But it is asked, what kind of death God means in this place? It appears to me, that the definition of this death is to be sought from its opposite; we must, I say, remember from what kind of life man fell. He was, in every respect, happy; his life, therefore, had alike respect to his body and his soul, since in his soul a right judgment and a proper government of the affections prevailed, there also life reigned; in his body there was no defect, wherefore he was wholly free from death. His earthly life truly would have been temporal; yet he would have passed into heaven without death, and without injury. Death, therefore, is now a terror to us; first, because there is a kind of annihilation, as it respects the body; then, because the soul feels the curse of God. We must also see what is the cause of death, namely alienation from God. Thence it follows, that under the name of death is comprehended all those miseries in which Adam involved himself by his defection; for as soon as he revolted from God, the fountain of life, he was cast down from his former state, in order that he might perceive the life of man without God to be wretched and lost, and therefore differing nothing from death. Hence the condition of man after his sin is not improperly called both the privation of life, and death. The miseries and evils both of soul and body, with which man is beset so long as he is on earth, are a kind of entrance into death, till death itself entirely absorbs him; for the Scripture everywhere calls those dead who, being oppressed by the tyranny of sin and Satan, breath nothing but their own destruction. Wherefore the question is superfluous, how it was that God threatened death to Adam on the day in which he should touch the fruit, when he long deferred the punishment? For then was Adam consigned to death, and death began its reign in him, until supervening grace should bring a remedy.
Gen. 2:17. “In the day that thou eatest thereof, dying thou shalt die.” This expression denotes not only the certainty of death, but the extremity of it. Thou shalt die, in the superlative and to the utmost degree; and so it properly extends to the second death, the death of the soul; for damnation is nothing but extreme death, and I am ready to think that God, by mentioning dying twice over, had respect to two deaths, the first and the second, and that it is to those words the apostle John refers in Rev_20:14, when he says, “This is the second death.” It is much such a reference as he made in the verse 2 of that chapter. There he explains to us who the serpent was that beguiled Eve, viz. the dragon, that old serpent, who is the devil and Satan: so here he explains what the second of those deaths, that was threatened to Adam, was. See notes on Rev_20:14.
Gen_2:17. “Dying thou shalt die.” If we sometimes find such kind of doubled expressions, and also this very expression, dying thou shalt die, as in Solomon’s threatening to Shimei, when no more is intended than only the certainty of the event, yet this is no argument that this does not signify more than the certainty, even the extremity as well as certainty of it. Because such a repetition or doubling of a word, according to the idiom of the Hebrew tongue, is as much as our speaking a word once with a very extraordinary emphasis. But such a great emphasis, as we often use, signifies variously; it sometimes signifies certainty, at other times extremity, and sometimes both.
Gen_2:17. “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” This, in addition to notes in blank Bible, – And besides Adam died that day, for he was ruined and undone that day, his nature was ruined – the nature of his soul – which ruin is called death in Scripture, Eph_2:1; Eph_2:5; Col_2:13; Mat_8:22; Joh_5:25. The nature of his body was ruined that day, and became mortal, began to die, his whole man became subject to condemnation, to death; he was guilty of death; and yet that all was not executed; that day was a token of his deliverance; and his not dying that day a natural death, is no more difficult to reconcile with truth, than his never suffering at all that death that was principally intended, viz. eternal damnation; and probably there were beasts slain the same day by God’s appointment in their stead, of which God made them coats of skins, for it is probable God’s thus clothing them was not long delayed after that they saw that they were naked.
Gen_2:17. “In the day, etc.” It does not seem to me necessary that we should understand this, that death should be executed upon him in that day when he ate. But that it may be understood in the same manner as Solomon’s words to Shimei (1Ki_2:37). Death was executed upon Shimei many days after he had done that thing. The thing that God would signify to Adam by this expression seems to me to be, that if he but once presumed to taste that fruit, he should die. You shall not be waited upon to see whether you will do it again, but as soon as ever you have eaten, that very day shall death be made sure to you, you shall be bound to die, given over to death without any more waiting upon you; as that was what Solomon would signify to Shimei; that if he but once went over the brook Kedron, he should die; (see note on 1Ki_2:37), and so these words signify that perfect obedience was the condition of God’s covenant that was made with Adam, as they signify that for one act of disobedience he should die. See Eze_33:12
Keil & Delitzsch
Why then did God prohibit man from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with the threat that, as soon as he ate thereof, he would surely die? (The inf. abs. before the finite verb intensifies the latter: vid., Ewald, §312a). Are we to regard the tree as poisonous, and suppose that some fatal property resided in the fruit? A supposition which so completely ignores the ethical nature of sin is neither warranted by the antithesis, nor by what is said in Gen_3:22 of the tree of life, nor by the fact that the eating of the forbidden fruit was actually the cause of death. Even in the case of the tree of life, the power is not to be sought in the physical character of the fruit. No earthly fruit possesses the power to give immortality to the life which it helps to sustain. Life is not rooted in man’s corporeal nature; it was in his spiritual nature that it had its origin, and from this it derives its stability and permanence also. It may, indeed, be brought to an end through the destruction of the body; but it cannot be exalted to perpetual duration, i.e., to immortality, through its preservation and sustenance. And this applies quite as much to the original nature of man, as to man after the fall. A body formed from earthly materials could not be essentially immortal: it would of necessity either be turned to earth, and fall into dust again, or be transformed by the spirit into the immortality of the soul. The power which transforms corporeality into immortality is spiritual in its nature, and could only be imparted to the earthly tree or its fruit through the word of God, through a special operation of the Spirit of God, an operation which we can only picture to ourselves as sacramental in its character, rendering earthly elements the receptacles and vehicles of celestial powers.
