Posted in Beliefs

Thoughts on Biblical Death: Part 3

A couple of weeks ago I began discussing the varying ways in which the Bible goes about defining death. This particular study was brought about by some interaction that I shared with a fellow blogger over the teaching about Conditionalism/Annihilationism. Unfamiliar with that topic to some extent I began doing some digging. I ordered various books from our public library (I have a limited budget for book purchases and this is a nice way of circumventing unnecessary spending).

I also used my privileges as an enrolled student awaiting this spring’s graduation to download various scholarly works on the subject. Some of the books that I’d ordered from the library have been read and I’ve began taking notes. Unfortunately, events beyond my control stifled my studying habits a bit. Other priorities have overtaken my normal reading and writing, but this week has provided me a bit of a reprieve.

The other articles related to this are HERE, and HERE. In them I take some time revealing my thoughts so far on the issue of death as described in the Bible. This post will address the third point on my outline under the heading, Death: Result (wages) of Sin. If you have not read my thoughts on biblical death, and you have not clicked on the links above, then the outline is provided under the Appendix heading below. Scroll down and check it out.

The Set Up…

The late Edward Fudge, a proponent of the Conditionalist/Annihilationist position seems to look at death in Scripture in only one sense—the cessation of life; non-existence. Fudge finds support for his views in the divine punishments delved out in the Old Testament. He sees God’s retributive action against groups (the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah) for violating God’s law as descriptive to what happens to all in eternity. He is convinced that

“As we become familiar with these Old Testament symbols of judgment, we will be better able to understand the meaning of the same language in New Testament texts. And we will escape the easy temptation to explain biblical expressions in ways that have no basis in Scripture. More important, we can avoid interpreting biblical images in ways that contradict their ordinary usages throughout the Bible.”[1]

One of the things that I noticed as I was reading through his thoughts on biblical death is that he makes a huge category error in linking temporal divine judgments in the OT, with eternal divine judgment in the NT.[2] The one speaks of God’s wrath in a finite sense, the other in an infinite sense. At best what these passages show us, and I believe that this is the intended purpose of the Holy Spirit and the authors under His stead, is that God takes very seriously His Law-Word. To violate it on one point is worthy of death, for in so doing you are guilty of breaking it all (James 2.10).

The Final Type of Death Pertaining to Adam’s Sin (NT)

Why is Hell spoken about by Jesus more than any other? In the past I have mentioned that God’s speaks progressively in the Bible. Which means that God’s revelation has a beginning and an end. In the beginning we learn a little about God, a little about man, a little about the creation as a whole. However, as we progress through history God teaches us a little more. He fills in details where necessary and leaves others blank on purpose. But the one thing that He does do is hash out the details regarding several important things. How does He do this? Through Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 1.1-3). The final unveiling of the Lord Jesus is found in the book of Revelation (cf. 1:11-20; 22.6-21).

Fudge acknowledges that what Jesus says is of paramount importance. He writes,

“If we accept Jesus’ authority, we must believe that Hell is real and that it will be the ultimate fate of the lost. Indeed, Jesus tells us more about the final end of sinners than any other speaker in the New Testament. But is it possible that we have read into Jesus’ word meanings that we merely assumed to be correct about the nature of that fate?”[3]

On the first part of Fudge’s comments we find agreement. Hell is real. It is not just a verdict—the fate of the lost—but a place of unrest. Jesus being incarnate deity has absolute authority as He is before all things, rules over all things, made all things, and upholds all things (Col 1.16-17). Therefore, as Paul rightly tells the Colossians, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1.15).[4] In other words, Jesus has absolute authority over all things.

Christ’s Authority…

This was demonstrated through His teaching (Matt 7.29). This was demonstrated through His actions (Luke 4.36). He even had authority over mankind’s sinful state of being:

“Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home’” (Luke 5.20-24).

This authority he also delegated to His apostles and His disciples (Luke 10.19; Matt 28.18-20)[5], who bore His name to all nations, in whose documents we now possess in the New Testament writings.

Since Jesus is over all things what did He have to say regarding death? Simply put to remain in our sins is a guarantee to die in them:

  • “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8.24).

Descriptions of this Death…

Jesus offers His hearers a variety of ways that this death shall be known. He calls this death “outer darkness” (Matt 8.12; 22.13; 25.30), an image repeated by His apostles (2Pet 2.4, 17; Jude 13). He referred to death as a “fiery furnace” (Matt 13.42, 50), “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9.43-49), which is later identified as the “lake of fire” (Rev 19.20; 20.10, 14-15; 21.8). An abode of torment and suffering where “weeping and gnashing teeth” are common expressions used by the Lord to describe this fate (Matt 8.12; 13.42, 50; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30; Luke 13.28). That the idea being conveyed in the New Testament is conscious suffering seems unavoidable when “weeping and gnashing teeth” is preceded by “In that place there will be…” which speaks of a continued state of being, not a temporary situation.

What these Images are Meant to Convey…

Wooden literalism is when you take a word, a concept, a theme, or a symbol used in Scripture and try to build a chair out of it. Some take the words of Scripture and turn them on their head interpreting and applying them in ways that go well beyond what the biblical author intended. We see this during Jesus’ preaching/teaching ministry. He says “you have heard it said, but I say…” as a way of offering a corrective. He uses this to correct the people’s viewpoint on how they are to treat enemies, how they are to respond to slander, when divorce is allowed, what constitutes murder or adultery, etc. (see Matt 5.21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43).

People struggle with David’s words in this imprecatory Psalm:

  • “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them as my enemies” (Psa 139.21-22).

They wonder how this bodes with the “All-consuming Loving God” of the NT? Another speaks of dashing the infants of rebels against the rock (Psa 137.9; see Isa 13.6; Hos 10.14; 13.6). How does this comport with Jesus of Nazareth? He who said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5.44; HCSB).

Understanding the imagery (i.e., the language) enables you to see that hating one’s enemy in sight of God, in the sense of seeking righteous judgment against those who do evil and do not repent, is a good thing. At the same time, it is a good thing for the children of God to act in a manner that reflects love towards even those who vilify, persecute and seek to take our lives. Loving our neighbor means treating them with respect and kindness in terms of God’s Law-Word (not stealing, not coveting, not murdering, etc.), but this does not mean we are required to sit around a camp fire singing songs and holding hands.

To Reject God your Maker, to treat His Law-Word lightly earns you the eternal condemnation you will receive. Refusing to acknowledge God in this life, refusing to confess Christ as Lord, such individuals are handed “over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1.28b-32; NASB; italics mine).

