Genesis 2:17—“you shall surely die” by Dr. Terry Mortenson

Many old-earth creationists (OEC) try to get around young-earth creationist arguments about there being no death (animal or human) before Adam sinned.
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In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” Is this saying that Adam would die physically at the moment he ate from the tree? If so, then since Adam physically died 930 years later, doesn’t this mean that God was wrong and the Bible is in error? Good questions. Let’s consider them.

Both spiritual death and physical death are the consequences of Adam’s fall.

The phrase “you shall surely die” can be literally translated from the Hebrew Biblical text as “dying you shall die.” In the Hebrew phrase, we find the imperfect form of the Hebrew verb (you shall die) with the infinitive absolute form of the same verb (dying). This presence of the infinitive absolute intensifies the meaning of the imperfect verb (hence the usual translation of “you shall surely die”).

This grammatical construction is quite common in the Old Testament, not just with this verb but others also, and does indicate (or intensify) the certainty of the action. The scholarly reference work by Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Conner, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), gives many Biblical examples of this,1 and they say that “the precise nuance of intensification [of the verbal meaning] must be discovered from the broader context”.

2 Clearly in the context of Gen. 3, Adam and Eve died spiritually instantly—they were separated from God and hid themselves. Their relationship with God was broken. But in Romans 5:12 we see in context that Paul is clearly speaking of physical death (Jesus’ physical death, verses 8-10, and other men’s physical death, in verse 14). We also find the same comparison of physical death and physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22. So both spiritual death and physical death are the consequences of Adam’s fall.

A relevant passage to this discussion is found in Numbers 26:65. There we find “they shall surely die” (literally: dying they shall die). These are the same Hebrew verbs and the same grammatical construction as in Genesis 2:17. God told the Israelites shortly after they came out of Egypt to go into the land of Canaan and take possession of it, as it had been promised to Abraham.

In Numbers 26:65 God says that because the adult Jews (20 years and older) refused to trust and obey God and go into the Promise Land, they would die in the wilderness over the course of 40 years (one year for every day that the twelve spies investigated the Land—see Numbers 13:1-14:10). But those rebellious unbelieving Jews did not all die at the same moment. Their deaths were spread over that whole 40-year period. So, dying they did all die and that death occurred at various times some years after God’s pronouncement of judgment.

One inquiry sent to me about Genesis 2:17 said that the verse says “in THAT day” you shall surely die. So, the enquirer said, it sure seems to say that Adam would die physically that day. But the demonstrative pronoun, “that,” is not in the Hebrew text at this point. The Hebrew has beyom (בְּיוֹם), where the Hebrew preposition b (ב, usually is translated “in”) is connected as a prefix to yom (יוֹם, which is the word for “day”).

This Hebrew temporal adverb is often translated with the English prepositional phrase “in the day that.” This would be the essentially “woodenly literal” translation (although “the” and “that” are not in Hebrew but are added to make the English sound smooth). But only sometimes (not always) does beyom refer to a literal day, in which case the context makes it clear.

This same construction (beyom) appears in Genesis 2:4 and does not refer to a specific 24-hour day but to the whole creation week of six literal days. See also Numbers 7:10-84, wherein verses 10 and 84 beyom refers to a period of twelve days of sacrifice. But a different construction occurs in between those verses.

There in verses 12, 18, 24, etc., which describe the sacrifices of each of those days, bayyom (בַּיּוֹם) is used, where the “a” (the vowel mark under the first Hebrew letter on the right) and the dot (dagesh) under the second letter on the right (yod) indicate the definite article “the.” (For days 11 and 12, in verses 72 and 78, we find beyom).

The phrase beyom is therefore sometimes rightly translated as “when,” referring to a period longer than a day, as in the NIV in both Genesis 2:4 and Genesis 2:17 (and in Numbers 7:10 and 84 and elsewhere—the NAS, HCSB and NKJV versions also translate it as “when” in these verses in Numbers).
Conclusion

So, from all this we conclude that the construction “dying you shall die” and beyom in Genesis 2:17 do not require us to conclude that God was warning that “the very day you eat from the tree is the exact same day that you will die physically.” The Hebrew wording of Genesis 2:17 allows for a time-lapse between the instantaneous spiritual death on that sad day of disobedience and the later physical death (which certainly did happen, just as God said, but for Adam, it was 930 years later).

As Scripture consistently teaches, both kinds of death (spiritual and physical) are the consequence of Adam’s rebellion. Therefore, Hugh Ross and other old-earth proponents are not correct when they say that spiritual death was the only consequence of Adam’s rebellion at the Fall.

How Do I Seek “First” the Kingdom of God? (Part 2 of 2) – by biblical diagnosis

Understanding the Deep Meaning of Matthew 6:33 - LetterPile

Seek Kingdom first_2
What does “first” mean in Matthew 6:33?

So how do we explain the word “first” in Matthew 6, if there is no “second” as we argued in part 1? I am not a Greek scholar, and therefore I do not master the order of words in Greek sentences. Nevertheless, in light of the evidence already brought forth, I will postulate that Matthew 6:33 should have been translated:

Matthew 6:33 – But first seek ye the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Instead of “seek ye first” as found in just about all biblical translations, I believe we should understand “first seek ye”. There is a difference, and it is a significant one. When one says “seek ye first” the word “first” refers to the object to be sought (in Matthew 6, it is the kingdom of God and His righteousness). And we can ask…Seek ye first what? Answer: the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. And because of that, logic dictates that what must come after should be “seek ye second this” (or something similar), which could also be followed by “seek ye third that”. “First”, “second” and “third” all refer to what needs to be sought after, the actual objects.

In stark contrast, when one says “first seek ye”, the word “first” refers to the action of seeking, not to the object to be sought after. And we can ask…First, do what? Answer: seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And therefore, in this case, what must come after needs not being another action of seeking (as in “seek ye second”). What comes second could be the outcome of performing the action seeking or anything else for that matter. I believe this is precisely the meaning of Matthew 6:33: “First, seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things will be added unto you”. There is one and only one thing to seek (God’s kingdom and His righteousness), and there is one resulting outcome for seeking that “one” thing (everything else will be added to us).

So why does this matter?

I believe to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness is so much easier to do when we realize that it is the only thing we are supposed to be doing. And yes, to be honest, this could be quite an unsettling statement.

Seek Kingdom first_4

But it is only the case because we have become deeply hardwired into being concerned about our own needs (ourselves, our families, our loved ones). Yet, God’s children should not be afraid by Matthew 6:33, at least if our interpretation is correct. Quite the contrary, to follow Jesus’ commandment of Matthew 6:33 is the best way to test and increase our reliance on God. This is how we fulfill our part of our relationship with our Father.

If King Solomon’s story is any indication, the promise that everything will be added to us as we focus on nothing but God is an absolute certainty: Our needs in all categories will be met. These needs we have are legitimate, and Jesus Himself acknowledges them in Matthew 6. But when we believe that Jesus has given us permission to seek them as long as we seek God first, that is when everything gets very complicated. Everything gets complicated because 1) we are left wrestling with the question on how to put God first in our lives (which is the reason why everyone has a different opinion on it) and 2) we are now confronted with Jesus’ rebuke (in the same chapter mind you) that it is impossible to serve two masters (Matthew 6: 24, 25) because we will eventually despise one of them. And if life has taught us anything, it is typically God we end up despising. So, “See ye first” or “First seek ye”? What is your take?