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

OK, now this quote is bugging me–where is it from? I think it was a Lewis book? “That Hideous Strength”?
“They were shouting. There was movement elsewhere. Several men were making for the door. “Bundlemen, bundlemen,” said Wither sternly, in a much louder voice.”

Allusion to the Tower of Babel and casting confusion on those opposed to God :slight_smile:

Good catch! Yes, the reference to Wither trying to calm people down, once they had begun to get in fights because of their confused language. It seemed an appropriate allusion given Jay and Mervin starting to get in a fight over typos, spelling, and confusing language!


Apologies for the intermittency of my posting. We are in the middle of packing for a cross-continent move. Ok, let’s see if I can quote anything.

Yes, Jay is both friend and enemy as an editor.

Great to meet you as well. I’m not feeling overwhelmed by antagonism, and I don’t like death either. I understand that you are not convinced by the interpretation of Genesis 2-3 relative to death offered in the article. That’s ok with me. I wouldn’t expect you to be on the basis of a single short article. Moreover, I didn’t intend to offer this treatment of Genesis 2-3 or of the topic of human mortality generally in this article as the only faithful interpretation of Scripture. Partly for these reasons (and others, like the moving thing and the limitations of online forums), I mostly won’t reiterate the arguments in the article or attempt to provide a fuller case from beyond the article. Anyone is welcome to chew on the article, read the longer paper, study the Scripture, and check out the secondary literature to consider these issues more deeply. Of course, as we all struggle in various degrees to understand the tensions in biblical themes and reality generally, I hope that finding a biblical openness to this perspective on human mortality helps some folks thrive as Christians who otherwise wouldn’t.

I might offer a couple quick thoughts on the matter of exceptionally poor communication. I do think that ancient Hebrews have a tough time communicating with modern English speakers. We have deep worldview and language differences and we are unable to meet to clear things up! (and this funds a lot of biblical studies departments?) Put another way, some say the Bible was written for us but not to us. In Genesis 1-3 and elsewhere, we miss all kinds of messages and insight reading through without assistance. And that’s after translation, which itself sometimes smooths over complexity and meaning.

Moving beyond these general comments and beyond the specific elements of Genesis 1-3, we could say that if the authors of the Pentateuch and OT generally wanted us to understand human mortality as from Adamic sin, then they communicated that poorly. We could say the same of Jesus. Of course, understanding Paul is difficult for many people on many topics. Both Jesus and Paul use death language in all sorts of way which are regularly not straightforward, as discussed briefly in the article. As an interesting example of this relative to “live forever”, note John 6:51 and “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever”. Of course, Jesus doesn’t mean we’ll avoid biological death, and Paul doesn’t seem to think we were going to have bodies of dust forever either.

Maybe I cleared this up already, but just in case (and to get in some more quoting practice), this is not at all what I intended to communicate and I hope the article doesn’t actually give substantial indications that the various forms of suffering and premature death that result from sin are “inherently good” or anything other than the results of sin.


Eh? Blotcher bulldoo?" I love Lewis. He speaks truth through empathy (and frequently, truth myth) that we really can understand. My wife and I read the Space Trilogy together (the last one is not really bedtime story material). I’m trying to get my boys to read the Narnia books again–“The Horse and His Boy” was my wife’s and my favorite. "Child,’ said the Lion, 'I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

Maybe both death and I should be called a “frenemy.”

And just to be clear on my end, the words quoted in Dave’s post are @Daniel_Fisher’s, not mine. Either way, I think it’s pretty obvious that Dave does not call evil “good,” and death is called a “friend” only in the sense that Paul uses it in one passage (1 Cor. 15), not as a blanket term for all forms of death or evil.

Daniel said: “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.”

I think the italicized bit in your quote sums up our agreement. Death is a “friend” only for the Christian and only because it serves as a means to a greater end.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered… Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Just to clarify, since the way the language being used makes me think I’m missing something…

Does Paul actually “use” or “call” death a “friend” in 1 Cor 15, in some way I’m missing? A nuance or implication in a Greek word I’m not seeing?

