Part I: The Intrusion of Death
Human Death: A
Process Of Tragedy
tells us that the effect of eating the forbidden fruit was to
begin immediately: "in the day that thou eatest thereof
thou shalt surely die." Since Adam did not return to the
dust until centuries later, it has sometimes been held that the
whole import of this passage is spiritual not physical: that
it was a spiritual death that occurred that very day, and that
the Tree of Life was a tree for the healing of a spiritual disease
rather than a physical one. But the implications are clear. It
was a physical disease with fatal consequences that man had incurred
from the forbidden fruit which the Tree of Life could have served
to antidote. It is necessary, then, to read the words "in
the day that . . ." in some less literal sense. And
here we have an interesting parallel in 1Kings 2:36-46.
On this occasion
Solomon had condemned Shimei to permanent confinement in Jerusalem
for the rest of his life. Solomon's words in verse 37 are: "For
it shall be, that on the day thou goest out (of the city) . .
. thou shalt know for certain that thou shalt surely die."
We are told that Shimei stayed in Jerusalem according to the
King's command for some three years, until certain of his servants
ran away. Without stopping to think about the consequences, Shimei
saddled his ass and went right out after them. After Shimei had
returned to the city, Solomon learned what he had done and sent
his official executioner to put him to death. The meaning of
Solomon's warning was
probably quite clear
to Shimei: he understood that the day he disobeyed, from that
time he was a doomed man. But after three years, living freely
within the confines of Jerusalem, he evidently forgot all about
the injunction of Solomon ‹ and paid the penalty.
Now Augustine in his treatise on
Merits and Forgiveness (Book 1,.21) illustrates how the
threat of Genesis 2:17 can be viewed as certain rather than immediate:
By a certain disease which
was conceived in men from a suddenly infected and pestillential
corruption, it was brought about that they lost that stability
of life in which they were created, and by reason of the changes
which they experienced during the stages of life the disease
issued at last in death. However, many were the years they lived
in their subsequent life, yet they began to die in the day when
they received the law of death, because they kept verging towards
Delitzsch, in their commentary on Genesis, consider briefly not
only the evil of death, the prospect of which was to plague man
throughout his life, but also the merciful aspect of its delayed
This was the fulfillment
of the threat "in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt
surely die," which began to take effect immediately after
the breach of the divine command; for not only did man then become
mortal, but he also actually came under the power of death, received
into his nature (i.e., body) the germ of death [the mortogenic
factor, ACC], the maturity of which produced its eventual dissolution
into dust. The reason why the life of the man did not come to
an end immediately after the eating of the fruit . . . was that
the long-suffering of God afforded space for repentance and so
controlled and ordered the sin of men and the penalty of sin
as to render them subservient to the accomplishment of his original
purpose and the glorification of his name.
The poison must
be slow acting or the whole of God's purposes would have been
rendered futile, since humanity would have perished at once.
Thus Adam and his immediate descendants must be allowed to survive
for a sufficient length of time to allow the establishment of
the human race. But once established, thereafter longevity could
be reduced for safety's sake lest the race once again destroy
itself by its very potential for wicked invention which this
factor of long life made so probable.
God therefore appointed that man
should neither die at once, nor enjoy undue longevity. Death
was designed as a process, not an event. Moreover, if
Adam and Eve had died at once before
* Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzsch, Biblical
Commentary On the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,
reprint, no date, vol.1, The Pentateuch, p.105.
2 of 18
guaranteeing the continuance
of the race, the whole creation would have been pointless. For
the universe finds its meaning only in so far as the love of
God has been effectively displayed in redemption.
Augustine had a tremendous influence
by his writings on the subsequent development of Roman Catholic
theology. The Roman Catholic view on this subject in the earlier
centuries has been set forth by a Jesuit writer, Professor T.
B. Chetwood, as follows: *
The immortality of Adam
is explicitly defined by the Church. The Sixteenth Council of
Carthage (418 A.D.), the decrees of which were approved by Pope
Zozimus, teaches: "If anyone shall say that Adam was created
mortal so that he would have died in the body whether he had
sinned or not, let him be anathema." And the same doctrine
is confirmed by the decrees of Orange and Trent.
The Scriptures, both the Old and
the New Testament, have very many passages which speak of the
"death" which came to us from Adam but there are none
plainer than the Book of Genesis which gives the words of God
to the pair in the garden: "But of the tree of knowledge
of good and evil thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou
shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death."
the argument first of all by pointing out that by his disobedience
Adam did not die immediately but only after the passage of centuries.
By which he concluded that God meant: "You will at once
come under sentence of death, i.e., from that very day."
And then, secondly, he observed that unless Adam really possessed
immortality before he disobeyed, it would have been no punishment
whatever to forfeit it afterwards. As Chetwood said, "He
could not, clearly, be deprived for a punishment of something
which he did not possess." Chetwood then remarks that the
Fathers were unanimous in so understanding this passage and in
their teaching of the original immortality of Adam and Eve.
Although Luther was diametrically
opposed to Roman Catholic teaching on almost every point of importance,
on this issue he found himself in agreement. In his Lectures
on Genesis, he wrote:†
If God had permitted Adam to
eat of the tree of life, Adam would have overcome death by means
of this food, since he had become subject to death after he had
eaten of the tree of death. . . .
