Rev. Kenneth Talbot, Ph.D., Th.D.
Professor of Theology and Apologetics
Whitefield Theological Seminary
Throughout the history of the Christian Church there have been various doctrines rejected as heretical. One of those doctrines dealt with the nature of Adam’s death. The British monk Pelagius (355-435 A.D.) popularized a heretical view by teaching, among so many other skewed doctrines, that Adam’s death was not the result of his transgression in the Garden of Eden. Adam, he maintained, was created according to the natural order of the world. Therefore, being a mortal being, he was dying from the first day of creation. The Council of Carthage declared Pelagius a heretic. Socinus, the Unitarians, and Liberals embraced this Pelagian heresy. But what does the Holy Scripture really teach about original sin and death? We shall exegete the text and then apply proper hermeneutical principles to derive the correct meaning of ‘death.’ Rightly understanding this doctrine is important because an incorrect interpretation has a devastating affect on the Doctrine of Original Sin (properly stated), the Doctrine of the First Adam and the Second Adam, and our understanding of the Covenant and the redemption which follows from a right interpretation of the First Adam and his original sin as the federal head of the human race and the Second Adam as our federal head who redeems us from our death in sin.
THE FIRST DEATH
In Genesis 2:17 we read: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The Hebrew phrase is môt tamût translated “thou shalt surely die.” The term môt is a verb in the infinitive absolute with the Qal stem. The term tamût is a masculine verb in the second person singular imperfect. Both môt and tamût mean ‘to die’. In Hebrew both terms relate to death but not physically in this context. They are two forms derived from a single verbal root meaning “to die”. In Hebrew, when an infinitive absolute verb, such as môt is placed before the finite verb tamût its purpose is to strengthen the verbal action that Adam would “surely die” or “he shall die indeed.” This phrase could also rightfully be translated from the Hebrew, “dying thou shalt die” which comes closer to the translation of the Septuagint. Actually, the Geneva Bible comes very close to the literal translation of the Hebrew, by stating, “thou shalt die the death.” Young’s Literal Translation is even closer to the original, it states: “and of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it — dying thou dost die”; what is important here is that there is an absolute certainty that they will surely die. This is more accurate to the translation given by the Greek Septuagint. What this verse is conveying to us is that there is a ‘certainty of death,’ that is, death is absolute if Adam eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It denotes being under the verdict of the penalty of death. If that was not the case, then the infinitive absolute would come immediately after the verb and not before. When the infinitive absolute follows the verb, it usually communicates continuous or repetitive action. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar states: “The infinitive absolute used before the verb to strengthen the verbal idea, i.e. to emphasize in this way either the certainty (especially in the case of threats) or the forcibleness and completeness of an occurrence.” Therefore, the concept of a delayed penalty in its fullness is the proper rendering, based upon the syntactical construction as I have shown. In the disobedience of eating, they will, upon the day that they eat thereof, be guaranteed death, for themselves and their posterity. This meaning of môt tamût, is therefore properly derived from its grammar and syntax. Hermeneutically speaking, we must proceed to the context which will determine the exact nature of death itself.