God had given such a sacramental nature and significance to the two trees in the midst of the garden, that their fruit could and would produce supersensual, mental, and spiritual effects upon the nature of the first human pair. The tree of life was to impart the power of transformation into eternal life. The tree of knowledge was to lead man to the knowledge of good and evil; and, according to the divine intention, this was to be attained through his not eating of its fruit. This end was to be accomplished, not only by his discerning in the limit imposed by the prohibition the difference between that which accorded with the will of God and that which opposed it, but also by his coming eventually, through obedience to the prohibition, to recognise the fact that all that is opposed to the will of God is an evil to be avoided, and, through voluntary resistance to such evil, to the full development of the freedom of choice originally imparted to him into the actual freedom of a deliberate and self-conscious choice of good. By obedience to the divine will he would have attained to a godlike knowledge of good and evil, i.e., to one in accordance with his own likeness to God. He would have detected the evil in the approaching tempter; but instead of yielding to it, he would have resisted it, and thus have made good his own property acquired with consciousness and of his own free-will, and in this way by proper self-determination would gradually have advanced to the possession of the truest liberty. But as he failed to keep this divinely appointed way, and ate the forbidden fruit in opposition to the command of God, the power imparted by God to the fruit was manifested in a different way. He learned the difference between good and evil from his own guilty experience, and by receiving the evil into his own soul, fell a victim to the threatened death. Thus through his own fault the tree, which should have helped him to attain true freedom, brought nothing but the sham liberty of sin, and with it death, and that without any demoniacal power of destruction being conjured into the tree itself, or any fatal poison being hidden in its fruit.
With a threefold death.
1. Spiritual, by the guilt and power of sin: at that instant thou shalt be dead in trespasses and sins, Eph_2:1.
2. Temporal, or the death of the body, which shall then begin in thee, by decays, infirmities, terrors, dangers, and other harbingers of death.
3. Eternal, which shall immediately succeed the other.
For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die; literally, dying, thou shalt die. That this involved death physical, or the dissolution of the body, is indicated by the sentence pronounced on Adam after he had fallen (Gen_3:19). That the sentence was hot immediately executed does not disprove its reality. It only suggests that its suspension may have been due to some Divine interposition. Yet universal experience attests that permanent escape from its execution is impossible. In the case of Adam it was thus far put in force on the instant, that henceforth he ceased to be immortal. As prior to his fall his immortality was sure, being authenticated for him by the tree of life, so now, subsequent to that catastrophe, his mortality was certain. This, more than immediateness, is what the language implies. For the complete theological significance of this penalty see Gen_3:19.
Sixth. “In the day of thy eating thereof, die surely shalt thou.” The divine command is accompanied with its awful sanction – death. The man could not at this time have any practical knowledge of the physical dissolution called death. We must, therefore, suppose either that God made him preternaturally acquainted with it, or that he conveyed to him the knowledge of it simply as the negation of life. The latter hypothesis is to be preferred, for several reasons. First, it is the more economical mode of instruction. Such knowledge may be imparted to man without anticipating experience. He was already conscious of life as a pure blessing. He was therefore capable of forming an idea of its loss. And death in the physical sense of the cessation of animal life and the disorganization of the body, he would come to understand in due time by experience. Secondly, death in reference to man is regarded in Scripture much more as the privation of life in the sense of a state of favor with God and consequent happiness than as the mere cessation of animal life Gen_28:13; Exo_3:6; Mat_22:32. Thirdly, the presence and privilege of the tree of life would enable man to see how easily he could be deprived of life, especially when he began to drink in its life-sustaining juices and feel the flow of vitality rushing through his veins and refreshing his whole physical nature. Take away this tree, and with all the other resources of nature he cannot but eventually droop and die. Fourthly, the man would thus regard his exclusion from the tree of life as the earnest of the sentence which would come to its fullness, when the animal frame would at length sink down under the wear and tear of life like the beasts that perish. Then would ensue to the dead but perpetually existing soul of man the total privation of all the sweets of life, and the experience of all the ills of penal death.
in the day that … die] Literally, in the day that Adam ate of the fruit, he did not die. This is one of the minor inconsistencies in the story which are not explained for us. Either we are to assume that, in some fuller version of it, the Lord God was described as “repenting” of the sentence of immediate death, as changing His mind and sparing man in His mercy: or the words “in the day, &c.” are to be regarded as metaphorical, and the doom, “thou shalt surely die,” merely means “thou shalt become mortal.”
We must not infer from this verse that the Lord God was considered, to have made man other than mortal. It is clear from 3:22, that man was created a mortal being. Perhaps, in one version of the story, he was intended to eat of the tree of life “and live for ever.”