On Biblical Concepts and Terms: Opening Act-Part 1, Death is…

From the earliest pages of Scripture, we are given some basic, fundamental truths that outline necessary aspects of the believer’s faith. The first verse of the Bible gives unequivocal evidence in the sense of an axiomatic truth: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1).[1] God is the ontological beginning of all things. This includes not only seen things, but unseen; for who sees all that is in the earth or in the heavens? Then we have a grouping of verses found speaking about the sixth day of creation that mankind was specially created to image God, to bear His likeness on the earth. This truth was then expected to be brought to bear in the governance (dominion) over the earth and all that which is contained therein (Gen 1.26-28). The third thing we are taught in Scripture is that all of creation was “very good” (Gen 1.31).

God and Man…

So, in the beginning of the Bible we are given what God did in the beginning, and we begin to catch a glimpse of who He is.[2] He is the Creator that makes good things. We see that out of all the things created (those mentioned in the six days of creation, and those not mentioned—i.e., angelic host) Mankind (defined as male and female) is given the highest position over all created things upon the earth. God honored man. God provided all of His needs. God gave mankind dominion and made him/her a steward of this very good creation.

Based on such teaching, the Psalmist as he spoke under inspiration of the Holy Spirit claimed with wonder,

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psa 8.4-6; 144.3; Heb 2.6).

However, as later biblical truth reveals we find that mankind will not only have a position over this created earth, but will sit in judgment even over angels (cf. 1Cor 6.3). A sampling of which is seen during Jesus’ ministry when he sends out the 72[3] disciples to preach the good-news of the kingdom. Upon returning, the disciples rejoiced that “…even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10.17; cf. Matt 28.18).

That being said, there is something that Jesus claims is of greater importance than the special privilege given to them as His creatures; it is the relationship that they share with their Maker:

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 18b-20).

A teaching moment…

A couple of years back I gave a test to my adult Bible study class. The test took several words and/or concepts discussed in Scripture and then gave the students three choices that they were to label them by. The options were “good,” “evil,” or “both.” What the students didn’t know was that every term chosen (25 in all) ought to have been answered with “both.”

The exercise was given to demonstrate that words or biblical concepts will change meaning depending on the way they are used in a given context. The Bible uses the same words in different senses and from different points of view, and it is our job as students of Scripture to ascertain their intended meaning. Here are a few examples, “wolf,” “serpent,” “yeast,” “Day of the Lord,” and “death.”[4]

As we began to discuss the results in the class, one older lady was adamant that I was wrong on a few word choices. One of which will be the discussion for proceeding posts. The term she argued over was “death.”

She said that death was a good thing since Christ died on our behalf. I attempted to explain to her that she was right (Rom 5.6, 8; Col 3.3-4), but there was another sense in which death is called an enemy (1Cor 15.26; cf. Gen 2.17), and so it is evil. In fact, the death of Christ came as a result of the death that Adam ushered into creation (Rom 5.12, 17).  Rather than conceding my point and changing her answer to “both” she stuck to her guns and continued to argue. Eventually, I politely told her she was wrong, recommended that she read further, and suggested that we agree to disagree.

What the Bible says about…

The Bible has a lot to say about death, and it does not always talk about death in the same way. Sometimes death is viewed as a good thing (Christ dying for us, we in turn dying for Him via bearing our cross daily), but at others times it is viewed as a bad thing (corruption, wages of sin). The Bible also speaks of death in differing senses. Sometimes death is spoke of as punishment, other times separations, and other times still cessation of life.

A couple of posts back (read here) I shared the different ways in which we used the word “day” in English. The Hebrew word yom has similar senses. Sometimes it means an age (period of time; e.g., generation), sometimes it means daylight hours (daytime vs. nighttime), and other times it means a regular approx., 24-hour period of time. How one discerns what way the word is used will always be derived from the context.

But what of words that are not found in the biblical text? There are concepts that are taught in the Bible, but the term associated with them are not found there. For instance, the hypostatic union which speaks of Christ’s human and divine nature joined through the process of incarnation (i.e., “the Word became flesh,” [John 1.14]).  Theonomy means God’s Law, but the term itself is not found there. Trinity would be another example, where the divine persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit are revealed as united in one Being—God. To each of these we might point to various texts that provide a cogent argument for their status as biblical ideas and key theological concepts. Which brings me to another important one “spiritual death.”