The term ‘die’ or ‘death’ has its meaning in the context of creation, and in particular the creation of man. In Genesis 2:7 we read: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The Hebrew conveys the idea of a “living soul.” The term “soul” is the Hebrew word ‘nephesh’ meaning a ‘breathing creature.’ The concept that God is expressing in this text is that man is both a ‘temporal (meaning physical) and spiritual’ being or soul. Life as it relates to man is both physical and spiritual. This concept is expressed by the phrase ‘human nature,’ that is, body and soul. At this juncture, it is important to bring our hermeneutics into play. The death spoken of is in the context of the estate Adam was created. That is to say that the promise of immortality was to continue as long as Adam lived in obedience to the lawful command of God “thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” We often refer to this estate as the ‘estate of innocence’. Thus to understand the meaning of death we must consider what happens to man in light of the ‘life he is living in this first estate of creation’. Adam is in the estate of living immortally, that is without death physically or spiritually, upon the condition of obedience. For in the day of transgression, Adam would no longer be in the estate in which he was created. Rather, man would enter the estate of depravity or death by transgression or sin. We must not forget that the promise of death was to the whole man. The transgression by Adam would be death, from immortality to the estate of death, and destruction of both body and soul. He would move into the estate of depravity which results in physical and spiritual death. The Lord Jesus Christ speaks to this concept in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” In 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 St. Paul writes: “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” It is clear from this context that we understand ‘life’ as meaning the whole man in his created estate prior to sin, both body and soul; then death is contrasted with the term ‘life’ as it existed in his created estate – revealing the nature and meaning of death as it relates to Genesis 2:17. Adam would from his created estate enter the other estate of death and destruction. Further, the Hebrew term môt, as noted earlier, means to “die” or “to lose one’s life.” This is what exactly happened to Adam, he lost his life as it related to his original estate. The term môt is used in Genesis 5:5: “So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.” Death in Genesis 2:17 speaks of Adam as the ‘whole man’ coming to an end of his life in the first estate on earth having been created perfect (or, innocent) without sin. Therefore, we can conclude that ‘death’ is the absence of the ‘immortal life’ because, that which was the ‘breath of life in that first estate’ is what made him a ‘living soul or being.’ This concept is also stated in Psalm 104:29 which states: “You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” It is expressed in Job 34:14-15: “If He should set His heart on it, if He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” In Genesis 2:7 man was called a “living creature” consisting of body and soul. In Verse 17 man (Adam) is told that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would result in death from his first estate (spiritual, and temporal, which was immortal), by saying “dying thou shalt die.” What effect this had upon Adam is explicated by St. Paul in Romans. In Romans 5:12 we read: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” In Romans 6:23 the Apostle writes: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This death was physical and spiritual, falling from the original immortal estate; for man was now under condemnation, corrupt, and in need of redemption from this depraved estate. As Gordon Clark states: “God is righteous and the penalty of any and every sin is death, both temporal and eternal.” Three things resulted from the original sin: (1) Sin brought shame as a result of guilt. This is expressed in Genesis 3:7: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” (2) Sin brought separation from God (which is a spiritual death). We read in Isaiah 59:2 where the Prophet states: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” St. Paul states this same principle in Ephesians 4:18: “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” (3) Sin brought physical suffering, grief, and death (physical death and its process). Why? Because Adam fell from his first estate. In stating that he fell, we could rightly state Adam died from the estate and entered a different estate which affected the whole man. Thus we say correctly “dying he died.” The Apostle states in Romans 8:18-25: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” In James 1:14-15 we are told: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” This temporal and eternal death, both physical and spiritual, is what Adam experienced in the day that he willingly ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The picture of this verdict of death being carried out is seen when Adam was evicted from the garden and thus cut off from the “tree of life.” Confirming this, Geerhardus Vos in his Biblical Theology says, “expulsion from the garden (I.E. God’s presence) is expulsion to death. The root of death is having been sent forth from God.” The “eviction” is physical separation from God, the barring of Adam by the Angel with the flaming sword to keep him from coming to the “tree of life” (which is a sacramental manifestation of life with Christ) and represents the spiritual death. Dr. John Gill states concerning the death that resulted: “…denotes the certainty of it, as our version expresses it; and may have regard to more deaths than one; not only a corporeal one, which in some sense immediately took place, man became at once a mortal creature, who otherwise continuing in a state of innocence, and by eating of the tree of life, he was allowed to do, would have lived an immortal life; of the eating of which tree, by sinning he was debarred, his natural life not now to be continued long, at least not for ever; he was immediately arraigned, tried, and condemned to death, was found guilty of it, and became obnoxious to it, and death at once began to work in him; sin sowed the seeds of it in his body, and a train of miseries, afflictions, and diseases, began to appear, which at length issued in death. Moreover, a spiritual or moral death immediately ensured; he lost his original righteousness, in which he was created; the image of God in him was deformed; the powers and faculties of his soul were corrupted, and he became became dead in sins and trespasses; the consequence of which, had it not been for the interposition of a Surety and Savior, who engaged to make satisfaction to law and justice, must have been eternal death, or an everlasting separation from God, to him and all his posterity”
