“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. ”
~ Genesis 2: 15-17
Most recently, I have revived my studies in Biblical Hebrew, to the point that I am probably studying it more now than I really ever have in the past. One of my favorite resources for doing so is the website www.theologicalresources.org - a site I would highly recommend to any serious Bible student. It is hosted by the Master’s Seminary, and on it are recordings of several seminary classes – including Biblical Hebrew.
So, the course I have been watching is taught by a gentleman by the name of Dr. William Barrick (a.k.a. Bill Barrick). Dr. Barrick is very accomplished linguist and translator in many different areas and languages. (From what I understand, he is fluent in at least 17 languages. I heard 21 too, but I’ll be conservative.)
So then, the other day we were looking at Hebrew infinitives. (If you can’t recall exactly what an infinitive is, it’s okay. Just know that it’s a kind of verb.) In his discussion on infinitives, Dr.Barrick used a specific example that caught my attention. You see, he was discussing two specific different kinds of infinitives; one that means something is continually happening (i.e. I keep on eating), and one that simply emphasizes what is happening (i.e. I am surely eating). The text Dr. Barrick utilized to exemplify this to us was Genesis 2:17, which I have typed out at the top of this post for convenience. When we come to the part of this verse in which God says “…in the day that you eat of it (i.e. the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), you will surely die”, we find that God used our friend the infinitive to speak of dying. The NASB translates this “you shall surely die”.
However, there has also been some thought amongst various people that this should actually be translated something like “dying you will die”, indicating maybe a process of death, or perhaps two deaths. Maybe this is how we explain that Adam didn’t physically die within a 24-hour period of ingesting the forbidden fruit? Perhaps God is here referencing both a physical and spiritual death?
Option D: none of the above. In other words wrong, wrong, and wrong.
In fact, Dr. Barrick was fairly emphatic about it. This phrase is written not in a continuative sense, but an emphatic sense – “you shall surely die”. (To be specific, if you’re curious, the infinitive verb was written before, or ‘prepositive’, to a cognate verb of the same meaning -‘die’ -, not after it.) Hence the NASB translation.
This was a correction for me, since the thoughts I had given to that text were sympathetic to the ‘continuative’ view, although I wasn’t 100% convinced of it yet. In fact, I had recently taught it that way when the subject was brought up in a Hebrew class I am privileged to teach. However, as I looked at the information, it was apparent that Dr.Barrick was right. He’s still is right, in fact. Since it was also something my dad had taught, I brought it up to him to see what he thought. Intrigued, he looked into it himself. And?
Dr. Barrick wins again.
So then, does this mean that, post-fall, we won’t or don’t go through a process of dying, and then ultimately die?
Well, no. I believe we may consider that hypothesis tried and proven by now.
Does it mean, then, that mankind is spiritually preserved in his pre-fall state?
No. Were that so, Paul wouldn’t have needed to write Ephesians 2:1, which says “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… ”. Given that we know Paul was writing to people who were actually physically alive at the time, and that they were also physically alive before their salvation, we may safely conclude that Paul is not referring to merely a physical death here. Paul must be referring to the Ephesian’s past lives submersed in sins, just like the rest of the world, mimicking the Devil.
What it means is that this text isn’t saying those things. In this text, we have God addressing His creation, Adam, emphasizing the fact the if Adam were to violate the divine prohibition against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there would be a very certain death awaiting him –it was an unavoidable, decreed fact. This makes it more intriguing when Satan, in his deception, tells Eve “You surely shall not die!” This was deliberate, outright contradiction of God’s very words, with the same basic infinitive construction that we talked about earlier, which means Satan was mirroring God’s emphasis in His instruction, except applying it to error. Further, he used a specific form of the Hebrew word for ‘not’ that means ‘never, at any time’. There would be no death now or later for a disobedient Eve, Satan says. God isn’t actually being honest with you.
However, given Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:1, it is reasonable to believe that death certainly was experienced by our first parents when they believed Satan instead of God. And, ultimately, over 900 years later, their physical bodies which were created to live forever as God’s own image and likeness on this earth, returned to the dust they were taken from. This death was passed on to all born to Adam and Eve, and then to their children, and so on. The wages of sin is, after all, death.
But God doesn’t leave us there. In the midst of His curse He embeds the promise that One would come from the woman to crush the head of the serpent, who instigated this death. There would be an end to his work. And, as we look at the text, we are forced to see that Adam must have believed this, because only after this point does Adam name his wife “Eve” – which means ‘life’. Perhaps it would seem to us that “mote”, which means “death”, might have been a more fitting name. But, besides its lack of romantic ‘ring’, it would not have been an accurate description of who she was, given the work of life God would do through her.
Well, there you have my discovery as of late. My basic premise is that Genesis 2:17 is not to be taken in the sense of ‘in dying you will die’, but just as your English Bible most likely reads: “you shall surely die.”
Accuracy is quite important, because it is the difference between understanding the truth, and wasting your time with something that misrepresents reality.