* Chetwood, T. B.. God and Creation, New
York, Benzinger Brothers, 1928, p.145 ff.
† See Luther's Works: Lectures on Genesis Chapters
1-5, edited by J. Pelikan, St. Louis, Concordia, 1958, vol.1,
p.116. See also Note #114 (at the end of this chapter) for further
excerpts from Luther.
that if Adam had been permitted to go to the tree of life, he
would have been restored to the life he had lost, so that thereafter
he would not have died . . . .
In his commentary
on Psalm 90 Luther deals at some length with the tragedy of death
which for man he calls "a genuine disaster." It seems
that in most evangelical circles today the fact has been almost
entirely overlooked. The Theory of Evolution has made its case
so forcefully that many have abandoned their former position
and come to accept the animal origin of man's body, demanding
only that his soul be a special creation.
But this is to surrender an essential
aspect of man's uniqueness, namely, that he was created immortal.
If this is true, and the Word of God most assuredly proclaims
it in no uncertain terms, then man cannot have received his body
by evolutionary descent because the primate stock from which
it is proposed to derive him consists of a line of animals for
whom old age and death seem clearly to be natural and programmed.
For man death is neither natural nor is it programmed
‹ save as a penalty.
Luther wrote in his commentary:
This Psalm reveals in striking
fashion that the death of man is in countless ways a far greater
calamity than the death of other living beings. Although horses,
cows, and all animals die, they do not die because God is angry
at them. On the contrary, for them death is, as it were, a sort
of temporal casualty, ordained indeed by God but not regarded
by Him as punishment. Animals die because for some other reason
it seemed good to God that they should die.
But the death of human beings is
a genuine disaster. Man's death is in itself truly an infinite
and eternal wrath. The reason is that man is a being created
for this purpose: to live forever in obedience to the Word of
God and to be like God. He was not created for death. In his
case death was ordained as a punishment of sin; for God said
to Adam: "In the day that you eat of this tree, you shall
die" (Genesis 2:17).
The death of human beings is, therefore,
not like the death of animals. These die because of a law of
nature. Nor is man's death an event which occurs accidentally
or has merely an aspect of temporality. On the contrary, man's
death, if I may so speak, was threatened by God and is caused
by an incensed and estranged God. If Adam had not eaten of the
forbidden tree, he would have remained immortal. But because
he sinned through disobedience, he succumbs to death like the
animals which are subject to him. Originally death was not part
of his nature. He dies because he provokes God's wrath. Death
is, in his case, the inevitable and
* Luther's Works: Selected Psalms II, edited by J. Pelican, St. Louis, Concordia, 1965,
vol.13, p.94, 95, 96.
deserved consequence of his sin and disobedience.
Man's death is truly an event sadder
and more serious than the slaughter of a cow. This becomes most
evident when one takes into account the propagation of evil.
Moses says: "Thou causest men to die." "Men"
refers to the entire human race. Moses includes in this one word
"men" all the offspring of our first parents. Therefore
that which was created for life is now destined for death. This
is the result of God's wrath. So the entire human race plunged
from immortality into eternal death.
Such is certainly
the Scriptural view of human mortality: it is a penalty, and
a tragedy. In his Biblical Theology Geerhardus Vos nicely
states the position of Adam before and after the Fall, as well
as the position of man redeemed yet still destined to die, as
Immortality is used in
theological terminology for that state of man in which he has
nothing in him which would cause death. It is quite possible
that at the same time an abstract contingency of death may overhang
man, i.e., the bare possibility may exist of death in some way,
for some cause, invading him, but he has nothing of it within
him. It is as if we should say of somebody that he is liable
to the invasion of some disease, but we should not on that account
declare him to have the disease.
In this sense it can appropriately
be said that man as created was "immortal," but not
that after the fall he was so, for through the act of sinning
the principle of death entered into him; whereas before he was
only liable to die under certain circumstances, he now inevitably
had to die. His immortality in (the sense of his soul) had been
lost. Again immortality can designate, in eschatalogical
language, that state of man in which he has been made immune
to death, because immune to sin. Man was not in virtue of creation,
immortal in this highest sense: this is a result of redemption
accompanied by eschatalogical treatment. . . .
[Man] was (initially) immortal
and mortal both, according to the definition employed:
mortal as not yet lifted above the contingency of death, but
non-mortal as not carrying death as a disease within himself.
Here, therefore, immortality and mortality co-existed.
In the next stage (fallen) he is in no sense anything else but
mortal: he must die, death works in him.
In the next stage the word mortal
has only a qualified application to the regenerate man, namely,
in so far as during his earthly state death still exists and
works in his body, whilst from the centre of his renewed spirit
it has been in principle excluded, and supplanted by an immortal
life, which is bound in the end to overcome and extrude death.
The Tree of
Knowledge might well have been called the "tree of death,"
for such it turned out to be. But the Tree of Life seems
* Vos, Geerhardus, Biblical Theology, Grand
Rapids, Eerdmans, 1975, p.38, 39.
clearly to have been
potentially a tree of health, this character being either in
its leaves (Revelation 22:2) or perhaps in its fruit. The circumstances
surrounding the forceful exclusion of Adam and Eve from access
to it (Genesis 3:24) once death had been introduced into their
bodies, reinforces the view that this Tree of Life was not for
spiritual but for physical well-being. For it seems highly
unlikely that if this tree had the power of spiritual healing,
Adam and Eve would have been so rigidly excluded from further
access to it, just when they most needed it.
