Remember my preference



Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV



Part I: The Intrusion of Death

Chapter 7

Human Death: A Process Of Tragedy

Dying, thou shalt die.
(Genesis 2:17)


     Genesis 2:17 tells us that the effect of eating the forbidden fruit was to begin immediately: "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Since Adam did not return to the dust until centuries later, it has sometimes been held that the whole import of this passage is spiritual not physical: that it was a spiritual death that occurred that very day, and that the Tree of Life was a tree for the healing of a spiritual disease rather than a physical one. But the implications are clear. It was a physical disease with fatal consequences that man had incurred from the forbidden fruit which the Tree of Life could have served to antidote. It is necessary, then, to read the words "in the day that . . ."  in some less literal sense. And here we have an interesting parallel in 1Kings 2:36-46.
     On this occasion Solomon had condemned Shimei to permanent confinement in Jerusalem for the rest of his life. Solomon's words in verse 37 are: "For it shall be, that on the day thou goest out (of the city) . . . thou shalt know for certain that thou shalt surely die." We are told that Shimei stayed in Jerusalem according to the King's command for some three years, until certain of his servants ran away. Without stopping to think about the consequences, Shimei saddled his ass and went right out after them. After Shimei had returned to the city, Solomon learned what he had done and sent his official executioner to put him to death. The meaning of Solomon's warning was

     pg.1 of 18     

probably quite clear to Shimei: he understood that the day he disobeyed, from that time he was a doomed man. But after three years, living freely within the confines of Jerusalem, he evidently forgot all about the injunction of Solomon � and paid the penalty.
     Now Augustine in his treatise on Merits and Forgiveness (Book 1,.21) illustrates how the threat of Genesis 2:17 can be viewed as certain rather than immediate:

      By a certain disease which was conceived in men from a suddenly infected and pestillential corruption, it was brought about that they lost that stability of life in which they were created, and by reason of the changes which they experienced during the stages of life the disease issued at last in death. However, many were the years they lived in their subsequent life, yet they began to die in the day when they received the law of death, because they kept verging towards old age.

      Keil and Delitzsch, in their commentary on Genesis, consider briefly not only the evil of death, the prospect of which was to plague man throughout his life, but also the merciful aspect of its delayed action. *

      This was the fulfillment of the threat "in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," which began to take effect immediately after the breach of the divine command; for not only did man then become mortal, but he also actually came under the power of death, received into his nature (i.e., body) the germ of death [the mortogenic factor, ACC], the maturity of which produced its eventual dissolution into dust. The reason why the life of the man did not come to an end immediately after the eating of the fruit . . . was that the long-suffering of God afforded space for repentance and so controlled and ordered the sin of men and the penalty of sin as to render them subservient to the accomplishment of his original purpose and the glorification of his name.


     The poison must be slow acting or the whole of God's purposes would have been rendered futile, since humanity would have perished at once. Thus Adam and his immediate descendants must be allowed to survive for a sufficient length of time to allow the establishment of the human race. But once established, thereafter longevity could be reduced for safety's sake lest the race once again destroy itself by its very potential for wicked invention which this factor of long life made so probable.
     God therefore appointed that man should neither die at once, nor enjoy undue longevity. Death was designed as a process, not an event. Moreover, if Adam and Eve had died at once before

* Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary On the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, reprint, no date, vol.1, The Pentateuch, p.105.

     pg 2 of 18      

guaranteeing the continuance of the race, the whole creation would have been pointless. For the universe finds its meaning only in so far as the love of God has been effectively displayed in redemption.
     Augustine had a tremendous influence by his writings on the subsequent development of Roman Catholic theology. The Roman Catholic view on this subject in the earlier centuries has been set forth by a Jesuit writer, Professor T. B. Chetwood, as follows: *

      The immortality of Adam is explicitly defined by the Church. The Sixteenth Council of Carthage (418 A.D.), the decrees of which were approved by Pope Zozimus, teaches: "If anyone shall say that Adam was created mortal so that he would have died in the body whether he had sinned or not, let him be anathema." And the same doctrine is confirmed by the decrees of Orange and Trent.
     The Scriptures, both the Old and the New Testament, have very many passages which speak of the "death" which came to us from Adam but there are none plainer than the Book of Genesis which gives the words of God to the pair in the garden: "But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death."

     Chetwood elaborated the argument first of all by pointing out that by his disobedience Adam did not die immediately but only after the passage of centuries. By which he concluded that God meant: "You will at once come under sentence of death, i.e., from that very day." And then, secondly, he observed that unless Adam really possessed immortality before he disobeyed, it would have been no punishment whatever to forfeit it afterwards. As Chetwood said, "He could not, clearly, be deprived for a punishment of something which he did not possess." Chetwood then remarks that the Fathers were unanimous in so understanding this passage and in their teaching of the original immortality of Adam and Eve.
     Although Luther was diametrically opposed to Roman Catholic teaching on almost every point of importance, on this issue he found himself in agreement. In his Lectures on Genesis, he wrote:

      If God had permitted Adam to eat of the tree of life, Adam would have overcome death by means of this food, since he had become subject to death after he had eaten of the tree of death. . . .