I’m finding

  • He died for our sins (v3)
  • Some disciples fell asleep (6)
  • discussion of Christ’s, and our, resurrection from the dead, (12-20)
  • In Adam all die (22)
  • death is the final enemy (26)
  • people are baptized “for the dead” (29)
  • again, if resurrection from the dead is not real life is meaningless (32)
  • resurrection of dead again (42)
  • Adam was formed from dust/earth (47)
  • mortal body exchanged to immortal (50-54)
  • Death cannot win, has no longer has “sting” or “victory,” (54-57)

But I can find nothing that would justify anything like a “straightforward” claim that Paul “called” (or even tangentially implied) death as a “friend” in anything remotely analogous to the way he claimed that Paul “called” death an “enemy.”

God used Christ’s death to accomplish our salvation. Absolutely granted. He also used Judas’ betrayal, the apostasy of the Jewish leaders, the injustice of the Roman justice system, and the very cruel, torturous means of death called “crucifixion.” I would similarly object to referring to any of the above as “friends.”

That Paul called death an “enemy” in 1Co15 is a straightforward, indisputable fact. (ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς [echthros - hostile/enemy/adversary] καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος [thanatos - death])

That he called death a “friend” in 1Co15 is, by my reading, at best, a very, very loose, extremely metaphorical extrapolation or personal interpretation, using a word to which I for one would strongly object for reasons discussed above.

Hence why I’m objecting to the basic hermeneutics involved in the seemingly simple claim implying an analogous use of terms- “death as enemy and friend in 1Co15”… unless I’m just not seeing something?? Enemy seems obvious and explicit, friend seems a questionable extrapolation at best. Is there some phrase that actually means or implies “friend” there that I’m not seeing?

That cluster of sentences made me chuckle with its conclusion.

This is, I should think, a generous understatement on your part. We have the benefit of at least having some partially opened window into their culture (via scholars, historians, linguists, etc.) whereas they had no window into ours. But that aside, and to underscore your point even more, contemporary visionaries often have trouble communicating even with their own present culture. Witness Jesus always having to break through to his own stone-headed disciples. And that was usually to talk them down off their typical go-to ledge of literalism (yeast of Pharisees, or Lazarus being ‘asleep’: meaning ‘dead’ as Jesus is forced to clarify, etc.); and rarely (if ever?) the other way. So it seems that the repeated sarcastic admonishments that teachings are given in riddles lest we hear, understand, and repent are still in play, and how much more so when we have a few millennia between us and them!

No, I just gave that impression in my summary. Sorry

Yes, thanks for filling this out a bit more!

Agreed that the term enemy is used explicitly and the term friend is not. I am sorry if the use of friend in this section of the article ends up being too provocative to be helpful. Perhaps I should also add that I didn’t intend to be giving pastoral guidance proposing the widespread use of friend language for death. Regarding enemy itself, as in the article, I might remind us that words have meaning in context. This enemy language is sometimes presented as irrefutable evidence that death could not have been part of the original good creation, and so I point out that this doesn’t seem to follow from Paul’s actual use of enemy language in 1 Cor 15 and elsewhere. (or from the 1 Cor 15 allusions to psalms I mentioned earlier)

Perhaps it would help to make more explicit that the Bible seems to indicate that death is a gateway to a personal, corporate, and cosmic reality that is quite different from even the pre-sin good creation of Genesis 1-2. In terms of 1 Cor 15, roughly verses 35-50 might be most relevant here. Paul seems to affirm the biblical theme that dust is perishable because it is dust. Per Paul, we need a different kind of body than the good, pre-sin body of Genesis 1-2. Some have termed the transition/transformation humanity might ultimately have undergone without the entry of sin as a “death without dying”, indicating a different experience of transition. However, even the sort of biological death of present reality might be faced and experienced today differently without sin. Some interpret 1 Cor 15:56 just this way, seeing death not as a problem in itself but as a problem because of our sin, sin giving death its sting (its temporal experience and eternal threat). In any case, I again lament if the friend language isn’t helping here. But a transition from a good body and world to what seems like an even better body and world sounds like a good thing, so to speak, and again this seems to be a transition necessary even if human sin had never occurred.

