The Serpent Didn’t Lie about Death

canstockphoto0222345Humans have a natural fear of death, but that fear has caused us to miss the true lie of the serpent in Genesis 3. In the story Adam and Eve are told that they can eat of any tree in the garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen. 2:17)

The serpent comes to Eve and tells her, “You will not die.”

That’s not the lie. I’ve always been told that it was, but it’s not. Look again at the warning God gave Adam: “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

That day.

Within 24 hours of eating it you will die. It’s very clear.

God doesn’t say that they will die eventually. God doesn’t say that it’s a “spiritual” death as opposed to a physical death.

He says that this fruit is inedible for them, it’s like poison, and if they eat it, they will die that very day.

But when Adam and Eve eat it, they don’t die that very day. They in fact live for many days afterward. We’re not told how long Eve lived, but Genesis 5:5 says that Adam lived for 930 years.

That’s 339,449 days more than 1.

So the serpent didn’t lie when he said, “You will not die.” He lied, but not then.

The lie comes in verse 5: “…for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

“You will be like God.” That didn’t happen.

“Knowing good and evil.” That didn’t happen either.

They were naked and thought that was wrong. They saw what was perfectly natural and naturally beautiful and became ashamed. They had no concept of what was good and what was evil.

They weren’t like God at all.

Even worse, they weren’t fully human anymore. They were still human, sure, but somehow less so. They wanted to become like God, and that desire caused them to lose something of their humanity.

The real sin was wanting to be like God, and the real consequence of that sin was the inhumanity which has raged all over the world.

Have we learned anything?

We still fear death, and we still think that the consequence of sin is physical death, as if death isn’t a part of the cycle of life-renewal that is characteristic of nature.

Think about it: life literally feeds on death. All food was once alive, whether it be fruit, vegetable, or meat.

A leaf dies, falls to the earth, is decomposed by worms and bacteria, and then feeds the very tree it once was a part of. That’s just genius!

Jesus used this process to illustrate how we attain life in the kingdom: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24-25)

So dying is neither the consequence of the problem nor the problem itself. The problem is that we want to be something—or someone—who we are not, and the consequence is that we lose the very thing we were meant to be.

Not only that, but we still want to be like God. Our concept of life in heaven is such that, if we don’t think we are exactly like God, we’re at least God-ish—knowing pretty much everything, understanding all the things that perplex us now (like why mosquitoes even exist), living forever someplace that is not here on earth.

We still want to be more than human, and that’s the very thing that got us into trouble in the first place!

The real Original Sin is not being satisfied with being human, and the real consequence is that we become less than human and in our inhumanity we separate ourselves into us and them’s, those who deserve our protection and those who deserve our scorn, those who are worth living and those who are worth killing, those who are human like us and those who are animals who should be put down.

As if we are knowers of Good and Evil.

There is something worse than dying, and that is losing our humanity. Salvation in Jesus obviously doesn’t keep us from dying. What it does is renew our humanity. That’s why John presents the resurrected Jesus in a garden as the gardener, the Second Adam, the Renewed Human.

Jesus said that renewal is available for us as well, and it’s worth dying for. He did, and he calls us to die to that old way of living too.

For a life of continued inhumanity isn’t worth living.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Spanishalex

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4 Responsesto “The Serpent Didn’t Lie about Death”

  1. Jim Lee says:

    So…When God said “you will surely die”, he meant you will no longer be fully human? Not sure I followed that part…Jim

    • Well, I wouldn’t expect a trombone player to understand these deep truths…

      What God said was, “In the day that you eat of it you will surely die,” but that didn’t happen, so there has to be some explanation. I’ve always been taught that the Fall introduced dying into the world, but God didn’t just say, “You will die,” but “You will die that day,” so that doesn’t really add up. So others have said God was talking about spiritual death but a)that’s not what he said, and b)by “spiritual death” we’ve been taught that that means the death after physical death, and that just isn’t an issue anywhere in Genesis–indeed, it’s not an issue in the Old Testament nor, I would argue, in the New Testament either. So what I’m saying is that it refers to the death of our humanity i.e. that in seeking to become gods, we act as less than human. And that’s certainly been the evidence of history, that in exercising prerogatives that only belong to God (what’s right and wrong, who is right and wrong, who deserves to live and who deserves to die) we let loose our inhumanity on humanity.

  2. William Shutt says:

    Pastor Larry,
    (Apologies for not getting to this sooner; it’s been a busy couple of weeks!) Looking over the bulletin article on August 21st, you are sharing how the concern with death is losing our humanity. And that truly has been our case since Adam and Eve. But in setting up the scene and the serpent’s lie, it seems like you imply that God lied to Adam and Eve! You point out how God said that they would die a physical death that day and they didn’t. I’m confused. Do you believe that God lied to Adam and Eve?!?

    Bill Shutt

    • It’s great question Bill. It certainly looks like what God said didn’t happen–they didn’t die “in the day that you eat of it.” What I’ve argued in this article is that the death referred to in Genesis 3 isn’t physical death or a “spiritual” death but rather the death of our humanity i.e. that in seeking to become gods, we act as less than human. And that’s certainly been the evidence of history, that in exercising prerogatives that only belong to God (deciding for ourselves what’s right and wrong, who is right and wrong, who deserves to live and who deserves to die) we let loose our inhumanity on humanity, with the result that many innocent people are victims of our violence and injustice, so that, in Paul’s words, “death reigns over the earth.”

      Looked in this way, God’s sending them out of the Garden is not so much a punishment as a protection. A fully human life is worth living for all eternity, but an inhuman life lived for eternity is a gross distortion too great for anyone to bear. So in sending humans out of the Garden where they no longer have access to the Tree of Life, he guarantees that they won’t have to live such distorted lives forever. Something more is needed, however, for our humanity to be restored to us, and that of course is Jesus.


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