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What does "you shall surely die" mean in Genesis 2:17?

I want to look at what the phrase “you shall surely die” in Genesis 2:17 means and how misunderstanding this has caused some error.

Before we look into this, it’s important to understand that these two things were true pertaining to Adam:

1) In Genesis 2, Adam was not clothed in immortality (naked). Simply meaning he “could” die but at the same time, he also could have eaten of the tree of life and lived forever (immortality). The fact that Adam did indeed die is all the proof I care to address in this article to say, he was not immortal.

2) Even prior to Adam eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God knew there was something lurking in the garden that "could" kill Adam.

Note that if you do not see these two things were true, you will not understand what I am about to explain.
The main point of this article is to explain the difference between Adam when he “could die” versus when as a certainty he would “surely die.” And also to describe what that death and salvation from that death would look like.

Okay, so with these things in mind, here is the verse.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Gen 2:17

Now when Adam ate, we do not see him drop over dead, in fact he lives until he is 930 years old.

This has caused many to conclude that Adam’s death was not physical but spiritual. But there is an even bigger lie at work here, and it’s the same lie that the serpent told the woman in Genesis 3:4, “Ye shall not surely die.”

We find much of the church believing the serpent’s words saying that all will live forever, that it’s just a matter of whether it will be with or without God, which I find to be quite the contradiction.

You cannot say that this is the truth that they would live forever in that fallen state because in Genesis 3, it clearly states that God removed man from the garden for the specific purpose of preventing them living forever in death.

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

God would not allow the serpent’s wisdom to live forever. And those who trust in that wisdom will also perish. And I will also address what it means to perish.

God sealed the way to the tree of life until He could come in Jesus; entering and conquering our death as a man.

So although we do not see Adam drop over dead after he eats, we do see the fear of death in him. And I believe Adam immediately saw death manifesting in his body, he saw he was not clothed in the life that God was clothed in, and began to cloth himself.

We stated earlier that Adam prior to eating from the tree, ‘could’ have died or had the ability to die but now after he eats and he sees death manifesting in his body, he is in a state of; he will “surely” die.

And I would say it this way. It’s now a certainty that he will die and death and the fear of death have taken hold of him, causing him to enlist his members to try to cloth himself.

My paraphrase would be:
In the day you eat of that tree, of a certainty, you will die.”

I do not find fault with one who says that one day with the Lord is as thousand years and we see Adam only lived to 930, however, I believe it’s a better understanding of what was said and what happened there to see that the fruit of that tree will always bring the certainty of death.

This corrupt wisdom (sin) and its fruit (death) that Adam ate are what brought death into the world and is what brings any form of death we see still today.

The moment Adam ate, death entered him (Rom5:12), and he was perishing, in the certainty of death.

In John 3, Jesus described those who didn’t believe His testimony as those who are “perishing.” Paul also described those who refuse to be persuaded of the truth as “perishing.”

Perish means: to destroy i.e. to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to, ruin.

Adam started feeling the death in his body the minute he ate, he was perishing. Perishing is death, there is no such thing as a little death.

And God (not pronouncing sentence but) just explaining to Adam what was true, described what it would look like to perish.

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:

“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall [a]bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

In the same way Adam’s death was physical death, Jesus had to come in the same likeness to conquer the death of man.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 1 Cor 15:21

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 1 Pet 3:18

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; Heb 2:14

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Heb 4:15

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Heb 5:7

He conquer the death by trusting in the Father’s promise that He would not leave His soul in Hades or allow Him to see corruption. And He was raised immortal in a flesh and bone body, appeared to His disciples and said “touch me” a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bone as you see I have. Luke 24:39

Jesus died in a physical body and was raised in an immortal flesh and bone glorified body, a new creation. When you see the testimony of the risen Jesus as your inheritance, the gift of God, you will surely live as He lives.

Let me say it this clearly, apart from the life of God, the only immortal, you will die. Eternal life is a gift received from God.

There is no other word, no other spirit given to men that can save from death than the one the Father has spoken in Jesus.

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12

Jesus is the full council of God made flesh. Jesus is the faith that persuades a man's heart of the certainty of the same life they see in Him at the Fathers right hand. When you make Fathers word (Jesus) about you, your food for life, you shall surely live.


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