The Final Judgment…

What sort of death are they worthy of? Jesus gives us an answer before His crucifixion, the content of which we can compare after His re-glorification (cf. John 17.5; Rev 21.5-8; compare with Rev 4-5; 22.12-13). To His hearers Jesus explains the following:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. ‘Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… ‘Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels [cf. Rev. 20.11-15]…These [the goats] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] into eternal life’” (Matt 25.31-34, 41, 46).

There are other passages we could turn to, but I think Jesus’ words here suffice.

Summing Up…

In the NT Jesus describes the final fate of the sinner who dies in their sin. Unlike the divine judgments in the OT which were temporal, the death the Lord defines is eternal. This raises in my mind some very interesting questions regarding the Conditionalist/Annihilationist position, but I’ll address them at some other point in the future. For now, what we ought to see is that the Bible defines death in a variety of ways, the assumption that “death” is only a one size fits all is a false one. What Jesus and other NT writers describe as the final fate of the reprobate is meant to trouble the mind. These frightful images serve as a warning and a witness. We don’t take His meaning with a wooden literalism, but neither do we slight the warning by minimizing the effect that He (God in the Flesh) intends to portray.

There is one more point on the outline that I would like to discuss in the days ahead. Until then, I bid you adieu….


APPENDIX

Outline

I. Death: Result (wages) of Sin

  1. In Adam we all die. As his offspring we all inherit death as a consequent sentence of his disobedience in the garden. In Adam we become sinners, and as a result we die physically due to our separation from God. We are born unclean, unholy, unrighteous enemies of God; children of wrath.
  2. We are all sinners, but that does not mean all our sins are crimes. Some sins are criminal in nature and result in the swift judgment of God in terms of a death sentence. I have identified three subsets under this category in studying the Old Testament (Tanakh; hereafter OT).

i. Major—Group Death Sentence.

ii. Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence

iii.   Cut-off—A death sentence in a metaphoric sense.

3. We are all sinners and this, if not repented of, results in everlasting condemnation. This is found in the New Testament (hereafter; NT) more than any other part of the Bible.

**Summation of the parts: All of us die physically as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Some of us may die in this life, having our lives cut short, if our sins are worthy of a punishment of death by violating God’s law. Some of us may experience death figuratively speaking, in the sense of being cut-off, but this is not necessarily a permanent state. Some of us will experience eternal punishment for rebelling against our Maker, having died in our sins. For such, there is no repentance of sins possible.

II. Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness

  1. In Christ we all die . However, what we die to is different than the death we were born into. We are born “dead in trespasses and sins,” but when we die in Christ, we are reborn “dead to trespasses and sins.” In Christ, we die so that righteousness may abound. In this way, He makes all things new, and we are new in that we are creations in/through Him. For these the power of death has been broken, and it is robbed from the victory that the evil one desired.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 29.

[2] Later on, I found out that my own observations were similar to those of Robert A. Peterson. He writes,

“It is crucial to the debate to consider what aspect of God’s punishment is in view. The great majority of the Old Testament passages that Fudge cites in support of Conditionalism do not speak of the final fate of the wicked at all. Instead, they speak of God visiting the wicked with premature death. At first glance Fudge’s list of ‘destruction’ passages from the Old Testament seems impressive. On closer inspection, however, few of the passages he cites are relevant to the debate.” Ibid., 91.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Protokos (Firstborn) is in interesting term. It can either refer to the order of being (Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham) or it can refer to preeminence (Isaac was the firstborn son of Abraham, the son of promise, as was Jacob over Esau). Used in a similar fashion in the Old Testament to identify David as supreme over all other earthly kings (cf. Psa 89.19-29). The context of Colossians 1:15-18 demands that preeminence—i.e., supreme authority—is the correct definition of the term.

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

[5] For the interested reader this delegated authority was a reinstatement of the Dominion mandate originally given to Adam and Eve in the beginning, but perverted by sin. Christ led people, Holy Spirit filled people, are now equipped to live faithful lives under God to glorify Him having put to death sin. This will be discussed in a future post.

Posted in Biblical Questions

Thoughts on Biblical Death: Part 2

OUTLINE

I. Death: Result (wages) of Sin

1. In Adam we all die. As his offspring we all inherit death as a consequent sentence of his disobedience in the garden. In Adam we become sinners, and as a result we die physically due to our separation from God. We are born unclean, unholy, unrighteous enemies of God; children of wrath.

2. We are all sinners, but that does not mean all our sins are crimes. Some sins are criminal in nature and result in the swift judgment of God in terms of a death sentence. I have identified three subsets under this category in studying the Old Testament (Tanakh; hereafter OT).

      • Major—Group Death Sentence.
      • Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence
      • Cut-off—A death sentence in a metaphoric sense.

3. We are all sinners and this, if not repented of, results in everlasting condemnation. This is found in the New Testament (hereafter; NT) more than any other part of the Bible.

**Summation of the parts: All of us die physically as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Some of us may die in this life, having our lives cut short, if our sins are worthy of a punishment of death by violating God’s law. Some of us may experience death figuratively speaking, in the sense of being cut-off, but this is not necessarily a permanent state. Some of us will experience eternal punishment for rebelling against our Maker, having died in our sins. For such, there is no repentance of sins possible.

II. Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness

1. In Christ we all die . However, what we die to is different than the death we were born into. We are born “dead in trespasses and sins,” but when we die in Christ, we are reborn “dead to trespasses and sins.” In Christ, we die so that righteousness may abound. In this way, He makes all things new, and we are new in that we are creations in/through Him. For these the power of death has been broken, and it is robbed from the victory that the evil one desired.

The Types of Death We Witness after the Fall (OT)

As was noted in the outline provided above (Part 1, point 2) there are three subsets of physical death that are directly/indirectly a result of Adam’s rebellion as seen in the OT. The first two we shall look at are sentences of death carried out by the Lord God and his representatives (civil magistrates). These result as a violation of His holy law. I have classified them as major and minor cases. These sections nor the footnoted texts in support of them are not meant to be exhaustive. They are given, however, to encourage the reader to knock some dust off their Bible’s if they’ve laid around for far too long. Or, if that’s not the case, maybe you need to get past some of your pet verses that you’ve spent the majority of your time stroking.