The probability is rather that
the Tree of Life supplied in their diet, while they were yet
unfallen and immortal, that which would preserve them in perfect
health indefinitely. But once they had disobeyed and destroyed
by a single act of disobedience both their spiritual vitality
as well as their physical immortality, the healing of the body
could only have consigned them to an unending existence with
a fallen nature. To continue for ever without the amendment of
an evil spirit was a fate too awful to contemplate. Keil and
Delitzsch put the matter thus:†
Immortality in a state of sin
is not the zoe aionois (eternal life) which God designed
for man, but endless misery which the Scriptures call "the
second death" (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). The expulsion
from paradise, therefore, was a punishment inflicted for man's
good, intended, while exposing him to temporal death, to preserve
him from eternal death.
Thus God thrust
them out of the Garden and stationed at the entrance an angel
with a sword that turned every way (i.e., was inescapable) specifically
to keep the way to the Tree of Life. What had once been a guarantee
of blessing had now become a potential hazard of immeasurable
The day that Adam and Eve disobeyed
and ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, they destroyed their
unique constitution. They surrendered a potential physical immortality,
and by a process of inheritance (to be considered later in this
volume) they involved all their descendants (save One) in the
same unnatural and unhappy state. As Paul says: "By one
man sin entered into the world and death by sin; and thus death
passed upon all men." * As
A. H. Strong notes: "The death spoken of (in Romans 5:12)
is, as the whole context
† Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzisch, Biblical Commentary
on the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, no date, vol.1,
The Pentateuch, p.107. Erich Sauer rightly remarked: "The
sinner's bodily deathlessness would be eternal death to his soul,
and Paradise would have become a Hell." [The Dawn of
World Redemption. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1953, p.61]
* For an extended note on Romans 5:12, see Note #115 (at the
end of this chapter).
shows, mainly though
not exclusively physical. It has passed upon all even upon those
who have as yet committed no conscious and personal transgression
whereby to explain its infliction (i.e., infants)." *
The fatal poisoning which had become the penalty
of disobedience in the first pair was passed on and became the
root cause of disobedience in all their descendants save One.
This has been stated succinctly: "In Adam a person made
human nature sinful: in his posterity, nature made persons sinful."†
Luther spoke at
some length on this matter. He said:‡
If Eve had not sinned,
[man] would nevertheless have eaten, drunk, slept, etc., but
all this without any sin and disorder. Such a life would have
continued as long as it pleased God, let us say for two or three
thousand years. Then we would have been changed in a moment without
passing through death; and, completely sanctified, we would have
entered into an eternal life free from trouble; such a life as,
indeed, we are even now expecting. But because sin has stolen
into the world through the work of the devil and the consent
of man, the judgment has been passed from the beginning and remains
in force throughout this life: "In the day that thou eatest
thereof thou shalt surely die." This is the reason why we
In another place
Luther wrote: **
Had man not fallen into
sin, he would, of course, also have eaten and drunk. The change
of his food by the process of digestion would have taken place
in his body, but it would not have been so foul as it is now.
This tree of life would have kept him in perpetual youth; nor
would any man have ever felt the inconvenience of old age. His
brow would not have been furrowed; nor would his foot or his
hand or any other part of his body have become increasingly weak
and languid. Through the beneficent effect of the fruit of this
tree man's powers for procreation and all sorts of labour would
have remained perfect until he would finally have been translated
from this corporeal or natural life to the spiritual life.
in discussing Luther's views on the entrance of
* Strong, Augustus H., Systematic Theology,
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Judson Press, 1974 reprint, p.622.
† Jones, J. C., Primeval
Revelation: Studies in Genesis I‹ VIII , London, Hodder
& Stoughton, 2nd edition, 1897, p.256.
‡ What Luther Says, an anthology complied by
E. M. Plass, St. Louis, Concordia, 1959, vol.VI, entry no.4153.
** Luther: ibid., entry no.4135.
physical death, observed
that his theology of death is expressed particularly clearly
in his powerful interpretation of Psalm 90. *
Luther held that people
usually understand death as a natural event, as a particular
example of the transitoriness of all creatures; they therefore
recommend that we should not take it too seriously. . . . Holy
Scripture, however, opens our eyes to what really happens when
we die. Dying is more than a biological phenomenon. It is a human
reality; and this distinguishes it from the ending of plant and
animal life. Plants and animals do not come to an end because
of God's wrath, but according to a "natural order"
established by God. As Luther says, "The death of a man
is an infinite and eternal misery and wrath." For man is
a creature created in the image of God, to live eternally and
immortally in relationship to God and not to die. His death is
not the result of a natural process created by God. Rather death
is "laid upon him and executed on him through God's wrath."
This is why men draw back in terror in the face of death and
experience horror such as no other living being experiences.
We must understand our mortal fate theologically (i.e., not merely
biologically) within the relationship between God and man; for
this relationship is the decisive and all embracing destiny of
W. G. T. Shedd
points out that physical death, as a mortal principle, befell
Adam immediately, though he did not actually die on the day he
When a man is smitten with a
mortal disease he is a dead man, though he may live for months.
