Adam and Eve Not Created Physically Immortal

Genesis 2 reports the creation of Adam and Eve. They lived in the garden of Eden, and in the center of this garden were two trees. One tree was the “tree of life” (Gen. 2:9). We may gain insight about this tree when we see God’s words in 3:22: “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever . . . ”

The “tree of life” was (1) accessible to Adam and Eve, (2) able to be eaten, and (3) associated with immortality. Then in Genesis 3:24 God “drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Here we see that the “tree of life” was (4) guarded after the expulsion of Adam and Eve.

Outside the garden, and at age 930, Adam “died” (Gen. 5:5). But did he die because his body was no longer immortal after his sin? Or were Adam and Eve created mortal yet given the hope of greater life (signified by the “tree of life”)?

Sometimes I’ve heard believers speak of Adam and Eve as if God created them with invincible bodies. The notion of a “perfect” beginning seems to exclude bodies that could die. The impression seems to be of a physically immortal couple who are subjected to death only after their expulsion from the garden. After all, doesn’t Genesis 2:17 say “in the day that you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die”? Doesn’t this imply that if they don’t eat of the forbidden tree, they can’t die?

But I don’t believe Adam and Eve were physically immortal. The words of Genesis 3:22 (“lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever”) suggest that immortal life was what Adam didn’t yet have and what he was then prevented from acquiring (see 3:24). And if he didn’t have immortal physical life, then by implication he had mortal physicality.

Adam and Eve could die, and this ability coexisted in a state of being without sin in the garden. The ability to die doesn’t equate to a state of sinfulness. If it did, wouldn’t this objection also apply to Jesus? When Jesus was born, he was born physically mortal, able to die. And if we are to remain biblical in our christology, we must assume that mortal Jesus was also sinless Jesus.

In the situation of Adam and Eve, God clearly promised that “in the day that you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17), but the fulfillment of that promise did not involve a reversal of physical immortality. If immortality could be taken away, was it ever true immortality in the first place? The “death” Adam and Eve experienced was first an effect on their relationship with God, but there was a physical component as well because God exiled them out of the garden. Exile was a kind of death, and it ensured their physical death.

The garden of Eden had provided the conditions for physical immortality, for in the center was a tree called the “tree of life” (Gen. 2:9), and any who ate its fruit would live forever (3:22). But the hope for immortality was outside the bodies of Adam and Eve. Apart from the tree of life, their bodies would not live forever. And barred from the garden of Eden, their bodies would and did die. Their death outside Eden was not the reversal of immortality, it was the proof of mortality.

Fast forward to 1 Corinthians 15. There was a first Adam in Genesis, but Paul speaks of “the last Adam” Jesus (1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus, the Last Adam, was raised from the dead as the firstfruits of all who will be raised at his coming (15:20-23). At the future resurrection of the dead, “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (15:53).

Jesus was born mortal, able to die. But he was raised immortal, never to die again. His glorified body is now imperishable. Like Jesus, we will be raised imperishable and put on immortality. This hope means that Adam and Eve, who were created mortal, will be raised immortal too. The first couple will finally have what they never had in the garden of Eden.

Gender and the Resurrection of the Dead

The Christian worldview teaches that our future hope should affect our present lives. We shouldn’t lose heart because an eternal weight of glory awaits us (2 Cor. 4:16-18). We can endure mistreatment now because of a greater reward to come (Heb. 11:24-26). We can labor for Christ knowing that our work will not be in vain (1 Cor. 15:50-58).

The future is ever relevant for the present. Specific future hopes can even clarify commonplace confusion in the culture. Let’s take the doctrine of bodily resurrection and hold up to it the hot topic of gender. What might the future resurrection of the body teach us about gender?

First, the resurrection will be gender-specific. Jesus was born a male, died a male, and rose a male. Gender didn’t become inconsequential once his resurrection happened. His glorified body reflected gender. From the beginning God made us male and female, and he will raise us male and female too. Nothing we do to alter our physical body now will circumvent our resurrected state. People who are born men will not be raised as women, nor vice versa. Sex-reassignment surgery doesn’t change gender, and the resurrection of the dead will make this abundantly clear.