* Chetwood, T. B.. God and Creation, New York, Benzinger Brothers, 1928, p.145 ff.
See Luther's Works: Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1-5, edited by J. Pelikan, St. Louis, Concordia, 1958, vol.1, p.116. See also Note #114 (at the end of this chapter) for further excerpts from Luther.

     pg.3 of 18     

     I believe that if Adam had been permitted to go to the tree of life, he would have been restored to the life he had lost, so that thereafter he would not have died . . . .

     In his commentary on Psalm 90 Luther deals at some length with the tragedy of death which for man he calls "a genuine disaster." It seems that in most evangelical circles today the fact has been almost entirely overlooked. The Theory of Evolution has made its case so forcefully that many have abandoned their former position and come to accept the animal origin of man's body, demanding only that his soul be a special creation.
     But this is to surrender an essential aspect of man's uniqueness, namely, that he was created immortal. If this is true, and the Word of God most assuredly proclaims it in no uncertain terms, then man cannot have received his body by evolutionary descent because the primate stock from which it is proposed to derive him consists of a line of animals for whom old age and death seem clearly to be natural and programmed. For man death is neither natural nor is it programmed � save as a penalty.
     Luther wrote in his commentary: *

     This Psalm reveals in striking fashion that the death of man is in countless ways a far greater calamity than the death of other living beings. Although horses, cows, and all animals die, they do not die because God is angry at them. On the contrary, for them death is, as it were, a sort of temporal casualty, ordained indeed by God but not regarded by Him as punishment. Animals die because for some other reason it seemed good to God that they should die.
     But the death of human beings is a genuine disaster. Man's death is in itself truly an infinite and eternal wrath. The reason is that man is a being created for this purpose: to live forever in obedience to the Word of God and to be like God. He was not created for death. In his case death was ordained as a punishment of sin; for God said to Adam: "In the day that you eat of this tree, you shall die" (Genesis 2:17).
     The death of human beings is, therefore, not like the death of animals. These die because of a law of nature. Nor is man's death an event which occurs accidentally or has merely an aspect of temporality. On the contrary, man's death, if I may so speak, was threatened by God and is caused by an incensed and estranged God. If Adam had not eaten of the forbidden tree, he would have remained immortal. But because he sinned through disobedience, he succumbs to death like the animals which are subject to him. Originally death was not part of his nature. He dies because he provokes God's wrath. Death is, in his case, the inevitable and

* Luther's Works: Selected Psalms II, edited by J. Pelican, St. Louis, Concordia, 1965, vol.13, p.94, 95, 96.

     pg.4 of 18     

deserved consequence of his sin and disobedience.
     Man's death is truly an event sadder and more serious than the slaughter of a cow. This becomes most evident when one takes into account the propagation of evil. Moses says: "Thou causest men to die." "Men" refers to the entire human race. Moses includes in this one word "men" all the offspring of our first parents. Therefore that which was created for life is now destined for death. This is the result of God's wrath. So the entire human race plunged from immortality into eternal death.

     Such is certainly the Scriptural view of human mortality: it is a penalty, and a tragedy. In his Biblical Theology Geerhardus Vos nicely states the position of Adam before and after the Fall, as well as the position of man redeemed yet still destined to die, as follows: *

     Immortality is used in theological terminology for that state of man in which he has nothing in him which would cause death. It is quite possible that at the same time an abstract contingency of death may overhang man, i.e., the bare possibility may exist of death in some way, for some cause, invading him, but he has nothing of it within him. It is as if we should say of somebody that he is liable to the invasion of some disease, but we should not on that account declare him to have the disease.
     In this sense it can appropriately be said that man as created was "immortal," but not that after the fall he was so, for through the act of sinning the principle of death entered into him; whereas before he was only liable to die under certain circumstances, he now inevitably had to die. His immortality in (the sense of his soul) had been lost. Again immortality can designate, in eschatalogical language, that state of man in which he has been made immune to death, because immune to sin. Man was not in virtue of creation, immortal in this highest sense: this is a result of redemption accompanied by eschatalogical treatment. . . .
     [Man] was (initially) immortal and mortal both, according to the definition employed: mortal as not yet lifted above the contingency of death, but non-mortal as not carrying death as a disease within himself. Here, therefore, immortality and mortality co-existed. In the next stage (fallen) he is in no sense anything else but mortal: he must die, death works in him.
     In the next stage the word mortal has only a qualified application to the regenerate man, namely, in so far as during his earthly state death still exists and works in his body, whilst from the centre of his renewed spirit it has been in principle excluded, and supplanted by an immortal life, which is bound in the end to overcome and extrude death.