Hope this helps. Had to write quickly.


Dave, thanks for the clarification. Yes, I am one of those troglodytes that believes there was no death before Adam’s fall. But I would agree with you insofar as the language of “enemy” in 1Co15 does not automatically correlate to pre-fall immortality. I personally think it is a soft implication thereof, and fits nicely within the overall picture, but I think I could agree that pre-fall immortality is not logically necessitated by 1co15, certainly not by itself.

Playing Devil’s advocate against myself, and assuming for the argument that I myself believed that God brought about mankind through a natural process “red in tooth and claw”, over generations upon generations, I think I could simply recognize death as an unfortunate but necessary tool for God to bring about humanity in a certain way. But given that it was Unfortunate, I could still see why, even necessary though it were, it could still be in enemy. I myself Don’t think I would see a need to interject anything into the concept of “death” in order to make it part of a “good” creation, tomrecomcile it with the idea of a “good

From my own point of view, there is simply too much about a supposed fallen pre- fall world, given evolutionary assumptions, that would preclude it from being called good, at least in the sense we typically use the word good, if we mean it as moral or painless. I would resort, I think, to simply meaning by “good“, “what God wanted to see.“ Off the cuff, this is the only interpretation that I think I could hold if I embraced that view.

Hence A related question… I have trouble understanding what you mean exactly with the idea of a “pre-sin” world…any conception I’ve ever engaged with that suggests death preceded Adam and Eve seems to require sin to have preceded as well… …the existence of pain, sin, betrayal, shame, murder, backstabbing, infidelity, abuse, etc.

The only alternative seems to see a sinless world, yet one wherein our ancestors experienced death… they were kind, polite, self-sacrificing, loving, gentle, exhibiting all the fruits of the spirit, never warring, never violent, etc., etc., then at a later point “sin” entered the world?

Have you ever considered that humans, as a species, had an “age of accountability?” Before that time there was no sin as no one was held accountable. When God reached down and touched the human race giving us a knowledge of good and evil then we are all held accountable.

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I know of the hypothesis… But this would be a world where no one was held account of sin, not a sinless world, as I’m using the terms. Our troglodyte ancestors would have been slowly developing, maturing, growing, and dare I say, “perfecting” all the vices, weaknesses, selfishness, hatred, and the like in their nascent form. Warring with each other, stealing from one another, envying one another, raping one another, but just not quite self aware yet of the full wrongness of what they were doing as to say they were “consciously” sinning.

This is not what I think of when I think of a “sinless” world. Besides, in such a scenario, we could only say that at one point, sin “blossomed into maturity,” at that point where they finally became self aware enough of how wrong their behavior was… rather than that “sin entered” the world.

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Here is another way to look it is this. From the beginning of time, creation has known the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and has been slowly evolving for the past 13.7 billion years from fire and ice towards love and compassion - towards the Tree of Life.

And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. (Luke 19:40)

Spiritual evolution has been progressing from the very beginning. Jesus alludes to the souls trapped in the very stones in Luke, but what purpose does this serve? The simple answer is virtue and specifically, patience. Can you imagine being chained to a stone for an eternity (millions of years)?

Observe the evolution of God’s creation and you see how it has evolved from brutality to compassion, from cannibalistic to caring, from competitive to cooperative. But it still has a long way to go.

Jesus came at the earliest possible moment in human history, when a small portion had become enlightened enough to carry His Word forward. But the world is still billions years away from being a sinless place.

I assume you are referring to this paragraph of mine.

I was just talking about Genesis 1-2 in the biblical narrative and how the world and humanity to come is pictured in the Bible as being substantially different from even this Genesis 1-2 world which we typically understand as being prior to human sin. This was part of the discussion on 1 Corinthians 15, death as enemy/friend, and the idea of a death-like transition being required irrespective of sin. I wasn’t addressing how sin enters the world.

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Interesting article. I found these assertions odd.

