Why didn’t Adam die on the day that he sinned?

The need for Christ to die as the Redeemer is linked directly in the New Testament to the sin of the first man Adam. In Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul makes a direct connection between the death introduced by Adam and the need for Jesus Christ to make life available to all. In Rom. 5:19 he put it this way, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” It is astonishing therefore that today many who call themselves Evangelicals question the historical existence of that first man, arguing that he and Eve were symbolic of a number of neolithic individuals to whom, after they had evolved from dead chemicals over millions of years, God imparted some special aspect of His nature. Others question the truth of Genesis, arguing that it is not historic at all but simply a literary device used to illustrate truths rather than to record facts. Many of these doubters raise Adam’s failure to die immediately in Genesis 3 as support for their scepticism. This article explains why Adam didn’t die with the fruit still in his mouth, and why over six thousand years later this is central to a good understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Warning!

In Genesis 2 from v4 onwards we read that having created Adam from the dust of the ground and having prepared a garden for him to live in, the first recorded conversation The LORD had with him was to instruct him about his diet. In v16-17 we read, And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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 warning was plain - there was a whole variety of fruit he and his soon-to-be-created wife could enjoy, but there was just one they had to avoid at all costs - the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps its name alone should have been sufficient warning!

At this point Adam knew only good; his innocence was such that he had no knowledge of bad. Yet in giving him this warning, The LORD made clear that besides the goodness which flowed from his righteous Creator, there also existed something which expresses the absence of that goodness. The Hebrew word ‘raæ’ used in v17 simply means bad, though it is commonly translated into English as “evil”, which to us is far stronger in meaning than “bad”. However in God’s wisdom there are no grey areas - sin is sin and in the same way bad is bad, be it a ‘little white lie’ or the accumulated actions of an international despot! In Gen. 2 the contrast is between the good of living in fellowship with his Creator which Adam had already begun to enjoy, or the bad of being separated from Him through death. In creating Adam The LORD had formed a body and united it with the breath of life; consequently the man became a living being (or soul). Just as physical death occurs when a body is separated from the breath of life, spiritual death is our experience when we live separated from the One who is the source of all life.

Physical or Spiritual Death?

The question raised by creation-sceptical Evangelicals is whether The LORD’s warning quoted above was about physical or spiritual death. Their need is for it to warn only of spiritual separation, because their arguments in favour of an evolutionary origin of man require endless cycles of physical suffering and death to shape the human race from microbes. If this passage speaks of physical death, then their support for evolution is clearly unbiblical, but they cannot accept that. To support their argument they turn to Gen. 3 and Adam’s rebellion, saying that he did not die physically on the day he ate the fruit. If he only died spiritually on that day they argue, then the penalty - actually the consequence - warned of in that first conversation with his Creator can only be referring to spiritual death. They then apply this reasoning to Paul’s arguments in the New Testament and claim that there is no Biblical obstacle to Darwinian evolution and its necessity for millions of physical deaths before the emergence of a fully human species capable of moral accountability. Are their arguments valid?

It is true that when Adam ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and bad, both he and Eve became aware of their nakedness and felt the need to hide themselves from The LORD’s presence. It is also true that we do not read of any conversation between Adam and his Creator after he was driven from Eden. Did their expulsion from the garden equate to their spiritual death? If as Paul argued “through one man... death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12) and this means spiritual death, then Adam and all his descendants would have been excluded from God’s presence until the advent of a Redeemer. However, whilst we have no record of Adam having fellowship with The LORD after his rebellion, the next chapter of Genesis records most remarkably The LORD speaking with a murderer both before and after he killed his brother. Perhaps we are too familiar with the story to appreciate that this very next event recorded for our benefit is when the sin of one brother brought physical death to the other and spiritual death to himself. Abel is described by Christ as righteous so we can be confident that though he died physically, he did not die spiritually. By contrast, Cain did not lose his physical life but is there any evidence for my claim that he died spiritually?

Most will be familiar with The LORD’s judgement of Cain and the fact that God marked him out in some way to prevent his remaining brothers and sisters from killing him. But how many remember the detail of Cain’s words in response to God’s judgement? My punishment is greater than I can bear! Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me” (4:13-14) [Emphasis mine]. There was something in The LORD’s words which meant much more to Cain than is obvious to us. In being told A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth,” Cain realised that this meant he would no longer be able to live before God’s face. In other words he would be excluded from the presence of The LORD, and this separation was therefore as much spiritual as it was physical. This is confirmed in v16 which states, Then Cain went out from the presence of The LORD”.