     The Tree of Knowledge might well have been called the "tree of death," for such it turned out to be. But the Tree of Life seems

* Vos, Geerhardus, Biblical Theology, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1975, p.38, 39.

     pg.5 of 18     

clearly to have been potentially a tree of health, this character being either in its leaves (Revelation 22:2) or perhaps in its fruit. The circumstances surrounding the forceful exclusion of Adam and Eve from access to it (Genesis 3:24) once death had been introduced into their bodies, reinforces the view that this Tree of Life was not for spiritual but for physical well-being. For it seems highly unlikely that if this tree had the power of spiritual healing, Adam and Eve would have been so rigidly excluded from further access to it, just when they most needed it.
     The probability is rather that the Tree of Life supplied in their diet, while they were yet unfallen and immortal, that which would preserve them in perfect health indefinitely. But once they had disobeyed and destroyed by a single act of disobedience both their spiritual vitality as well as their physical immortality, the healing of the body could only have consigned them to an unending existence with a fallen nature. To continue for ever without the amendment of an evil spirit was a fate too awful to contemplate. Keil and Delitzsch put the matter thus:

     Immortality in a state of sin is not the zoe aionois (eternal life) which God designed for man, but endless misery which the Scriptures call "the second death" (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). The expulsion from paradise, therefore, was a punishment inflicted for man's good, intended, while exposing him to temporal death, to preserve him from eternal death.

     Thus God thrust them out of the Garden and stationed at the entrance an angel with a sword that turned every way (i.e., was inescapable) specifically to keep the way to the Tree of Life. What had once been a guarantee of blessing had now become a potential hazard of immeasurable consequence.
     The day that Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, they destroyed their unique constitution. They surrendered a potential physical immortality, and by a process of inheritance (to be considered later in this volume) they involved all their descendants (save One) in the same unnatural and unhappy state. As Paul says: "By one man sin entered into the world and death by sin; and thus death passed upon all men." *
 As A. H. Strong notes: "The death spoken of (in Romans 5:12) is, as the whole context

Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzisch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, no date, vol.1, The Pentateuch, p.107. Erich Sauer rightly remarked: "The sinner's bodily deathlessness would be eternal death to his soul, and Paradise would have become a Hell." [The Dawn of World Redemption. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1953, p.61]
* For an extended note on Romans 5:12, see Note #115 (at the end of this chapter).

     pg.6 of 18     

shows, mainly though not exclusively physical. It has passed upon all even upon those who have as yet committed no conscious and personal transgression whereby to explain its infliction (i.e., infants)." * The fatal poisoning which had become the penalty of disobedience in the first pair was passed on and became the root cause of disobedience in all their descendants save One. This has been stated succinctly: "In Adam a person made human nature sinful: in his posterity, nature made persons sinful."
     Luther spoke at some length on this matter. He said:

      If Eve had not sinned, [man] would nevertheless have eaten, drunk, slept, etc., but all this without any sin and disorder. Such a life would have continued as long as it pleased God, let us say for two or three thousand years. Then we would have been changed in a moment without passing through death; and, completely sanctified, we would have entered into an eternal life free from trouble; such a life as, indeed, we are even now expecting. But because sin has stolen into the world through the work of the devil and the consent of man, the judgment has been passed from the beginning and remains in force throughout this life: "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." This is the reason why we must die.

     In another place Luther wrote: **

      Had man not fallen into sin, he would, of course, also have eaten and drunk. The change of his food by the process of digestion would have taken place in his body, but it would not have been so foul as it is now. This tree of life would have kept him in perpetual youth; nor would any man have ever felt the inconvenience of old age. His brow would not have been furrowed; nor would his foot or his hand or any other part of his body have become increasingly weak and languid. Through the beneficent effect of the fruit of this tree man's powers for procreation and all sorts of labour would have remained perfect until he would finally have been translated from this corporeal or natural life to the spiritual life.

     Paul Althaus in discussing Luther's views on the entrance of

* Strong, Augustus H., Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Judson Press, 1974 reprint, p.622.
Jones, J. C., Primeval Revelation: Studies in Genesis I� VIII , London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2nd edition, 1897, p.256.
What Luther Says, an anthology complied by E. M. Plass, St. Louis, Concordia, 1959, vol.VI, entry no.4153.
** Luther: ibid., entry no.4135.

     pg.7 of 18     

physical death, observed that his theology of death is expressed particularly clearly in his powerful interpretation of Psalm 90. *

      Luther held that people usually understand death as a natural event, as a particular example of the transitoriness of all creatures; they therefore recommend that we should not take it too seriously. . . .  Holy Scripture, however, opens our eyes to what really happens when we die. Dying is more than a biological phenomenon. It is a human reality; and this distinguishes it from the ending of plant and animal life. Plants and animals do not come to an end because of God's wrath, but according to a "natural order" established by God. As Luther says, "The death of a man is an infinite and eternal misery and wrath." For man is a creature created in the image of God, to live eternally and immortally in relationship to God and not to die. His death is not the result of a natural process created by God. Rather death is "laid upon him and executed on him through God's wrath." This is why men draw back in terror in the face of death and experience horror such as no other living being experiences. We must understand our mortal fate theologically (i.e., not merely biologically) within the relationship between God and man; for this relationship is the decisive and all embracing destiny of man.

