DEATH ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES SERIES – TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Intro and purpose. What death is not equal to.
- Death is not separation from God
- Death is not separation from the life of God
- There’s no such thing as “spiritual death”
- Death is not separation of soul from the body
- Death is not separation – summary
- Physical death is not annihilation
- Divine bio-engineering. How Jesus Christ solves the problem of death of fleshly bodies
- Death according to the Bible: lack of life, loss of life
SPIRITUAL DEATH – NO SUCH THING EXISTS IN THE SCRIPTURES
Now let’s analyze the passage where the notion of “spiritual death” takes root.
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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.”
The prooftext that’s usually given for “spiritual death” is that in the passage above God said to Adam “you shall surely die the day you eat of the fruit”, Adam did eat, and since Adam didn’t die physically that day, he must have died spiritually. There are a few problems with this conclusion. For one, the scriptures don’t state that he died spiritually, period. That’s an assumption. The second problem with that is that conclusion is that the Scriptures contain no references whatsoever to spirits dying, or “spiritual death”, or anything of that sort. Spirits don’t die. When people die, their spirits simply return to God. There are a number of references to that in the Scriptures.
I looked over all the references in the Hebrew scriptures of the word “spirit”, and the spirit, as described there, could be: troubled, revived, anguished, willing, hardened, sorrowful, inoperative (“there was no spirit in them”), becoming operative again (“his spirit returned, and he revived”) (the latter two examples are talking about living people, so it can’t be that their spirit was literally departed from them, or else they would be dead), sullen, stirred up, moved, broken, contrite, having deceit, steadfast, overwhelmed, searching, faithful, failing, departing (resulting in the “person returning to earth” – which confirms the point I made above), faithful, haughty, humble, ruled (by a person), calm, patient, proud, angry, fainted, anxious, excellent. That’s from Genesis to Malachi, inclusively. There are no references at all to spirits dying.
You can go through the same exercise with the Gospels and the epistles, with the same results.
As a side note, “spiritual” matters shouldn’t be a codeword for the things we can’t explain (similar to irritable bowel syndrome designation for the things that a gastroenterologist is having trouble with diagnosing). Spiritual world is a well-established primary realm with its own realities governed by a set of laws and principles, and not a poetic embellishment nor a rhetorical device.
Now, if we look at Genesis 2:17, what it literally says in Hebrew is “the day you eat from the tree – in dying shall [do] you die” – meaning the day you eat from the tree (i.e., immediately) you shall start dying (process) until you are dead (finality). That’s a good clue right there.
Also, the language of the Scriptures often time doesn’t differentiate something undergoing the process from something that has completed it. A very good example of that is Jesus’s saying “let the dead bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60, Matthew 8:22). The same exact adjective νεκροὺς (“necrous” – Strong’s G3498) is used in both instances in the passage. The former dead are still alive but are in the process of death (death outcome is a certainty for them), the latter are in the finality of physical death (death has been fully realized in them).
Genesis 2:17, where death is first mentioned in the Scripture, also completely refutes the notions of death being equivalent with either separation from God, or with separation of spirit / soul from the body. Neither happened on the day Adam ate of the wrong tree. As to Adam being separated from God – God kept on communing with Adam the same as before, providing a covering of animal skins for him, God later communed with Cain, etc. As to Adam’s spirit being separated from his body – Adam’s spirit kept unity with his body for another 900+ years, so that type of separation is ruled out too.
I found this rather simple way of resolving Genesis 2:17 to be not only completely scriptural, but also non-contradictory either to the passage, nor to its context, nor to other scriptures, nor to commonsense understanding concerning death of living beings.