Dying You Shall Die

Why didn't Adam and Eve die after eating the for­bid­den fruit? I mean immediately after­wards, in the very same day, as Genesis 2:17 seems to suggest:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. – Genesis 2:17, KJV

The question is common, and I can do no better than point you towards the excellent explanation from Answers in Genesis in their article:

Why Didn’t Adam and Eve Die the Instant They Ate the Fruit?

The problem goes away once you understand that a literal reading of the verse in English would be more along the lines of: "...dying you shall die." The sense is that Adam and Eve gave up their connection to God's upholding power, and thence began their bodily decline eventually culminating in death.

Troy Lacey from Answers in Genesis recently shed even more light on this interesting issue during an email exchange in which I asked about the interlinear translations shown in Figures 1 and 2. Figure 1 supports the "dying you shall die" explanation. Figure 2 at first glance does not.

Figure 1. Interlinear translation supporting "dying you shall die."

Figure 1. Interlinear translation supporting "dying you shall die."

Figure 2. Interlinear translation seemingly contradicting "dying you shall die."

Figure 2 is from the interlinear site I more commonly visit, and its lack of support for the Answers in Genesis explanation troubled me. I asked Troy for an explanation. Here's his response:

Hello Jonathan, thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis. If you look closely at the interlinear Hebrew link you sent in, you'll see that the last two words are the root verb and the adverb of "die" (Hebrew – muwth and tamuwth). Literally it translates to "dying die".

Indeed. Troy nailed it. I hadn't looked closely enough at the Hebrew characters. Figure 2 gives the same two Hebrew words as in Figure 1, but aligns them with the more commonly used "surely die" translation. Problem solved. There is no contradiction between the figures. Rather, they simply show the alternate ways of translating the Hebrew phrase "muwth tamuwth".

Troy went on to provide some background on why the "surely die" translation is common:

English translators throughout history have chosen to word this as "surely die" or "certainly die"; with the thought being "it will come to pass". Because of the uniqueness of the phrase, they didn't want to over-translate it, but wanted to keep the sense of the pronouncement being unalterable. When you look at the different English translations, you will see that most take this tack, which does not contradict the sense of dying die, although it does not bring out the proper stress on the "dying" part.

I had also asked why the "dying die" explanation is not made plain, since the issue seems to be well-known and not controversial. Troy pointed out that translators are sometimes subtly influenced by issues of the day:

Keep in mind that the vast majority of English translations came about during or after the Reformation, or as a direct result of denominational input. In many cases then, the translators importance was on "spiritual" death and not physical death; therefore they subconsciously stressed the immediate spiritual death aspect and left unstressed the eventual physical death. This was to avoid what to the Reformers was the heretical teaching going around that mankind's spiritual Fall was not one unto death, but merely sickness.

Troy then pointed out that some translations do, in fact, include the "dying die" sense:

Some translations do include the dying die sense, most notably the YLT. The Geneva takes the dying die concept in a wholly spiritual death sense, which is the other end of the spectrum. In Hebrew though it is clear – dying die, which includes the aspects of immediate spiritual and eventual physical death.

Troy quoted several of these translations. The first three below make the "dying die" sense plain as day. The fourth is the Geneva translation focusing wholly on the sense of spiritual death.

Gen. 2:17 (YLT) and of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it – dying thou dost die.

Gen. 2:17 (John Knox) except the tree which brings knowledge of good and evil; if ever thou eatest of this, thy doom is death.

Gen. 2:17 (CJB) except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You are not to eat from it, because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die.”

Gen. 2:17 (Geneva) But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die the death.

Finally, Troy pointed out that the Latin Vulgate also gives the "dying die" sense:

Incidentally, the Latin Vulgate also bears this out – morte morieris, means "die dying".

And here is the proof in the form of the complete verse from the Latin:

Gen. 2:17 (Vulgate) de ligno autem scientiae boni et mali ne comedas in quocumque enim die comederis ex eo morte morieris

God is our rock. His word is sure. Troy's courteous and well-reasoned response strengthens my faith and provides a reminder that we should not be quick to give up our faith at the first sign of an apparent contradiction in God's word.

God is always correct. It is only ever our own understanding that can be in error.