|Volume 25 Number 3 March 2023
T. Pierce Brown
As far back as I remember, I have concluded that the Bible teaches that we die physically because Adam sinned. As far as I know, I got that conclusion from reading the Bible, not from some preacher or commentator, for I had read the Bible for many years before I even knew there were such things as commentaries. A few days ago, I received a letter from a preacher friend who suggested that it is not so. He concludes that Adam would have died, and all his posterity would have died because they were mortal men, created to die, whether or not Adam had sinned.
He bases his conclusion on four Scriptures. First, Genesis 3:19, “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” (NKJV). Second, Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Third, 2 Corinthians 4:18, “While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Fourth, 1 Corinthians 15:50, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.”
Before we examine those Scriptures and see if they must lead to the conclusion to which our brother comes, let us look at what Paul says about the matter. In Romans 5:12, Paul says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Regardless of what kind of strange exegesis denominational scholars have given regarding the “imputation of Adam’s sin” or what is meant by “all sinned,” it seems plain and without question that Paul taught that physical death came unto all men. The kind of death that passed unto all men is not spiritual death. Spiritual death comes only to those who personally commit sin. Note other Scriptures that are directly related to the same thought. Verse 15 says, “…For if by the one man’s offense many died…” Verse 16 adds, “…For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation…” Verse 17 notes, “For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one…” Verse 18 says, “Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation…” First Corinthians 15:21-22 declares, “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die…” I see no escape from the logical conclusion that it was because of the sin of Adam that all men are sentenced to die physically. It has nothing to do with imputed sin or imputed righteousness, but the mere fact that the same consequence that was pronounced upon Adam for his sin was pronounced upon his posterity. They die physically.
The Bible picture is at every point that we die because of Adam, but we will be raised because of Christ. What we get unconditionally because of Adam’s sin, we get unconditionally because of Christ’s righteousness. Christ abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10), but had there been no sin, there would have been no death to abolish.
The tree of life, which was in the midst of the Garden (Genesis 2:9; 3:22), would have given him everlasting life even after he had sinned, had he eaten of it (Genesis 3:23). It is both logical and scriptural for us to conclude that the body which Adam had before sin was so constituted that he could have died, for he did. All of the speculations of theologians that his body was so corrupted that it now had “the germ of death in it,” and his descendants would inherit that corrupted body has no basis in Scripture of which I know. If he had not sinned, his body was so constituted that he could die, but the sentence of death was not passed on him until he sinned. He could have eaten of the tree of life and lived forever. Therefore, there is nothing in the Bible from beginning to end that teaches that man would have died had not sin entered into the world.
Most theologians seem to think that Adam’s sin corrupted his body and changed its basic nature. I know of nothing in the Bible that suggests that. Adam’s sin did not corrupt his body any more than our sins corrupt our bodies. I may get a disease because of sin and transmit that disease to my children, but it has nothing to do with “a corrupt nature.” We suffer the consequences of death as a result of Adam’s sin for the same reason that anyone may suffer the consequences of another’s sin. No theologian or Bible student of my knowledge has been able to name one quality in the physical or spiritual nature of man that Adam did not have before he sinned. He was capable of physical death, and God allowed that to transpire as a sentence for what he had done. He was capable of spiritual death, but did not suffer that consequence until he sinned. If we raise the question, “How is it consistent or right for physical consequences of an act to be visited upon the children?” the question should not be asked in doubt that it is so, for we see it happen regularly. A drunken driver wrecks his car, and his children suffer the physical consequences of his act. We do not have space in this article to deal with the justice of it. Yet, in no case does the Bible suggest that the spiritual consequences of a father are visited on the children. The child is never punished for being drunk because his father was, nor does anyone ever inherit guilt of anything.
My dearest Bible teacher, who was a student in David Lipscomb’s classes, tried to teach me that children today are born with a tendency to sin, which they would not have had if Adam had not sinned. I doubt that he got that from Lipscomb. I asked him a simple question, “Why did Adam sin? Did he have a tendency to sin before he sinned? If he did not have a tendency to sin, why did he?” There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that I sin for any other reason than he had. I have the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17) to lead me astray. Did not they have the same before they sinned? Did not Eve see that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eye and to be desired to make one wise? That was before the sin or any supposed depravity of the flesh.
Now, let us examine the four Scriptures mentioned at the first of this article to see what bearing, if any, they have on the subject. Genesis 3:19 neither says nor implies that because Adam was made of dust, he must have returned to dust or died physically even if he had not sinned. The statement was made after he sinned and simply states one of the consequences of his sin as first stated in Genesis 2:17.
Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die,” but it neither says nor implies that it was appointed unto man to die before Adam sinned. In fact, every verse that touches on the subject points to the conclusion that by Adam’s sin death came upon all mankind.
Although 2 Corinthians 4:18 declares that the things we see are temporal, it has nothing whatever to do with whether or not Adam would have died had he not sinned. The word “temporary” (“temporal” KJV) is from proskairos, which means, “enduring only for a season.” There is no question about that. Yet, that has nothing to do with the fact that Adam could have eaten of the tree of life even after he sinned (Genesis 3:22) and have lived forever. Since the Bible plainly teaches that, one should logically conclude that he certainly could have done so before he sinned, and therefore would not have died. That does not mean he could not have seen his body, simply because Paul later said, “That which is seen is temporal!”
When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:50, “…Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…,” he clearly taught that corruptible things cannot inherit incorruption. There is no question about that. It does not touch in any fashion the question about whether Adam could have lived forever if he had not sinned. We know he could do so even after he had sinned (Genesis 3:22), so there is no possible reason he could not have done so if he had not sinned.
If one says, “Adam had a mortal body prior to his sin,” we need to ask a question. “Do you mean by “mortal body” one that can die or one that must die?” Of course, our bodies now must die, for all mankind is under the sentence of death after Adam sinned. However, that does not prove that Adam had to die because his body apparently was what we now call “mortal.” That is, it was composed of the dust of the earth. God could have changed it as He will change ours if we are alive when Christ returns or do whatever He needed to do so it could live forever. Whether that involved his eating of the tree of life or something else does not matter. The point of this article is to show that sin brought physical death on mankind. The nature of his body was not what caused him to have to die. It only gave him the capability of dying. The sentence of death only made certain that which was already possible.