This article is from
Journal of Creation 15(1):59–60, April 2001

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Spiritual death

Having read Ross' book, Creation and Time, and its excellent critique by Van Bebber/Taylor entitled Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross, I was interested to read what Kulikovsky had to say in his review of the book entitled Creation and Evolution, which purports to give the three main views on this general topic.1

While agreeing with most of what Kulikovsky says, I was surprised to find that he had difficulty accepting the concept of spiritual death since this is clearly stated in Scripture. Paul's reference to it is explicit (Ephesians 2:1, 5); and Jesus refers to it using different words, namely the necessity for a man to be 'born again' (John 3:3-7) as also did Paul (Titus 3:5). Although the phrase 'spiritual death' (SD) does not appear in Scripture, this does not invalidate the concept any more than does the absence from Scripture of a word such as 'trinity' rule out the truth of the latter's meaning. Just as the Bible gives no formal definition of physical death, this having to be inferred, so there is none for SD. From statements in Scripture alluding to SD we gather that it means a state of disunion between the Creator and individual created spirit beings. SD does not require annihilation of the spirit concerned. Thus Satan in Biblical terms is spiritually dead but continues to exist as God's archenemy.

And so Ross and Bradley are right to assert that the spiritual death of Adam occurred immediately when he ate the forbidden fruit, but wrong to maintain that Adam's physical death did not inevitably result also. Besides the points made by Van Bebber/Taylor, refuting Ross' notion that Adam's physical degeneration ending in death were not a consequence of his sin, may I offer an additional argument supporting their conclusion.

It struck me many years ago that the sequence of events that happened to the first Adam was exactly paralleled by what happened to Christ the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), this underlining how completely He identified Himself with mankind in securing our salvation.

Firstly, just as Adam died spiritually in the Garden but remained alive physically when he disobeyed, so Christ was spiritually dead on the Cross while darkness enveloped the Earth for 3 hours, signifying His alienation from the Father for our sakes but remained alive physically (Matt. 27:45-46; Gal. 3:13).

Secondly, Adam then regained life spiritually through saving faith in God's mercy and His plan of redemption through a future descendant. Christ regained life spiritually on the Cross when he was reunited with the Father at the end of that period of darkness. It was then that Jesus could declare, 'It is finished' (John 19:28-30; Luke 23:46).

Thirdly, Adam died physically many years after the Fall and his expulsion from the Garden. Christ died physically on the Cross when he 'gave up the Spirit' (Luke 23:46).

Fourthly, Adam will physically rise from the dead with all believers that have died in Christ (1 Thess. 4:16) when Jesus returns. Jesus, the firstborn from dead (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), physically rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion.

The relatively rapid succession of events on the Cross involving the whole person of Jesus reveals the inextricable link between sin and death, both spiritual and physical, all of which He conquered through His one supreme sacrifice for all time.

Peter W.V. Gurney


  1. Kulikovsky, A., Three views on creation and evolution, CEN Tech. J. 14(1):23-27, 2000.

Andrew Kulikovsky replies:

I would like to thank Mr Gurney for his letter, and the opportunity to clarify my comments relating to the idea of 'spiritual death'.

Gurney questions why I have trouble accepting a concept that he calls 'spiritual death', a concept he claims is clearly taught in Scripture. However, what I actually object to is the use of the term 'spiritual death' to describe the spiritual state of non-believers.

First, it is important to understand exactly what is meant by 'spiritual death'. If we take the term literally, it can only reasonably mean that the spirit of a non-believer is dead. Such a conclusion, however, would imply that a non-believer is essentially spiritless and therefore no different from an animal. Thus, the idea of the image of God in all mankind (Gen. 1:26-27) is destroyed.

Second, the Scriptures Gurney cites as proof for the concept of spiritual death do not even mention that term (as Gurney himself admits). Indeed, these verses mean something quite different from what Gurney believes they teach.

Ephesians 2:1 teaches that we were dead in our sin, but what exactly does that mean? Obviously it doesn't refer to physical death and, as I explained above, taking this to refer to 'spiritual death' is highly problematic. Therefore, it seems best to understand it as a reference to the absolute certainty of physical death as a result of our separation from God due to sin. Indeed, this understanding also coincides nicely with Genesis 2:17. Naturally, Ephesians 2:5 should be understood in the light of verse 1.

Regarding Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:3-7, Jesus' use of such language as 'born again' and 'born of the Spirit',1 is clearly metaphorical, and shows the need to be spiritually renewed.

Furthermore, Titus 3:5 refers to spiritual renewal not spiritual death.

In addition, Gurney's parallel construction between Adam and Christ fails at both his second and fourth points. I am at a loss to understand how he can state as proven fact that 'Adam then regained life spiritually through saving faith in God's mercy and His plan of redemption through a future descendant'. This may be true, but it is certainly not a direct or even indirect teaching of Scripture which should be the only basis for making any theological claim. Furthermore, there is no indication at all in Scripture that 'Adam will physically rise from the dead with all believers that have died in Christ', and the verse Gurney cites (1 Thessalonians 4:16) does not demonstrate this.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest here that we stick to using terms and language which the Bible itself uses. There is a place for words not used in Scripture, e.g. Trinity, to describe a complex but vital doctrine clearly taught in the Bible. But 'Trinity' conveys accurately what is meant (three Persons in one God), while the term 'spiritual death' is misleading. Thus, I think we should avoid using it. It is better to write a few extra sentences which explain precisely what we mean by that term. In theology, precision is essential, and if we use Biblical terms then it should minimize the amount of woolly thinking and, possibly, even heretical ideas.

Andrew Kulikovsky


  1. Note that this is a reference to being born of the Spirit (i.e. the Holy Spirit), not that a non-believer's spirit's need to be reborn, because it is presently dead.