Studies in Genesis 2
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)
God uses the word “die” twice in this verse. Many have translated the verse “you shall surely die.” But God actually says “die die.” What does He mean?
“Die” means to have someone killed or executed, to intentionally take the life of another. But, it also means to simply die, or to cease living, because of natural causes. The former is a deliberate act of one person against another while the latter is a natural consequence of mortality. Thus, the phrase probably means that first is physical death followed by execution by God for rebellion. How can anyone die more than once?
From the study of the word “day” in Genesis 1 I have drawn the conclusion a “day” is not a 24 hour period of time. A “day” is a period of time determined by God with a specific beginning and ending time. God accomplishes specific acts of creation on each of the first six days. I also believe God, who exists outside of time, created life mortal, with a beginning and an ending. Birth is the beginning and death is the ending of physical life. He set in motion life according to specific and well defined laws. He is intentionally involved in creation and all created things exist according to His determination. He knows the beginnings and endings of every created thing.
Because the beginning of time suggests an end of time, so the beginning of life, physical life, suggests there is death, or an end of life. Plants, fish, birds and all land animals live, reproduce and die. There is no indication in Genesis 1 that either flora or fauna were created to live without dying.
There are two immediate implications to this line of thinking. First, Adam would know about death. Dying would not be foreign or unexpected but something he had seen firsthand. Death would not have startled him. Secondly, Adam knew he would eventually physically die. His body would live as long as God determined and then he would cease to physically live. He was not afraid of death because he knew death was not final but the beginning of a different life. How did he know this?
Of the uncounted trees in the Garden there were two trees named by God. Adam had permission to eat from every tree but one. Adam had the freedom to eat from the tree of life at any time. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was prohibited. Disobedience to the single prohibition would bring, not physical death, because he will already die physically, but a different kind of death, an execution where God deliberately caused his further death.
There is a second death.