Second, the resurrection shows the eternality of gender. Since the resurrection of the dead will establish eternal physical states for believers and unbelievers, our gender is eternal. Not even marriage is eternal, because that temporal earthly covenant points to, and will be eclipsed by, the union of Christ and the Bride (Rev. 21:1-21), but gender will last forever. When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we will be there as men and women glorifying the Lamb who was slain. And in hell, those enduring the just wrath of God will be male and female rebels.

Third, the resurrection demands present bodily stewardship. If God will one day raise what dies now, then bodily resurrection vindicates the importance of the physical in life. Matter matters. We must not be practical Gnostics. The body is meant for the Lord, who will raise it up (1 Cor. 6:13-14). The term “stewardship” is apt, then, because we are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 6:12-13). God is sovereign over us, and we must faithfully steward what he has given us, including our bodies. A female body should be cared for and maintained as such, and a male body cared for and maintained as such.

Gender is not malleable like clay. Gender exists by the design of God and for the glory of God.

Why Was Jesus Raised on the “Third Day”?

On multiple occasions, Jesus clarified that his resurrection would be on “the third day” (see Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; also John 2:19). When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the gospel tradition, he said that Jesus was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).

Paul taught that if you looked in “the Scriptures” (for Paul, the Old Testament), you would discern a “third day” expectation for Jesus’ deliverance. How does he conclude such a thing? And when Jesus spoke about his future resurrection, he said it “must” be on the third day (Matt. 16:21). Why must it be on that day and no other? Why the third day rather than the first or fourth? Why not death followed by resurrection a few hours later?

The expectation of Third Day Deliverance was probably not linked to only one Old Testament text but to an overall pattern of incredible third-day events. For instance:

  • Isaac was delivered from being sacrificed on the “third day” (Gen. 22:9)
  • Joseph released his brothers on the third day (Gen. 42:17-18)
  • God came down to meet Moses on Mount Sinai on the “third day” (Exod. 19:11)
  • When Joshua rallied the people to enter the promised land, he said the conquest would begin in “three days” (Josh. 1:11; 3:2)
  • After Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, he was delivered (Jonah 1:17)
  • In Hosea, the people said, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up” (Hos. 6:2)
  • Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was healed from his sickness on the third day (2 Kgs. 20:5-6)
  • Esther successfully interceded for the Jews on the “third day” (Esth. 4:16)

There are more examples that could be cited, but the above events establish the point that some major Old Testament stories were specifically associated with “three days” or on the “third day.” In fact, there are multiple examples of Third Day Deliverance stories where a character is delivered from sickness or death!

The resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate biblical example of a Third Day Deliverance.

See an excellent article by Stephen Dempster titled “From Slight Peg to Cornerstone to Capstone: The Resurrection of Christ on ‘The Third Day’ According to the Scriptures” (Westminster Theological Journal 76.2 [2014]: 371-410). And Jim Hamilton has traced a cluster of third-day passages on his blog.

“My Son, Arise”–A Poem for Easter Sunday

“My Son, Arise”
Easter Sunday
April 5, 2015

The lungs had not inhaled a breath
Since He had closed His eyes in death.

Now covered by the sealing stone,
The Nazarene lay there alone.

Then when two nights had fully passed,
The third day morning came at last.

The Father said, “My son, arise!”
And Jesus opened up His eyes.

The new creation had begun,
For curse and death were now undone.

“Humble Would Be How”–A Poem for Sunday of Passion Week

“Humble Would Be How”
Passion Week 2015

In all the weeks that ever were,
None had begun like this:
The Nazarene sent men to find
A scene they must not miss–

A donkey tied beside a colt,
And both he needed now.
For Scripture said the King would ride,
And humble would be how.

He rode into Jerusalem
And heard the crowd proclaim:
“Hosanna be to David’s son,
And blessed be his name!”

“From Dust You Shall Arise”: Resurrection Hope in the Old Testament

I had the honor of contributing an article to the latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT 18.4 [2014]). The journal focused this issue on “resurrection,” and just in time for Passion Week drawing nigh.

I wrote on resurrection hope in the Old Testament: “From Dust You Shall Arise” (pp. 9-29 of the journal).