     W. G. T. Shedd points out that physical death, as a mortal principle, befell Adam immediately, though he did not actually die on the day he sinned. **

     When a man is smitten with a mortal disease he is a dead man, though he may live for months. Adam's body became a mortal body. . . .
     The difference between the immortal body of holy Adam and the mortal body of fallen Adam is, that prior to the fall the human body was not liable to death from internal causes, but only from external. It had no latent diseases, and no seeds of death in it. . . .  It could however be put to death. If it were deprived of food or air, it would die.

      In speaking of the meaning of the phrase "in the day that thou eatest thereof. . .," Stephen Charnock (1628�1680), a Puritan scholar and Presbyterian minister in London wrote: "It is to be understood, not of an actual death of the body (that day) but the deserving, and the necessity, of death."

* Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin Luther, translated by R. C. Schultz, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1975, p.405 f.
** Shedd, W. G. T., Dogmatic Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan reprint, 1969, vol.II, p.159.
Charnock: quoted by W. G. T. Shedd, ibid., vol.III, p.336.

     pg.8 of 18    

     That death for man was something far more serious than death for any animal below him is certainly implied by much that is revealed in Scripture about the constitution of man as a spirit/body entity who was made in the image of God and for God's pleasure. As James Denny put it: "Body and soul exist only in and for each other; the body is not a body, but the body of the soul; the soul is not a soul, but the soul of the body; in our consciousness of self the two are one...Man is a unity, not a tying together of separate parts or even separate faculties, and the Bible deals with him as such." *
     In a similar vein, James Orr wrote:

     Man is not a pure spirit like the angels, but an incorporated spirit. Death therefore is not the same thing to him as it is to the lower animals unless, indeed, we deny to him, as we do to them, immortality.
     Neither, as I said, is the body to be regarded in his case, as the old philosophers thought of it, as a material prison house, from which he should be glad to escape in death. It is part of himself: an integral part of his total personality, and body and soul in separation are neither of them complete man.
     It follows, if we deal firmly with this conception of man, that death is to him not a natural process but something altogether un-natural � the violent separation of two parts of his being which God never meant to be separated; a rupture, a rending asunder, a mutilation of his personality.

    This is reflected in Paul's hope, a hope shared equally by every child of God, expressed so clearly in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, in which he assures us of a new house, a new tabernacle, awaiting us for embodiment after resurrection. We long for this, not because we long for death which must first intervene and might leave us "unclothed" (a kind of naked soul), but because we long to be "re-clothed" with an immortal body, one in which death is swallowed up by life. And Paul says: "He that wrought us for this very thing is God." It was never God's intention to turn us into anything else than a body/spirit reality.
     This body is essential to our being. And it is a body deliberately designed with enormous potentialities � especially to make the Incarnation of God in Christ possible. This house, this body that is the house of man's spirit, is not just a complex electrochemical machine. It was designed from the very first for a special purpose. It was so built that it would properly meet the requirements that God had in mind both for man and for Himself in the Person of the Lord Jesus

* Denny, James, Studies in Theology. Grand Rapids, Baker reprint, 1967, p. 76.
Orr, James, God's Image in Adam, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans reprint, 1948, p. 251, 252.

     pg.9 of 18     

Christ. In due course, it was to make it possible for God to objectify Himself, perfectly expressed in terms of human personality as a Man. And then, as a Man, to sacrifice his life vicariously for any man who would believe and appropriate that sacrifice as a full, perfect, and sufficient one. In the face of the divinely appointed moral law, man must have this "satisfaction" against his own sinfulness, failure, and self-will. God made man's body such that He Himself could assume it for a season as his own proper House without doing any violence to his own Person. And then in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ, He could die in it that we, who are dying in it even as we live, might be redeemed to live again and for ever in a new and even more glorious resurrected "house" throughout eternity. Thus shall we exhibit the grace and love of our Saviour God as a matter of personal experience. No mere animal body could have sufficed for such a tremendous purpose.

     Now this immortality, surrendered by the first man named Adam because of disobedience to the will of God, was in due time to be sacrificed by another man named Adam, Jesus Christ, (1 Corinthians 15:45) in obedience to God's will. The conditions surrounding its forfeiture have already been examined in some detail: it remains now to examine some of the important circumstances under which the second Adam was able to sacrifice his immortality as an entirely free act of his own will without any other internal or external compulsion. Both these two Adams are declared to have been immortals, the first implicitly by the wording of Genesis 2:17 and 3:22, and the last explicitly by the wording of Hebrews 7:16 which reads "made after the power of an endless life." Of both, Augustine's words are true: it was not impossible for either of them to die, but it was possible for neither of them to have done so.

