New Article: Does the Bible Teach that Human Death is the Result of Sin?

For the month of June, we’re posting quite a bit on the topic of evil and suffering. We posted a new article this morning, Does the Bible Teach that Human Death is the Result of Sin? by a new author, David Miller. I think he makes an interesting and compelling case. What do you think?

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I’m glad to see that worked out. David Miller holds the record for telling us about typos in BioLogos articles. (A skill I admire greatly :wink: )

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Well, now that I know there is a record to defend I may have to redouble my efforts!

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I had a chance to actually read the article. I appreciate that it is a very global treatment of some large topics, seeing how concepts work across the whole of Scripture, but at the same time, the ideas are well-supported with lots of detailed connections that sometimes are lost on people when they only focus on dissecting single verses or passages.

Thanks for this, Dave! And the references provided too.

It intrigues me that the case for death as a friend grows (in my view) stronger when we move to the new testament verses you referenced. I agree that the hints are there in the old testament too … you could have listed even more there; thinking of places in Job where God brags about his provision for predators, or (Isaiah 65:20) where in the new creation “…one who dies at a hundred will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.” (an interesting observation, that last one, considering that it’s the new creation being extolled.)

In any case, though, many of the old testament references seem to refer rather matter-of-factly about death without revealing any explicit judgment on it one way or the other. In other words, the skeptic to our program here could answer that “sure, death is part of fallen creation, but as such it remains an enemy nonetheless.” But that objection seems to founder much more heartily in your new testament references where Jesus and Paul do get much more explicit with their judgments.

One possible insight provoked for me in your comparison of different kinds of death is that if once we try to bound Adam as a singular physical event only we begin to lose focus on the deeper and much more applicable sense of “Adam in each of us”. But Paul very much grasps and uses that second deeper sense, as in fact he must because that is where the parallel with Christ must dwell (we hope), in that Christ too must live in each of us if death [the 2nd kind] is truly to be conquered. So if we can insist on seeing the spiritually enduring dimensions of life and death in Christ, then it behooves us to allow no less than that for how the ancient scribes used Adam too. To try to insist that their parallels must also be of the strictly historical nature seems (to me) to be a whole different and unwarranted program then, that attempts to draw our focus back to biology, which while not excluded from the ancient authors’ concerns, was nonetheless not given the same primacy so many modern readers wish to give it.

Does this seem on track?

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I would be interested to hear from some of our more conservative friends on that score. @aarceng, @Wookin_Panub, @Daniel_Fisher – Thoughts on the article?

I hope I didn’t come across as if making a an antagonistic charge… just that I’m a bit passionate about why would never use the word “friend” in dealing with evil in general, or death in particular. I’ve been to and conducted too many funerals, and I imagine how it would come across if I told a grieving family member that they ought to view death as a “friend.”

On the other hand, if he meant it in the loosest, most metaphorical sense, simply to mean that God can use even something so inherently tragic and painful for good, then I wouldn’t have much disagreement and I find that quite biblical in fact… but then he has only really made a claim that no Christian to my knowledge of any stripe (Ken Ham included) would disagree with.

(Somehow I messed up and replaced my original thoughts with this response. If anyone has my original, feel free to repost it.)

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I suspect that’s how @Dave_Miller meant it, but I’ll let him reply to your (extensive) charges.

What I liked was his perspective on the “holistic death” that Israel would experience if they lived in disobedience to the covenant. Their shalom/peace was entirely disrupted in every area of life. Interesting to conceive of a lack of wholeness/peace as a form of death. That was a new thought to me.

Paging @Marshall

Thanks for everyone’s engagement! I am new to this forum and so am not very familiar with how it works. For example, what’s the best way to generate the quote tags? Is this partly or mostly manual?

To start, I wonder if it would help to clarify that my thesis in the article is not that all death (and suffering?) should be viewed as a friend, and perhaps rather than as an enemy. Instead, the thesis is that there is substantial, and perhaps underappreciated, biblical evidence that human mortality is not the result of sin and is instead part of the original good creation (goodness language as in Genesis 1).

The friend and enemy language is only used in the 1 Corinthians 15 section and it is used to try and briefly illustrate the complexity in that passage concerning death. As two quick examples, that Paul refers to other enemies that were part of God’s good creation (note also the allusions to Psalm 8 and 110 and the subjection in these passages of additional parts of the good creation, including nations who became enemies) and that the death which is in some sense an enemy also brings us an imperishable human body which we did not have in the beginning. The point was to try and understand what’s going on more fully in this passage, not to deny present enemy status to any humans, rulers, nations, death, and thereby to better assess whether this enemy language necessarily points away from death being present in the beginning.

Along these lines, perhaps I should also note that this article is a shortening of a longer paper which was itself a bit short due to word restrictions at the time and was headed for an even longer version. I’m touching on a lot of texts, as you’ve noticed, including many that I’ve done more detailed exegesis on elsewhere. BioLogos was hoping to make this article readable and short enough for anyone to engage. I apologize if the shortening attempt made things substantially unclear in any specific instances. The existing longer version, with some perhaps helpful secondary literature references (e.g. Moberly on the Deuteronomic death Jay mentioned), can be found at https://www.academia.edu/38616076/Original_Mortality_-_A_Fresh_Look_at_Sin_and_Death_in_the_Bible

I was going to respond to Daniel Fisher on what seemed like a possible point of misunderstanding but his response seems to be gone. I remember the gist of my response probably being that the article is about the possible originalness/goodness of human mortality in the biblical witness. It certainly wasn’t about affirming human sin or its results. I hope the article was clear enough about this.

