What Is the Scriptural Understanding of Death?

Increasingly, the view that God could have used evolution is permeating our evangelical churches. Dr. Terry Mortenson and Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson, two of our speakers at AiG, recently visited the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, Georgia. Papers were discussed this year that 15 years ago one would never have thought of being seriously put forward. Some papers are still being called evangelical even though they express doubt that Adam ever existed. This is serious indeed. Even the great John Stott stumbled in not recognizing the seriousness of espousing the view that God somehow used a gradual development of ape-like creatures and that one of these creatures was breathed into and became Homo divinus. In his day, Spurgeon spoke of a Down-Grade Controversy, which is what we have today concerning the authority of the Bible, particularly in Genesis. So why is Genesis theologically important? Genesis is important because it teaches that death came as a result of the Fall and was not present beforehand. In the ensuing sections we will see that death has a two-fold aspect and involves separation.

Man Died Spiritually and Physically as a Result of the Fall

The Fall and the Effect of the Curse on Creation

When sin came into the world, man died not just spiritually but also physically. He was not dying before.

The origin of all death is certainly spiritual and is taught in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," and Hebrews 2:14, "That through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil."

Adam was told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — Genesis 2:17, "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." Literally this means, "dying, thou shalt die." It is the view of the author that Genesis 2:17 could suggest two deaths (because this is explicit later in Revelation 20), but it is fully recognized that the repetition of Hebrew words is often used to add emphasis. Was physical death included? Yes, because after the fall, in Genesis 3:19, God states, "For dust you are, And to dust you shall return."

As we read the terrible events of Genesis 3, we see what death is: separation. First there is spiritual death, as Adam and Eve know they are separated from fellowship with God, whereas before sin, they enjoyed perfect fellowship with Him (some believe Genesis 3:8 hints that God had walked with Adam beforehand). The Lord knew where Adam was, but the question He asked him in verse 9— "Where are you?" —can also be applied to us. We see this developed in Romans 5:18: "Through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation." God calls to the whole of the human race, "Where are you?" So Adam was already experiencing spiritual separation as he tried to hide with Eve from the presence of God and as he tried to clothe himself with leaves, which would wither. God then pronounces that Adam would die physically when He says, "To dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). And some nine hundred or so years later, Adam dies physically (we do not know how long it was between the Creation of Adam and the Fall).

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