     In the New Testament, there is presented to us a portrait of perfect manhood, such a perfection as any one of Adam's descendants might have achieved had the Fall not occurred. Jesus Christ grew from birth to manhood, flawlessly. Whereas the first Adam turned innocence into unrighteousness, the "last Adam," * the last truly human being to possess immortality, turned the innocence of childhood into moral perfection. And when He had thus been "made perfect," that is to say, when He had reached full and perfect maturity by the things

* Anselm of Laon observed that Christ is the "Last Adam" because He is never to be succeeded by another as federal head of the human race. (A Scholastic Miscellany, edited by E. L. Fanweather, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1956, vol.X, p.273).

     pg.10 of 18     

which He experienced in the process of reaching manhood (Hebrews 5:8,9), He had arrived at the point which the first Adam and all his descendants might have come to had there been no Fall. Being thus ready, He might have been translated directly into a higher state of human existence without passing through death. *
     I believe that in the case of the Lord Jesus, Peter and James and John actually witnessed on the Mount of Transfiguration the moment when just such an event might have transpired (Luke 9:27-36). At that time, the Last Adam was transformed and ready to be translated out of this world of time and space into that other world of which this world is merely a vestibule.
     This, it would seem, was the prospect God had made possible for unfallen man: to turn innocence into virtue as a response to the daily challenges of having dominion over this world as God's appointee. When character had thus been perfected, then each individual would have arrived at the position that the Lord Jesus had arrived at when He was ready to be translated into heaven. That is to say, if there had been no Fall and no need for redemption, such an experience would have been the common lot of man � not as something to be dreaded and postponed at all costs, but as something to be striven for and longed for throughout the whole of life.
     As John Taylor put it:

     In the transfiguration of Jesus we see what could have happened, we see the ultimate perfection that God intends for man. No physical deterioration, no rending of the earthly body from the soul, but metamorphosis as smooth as sunrise into the full grown man.

     I believe we have tended to miss the real significance of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. This is partly because of an unfortunate translation of one word in Hebrews 12:2. The Authorized Version, which I find still the most satisfying version of them all, has these words, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,  

* Two other men, Enoch and Elijah, seem to have experienced such a translation: but see on this some further discussion at Note #116 (at end of this chapter).
If man had not fallen, he need not have continued for centuries before translation. He might have matured much more quickly and therefore been translated within only a few centuries or even less. Indeed, the experience of Enoch may be intended to provide us with an illustration of this principle, for he achieved maturity in 365 years only: and this, be it remembered, in a world that had become increasingly wicked, so wicked in fact that within another three generations it was no longer salvageable and had to be destroyed by the Flood.
Taylor, John, Man in the Midst, London, Highway Press, 1955, p.51.

     pg.11 of 18     

despising the shame. . ." I imagine that most readers of this verse have assumed that in some way the agony, both spiritual and physical, of the events surrounding the crucifixion were anticipated by the Lord with a strange kind of "joy" because of what He knew that agony would in the end achieve for those He came to save. Perhaps this is true, though I honestly doubt whether it is the truth intended in this passage of Scripture.
     Actually, the little word for in the phrase "for the joy that was set before Him" is not strictly correct as we now understand it. It really should have been rendered into modern English as "in place of" or "instead of the joy that was set before Him." Even today we use for in this sense as when we say "I will give you this for that," where our meaning is clearly instead of. Any good Greek lexicon will show at once that this is the meaning of the original, * even though only a few translations have actually observed it. The Williams New Testament has "who, instead of the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross." Smith and Goodspeed have "who, in place of the happiness that belonged to Him, submitted to a cross." There is really little doubt in my mind that these two versions have translated the original correctly.
     So here we have "Adam" once again restored to view, perfectly fulfilling the role which man was intended to fulfil and passing into glory without seeing death. But then a deliberate choice was made by the last Adam in obedience to his Father's will, not to follow through with this immediate and wonderful prospect of joy to which He was now perfectly entitled, but to return to earth and sacrifice immortality, embracing death by a deliberate act of will: and not merely embracing death but embracing a shameful death � death on a cross. There were reasons why this particular form of death was ordained in this case which are profoundly important, but they must be left for consideration until later. Suffice it to say at the moment that no other form of capital punishment known then, or since invented, could have provided the necessary setting for the offering of this unique sacrifice.
     I believe we are being told here, in Hebrews 12:2, that when the Lord came back down the Mount with the disciples, He had made a deliberate choice whereby, instead of the joy that might have been his from that moment on, He set his face to go up to Jerusalem, there to suffer a shameful death.
     Until the time of this Mount of Transfiguration experience, we are  

* For a more extended treatment of this passage in Hebrews 12:2, see Note 117 (at the end of this chapter).

     pg.12 of 18     

chiefly presented with a demonstration of the potential of human personality as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ: but from this moment on we see the cost to the last Adam of the first Adam's failure to realize the potential he was originally endowed with.
     If Adam and his descendants had realized that potential, I imagine that we would not speak of the dead at all. There would only be those who had "graduated" and those who were still "undergraduates." And there is no need to suppose that there would be any separation between them, any more than there was between the Lord and his disciples after the Resurrection. John Taylor shows how idyllic such a fellowship could be: *

     For six weeks of springtime nineteen centuries ago, perfected Man was seen and loved on this same earth upon which the unfallen Adam, the germinal Man, had walked...At will He showed Himself, at will He was unseen. He consorted with his friends, and went for walks, and shared a supper and picnicked by the lake. Nothing could have been homelier, nothing more natural. For it was natural: that is the point.