Death as Judgment… (Major Cases)

Many of the deaths that we witness in the OT are related specifically to judgments delved out by the Lord. The catastrophic Flood of Noah’s day is one example.[1] Another is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.[2] We have the plagues poured out on Egypt culminating in the death of the firstborn who failed to heed the Lord’s destruction.[3] When that wasn’t enough God destroyed Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea.[4] The rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram is one example of many where God judges a multitude for their sin.[5] The Israeli vs. Canaanite conquests where Moses and Joshua led many battle campaigns against the foes of the Lord.[6] The destruction of the Northern Kingdom Israel by the Assyrians,[7] the devastation wrought against Jerusalem and Southern Kingdom of Judah by Babylon[8] give ample proof of God’s retributive action.

Time and time again we witness war being waged by the Lord against sinful men. The reason they died is because they had broken God’s law and it was a just punishment for their sin.[9] Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it. The law is a nonnegotiable standard.  Law breakers are still guilty if they violate the law without detailed knowledge.[10] Each of these types of death were exercises of penal punishment—i.e., the death penalty being enacted.

Death as Judgment… (Minor Cases)

In this short space, I’ve spoken primarily about the major penal executions carried out in the OT, but there are more deaths that fall under this category. God established as the 6th commandment “Thou shall not kill [murder]…” (Exod 20.13), some mistakenly apply this to all manners of killing. However, there are some sins that are worthy of death (1John 5.16-17). Take for example the death of Lot’s wife.[11]

These would fall under the criminal statutes laid out in the case laws of the OT. Here are a few criminal offenses that receive the highest form of punishment, the death penalty: Adultery[12], Man-stealing (i.e., forced slavery/chattel slavery)[13], rape[14], attacking one’s parents (not little children but adults)[15], blasphemy[16] (includes lying under oath against one’s neighbor,[17] if the perjury would have granted the accused a death sentence), various manners of sexual exploits (incest[18], bestiality[19], sodomy[20] (which would cover the entirety of the LGBTQ? today), sacrificing of children[21] (i.e., abortion, infanticide, or child sacrifice), false worship (like Aaron’s sons),[22] and false teaching.[23]

Though the penalty for such sins—sins of a criminal nature and not merely private—was death, this does not mean that lesser punishments could not be delved out by the elders at the gate.[24] Moreover, it was not a simple matter to enact this strictest form of punishment. In order to get the death penalty, the civil system had to prove their case on the testimony of two-to-three (solid) witness.[25] They did not merely take the word of such individuals, but were required before God to inspect the crime fully. The accused were assumed innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around (or why else look for perjuring witnesses?).

Death Metaphorically Speaking…(Cut-off)

Death is spoken of, or referred to, in a number of circumstances in the OT that do not pertain to physical death. For example, you have the concept of being “cut-off” from the assembly of Israel due to uncleanliness. This can be seen in a variety of instances. We will briefly look at three.

Leprosy is spoken of in Leviticus 13-14. Those found with that contagion are cut-off from the congregation of Israel, unless or until a priest declares them clean (i.e., having been cured of the disease). This served as a living example of sin. Not that the leper necessarily committed a sin to contract the illness, but just as sin kept one from the sacraments and worship (i.e., access to God) so too does sin break the bond of fellowship with one’s creator. Though living, the leper was in a sense as good as dead. They were cut-off from their friends, their family, their jobs, and various rituals of worship given to God’s elected people.

I would recommend that the reader become familiar with the purpose behind circumcision[26] (the cutting off of that flesh demonstrated a transition from life and death, unclean to clean, apart from God to be a part with God). I would also point to what divorce actually entails in both OT and in the NT. To be divorced is a death of the relationship.[27] The innocent part therein was allowed by the Lord to remarry, but the guilty party was restricted (though many still did it). To break the bonds of the marriage covenant (i.e., adultery) earned the guilty with two or more witnesses a death sentence.

Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with the OT and the relationship of God’s law with His people (as further defined in the case laws) do more harm than good when they attempt to teach on these matters (cf. 1Tim 1.6-8).[28]

Forthcoming…

Next, we will look at the final type of death taught as a consequence of Adam’s sin as cited in the NT. In that post we shall look at the final state of those who die in their sin. 


ENDNOTES:

[1] Read Gen 6-9.

[2] Read Gen 18-19

[3] Read Exod 1-13

[4] Read Exod 14-15

[5] Read Numb 16

[6] Exod-Numb, Joshua-Judges-1Sam. These books provide the information you are looking for.

[7] E.g., Isa 10; Hosea 5-10

[8] See Jer 20.4; 29.21; 39.6-7; Ezek 12.13-16; Dan 1-4. Again, none of these references are meant to be exhaustive. They are merely pointers to get you started in your study. When reading prophetic books, pay attention to the timing of the prophecy given. This is usually in the opening sentences of the book in question. This provides historical context. Next look at the books of Kings and Chronicles for the kings of the period mentioned. In the prophetic books the name Israel sometimes refers to the whole nation as if it were united since their calling out of Egypt as sons/daughters of Jacob, but at other times this refers primarily to the Northern Kingdom (also called Ephraim) that split after the kingship of Solomon.

Check your assumptions at the door. Be aware of your traditions that might lead you falsely. Sometimes it is argued that these prophetic utterances only speak of the end of all things, but be aware that the vast majority of those prophecies were given as an indictment (a legal case) against the people, kings and prophets/priests of that day not our day or some future date. Also note that symbolic language has a literal meaning, but only when the symbol is correctly understood from what has been spoken of prior. Which means you cannot read your understanding of symbols today—in our generation—back into the period of the prophets. This is a bad hermeneutic (way of drawing a meaning from the exegeted text) to practice on any part of Scripture, let alone biblical prophecy.

[9] See Lev 18.24-25; Lev 20.22-23; Deut 12.32; 18.12. What these passages prove is that God judges a nation for breaking His holy law regardless of the knowledge they have. It is true that there are variances in “eternal condemnation” for violators of God’s edicts, but the physical penalty is death. And this was carried out on all nations at different times. Cherry picking texts or glazing over them due to traditional blinders is not an excuse for not knowing these things if you are a teacher of the Word of God. Understanding them in light of today’s context requires wisdom, but we must not do as some have done in ethical matters and dismiss God’s holy law as no longer applicable.

[10] The late Greg L. Bahnsen explains as much in his ethical work “By This Standard.” On this particular subject he writes, “Only Israel was given a written revelation of these laws, to be sure. All will grant that. But that fact alone does not imply that only Israel was bound to obey the moral standards expressed in such written revelation. After all,” Bahnsen continues, “though Paul, God wrote to the Ephesian and Colossian churches that children should obey their parents (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20), and nobody seriously takes that fact to imply that only children of Christian parents are under moral obligation to obey their parents. Therefore, the fact that only Israel was given a special revelation of certain political laws would not imply that only Israel was bound to keep such laws” (see also Rom 1.30-32; 2.12-15). Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1985], 1998), 234, PDF e-book.