Adam's body became a mortal body. . . .
The difference between the immortal
body of holy Adam and the mortal body of fallen Adam is, that
prior to the fall the human body was not liable to death from
internal causes, but only from external. It had
no latent diseases, and no seeds of death in it. . . . It
could however be put to death. If it were deprived of food or
air, it would die.
of the meaning of the phrase "in the day that thou eatest
thereof. . .," Stephen Charnock (1628‹1680), a Puritan
scholar and Presbyterian minister in London wrote: "It is
to be understood, not of an actual death of the body (that day)
but the deserving, and the necessity, of death."†
* Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin
Luther, translated by R. C. Schultz, Philadelphia, Fortress
Press, 1975, p.405 f.
** Shedd, W. G. T., Dogmatic Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan
reprint, 1969, vol.II, p.159.
† Charnock: quoted by W. G. T. Shedd, ibid., vol.III,
death for man was something far more serious than death for any
animal below him is certainly implied by much that is revealed
in Scripture about the constitution of man as a spirit/body entity
who was made in the image of God and for God's pleasure. As James
Denny put it: "Body and soul exist only in and for each
other; the body is not a body, but the body of the soul;
the soul is not a soul, but the soul of the body; in our
consciousness of self the two are one...Man is a unity, not a
tying together of separate parts or even separate faculties,
and the Bible deals with him as such." *
In a similar vein,
James Orr wrote:†
Man is not a pure spirit like
the angels, but an incorporated spirit. Death therefore is not
the same thing to him as it is to the lower animals unless, indeed,
we deny to him, as we do to them, immortality.
Neither, as I said, is the body
to be regarded in his case, as the old philosophers thought of
it, as a material prison house, from which he should be glad
to escape in death. It is part of himself: an integral
part of his total personality, and body and soul in separation
are neither of them complete man.
It follows, if we deal firmly with
this conception of man, that death is to him not a natural process
but something altogether un-natural ‹ the violent
separation of two parts of his being which God never meant to
be separated; a rupture, a rending asunder, a mutilation of his
This is reflected
in Paul's hope, a hope shared equally by every child of God,
expressed so clearly in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, in which he assures
us of a new house, a new tabernacle, awaiting us for embodiment
after resurrection. We long for this, not because we long for
death which must first intervene and might leave us "unclothed"
(a kind of naked soul), but because we long to be "re-clothed"
with an immortal body, one in which death is swallowed up by
life. And Paul says: "He that wrought us for this very thing
is God." It was never God's intention to turn us into anything
else than a body/spirit reality.
This body is essential to our being.
And it is a body deliberately designed with enormous potentialities
‹ especially to make the Incarnation of God in Christ possible.
This house, this body that is the house of man's spirit, is not
just a complex electrochemical machine. It was designed from
the very first for a special purpose. It was so built that it
would properly meet the requirements that God had in mind both
for man and for Himself in the Person of the Lord Jesus
* Denny, James, Studies in Theology. Grand
Rapids, Baker reprint, 1967, p. 76.
† Orr, James, God's Image in Adam, Grand Rapids,
Eerdmans reprint, 1948, p. 251, 252.
Christ. In due course,
it was to make it possible for God to objectify Himself, perfectly
expressed in terms of human personality as a Man. And
then, as a Man, to sacrifice his life vicariously for any man
who would believe and appropriate that sacrifice as a full, perfect,
and sufficient one. In the face of the divinely appointed moral
law, man must have this "satisfaction" against his
own sinfulness, failure, and self-will. God made man's body such
that He Himself could assume it for a season as his own proper
House without doing any violence to his own Person. And then
in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ, He could die in it that
we, who are dying in it even as we live, might be redeemed to
live again and for ever in a new and even more glorious resurrected
"house" throughout eternity. Thus shall we exhibit
the grace and love of our Saviour God as a matter of personal
experience. No mere animal body could have sufficed for such
a tremendous purpose.
Now this immortality,
surrendered by the first man named Adam because of disobedience
to the will of God, was in due time to be sacrificed by
another man named Adam, Jesus Christ, (1 Corinthians 15:45) in
obedience to God's will. The conditions surrounding its
forfeiture have already been examined in some detail: it remains
now to examine some of the important circumstances under which
the second Adam was able to sacrifice his immortality as an entirely
free act of his own will without any other internal or external
compulsion. Both these two Adams are declared to have been immortals,
the first implicitly by the wording of Genesis 2:17 and 3:22,
and the last explicitly by the wording of Hebrews 7:16 which
reads "made after the power of an endless life." Of
both, Augustine's words are true: it was not impossible for either
of them to die, but it was possible for neither of them
to have done so.