    In such a world, then, man would have lived without dying. The two worlds, the earthly and the heavenly, would not have been separated by a great gulf fixed. God would have dwelt with men and walked and talked with them daily as He did in the Garden of Eden and as He will yet do, according to Revelation 21:3. In such a world there would have been no parting, and there would have been no last enemy � death � to break the continuity of fellowship with those we love.
     In short, death is programmed for animals but is an execution where man is concerned. Death for animals is for the benefit of the animal world. Death for man is a catastrophe for both the world of men and of animals. Indeed, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now . . . waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:22,23).

* Taylor, John, Man in the Midst, London, Highway Press, 1955, p.54.

     pg.13 of 18   


114. (see page 3) In his Commentary on Genesis 1�5, Luther explores the implications of Adam and Eve's potential immortality in interesting ways. On Genesis 2:17 he wrote: "Adam was created in a state of innocence. . . .  Therefore if Adam had obeyed this command, he would never have died for death came through sin. Thus the remaining trees of Paradise were all created for the purpose of helping man and maintaining his physical life sound and unimpaired.
     "For us today it is amazing that there could be a physical life without death. . . .  If (Adam) had remained as he was he would have done the other things physical life demands until at last he would have been translated to the spiritual and eternal life.
     "This, too, we have lost through sin, because now the present life is separated from the future life by that awful intermediate event, death. In the state of innocence that intermediate event would have been a delightful one; by it Adam would have been translated to the spiritual life or, as Christ calls it in the Gospel, to the angelic life (Matthew 22:30)."
     Subsequently on the same verse he wrote: "It is as if God were saying: 'You can indeed remain in the life for which I have created you. And yet you will not be immortal in the same way as the angels. Your life is, as it were, placed in the middle: you can remain in it and afterwards be carried to an immortality that cannot be lost; contrariwise, if you do not obey, you will become a victim of death and lose your immortality.'"
     In other words, Luther is saying � as Augustine had said � that there were two kinds of immortality. There was the immortality which means that the individual need not die, and the immortality which signifies that the individual cannot die. The first is contingent, contingent upon obedience: the second is absolute. The first is potential but not certain unless the requisite conditions are fulfilled: the second cannot be lost under any conditions whatever. As Luther puts it, "This [first kind of] immortality had not been made so sure for him that it was impossible for him to fall into mortality."
     In commenting on Genesis 3:23, 24 Luther notes that "Adam was not created to remain forever in this physical life, but from this physical life and from the physical eating he was to pass over into spiritual life . . . no death intervenes on that occasion . . . Adam, without any intervening death would have exchanged his mortal life for an immortal one." That is to say, he would have exchanged his contingent immortality for an absolute immortality.

     pg.14 of 18   

115.(see page 6) Note on Romans 5:12.

     Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin;
and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

     "As by one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin": by one man, single and singular. I think this is a profoundly important phrase: not "by two people" as might have been supposed since Adam and Eve were both in collaboration. It is apparent that the seed of the man is the viaduct that carries the corruption Adam introduced into the body to all succeeding generations.
     It may be remarked that non-canonical literature on the subject of man's fall is just as likely to attach the entrance of death to Eve as to Adam. Thus Sirach 25:24 reads: "From a woman sin had its beginning and because of her we all die." So also a Latin work from a group of Jewish writers on Adam, edited by Meyer (1878) and titled Vitae Adae et Evac ("Lives of Adam and Eve": see G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1964, vol.II, p.856, fn.191), and Strabo, (Book 1, p. 137 f., and Book III, p.646). In a sense this is true; but there is an element of only half-truth about it, and therefore of half-falsehood, which Scripture studiously avoids by never attributing the entrance of death to Eve. The seed of the man and the seed of the woman play antithetical roles in the redemptive history of man. Thus physical death was introduced, it "entered", it was a novelty for human kind, and it entered by man not by woman, and it is passed on from generation to generation via the male seed. The seed of the woman is not the viaduct of death, but of life.
     Paul continues, "and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." The last part of this sentence has occasioned a great deal of controversy. Lange's Commentary [Grand Rapids, Zondervan reprint, 1960, vol.X at Romans 5:12, p.177�180] gives a most useful summary of this debate. The assumption is commonly made that the word sin here means a sinful act. In Adam's case this is, of course true; his disobedience. But is this true thereafter? Do we die physically because we become active sinners, or are we active sinners because we are physically dying creatures? Or to put the matter slightly differently, do we finally return to the dust because we, individually, commit sins that have the effect of making us mortals, or do we commit sins because of the weakness of the flesh (Romans 8:3) which "weakness of the flesh" is demonstrated by the final death of our body?
     The usual view, if I read the commentaries correctly, is that the former is the truth of the matter and the intent of Paul's words. Physical death overcomes each one of us in due course because we inherit some spiritual malaise that turns us into active sinners, the penalty of which is physical death. But not a few commentators have seen the situation in reverse. We become sinners because we inherit from Adam by natural generation a defective body that becomes a source of infection of our spirit as we mature. The initial corruption of the spirit (or soul) by its union with the body has been a view very widely held from the earliest times. It was explicitly maintained by the following who are representative.