For the reader that may still have difficulty with this idea of being held accountable where a law might not be known, I would merely refer them to our current traffic law system. To speed is a violation regardless of whether or not the driver is aware of the speed limit placed on a particular area (say a suburb). Though leniency might be shown, the guilty will still be held accountable by the law. The Judge reserves the right to make determinations that he finds equitable given the nature of the case (cf. Gen 18.25).

[11] See Gen 19:17, 26; Luke 17:32; compare with Acts 5:3-5, 8-10.

[12] Lev 20:10.

[13] Exod 21:16.

[14] Deut 22:25-26.

[15] Exod 21:15, 17.

[16] Lev 24:16.

[17] Deut 19.18-20.

[18] Lev 18:6,

[19] Lev 18.7-19, 20:11-12, 17-21.

[20] Lev 20:13.

[21] Lev 20:1-5; Exod 21:22-25.

[22] Lev 10:1-3. Some may wonder why some of these “sins” were labeled criminal offenses worthy of death. No doubt people today have a negative reaction toward such realities. But these crimes were seen as an attack on God first and foremost, and then also the spheres of governance that He had established. The most important of which was the family unit, a close second was society as a whole, and the final consideration was civil authorities. God gave His reasoning for enacting such penalties when necessary, “To purge evil from your midst” (Deut 13.5; 17.7, 12; 21.21; 22.22, 24; 24.7).

Bahnsen writes, “Not only are such penal sanctions necessary in society, they must also be equitable. The measure of punishment according to the just Judge of all the ear is to be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life—no less, but no more (for example, Ex. 21:23-25; Deut. 19:21). The punishment must be commensurate with the crime, for it is to express retribution against the offender.” Idem., 273.

[23] Deut 13:1-5.

[24] Here James B. Jordan offers some helpful insight into the matter of the maximum penalty of the law. Speaking specifically on the subject of adultery, Jordan points to Mary and Joseph in the gospels. In “…a case of adultery…both would be put to death, unless it were a case of rape [ref. to Deut 22.25-27]. There seems to be some latitude here, however, since we read in Matt 1:19 that ‘Joseph, being a just man…was minded to put her [Mary] away privately.’ Here again we see a circumstantial application of the unchanging law of God; Joseph apparently regarded Mary as basically a good woman, who must have fallen into sin on one occasion, and os he determined that death was too severe a punishment for her. That this was perfectly just, the text itself tells us. This proves, by the way, that the death penalty is not mandatory in all cases where it is prescribed by law. It is the maximum penalty.” James b. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 148-149, PDF e-book.

It should be noted that while I agree with Jordan’s conclusion that the maximum penalty of the law—death—was in fact the maximum penalty, but was not necessary to be enforced in every case, but should be judicially decided on a case-by-case basis. I think that Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy should also be viewed in light of missing evidence. The death penalty needed two-to-three witness in order to establish it (Deut 17.6). Whether or not Mary being pregnant and Joseph claiming that he was not the man was sufficient to seek her death (if that had been what he desired) I do not know. Surely, in this Joseph was driven by love to be merciful to the woman he was about to take as a wife and in this case, he reflects one “slow to anger” a communicable attribute of God.

[25] This does not limit this to “person-to-person” interaction. It had to be specific lines of evidence that served as a witness to verify that the crime had actually been committed. Circumstantial evidence in those cases were not sufficient lines of evidence to carry out a death sentence. This would interject reasonable doubt, which would nullify the grounds for executing the alleged criminal. “What if the person was guilty, though?” one might inquire. The biblical notion of justice is seen as finally resting in God’s hands. If the alleged perpetrator is in fact guilty, but the court system is unable to prove it, then that individual has the fearful reality of facing his/her Maker on judgment day.

[26] Gen 17:10-14; Deut 10:16; 30:6; compare with Col 2:11.

[27] “…if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him…But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved” (1Cor 7.12-13, 15; ESV, italics mine).  Here Paul is saying that the innocent party (the one not wanting a divorce) is not enslaved (bound) to remain married to the unbelieving person who has abandoned them. Bound by what? Enslaved under what? To what binds the two covenantal members of marriage? In what way are they being torn asunder? The answer lies in understanding what is previously known about marriage. I will be brief though since this is a footnote and not an article in and of itself. In Romans 7:1-3 Paul uses marriage as an analogy of how our union with Christ frees us from our former slavery to sin. The spouse is free from the bonds of marriage when the other spouse dies. The law no longer binds them. In the same way, the innocent party in a divorce is freed from being bound to the law of God since their spouse is considered dead (metaphorically), which is how Paul could tell the Corinthians that they need not worry if they desired to remain married but their spouse did not. In such an instance, that sort of covenantal violation freed the innocent party from guilt; though their spouse was counted as dead (again, metaphorically speaking).

[28] I am by no means claiming “teaching par excellence” in this, for I readily admit that I am still a student on such matters. But having studied them for some time I am confident in what I have thus far explained. I would recommend to the reader the two works cited in this post perhaps as introductory works in this particular field of inquiry.

“By This Standard” this work pertains to the ethical validity of the OT Law-Word of God in all areas of life. The argument presented by Bahnsen states that every jot and tittle of God’s Law is upheld by His Sovereign authority, and its status remains unless some prohibition has been provided regarding a specific statute announced by the Lord. God has the authority to change or eliminate His said law, we do not (e.g., Gen 1.29; Mark 7.19; Acts 10.15).

“The Law of the Covenant” by Jordan is exactly what it says it is, an exposition of the case laws provided in Exodus 21-23. These case laws expound and explain the fuller application of the Ten Commandments in daily life. Jordan’s treatment of these matters makes accessible what many modern Christians have a hard time understanding. His offered application to everyday life drawn from God’s holy law gives greater clarity to Paul’s words of teaching the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20.27) so that every man is fully equipped for a righteous life. (2Tim 3.17).

Posted in Biblical Questions

Thoughts on Biblical Death

—My Thoughts so Far on Biblical Death—

Last week I promised to speak on the three types of death as a result of sin, and the one type of death that pertains to the righteousness found in Jesus Christ. I’ve been thinking through this process for a few weeks. I’ve also been writing on this subject for a little while now (much of which I have not published, but just kept a running file on my laptop). This particular post is a work in progress.

