By Dr. Samuel M. Frost
Paul consistently uses ο θανατος (“the death”) for what is commonly translated as simply, “death” (see Romans 5:12-ff., for example). Equally, in 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54. One can simply go to the Hebrew texts and find the same thing. Paul quotes Isaiah 25:8 in 15:54, and there we find, המות (ha-muth – the death). I can site numerous examples. The same is done is Revelation, where “the death” is found, finally, being destroyed, again alluding to Isaiah 25:8 (Revelation 21:4).
So, Paul connects “the death” that entered in through the one man, Adam, in the beginning, and Isaiah foretells the destruction of “the death” in the middle with John describing its annihilation in the end. Wonderful tapestry! With such biblical support, then, we may ask: how many “deaths” are there? And, if we were honest, we would say: 1.
Here, though, we must ask, “what is meant by the death?” What is “the death”? First, it is universal. Isaiah likened it to a wrap; as something that is wrapped around “all peoples” (Isaiah 25:7). Interestingly enough, “wrap” is a noun with an article: “the wrap.” In Hebrew, you pay attention to nouns with an article, and in this verse it is repeated in the form of anadiplosis. In the second half of this verse, it is a “molten metal that is poured upon all the nations.” Poetically, then, Death is an active agent. It isn’t abstract. It is also something that God is going to “destroy.” Until then, it is “active.” It is in operation.
For Paul, Death is also an active force. It “enters” (Romans 5:12). Many have seen it as a personification of an active force. It “passes on to all human beings” (5:12). All die (are dying). He also speaks in the same manner with the word, “sin.” It is “the Sin” – an active power. “The Death” also “reigns” (5:14). “The Sin reigns,” too, “in the Death” (5:21). Paul uses the term, “power” (dunamis) for “the Sin” in 1 Corinthians 15:56. Hebrews 2:14 speaks of the “authority” (kratos, there, “the Authority of the Death”). Here, we have an idea of “authorities, powers, rulers in heavenly places” that are “of the Evil” (Ephesians 6:12; compare this to Isaiah 24:21). Death, then, is a power, an authority. It has command. In Acts 2:24, Death is spoken of an authority with power that holds the body of a human being in its clutches. As such, Jesus’ body was “loosed” by God’s power, and here the term “loose” is in the meaning of “binding and loosing” authorities. God is more powerful than Death.
Now, with this, Death “entered” through the transgression of one man, Adam. Adam ate the fruit of the Tree that was forbidden to him. As such, Death “entered in” and “Adam died” 930 years later (Genesis 5:5). As a “power,” Death can work instantly, or it can work slowly. In this case, we may speak of “dying.” “All human being in Adam are dying” (1 Corinthians 15:22; “dying” is Present Active Indicative). Nonetheless, Death is the cause of our dying, and our deaths. As an “authority” it “holds” the body in the grave until “loosed” by God in resurrection, when it, “the Death,” is “destroyed” once and for all.
As a singular aspect, or power, the Bible does not speak of “deaths” in the plural. Rather, “the Sin reigns in the Death.” The “power of the Sin” is directly related to its power to get a person to commit sins. Equally, the knowledge of our mortality (Ecclesiastes 9:5) is the basis of ethics, morality, law, and “living” in general. In “living” we age, grow old, and die. In this, we try to avoid “Death” at every turn, or at least some do. Avoiding death comes in the forms of “knowing” how to eat properly, or not smoke cigars. Wear a helmet, and put your seatbelt on. Don’t do drugs, and too much alcohol will kill you. We have “Life Insurance,” “death taxes,” and whole businesses devoted to death (Funeral Homes). In Revelation, “the Death” and “the Grave” are seen as principalities riding on a “dark horse.” The relationship between “death” and “knowledge” – “death” and “sin” is a large topic in the Bible. Sin is directly related to Death; Sin reigns in Death’s reign.