CONFESSIONAL DECLARATIONS ON ADAM’S DYING
This is the doctrine set forth in the Reformed Confessions (doctrinal formulas based on exegetical and hermeneutical studies). For example, the Westminster Confession states in Chapter Six “Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment Thereof” and Section 1, that: “Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:13; 2 Corinthians 11:3). This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory (Romans 11:2).” Section 2: “By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God (Genesis 3:6-8; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Romans 2:23), and so became dead in sin (Genesis 2:17; Ephesians 2:1), and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-19; Titus 1:15).” Section 3: “They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed (Genesis 1:27-28; Genesis 2:16-17; Acts 17:26; Romans 5:12, 15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45, 49), and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation (Genesis 5:3; Job 14:4; Job 15:14; Psalm 51:5).” Any deviation of this rendering is clearly a non-Reformed errant, if not heretical teaching. Let me indulge you with just noting that this interpretation is clearly the correct interpretation of this Scripture text as to the meaning of death as the leaving the first estate or dying from that created state by the transgression of God’s command and falling to the new state of depravity, sin, destruction and death. The other confessions also note that this transgression was a “death” but not corporal or bodily like in our current state; for that would have been the end of Adam and humanity completely; but rather it was the passing from the state of innocence to the state of depravity; from the temporal immortality (probation) to mortality and condemnation. The Savoy Declaration states in Chapter 6 section 2 that: “By this sin they, and we in them, fell from original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body”. The Scott’s Confession stated the first transgression, being the original sin by Adam in the garden of Eden, where it declares in Chapter 3 Of Original Sin: “By which transgression, commonly called Original Sin, was the image of God utterly defaced in man; and he and his posterity of nature became enemies to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin; insomuch that death everlasting has had, and shall have, power and dominion over all that have not been, are not, or shall not be regenerated from above:” We find in the Belgic Confession Chapter 14 the following statement on Adam’s transgression: “We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after His own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but wilfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life; having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he has lost all his excellent gifts which he had received from God, and retained only small remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not”; where St. John calls men darkness.” The Second Helvetic Confession also relays that same doctrinal position on the death of Adam from his original state of innocence to his second state by transgression the state of death and destruction or depravity of which they wrote: “In the beginning, man was made according to the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, good and upright. But when at the instigation of the serpent and by his own fault he abandoned goodness and righteousness, he became subject to sin, death and various calamities. And what he became by the fall, that is, subject to sin, death and various calamities, so are all those who have descended from him. SIN. By sin we understand that innate corruption of man which has been derived or propagated in us all from our first parents, by which we, immersed in perverse desires and averse to all good, are inclined to all evil. Full of all wickedness, distrust, contempt and hatred of God, we are unable to do or even to think anything good of ourselves. Moreover, even as we grow older, so by wicked thoughts, words and deeds committed against God’s law, we bring forth corrupt fruit worthy of an evil tree (Matt. 12:33 ff.).”
TEXTUAL INTERPRETATIONS ON ADAM’S DYING
John Calvin Writes: “But it is asked, what kind of death God means in this place? It appears to me, that the definition of this death is to be sought from its opposite; we must, I say, remember from what kind of life man fell. He was, in every respect, happy; his life, therefore, had alike respect to his body and his soul, since in his soul a right judgment and a proper government of the affections prevailed, there also life reigned; in his body there was no defect, wherefore he was wholly free from death. His earthly life truly would have been temporal; yet he would have passed into heaven without death, and without injury. Death, therefore, is now a terror to us; first, because there is a kind of annihilation, as it respects the body; then, because the soul feels the curse of God. We must also see what is the cause of death, namely alienation from God. Thence it follows, that under the name of death is comprehended all those miseries in which Adam involved himself by his defection; for as soon as he revolted from God, the fountain of life, he was cast down from his former state, in order that he might perceive the life of man without God to be wretched and lost, and therefore differing nothing from death. Hence the condition of man after his sin is not improperly called both the privation of life, and death. The miseries and evils both of soul and body, with which man is beset so long as he is on earth, are a kind of entrance into death, till death itself entirely absorbs him;”
Because of Calvin’s proper understanding of death threatened in the garden, including Adam’s fall into spiritual death, commenting on Ephesians 2:1, he says “And you who were dead. This is an epexergasia of the former statements, that is, an exposition accompanied by an illustration. To bring home more effectually to the Ephesians the general doctrine of Divine grace, he reminds them of their former condition. This application consists of two parts. “Ye were formerly lost; but now God, by his grace, has rescued you from destruction.” And here we must observe, that, in laboring to give an impressive view of both of these parts, the apostle makes a break in the style by (huperbaton) a transposition. There is some perplexity in the language; but, if we attend carefully to what the apostle says about those two parts, the meaning is clear. As to the first, he says that they were dead; and states, at the same time, the cause of the death — trespasses and sins. He does not mean simply that they were in danger of death; but he declares that it was a real and present death under which they labored. As spiritual death is nothing else than the alienation of the soul from God, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men, until we are made partakers of the life of Christ.”
