Why Do Men Die?

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.

The answer is true, but like so many of our answers, it is not complete. That fact may have more significance than many of us realize. He died, not simply because he sinned, but because, having sinned, he was driven from the garden where he could not continue to eat of the tree of life and live on (Gen. 3:23). Note some things that may be significant about our omission of one reason why he died. We may have assumed something that is not necessarily so. We may have assumed that because the punishment of death came upon Adam as a result of his sin, that he could not have died if he had not sinned. We have never heard a good discussion on the implications of the difference in the concept of whether he could have died or would have died. If his basic nature was that he was incapable of dying at that time, and only became capable of dying when he ate the fruit, then his basic nature was changed by his sin. If his basic nature was that he was a mortal, subject to death, then he could have died. The fact that those who came after him also died would not indicate that it was because they inherited his "fallen nature." It would simply indicate that they die for the same reason he died.

Most of the religious world, and many in the Lord's church, have assumed that we have a "fallen nature" as a result of being human beings. One of my most beloved and respected Bible teachers, R. C. Bell, who was a student in David Lipscomb's classes, said in his Studies in Romans, page 46, "Whatever change Adam's nature sustained in his fall was transmitted to Seth." Although I do not remember that he taught that we are guilty as a result of Adam's sin, he repeated over and over the idea that we are a "fallen race, infected with the virus of sin." I respected him highly, but questioned him in and out of class to define one thing that we have in our nature when we are born that Adam did not have before he sinned. He never did. Nelson's Bible Dictionary says under the subject of THE FALL, "This event plunged them and all of mankind into a state of sin and corruption." Unger's Bible Dictionary says, "The evil in human nature became the lot of mankind." This theory began early in the history of Christianity, but we have been unable to find anything in the writing of the "Church Fathers" until Tertullian in the third century that talked about "the original sin" or "man's inherent depravity" or any other phraseology that indicated a belief that mankind was born in a state of sin and corruption, or with a depraved nature. Let us look in more detail at the story in Genesis. It is admitted by all who believe the Bible story that Adam was created good and perfect. That did not prevent him from having a nature that could be tempted to sin. So, because Eve was tempted through her natural fleshly appetites that God gave her (Gen. 3:6) she took of the forbidden fruit and sinned. Those natural appetites are not sinful. We have probably erred in the assumption that 1 John 2:16 proves that all fleshly desires are sinful. Jesus had the same fleshly desires Eve had before she sinned, and that we now have. The context of John 2:15,16 shows that John is talking about the ungodly things of the world. When we look at all the places in the Bible where the word "epithumia" (desire/lust) is used, we can see that it is used in a good sense in many places. It only becomes sinful if the natural desire is perverted or misused in a way inconsistent with the will of God. This is true with any natural desire, including hunger, sexual or any other. If we misunderstand "Love not the world, neither the things in the world" to mean that we are not to love or desire anything at all that is in the world, we have a terrible problem. God loved the world (John 3:16), and it is certain that He expects the same kind of attitude in us.

We now look for something in those chapters that indicates something about their basic nature being changed. Of course they went from a holy state to an unholy one. They went from having a pure soul to having an impure one. That is a change of state, but not a change in the basic nature. That is always the case when any person who is righteous, pure or holy commits a sin. The question is, does that change his basic nature? Was he immortal, and now changed to mortal? If so, where are the verses that clearly indicate that, or even suggest it?