In the New Testament,
there is presented to us a portrait of perfect manhood, such
a perfection as any one of Adam's descendants might have achieved
had the Fall not occurred. Jesus Christ grew from birth to manhood,
flawlessly. Whereas the first Adam turned innocence into
unrighteousness, the "last Adam," * the last truly
human being to possess immortality, turned the innocence of childhood
into moral perfection. And when He had
thus been "made perfect," that is to say, when He had
reached full and perfect maturity by the things
* Anselm of Laon observed that Christ is the
"Last Adam" because He is never to be succeeded by
another as federal head of the human race. (A Scholastic Miscellany,
edited by E. L. Fanweather, Philadelphia, Westminster Press,
1956, vol.X, p.273).
which He experienced
in the process of reaching manhood (Hebrews 5:8,9), He had arrived
at the point which the first Adam and all his descendants might
have come to had there been no Fall. Being thus ready, He might
have been translated directly into a higher state of human existence
without passing through death. *
I believe that in the case of the
Lord Jesus, Peter and James and John actually witnessed on the
Mount of Transfiguration the moment when just such an event might
have transpired (Luke 9:27-36). At that time, the Last Adam was
transformed and ready to be translated out of this world of time
and space into that other world of which this world is merely
This, it would seem, was the prospect
God had made possible for unfallen man: to turn innocence into
virtue as a response to the daily challenges of having dominion
over this world as God's appointee.†
When character had thus been perfected, then each individual
would have arrived at the position that the Lord Jesus had arrived
at when He was ready to be translated into heaven. That is to
say, if there had been no Fall and no need for redemption, such
an experience would have been the common lot of man ‹ not
as something to be dreaded and postponed at all costs, but as
something to be striven for and longed for throughout the whole
As John Taylor put it:‡
In the transfiguration of
Jesus we see what could have happened, we see the ultimate
perfection that God intends for man. No physical deterioration,
no rending of the earthly body from the soul, but metamorphosis
as smooth as sunrise into the full grown man.
I believe we
have tended to miss the real significance of what happened on
the Mount of Transfiguration. This is partly because of an unfortunate
translation of one word in Hebrews 12:2. The Authorized Version,
which I find still the most satisfying version of them all, has
these words, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher
of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured
* Two other men, Enoch and Elijah, seem to
have experienced such a translation: but see on this some further
discussion at Note #116 (at end of this chapter).
† If man had not fallen, he need not have continued
for centuries before translation. He might have matured much
more quickly and therefore been translated within only a few
centuries or even less. Indeed, the experience of Enoch may be
intended to provide us with an illustration of this principle,
for he achieved maturity in 365 years only: and this, be it remembered,
in a world that had become increasingly wicked, so wicked in
fact that within another three generations it was no longer salvageable
and had to be destroyed by the Flood.
‡ Taylor, John, Man in the Midst, London, Highway
Press, 1955, p.51.
despising the shame.
. ." I imagine that most readers of this verse have assumed
that in some way the agony, both spiritual and physical, of the
events surrounding the crucifixion were anticipated by the Lord
with a strange kind of "joy" because of what He knew
that agony would in the end achieve for those He came to save.
Perhaps this is true, though I honestly doubt whether it is the
truth intended in this passage of Scripture.
Actually, the little word for
in the phrase "for the joy that was set before Him"
is not strictly correct as we now understand it. It really should
have been rendered into modern English as "in place of"
or "instead of the joy that was set before Him." Even
today we use for in this sense as when we say "I
will give you this for that," where our meaning is clearly
instead of. Any good Greek lexicon will show at once that
this is the meaning of the original, * even though only a few
translations have actually observed it. The Williams New Testament
has "who, instead of the joy that was set before
Him, endured the cross." Smith and Goodspeed have "who,
in place of the happiness that belonged to Him, submitted
to a cross." There is really little doubt in my mind that
these two versions have translated the original correctly.
So here we have "Adam"
once again restored to view, perfectly fulfilling the role which
man was intended to fulfil and passing into glory without seeing
death. But then a deliberate choice was made by the last Adam
in obedience to his Father's will, not to follow through with
this immediate and wonderful prospect of joy to which He was
now perfectly entitled, but to return to earth and sacrifice
immortality, embracing death by a deliberate act of will: and
not merely embracing death but embracing a shameful death ‹
death on a cross. There were reasons why this particular form
of death was ordained in this case which are profoundly important,
but they must be left for consideration until later. Suffice
it to say at the moment that no other form of capital punishment
known then, or since invented, could have provided the necessary
setting for the offering of this unique sacrifice.
I believe we are being told here,
in Hebrews 12:2, that when the Lord came back down the Mount
with the disciples, He had made a deliberate choice whereby,
instead of the joy that might have been his from that
moment on, He set his face to go up to Jerusalem, there to suffer
a shameful death.
Until the time of this Mount of
Transfiguration experience, we are
* For a more extended treatment of this passage
in Hebrews 12:2, see Note 117 (at the end
of this chapter).
chiefly presented with
a demonstration of the potential of human personality as revealed
in the Lord Jesus Christ: but from this moment on we see the
cost to the last Adam of the first Adam's failure to realize
the potential he was originally endowed with.