Again, in this same vein, commenting on Ephesians 4:18 and man’s need for regeneration, Calvin says “Our ordinary life, as men, is nothing more than an empty image of life, not only because it quickly passes, but also because, while we live, our souls, not keeping close to God, are dead.”
J. G. Machen, commenting on the death threatened in Genesis 2:17 saying, “What is the meaning of that death? Well, it includes physical death; there is no question about that. But, alas, it also includes far more than physical death. It includes spiritual death; it includes the death of the soul unto things that are good; it includes the death of the soul unto God. The dreadful penalty of that sin of Adam was that Adam and his descendants became dead in trespasses and sins.”
Geerhardus Vos argues the same saying, “[The punishment], according to Genesis 2:17, in “dying the death”…has to be taken in its broadest sense. One distinguishes temporal/spiritual/eternal death…Death, as spiritual and bodily death, made its entrance immediately after the first transgression of Adam.”
Again, in a sermon preached by Vos, he says, “Scripture gives us an unambiguous answer to the question of what “death” is, and it does so by showing repeatedly in the clearest light what it would have us to understand by “life.”…Scripture makes all life dependent on fellowship with God. Conversely, then, death can be defined as being cut off from the source of life…In spiritual death it is cut off from the fountainhead of its life, the living God, and accordingly, it dies…As soon as Adam ate, that is to say, as soon as he severed the thread of conformity to God’s law and the blessed fellowship with his Creator, in that same moment he died the death…”
Also consider the late R. C. Sproul who also makes the same interpretation: “The Bible declares that man was created not in the state of falseness as we experience it today but in a pristine state of original righteousness, where there was no sin, death, or pain. … Imagine a human being with a mind that is not hampered by the effects of sin, whose reason is not clouded or biased, whose thinking is so precise that he makes only correct inferences from data he observes. With this understanding of our first parents in their created state, we can only be that much more perplexed by their fall from that state of total innocence into the corruption …. Paul writes that through one man’s trespass, death came into the world, and that through his disobedience, all have died (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21–22).”
The noted theologian of Princeton Theological Seminary A. A. Hodge wrote on this issue of Adam’s fall and dying that: “It appears to be God’s general plan, and one eminently wise and righteous, to introduce all the newly-created subjects of moral government into a state of probation for a time, in which he makes their permanent character and destiny depend upon their own action. He creates them holy, yet capable of falling. In this state he subjects them to a moral test for a time. If they stand the test, the reward is that their moral characters are confirmed and rendered infallible, and they are introduced into an inalienable blessedness forever. If they fail, they are judicially excluded from God’s favor and communion forever, and hence morally and eternally dead. This certainly has been his method. … By this sin man must have instantly been cut off from this loving communion of the Divine Spirit. This must have been under any constitution the natural effect of sin. And under that covenant relation into which man had been introduced in the gracious providence of God at his creation, it was specifically provided that the commission of the forbidden act should be followed by instant death; that is, instant penal exclusion from the source of all moral and spiritual life. Therefore … The principle of spiritual life having been withdrawn as the punishment of that first sin, our first parents must have instantly lost their original righteousness; their allegiance They must have at once become dead in sins and wholly corrupt. And this corruption must have extended to all the faculties.”