If you conclude that his sin changed his basic nature, then a few questions deserve an answer, most of which I asked brother Bell, and received no answer. First, when we have become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and have purified our souls in obeying the truth (1 Pet. 1:22) does that change our basic nature? Did that change us from being mortals to being immortal? If we change our basic nature when we purify our souls, is that nature transmitted to our offspring? If one can inherit a sinful nature from Adam, why cannot one inherit a divine nature from a Christian parent? If we sin because we are born inclined to sin as a result of a "fallen nature" why did Adam sin without that inclination? Where do we find that Adam's sin made his descendants more inclined to sin than he was? I was told that a little baby is selfish and cries when it wants something it does not have, and that indicates a sinful nature. Those who thus teach do not properly distinguish between the God-given and proper desire to acquire things that you do not have, and the selfish desire that would cause you to try to get it regardless of what God's will is. Where does the Bible teach, suggest or imply that the desire to acquire things you do not have is a sin? Was it a sin for Eve to want to look at or eat pretty fruit? At no point from Genesis to Revelation does God even suggest such a thing. It is remarkable that a person who would teach that it is wrong for baby to want something it does not have, proves it is sinful, or at least that it has "a sinful nature," but every person who teaches that will try to acquire money and other things. We all want things we do not have, but self-love and self-interest are God ordained, but selfishness is something more.

Let us examine in more detail the assumption that before he sinned he was immortal, and when he sinned he lost that nature and became mortal. Note carefully: Genesis 3:22-24 tells us that God drove him out of the garden "lest he should take also of the tree of life and live forever." That clearly shows that the fact that he could now die (was mortal) did not result from the fact that he sinned, but from the fact that he was no longer to have access to the tree of life. That is, it was not inherent in his nature that he was immortal until he sinned then lost his immortality. 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. God had made provision that as long as he was in the Garden of Eden doing what God told him to do, he had access to the tree of life that was pleasant to the sight and good for food (Gen. 2:9). Also, it was no sin to want those things, for God provided them for their welfare and happiness.

It may be interesting to note that 1 Timothy 6:16 indicates that God alone has inherent immortality. No verse in the Bible says or suggests that mankind ever had that as a part of his nature. But 1 Corinthians 15:33,34 tells us that we will put on immortality when we are resurrected as saints of God.

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 the power to live on forever 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 that Adam had before sin was so constituted that he COULD have died, for he was made from dust and to dust returned. 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 have no basis in the scripture. 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. There is nothing in the Bible that teaches that man would have died had not sin entered into the world. However, that is not because he had an immortal nature, but because he had access to the tree of life.

Most theologians seem to think that Adam's sin corrupted his body and soul by changing his basic nature. I know of nothing in the Bible that suggests that. Of course all sin "corrupts" a person in the sense that introducing a foreign agent into pure milk will corrupt and contaminate the milk. But the basic nature of the milk is the same, and when the corrupting agent is removed, it is as pure as before. A false doctrine will corrupt the gospel truth, but that does not change the basic nature of the gospel. Adam's sin did not corrupt his body any more than our sin corrupts our body. I may get a disease because of sin and transmit that disease to my children, and it may destroy my body, 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 any one 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. We have the same qualities, both physically and spiritually when we are born that Adam had before he sinned. We may 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. The Bible also teaches that it has happened and will happen even to the third and fourth generation. A drunken driver wrecks his car and the physical consequences of his act are suffered by his children. 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's sins 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. Ezekiel 18:20 surely makes that plain. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father."

My primary point in starting this article was to emphasize that in our awareness of the fact that Adam died as a result of his sin, we may have assumed what millions have assumed -- that we not only die as a result of his sin, but have inherent weakness and sinful tendencies as a result of a "fallen nature" we inherited from him. We have never heard a theologian or Bible student of any kind tell us whether this "nature" is our physical nature or spiritual nature. If it is physical, what do we have in our physical nature that is inherently sinful. If it is spiritual, how is it that it is "fallen" since God is the father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9) and He is the one who gave them to us (Ecc. 12:7). Nor have we heard of anyone who can explain with any degree of clarity why we could inherit some moral weakness as a result of Adam's sin, but could not inherit some other moral weakness from some other ancestor's sin, or moral strength from a righteous parent. So, we know that Adam did not die merely because he sinned. He died because when he sinned he was not allowed to eat of the tree of life. We die for the same reasons, not because we have received a "dying nature" as a result of the fall.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive