WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN?  PART ELEVEN

 

 Resurrection:

       If you have read the previous ten essays in this series, you are ready for the following discussion on the topic of resurrection. If you have not read the previous ten essays, I highly recommend you do so before reading this section on resurrection.  Without having read the material leading up to this section, it would be difficult to make a whole lot of sense of what you are about to read.

       If you have read this far, you have seen that many Scriptures, in conjunction with secular history, show a first-century return of Christ in judgment and establishment of His everlasting Kingdom. All Christians understand that resurrection from the dead is also associated with the return of Christ. If the return of Christ is a first-century reality, then resurrection is also a first-century reality. This being the case, it is imperative that we examine how death and resurrection is seen in Scripture and determine how resurrection occurred in conjunction with the return of Christ in the first century.

       In the ancient world, the idea of once dead physical bodies being resurrected back to  life in a bodily form was considered absurd. There were various beliefs in life beyond the grave but such life was always seen as existing in some disembodied form. The idea of dead physical bodies coming back to life was not considered to be possible. Greek philosophers introduced the concept of the immortality of the soul. This concept saw the soul as the “real person” who had always existed but was temporarily housed in a physical body. Upon physical death this immortal soul continued to live on in another dimension. 

       As Christians, we all look forward to being resurrected to eternal life. When and how does this take place? When most people think of resurrection, they think of dead bodies being raised from graves. When the writers of Scripture speak of resurrection, how do they see resurrection?

       Many Christians believe that when they die their "Immortal soul" goes straight to heaven to be with God. Yet these same Christians believe they will be resurrected from the dead to eternal life at a yet future return of Christ. If this is the case, what kind of existence are they experiencing in heaven while awaiting a resurrection to life some time in the future?  If they already have eternal life, why the need for a resurrection to an eternal life they already have? 

       Under this scenario, you start life at some point as a God created "immortal soul" that preexists the physical/biological body. This "immortal soul" then becomes the life essence of a physical/biological human body. Then upon the death of the physical/biological body, the"immortal soul" returns to live in the heavenly realm only to experience a return to a bodily existence at a yet future resurrection of the dead at a yet future return of Christ. As should be apparent to anyone who has carefully studied the Scriptures, this scenario is quite problematical and does not square with the teaching of Scripture.      

       Some attempt to resolve this problem by asserting that the soul is not immortal and when we physically die our soul does not go to heaven or anywhere else as a conscious entity. The soul dies with the body and simply “sleeps” in the grave awaiting a future resurrection. Under this perspective the soul, while not an immortal entity, can achieve immortality through resurrection. (see my series entitled, "What happens after death?" for an in-depth discussion of the nature of the soul and life after death in general).     

Death and resurrection in the Old Testament:

       The Hebrew concept of life after physical death is not well defined in the Old Testament. The focus is more on living a good physical life by being blessed with children, having good land to live on and having a proper relationship with God.  While there is reference to life after physical death in Old Testament writings, the nature of such life is unclear. The actual word "resurrection" is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures. However several returns to physical life after having physically died are recorded in the OT.

       In 1 Kings 17 we have the account of Elijah raising the widow's son back to life. In 2 Kings 4 we have the account of Elisha bringing the Shunammite's son back to life. Finally, In 2 Kings 13, we have the account of a dead man being thrown into the same tomb where Elisha had been buried and on touching the bones of Elisha the dead man came back to life. These are all examples of raising from physical/biological death to physical/biological life.

       In Ezekiel 37 we have the "dry bones" vision presented to Ezekiel where the people of Israel are pictured as being physically dead and being restored to physical life. This is generally understood as a metaphor picturing the return of Israel from exile.  

       We see a more direct reference to the concept of resurrection in Job 14:14 where Job asks the question, "Will a man live again?"  Job then answers his question by saying "All the days of my hard service I will wait till my change comes." (NKJV)  In Daniel 12, as already discussed in this series, is an apparent reference to resurrection where resurrection is not from physical/biological death to physical/biological life but from physical/biological death to a new dimension of existence called eternal life.  

       Some scholars see evidence for belief in bodily resurrection from the writings of the Maccabees just prior to the first century A.D. During the time of Christ, it appears the religious sect of the Pharisees believed in bodily resurrection while the sect of the Sadducees did not. mixed belief about the nature of life after death and the meaning of resurrection has continued to our present day.

Death and resurrection in the New Testament:

        Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus and Lazarus to physical life after they had died. While Jairus had not yet been buried, Lazarus had already been buried in a tomb for several days.  Peter raised Tabitha from the dead as seen in Acts 9. At the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, Matthew reports that the bodies of many holy people came out of tombs and after Jesus' resurrection apparently appeared in a physical manner to various people.  It is not revealed what the exact nature of their resurrection was or what happened to these folks.

