From a Scriptural perspective the death affecting mankind is an enemy; something that needs to be defeated and removed. This is plain from the apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 where we are told that “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (v26), and that ultimately death will be “swallowed up in vic­tory” (v54). God plans to remove it completely at the end of the millennial reign of Christ.

It might seem unusual to write about the subject of death, but “death” is being re-defined to be something entirely different to our accepted view of mortality by those teaching one of the various forms of God-directed evolution (GDE)1. In a God-directed evolutionary scenario, death (ie mor­tality) is not an enemy, but the primary means by which God achieved evolutionary progress.

Therefore, GDE advocates need to introduce a new theological concept of death that has nothing to do with mortality. They need to do this so that they can harmonise their evolutionary view involv­ing countless failures and deaths over millions of years before the appearance of Adam and Eve with the Bible’s clear teaching that death only came after one man’s disobedience as taught in Romans 5:12 (“wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin”) and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (“For since by man came death… For as in Adam all die”).

In this article we will focus on one particular variant of GDE called ‘Evolutionary Creationism’ or EC, which is one of the more common views being promoted by those connected with Christadelphians. Most EC proponents assert that God brought into existence humans via an evolutionary process from lower animal forms. They also believe that Adam and Eve were real people, either miraculously created by God, or alternatively the first evolved pair of humans that God entered into a covenant relation­ship with. They also hold to the view that there was a group of evolved human beings living as contem­poraries with Adam and Eve and that both groups shared an identical na­ture. Accordingly, they teach that Adam and Eve’s sin had no impact on the condition of man’s nature, that both Cain and Seth married evolved humans, and that the line from Adam to Christ comprised a mixture of both Adam’s descendants and the descendants of other evolved humans.

Redefining Death

Proponents of EC assert that the sentence of death which was passed on Adam and Eve was in fact a judicial death sentence culminating in eternal death; something completely distinct from the ‘mortality’ that the evolved species were already experiencing. Furthermore, they assert that this judicial sentence only comes into force when people sin knowingly against the laws of God and unless they obtain mercy they will receive the outworking of that sentence at the return of Christ. On this basis (that people can only receive a sentence of eternal death after knowing and rejecting God’s laws), EC proponents conclude that this sentence of death had no relevance to any of the evolved hu­mans living and dying well be­fore the time of Adam and Eve. This is an im­portant point in EC teach­ing – that the physical failure and mortality of the evolved humans cannot be linked in any way to any sen­tence of death that came as a consequence of a real Adam and Eve’s sin.

As will become clear in this article, the EC concept of a sentence of eternal death is not taught in the Bible, yet the concept is promoted by those troubling the brotherhood with this view, because they need to explain why evolved humans were liv­ing and dying well before Adam without any formal sentence of death being passed upon them. By sub­dividing and inventing a new kind of legal or judicial death, they divide humanity into two groups – those knowing God’s laws and those who don’t. They state that the first group which commenced with Adam (and includes evolved hominids who subsequently came to know God’s laws) is subject to a specific sentence – the sentence of eternal death; whilst the second group is not subject to any specific sentence as it comprises all those living in ignorance of God’s laws, including evolved humans living well before Adam. They die because they just wear out and this physical decay and death lie outside the realm of God’s “just and necessary law of sin and death”. In this way they de-link the causal connection between sin and death as outlined in the Scriptures.

Redefining Sin

EC proponents also re-define the Biblical concept of sin. Sin is no longer a falling short of God’s glory, whether by acts of commission, omission or igno­rance. Rather, to them, sin simply does not exist where there is no knowledge of law. Subsequently, human nature (“the flesh”, “the heart of man”, or “the diabolos”) must also be decoupled as the root cause of sin after Adam’s trans­gression. The reason for this is to account for evolved humans being able to interbreed with A d a m’s de­scendants with­out generating a new hybrid na­ture. To them evolved beings must possess ex­actly the same “mortal and sin prone” nature as Adam’s de­scendants, and accordingly they believe there was no change in the condition of Adam’s nature as a consequence of sin. In other words, our “mortal and sin prone” human nature has nothing to do with Adam’s sin. Worse, they claim that God directed the develop­ment of such a sin-prone nature via an evolution­ary process and then God created Adam and Eve with a “mortal and sin prone” nature before they sinned, thereby making God Himself the author of this evil.

