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The spiritual death of the Adam tribe?


Attempts to add extra time into Genesis 1–11 are not new, though they are many and varied. Occasionally, a new idea is proposed. Rod M. from the Philippines, writing in response to Elasmosaurus? No, you goose …, proposes a mixture of old and new ideas. CMI’s Shaun Doyle replies with comments interspersed showing why these ideas do not work.

The author brings up a most important point, here: that of hopeful pattern recognition. Sadly, this is an indication of poor intelligence—an inability to tell accurately the differences, similarities and identities of objects, events, phenomenon and states. But intelligence can be improved, so long as ego doesn’t get in the way.

However, even the most intelligent people can see patterns where they don’t exist. This is even one of the most frustrating things for evolutionists in investigating the fossils (please see Cladistics, evolution and the fossils). Patterns can be hard to discern because of the incompleteness and/or ambiguity of the evidence, and they may be consistent with different patterns with little difference in likelihood. The philosophy behind the pattern recognition procedure may also be faulty and thus be prone to producing false results. There are all sorts of problems for pattern recognition that need not be the result of poor intelligence.

Take for instance the need to equate Adam’s death in the garden with the physical death of every creature. These are not identical! Not even close.

This is not what we say concerning Adam’s death. We say that death came to all people through Adam’s sin, which also produced suffering and futility for the whole creation (please see The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe). Now, the Bible is clear that plants, protists, and prokaryotes don’t die in the biblical sense. However, the Bible is less clear on whether nephesh animals would live forever in the pre-Fall world, or whether they would just experience no predation or suffering despite being mortal even in the pre-Fall world. For a discussion of this issue, please see The problem of evil: pre-Fall animal death?

Adam’s death in the Garden was purely and only a spiritual death.
Death came to all people through Adam’s sin, which also produced suffering and futility for the whole creation.

It’s not that simple. Adam’s death in the Garden was like that of a rose cut from its bush. The rose is dead once it is cut from the bush, but it does not wither immediately. Nevertheless, the fact that it will wither is certain from the moment it is cut from the bush. In the same way, Adam cut himself off from his source of life, God, through his sin. The breach in relationship with the life giver (i.e. ‘spiritual death’) was immediate, and the physical effects of that breach (i.e. decay and physical death) were inevitable from the moment of the breach, though the physical effects took time to manifest. To say that Adam’s death was only spiritual is contradicted by 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, which compares and contrasts the death that Adam brought into the world with the death from which Christ was resurrected. (Note how readily such a stance leads to the heresy that Christ was merely raised from ‘spiritual’ death.)

This says nothing about the physical death of creatures before Adam’s downfall.

Not so. Genesis 3:19 directly implies that Adam would not have died before he sinned since he was only subjected to returning to the dust (i.e. physical death, note, not merely spiritual) because he sinned.

Adam died spiritually in the Garden, but then died physically hundreds of years later, according to Genesis.

Nobody disputes this. However, the mistake people typically make is thinking that Genesis 2:17 (“in the day you eat of it, you will surely die”) implies that Adam would physically die in the same 24-hour period that he ate the fruit. This is not what the verse means. Sarfati explains (see William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest attack on biblical creationists):

“The solution lies in the Hebrew, which uses forms of the same verb ‘to die’ (mût (מות)), together: môt’tāmût (מות תמות). It literally means ‘dying you shall die’, but the sense is the certainty, hence the translation ‘you shall surely die.’ Kulikovsky explains:
“‘When the infinitive absolute precedes a finite verb of the same stem (as is the case here), it strengthens or intensifies the verbal idea by emphasizing “either the certainty (especially in the case of threats) or the forcibleness and completeness of an occurrence.”[1] In other words, the emphasis is on the certainty of their death rather than its precise timing or chronology.[2] This is demonstrated in 1 Kings 2:37–46: Shimei could not possibly have been executed ‘on the day’ he exited his house since he was not killed until after he had travelled from Jerusalem to Gath, located his missing slaves, and travelled back to Jerusalem.[3]’
“Kulikovsky suggests an alternative understanding as well, that this phrase could be taken in the ingressive sense[4]—that is, a verbal form that designates the beginning of an action, state or event. In other words, the focus is on the beginning of the action of dying—i.e. God’s warning really means, ‘… for when you eat of it you will surely begin to die.’”
And even this cannot be taken literally. Genesis 5:2 tells us why. Adam is the name of the “spirit” in the Garden, the name of an individual man and the name of a tribe.

The Hebrew word adam is indeed used a number of different ways in Genesis 1–5. It is used as the name of the first man, a description of the first man, and as the collective noun for humanity. However, it never means all these things in any one usage. Context must determine which meaning applies in any given usage. In Genesis 5:2 it is clear from the context that adam means ‘humanity’.

The Adam tribe lived for 930 “years,” but even these years are not literal years. They are generations.