       Matthew 27:52-53: The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

       Jesus was raised to life after having physically died and buried in a tomb. It is apparent that with Jesus He was resurrected with a transformed body that could appear and disappear at will. While He was able to appear in a physical way to His disciples and even eat with them, it is apparent He was of a non-physical/biological composition.

       In response to the Sadducees claim that there was no such thing as resurrection, Jesus said God is the God of the living and also speaks of those worthy of resurrected no longer able to die.

       Matthew 22:32-32: But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying,`I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.''

       Luke 20:37-38: "Now even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord `the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' "For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.''

       Luke 20:34-36:  And Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. "But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; "nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

       Jesus speaks of being rewarded for doing good at the time of the resurrection and speaks of all those who are in the graves being resurrected, some to life and some to condemnation.  He also sees resurrection as being accomplished through Him.

       Luke 14:14: But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."      

       John 5:25-29: I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. "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 (judgement).  

       John 11:25b-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?"    

      The Scriptural and historical evidence says Christ Jesus returned in the first century. Since resurrection is tied to the return of Christ, then resurrection also occurred (or began to occur) in the first century. Our task is to determine how resurrection took place. How did/does resurrection occur?  Did/do dead physical bodies become live physical bodies?  Are dead physical bodies transformed into live spiritual bodies and if so, what is a spiritual body?  Is resurrection to be understood as spiritually passing from death unto life while still physical and upon physical death given a spiritual body that lives eternally in the heavenly realm?   

       There are a number of dynamics involved in coming to understand resurrection in relation to a first-century return of Christ. Some of these dynamics involve the covenantal transition that was taking place and the response to that transition from Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians and Jewish non-Christians. Let’s begin our quest to understand resurrection by looking at these dynamics.

Covenants in transition:

       After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the close associates of Jesus were given the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and began to preach salvation through Christ Jesus. This message initially went only to the Jews. With the conversion of Paul, and Peter’s experience with Cornelius, the gospel of Christ also went to the Gentiles. A careful reading of the book of Acts will clearly demonstrate there was a great deal of tension between non-Christian Jews and Gentile Christians and between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Many if not most of the Jewish Christians, while accepting Christ as their savior, still continued to observe the Old Covenant law. While it appears that the leadership of the Jewish Christians understood that adherence to the Old Covenant regulations was not required for salvation, such regulations continued to be an important dynamic in the lives of Jewish converts.

       After initially ministering to the Jews, Paul took his ministry to the Gentiles. The Gentiles, having not been under the Old Covenant law, readily accepted the gospel message and all that message implied relative to New Covenant living. This created much tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Many Jewish Christians still felt that the Law of Moses had to be followed. This led to the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15 where it was basically determined that Gentile Christians were not obligated to be circumcised or keep the Law of Moses. It is interesting that little is recorded about the Jewish Christians setting aside the Old Covenant system. In fact, it appears that the Jewish Christians, including their leadership, continued to observe the Mosaic customs as demonstrated in Acts 21.

       Acts 21:17-26: When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.’ The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.

       It is apparent from this account that Jewish Christians were still observing the customs and regulations of the Old Covenant system and believed that they should. Only the Gentile Christians were excused from such adherence. It is also apparent that many Jewish Christians continued to feel that the Gentile Christians should also adhere to the Mosaic regulations. The persecutions suffered by Paul were a combination of assaults from both the Jewish Christian community and those non-Christian Jews who were vehemently opposed to the developing Christian religion in general. This is revealed again in the face-to-face altercation between Paul and Peter.

       Galatians 2:11-16: When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.’

       It’s apparent from this account that Paul had come to understand and act on the New Covenant initiatives in Christ. Peter and other Jewish Christians were still squeamish about separating themselves from Old Covenant regulations. Some leadership of the Jewish Christians were reluctant to behave contrary to the Old Covenant requirements in full view of their fellow Jewish Christians.

       This altercation between Paul and Peter shows the struggle going on within the Jewish Christian community relative to the Old Covenant way of living on the one hand, and the freedom contained in the New Covenant system on the other hand. Paul’s letters to the various Churches reflect the ongoing tension that he constantly had to deal with relative to the two covenantal systems. Jewish Christians were constantly infiltrating the ranks of the Gentile Christians to try and turn them to Mosaic observances. As the Gentile Christian community became more established, it’s apparent that such Jewish infiltration had less and less effect and there is indication that some of the Gentile Christians began to view the Jews as being rejected and ineligible for salvation through Christ.

