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Bible Q

Does “you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17) mean “dying you shall die”?

This is a misunderstanding of a grammatical structure in Hebrew, and other semitic languages, called the infinitive absolute. The verb is repeated to mean “surely”, “certainly”.

The Infinitive Absolute occurs most frequently in immediate connexion with the finite verb of the same stem, in order in various ways to define more accurately or to strengthen the idea of the verb. (Gesenius Hebrew Grammar p.342)

This same structure occurs in Gen. 2:16, too:

Genesis 2:16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” …
Literally “eating you may eat”

And again in many other places, including Gen.2:17, 18:10, 18:18, 22:17, 28:22, 1 Samuel 9:6, 24:21, Amos 5:7, 7:17, Hab.2:3, Zech.11:17 etc. And related structures occur in Gen. 20:18, 43:3, 44:28, Jos.17:12, Judges 1:28, 1Sam.20:6, 1Kings 3:26, Job 13:5, Joel 1:7, Amos 9:8 etc.

(Infinitive absolutes can be detected by students using concordances with Strong’s numbering because the same number occurs twice for the same verb.)

The structure is also found in the Septuagint (the Jewish Greek Old Testament) as an example of a semitic construction passing into Jewish usage of Greek . This is also found in the New Testament in the words of Jesus where the Greek text records “with desire I have desired to eat this passover” (Luke 22:15) — even though the author, Luke, was a Gentile.

4 Replies to “Does “you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17) mean “dying you shall die”?”

  1. It wasn’t the eating of the ‘fruit’ that caused them to acquire and begin the process of dying. It was the disobedience that accompanied it.

    The only restriction that God imposed on Adam and Eve was not to eat of the fruit of those trees – not because the fruit was bad for them but as a test – and they failed (Or specifically, Adam failed…)

    HE willingly and knowingly disobey God and showed that he desired to act independently from God’s word and thereby removed himself (and thereby all of mankind) from the protection of God – He stopped being a “Son of God” (walking in the ways of God) and his offspring are now “Son of Man”.

  2. Everyone seems to miss the main point. The “death” is separation from God. Yes, physical death is involved, but Jesus didn’t do what He did mainly for our physical problem. God could have just dealt with our souls in the future state. We don’t have to have these bodies, remember, this is all going to be changed anyway. The main point is that fellowship with God was broken, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden, and we’ve been seperate since. Look at Psalm 22:1 and the crucifixion in Matthew and Mark. Jesus said, “…why have you forsaken (ignored, left, abandonded) me?” That’s what happened when He died, he took our separation for us. What do we tell sinners? “Repent or you will be etenrally separated from God.” I believe this has powerful ramifications to “total depravity” and harmonizes a number of verses between the Calvinist and Arminian camps.

    • Excellent answer Gen. The cause was sin and sin separated us from the father. Jesus bore our sin and then felt the separation. The death was of course by being held in the cords of sin we were bound for hell, not a spiritual death (the spirit returns to god who gave it) nor a physical death (the body without the spirit is dead) because romans 5:10 says death by sin. Not death in spirit or body. Jesus is so wonderful and loving him is worth giving up all the temptations of sin. To live with him forever. Thank you lord! From Glory

  3. The word death denotes separation. When God told Adam that “…in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” God was informing Adam that in the event Adam eats of the fruit he and God will be separated. True to God’s word when Adam ate of the fruit separation occurred there and then resulting in Adam hidding from God because there was no more fellowship between them. Even in physical death it us a separation of one’s body from the spirit.