New Testament:    Paul (Romans 7:17, 18).
Patristic:               Augustine (354-430).
Medieval:              Anselm of Canterbury (c.1033�1109), Anselm of Laon (d.1117),
                             Hugo St. Victor (c.1096�1141), Peter Lombard (c.1095�1161), Stephen Langton (d.1228).
Reformed:            Ulrich Zwingli (1484�1531), Zacharius Ursinus (1534�1583), Andreac Hyperius (1568),                              Benedictus Aretius (1589), Bartholomaeus Keckerman (1611), J. H. Hottinger (1620�1667),                              Amandus Polanus (1624), Francois Turretin (1632�1687), Johannes Wollebius (1626),
                             Samuel Endemann (1777).
Jewish:                 Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (1962) under "Soul".

     pg.15 of 18   

     The question of how soon this occurs, at what young age, is not at issue here. It is assumed to be in youth, for so Scripture states it (Genesis 8 :21; Jeremiah 22:21; 32:30 and cf. 2 Kings 24:8,9) but obviously this could be interpreted rather broadly depending upon how quickly a particular culture encourages the maturing processes. But certainly there is an age of innocence before the malaise has time to express itself. Babies die, though innocent. The possibility of dying has therefore also become the lot of those who have not yet reached the age of accountability. Meyer was one of the earlier commentators of modern times who acknowledged the force of this argument.
     It might be argued that when an infant dies, it is really "killed," by disease in one form or another. But we know now that our bodies appear to be dying anyway, from the day of our birth � if not even prenatally.
     So mortality replaced immortality by the action of one man and this physiological defect was then transmitted by natural procreation to all his descendants. This defect now appears to be at the root of our spiritual death which seems in the end as inevitable as physical death. Augustine said: Persona corrupit natura, natura corrumpit personam: "A person (i.e., Adam) corrupted (human) nature, (human) nature corrupts the individual." This is why the law fails to produce moral behaviour. The pure spirit with which each new body is endowed by a creative act of God is soon infected by the corruption in the body.
     When God gives this spirit, what was previously only a body is constituted a person. Conscious life thereafter turns this person into a personality: but sadly, time also turns innocence into guilt, and this process is somehow initiated by a defective body. It is a form of somato-psychic influence, of which medicine is becoming increasingly aware in cases of chronic forms of poisoning due to industrial pollution of our environment, for example.
     Paul longed to be rid of this "body of sin" (Romans 7:24) and confidently asserted that physical death alone could guarantee the final perfecting of the spirit. When the perfected spirit is re-introduced into a perfected resurrection body, the whole man is at last made perfect.
     Now the universality of this experience by which we all become active sinners is a clear demonstration of the universality of the root cause. That which has rendered every naturally procreated body a dying organism is shared by us all. This is the universal cause of a universally observed effect. Born mortals, we become inevitable sinners if we live long enough. If we die prematurely, we remain innocent of moral guilt but, alas, we die physiologically nevertheless.
     And so the phrase "for that all have sinned" can be translated (as many claim) "on account of the fact that all have sinned." Active sinfulness then becomes the proof of the common root cause, the cause being that physical death passes upon all men by inheritance.
     F. W. Farrar, in his Life and Work of St. Paul [London, Cassell, Petter, Galpin, 1879, vol.II, p.215, fn.2] wrote: "There can be no doubt that epho ('for that') means 'in as much as'. Since the argument of Paul seems simply to be that sin was universal and that the universality of death was a proof of this [emphasis his], it certainly seems advisable to understand epho in the sense of 'in accordance with the fact that.'" With this agree the majority of grammars which refer to this passage, such as Dana and Mantey [Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Toronto, Macmillan, 1957, p.106], other aids to study such as Vincent [Word Studies in the New Testament, New York, Scribner's, 1890, vol.III. p.62] and Abbott Smith [Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh, Clark, 1964, p.166], Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (under various word headings, especially vol. I, p.427, fn.14), and Expositors Greek Testament [edited by W. R. Nicoll, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans reprint, 1976, vol.II, p.627 f.].

     pg.16 of 18     

     In summary, it seems that we are justified in understanding Paul's words to mean that Adam, endowed with immortality by the Creator, forfeited that immortality by his sin and entailed to all his descendants the poisoned constitution which he had acquired, the proof of this entailment being the universality of human wickedness.
     We can interpret these words in Romans 5:12 to mean either that all are mortal and dying, and as a consequence became sinners; or that all have an inherently sinful nature by spiritual entailment from Adam and that this condemns the body of every individual to physical death. The grammar of the sentence does not speak unequivocally and we have to decide which is cause and which is effect. About the only telling factor, in helping us to make the decision, is the knowledge that an innocent baby may die as easily as a guilty old man or woman. Physical death can overtake those who have as yet committed no sins, which seems to demonstrate that it is at work before any display of a disobedient spirit.