Paul calls these “spiritual things of the evil in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 6:12). Thus, the Death is spiritual in terms of it being a power. It is a spiritual power. As a Bible scholar, I am not permitted to speak of death as “natural,” or as “just is.” It is an “enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). God is to “destroy” it (a term used for enemies in general, military contexts). It is a spiritual power, and the Sin, also called a power, rules “in” it. The Sin, then, is also a spiritual power that is described in Paul as something “in operation” within us (Romans 7:20). Equally, in the same chapter, “the Sin works Death in me” (7:13). Sin’s wages is Death. The Sin “deceives” us (7:11). As an active power, Sin “works” Death “through the Good” so that I “do the Evil” (7:19). Here, do we not have all the key words in Genesis 2-3: death, good, evil, knowledge? Paul’s “I know” (7:14) is in direct relation to what these spiritual powers “do.” They operate in us, deceiving us, so that it is “the Law” (another power) which puts us to death (Galatians 2:19). Sin’s ability to deceive is to take “the Truth” and twist it so that it appears as “not the Truth.” Sin, without knowledge, affects nothing. Sin always works in and with knowledge.
It is, then, in this vein we can speak of “spiritual Death” because Death is a “spiritual power.” It operates as a result from the deception of Sin, which deceives us to “do the Evil” instead of perfectly following God’s will (the Good). The principality of Sin’s work results in our individual “sins” or “transgressions.” From this, because “all sin,” then “all die.” If The Sin reigns in the Death, and the Sin operates “in” us, bringing about our deaths, then death is brought about through knowledge – which is what “transgression” means: The Good says, “do this.” We know what the Good is. Yet, we do not do the Good. Sin takes “knowledge” between Good and Evil, and so twists it that it makes Evil appear “good,” and “good” appear Evil. As such, we are not able to “discern” what “good and evil” are in terms of ethics, or morals (any smattering of reading the history of Philosophy will reveal this). This is why we need the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures that also “operate within us” through God’s power/empowerment (Hebrews 5:14).
So, if this is the case, “alienation” from God is the result of the combination of these powers and is in direct relationship with our knowledge of good and evil; how we come to define what action is good or evil, right or wrong, correct or incorrect. At any single point wherein we “do” something, we are either doing it (any action whatsoever) in terms of a “good” action, or an “evil” one. And, in this, we “do” according to our wills that are informed by our knowledge. A person not having the indwelling Spirit is left to the devices of their own minds, and as such, are “alienated” from God. Alienation is the result of Sin working in knowledge which brings about Death. For those who are reconciled with God through having the indwelling Spirit, Sin and Death still work within them because of our relatedness to the flesh and blood of Adam, and due to the fact that we are intellectually formed with “eyes opened” by the deception of Sin (Genesis 3:7). We are not “perfect,” and our actions are not all “good” all the time, every second or every minute of any given day. However, resurrection life, when the body is redeemed through the destruction of Death (and, thus, the removal of Sin that reigns in Death), is the Hope wherein those who “walk by faith” are ultimately delivered. As Sin and Death work spiritually upon and within us, so also Grace and Righteousness is working upon and within those who have the Indwelling Spirit operating “in” their mortal frames. This is carried on until resurrection of the dead.
In this, then, when God said to Adam, “when you eat, you will certainly die,” what is meant is that when Adam ate – when he transgressed – The Death “entered” and the power of “the Sin” with it, since the power of Sin reigns in the Death. Adam, at that point, began to die. Equally, his spirit (mind, thoughts, etc.) was affected by The Death and the Sin as operating powers. Adam did not “die” when he ate; rather, by the grace of God “overabounding” (Romans 5:20) he began to die, and he began to experience the rule of Sin and Death as powers over him, and in his mind/thinking/knowledge. In terms of his existence, Death started its process of deterioration and corruption until, finally, he returned to the dust. In terms of his mind, other thoughts other than God’s and God’s Good Knowledge, entered. The mind is now on “earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Or, as Paul says it, “alienated and enemies in the mind, in the works of the Evil” (Colossians 1:21). It upon “hearing the Voice of God” that Adam responds to His call, and repents (Genesis 3:8). However, the damage to do his transgression has now produced conflict in his mind as it concerns what to do. No doubt, Adam’s proper response to God reveals that God’s knowledge is retained in his mind as well, but as the next story shows in his children, conflict between “doing the Good” and deciding/discerning between Sin’s “desire” cannot be accomplished alone (Genesis 4:7). Cain is “mastered” by Sin and murders his very own brother.