As with many of the things that I sit down to write I have a habit of hashing out a subject longer than what I initially intended. This particular instance is no different. Which is why I have been so delayed in getting this out there to my 2 or 3 dedicated readers (lol).

What I have decided to do is provide a brief outline of the material discussed below. I will then provide with this post point (a) under the heading Death: Result (wages) of Sin. After which each subsequent point will follow. I decided to break these up because of length.  Hopefully, this will give you the reader an idea of where I am going beforehand.

OUTLINE

I. Death: Result (wages) of Sin

    1. In Adam we all die. As his offspring we all inherit death as a consequent sentence of his disobedience in the garden. In Adam we become sinners, and as a result we die physically due to our separation from God. We are born unclean, unholy, unrighteous enemies of God; children of wrath.
    2. We are all sinners, but that does not mean all our sins are crimes. Some sins are criminal in nature and result in the swift judgment of God in terms of a death sentence. I have identified three subsets under this category in studying the Old Testament (Tanakh; hereafter OT).
      • Major—Group Death Sentence.
      • Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence
      • Cut-off—A death sentence in a metaphoric sense.
    3. We are all sinners and this, if not repented of, results in everlasting condemnation. This is found in the New Testament (hereafter; NT) more than any other part of the Bible

**Summation of the Parts: All of us die physically as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Some of us may die in this life, having our lives cut short, if our sins are worthy of a punishment of death by violating God’s law. Some of us may experience death figuratively speaking, in the sense of being cut-off, but this is not necessarily a permanent state. Some of us will experience eternal punishment for rebelling against our Maker, having died in our sins. For such, there is no repentance of sins possible.

II. Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness

    1. In Christ we all die[1]. However, what we die to is different than the death we were born into. We are born “dead in trespasses and sins,” but when we die in Christ, we are reborn “dead to trespasses and sins.” In Christ, we die so that righteousness may abound. In this way, He makes all things new, and we are new in that we are creations in/through Him. For these the power of death has been broken, and it is robbed from the victory that the evil one desired.

Death: Result (wages) of Sin

Adam’s Sin…

Because of Adam’s sin we all die. Thus, the apostle Paul writes the following categorical statement of fact:

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Rom 5.12; NASB).

Both sin[2] and death were (are) foreign concepts to God’s “very good” creation (Gen 1.31). Notice the order given as to their entrance into creation. First came sin and then death came later as the result of sin. Adam’s sin (the antecedent) brought death (the consequent) “to all men,” this is verified by the fact that “all [mankind] sinned,” (v.12) that “death reigned from Adam until Moses” (v. 14) before “the Law…was in the world” (v. 13).  Why? Because Adam’s “transgression,” (v. 18) his act of “disobedience” (v. 19), brought “condemnation to all men” (v. 18) as “the many were made sinners” (v. 19).

Two senses…

This death entails two key truths; physical and spiritual death.[3] This is a judicial sentence of God. This is the condemnation that Paul speaks of.  We physically die, “returning to the dust from whence we came” (Gen 3.19; paraphrased). We are also born spiritually dead as an inheritance from our forefather (Eph 2.3; Job 25.4-6).

Who Subjected What?

Moreover, we are a part of the creation that was “subjected to futility, not willing, but because of Him who subjected it” (Rom 8.20). If this approach seems novel to you, I am not surprised. We normally think of “creation” as something outside of us. The hills, the clouds, the rivers, and all wildlife, but mankind likewise falls under this designation. And while, Paul may in fact be speaking about the created order as separated from mankind, he does tie the two together in vv.22-23 where he writes,

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves….” (italics mine).

Who was the One that subjected creation—including the entirety of the human race—to futility if not God? Yes, Adam sinned and the consequences we received are a result of his disobedience. But God in carrying out a righteous judgment subjected all of creation to this “slavery to corruption,” and the “hope that the creation itself also will be set free” is found in the “glory of the children of God” (Rom 8.21). How so? Specifically, redemption found in Christ alone via the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power (cf. Rom 7.24-8.2).  (This will be discussed under the primary heading–Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness in the days to come).

Forthcoming…

The three types of death we witness in the OT.


ENDNOTES:

[1] This speaks of those found in Christ via faith, which is the consequent of God’s activity beforehand (the antecedent). Cf. 1Cor 1.28-31; Eph 1.3-5.

[2] Though sin is often personified in Scripture it is not a substance. In terms of human nature, it is a stain, a corrupting influence. In terms of a legal transaction, it is a judicial judgment of condemnation, a relational break between the Creator and the creature. The Bible’s personification of it is done so that the reader might be better aware of its corrupting influence. It has broken the former bonds shared in the beginning when God first made the man and woman.

[3] For those that deny the reality of this claim, I wonder what state you believe mankind is in before Christ and the Spirit’s regenerating work? Why, if the person is good and not bent towards wickedness, then does the Bible say we need a new heart? If we are able to see the truth of God before the power of the gospel opens our blinded eyes, then why does the Bible say we cannot even see the kingdom of God unless we are born again? If we are able on our own strength to do what the law of God requires, then why does the Bible say that we are not open to the law of God, but hostile to it? Not only hostile to it, but unwilling and unable to obey?

Posted in Biblical Questions

Death Biblically Defined as Separation: Dealing with an Objection

What we Witness in the Garden Narrative

God told Adam that the day (when) he ate of the forbidden tree he would “surely die” (Gen 2.17). Either God was telling the truth or He was wrong. The serpent said to Eve you won’t “surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3.4b-5). Again, stated another way, either the serpent was telling the truth or he was lying. This is not an either/or fallacy (a.k.a. bifurcation) because there are only two choices: either God was telling the truth or the serpent was; either God was lying or the serpent was. The issue revolves around the word “death.”

In what sense is death being meant by the Lord God and the serpent? Did the serpent equivocate using the same word in a different sense? Or is it possible that our human understanding of death as cessation from life (a naturalistic view of death) is being read into the text? Is it possible that God used the word “death” emphatically in order to cover all the various ways we might use the word death?

Group 1…

You have one group that says “death means cessation of life, Adam and Eve after eating didn’t immediately die; therefore, their death was just a legal sentence that condemned them to return to the “dust of the earth” (Gen 3.19) since they were only mortal beings. Therefore, the penalty of death comes across as only a physical punishment, a temporal thing. From this belief stems other various forms of thought.

Group 2…

Another group claims that yes there was most definitely a legal sentence of condemnation placed upon the first human couple, and their offspring after them. We are, as the Scriptures confess “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9.27).