So, in their understanding, Adam was ‘mortal and sin prone’ before he sinned, as were all the evolved humans, even though it does seem some­what of a stretch in logic to say that all the evolved humans living and dying in ignorance of God’s laws were incapable of sinning but nevertheless had a nature that is prone to sin. One can only possess or be born with a nature ‘prone to sin’ if one is inclined towards sin, and sin is a real possibility regardless of any knowledge of God’s laws. This illustrates the confusion caused by EC proponents as they seek to marry their evolutionary views with Christadelphian doctrines on the nature of man.

Redefining the Diabolos

Based on the above reasoning EC proponents are also forced to redefine what the “diabolos” is. In their view, the diabolos is a state of mind that can only arise when one becomes aware of God’s laws; specifically when one’s natural desires come into conflict with those laws. Moreover, they be­lieve that this situation is only possible when the level of awareness of God’s laws makes a person re­sponsible to judgment. So since they believe that the diabolos is only in those responsible to judgment, they teach that it has pow­er over ‘eternal death’ and not the ordinary death associated with mortality.

The Addendum is very clear. Mortality came in consequence of Adam’s sin, and ‘we partake of that mortality that came by sin, and inherit a nature prone to sin’.

However the truth is that the word “diabolos” is used to personify sin, particularly those unlaw­ful impulses which are native to the flesh and lead inevitably to sin. Adam was not created like this but when he sinned those unlawful desires sug­gested by the serpent became a fixed characteristic of his nature which in turn was transmitted to all his descendants. It is the “enmity” (Gen 3:15) that God announced would exist in human nature after Adam and Eve’s sin, until the promised seed would come and destroy this power through death (Heb 2:14). It is the natural state we unfortunately inherit from our parents (John 8:44; 1 John 3:9-10) and can only be ultimately vanquished by either death or a physical change to immortality.

Christadelphians have always understood the diabolos (as it relates to an individual) to have originated after the introduction of sin and death into the world by Adam and Eve. From God’s per­spective it is an enemy and was never part of His “very good” creation. The diabolos stands for those unlawful or inordinate impulses which are native to the flesh, tempting us to sin and frequently resulting in sin. It is our sin-prone nature that we are born with and it remains a dominant force from birth to death in every human being, from those highly familiar with God’s word to those who have never had any contact with God’s word.

Jesus Christ possessed the same tendencies we experience by being born with the same flesh and blood nature as those he came to save. He was made of a woman and therefore partook of the same sin-prone nature that we all inherit as a consequence of Adam’s sin. In his life and death he rendered it powerless by always dying to the flesh and living to God. He denied the motions of the flesh and was always obedient to His Father’s will, culminating in his death on the cross when he publicly demon­strated God’s righteousness by demonstrating to all the world that his flesh was rightly related to death.

The BASF and Cooper Carter Addendum

Let us examine the relevant clauses of the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF).

Clause 5 explains that the kind and condition of Adam’s physical or natural body, was originally “very good” (Clause 4) and changed detrimentally when he sinned. Moreover Clause 5 makes it clear that the physical consequence of Adam’s sin “was trans­mitted to all his posterity”. Hence Clause 5 clarifies what the “first man” (Clause 3), who “was Adam” (Clause 4), had done to the “position and state of the human race” (Clause 3), which necessitated the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth. The condition of Adam’s nature was changed to death-stricken and sin-prone in consequence of his sin; this became a physical law of his being, and was transmitted to “all his posterity”, which is contextually synonymous with the entire human race (Clauses 3,6,12,30). Adam’s new condition was different from his earlier created state, which was described as “very good” (Clause 4). He now knew and felt the corruption of mortality. He was physically flawed, where previ­ously he had not been.