Gentile reaction:

       A careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome reveals that a certain smugness had developed among some of the Gentile Christians relative to their being granted salvation in Christ. The reason Paul had taken the gospel to the Gentiles was that the Jews had largely rejected Paul’s message. This rejection of Paul may have been in part because he simply didn’t pull any punches in teaching salvation through faith in Christ, devoid of the Mosaic system. As shown above, Peter and the other Jerusalem leadership appear to have taken a much gentler and restrained approach to introducing New Covenant concepts.

       As persecution from the non-Christian Jewish community and pressure from Jewish Christians continued, Gentile Christians began to feel pretty good about themselves. Some appear to have concluded that God had rejected Israel altogether in favor of Gentile salvation. We see the evidence for this in the way Paul feels it necessary to defend Israel and God’s purpose before the Gentile Romans.

       Romans 10:1-4: Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites, is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

       Here we find Paul addressing the Gentile Romans and speaking of how Israel is zealous for God but has failed to understand the Christ event. This lack of understanding keeps Israel locked into trying to establish righteousness through observing the law. Because most of Israel continued to resist the gospel message, it was allowed to go to the Gentiles. This did not, however, mean that Israel was rejected, as some apparently believed.

       Romans 11:1-5: I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah-how he appealed to God against Israel: ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me?’ And what was God's answer to him? ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.

       Romans 11:6-8: And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.’

       Paul made it clear that Israel had not been rejected. He supports this by showing that at that time a remnant of Israel was chosen just as in the days of Elijah. That remnant was the Jewish Christians. These Jewish Christians were in the process of moving from the Old Covenant system of death into the New Covenant system of life. The rest of Israel remained opposed to the transition as the New Testament narrative clearly shows. Jesus had made it clear that salvation is of the Jews. Because of Israel’s rejection, the Gentiles are brought into the salvation meant for Israel. Paul, however, makes it very clear that there will be a coming acceptance on the part of Israel.

       Romans 11:11-15: Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

       Paul tells us that Israel’s lack of acceptance of the gospel message has opened the door for the Gentiles and the entire non-Israelite world to be reconciled to God. Paul also shows that their acceptance will mean life from the dead. This status of life from the dead is viewed as a yet future event to those Paul is addressing. We know that resurrection is the restoration of life to a person who has died. Some believe Paul is here speaking of a "spiritual resurrection" to life and not the restoration to life of a physically/biologically dead body. More on this later.

       In Romans 11, Paul continues to show the Gentiles that the only reason they are being granted salvation is Israel’s rejection of Christ. Paul tells the Gentiles that they totally owe their opportunity for salvation to the promises made to Israel. Without Israel there would be no salvation.

        Romans 11:16-21: If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

       Paul makes it clear to the Gentiles that they have nothing to boast about. They are being granted salvation only because of their spiritual connection to the root of Israel. Paul shows that there are firstfruits from this root that are considered holy. Those firstfruits were the Jewish Christians. The broken branches were the non-Christian Jews who were persecuting the developing Christian Church. Paul goes on to show why this all was happening and what the outcome would be.

       Romans 11:25-32: I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’ As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

       It is clear that the hardening of Israel took place so Gentiles could be accepted. Paul then shows that Christ would come and establish a covenant with Israel that would take away their sins. Take note that this establishment of a covenant is future to those Paul was addressing. The New Covenant was not completely established at the cross or at Pentecost when the Spirit was given. The establishment of the New Covenant was a process that went on for the forty-year period between the ascension of Christ and His return during the war with Rome. It was during this forty-year period that the Gentiles were accepted into Israel’s promises along with a remnant group of Israelites, referred to as the firstfruits. It was in judgment against the gospel-rejecting Jews that Christ came in A.D. 70. It was then that the Old Covenant was finally destroyed and fully replaced with the New Covenant.

       Since Scripture reveals that movement from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is a virtual movement from death to life, some see this as the resurrection from the dead spoken of in Scripture. Death is seen as spiritual death and it is from spiritual death we are resurrected.  Resurrection is viewed as being lifted out of the Old Covenant of death into the New Covenant of life.  Thus, resurrection is seen as a spiritual dynamic through and through. This view has been articulated by those who embrace what is called the corporate body view of resurrection. 

The Corporate Body View of Resurrection (CBV)

        The Corporate Body View view (AKA The Collective Body View) is that resurrection is the restoration of a proper spiritual relationship with God.  Sin is seen as causing spiritual separation from God which is seen as sin death. This death results from a failure to live by the requirements of God's Law as largely defined by the Covenant made with Israel at Sinai. Scripture sees this Covenant as a Covenant of death because Israel was unable to abide by it. The Christ event is seen as facilitating the end of this Old Covenant and the introduction of a New Covenant where the death engendered by the Old Covenant is voided.