**(Which in and of itself is an interesting admission since this implies further legal sentencing after death. How can there be legal sentencing after death, unless there is a spiritual aspect to our sin?).

This second group doesn’t stop with the legal ramifications of violating God’s law in a physical sense, but understands them spiritually as well. In fact, this group argues (of which I am a part) that Adam and Eve did die later (physically) outside of the garden hundreds of years after the event (see Gen 5), but they also died that day in the garden when they ate the forbidden fruit—spiritually. Spiritually they died that day (an inward corruption beset the heart of man). They were cut off from the righteousness of God. They were separated from His goodness, their relationship with Him was severed.

The previous group mentioned (we can call them the cessationiers) denies that Genesis 3 teaches or even implies this. Some go so far as to argue that the Bible doesn’t really teach this idea of death as “separation.” This is due in part to their commitment of only seeing the term “death” defined in one sense. The other aspect is it throws a bit of monkey wrench into a treasured teaching of theirs…freewill. You see, if spiritual death is true, then we are born with a corrupted nature that does not seek God, does not do good, fails to discern the truth of His Word, and is hostile to His Law. All of which the Bible actually testifies are true.

All that is necessary to debunk that idea is to show that the Bible does speak of death as separation and not just cessation from life. Actually, the two go hand-in-hand if you understand them. To die spiritually is to cease to enjoy a life of holiness before God. Just as dying spiritually guarantees that our physical forms as they now are will cease to exist like countless others have done before us.

  • “…the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl 12.7; ESV throughout). **Here the clay vessel returns to where it came from, and the spirit that God gave returns to Him (cf. Heb 9.27).
  • “…How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom 6.2b-4, 6-7). **Here we find Paul speaking of our separation from the old to the new, from death to life, from sin to righteousness in Christ.
  • “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God…[Moreover] now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom 7.4, 6). **Here we see that those in Christ are separated from the condemnation of the law as sinners, to newly created creatures led by the Holy Spirit to produce good fruit. These good works are the (super)natural byproducts of being recreated in Christ Jesus (cf. Eph 2.10), under grace (cf. Eph 2.8-9).

A Quick Overview of Separation (death) in the Garden

Separation on three levels…

First, the man and woman experienced separation from the goodness of God revealed in their shame of nakedness. This is the reason they hid from the Lord in the garden when they heard Him. Their refusal to present themselves to their Maker reveals an inward desire to stay away from Him. If you argue that is because they are afraid, that’s fine, it does nothing to disprove what I have said thus far. They didn’t want to come to Him because they were afraid, because they were ashamed, and they didn’t want to come to Him to face judgment. All point to a break, a separation in their relationship with their Creator.

Second, we see separation experienced between husband and wife. They covered their nakedness from each other, although they had previously seen each other naked. I think we would do well to pay attention to the play on the phrase “eyes were opened.” Their eyes were already opened. They saw everything that God had made. They saw each other. They saw the various other creatures that were not human. They saw beauty and possibility in the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. Seeing (i.e., physical sight) wasn’t their problem, but seeing became their problem as they experienced the seeing of separation that sin had caused them. Ashamed they desired to hide from one another. And not just that, but they also demonstrated this separation in the break of their harmonious relationship.

  • In Genesis 3:12 not only attacks God, but also “the woman whom you gave to be with me” for his sin. Rather than accepting the blame he tried to lay the fault at another’s feet. Such activity demonstrates a break in relational bonds, as the result of sin.
  • In Genesis 3:16 we find that an overriding desire for the woman in sin would be a desire…for [her] husband, [but] he shall rule over you” (brackets added for clarity). This declaration by God as a judgment against the woman shows a breakdown in the relationship she shared with her husband.
  • In Genesis 3:17-19 God says that the “ground…is cursed…because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Adam’s sin brings about death in the sense of separation from the creation and ease of life and life itself. Rather than blessing, the earth has become a curse. Rather than blessing, labor has become a curse. Rather than blessing, life has been cursed in being separated from the land of the living. (to this latter point we shall return to in the next post).

Third, we see the man and woman separated from the garden of Eden, the garden of God (3.23-24). If you look back at Genesis 2 you will notice that the garden was not creation itself, but a sanctuary of sorts that God had placed the man. It served as the heart of creation where the Lord God dwelt with His people. For those familiar with the book of Revelation you will note that this has a striking similarity for what we witness at the consummation of all things.[1]

And so, we learn that death did happen that day in the garden. Adam and Eve experienced the judicial sentence of death, the separateness that death brings. But some say “no, that can’t be. How can separation be death? How can it be said that they were separated from God, for we see God in the very next chapter dealing with them?”

Genesis 4

Of all the chapters that one might come to claim denies spiritual death or death is in one sense separation, this does not appear to be a good choice. Why do I say that? Isn’t it true that we see mankind as a whole offering worship to God? How can they be separated from Him, if they are worshiping Him? If He is still instructing them?

Adam and Eve’s first two Sons: Cain and Abel…

Eve claims that she bore Cain “with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4.1). In verse 2, we are told that she bore another son “his brother Abel.” More than likely these two boys were twins, but if you want to argue the contrary, I see no need in being dogmatic on this point. If they weren’t twins, they weren’t far apart. Both boys grew up together to be men. We are told that “Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground” (Acts 4.2b).

Eventually, as they grew, they put into practice what they had been taught from Adam; namely, the worship of the Lord.[2] We are told that “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions” (Gen 4.3-4a). Only one brother’s sacrifice of worship was acceptable to God (Gen 4.4b-5a), which made Cain angry (Gen 4.5b). When the Lord challenged Cain for his folly and warned him of the consequences if he continued to follow the lead of sin, Cain did not listen (Gen 4.6-7). Rather “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen 4.8).

Cain’s Sin Brought Separation (Death) in more than one way…

Now for the sake of time I will pass over some of the details of this chapter to get to the point at hand. Cain’s sin drove a wedge between him and his brother leading to death. The death of Abel, and the death of many familial relationships (Gen 4.14). Cain’s sin brought death to the benefits of his labors (Gen 4.11-12a). Cain’s sin drove him from the presence of the Lord— “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Gen 4.12b). Even Cain understood that his sin separated him from the Lord’s presence (Gen 4.14b, 16); cutting him off from the worshiping community (Gen 4.26).

Why Separation is Taught as a Proper way of Defining Biblical Death

If God was separated from mankind due to sin, how was mankind in Genesis 4 able to offer worship to Him? How were they still receiving instruction from the Lord above if the death spoke of in Gen 2:17 and seen in Gen 3 really has spiritual connotations? How can Christians teach spiritual death as separation from the life of God, if life continues to exist?