The implication of this combined with the conversations which The LORD had with Cain, is that until he had to leave God’s presence Cain was accustomed to being in fellowship with Him. A second implication is that if Cain and Abel were brought up in The LORD’s presence then their parents, Adam and Eve, must have continued to experience fellowship with Him after they were barred from Eden. If they had been separated from The LORD on the day of Adam’s sin, then that spiritual death would have transferred to their children (as explained above) and Cain would not have lamented his expulsion from before the face of The LORD. Later we read that it was only in the time of Enosh, Seth’s son, that men began to call on the name of the LORD” (v26) Whilst it is not explained directly in the passage one possible implication is that by the time of Enosh, who was born 235 years after creation, most people no longer lived in The LORD’s presence and therefore had to seek for Him individually. This is the situation we are in today, but He remains faithful and His promise to Israel that they would find Him when they sought for him with their whole heart (Deut. 4:29 & Jer. 29:13) is a principle in which we too can be confident.

The First Death

If Adam did not die physically on the day he sinned, if he was not isolated from The LORD’s presence when he and Eve were barred from the garden of Eden, was Satan telling the truth when he told Eve, You will not surely die”? At first glance that may seem to be the case, but that dreadful day was not without death. Some may think that Abel’s death was the first to be recorded in the Scriptures, but that is not so. In an easily overlooked verse at the end of Gen. 3 we are told, Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” Have you ever wondered where the skin came from? It must have come from at least one animal - though we are not told the number or the kind. What would it have cost the animal to surrender its skin to meet their needs? Why didn’t The LORD just teach Eve to sew leaves properly?

Whilst we can shear sheep for their wool without causing their death, no animal can lose its skin and keep its life. Where did this animal come from? It was one which The LORD had created and therefore owned. Had it done anything to deserve death? It was innocent of sin and, having lived in a very good world, it would have been without blemish. Something else is important here too. After the Flood when The LORD permitted man to eat meat, He told Noah that we should not eat meat with its life, that is, its blood.” It is impossible to skin an animal without shedding its blood in one way or another. If an animal is cruelly skinned alive, its life drains from it as its blood leaks out and it dies. This is why Adam and Eve's attempts to clothe themselves did not cover their guilt. It was not that the plants were not sturdy enough, nor that they had insufficient time to complete their tailor's work. It was because in taking fig leaves no life had been lost, no blood had been shed. It was for exactly the same reason that Cain’s offering of plants was unacceptable to The LORD, whilst Abel's first-born from the flock met with His approval. In taking an animal from His own flock, an animal which had done no wrong, and killing it in order to provide Adam and Eve with a covering for their nakedness, The LORD set a precedent for the rest of history.

From Genesis 3 onwards, the shedding of blood became a constant theme with regard to the provision of a covering for human sin. This is made abundantly clear in Lev. 17:10-14, which explains both The LORD’s words to Noah in Gen. 9 and those of the Holy Spirit to the Church in Acts 15 concerning the need to abstain from eating blood. Lev. 17:11 reads, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” It could not be plainer - our Creator makes it clear; He has designated blood, which contains the life of an animal or man, as the means of atoning for our souls. We should remember that the Hebrew word translated ‘soul’ (nephesh) is also translated ‘life’ and has a root which means ‘to breathe’. These thoughts take us back to Gen. 2 when The LORD breathed into Adam’s body the breath of life and he became a living soul. One of the wonderful things about the Scriptures is their consistency within themselves. If a man or woman sins against their Creator, then their life can be redeemed when another life is willingly offered in their place. This is justice and The LORD as a righteous God must satisfy justice, even when He acts out of mercy towards us. (For more on this topic, see the article, If God is all powerful, why doesn’t He just forgive people? sent out with the Creation Research UK Update in July 2011.)

Filling the Gap

The reason why Adam did not die physically on the day he sinned and the reason why Adam and Eve were not isolated from The LORD when they were expelled from Eden is that on the day Adam sinned, The LORD sacrificed an animal from His own flock, shedding its blood to atone for them. This offering provided them with both a physical covering for their nakedness and a spiritual covering for Adam’s sin. Through His mercy The LORD preserved not only Adam’s physical life but also enabled him and his children to know Him, even though Adam’s sin had earned him the wages of both spiritual and physical death. Perhaps Abraham was looking back to this occasion and what it said about the character of his God when he confidently told Isaac, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” (Gen. 22:8). But we are moving on too quickly.