The noted Reformed confessionalist Robert Shaw in his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith states: “That man is now in a very corrupt and sinful state, universal experience and observation attest. That he was not originally formed in this degraded state might be inferred from the character of his Maker; and the Scriptures explicitly affirm that he was at first created in the image of God— in a state of perfect rectitude. … They “fell from their original righteousness,” and became wholly corrupted in all the faculties of their souls and members of their bodies. The understanding, once a lamp of light, was now overwhelmed in darkness. The will, once faithful for God, and regulated by his will, now became perverse and rebellious. The affections, once pure and regular, now became vitiated and disordered. The body, too, was corrupted, and its members became instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. Our first parents likewise lost the happiness which they had formerly possessed. They were expelled from that pleasant and delightful abode in which God had placed them, the ground was cursed with barrenness for their sake, they were doomed to lead a life of toil and sorrow, and at last to return to the earth from which they were taken. But this was the least part of the misery into which they fell. They lost communion with God, the chief good; they forfeited his favour, and incurred his righteous displeasure. They became dead in sin— obnoxious to that death which is the wages of sin, and which had been threatened as the penalty of their disobedience. “In the day thou eatest thereof,” said God, “thou shalt surely die.” This threatening included temporal death, consisting in the dissolution of the union between the soul and the body, spiritual death, consisting in the loss of the favour and the image of God; and eternal death, consisting in the everlasting separation of both soul and body from God. The very day in which our first parents sinned, the sentence of death, though not immediately executed in its fullest extent, began to lay hold upon them. They became mortal, and were exposed to the disorders of a vitiated constitution; the principle of spiritual life was extinguished in their souls, and they were bound over to eternal wrath;” Shaw further states in his commentary: “But the effects of Adam’s first transgression extend to all his natural posterity; and, according to our Confession, the guilt of this sin is imputed, and a corrupt nature is conveyed, to them. This is what is commonly called Original Sin. Though that phrase is often restricted to the corruption of nature derived to us from Adam, yet, in its proper latitude, it includes also the imputation of guilt. … The apostle affirms, in the most express terms, that death is the effect of sin (Rom. v. 12); and experience as well as Scripture shows that death passes upon all men. It passes even upon those who are incapable of committing actual sin; for “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.”— Rom. v. 14. This is generally understood as referring to infants, who are incapable of sinning personally and actually, as Adam did; and since they have never in their own persons violated any law, their exposure to death can only be accounted for on the ground of the imputation to them of the sin of Adam.”
The late professor of theology Robert Reymond simply states the obvious and plain understanding of Genesis 2:17: “God … entered into covenant with him, promising Adam great blessedness for obedience and imposing the sanction of death for disobedience.”
The noted Baptist theologian and commentator John Gill gives the common meaning of Genesis 2:17 on the death of Adam in eating the forbidden fruit: “…”in dying, die”; which denotes the certainty of it, as our version expresses it; and may have regard to more deaths than one; not only a corporeal one, which in some sense immediately took place, man became at once a mortal creature, who otherwise continuing in a state of innocence, and by eating of the tree of life, he was allowed to do, would have lived an immortal life; of the eating of which tree, by sinning he was debarred, his natural life not now to be continued long, at least not for ever; he was immediately arraigned, tried, and condemned to death, was found guilty of it, and became obnoxious to it, and death at once began to work in him; sin sowed the seeds of it in his body, and a train of miseries, afflictions, and diseases, began to appear, which at length issued in death. Moreover, a spiritual or moral death immediately ensued; he lost his original righteousness, in which he was created; the image of God in him was deformed; the powers and faculties of his soul were corrupted, and he became dead in sins and trespasses; the consequence of which, had it not been for the interposition of a surety and Saviour, who engaged to make satisfaction to law and justice, must have been eternal death, or an everlasting separation from God, to him and all his posterity; for the wages of sin is death, even death eternal, Rom 6:23. So the Jews (a) interpret this of death, both in this world and in the world to come. (Tikkune Zohar, correct. 24. fol. 68. 1. correct. 54. fol. 90. 2. correct. 66. fol. 100. 1.)”
Again R. C. Sproul makes this point by stating: “The original covenant between God and humankind was a covenant of works. In this covenant, God required perfect and total obedience to His rule. He promised eternal life as the blessing of obedience, but threatened mankind kind with death for disobeying God’s law. All human beings from Adam to the present are inescapably members of this covenant. People may refuse to obey or even acknowledge the existence of such a covenant, but they can never escape it. All human beings are in a covenant relationship to God, either as covenant breakers or covenant keepers. The covenant of works is the basis of our need of redemption (because we have violated it) and our hope of redemption (because Christ has fulfilled its terms for us). A single sin is enough to violate the covenant of works and make us debtors who cannot pay our own debt to God. That we, after even a single sin, have any hope of redemption is due to God’s grace and God’s grace alone.”
The Christian theologian and philosopher Gordon H. Clark writes: “Chapter IV had said that man was created righteous; the present chapter adds that our first parents sinned, and “by this sin they fell from their original righteousness, and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.”
