God told Adam, "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" (Gen. 2:17). In response to the Serpent, Eve more or less quoted God: "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die'" (Gen. 3:2-3).
Satan flatly denied this threat: "You will not surely die" (Gen. 3:4).
Well, what happened? Eve ate, Adam ate. Did they die? We read, "she took of its fruit and ate" (v. 6) — are the next words, "and she died"? No; they are "and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." Oh. Okay; so are the next words, "and he died," or "and they died"? No again; they are "Then the eyes of both were opened," and so forth.
So... what happened? Did that bomb fizzle? Was the threat empty, or forestalled?
Or was the Serpent right?
It's interesting to read in the aftermath that God does not say to the man or the woman, "you will die." He does say Adam will return to the ground (v. 19); but He doesn't say he will die. Why not? Is death just implied or assumed or reworded? Or possibly something else?
In answer, this excerpt from The World-Tilting Gospel, pages 47 and following:
We watch expectantly, like the Maltans in Acts 28 watched Paul after the serpent bit him. They expect Paul to swell up and fall down, or something. Not to keep eating his barbecued chicken.
In the same way, we watch Adam and Eve after they eat the fruit. Cue the “death scene.” Any minute now they’re going to gasp, maybe clutch at their throats, reel around a bit, cry out, then collapse in a heap, dead. Any minute now. Yes, sir. Soon. Really soon. Should be big. So we watch, and we watch, and . . .
Nothing! They just go on. They make some itchy lame clothes. But them? They seem fine. Apparently air’s still going in and out, heart’s still pumping, blood’s still flowing. Not so dead as all that.
Not dead? Are you sure? You don’t think they died right away? I think they did. Just like that. It simply took their bodies a few centuries to catch up to the fact.
It’s all in what you mean by death and life.
What is life, anyway? In the Bible, life can denote physical existence (Eccl. 9:4), but it connotes far more than mere existence.
People in hell exist forever, but I can’t think of any passages that refer to their existence as “life.” Life, in its fullness, connotes the enjoyment of God’s presence, and the blessings that this enjoyment entails. To die is to be cut off—not from the bare reality of God’s presence, which is impossible (Ps. 139:7–12), but from the enjoyment of His presence, from experiencing Him as other than terrifying (2 Thess. 1:8–9; Rev. 14:10).
Life isn’t merely the length of the line on a chronology chart; it is the quality of that line. Moses elsewhere paints it so; when he preaches that man does not enjoy life merely by eating bread, but by feasting on what comes from Yahweh’s6 mouth (Deut. 8:3). When Moses lays before Israel the options of life and good, and of death and evil (Deut. 30:15), and urges them to choose life (v. 19), he means more than mere existence. Moses parallels “life” with “blessing” (v. 19), and says plainly that the Lord “is your life” (v. 20). Solomon will later describe life as the opposite, not only of death, but of sin (Prov. 10:16).
...Looking millennia ahead, we see a validation of this when the Lord Jesus prays, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The essence of life is knowing God, relating to the triune God.
Real life, then, is a gift of God, and bears His presence and blessing. Likewise, if life is the enjoyment of God’s intimate presence, then death will be the loss of the joy of that presence, and of all of the blessings that fellowship with God brings.
And so I say that Adam and Eve did die, right away. When the horrible reality of physical death eventually overtook them, it was the culmination of a ghastly process that began the moment sin touched them.
Disease produces symptoms. When she was a young girl, my dear and only daughter Rachael caught Chicken Pox. In those pre-vaccination days, we wanted her brother Matthew to catch it as well, to get over it while he was still young and the symptoms would be mild. When he became a bit ill and broke out in red spots, we knew he’d caught it. (And so did I, by the way, with a whole lot more misery!)
So we see Adam and Eve breaking out in death right away. The symptoms begin to appear immediately. What are they?
We see one “red spot” of death instantly in their self-consciousness and awareness of guilt (Gen. 3:7). Before, being naked had not been a problem. They were naked, and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25). Suddenly, now, being naked is a bad thing. They feel guilty because they are guilty; they are ashamed, because they are shameful. So they patch together some leaves.
But a worse and more extensive complex of “spots” is seen the moment Yahweh arrives for fellowship with the man. The presence of God really brings out the symptoms. Our bold, brave, pioneering godling-wannabes actually hide (3:8).
Isn’t that just the most pathetic scene in the entire Bible? Adam hiding in the bushes from Him who made the bushes. As if God couldn’t see him!
So, you see, this one wretched act is in truth an ugly constellation of “spots,” and reveals the spread of death in their mental/spiritual makeup:
- God’s presence is no longer beloved and welcome and sought-out, but excruciating and terrifying and repellant.
- Offending God, indeed insulting Him (by running and hiding from Him who fills heaven and earth) is an acceptable option; so
- God is no longer God in their universe; so
- God’s glory is no longer their central heartbeat; it has been supplanted by their own self-preservation according to their own pitiful notions.
- Their very notion of God has become warped and inadequate. (“Hide here, honey! He’ll never see us!”)
- They are evasive about their sin, blame-shifting (“Maybe I can throw Him off!”), rather than openly confessing it, throwing themselves on His mercy, and pleading for a way back into His favor.
- Adam, in fact, has the dead/blind audacity to blame his sin not only on Eve, but also on God (“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree” [v. 12]; as if to say, “It’s not my fault! You gave me a defective woman! You messed up!”).
But what is infinitely more gracious and glorious, one day God will send a second Man, a last Adam, to win out where they so miserably failed (Gen. 3:15; more on this in chapter 3).
As the scene closes, God pronounces His judgments on the couple (Gen. 3:16–19), and they begin to ponder the repercussions of their act. Their responsibilities and structures—work and marriage—remain. But all will be more difficult, and physical death waits at the end. Childbirth will be an agony, and the relationship between husband and wife will become a difficult competition
Subsequent chapters then deal with the transmission and the total effect of sin, with our hopelessness, and with God's grand plan of salvation, first announced in Genesis 3:15.
So was the Serpent right? Of course not. He is the "father of lies."
Adam and Eve died; and, in Adam's death, we died. Only in Christ can we be made alive.