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The Penalty of Death for Disobedience

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by Leroy Edwin Froom

Excerpts from The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers - Volume 1 Chapter 5

"This magnificent Conditionalist Faith volume is characterized by your customary careful scholarship"— Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (book jacket).

When God placed man in the Garden He told him plainly, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 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" (Gen. 2:16, 17).

The message of God could hardly have been clearer. He declared that He would punish disobedience with death. This Adam and Eve understood full well, for Eve referred to the death threat when she parleyed with the serpent. And as intimated, it was doubtless fear of punishment that prompted the guilty pair to flee in terror when they heard God calling them in the Garden. Let us return to the frightened pair standing before their insulted Maker that fateful day in Eden.

A Second Chance Provided for the Sinner


God has just cursed the serpent, and in doing so He has intimated to Adam and Eve that a reprieve has been granted—in fact, that a second chance is being offered them. This is no disavowal of God's original intention to punish disobedience with death. As we have already seen, this death penalty deserved by them had already been accepted by His Son, the second person of the Godhead. In this sense Christ was "slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). Provision for -paying the debt of sin was already made before God faced His erring creatures with their guilt.

Expelled From the Garden, Adam and Eve Were Cut Off From Access to the Tree of Life, and Faced the Terrifying Prospect of Death, as Forewarned by the Almighty.

And now God turns to man on probation, with his second chance before him, and sets forth the changed conditions of his life:

"Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shall bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy "wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shall not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of ii all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it was thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. . . .

"And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3:16-24).


"Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Thus God passed sentence on the sinners before Him. After a life of toil, sorrow, and care, dissolution back into dust would be the fate of every man on earth. Children would be born, generation would follow generation, but death would close the history of each life. The immediate cause for this changed condition of affairs was separation from the tree of life. God did not intend to have a race of immortal sinners on His newly created earth. So He withdrew the tree of life from man's access. And man be came mortal—subject to death. The potential immortality with which man was endowed at creation was withdrawn, and man looked forward to the end of life.

The entire human race, and each person born therein, was thus assured of a period of probation for testing, just as Adam had in the beginning. Salvation from sin is offered to all, and each may accept or reject it. This racial probation gave time for Satan to fully develop his plans and demonstrate his principles before the universe. And it also provided time for God to demonstrate, through the gift of His Son, how salvation may be attained and immortality received through the provisions of the gospel.

B. Adam Died Judicially on Day of Transgression

Perplexity is often expressed over the clause, "For in the day that thou eats thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). The simple fact is that, judicially and implicitly, Adam did die on the day that he sinned. He thereupon became a mortal, dying creature. His doom was fixed, his fate sealed. He passed under the irrevocable sentence of death. His life was forfeit, and he began to die. Although he might live on for an hour, a week, a year (or 930 years, as Adam did—Gen. 5:5), it was but a respite under condemnation, a delay, or stay, of execution. If, however, he were to live forever, there must be a rescue, a redemption, an act of amnesty and grace. Otherwise, the death debt incurred must be paid in full. He must in due time die. That is the fundamental point.


This warning of immediate death is held by many able Bible students to be an instance of what in rhetoric is called prolepsis—an anticipation of that which is future as if it were already present. It is a common figure of speech. Thus, when one is falling over a precipice, has taken poison, or has committed a capital crime, he is often referred to as a "dead man"—even if he should live on for days, weeks, months, or even years. When the angel of death had smitten their first-born, the affrighted Egyptians cried out, "We be all dead men" (Ex. 12:33). When Aaron's rod budded in condemnation of the rebels, the Israelites exclaimed, "Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish" (Num. 17:12). Even God Himself employed similar words in addressing the presumptuous Abimelech: "Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken" (Gen. 20:3).


A strikingly similar expression occurred when Pharaoh said to Moses, "Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou sees my face thou shall die" (Ex. 10:28). Yet no one would think the king faithless to his word if, under sentence, Moses waited for some time for execution. Again, when Solomon gave charge to Shimei concerning the tenure of his forfeited life, he declared: "It shall be, that on the day thou goes out, and passes over the brook Kidron, thou shall know for certain that thou shalt surely die" (1 Kings 2:37). Yet none would contend that he must flee, be arrested, tried, and executed all on the same twenty-four hour day. Thus he exclaims, "Thy blood shall be upon thine own head." The intent is clear.