Is this it, below?

Honored you’d ask my thoughts, but you know I have trouble being brief…

My first thought, reading the article: Sure, God can use any evil thing for gloriously good ends. Joseph’s life comes to mind… Betrayal, enslavement, fasle accusation, unjust imprisonment… All these things “God intended for good.”

Same could be said about Saul’s unjust jealousy of David and his attempted murder of such… allowed David to grow and demonstrate greater character than otherwise might have.

David’s adultery and murder were used for good and glorious purposes - who of us have not been inspired, comforted, or used Psalm 51 as a template or example?

I’m the rabid Calvinist here - so I’d be first in line to acknowledge that all these things are God’s purpose, and that he is using them as part of the “all things work together for good.” I’d even go so far as to recognize that the curse, death included, is a blessing in disguise, since death is our means, our gateway, into complete forgiveness, glorification, and eternal life, and that we won’t exist permanently in the state of misery and sin.

But to go from that principle, to the idea that unjust imprisonment, false accusations, betrayals, murder, adultery, jealous rages, or the like are themselves “inherently good,” or that theologically we should think of them as “friends” in some fashion, is a very odd leap to me. They may well be used by God - they are used to bless us - perhaps very richly - in his inscrutable purposes. But they are still categorically, unquestionably, and undeniably evil.

No one would deny that in the NT, we are saved - gloriously - through one man’s death. And we call it “Good Friday” even because of the “good” that his death accomplished for us. But I still find it an odd leap to suggest that somehow death itself is “good,” (Christ was put to death by those with “wicked” hands, if I recall correctly?) …that we should in some form or category look at it as a “friend” in the sense the article is suggesting.

Besides, the thrust of the NT seem certainly toward conquering sin as an enemy. It is the final enemy to be destroyed in 1Cor15. Death is thrown into hell in Revelation, and passes away with tears and suffering and pain.

So, admittedly, I would be one of the first to embrace the idea that God uses our pains, heartaches, traumas, assaults, abuse, tears, losses, and all the like for very, very good (perfect, in fact) purposes in his wisdom. Purposes that are true blessings to us, that bring out godliness, joy, thankfulness, and closeness to him in ways that could well not have been otherwise accomplished. But you will never find me call any of those experiences a “friend.” They are all enemies - things God hates . Things he can use in his purpose, but things he hates nonetheless.

Death is a “friend” only in the most loose metaphorical sense, in the sense in which we would have to use the phrase about any and every other evil we experience, which God can also use in his providence and infinite wisdom for good - starvation, rape, adultery, unjust imprisonment, cancer, murder…

Highlight the portion that you want to quote, and hit the “quote” button that appears above it.

Try again! I think I recaptured it above. Now’s your chance to expand or answer questions. Thanks for the link to the long version!

Thanks for the clarifications - specifically (for me) your reminder that your thesis isn’t to present death as exclusively one or the other, but to delve further into the complexities. And thanks for engaging with us here!

Just high light the bit of text in the post you wish to respond to, and immediately with that text selection, a grey ‘quote’ box pops up. Click it, and this will open up a new post of your own (if you don’t already have one in mid-writing) and will insert the quotation text for you. [just as I did with your question above.] If you already have a response brewing, you can still go up and repeat the process to insert more quotes into the same response.

You can also use the grey pencil at the bottom of any of your posts to modify or add to them, as I did with mine here just now to add this sentence!

Notice the difference in style between Mervin and me. haha

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You accusin’ me of bein verbose!? Them’s fightin words.

-Pacifistic leaning, ‘Moderator’ Merv. [helping to guard the toughest forum in the west. You best mind your spelling and citations there, pardner!] :cowboy_hat_face:

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You mean “highlight”? I don’t pick fights with unarmed men, podnah.

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Dave, great to meet you and thanks for your engagement. Yes, I seem to have accidentally deleted my all-too-long post, but appreciate the clarification.

However, im afraid I still find the basic argument unconvincing, as (I hope I don’t come across too antagonistic…) the argument seems to me to require the biblical authors to have been exceptionally poor communicators!

Genesis 1-3 threatens death as the consequence of sin… and A&E are expelled from the garden, lest they continue have access to the other tree therein that would allow them to “live forever.” Obvious implication seems that A&E would have continued to “live forever” except for their violation that got them expelled. That, combined with the numerous other major changes that resulted from said sin… (shame of nakedness, hiding from God, the curses on the ground, childbirth, etc.)…

In short, if the author of Genesis was trying to give the impression that death had pre-existed A&E’s sin, I can’t shake the impression that he seems a singularly poor communicator!

Okay. I’m gonna have to create a new thread called ‘parking lot’ and then meet you there.

We’ll have to have show down. …or is that showdown?

[with apologies to Mr. Miller. He’s probably wondering just where it is that Biologos finds its moderators! … back to the Bible I suppose. Parking lot later.]

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@Daniel_Fisher and @Dave_Miller … Please look at my post #11 above. I saved Daniel’s accidentally deleted post and reposted it, so it appears under my name. Nevertheless, the words are Daniel’s. In case you can’t find it, it starts like this:

Bundlemen, Bundlemen!

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@Jay313, maybe after I read the article.