       Therefore, to experience resurrection is to move from the Old Covenant of death to the New covenant of Life. Since the Old Covenant was made with Israel, this movement is seen as Israel as a corporate/collective body being raised out of spiritual sin death into a new relationship with God involving the forgiveness of sin and the granting of eternal life. Under this view, resurrection is seen as synonymous with salvation. Gentiles have access to this salvation/resurrection as well but only because of the covenantal transition experienced by Israel. Scripture shows salvation is of the Jews and only through Israel can Gentiles experience salvation/resurrection.  

       Under this view, resurrection is seen as passing from spiritual death unto spiritual life.   While it is acknowledged that we are given a transformed spirit body at physical death, this transformed spirit body is seen as the result of already having received resident eternal spirit life by having spiritual death removed by the Christ event.

       CBV sees the whole focus of resurrection teaching in Scripture as being the elimination of spiritual separation from God. To be saved is to be spiritually reunited with God which is to be resurrected from spiritual death.  Elimination of spiritual death is what the salvation process is all about.  When Jesus and the writers of the NT Scriptures discuss death in relation to salvation and resurrection, it is believed they are addressing spiritual death, not physical death. 

       While our physical death is seen as resulting from sin, our resurrection to life is seen as experiencing a restored spiritual relationship with God which upon physical death engenders eternal life in the transformation from a physical body to a spiritual body.  To be resurrected is to attain spiritual reconciliation with God.  Upon physical death we receive a spiritual body as a consequence of having been spiritually resurrected.

       Is this how resurrection is to be understood in association with the first century Christ event? Is resurrection a spiritual movement from the Old Covenant of death to the New Covenant of life or is it simply the movement from a cessation of life as we know it to a restoration of life, albeit in a new dimension of existence?  Is death seen in Scripture as spiritual separation from God? Is the phrase "spiritual death" even found in Scripture?  

Dying to sin:

       Paul first speaks of resurrection in his letter to the Romans in 1:2 where he speaks of the resurrection of Jesus. His second mention of resurrection is in Romans 6:3-11 where he uses the death and resurrection of Jesus metaphorically to show that just as Jesus died and was raised to a new life, so we also, through baptism, die to sin in that we forsake sin and begin a life of obedience to God.

       Romans 6:3-11: Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

       That Paul is using the death and resurrection of Jesus as a template for showing how in Christ we abandon sinful behavior and embrace righteousness is seen in verses 12 and 13. 

       Romans 6:12-13: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

       Those who embrace CBV see Paul's statements in Romans 6 as indicative of passing from spiritual death unto spiritual life and in so doing being spiritually raised from the dead. However, Paul speaks of not allowing sin to reign in our mortal bodies but to offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life. Is Paul saying that the death reigning in our mortal bodies is a spiritual death or is it physical death due to sin? Do we move from death unto life spiritually or is Paul speaking of moving from physical/biological death of the mortal body to a different dimension of life?      

       The consequence of sin being death is seen throughout Scripture. It all began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit. Scripture shows that the death experienced by Adam and Eve has passed on to all of mankind. What kind of death did Adam and Eve experience as a consequence of having sinned?  Was it physical death, spiritual death or both?  Determining the kind of death Adam and Eve experienced because of sin will tell us the kind of death we experience because of sin and the kind of sin death we can be resurrected from. 

What kind of death does sin produce?

       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.       

       No longer having access to the tree of life resulted in Adam facing certain cessation of life. 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). 

       Did Adam’s sin cause his death?  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. Sin did not cause Adam’s biological death. Man experiences cessation of life as a consequence of being created mortal.  The wages of sin is not mortal death as such. We don’t mortally die because of sin.  We stay dead 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 death.   

       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. 

       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. This was true because Jesus 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. 

       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.  

       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 being resurrected to a new dimension of existence. In John 11, Jesus plainly taught that because He is the the resurrection and the life, even though one dies, one can be resurrected from that death. There is nothing here to suggest Jesus is speaking of spiritually dying and being resurrected from spiritual death. It appears Jesus is speaking of being resurrected from physical/biological death. Death is seen as cessation of life as we know it and resurrection is seen as restoration of life. 

       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 He is the resurrection and the life, there is life beyond the grave. Life beyond physical/biological death is garrenteed. 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. Resurrection is seen as movement from cessation of life to restoration of life.   

       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 understand death in the same way as will be seen as we move to Part Twelve of this series. 

   PART TWELVE