So, out of it all, one thing is sure: The execution of the Edenic sentence upon Adam, "Thou shalt surely die," would indicate anything rather than the thought that man was to live on in endless immortality. [In twenty other places the same term, "surely die," occurs, and all of them refer to literal death. See Gen. 20:7; 1 Sam. 22:16; 1 Kings 2:37, 42; Jer. 26:8; Eze. 3:18; 33:8, 14; etc.] Had there been no redemption, Adam would have utterly perished.


The death that God threatened actually began in Eden on the very day of transgression, as Adam came under sentence of death. When, after Adam's transgression, God declared to him, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return" (Gen. 3:19), He was but passing the sentence of which He had previously warned, "In the day that thou eats thereof thou shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17).

From that day preparation was under way for the ultimate execution of the sentence. On -that very day Adam was ejected from the Garden of Eden, where grew that life-giving tree of life, the eating of the fruit of which would have perpetuated obedient life forever. He was now cut off from the channel through which deathlessness was designed to flow to him. The sands in time's hourglass of existence had now begun to fall.


But as to the duration, or finality, of the death decreed for disobedience—whether it would be final and irrevocable, with no awakening; or, whether life would be restored through a resurrection, for final award or punishment—not one word was said in advance. That omission was surely designed, making it possible for God to bring forward at the appropriate time and circumstance the provision of grace through Christ that He had purposed before sin entered the world. But the sentence of death, whether the first natural death, or the final second death, was passed upon all men.

C. Encompassing Involvements of Death Penalty

Man, because of his sin, was now on his way to destruction. Without divine intervention he would have been doomed to return to the nothingness, or non being, whence the Creator had brought him into existence at creation. But divine mercy had already intervened. The promised Seed, or Saviour, was to come and exhaust the death penalty, and regain the lost life—eternal life—for man. The blow that in justice should fall on man was to fall on Christ. Death at the close o£ life's tenure, the return to dust, was to be simply a "sleep," from which all would be awakened by a resurrection from this initial, or "first," death.

God set His attested seal upon the gospel of the resurrection by raising Jesus from the dead—His resurrection becoming the pledge of our own in due course. Otherwise there would be no assurance, no tangible guarantee, of life beyond the grave. But the promise and provision of Christ, the Redeemer, provide that assurance. Thus the light of the radiant gospel of life was injected into the impenetrable darkness of death at the very gates of Eden.


Death was the total penalty that was forewarned upon Adam by God as punishment for that primal sin. All that God purposed to inflict upon Adam and his posterity because of transgression was comprehended within that single word "death." "In the day that thou eats thereof thou shalt surely die," was the solemn but all-inclusive decree (Gen. 2:17). That clearly meant complete loss of life, deprivation of being forfeiture of existence.


Elemental justice requires that the penalty for a transgression be explicitly stated, so it may be unmistakably understood by all who may be involved. And in this instance that penalty is declared, according to the term "die," as just noted, to be loss of life, cessation of being and existence—not, as some later came to contend, eternal living existence in endless agony.

It would be a strange way of understanding a law, which requires the plainest and most direct words, that by death should be meant eternal life in misery and perpetual torment, as later advocated first in paganism, then in Jewry, and finally in a major segment of Christianity.

Christ must have suffered the very penalty to which sinning man was sentenced at the beginning, for Christ bore our sins. Consequently, an eternal life in misery can form no true part of the meaning of death (Rom. 5:7, 8; 6:10; Heb. 2:9). Christ did not endure Eternal Torment. He was raised the third day. The ultimate penalty for sins is the cancellation of life when the true objective has been lost (Eze. 18:4, 13, 18). And inasmuch as God gave life initially to the human race, He could by the same power withdraw that life if man sinned. And that is just what the death sentence means.