  1. Adam hardly appears (and Eve not at all) in the Old Testament outside of Genesis, and thus the couple is not blamed for human death or anything else.
  2. In Genesis 1-2, humanity is instructed not only to rule and work , but to subdue and guard . The command to guard implies there is something to guard against.
  3. Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead during his ministry. Yet, he never blames human mortality on Adam and Eve. He doesn’t often address the origins of human death and suffering, but when he does, Jesus explicitly denies that disability, illness, natural disaster, and death are punishment for specific sins.
  4. Paul names death an enemy, but death remains part of God’s good creation.

I have not been following this post and am catching up, but regarding death as friend, in medicine, pneumonia was often referred to as the old person’s friend, as it was often the terminal illness relieving the pain and suffering experienced. Then came antibiotics.
As to Paul, he states in Philippians that “To live is Christ and to die is gain” reflecting the change in perspective we have as Christians. Death, the enemy, has been conquered, and is, in a sense, a friend.


Can you explain why? (I can make some guesses, but I’d rather hear it from you.)

**Adam hardly appears (and Eve not at all) in the Old Testament outside of Genesis, and thus the couple is not blamed for human death or anything else.

The author attempts to argue: A&E hardly appear elsewhere in the Bible. Conclusion: Therefore they can’t be blamed for human death.

This is simply faulty logic.

Of the seven places in the New Testament where Adam is mentioned (Luke 3:38; Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22; 1 Tim 2:13, 14; Jude 14), the two Pauline passages (Rom 5:12–21 and 1 Cor 15:22, 45) have received the most scholarly attention, especially with regard to the manner and background of Paul’s use of the Adam motif.

Most interpreters of these passages agree that Paul is presenting Adam as somehow responsible for the universal existence of sin and death in the world. Two differing views can be identified among these scholars, concerning the way in which Paul attributes the universalization of sin and death to Adam.

According to the traditional view, Paul ascribes to Adam what is loosely understood as a “representative” capacity/status—i.e. the ability to make what is true of him also true of the rest of humanity—and describes the universal reality of sin and death as the result of that representative capacity applied to Adam’s primeval act of sin.

As a consequence of Adam’s sin, in this view, depending on how Adam’s “representative” capacity is conceived, humanity is seen as:
• having actually sinned in Adam and thereby become a priori guilty and subject to death (Morris, Romans, 232; Moo, Romans, 326); or
• having been placed under the covenantal curse by Adam’s breach of the “covenant of works” (Fesko, Last Things, 91–114); or
• having inherited a corrupted nature which inclines humanity to sin (e.g., Ziesler, Romans, 147; Cranfield, Romans, 274–79; Kruse, Romans, 242; compare Fitzmyer, “Consecutive Meaning”, 321–39).

An alternative to this traditional view has been suggested by the interpreters who attribute an apocalyptic thought-frame to Paul.

Adam’s act of sin impacts the rest of humanity not by being amplified through Adam’s representative capacity, but instead by providing the occasion through which sin and death intrude into the world, usurp God’s sovereignty, and rule the world (Käsemann, Romans, 143–45; Jewett, Romans, 377–78; de Boer, “Paul’s Mythologizing,” 13–14).

The proponents of this interpretation have appealed to Gnosticism (Levison, Portraits, 17–18; Brandenburger, Adam and Christus) or certain strands of Jewish apocalyptic literature (de Boer, Defeat of Death, 132–40) as the origin of Paul’s apocalyptic frame of thought (Perkins, Gnosticism, 74–92; Wright, “Anglophone Scholarship”, 372–73).

In summary, Genesis is a fundamental challenge to the ideologies of civilized men and women, past and present, who like to suppose their own efforts will ultimately suffice to save them. Gen 1–11 declares that mankind is without hope if individuals are without God.

Yet Genesis, so pessimistic about mankind without God, is fundamentally optimistic, precisely because God created men and women in his own image and disclosed his ideal for humanity at the beginning of time. And through Noah’s obedience and his sacrifice mankind’s future was secured. And in the promise to the patriarchs the ultimate fulfillment of the creator’s ideals for humanity is guaranteed.

2. In Genesis 1-2, humanity is instructed not only to rule and work , but to subdue and guard . The command to guard implies there is something to guard against.

