to the dust it is made from, the spirit returns to God who gave it. In Genesis 2:7 it is written that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The Hebrew word rendered “spirit” in Ecclesiastes 12:7 is ruach and means wind, breath or spirit.  This same word is rendered “breath” in Genesis 2:7.  The spirit doesn’t appear to be part of the physical/biological composition of the body that is made from the dust and that returns to the dust.  This makes the concept of spiritual death even more problematic.    

       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.  In this respect to speak of spiritual death is to create a virtually contradiction.