God threatened to kill adam

In the book of Genesis, the reader encounters a scene in which God talks to Adam and gives him a single command:

Gen 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;
Gen 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.”

Now modern Christians have a hard time with this verse because Adam did not die when he ate from the tree. In fact, Satan’s proclamation that Eve (Adam by extension) would “know good and evil” seemed more accurate. When asked to explain it, Christians give two main answers to what “surely die” means:

1. It would be enabling death to happen (like an invulnerability switch being turned off)
2. It would be a spiritual death. They even say death is mentioned twice, so I must be the “Second death” listed in Rev 2:11. Get it: death mentioned twice = second death. Yep, that makes sense.

Never minding the Hebrew language use of a double word to emphasize the concept, both explanations seem to be lacking when examined. The primary evidence for a literal understanding (that God would kill Adam then and there) comes a few verses later:

Gen 3:3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”
Gen 3:4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
Gen 3:5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So, Satan tries to reason with Eve about the command (with which she must have been familiar). If Adam and Eve thought that this command was about staying immortal, Satan would probably address this directly. He might say: “You will surely live forever.” If Adam and Eve thought that this command was about a spiritual death, Satan would probably address this directly. He might say: “You will surely still have access to God.”

Instead, Satan’s argument is that Adam and Eve would “surely not die [in the day they touch or eat]” and then follows by saying “in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened”. Satan is referring to a point event in the past (after they eat). He is saying that on the day that they eat, they will not die and instead will have knowledge. It doesn’t suggest an ongoing “death” or ongoing “gain of knowledge”. It is an instantaneous event.

In other words, Satan is acting as if Adam and Eve understood the threat as an instantaneous physical death.

A third possibility is that God was making a “cause and effect” value-neutral statement. This would be like saying “if you pour water onto yourself, you will get wet.” If this option is true, then God would have just been wrong. Adam and Eve did not die the day they ate the fruit.

But if God meant that God would kill Adam and Eve the day they ate of the tree, then this event could instead be seen as an act of divine mercy. Here is the scenario:

God creates mankind to have a mutual love relationship. God gives them one rule. On this rule he placed the ultimate penalty: death. Adam and Eve could choose either God or death. They eventually choose death. God is saddened, questions Adam on his actions, and then decides on expulsion rather than death. This is an act of mercy. God then places an angel with a sword at the front of the garden to stop Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Life and “living forever”.

That possibility (that man can next eat from a second tree and live forever) seems to contradict the spiritual death claim and the claim about eventual physical death. Further evidence that God was talking about a “God killing someone instantly” is found in Genesis 20:7:

Gen 20:7 Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Here we have God threatening a pagan king with the same “surely die” (the double death mentioned in Gen 2:17). This death seems like it would be instant and would also affect the king’s entire family. I am not aware of anyone who claims this is other than a imminent threat on the king’s life. The Hebrew is the exact same as Gen 2:17, so it would not be a stretch to assume both phrases had the same meaning.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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4 Responses to God threatened to kill adam

  1. wstaylor says:


    You’ve posed some thought provoking questions in your essay and I think they are germane to any who value the record of Scripture.

    It appears that your ethos has a slight pull to the side of the road if I may use the metaphor in a friendly way. It acknowledges that you have all the requisite faculties of an automobile and have gained the license to drive so you are be complimented more than spotted.

    A literal understanding as you styled it would encompass the loss of an inner awareness of the Presence of God. The particulars of their association with God show that they spent the majority of their time away from “the voice of the Lord walking in the Garden”. That a special manifestation is mean seems appropriate here and their recorded dialog with God would bear that meaning out. That these were the most blest occasions of their conscious life might be expected based on the Character of God and His adaptations to man’s needs and appreciation of diversity and physical beauty and the intrigue of discovery of a multitude of wonders each day.

    But it is the blessedness of their own kinship under His benevolent care that tops the happiness scale. Even in our own depleted state after the fall human relationships give us the most pleasure. But let me suggest that the magnitude of their loss is evidenced by their experience immediately after their disobedience. Fear! When they heard the signs of the visitation of God they hid themselves. The primal nature and disorientation of the guilt of conscience heightened by the anticipation of having to face the one they have disobeyed led them into a blind panic. Obviously, they couldn’t hide from God but the pang of guilt smothered a calmer more reason response. In that confusion it is hardly likely that they would be cognizant of the loss of sustained peace derived from their being a habitation of God in and through the Holy Spirit. Conscience as a function of reason was to be a protecter against mental and physical intransigence and a rewarder of deeds done in truth. Once violated without the possibility of mental diversions the experience is indeed “where their worm dieth not and accompanied by weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In short, a most dreadful state of consciousness. That has to be the most terrifying description of “death”. Paul cites the condition of those in rebellion to their conscience and God as “alienated from the life of God, through the hardness of their heart (or continual choosing to serve themselves even against light). It is to be in the kingdom of darkness as apposed to the kingdom of light. I think many discount the prospect of spiritual death because of the lack of visceral physical que’s.

    But the greatest weight to suggest that what Adam and Eve lost in that day was spiritual is to be understood in what Jesus came to bring. In John chapter six in his exhortation to his disciples it became apparent that they must have still had miraculous manifestations of manna on their minds an not the life that He came to bring and that more abundantly.

    He said it in the worst violation of homiletics one could ever imagine. “Unless you eat the flesh and drink my blood you have no “life in yourselves.” Closer to gentile vernacular He said that “I am the bread that the Father gives you out of heaven that if a man eats he will live, and that forever.” No have “no life in yourselves” must be in the eyes of the Father the most pressing condition of man, even past the shortened mortality of their physical bodies. What can a man profit if he gain the whole world and lose his own life. Not just physical life is intended but the context is greater than that. Loosing his own life suggest that one die in their sins. And that is more dreadful than the cessation of flesh and blood life.

    So getting back to the kernel of your thesis, I think you missed the most important consideration in the prospect of the announced sanction by God. And that is to lose the inward experience of the pleasure of God in ones soul. This is eternal life, Jesus said, and that is to know Thee and Jesus Christ.”

  2. Tom Torbeyns says:

    I’m on the side that says: spiritual death for Adam and Eve and eventual physical death for them and their descendants.

  3. Tom Torbeyns says:

    But, nonetheless it’s an interesting and well written opinion you put forth in your article, Chris! :-)

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