Categorical Distinctions…

Let’s deal with the question of whether or not it is possible to be separated from God. There is a sense where it is impossible to be separated from the presence of God. Even when Cain was driven from his family with only his wife beside him, he was still in the Lord’s presence. It is impossible for the finite creature to ever be fully removed from the infinite God of Scripture. Impossible since God is always present.

  • “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Psa 139.7-8).
  • “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord” (Jer 23.23-24).

So, if we view separation in this sense, it is impossible to be separated from the presence of God. But that would be to confuse the category of the infinite nature of God—His omnipresence—with the separateness that sin brings. Sin destroys, it kills. Sin is that which drives a wedge between us and the holiness of God. Sin result in our being cut off, driven away…the very death of the relationship that man first enjoyed with their Creator. This is what we see as the result of Adam’s rebellion. In this sense then a person is separated from the life of God, the blessing of God and is under the death from God,  the curse of God.

Our Foreparents and their Children…

Let’s look at how mankind in a sinful state is able to come close to God? What do we see in the third chapter of Genesis that might help shed light on this issue? After issuing the consequences of their sin, of Adam’s sin in particular, “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3.21). Why?

God is not a pragmatist. He does things for a reason, and it is not an “end justifies the means” type of thing. When the man and woman sinned, they attempted to cover themselves. Their attempt failed horribly. They could not hide what they had done. They could not cover their shame—their sin. But God does for them what they cannot do for themselves. He offers them grace and mercy in this moment. He slays an animal (unless you think He just pulled the skin of the back of some poor creature, or ex-nihlo) to cover their nakedness/shame.

“Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Heb 9.22).

Not only do we find the protoevangelium given in Gen 3:15 of the promised offspring who would crush the power behind the serpent, smashing his skull with His foot, but we are also given a glimpse in how this salvation/deliverance is possible—substitutionary atonement. More than likely it was the blood of the lamb (i.e., the life) that provided atonement in terms of shadowy fulfillment that covered our foreparents sin (cf. John 1.29, 36). This first sacrifice performed by God would serve as a memorial; a reminder of what He promised would one day come.

This knowledge would have been passed down to their children. And more than likely this is the reason why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was not. Abel’s was offered in faith, which is the only way to please God, the only way to draw near to Him and beseech mercy. Cain’s was not offered in faith. Faith is a demonstration of obedience, so obviously the Lord was displeased with Cain because he was being disobedient. His disobedience resulted in further separation (death) as we have already seen.

Up next…the Tree of Life


ENDNOTES:

[1] This concept or imagery of God dwelling in the midst of His people is seen with the establishment of the tabernacle and later temple where the Holy of holies was located. Thus, Jerusalem is identified in Scripture as the “heart of the earth” (Matt 12.40), the throne of God where God promises to dwell (see Jer 3.17) on His holy mountain (Ezek 43.7). Of which we know is Christ Jesus (see Dan 2.35, 45). “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21.3).

[2] There are several instances in the Bible where parents are told to instruct their children. I fail to see why we should view this knowledge of worship as being acquired by any other means here. So, the boys (now men) learned from their father and mother as children and were now applying what they had been taught on their own. Cf. Exod 12.26-27; Deut 6.7; Psa 145.4; Prov 22.6. This is explained further at the bottom of the post.

Posted in Biblical Questions

On Biblical Concepts and Terms: Part 2, Death is Described as…

So…have you thought about it? Did you come up with an answer? No, no, no…I’m not trying to trick you. This isn’t a trap.

You have no idea what I’m talking about? So…you’ve never ran into a person that persistently attempts to make a point that they believe is valid, airtight and cannot be refuted, but when you ask a probing question…something that attempts to get to the heart of the issue…silence ensues? They refuse to answer. Now their reasons are their own, true as that may be, but there is something very telling at that moment. Telling about the individual and the position that they fervently hold.

The question that I am referring to was presented at the end of my last post (here, if you haven’t read it). I’ll state it again for clarity: What is the relationship between God and Man? What was their status in the beginning? With what we are told in the first two chapters of Genesis what is the relational status between God and Man?

Why this Question is So Important

There is a tacit denial by some who profess belief in the Christian faith that “spiritual death” is really taught in the Bible. For such individuals when the Bible says “death” they tend to take it in what we might label a naturalistic sense; a cessation of life. When you die your body decays and returns to the earth from which it came.

Certainly, this is one way in which the Bible defines death. To deny that this is the case would be silly. There is ample evidence in the biblical record that proves this point. However, to then say that this is the only way that the Bible defines death is to argue the case too strongly. Why? Because, the Word of God offers alternative definitions for the meaning of death in various places.[1]

In fact, a better overarching definition of death that encompasses all that Scripture teaches on the subject would be to label it “separation.” The defense of which would be easy enough, if that were my desire today. Instead, my goal is to show how we can see this sense of the term death, as separation, in just the next couple chapters of Genesis.

A Quick Review of Gen 2:15-17

What I would like to do in this section is provide two alternative English translations of this key passage. Consider the implications based off what is revealed here and what we know about man’s status before (cf. Gen 1.26-28). As well as identify the promise as conditionally presented by the Creator to His creature.

“Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die’” (NASB (this version throughout); emphasis added).

“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. Then the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surly die’” (NET; emphasis added).

Implication #1—

  • The man was God’s creature to do as God willed. Based of what we had revealed to us in Gen 1:26-28 about mankind, we know that the human status and function[2] is to bear the image of God—i.e., to reflect, shadow, mirror the Creator. So, God placed man in the garden to do His will, to follow His Word, to live for Him.

Implication #2—

  • The command in vv. 16-17 emphasizes what has been revealed prior (v. 15 and Gen 1.26-28). Both a positive and negative aspect are present in the Lord’s edict. In the command God presents His image bearing creature with a promise of Life or Death. Obedience, which is the appropriate reflection of God’s will, offers life. Disobedience, which is an inappropriate distortion of God’s will (i.e., rebellion), brings death.

Implication #3—

  • The reward and/or consequence of the decision on man’s part to obey or disobey God’s Law is immediate. I emphasized the two different ways that the English language attempts to capture the biblical Hebrew found in Gen 2:17. The NASB translates the Hebrew “for in the day that you eat of it…;” whereas, the NET offers the Hebrew with the following rendition “for when you eat from it….” I have heard the argument presented against immediate death on the day of rebellion as we see in Gen 3 because “when” does not necessarily carry the same force as “in that day.” It is argued Adam and Eve didn’t die on (in) that day, they were merely denied access to the Tree of Life, so “when” conveys the idea better in terms of physical death not spiritual death, since it was years later that they returned to the dust from whence they came. Whether “when” or “in that day” is used, the implication remains the same. On the day that Adam chose to eat from that which he was explicitly forbidden, death would be the consequence.[3] A legal termination of the relationship would incur…but I get ahead of myself.

