WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN?  PART TWELVE

 

 

 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 disease, sickness, accidents, war, criminal activity and simply old age (a wearing out of the physical body). Such death appears to be the normal and natural consequence of being a physical/biological Being. 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.

       We also see in Scripture that death results from committing sin. Sin is seen in Scripture as lawlessness (1 John 3:4). Therefore, sin is a behavioral/spiritual dynamic. Apostle Paul taught that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). What kind of death does sin produce? Is it physical/biological death or something more devastating?  God told Adam He would die if he ate of the forbidden tree.  What kind of death did Adam die?

       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).

       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?  Adam 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.”      

       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-mūṯ  (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.   

       When Eve was asked by the serpent about eating from the trees in the Garden and Eve told the serpent they couldn't eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or they would die, the serpent said "you will not surly die" (Hebrew mō-wṯ tā-mūṯ) Genesis 3:4. Here we have the same Hebrew construction as found in Genesis 2:17.  The serpent is telling Eve that their death is not certain as God said.            

       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” on that day. Spiritual death is generally defined as separation or alienation from God. This definition is often based on Isaiah 59:2 where the prophet says to Israel "your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear."

       Is the separation from God that Isaiah speaks of "spiritual death"?  Isaiah doesn't call it that and neither does any other Scriptural writer. The phrase "spiritual death" is not found in Scripture nor does any writer of Scripture teach that the penalty of sin is spiritual death. The penalty for sin is seen in Scripture as death of the physical/biological body. It is shown as cessation of physical/biological mortal life. It is from this kind of death we are resurrected because of the Christ event. Scripture does not show us being resurrected from spiritual death.

       While it is evident from Scripture that sin separates/alienates man from God and such separation/alienation is a spiritual experience, nowhere is this defined as spiritual death. Therefore, the concept of spiritual death is a man made construct based on seeing the wages of sin as a spiritual separation from God. Is this the kind of death sin produces and is this the kind of death we are resurrected from?  

       Resurrection from the dead is not seen in Scripture as restoration of a dead spirit. It is seen as movement from a mortal, perishable dead physical/biological body to an immortal nonperishable spirit body.  Resurrection is seen as a transition to a different kind of body, a change in bodily composition. This will be discussed in more detail as we move through this material. 

      In addition to Genesis 2:17, there are 31 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 31 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-mūṯ.), 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 mō-wṯ 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. It was on the day Adam, Eve or both ate of the forbidden tree that death became guaranteed for them. The exact time of their death is not what is being considered or identified here.

       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 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.       

       Since physical/biological death appears to be the natural consequence of being created physical/biological, what kind of death was Adam to experience? What kind of death does sin produce?  It appears evident from Scripture that it is eternal death that sin produces.  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. 

       Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

       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. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, Paul made it clear that man is made from the dust of the earth and therefore has a natural perishable body. He contrasts this natural perishable body with 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 this natural body is a mortal body which means it cannot live forever in this state but is 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 metaphorically 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) spirit 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.

       When Paul speaks of death being swallowed up in victory and swallowed up by life it is death of the perishable, mortal body that he sees as being swallowed up as the context clearly shows.  There is nothing here about so-called spiritual death being swallowed up in victory or being swallowed up by life.  

       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 Abel 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 120 times in the Greek Scriptures.  Greek Lexicons define this word as death of the body. In reviewing the 120 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 eternal 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 (Greek: νεκρῶν [nekrōn]), the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death (thanatos) came through a man, the resurrection of the dead (nekrōn) comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die (Greek: ἀποθνήσκω [apothnéskó]), so in Christ all will be made alive.

       The Greek word translated "dead" in this passage is different from thanatos.  Here the Greek word is νεκρῶν (nekrōn). This word appears in various tenses 130 times in the NT. It is overwhelming seen by context to refer to a dead physical body. Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word as "one that has breathed his last, lifeless, deceased, departed, one whose soul is in Hades and destitute of life, without life, inanimate."  The Greek apothnéskó rendered "die," appears 112 times in the NT and is predominately seen by context to mean death of the physical/biological body. 

       Both nekrōn and apothnéskó are sometimes used to describe someone being dead or dying in a metaphorical sense. Jesus said "let the dead (nekrōn) bury their own dead(nekrōn). (Matthew 8:22b).  In Hebrews 6:1 and 9:14 the writer speaks of repentance from dead works. James speaks of faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Revelation 3:1 speaks of the Sardis church being dead. In Romans 6:22, 6:7 and 6:10, Paul speaks of dying (apothnéskóto) to sin and dying with Christ (6:8). In 1st Corinthians 15:21, Paul speaks of dying (apothnéskóto) daily for the sake of gospel. In Revelation 3:2 the Sardis church is told to  "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die" (apothnéskóto).

       It should be obvious that the words dead, die or dying are being used as metaphor or simile in these passages. A metaphore is a figure of speech where a term is applied to symbolize something that is not literally applicable but is used to suggest a resemblance. A simile is where a figure of speech is used to compare one thing with another thing of a different kind.

        When Jesus said "let the dead bury their own dead," He is using literal physical death to symbolize what it is like to fail to do what is in line with the will of God. He is not saying that literal physical death symbolized literal "spiritual death."The writer to the Hebrews uses literal death as akin to doing works that are contrary to God's will. James uses death to show faith without works is no faith at all.  Paul uses death to symbolize putting sin out of your life and even uses death to symbolize the experience of being persecuted. In no case are these uses of the words for dead or dying identified as  "spiritual death."  Nowhere is resurrection seen as being restored to life from "spiritual death." 

       We don't literally die spiritually and literally resurrect spiritually. We literally die physically and resurrect to having a transformed body that is seen as a spiritual body.  The NT identifies death as cessation of the life of the physical/biological body, not death of a spiritual body or death as a spiritual separation from God.  Again, the phrase "spiritual death" is nowhere seen in Scripture. No Scriptural writer, when using the words dead, death or dying, associates such usage with "spiritual death."  

       While the Scriptures do not speak of "spiritual death," they do speak of being given a spiritual body when life is restored through resurrection. A Spiritual body is what we get after death of the physical/biological body. Paul made this very clear.

       1 Corinthians 15:42-46: 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.

       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. Jesus was resurrected to a spiritual body. That is why Jesus, upon his resurrection, is seen as a life giving spirit. To fall asleep is a Biblical acronym for physically/biologically dying. Others, whom had fallen asleep, had been resurrected to physical/biological life and presumably died again.  Jesus was the first to be resurrected to eternal life, never to die again.        

       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 (nekrōn), and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death (thanatos) and Hades.”  It would appear that the death Jesus experienced and was resurrected from and the death he holds the keys to is simply the cessation of physical/biological 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 (thanatos) through sin, and thus death (thanatos) 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 (thanatos), 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, eternal 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 (thanatos) has been swallowed up in victory."  "Where, O death (thanatos) is your victory? Where, O death (thanatos) is your sting?" The sting of death (thanatos) 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 eternal life abiding in oneself and upon physical death that eternal life is made manifest by transitioning to a life 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 which is to acknowledge our God ordained mortality. He further acknowledges that our mortal death doesn't have to be permanent. We can have life through Him abiding in us.  That we can cross 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 (thanatos) to life.

       What kind of crossing over 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.  While our physical/biological death is a consequence of being created mortal and due to sin our mortal death is eternal, because of the Christ event such eternal death has been abolished and we can have life restored. 

       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 as we will see in Part Thirteen of this series.

PART THIRTEEN