116. (see page 11) It is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews 9:27). This being so, we must assume that both Enoch and Elijah have yet to keep this appointment. There are some commentators who believe that the two witnesses referred to in Revelation 11:3 f. are none other than Enoch and Elijah who, after giving their testimony for an unspecified length of time, will be overcome and slain. Their dead bodies will lie in the street for three and a half days (verses 8 and 9), a figure which has particular significance in that there is a widespread belief that the lapse of three days is required to certify that the deceased really is dead. The two witnesses are then raised from the dead and both ascend into heaven (verses 11 and 12). If this surmise as to their identity is correct, then man's appointment with death has been truly universal, even with respect to the Lord Jesus Christ.

117. (see page 12) With reference to Hebrews 12:2, in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [Edinburgh, T. &. T. Clark, 4th edition, 1961], J. H. Thayer under the Greek anti gives the following meanings: (1) it properly seems to have signified over, against, opposite to, before, in a local sense. Hence (2) indicating exchange, succession, for, instead of (something). Dana and Mantey [A Manuel of Greek New Testament, New York, Macmillan, 1955, p.100] say in this connection: "There is conclusive proof now that the dominant meaning for anti in the first century was instead of. Professor Whitesall (Chicago) made a study of anti in the Septuagint and found thirty-eight passages where it is rightly translated instead of in the Revised Version. Since anti is used in two atonement passages in the New Testament, such a translation needs careful consideration. Notice the following: Genesis 22:13, "and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of (anti) his son"; Genesis 44:33, "Let thy servant, I pray thee, abide instead of (anti) the lad a bondsman to my lord"; Numbers 3:12, "I have the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of (anti) all the firstborn." These three sentences unmistakably deal with substitution. This translation applies especially to the following: Matthew 2:22; Luke 11:11; 1Corinthians 11:5; and Hebrews 12:2, "Jesus . . . who instead of (anti) the joy that was set before him endured the cross." The New Testament: An Expanded Translation by Kenneth S. Wuest has also adopted this rendering [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1959].
     An excellent illustration of the use of the Greek word anti with the meaning of "instead of" but translated by the English word for will be found in the King James Version at Isaiah 61:3 which reads, "To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes . . . the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." The Septuagint Greek version has here translated literally this as: "Glory instead of ashes . . . the garment of glory instead of a spirit of heaviness." Bagster's edition of the Septuagint so translates the first phrase but then adopts the English word for in the second, presumably for the sake of avoiding reiteration.

     pg.17 of 18     

     In the Hebrew of Isaiah 61:3 the words "glory for ashes" are represented by the Hebrew word tachath. It is a pity that in The New Testament in Hebrew and English, published by the Trinitarian Bible Society and chiefly the work of Louis Ginsberg I believe, the translator was influenced and misled, I regret to say, by the English versions. Instead of being guided by the Septuagint usage where the Hebrew tachath meaning "instead of" is replaced in Greek by anti, Ginsberg replaced the Greek anti in Hebrews 12:2 by a Hebrew word ba'abor, which means "because of" or "on account of."
     Actually, in the Hebrew original of Isaiah 61:3 tachath occurs three times. In each case Rotherham has rendered it "instead of," as is proper.
     The Greek word anti is frequently used in the Septuagint with this meaning. See for example, Genesis 2:21; 4:25; 9:6: 22:13; 29:27; 30:2; 36:33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39; 44:33; 47:17; etc. This is not to say that the Hebrew word and its Greek equivalent anti never have the sense of "because of," but only that the meaning "instead of" where ever it is found in the Hebrew regularly requires the form tachath, which the Septuagint has then replaced by anti. A particularly good illustration of how the English word for could be misinterpreted, is to be seen in Genesis 47:17 where the King James Version made the meaning explicit by inserting the words "in exchange for" in its first occurrence. The verse therefore reads as follows: "And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for their horses, and for the flocks and for the cattle of the herds and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year."
     If the King James Version had not inserted the words "in exchange for," the transaction could have been interpreted to mean that Joseph supplied feed for the animals. This is not the intention of the exchange: it was the owners, not the animals, who were supplied with food. They traded their cattle for bread. Verse 18 makes this clear, for although they managed to save their lives, they lost all their possessions in so doing. All they had left to barter for bread was their land and themselves as slaves (verse 19). And in the end, these too became Pharaoh's possessions (verse 23).
     It therefore seems entirely appropriate to translate anti in Hebrews 12:2 by the words "instead of." To render it any other way requires an unnatural and unlikely exegesis. Can one really suppose that the Lord faced the eternity of that ordeal of separation from the Father in a spirit of joyful anticipation because of the prospect at the end of it, when such a prospect was just as certain whether He subjected Himself to such a frightful ordeal or not? Would He not have been joyfully received into glory even if He had not suffered the penalty on the cross?

     pg.18 of 18     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

Previous Chapter                                                                      Next Chapter

Home | Biography | The Books | Search | Order Books | Contact Us