If Adam and his descendants had
realized that potential, I imagine that we would not speak of
the dead at all. There would only be those who had "graduated"
and those who were still "undergraduates." And there
is no need to suppose that there would be any separation between
them, any more than there was between the Lord and his disciples
after the Resurrection. John Taylor shows how idyllic such a
fellowship could be: *
For six weeks of springtime
nineteen centuries ago, perfected Man was seen and loved on this
same earth upon which the unfallen Adam, the germinal Man, had
walked...At will He showed Himself, at will He was unseen. He
consorted with his friends, and went for walks, and shared a
supper and picnicked by the lake. Nothing could have been homelier,
nothing more natural. For it was natural: that is the
In such a world, then,
man would have lived without dying. The two worlds, the earthly
and the heavenly, would not have been separated by a great gulf
fixed. God would have dwelt with men and walked and talked with
them daily as He did in the Garden of Eden and as He will yet
do, according to Revelation 21:3. In such a world there would
have been no parting, and there would have been no last enemy
‹ death ‹ to break the continuity of fellowship with
those we love.
In short, death is programmed for
animals but is an execution where man is concerned. Death
for animals is for the benefit of the animal world. Death for
man is a catastrophe for both the world of men and of animals.
Indeed, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain
together until now . . . waiting for the adoption, to wit, the
redemption of our body" (Romans 8:22,23).
* Taylor, John, Man in the Midst, London,
Highway Press, 1955, p.54.
114. (see page 3) In his Commentary on Genesis 1‹5,
Luther explores the implications of Adam and Eve's potential
immortality in interesting ways. On Genesis 2:17 he wrote: "Adam
was created in a state of innocence. . . . Therefore if
Adam had obeyed this command, he would never have died for death
came through sin. Thus the remaining trees of Paradise were all
created for the purpose of helping man and maintaining his physical
life sound and unimpaired.
"For us today it is amazing
that there could be a physical life without death. . . . If
(Adam) had remained as he was he would have done the other things
physical life demands until at last he would have been translated
to the spiritual and eternal life.
"This, too, we have lost through
sin, because now the present life is separated from the future
life by that awful intermediate event, death. In the state of
innocence that intermediate event would have been a delightful
one; by it Adam would have been translated to the spiritual life
or, as Christ calls it in the Gospel, to the angelic life (Matthew
Subsequently on the same verse
he wrote: "It is as if God were saying: 'You can indeed
remain in the life for which I have created you. And yet you
will not be immortal in the same way as the angels. Your life
is, as it were, placed in the middle: you can remain in it and
afterwards be carried to an immortality that cannot be lost;
contrariwise, if you do not obey, you will become a victim of
death and lose your immortality.'"
In other words, Luther is saying
‹ as Augustine had said ‹ that there were two kinds of
immortality. There was the immortality which means that the individual
need not die, and the immortality which signifies that
the individual cannot die. The first is contingent, contingent
upon obedience: the second is absolute. The first is potential
but not certain unless the requisite conditions are fulfilled:
the second cannot be lost under any conditions whatever. As Luther
puts it, "This [first kind of] immortality had not been
made so sure for him that it was impossible for him to fall into
In commenting on Genesis 3:23,
24 Luther notes that "Adam was not created to remain forever
in this physical life, but from this physical life and from the
physical eating he was to pass over into spiritual life . . .
no death intervenes on that occasion . . . Adam, without any
intervening death would have exchanged his mortal life for an
immortal one." That is to say, he would have exchanged his
contingent immortality for an absolute immortality.
115.(see page 6) Note on Romans 5:12.
Wherefore, as by one man
sin entered into the world, and death by sin;
and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.
"As by one man,
sin entered into the world, and death by sin": by one
man, single and singular. I think this is a profoundly important
phrase: not "by two people" as might have been supposed
since Adam and Eve were both in collaboration. It is apparent
that the seed of the man is the viaduct that carries the corruption
Adam introduced into the body to all succeeding generations.
It may be remarked that non-canonical
literature on the subject of man's fall is just as likely to
attach the entrance of death to Eve as to Adam. Thus Sirach 25:24
reads: "From a woman sin had its beginning and because of
her we all die." So also a Latin work from a group of Jewish
writers on Adam, edited by Meyer (1878) and titled Vitae Adae
et Evac ("Lives of Adam and Eve": see G. Kittel,
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids,
Eerdmans, 1964, vol.II, p.856, fn.191), and Strabo, (Book 1,
p. 137 f., and Book III, p.646). In a sense this is true; but
there is an element of only half-truth about it, and therefore
of half-falsehood, which Scripture studiously avoids by never
attributing the entrance of death to Eve. The seed of the man
and the seed of the woman play antithetical roles in the redemptive
history of man. Thus physical death was introduced, it "entered",
it was a novelty for human kind, and it entered by man not by
woman, and it is passed on from generation to generation via
the male seed. The seed of the woman is not the viaduct of death,
but of life.
Paul continues, "and so death
passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." The
last part of this sentence has occasioned a great deal of controversy.
Lange's Commentary [Grand Rapids, Zondervan reprint, 1960,
vol.X at Romans 5:12, p.177‹180] gives a most useful summary
of this debate. The assumption is commonly made that the word
sin here means a sinful act. In Adam's case this is, of
course true; his disobedience. But is this true thereafter? Do
we die physically because we become active sinners, or are we
active sinners because we are physically dying creatures? Or
to put the matter slightly differently, do we finally return
to the dust because we, individually, commit sins that have the
effect of making us mortals, or do we commit sins because of
the weakness of the flesh (Romans 8:3) which "weakness of
the flesh" is demonstrated by the final death of our body?