The purpose of the Cooper-Carter Addendum to Clauses 5 and 12 was not to re-write the clauses, but to provide clarification. The Addendum is very clear that mortality came in consequence of Adam’s sin, and that “we partake of that mortality that came by sin, and inherit a nature prone to sin.”

Clause 10 makes it plain that Jesus was born with a nature suffering all the effects that came by Adam’s transgression, including the death that passed upon all men. Clauses 28 and 30 make it plain that the objective of the millennial reign of Christ will be to completely remove the problem of sin and death that was introduced by the first man Adam (Clauses 3 and 4), and thus restore the human race into a state of friendship or fellowship with the eternal Father.

Death – Only one Kind – Mortal and Corruptible

Death is a sentence and that sentence returned Adam and Eve to the ground. In fact, when God said in Genesis 2:17, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” we only need to look at what God did to uncover the proper interpreta­tion. In Genesis 3:17-19, the sentence of 2:17 (“thou shalt surely die”) is outworked – “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The death that was threatened was a process of dying – a life of labour and continued existence until they returned to the ground. This is mortality; the state or condition of being subject to death.

No Hint of Adam and Eve being Punished with Eternal Death

If the EC view is correct, that Adam and Eve, along with the evolved humans, were already mortal, dying creatures and that their sin resulted in “eternal death”, then we should find evidence of this when God pronounced his punishments upon them in Genesis 3. However, in Genesis 3 there is no mention of “eternal death” as something separate and distinct from physically returning to the ground in the cycle of dying (Gen 3:19). From the beginning, the punishment for sin was clearly a physical death; defined as returning to the dust; a process of decay ending in a return to the ground.

The Hebrew Word for Death (muwth) always Refers to a Physical Death

The word “die” in Genesis 2:17 is the Hebrew word muwth, and is the same word used when Eve reiterated her understanding of what would happen if they disobeyed God: “God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (Gen 3:3). It is also the same word used by the serpent when he claimed, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen 3:4). Following this, it is fitting that the next occurrence of the word in the Old Testament is the actual record of Adam’s death: “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died” (Gen 5:5).

While the initial occurrences of muwth in Genesis 2 and 3 clearly occur in the context of those who had knowledge of God’s laws, it is not the case for many of the 835 times the word oc­curs in the Old Testament. The word muwth is a primitive root verb which simply means to die. The word is translated in the KJV as die (424x), dead (130x), slay (100x), death (83x), surely (50x), kill (31x), dead man (3x), dead body (2x), in no wise (2x), and miscellaneous (10x). Gesenius states that the word “is used of death, whether of men or of beasts (Exod 11:5; Eccl 9:4), whether natural (Gen 5:8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31) or violent (Exod 21:12,15; Deut 13:10; 19:11,12; 21:21; Job 1:19).”

Accordingly, muwth is the common word for “die” or “death” in the Old Testament and simply refers to the physical cessation of life. We are reliant on the context as to the manner of physical death the word is referring to – whether natural or violent, whether animal or human, whether in response to disobeying God’s laws or dying in ignorance of the same. Importantly though, this word does not convey the sense of “eternal death” in response to disobedience to God’s command, as distinct from ordinary death or mortality. It is simply the ordinary Hebrew verb used to convey all manner of actual physical death, including animal death (cp Exod 2:23; 8:13; 9:6 as a few examples). The Hebrew word muwth contains no inherent concept of “eternal death.”

In Part 2 of this article, we will examine death in the New Testament, and find out if there is any truth in the claim by proponents of EC that the Greek words for “death” and “mortality” have entirely different meanings.

(to be continued)

Footnotes

1 God-directed evolution (GDE) is used to refer to all teachings asserting that God used a natural process of evolution over a long period of time to create human beings from lower animal origins, including “ Theistic Evolution” (TE), “evolutionary creationism” (EC) and “creative evolution” (CE).