We know from the narrative concerning Cain and Abel that Adam and his family found it necessary to go on making blood offerings to The LORD. Why should these have been necessary? Just as the tunics God made for them from the first sacrifice would have worn out, so the spiritual covering provided by the death of an animal could not last for ever. The Holy Spirit tells us in Hebrews 10 that animal sacrifices could never make those who approach perfect” and so under the Law sacrifices had to be made continually year upon year. In fact we find that men recognised that offerings to cover sin were a necessary part of life before the Law was given. Noah took sufficient clean animals on board the ark to allow him to offer sacrifices when he and his family left it. Abraham, as we have seen, was willing to give up his son at The LORD’s command. When the Law was given to Moses, it simply formalised what people had known for many years to be necessary. Yet for all their abundance and repetition, sacrifices under the Law could not provide full and sufficient atonement for sin.

Returning to Hebrews 10, we find reasoning which highlights the shortcomings of animal sacrifices, and also makes clear The Father’s final solution to our need for atonement to be made on our behalf. In v4 the Holy Spirit plainly states, For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Having already explained that the Law provided a shadow of good things to come, He now makes clear that the One to whom all the Old Testament sacrifices point is Jesus Christ. However, the emphasis in this passage is not on the death of Christ but on His sacrificial life. Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second.” In other words, Calvary would have been of no benefit to God or man if Christ had not lived His life sacrificially, doing only what His Father commanded him throughout His life. His death was not the deserved penalty for any sin of His own - it came about for no other reason than that it was the will of His Father. Hebrews carries on, By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

The Lamb of God

When Jesus first clashed with the Jewish leaders of His day, He accused them of mistakenly thinking that the Scriptures could provide them with life. He said instead that these are they which testify of Me,” (John 5:39) adding that they stubbornly refused to go to Him to obtain life. The aim of this study is to help you appreciate that the historical record we find in the early chapters of Genesis reveals Christ even though His name does not appear there. The opening of John’s gospel makes clear that He was fully involved in the creative work of Gen. 1 and 2. This confirmation is repeated in Col. 1:16 For by Him all things were created” and in Heb. 1:2 through whom also He made the worlds”. In Gen. 3 there is an obvious pointer to Christ in the promise which The LORD made to the serpent; that the Seed of the Woman would bruise his head, whilst Satan would only be able to bruise the Seed’s heel. But as we have seen, there is also another signpost to Christ in this chapter which records the start of human rebellion and the spoiling of the Father’s good creation.

This is found when the Creator from whom Adam had turned did not turn from Adam. Instead He went to His own flock and took from it at least one animal, which He killed and skinned in order to provide a covering for them, a covering with both physical and spiritual benefit. When John the Baptist announced Behold the Lamb of God!” most people think he was looking back just to the Passover lamb. Others might also remember the ram which The LORD provided for Abraham on Mt. Moriah. However, the foundation for both these sacrifices with their prophetic testimony to Christ is found in what many read as only a passing comment, failing to meditate on its eternal significance. They overlook that original life lost on the day Adam sinned; they fail to appreciate that in taking that animal's hide The LORD also shed its blood and so provided atonement - albeit temporarily - for Adam’s sin. In so doing, He pointed to the day when His only-begotten Son would be killed, His blood being shed that sinners no matter when or where they lived may be atoned for.

Always a Plan

Calvary was not something which the Father dreamed up after Adam had sinned. In Rev. 13:8 Jesus is described as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. The Godhead knew when they created the universe together and put mankind on the earth, that doing this would cost them more than we can appreciate. This foreknowledge is why The LORD was able on the very day that the need for mercy first arose to point in both word and action to the day when God who is the Son would die to atone for human sin. Because it was prophetic in nature, as was every other sin offering until Christ, The Father could declare justice satisfied and not cut off Adam, physically or spiritually on the day he first earned death. Today you and I can benefit from the Father’s grace just as Adam did, but we do so from a place of looking back to Christ's sacrifice, not looking forward to it.

Randall Hardy

This paper was first published as part of the September 2012, Creation Research UK Update.
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© Randall Hardy, 2013