Genesis 2:17: You Will Surely Die?

but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 2:17 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

When you read that verse, what comes to mind?

I offer, most who read the verse won’t really take it at what is written. Instead, the truth might be obscured, understanding it as “you will eventually die.” God is not teaching that sin brings eventual death, but that just death for sin is immediate. Sin, Is a capital offense.

When the recompense for sin was stated to Adam, God did not say, “you will eventually die.” The penalty is clearly stated. It’s immediate death. Let us read this rationally, and not soften what God clearly says. A cursory examination of commentaries on this verse agrees. This is from the conservative Keil-Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament, “Why then did God prohibit man from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with the threat that, as soon as he ate thereof, he would surely die?” That clearly delineates what is meant, death is to be expected as soon as one ate. Another more progressive commentary Interpreter’s Bible Commentary says, “Death would follow immediately!” The intent of God’s word is clear. God’s command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil included the assurance of immediate death. It stands in stark contrast to what most believe, and to what was allowed, to eat of any other tree… Including the tree of life.

Humans were created to be image-bearers of God. That means being like Him in all ways. There were things reserved for God, yet the implication of that one tree in the garden shows the will of God. Humans were not to know death.

There might still be an objection

But they did not immediately die when they ate the fruit. But they did eventually die.


The eventual death is evidence of the corruption the fruit did to the physical body. It changed Adam and Eve and not just in a spiritual sense. God gave all the other trees of the garden as good for food. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was therefore not ‘good for food.’ It was the one tree God set aside as something not to eat for food. After the serpent entered and questioned what God had said, Eve had assented to the idea God was holding something from them. She looked at the fruit, and her desire led her away from the truth, believing that the fruit was ‘good for food.’

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasing to the eyes and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate;

Genesis 3:6 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

When she ate, things changed for her. She passed it to her man, and he also ate. He too was changed. Corruption entered humanity. The corruption also had a physical effect on the body. That corruption was passed down to progeny. That is the death from disease and aging we all will eventually die. (There are other ways to die, but all humans will die from the corruption in their own bodies regardless of other factors.)

Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death has spread to all men, because all have sinned.

Romans 5:12 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

We also know that Adam did not die immediately. It’s not that God changed His mind or backpedaled on His words to them. There is something else in place.

Jesus is The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

He provides the respite from justice that was given to Adam. He was the One Who satisfied what was owed, immediate death.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if through the trespass of one man many died, then how much more has the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. The gift is not like the result that came through the one who sinned. For the judgment from one sin led to condemnation, but the free gift, which came after many trespasses, leads to justification. For if by one man’s trespass death reigned through him, then how much more will those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:15–17 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

The free gift came after many trespasses, meaning it came at a later time than that first trespass that introduced corruption to death. The seeming delay of death is not a delay, but a respite of justice. It’s been fulfilled. We know this applies backward in time to that very first trespass. The righteous act of One is applicable to all.

Therefore just as through the trespass of one man came condemnation for all men, so through the righteous act of One came justification of life for all men.

Romans 5:18 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

Therefore, that free gift leads to justification for all. It’s the goodness of God.

But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who commit such things. Do you think, O man, who judges those who do such things, and who does the same thing, that you will escape the judgment of God? Do you despise the riches of His goodness, tolerance, and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

Romans 2:2–4 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

Paul would further expound on the idea, that all who have sinned are being justified as they live after it.

being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith, in His blood, for a demonstration of His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins previously committed,

Romans 3:24–25 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

This is the reality. Jesus’ death provides. It’s a respite for humans from death. This respite leads to justification for all humans.

Enough about death.

Let’s talk about life. Though we all are foolish, the kindness of God is still there. Just like in the garden at the beginning, His desire has not changed.

We also were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various desires and pleasures, living in evil and envy, filled with hatred and hating each other. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, being justified by His grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:3–7 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

Back in that garden, amongst those trees, there is another implicit truth. Humans were created to live forever, and not to die. God is demonstrating that to fulfill what it is to image-bear for Him is living with Him as He lives. The ability to live the kind of life God has is not intrinsic to humans. We need that tree of life to give to us what we do not have. God wants us to live the kind of life He has. It’s HIs gift to us, we must take it inside of us for ourselves.

In the garden, God is establishing reality. A reality that He continually tells us.

I call heaven and earth to witnesses against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.

Deuteronomy 30:19–20 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

The apostle Paul affirmed that this gift is from the beginning, just as taught in Genesis.

in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began,

Titus 1:2 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

We are not guaranteed to become heirs of the hope of eternal life. Just like it was presented to Adam and Eve in the garden, we must choose to live forever by partaking in the tree of life. The tree of life is not in our midst to us as we live today, in that we cannot eat of it now. We can have it (eternal life) now.

Jesus says we have it now. That, is because we are heirs to the things of God, including the hope of eternal life.

Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into life.

John 5:24 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give permission to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.

Revelation 2:7 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

Justice no longer stands against us. Justice is satisfied to then provide respite from the immediate penalty due. We know looking back, it was done at the cross when Jesus stated, “Tetelestai!” Justice has been done. Justice is done by His grace and all are being justified. Justification is poured out abundantly in Jesus. He is Just and justifier.

to prove His righteousness at this present time so that He might be just and be the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:26 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

We are saved by His life.

How much more then, being now justified by His blood, shall we be saved from wrath through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, how much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.

Romans 5:9–10 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)

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