The usual view, if I read the commentaries
correctly, is that the former is the truth of the matter and
the intent of Paul's words. Physical death overcomes each one
of us in due course because we inherit some spiritual malaise
that turns us into active sinners, the penalty of which is physical
death. But not a few commentators have seen the situation in
reverse. We become sinners because we inherit from Adam by natural
generation a defective body that becomes a source of infection
of our spirit as we mature. The initial corruption of the spirit
(or soul) by its union with the body has been a view very widely
held from the earliest times. It was explicitly maintained by
the following who are representative.
New Testament: Paul (Romans 7:17,
of Canterbury (c.1033‹1109), Anselm of Laon (d.1117),
St. Victor (c.1096‹1141), Peter Lombard (c.1095‹1161),
Stephen Langton (d.1228).
Zwingli (1484‹1531), Zacharius Ursinus (1534‹1583), Andreac
Hyperius (1568), Benedictus
Aretius (1589), Bartholomaeus Keckerman (1611), J. H. Hottinger
Polanus (1624), Francois Turretin (1632‹1687), Johannes Wollebius
Jewish Encyclopedia (1962) under "Soul".
of how soon this occurs, at what young age, is not at issue here.
It is assumed to be in youth, for so Scripture states it (Genesis
8 :21; Jeremiah 22:21; 32:30 and cf. 2 Kings 24:8,9) but obviously
this could be interpreted rather broadly depending upon how quickly
a particular culture encourages the maturing processes. But certainly
there is an age of innocence before the malaise has time to express
itself. Babies die, though innocent. The possibility of dying
has therefore also become the lot of those who have not yet reached
the age of accountability. Meyer was one of the earlier commentators
of modern times who acknowledged the force of this argument.
It might be argued that when an
infant dies, it is really "killed," by disease in one
form or another. But we know now that our bodies appear to be
dying anyway, from the day of our birth ‹ if not even prenatally.
So mortality replaced immortality
by the action of one man and this physiological defect was then
transmitted by natural procreation to all his descendants. This
defect now appears to be at the root of our spiritual death which
seems in the end as inevitable as physical death. Augustine said:
Persona corrupit natura, natura corrumpit personam: "A
person (i.e., Adam) corrupted (human) nature, (human) nature
corrupts the individual." This is why the law fails to produce
moral behaviour. The pure spirit with which each new body is
endowed by a creative act of God is soon infected by the corruption
in the body.
When God gives this spirit, what
was previously only a body is constituted a person. Conscious
life thereafter turns this person into a personality: but sadly,
time also turns innocence into guilt, and this process is somehow
initiated by a defective body. It is a form of somato-psychic
influence, of which medicine is becoming increasingly aware in
cases of chronic forms of poisoning due to industrial pollution
of our environment, for example.
Paul longed to be rid of this "body
of sin" (Romans 7:24) and confidently asserted that physical
death alone could guarantee the final perfecting of the spirit.
When the perfected spirit is re-introduced into a perfected resurrection
body, the whole man is at last made perfect.
Now the universality of this experience
by which we all become active sinners is a clear demonstration
of the universality of the root cause. That which has rendered
every naturally procreated body a dying organism is shared by
us all. This is the universal cause of a universally observed
effect. Born mortals, we become inevitable sinners if we live
long enough. If we die prematurely, we remain innocent of moral
guilt but, alas, we die physiologically nevertheless.
And so the phrase "for that
all have sinned" can be translated (as many claim) "on
account of the fact that all have sinned." Active sinfulness
then becomes the proof of the common root cause, the cause being
that physical death passes upon all men by inheritance.
F. W. Farrar, in his Life and
Work of St. Paul [London, Cassell, Petter, Galpin, 1879,
vol.II, p.215, fn.2] wrote: "There can be no doubt that
epho ('for that') means 'in as much as'. Since the argument
of Paul seems simply to be that sin was universal and that the
universality of death was a proof of this [emphasis his],
it certainly seems advisable to understand epho in the
sense of 'in accordance with the fact that.'" With this
agree the majority of grammars which refer to this passage, such
as Dana and Mantey [Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament,
Toronto, Macmillan, 1957, p.106], other aids to study such as
Vincent [Word Studies in the New Testament, New York,
Scribner's, 1890, vol.III. p.62] and Abbott Smith [Manual
Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh, Clark, 1964,
p.166], Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
(under various word headings, especially vol. I, p.427, fn.14),
and Expositors Greek Testament [edited by W. R. Nicoll,
Grand Rapids, Eerdmans reprint, 1976, vol.II, p.627 f.].
summary, it seems that we are justified in understanding Paul's
words to mean that Adam, endowed with immortality by the Creator,
forfeited that immortality by his sin and entailed to all his
descendants the poisoned constitution which he had acquired,
the proof of this entailment being the universality of human
We can interpret these words in
Romans 5:12 to mean either that all are mortal and dying, and
as a consequence became sinners; or that all have an inherently
sinful nature by spiritual entailment from Adam and that this
condemns the body of every individual to physical death. The
grammar of the sentence does not speak unequivocally and we have
to decide which is cause and which is effect. About the only
telling factor, in helping us to make the decision, is the knowledge
that an innocent baby may die as easily as a guilty old man or
woman. Physical death can overtake those who have as yet committed
no sins, which seems to demonstrate that it is at work before
any display of a disobedient spirit.
