Adam Died in that “Day” or Millennium

Death of Adam

God told Adam that in the day that he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil he would surely die (Gen. 2:17).  Adam did eat of the tree (Gen. 3:6) and nevertheless went on to live to the impressive age of 930 years (Gen. 5:5).  The most common explanation for the apparent contradiction is that God meant that Adam would die a spiritual death in that day.[1]  The problem with this interpretation is that God told Adam that because he had eaten of the tree that his body would return to dust (Gen. 3:17-19), signifying a physical death.  There is another possibility as to why Adam lived for many days after eating of the forbidden fruit.  Perhaps Adam died not in that day indicating a twenty-four hour period,[2] but in that day indicating an epoch or more specifically a millennium.  The latter option is the older of interpretations.

The Book of Jubilees is an ancient Hebrew work that is often referred to as Lesser Genesis due to its extensive commentary on Genesis.  Jubilees is included in the Dead Sea Scrolls and dates to at least 200 B.C.[3]  The book was well known among the early Christians and is mentioned by name or alluded to in much of their writings.  Jubilees was not included in the canon and is therefore not authoritative.  Nevertheless, the treatise is a reliable source for the purpose of investigating how both ancient Hebrews and Christians understood Genesis 2:17.  Jubilees 4:29-30:

…he was the first to be buried in the ground.  He lacked seventy years of one thousand years, for a thousand years are one day in the testimony of heaven.  Therefore it is written about the tree of knowledge: “For on the day you eat from it, you shall die.”  Therefore he did not complete the years of this day because he died during it.[4]

Explained here is that a thousand years are as one day in the testimony of heaven (i.e. God’s perspective).  Scripture corroborates by professing that a thousand years in God’s sight are as yesterday when it is past (Ps. 90:4), and that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years (2 Pet. 3:8).   Adam died seventy years short of a full thousand.   The author of Jubilees deduced that because Adam ate of the tree of knowledge, he died during that day or millennium.

This interpretation of the definition of day in Genesis 2:17 was not limited to the ancient Hebrews.  The very same conclusion regarding just when Adam died from eating the fruit was present in the early church.  For example, prominent Ante-Nicene Church father Justin Martyr confessed:

Now we have understood that the expression used among these words, ‘According to the days of the tree [of life] shall be the days of my people; the works of their toil shall abound’ obscurely predicts a thousand years. For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression, ‘The day of the Lord is as a thousand years,’ is connected with this subject.[5]         

The chapter that this quote is taken from is entirely devoted to how the Millennial Kingdom relates to both Genesis 2; 3 and Isaiah 65:18-25.  Justin understood that the latter was concerned with restoring the damage that was inflicted in the former.  Justin connected the two narratives to such a degree that he even interpreted the tree mentioned in Isaiah 65:22 as the tree of life.[6]  An astute observation as the verse also intimates that the inefficient working of the soil by man will be at an end.  Adam was forced out of Eden to work the soil so that he would not be able to eat of the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-23).  Justin teaches that Isaiah 65:22 predicts the Millennium by recalling that Adam did not complete a thousand years.  If Adam had not died on that day then he would have possessed the lifetime found in the tree (lasting an infinite amount of days in any respect).  Among others, Justin understood that this was connected to the doctrine that the Day of the Lord is as a thousand years (2 Pet. 3:8-10).

Even if the day in Genesis 2:17 was a literal twenty-four hour period and the death was a spiritual one only, Adam dying in the first millennium still has great significance.  Adam was created as an immortal.  And yet, because Adam sinned his body was consigned to the earth before even a mere thousand years were completed.  All of humanity inherited Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12), and likewise reap both spiritual and physical death.  Not even Methuselah could reach the age of 1000 (Gen. 5:27).  Man living throughout the entire millennial reign of Jesus testifies that the fall of Adam has been overcome.  The first millennium was marked by death while the last will be marked by life.


[1] Even if Gen. 2:17 does not itself directly indicate a spiritual death, it is still true that one occurred (Rom. 5:12).

[2] The use of day in Genesis 2:17 is not bookended by references to evening and morning that clarify the meaning of day that is found several times in the six days of creation (Gen. 1).

[3] The Book of Jubilees alludes to 1 Enoch’s Book of Dreams; of which a Dead Sea Scroll copy has been carbon dated to ca. 200 B.C.

[4] Michael O. Wise, Martin G. Abegg Jr., and Edward M. Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: a New Translation, rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005), 322-323.

[5] Alexander Roberts, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers: the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 Volume I – the Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007), 239.  Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. LXXXI.

[6] Though often translated as a tree; the Hebrew e·otz in Isaiah 65 can equally read the tree.

Comments

  1. An interest post and research. The cross references between Jubilees, Justin and the Scriptures bring a breath of perspective.

    • Thank you. I really did just scratch the surface in regards to providing early church evidence. This interpretation of Gen. 2:17 was remarkably common in the overall approach to Chiliasm.

  2. Laurence Schell says:

    I was just thinking yesterday that I don’t by the usual explanation of spiritual death. It’s true that spiritual death did occur. However, it is an idea that we tend to apply too much. For instance, the second death mentioned in Revelation is considered a spiritual one not a physical one. Adam actually did physically die. So why do we use that to say that people in Hell live on forever and only spiritually die?

    By the way, this was nicely written and I loved the way you gathered together the research.

  3. There is of course a lot of discussion in Rabbinic tradition as well as in the Apocryphal that “death” in Torah was synonymous with “Exile”. This makes sense if humanity being evicted (exiled) from the Garden was there death (covenantal curse)? The Hebrew scriptures seems to follow suit as well, death to a faithful Jew was exile, especially in being kept from the Temple which seems to be intentionally designed as a model of the Eden?? Great blog brother, I always enjoy your work,

    • Brother,

      Well the most serious death one can have is to be cut off or exiled from God. This view is similar to the spiritual death view. So the interpretation is certainly worthy of consideration. I do think that Eden or perhaps more specifically the Garden was created as an earthly copy of one in the New Jerusalem/Heaven. I also believe that the temples follow suit in being copies (albeit limited ones) of the one in the New Jerusalem as well (though even that one will be replaced by Jesus if it has not been already). So yes, I believe you are right in inferring some connection there. I’m honored by your compliment.

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