Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

We read in:

Genesis 2:17 NIV

but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

However we know that we Adam and Eve didn't die when they ate the fruit. I understand that it's common to believe that Adam and Eve would have never died if they did not eat the fruit, but I'm not sure that is intended or practical. If we were fruitful and multiplied AND never physically died, we'd be out of resources a long time ago.

Are there other possible translations of the scripture?

share|improve this question
I'm afraid that I cannot agree with your assertion that "Adam and Eve didn't die." They did not die physically; that much is obvious. But, that is not the only death scriptures speaks of. Remember when Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their dead." Don't you know that physically dead people do not bury physically dead people? – Simply a Christian Dec 16 '13 at 23:25
Sounds like a beginning of an answer, eh? However, this isn't – The Freemason Dec 17 '13 at 1:29
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes, there are several slightly varying translations. Young's literal translation reads, "dying thou dost die." In modern English it would be, "dying, you will die." This is a Hebrew idiomatic expression, the repetition indicating emphasis which is translated (interpreted) in most versions as certainly/surely.

However, that does not seem satisfactory in itself to answer the question which arises from the fact that God said "In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die," when the rest of the story clearly reveals that they lived long after that day.

The CJB Bible reads (actually interprets it) this way:

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.”

If we consider the information we are given in the account, both before and then after the fall, we can understand how the certain death of the warning was fulfilled the day they ate of the forbidden fruit.

Genesis 2 (NKJV)

9 And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

First, notice the provision for life: the tree of life was in the midst of the garden (Gen 2:9) God told them they were permitted to eat freely of "every tree of the garden." The only tree that was off limits was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, prior to the fall they were permitted to eat from the tree of life and would have continued to be able to eat from it if they obeyed.

Second, notice what occurs after the fall, in Genesis 3 (NKJV)

22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" --- 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

We know from this passage that had Adam and Eve put out their hand and taken of the tree of life and eaten before the fall, they would have lived forever. But now, in the day that they ate from the tree God told them not to eat of, God sets a guard so that they no longer can have access to the tree of life to eat and live forever; thus, "dying, [they] will die."

Before the fall= permission to eat from the tree of life=no death.
The day they ate of the forbidden tree= no access to the tree of life=certain death.

P.S. Here is an article about this idiom in the OT. It includes reference to a parallel account in 1 Kings 2:37-46. Notice in this passage Shimei is told that in the day he crosses the Brook Kidron, he would surely die I Kings. As soon as the king hears, he tries Shimei, passes judgement, and he is executed.

share|improve this answer
Is being unaware of the inevitability of death (as in children and even the highest animals) different to eternal life? Was eating the 'apple' the point were man became aware? Is that questions your answer raise or is your answer complete? – gideon marx Dec 18 '13 at 15:51
There was no inevitability of death prior to the fall (for the people or for the animals) because there was access to the tree of life and they were not forbidden to eat the fruit from that tree. All the plants were given to them as food, (including the tree of life); the only forbidden fruit was of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After they ate from the forbidden tree of the knowldedge of good and evil, access to the tree of life was cut off. – user2027 Dec 18 '13 at 18:13
Thank you for the clarification. – gideon marx Dec 19 '13 at 8:44

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.