116. (see page 11) It is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews
9:27). This being so, we must assume that both Enoch and Elijah
have yet to keep this appointment. There are some commentators
who believe that the two witnesses referred to in Revelation
11:3 f. are none other than Enoch and Elijah who, after giving
their testimony for an unspecified length of time, will be overcome
and slain. Their dead bodies will lie in the street for three
and a half days (verses 8 and 9), a figure which has particular
significance in that there is a widespread belief that the lapse
of three days is required to certify that the deceased really
is dead. The two witnesses are then raised from the dead and
both ascend into heaven (verses 11 and 12). If this surmise as
to their identity is correct, then man's appointment with death
has been truly universal, even with respect to the Lord Jesus
117. (see page 12) With reference to Hebrews 12:2, in his
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [Edinburgh,
T. &. T. Clark, 4th edition, 1961], J. H. Thayer under the
Greek anti gives the following meanings: (1) it properly
seems to have signified over, against, opposite to,
before, in a local sense. Hence (2) indicating exchange,
succession, for, instead of (something). Dana and Mantey
[A Manuel of Greek New Testament, New York, Macmillan,
1955, p.100] say in this connection: "There is conclusive
proof now that the dominant meaning for anti in the first
century was instead of. Professor Whitesall (Chicago)
made a study of anti in the Septuagint and found thirty-eight
passages where it is rightly translated instead of in
the Revised Version. Since anti is used in two atonement
passages in the New Testament, such a translation needs careful
consideration. Notice the following: Genesis 22:13, "and
offered him up for a burnt offering instead of (anti)
his son"; Genesis 44:33, "Let thy servant, I pray thee,
abide instead of (anti) the lad a bondsman to my
lord"; Numbers 3:12, "I have the Levites from among
the children of Israel instead of (anti) all the
firstborn." These three sentences unmistakably deal with
substitution. This translation applies especially to the following:
Matthew 2:22; Luke 11:11; 1Corinthians 11:5; and Hebrews 12:2,
"Jesus . . . who instead of (anti) the joy
that was set before him endured the cross." The New Testament:
An Expanded Translation by Kenneth S. Wuest has also adopted
this rendering [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1959].
An excellent illustration of the
use of the Greek word anti with the meaning of "instead
of" but translated by the English word for will be
found in the King James Version at Isaiah 61:3 which reads, "To
appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty
for ashes . . . the garment of praise for the spirit
of heaviness." The Septuagint Greek version has here translated
literally this as: "Glory instead of ashes . . . the garment
of glory instead of a spirit of heaviness." Bagster's edition
of the Septuagint so translates the first phrase but then adopts
the English word for in the second, presumably for the
sake of avoiding reiteration.
Hebrew of Isaiah 61:3 the words "glory for ashes"
are represented by the Hebrew word tachath. It is a pity
that in The New Testament in Hebrew and English, published
by the Trinitarian Bible Society and chiefly the work of Louis
Ginsberg I believe, the translator was influenced and misled,
I regret to say, by the English versions. Instead of being guided
by the Septuagint usage where the Hebrew tachath meaning
"instead of" is replaced in Greek by anti, Ginsberg
replaced the Greek anti in Hebrews 12:2 by a Hebrew word
ba'abor, which means "because of" or "on
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Actually, in the Hebrew original
of Isaiah 61:3 tachath occurs three times. In each case
Rotherham has rendered it "instead of," as is proper.
The Greek word anti is frequently
used in the Septuagint with this meaning. See for example, Genesis
2:21; 4:25; 9:6: 22:13; 29:27; 30:2; 36:33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38,
39; 44:33; 47:17; etc. This is not to say that the Hebrew word
and its Greek equivalent anti never have the sense of
"because of," but only that the meaning "instead
of" where ever it is found in the Hebrew regularly requires
the form tachath, which the Septuagint has then replaced
by anti. A particularly good illustration of how the English
word for could be misinterpreted, is to be seen in Genesis
47:17 where the King James Version made the meaning explicit
by inserting the words "in exchange for" in its first
occurrence. The verse therefore reads as follows: "And they
brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread
in exchange for their horses, and for the flocks and for the
cattle of the herds and for the asses: and he fed them with bread
for all their cattle for that year."
If the King James Version had not
inserted the words "in exchange for," the transaction
could have been interpreted to mean that Joseph supplied feed
for the animals. This is not the intention of the exchange: it
was the owners, not the animals, who were supplied with food.
They traded their cattle for bread. Verse 18 makes this clear,
for although they managed to save their lives, they lost all
their possessions in so doing. All they had left to barter for
bread was their land and themselves as slaves (verse 19). And
in the end, these too became Pharaoh's possessions (verse 23).
It therefore seems entirely appropriate
to translate anti in Hebrews 12:2 by the words "instead
of." To render it any other way requires an unnatural and
unlikely exegesis. Can one really suppose that the Lord faced
the eternity of that ordeal of separation from the Father in
a spirit of joyful anticipation because of the prospect at the
end of it, when such a prospect was just as certain whether He
subjected Himself to such a frightful ordeal or not? Would He
not have been joyfully received into glory even if He had not
suffered the penalty on the cross?