The author of the article, I assume is referring to Gen 1:28 ‘subdue and rule’ and Gen 3:16-17; 24 of the danger of a fallen person becoming immortal - hence they need protection v24. If so, we see the spoiling effects of their sin. Both are driven from the garden for their safety because of their sin.

3. Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead during his ministry. Yet, he never blames human mortality on Adam and Eve. He doesn’t often address the origins of human death and suffering, but when he does, Jesus explicitly denies that disability, illness, natural disaster, and death are punishment for specific sins.

The tower of Siloam (Luke 13) may initially support the authors argument above. The tower, perhaps associated with the construction of the Roman aqueduct, fell and killed eighteen people. That tragic event did not happen to them because those folks were the dregs of Jerusalem’s society, since Jesus specifically declared that they were not worse culprits (lit., “debtors”; i.e., to God for violating His law) than all the other men who lived in Jerusalem.

So this may support the author, however, Jesus says 'unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (13:3b, 5b) Is this a reference to the effects of the fall of Adam?

That most severe judgment, from which no one escapes, is that unless people repent, when they die they will all likewise (not in the same manner, but with the same certainty) perish eternally (Heb. 9:27). In the terms of the Lord’s analogy, they need to settle their case before they face the divine judge and it is too late.

Most of the Jewish people were caught up in a works-righteousness system that forced people to view themselves as good based on selective and superficial perception. Consequently, they refused to see themselves as sinners and therefore rejected (Matt. 11:20)

Jesus’ call for them to repent (Matt. 4:17), just as they had John the Baptist’s before Him (Matt. 3:2). Ultimately, it was because Jesus rejected the Jewish people’s hypocritical self-righteousness, categorized them as spiritually blind and impoverished, and boldly confronted their need for repentance that they plotted to murder Him.

In summary, Jesus argues that repentance is the only way to avoid eternal death, a fate that will fall upon everyone who does persist in sin.

Finally, the Apostle John states Jesus doesn’t often address the origin of human death and suffering - John 9 supports this statement as Jesus’ priority is to verify his deity. Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and later directly attributes sickness to sin (Jn 5:14).

4. Paul names death an enemy, but death remains part of God’s good creation.

I am not sure what the author means - death was originally part of God’s good creation?

Dear Paul,
The usage of death in the Bible is very confusing for even most theologians. Death has three distinct usages: 1) Death is a proper name, one of the many for the adversary, 2) death is the spiritual state of being separated for God - the Fall, and 3) human death is part of God’s Good material creation.

So, Paul is right when he says Death [Satan] is the enemy. And Jesus not only rose from the dead (3), also He conquered Death (1).

The concept of “eternal death” is an oxymoron. Any being separated from God will eventual die, becuase God is the giver of life. On the cosmic scale, eventually those separated from God will eventually die if they do not return to Him. There can be no permanent state of death (2).

You’re putting words in the author’s mouth, Paul. The paragraph starts like this: “This understanding of “death” in Genesis 2-3 matches the rest of the Old Testament as well.” The whole paragraph is about the Old Testament, not “elsewhere in the Bible,” as you put it. You changed the subject. Every example that you gave was from the New Testament, and all of them were focused on Adam. The subject of the paragraph was “death” in the OT, not Adam or original sin, and the author’s statement that the OT does not blame Adam (or Eve) for human death is a simple fact.

Genesis 1:28 - God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Genesis 2:15 - The LORD God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it.

The Hebrew words translated “care” ( לְעָבְדָ֖הּ lə-‘ā-ḇə-ḏāh) and “maintain” (וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ׃
ū-lə-šā-mə-rāh) are the same words used of the priests’ service in the temple/tabernacle, but in the priestly contexts the Hebrew is translated “work/serve” and “guard.” The latter has the sense of guarding God’s holiness so that nothing impure may enter his presence.

I’m not sure I understand your objection here. Luke 13:1-5 says nothing about original sin, the effects of the fall, or Adam. You’re reading those things into the passage. Jesus issues a call to repent. Can you or I or anyone repent of Adam’s sin or the effects of the fall? How would that work?