] you shall surely die”? Why is it that
Adam did not drop dead the very day he ate the forbidden fruit?
For Genesis 2:17 to represent a legitimate contradiction, one first would have to assume that
the phrase “in the day…you shall surely die” must refer to an immediate
death occurring on the very day a certain transgression has taken place. The available evidence
shows, however, that the Hebrew idiom bªyôm (“in the day”) means the
certainty of death, and not the immediacy of it. For example, King Solomon once warned
a subversive Shimei: “For it shall be, on the day (bªyôm) you go out and
cross the Brook Kidron, know for certain you shall surely die; your blood shall be on your own
head” (1 Kings 2:37, emp. added). As the next few verses indicate, Shimei could not have been
executed on the exact day he crossed the Brook Kidron. Solomon did not call for him until after
Shimei had saddled his donkey, went to king Achish at Gath, sought and retrieved his slaves, and
returned home (approximately a 50-60 mile round trip). It is logical to conclude that this would
have taken more than just one day (especially considering a donkey’s average journey was only
about 20 miles a day—Cansdale, 1996, p. 38). It was only after Shimei’s return from Gath
that King Solomon reminded him of his promise saying, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord,
and warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and travel
anywhere, you shall surely die?’ ” (1 Kings 2:42, emp. added). Solomon understood
that even though he executed Shimei sometime after the day he crossed Brook Kidron, it still was
proper to refer to it as occurring “on the day.” As Hebrew scholar Victor Hamilton
noted, this phrase (in Genesis 2:17, 1 Kings 2:37,42, and Exodus 10:28ff.) “is underscoring
the certainty of death, not its chronology” (1990, p. 172). Thus, it is logical to conclude
that when God said, “in the day…you shall surely die,” He did not mean Adam would die on
the exact day of his transgression, but that his death would be certain if he ate of the forbidden
A second problem with the skeptic’s assertion that Genesis 2:17 contradicts 5:5 is that it
assumes the “death” mentioned in 2:17 is a physical death. The Bible, however, describes
three different kinds of “deaths”: (1) a physical death which ends our life on earth
(Genesis 35:18); (2) a spiritual death which is separation from God (Isaiah 59:1-2; Ephesians
2:1); and (3) an eternal death in hell (Revelation 21:8). The fact is, one cannot know for sure
which death is indicated by the phrase, “for in the day that you eat of it you will surely
die.” Realizing that Adam sinned against the Almighty in the Garden and became “dead in
trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1; cf. 1 Timothy 5:6), it is possible that the death spoken
of in Genesis 2:17 is a spiritual death. If this is the case, the reason Adam did not physically
drop dead on the very day of his transgression was because God’s prophecy was referring to a
spiritual death, not a physical one.
When Adam chose to follow his own desires instead of God’s will, he cut himself off from
God. Without a doubt, man perished spiritually on that day. But, equally certain is the fact that
God’s punishment for that sin was a physical death—a death that would occur centuries
later. Exactly which death God meant in his prophecy is uncertain. (Perhaps He was referring to
both.) Whichever is the case, we can be sure that no contradiction exists.
Cansdale, G.S. (1996), “Animals of the Bible,” New Bible Dictionary, ed.
J.D. Douglas (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), third edition.
Hamilton, Victor, (1990), The Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Thompson, Bert (2002), “Questions and Answers—A Matter of Time,” Reason &
Revelation, 22:41-48, June.
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