Professor A. A.Hodge indicates that this involved three aspects: the mortality of the body, the corruption of the soul and the sentence of eternal death. We have already considered the alienation from God as a spiritual death.”Commenting on the Westminster Confession J. J. Lim writes: “Chapter IV had said that man was created righteous; the present chapter adds that our first parents sinned, and “by this sin they fell from their original righteousness, and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.” …“A corrupt nature is a kind of punishment. Because Adam sinned, God punished him with the corruption of his nature. Now, we are born already corrupt. That is to say, we are born in a state of punishment. But what is this punishment a punishment of? It cannot be a punishment for any of our voluntary transgressions; at birth we are not guilty of any evil action of our own, for we have as yet done nothing at all, either good or evil. Therefore the sin for which we are punished must be Adam’s sin, the guilt of which has been imputed to us.”
Charles Hodge likewise says, “The penalty attached to the covenant is expressed by the comprehensive term death. “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” That this does not refer to the mere dissolution of the body, is plain. (1.) Because the word death, as used in Scripture in reference to the consequences of transgression, includes all penal evil. The wages of sin is death. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. Any and every form of evil, therefore, which is inflicted as the punishment of sin, is comprehended under the word death. (2.) The death threatened was the opposite of the life promised. But the life promised, as we have seen, includes all that is involved in the happy, holy, and immortal existence of the soul and body; and therefore death must include not only all the miseries of this life and the dissolution of the body, but also all that is meant by spiritual and eternal death. (3.) God is the life of the soul. His favour and fellowship with him, are essential to its holiness and happiness. If his favour be forfeited, the inevitable consequences are the death of the soul, i.e., its loss of spiritual life, and unending sinfulness and misery. (4.) The nature of the penalty threatened is learned from its infliction. The consequences of Adam’s sin were the loss of the image and favour of God and all the evils which flowed from that loss. (5.) Finally, the death which was incurred by the sin of our first parents, is that from which we are redeemed by Christ. Christ, however, does not merely deliver the body from the grave, he saves the soul from spiritual and eternal death; and therefore spiritual and eternal death, together with the dissolution of the body and all the miseries of this life, were included in the penalty originally attached to the covenant of works. In the day in which Adam ate the forbidden fruit he did die. The penalty threatened was not a momentary infliction but permanent subjection to all the evils which flow from the righteous displeasure of God.”
Speaking from the opposite side, life, Hodge says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. It is the doctrine of the New Testament, therefore, that the spiritual apprehension and the sincere recognition of the Godhead of the Redeemer constitutes the life of the soul. It is in its own nature eternal life; and the absence or want of this faith and knowledge is spiritual and eternal death. Christ is our life; and therefore he that hath not the Son hath not life.”
Herman Bavinck, commenting on death says, “Scripture teaches that death is not natural but arises from the violation of the divine commandments (Gen. 2:17); from the devil (John 8:44), from sin (James 1:15); and from the judgement of God (Rom. 6:23). In scripture this death is never identical with annihilation, with non-being, but always consists in the destruction of harmony, in being cut off from the various life settings in which a creature has been placed in keeping with one’s nature. By virtue of their creation, humans are linked with nature and the human world, visible and invisible things, heaven and earth, God and angels. The fulness of their life is to stand in the right, that is, in the God-willed relation to the whole of their surroundings. Thus, in its essence and entire scope, death is disturbance, and the breakup of all these relations in which humans stood originally and still ought to stand. Death’s cause, therefore, is and can be none other than sin that disturbs the right relation to God and breaks up life-embracing fellowship with God. In this sense sin not only results in death but also coincides with it; sin is death, death in a spiritual sense. Those who sin, by that token and at the same moment, put themselves in an adversarial relationship toward God, are dead to God and the things of God…”
Having demonstrated that this is the consensus of most of Reformed thinkers in the history of interpreting the meaning of “when Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and having died from his first state in which he was created, that being, without sin and was in a temporal immortality, having died to the state by transgression of the law of God, that is, God’s command, man died. Therefore, in death he fell from his first estate and could no longer experience the blessedness of that condition. Adam, to escape the second death, needed redemption from the curse and condemnation of the original sin of Adam. Further, we must consider the Scripture’s declaration that Satan was the first murderer. We read in John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” Satan was the actual murderer of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in the day of which they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was that day in which they passed, or they died at the tempting of Satan and passed from their state of innocence to the state of depravity. They passed from life to death, to the state that consumes the whole man in death. That is the death that we now face, which we call the second death. I will directly speak to that state of death into which we have been placed. Yes, “Dying ye shall die” was a reality. By one man sin entered by death! In dying Adam plunged himself and all humanity into sin and its eternal consequences, including the second death.