Moving on to Genesis 3

Though we are not given the exact day it seems safe to assume that it was not long after this command that the man would put the Lord his God to the test. It would be the serpent, a beast of the field and not a creepy crawly that would present to the woman made from the man’s side the possibility of an alternative understanding of reality (Gen 3.1). After drawing her attention to one of the two trees placed in the middle of the garden, he directly opposed what God had revealed.

“The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die!” (Gen 3.4).

God emphasized that the penalty for disobedience would be death, but the serpent just as strongly emphasized an alternative…death would not happen. Death would not be the result. In fact, the opposite of death would occur…for a better life would ensue as a result of eating of this fruit because then they’d be like God. (Implication: God wouldn’t be necessary).

Listen carefully to the argument the serpent presents and weigh it against what God said to the man in Gen 2:16-17:

“For God knows that in the day [when] you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3.5; emphasis added).

Claims Compared…

  • God says “in that day [when] you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen 2.17)
  • The serpent says “that in the day [when] you eat from it your eyes will be [surely?] opened, and you will [surely?] be like God…” (Gen 3.5).

Who’s Telling the Truth here?

At first glance, it appears that the serpent is right and God is wrong. For when the woman (Eve) and then the man (Adam) ate from the fruit of the forbidden tree the following occurred:

“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 loin coverings” (Gen 3.7).

Did they die when they ate the fruit as God said they would? Or, were their eyes opened to an alternative reality as the serpent said they would? Well, the text says that their eyes were opened not that they died. So, it appears (at first glance) that the serpent was right and God was wrong. Therefore, those who deny a spiritual death in the garden are right after all?

I’m not saying that those who hold to only a cessationist view of death, have purposely placed themselves in line with the serpent in the garden, but their view is exactly what the serpent said. He denied that eating the fruit would bring death that day (when they ate) contrary to the clear statement given by the Lord God to the man. He said their eyes would be opened, and they were. “Can dead people open their eyes? I think not!” comes the ready retort of those that deny death took place in the garden.

What Sense Should be Taken?

If we take death in only one sense, then it appears that the serpent was right and God was wrong. However, there are various senses that the word death may be taken. God emphasized to the man (Adam) that death would be the result of his disobedience. As I said earlier this was a legal determination on God’s part as the Law-Giver.

Legally…

The eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree was the “cause”[4] of the man and woman’s death in the garden. The eating of the fruit stripped the man and woman of their rights to life[5] under God. The eating of their fruit brought about the death of their relationship with God immediately. How so?

What Resulted from the Act?

Notice the reaction of the couple upon having their eyes opened. What were they opened to? What was the result of their defiant act?

First…

“Nakedness, of course” comes the apt reply. Okay, but what changed? They’d been naked before and they both knew it and according to Gen 2:24 they were “unashamed.”[6] However, now the opposite appears to be the case and they are trying to cover it.

Second…

And when “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen 3.8; italics added). Prior to their eating of the forbidden fruit they seemingly enjoyed the presence of God. God spoke to Adam and told him his responsibilities (vv. 15-17), He delighted in Adam’s intellect and leadership. Demonstrated first by bringing to the man various animals to him (Gen 2.18). Secondly, in preparing and giving to him a helpmate (Gen 2.19-24).

Important Observations: Two things might be said of this. God brought the man animals to that he might exercise dominion by observing their qualities/characteristics and then naming them. Second, this was to teach that man that he was unique and alone in comparison with the rest of created things. To which God gifted the man (and the woman) with marital union, the promise of future blessing in the form of offspring, and a cherished relationship to enjoy. In these things, God gave the man opportunity to exercise godly dominion; a sign of favored relationship between God and Man, man and his wife, and man and those others that dwelt upon the earth.

Shame and Fear Drove them… (Gen 3.10)

In this scenario (Gen 1-2) the man and the woman did not run from the sound of their Creator, their Lord and God, but had a loving relationship they enjoyed. However, after eating the fruit something drastically changed. Shame and fear drove their hearts. Their hiding from God reveals a separated aspect to the former relationship they once shared.

Hostility Against the Maker Identified… (Gen 3.12)

This is further highlighted by the antagonism that the man showed his Creator when he was ordered to given an account (i.e., bear responsibility) for what had transpired. When answering for his sin, the man blamed God who gave him the woman for his own transgression. In this, the woman was also blamed.

Closing Question…

Just like before, I’ll ask the same question: What is the relationship between God and Man now? Post-fall what does the relationship between God and Man look like?  Is it alive and well or is it dead?

Perhaps you don’t like the way I asked that last question. I smuggled in “death” there as if we can talk about relationships as living or dead things. We can’t? We don’t? Have you never heard the phrase “He/she is dead to me?” What does this idiom convey but the death, the termination or the separation of people in terms of relationship? Is this type of language permissible in our human vernacular, but not so when discussing our relationship with God Post-fall? Hmmm…interesting…

More to come…


ENDNOTES:

[1] These will be entertained and explained in a future post.

[2] It is often argued against Calvinistic thought that we believe the image of God was destroyed in the Fall. This is inaccurate. Either done maliciously or in ignorance. What Calvinists/Reformed Theology argues is that the image of God was marred, distorted, or tarnished by the fall, not eradicated. The image bearing status (state of being) of mankind has not been removed via the Fall. However, the functionality of bearing God’s image has been grossly distorted. There are moments when a person shadows communicable attributes of God (goodness, love, kindness, etc.), but these are inconsistently applied internally. As a result, an evil parent will give good gifts to their children (Luke 11.13), but when it comes to their Maker they are hostile to God as over them (Rom 8.7-8).

[3] Later we shall return to the oppositions argument and see why it is a poor argument not only linguistically, but also theologically. This will be presented when we begin to look at Genesis 3.

[4] Def. 2a,b, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (   ), 319, “death,” s.v.

[5] Ibid., 226, “civil death,” s.v.

[6] The very fact that Gen 2:24 explains the purpose of the response towards nakedness before the fall—i.e., unashamed—ought to clue the reader that after disobeying the result will be “shame.” This is what shame brings into the equation. Something foreign that maligns what God had called “very good.”