On Spiritual Death…

Does the Bible teach spiritual death? Some say no. They offer that the only type of death taught in Scripture is cessation of life (i.e., physical death) carried out through either natural means (age, disease) or punishment/retribution. Ironically, they point to the very same passage that those who hold to the concept of spiritual death as biblical and true do as proof positive that spiritual death is an alien topic imported into Holy Scripture.

Are the cessation’s, right? Have those that maintain spiritual death overstepped in order to hold to a treasured theological system? Or is it possible that a naturalistic tradition has been smuggled in by those that oppose the concept of spiritual death due to the theological questions it raises about the condition of mankind in general?

In order to begin this subject, I want to look at three key verses in the 2nd chapter of Genesis. I have no intention in laying out my total argument here, but merely plan on starting the discussion by leaving some cud for the reader to chew upon.

We already know that God created all things, and as a consequent all things were “very good” before Him. Nothing He made was evil (i.e., bad). In particular, this was true of mankind, the Lord God’s chief creation. Specifically, we find the intrinsic value of mankind in that he/she alone was made to bear the image of God, to be His representative and steward. For reasons known only to God, mankind was given special status that not even angels are privy to (cf. Heb 2.16).

So, at this point I pose the following question: What is the relationship between God and Man in the beginning?

Genesis 2 offers a Close-Up View of Day Six

Having formed the man from the dust and breathing into him the breath of life (Gen 2.7),

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and to keep it” (Gen 2.15).

With all the implications that this verse entails in light of further biblical revelation the only thing I would like to stress at this point is that God created man for His purpose and not for man’s. What was told to us in Gen 1:26-28 is being reinforced here with God’s activity in this verse. God determines what the man shall do and what he shall not. God decides what is right behavior (thoughts/actions) versus what is wrong. If this is not yet apparent to the reader the next set of verses certainly draws this truth out.

“The Lord commanded the man, saying ‘From any tree in the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.16-17; NASB).

There are three integral parts to the content of these verses:

  1. What you can do as MY creature—God gives freedom/liberty of action
  2. What you cannot do as MY creature—God limits the freedom/liberty of action (i.e., provides a necessary parameter).
  3. The consequence for not obeying—God presents two alternatives for the action taken.

Again, without going any further into the biblical narrative or drawing from the wellspring of further revelation we still need to answer this question: What is the relationship between God and Man? Right here, right now…what is their relational status? Until you are able to identify that, you are not ready to progress any further.


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] I would argue that the entire emphasis of Scripture is primarily upon God and secondarily about man. Even when mankind is spoken of it is always in relation to God.

[3] Some manuscripts have 70 as the total number. But due to traditional biases that may have led to the acceptance of this number by scribes, the number 72 which is found in other mss is the more difficult to reckon being manipulated and so is chosen by a number of translators as probably closer to the original. Such textual variants though do nothing to hinder the actual teaching of the text, but show how human error in copying handwritten works.

[4] Wolf or wolves in the Bible are depicted in two ways the good of God’s creation that will one day be redeemed, and the bad/evil false prophets, teachers, etc., which attack the the sheep of God: Isaiah 11.6; 65.25; Jeremiah 5.6; John 10.12; Matthew 7.15; Acts 20.29. The Serpent is a symbol of both the good and the evil. The serpent in the garden deceived the woman and she ate what was forbidden, the power behind him was Satan; and yet, Jesus tells his disciples that we are to be wise like serpents: Genesis 3.1-6; 2 Corinthians 11.3; Revelation 12.9; Matthew 10.16. Leaven (also known as yeast) was used in Scripture to symbolize what was both good and bad. Leaven was a symbol of sin, and yet leaven was a sign of the Kingdom of Christ, and the goodness of God’s creation used in the form of a sacrifice: Exodus 12.15, 19; 13.7; Leviticus 2.11; Mark 8.15; 1Corinthians 5.6-8; Matthew 13.33; Luke 13.21; Leviticus 23.17.  Day of the Lord is seen as both a bad day and a good day depending on what side of God’s judgment you are on: Acts 2.20; 1Thessalonians 5.2, 4.; Isa 13.6, 9; 28.5.

<a href="http://Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay“>Image by Gerd Altmann