However, let me sum up our understanding then of the nature of death for Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden. In the garden, God issued the prohibition to Adam and Eve by stating: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2: 17). The warning of death, consist of four kinds of death. First is bodily death in that Adam and Eve could no longer use their body to do good as they did before in the first estate nor experience that time of blessedness. Second was historical or temporal death, comprising of the dissolution of the union of body and the soul. Adam and Eve began the process of dying in this sense immediately after they fell. Third was spiritual death; this consisted in the loss of the image of God, actually more theologically correct to refer to it as the corruption of the image of God (as the Westminster divines have stated: true knowledge, righteousness and holiness) and the loss of spiritual union and favor with God. This was experienced in full the moment Adam and Eve fell. Fourth was eternal death, involving endless separation of both man’s body and soul from God. Death was first and foremost the passing away from the first of estate of their creation, which is the estate of innocence; literally falling or “dying” from that immortal state, to the state of depravity or sin and condemnation which without Christ ends in the full consummation of this eternal state of physical death until the resurrection where even those who are without Christ will live eternally in the condemnation of the lake of fire that burns eternally. This we call the second death.
THE SECOND DEATH
Another way to understand the nature of Adam’s death is by contrasting the ‘first death’ with that of the ‘second death’ as given in Scripture. The use of the phrase “second death” occurs four times in The Book of Revelation. In Revelation 2:11 we read: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” Again, we read in Revelation 20:6: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Revelation 20:14: “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Finally in Revelation 21:8: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” The ‘second death’ is representative of the “lake of fire” into which all those who are not found in God’s book of life are placed at the very end of time (linear history) at God’s final judgment. Those who are God’s faithful people are promised that the ‘second death’ has no claim on them. This second death is clearly both physical and spiritual and the cutting off the body and soul from God eternally. This is the same principle expressed by Christ in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” This expression presupposes that the first death leads to a physical death at the end of one’s life. The first death resulting from Adam’s disobedience results in both physical and spiritual death, yet not without the possibility of redemption which is both physical and spiritual. Whereas, the second death represents the wrath of God, where the finality of the estate of the resurrected body and soul of the unbeliever and is separated from God in eternal punishment. This contrast between the first and second death is definitive in our understanding of Adam’s death resulting from original sin for his original estate. The first death ultimately leads to the second death without redemption. However, if the first death and the second death are essentially the same, the second death loses all its meaning. The first must be from his first estate resulting in both physical and spiritual. We can express this concept in the following phrase ‘Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once.’
Let me conclude with this thought. The Scripture does not teach that man was created naturally mortal as espoused by Pelagius, the Socinians, Unitarians, and Liberals. Hermeneutically speaking, there is no ‘positive or general analogy’ referenced in the Bible asserting this doctrine. The doctrine cannot even claim that it is an argument from silence. However, if such a doctrine was taught, the rest of Scripture makes absolutely no sense as it relates to redemption by Christ. No consistent line of reasoning can explicate in a systematic construction the meaning of redemption from all the parts interrelating to the whole of Scripture. There would be no need for a physical death or physical resurrection of Christ for salvation. Salvation would be something other than a substitutionary atonement by Christ. What this would mean is that Christ’s death, would of necessity, be only ‘spiritual.’ The implication is outrageous! It would mean that God died on the cross, if the sacrifice is not physical in nature. How can God, who is eternal, die a temporal death? And if those who maintain such an insidious doctrine want to escape the implications of a ‘spiritual’ death, they can always logically follow the Liberals in their concept that Christ’s death was a model for us to follow as an example of humiliation in order for us to gain acceptance with God. Such a negation of physical death in Adam makes the concept of redemption by a physical Christ irrational at best. Logically, it would not require God to send Christ in the form of man. Such thinking negates the whole concept of redemption in the historic Christian perspective. Such a doctrine is damnable at best.
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