The initial death, at the end of the natural life (and which in the Bible is called a sleep), is a consequence of facial or universal sin. The first, or natural, death is not the penalty to be paid for our personal sins. Descendants are not punished for the sins of their ancestors, unless they persist in their ancestors' sins. The initial death that overtook Adam and Eve was not the end. The punitive death for unrepented sin is the second death, and does not come until after the second resurrection for the execution of judgment.

That will be a death of both soul and body, which involves final and irretrievable loss of the total life (Matt. 10:28; Mal. 4:1; Rev. 20:14). So man's first death is not the end; it is only the first, or natural death, which passed upon all men (Rom. 5:12). The second death, which will bring about the completion of the death penalty, will be executed only upon the obdurately evil.

Let us consider it another way: The wicked die the first time in their sins, but the second time (after their resurrection, Rev. 20:5, 6), they die for their sins (Eze. 18:26). It is, appointed unto all men "once to die" (Heb. 9:27). All die the first time because they became mortal as a result of Adam's transgression. In the matter of this first death men have no choice. But it is a matter of complete and inescapable choice as to whether we die the first death in our sins, or are saved and safe in Christ. For if we die in Christ, then the second death will have no power over us (Rev. 20:6). And the second death, which is eternal, can be averted by accepting Christ's provision of salvation.


We would stress this point, that the second death—for unrepented of and unpardoned sin—is not to be confounded with the first death, which all men, whether saved or lost, undergo alike as the children of Adam. This is often misunderstood.

The second death applies only to future punishment for the second death is the punishment for personal, unconfessed sin, just as everlasting life is the reward of individual righteousness, received through and in Christ.

Thus loss of life was the doom pronounced against sin. But this loss of life is not simply implied in Scripture. It is definitively stated to be the punishment determined— "The soul that sins, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4, 20; cf. Eze. 3:18). The Old Testament explicitly and repeatedly describes this loss of life, or existence, as the reversion of the organized being into its original elements—reduction to what it was before it was called into being. Here are a few of the less-known texts:

"The destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they . . . shall be consumed" (Isa. 1:28). "Prepare them for the day of slaughter" (Jer. 12:3). "The slain of the Lord shall be many" (Isa. 66:16). "They shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed" (Isa. 66:24). "He shall destroy them" (Ps. 28:5). "The transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off" (Ps. 37:38). They shall be rooted "out of the land" (Ps. 52:5). "Let them be blotted out of the book of the living" (Ps. 69:28); et cetera.

Every clear-cut Old Testament declaration on the punishment of the wicked states it to be loss of life, not continuance — dissolution of life into its original elements, as though one had never been called into existence as an entity. And while the redeemed are to have life immortal which knows no end, the lost will succumb to the second death, which knows no awakening.


God's sentence declared, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19). This pronouncement was more explicitly explained after man's transgression, as related to his person. But there is nothing in the context that minimizes or changes the meaning or force of the words or limits their all-inclusive application.

There is no hint of a distinction between body and soul in the application of Adam's destined doom. The whole man sinned. And the sentence appearing in the Inspired Record applies to man as a whole. Accordingly, as with the sentence so with its execution — the man, without redemption, would at death utterly and forever cease to live. Such would have been the final, tragic outcome had it not been for the divine plan and provision of salvation. This involves man's being brought back to life, through resurrection, for pronouncement of sentence based upon a just judgment, and then for final reward or punishment.

D. Supreme Argument Against Eternal Torment


Punishment implies the existence of law. And law involves authority. But no law can have binding force unless it is but tressed by penalty for infraction. Moreover, punishment is inflicted upon the violator by the same authority from which the law proceeds. There can therefore be no legitimate penalty threatened, nor punishment inflicted, where there is no law or authority (Rom. 5:13). But God, the Creator of man, had given an express command and warning to our forebears in Eden (Gen. 2:16, 17). And Adam and Eve had violated the explicit command and broken the declared law, or word, of God, and so had incurred the statutory penalty forewarned.

