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Don Stewart :: Did Adam and Eve Die When They Ate the Forbidden Fruit?

Don Stewart
The Bible says that God warned Adam about eating the forbidden fruit:

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 (Genesis 2:17).

Eve also understood this warning as she repeated it to Satan.

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die (Genesis 3:3).

Did they actually die when they ate the forbidden fruit? The Bible says that they did not physically die the moment they ate the fruit but lived on many years afterward. Is this a contradiction? The answer is, No. There are several ways in which to understand the sense in which Adam and Eve died.

Three Types Of Death

The Bible lists three types of death. There is physical death when the body dies. A second type of death is spiritual death - a separation of the spirit from the body. A third type of death is eternal death - permanent separation of humanity from God.

Death Was Spiritual

Some interpreters contend that Adam and Eve did die when they ate the forbidden fruit, but their death was spiritual, not physical. The main idea behind death is separation. The death that Adam and Eve experienced when they ate the forbidden fruit was immediate separation from God.

Physical Death

They also experienced physical death for their disobedient act. Though it was not immediate, it still was a result from their disobedience of God. The Lord promised:

In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of dust you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19).

The physical death was postponed due to God's grace but the spiritual death was immediate. The Bible says that after they sinned God said:

Therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken (Genesis 3:23).

Begin To Die

Others have interpreted the expression to mean that the death process began the moment they ate of the forbidden fruit. Though they did not immediately die physically, the death process began to take hold of their bodies, which as we know, eventually ended in their death. Scripture records that Adam did eventually die.

Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died (Genesis 5:5).

Idiomatic Expression

Another view sees that the phrase the day you eat of it as simply a Hebrew idiom meaning as surely as you eat of it. Other biblical examples are provided to show what the phrase means in other contexts.

For it shall be, on the day you go out and cross the Brook Kidron, know for certain you shall surely die; your blood shall be on your head (1 Kings 2:37).

Then Pharaoh said to him, Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die! (Exodus 10:28).

As Certain As

In both of these passages, the expression in the day means simply as certain as. If we apply this to Genesis 2:17 we do not need to explain that Adam and Eve experienced death that very same day they ate the forbidden fruit, but rather their death sentence was something for certain.

Would Live Forever?

This brings up another issue. Would Adam and Eve have lived forever if they had not sinned? Though the Scripture does not specifically tell us, the strong inference is yes. God gave them this perfect environment and promised they could eat of the tree of life. Death would only result if they disobeyed Him and ate the forbidden fruit.

World Overpopulated

Some argue that this would not be possible because the world would soon become overpopulated with all the perfect people. This, of course, assumes that all of the descendants would not sin. Since this did not happen, it is fruitless to speculate on what could have happened.

Summary

Adam and Eve did not physically die the moment they ate the fruit but they both eventually did die. The phrase in the day that you eat of it can be understood in a number of ways without finding a contradiction in Scripture.

If they had not sinned, we assume they would have lived until someone else did sin. Because they did sin, any idea of what may have happened is only speculation. What is not speculation is the consequence of their sin. The prophet Ezekiel.

The soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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