This raises a number of problems in addition to the obvious lack of any such indication from the text. First, it is unclear on such a view what it means for one tribe to ‘father’ the next. How did each tribe become distinguished? This is especially poignant considering that each ‘tribe’ continues on average about 800 ‘generations’ after the ‘fathering’ event.

Second, it is unclear what the refrain “had other sons and daughters” means if each ‘patriarch’ is in fact a tribe. This language clearly implies that the named son is but one of many children that the previous man in the list man fathered. However, if each named patriarch is a tribe, we seem forced to say that each of the other ‘sons and daughters’ is also a tribe!

Third, when more information is given about specific names in the genealogy (e.g. Enoch and Noah), these names are quite plainly taken as referring to individual men. Enoch “walked with God”, and “God took him”. The same is true of Noah—the whole Flood narrative treats Noah as an individual man, and the account in Genesis 9:18–29 treats Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth as individual men.

Fourth, where do we stop applying this hermeneutic? With Noah and his sons? With Terah and his sons? Or was the ‘Abraham tribe’ 100 generations old when it ‘fathered’ the ‘Isaac tribe’? Clearly applying such a hermeneutic to the age of Abraham at Isaac’s birth is absurd in the light of the flow of Genesis 21–22 (for instance, the individual Abraham did certain things with the individual Isaac, such as taking Isaac up to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him).

The key for the word adam is that we can apply this same logic to Genesis 4 and 5—Adam and Eve had sex and bore Cain, Abel, and Seth (Genesis 4:1,2,25). Seth was seen by his parents (especially his mother, Eve) as a replacement for Abel (Genesis 4:25), who was killed by Cain (Genesis 4:8), after which ensues a dialogue between God and Cain as individuals (Genesis 4:9–15). This language clearly marks out all the characters in Genesis 4 as individuals, and these are the same characters at the head of the genealogy in Genesis 5. This is not the language of a succession of tribes; it is the language of a family unit: Adam and Eve were the parents, and Cain, Abel, and Seth were the children. Your view is not consistent with the narrative logic of Genesis 1–5, in which ‘the man’/’Adam’ is a discrete character in the narrative who talks and acts as a singular person.

One must read the Bible with humility, lest one becomes lazy and arrogant. One must seek the spirit of the word, not the letter, because the letter leads to death, and only the spirit will lead to life.

I’m not sure what you mean by this. The ‘letter kills, but the spirit gives life’ antithesis in 2 Corinthians 3:6 is explained in verses 7–18 as epitomising the differing results of the Mosaic and Messianic covenants (specifically referring to the agent by which the effects of each covenant is applied—the ‘dead letter’ which condemns and kills in the Mosaic covenant, and the ‘life-giving Spirit’ who brings life and righteousness in the Messianic covenant). Instead you seem to use this ‘letter/spirit’ antithesis to refer to how we interpret the semantic content of the biblical text. However, you provide no reason for concluding that the historical reading of Genesis 1–11 is irresponsible interpretation.

The debate concerns which account of origins is true, and how important that is for the integrity of Christian doctrine and church witness.
If you know how to look, you will see that Genesis gives us a far longer timeline, one that requires scientists to get busy catching up.

In the ideas you have put forward deep time seems to be a hermeneutical key used to redefine words in Genesis 1–11 so that the text fits that scheme. In other words, your view implies not that (deep time) scientists need to catch up with Bible interpretation but the opposite—deep time ‘science’ is controlling your biblical ‘interpretation’; strained, to say the least.

God is love. But we cannot heal the rifts by being arrogant and thinking that we know it all more perfectly than others who are also hungry for that love.

Neither can we heal the rifts by pretending that all positions are valid. They are not. We should always strive to conduct ourselves with humility, but this issue cannot be resolved just by being humble. One man might argue for a dangerous error with the humblest will in the world, and another might argue arrogantly for the truth. Their dispositions while arguing, though relevant in numerous contexts, do not determine which position is true, which is what this debate is all about. The debate concerns which account of origins is true, and how important that is for the integrity of Christian doctrine and church witness. If we are right, and the young-age historical framework is biblical and foundational for the integrity of the Gospel, then it doesn’t matter how humble either we or our opponents are; those who disagree are undermining the church and the Gospel by teaching that deep time is compatible with Scripture whether they mean to or not.

We should not compromise on Truth, either. But what is Truth? Creationism as it’s presented here?

Why not? The reasons you have provided either misunderstand our position or egregiously misinterpret the Scriptures—often both.

Published: 12 January 2014

References and notes

  1. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 2nd ed., trans. Cowley, A.E., Oxford University Press, Oxford 1910: 113n, citing Genesis 2:17 as a specific example. Return to text.
  2. Hamilton, V., The Book of Genesis, chapters 1–17, p. 172, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990. Return to text.
  3. Kulikovsky, A., Creation, Fall, Restoration, Mentor, Fearn, pp. 192–193, 2009. Return to text.
  4. Kulikovsky, ref. 3, p. 193. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Refuting Compromise
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft cover
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $4.00
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft cover