As we have seen, death—in the sense of forfeiture of life and extinction of being through withdrawal of life— was the stated penalty for infraction of the divine command. This is the uniform teaching of the Bible from cover to cover in all its multiple forms of statement—whether of doctrine, warning, statute, exhortation, promise, or prediction, and as amplified in parable, figure, and illustration. The uniform penalty in all forms is, "The soul that sins, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4, 20); or in the New Testament, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Or, to change to one of the figures, the inevitable harvest from the sowing of the seed of sin is destruction (Matt. 13:30). The essence of it all is that "sin, when it is finished, brings forth death" (James 1:15).


We repeat, "death" means cessation of life, not eternal life in torment. Strange contention of some that to perish is to live on forever! That, of course, is a complete contradiction. Here is the supreme argument against the alien concept of the Eternal Torment of the sinner: If the death that threatened Adam were eternal torture, then it would have necessitated that our Saviour, as man's complete Substitute, must be tormented eternally in order to receive man's allotted punishment and pay his designated debt. But no one is prepared to contend that such is true as regards our Saviour.

If, on the contrary, the penalty of death is loss of life, as executed upon Christ on the cross, then Jesus must die by literally giving up His life in our stead, thus meeting the full demands of the law for our sins. And this is precisely what He did. That is consideration of the question at the highest level. That is the supreme and decisive evidence. Christ died, just as Adam was to die.

E. Sleep the Beautiful Euphemism for Death


Since the Bible states, "It is appointed unto [all] men once to die," and after death the "judgment" (Heb. 9:27), the "first," or natural, death, is simply a temporary cessation of life, which the Bible pictures as a "sleep." The gospel makes provision for another life through the resurrection awakening—a second and eternal life for all who accept the gospel of Christ (2 Tim. 1:10) and are fitted for it. The same gospel also reveals the irrevocable "second death," from which there is a resurrection unto damnation for those who reject the gospel (John 5:28, 29), and no hope for those who lack fitness for immortality. All those who reject the sole means of salvation will be lost forever. There will be no immortal sinners. But let us examine the figure of "sleep."


The Old Testament consistently speaks of death under this metaphor of "sleep"—like falling asleep at night. So this intermediate state, between death and the resurrection, is for good and evil alike, and is thus likened to the hours of unconscious rest. The resurrection is compared to the experience of awakening to a new day. Death is repeatedly declared to be a deep, unconscious, unbroken sleep until the resurrection morn.

Thus in Holy Writ, "Man lies down, and rises not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep" (Job 14:12). The psalmist said, "Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Ps. 13:3). And the prophet Daniel adds, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake"—at the resurrection (Dan. 12:2). This is the unvarying testimony of the Old Testament. And the New Testament does not deviate from this in the slightest degree. Rather, it elaborates upon it.

Sleep, then, is a condition of suspended activity and unconscious rest. Thus the dead are repeatedly declared to be "at rest" (Job 3:17, 18, 17:16; Dan. 12:13; Rev. 14:13). And this intermediate state is defined as one of inactivity and silence (Ps. 6:5; cf. Rev. 14:13). The Hebrew concept of this unconscious sleep, in she'ol, or gravedom, is seen in such statements by the psalmist as:

"His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth [dust]; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Ps. 146:4). "In death [she'ol, the grave] there is no remembrance of thee" (Ps. 6:5). "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence" (Ps. 115:17).


Sleep obliterates the space, or span, between death and the resurrection. It has no perceptible passage of time. This Biblical concept of death as a sleep makes the Second Advent equally near to every generation and to every individual believer—to the first as verily as to the last. To both, our Lord is equally nigh, even at the door. Death, as a sleep, is not therefore a long, conscious, stretching blank of centuries or millenniums. A century is as short as a moment, a millennium as brief as the twinkling of an eye. The next conscious instant after falling asleep will be the day of redemption. Death is followed by rising, going to sleep by awakening.

Such a gracious provision, it is to be noted, robs death of its gloom and its sense and dread of long separation. Thus the twilight hour of death is succeeded, through the resurrection, by the dawn of eternal day for the righteous. But, alas, it is followed by an everlasting night of utter destruction for the wicked, after their resurrection for the execution of the judgment (Rev. 20:5, 6, 14, 15, 21:8).


"Sleep" is consequently the common Biblical synonym for "death." Beginning with its initial application to Moses ("Be hold, thou shall sleep with thy fathers," Deut. 31:16), [That this meant Moses was to die is plainly stated in Deuteronomy 32:48-51. He died and was buried (Deut. 34:5-7; Joshua 1:1, 2).] and then to David ("Thou shall sleep with his fathers," 2 Sam. 7:12), and Job ("Now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shall seek me in the morning, but I shall not be," Job 7:21), we find that this beautiful euphemism runs like an unbroken thread all through the Old and New Testaments, ending with Peter's "since the fathers fell asleep" (2 Peter 3:4)."

This chosen synonym for death occurs no less than sixty-six times in seventeen books of the Sacred Canon, including it considered use by Jesus Himself (Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52; John 11:11). These frequent occurrences are so important and significant, and impressive, that all Old Testament usages are tabulated here for reference, that the eye may quickly run down this meaningful tabulation. Thus the scope and weight of evidence quickly become apparent. The term, it will be observed, is used of good and evil alike—of Ahab as well as of David. Here are the texts:

Deut. 31:16 —"Thou [Moses] shall sleep with thy fathers."

2 Sam. 7:12 —"Thou [David] shait sleep with thy fathers."

1 Kings 1:21 —"The king shall sleep with his fathers."

1 Kings 2:10 —"So David slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 11:21 —"David slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 11:43 —"Solomon slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 14:20 —"He [Jeroboam] slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 14:31 —"Rehoboam slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 15:8 —"Abijam slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 15:24 —"Asa slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 16:6 —"Baasha slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 16:28 —"Omri slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 22:40 —"Ahab slept with his fathers."

1 Kings 22:50 —"Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 8:24 —"Joram slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 10:35 —"Jehu slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 13:9 —"Jehoahaz slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 13:13 —"Joash slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 14:16 —"Jehoash slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 14:22 —"The king slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 14:29 —"Jeroboam slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 15:7 —"Azariah slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 15:22 —"Menahem slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 15:38 —"Jotham slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 16:20 —"Ahaz slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 20:21 —"Hezekiah slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 21:18 —"Manasseh slept with his fathers."

2 Kings 24:6 —"Jehoiakim slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 9:31 —"Solomon slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 12:16 —"Rehoboam slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 14:1 —"Abijah slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 16:13 —"Asa slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 21:1 —"Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 26:2 —"The king slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 26:23 —"Uzziah slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 27:9 —"Jotham slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 28:27 —"Ahaz slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 32:33 —"Hezekiah slept with his fathers."

2 Chron. 33:20 —"Manasseh slept with his fathers."

Job 3:13 —"I should have slept."

Job 7:21 —"Now shall I sleep in the dust."

Job 14:12 —"Nor be raised out of their sleep."

Ps. 13:3 —"Lest I sleep the sleep of death."

Ps. 76:5 —"They have slept their sleep."

Ps. 76:6 —"Cast into a dead sleep."

Ps. 90:5 —"They are as a sleep."

Jer. 51:39 —"Sleep a perpetual sleep."

Jer. 51:57 —"Sleep a perpetual sleep."

Dan. 12:2 —"Them that sleep in the dust of the earth."

The seventeen New Testament references are:

Matt. 9:24, 27:52;

Mark 5:39;

Luke 8:52;

John 11:11 (twice);

Acts 7:60, 13:36;

1 Cor. 7:39 (koimao, "fall asleep"; see Rotherham); 1 Cor.11:30, 15:6. 18, 20;

1 Thess. 4:13, 14, 15;

2 Peter 3:4

In all four Gospels, the Acts, and two of Paul's Epistles, as well as in Peter.

Sleep, then, is beyond question the established Biblical term for man's state in death.

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