What are the wages of “works of evil” that originate in our “minds” due to our “thinking” about what is “good and evil”? Death. Death’s work, then, begins immediately upon us in conception, when we are born. Since Sin reigns in Death, even before we have “knowledge of Good and Evil” (Deuteronomy 1:39), if we make it to conscious accountability, Sin will “revive” in us (Romans 7:9). In this, then, since we know that we are dying and will die (Ecclesiastes 9:5), then we can speak of our alienation in terms of “dead.” “The day you eat of it, you will die.” Death is certain. It is not a separate spiritual death that is another death from our actual death in the grave (which is so too often, sloppily, defined). Rather, our alienation from God, which can be reconciled in an instant upon “hearing” the Voice of God, is the result of the spiritual power of the singular, active Death, and Sin. The Sin operates in the mind, through knowledge, and brings about Death/dying. These operations are inevitable for every, singly human being. Here, truly, and theologically, we can speak biblically of “Spiritual Death.”
Spiritual Death is the working of Death in us through Sin which reigns in Death, which operates in our minds and our bodies. Our reconciliation, then, is also in our “minds,” when our minds are enlightened, renewed, illuminated, convicted in the knowledge of God by the power of the Spirit. As there is, then, a singular power of Life, and one Author of Life, who will bring us to the Resurrection of the Life, so also The Death is a singular power operating with The Sin. If the operation of Sin-in-Death is not arrested to the degree that it is through the Knowledge of God by the Spirit’s operation, then their completed work is that a person dies “in Sin.” Upon their resurrection, it will be a resurrection to judgement and condemnation. For the believer in God, however, since the “alienation” has been effectively undercut, “reconciliation” will bring us to a resurrection of Life, Peace, Joy and Perfection of Righteousness. This process does not, at the moment, remove flesh, death, or our penchant to sin; instead, those “reconciled” will engage in “wrestling” with Sin-in-Death, calling Sin what it Is, renouncing Its work “within the members of our body.” The Spirit begins the process of “putting to death” the Sin’s ability to deceive us. As such, when we die (are dying), even though Death’s claims still hold, nonetheless, Life’s claim in Jesus Christ are guaranteed. We may die with full hope and faith, having persevered in this life in faith until death, that we die knowing, “Death, you shall not have the last word.” Our minds have been renewed to this truth. The Reign of Death, and the Reign of the Power of Sin-in-Death are temporary. In fact, every sin we are enabled by the Spirit’s work to overcome and “do no more” is an announcement of Sin-in-Death’s ultimate destruction!
When a person, so constituted as “dead in Sin,” receives the Spirit-in-Christ, “dead in Sin” is changed to “dead to Sin.” That is, their life has now been altered by the Spirit, and in this they begin to “put to death” (Colossians 3:5) the lustful urges of Sin-in-them. This process is “sanctification.” However, the point here is that “dead in Sin” or “dead to Sin” means what “dead” ordinarily denotes. When I actually die, when my spirit is apart from the body, when my breath breathes its last, I will either die in Sin, or die to Sin. The end result of death determines my present status before God: I am either “dead in Sin,” or “dead to Sin.” This present status, then, will come about when I actually die. When I die, I will die as one “dead in Sin,” or “dead to Sin.” “For in the death He died, He died to the Sin” (Romans 6:10). Jesus literally died to “the Sin,” when He died. Thus, “likewise, consider yourself dead to the Sin” (6:11). Even though I am not actually dead to the Sin, which will not happen until, like Jesus, I actually die, nonetheless, “by faith,” and because of the work of the Spirit now in me, Sin’s power to bring me to death-in-Sin has been retarded. As one now being engaged in “putting to death” Sin’s urgings (the process), I anticipate my own death (which is inevitable) as a death to Sin. As such, my entire motivating factor is towards being raised from the dead “in power and glory” – as He was.
 There is considerable debate on the exact meaning of “in the day,” or “when.” One may argue that Adam was to die that very day, “when” he ate. However, instead of immediate death, God slowed the effect of its power so that Adam would continue to live for a time. That God does this is seen in Genesis 6 wherein human beings are limited in their life to a 120 years. Psalm 90 limits it even further. This demonstrates that God is over the powerful effect of Death, and can bring it about immediately, or prolong its effect. God can also raise the dead as ever so often He wants. Death, then, as a power, is always under the Power of God.
 Here, Paul speaks of his being “alive” apart from being conscience of Sin (“right and wrong”). However, the inevitable process of the power of Sin-in-Death “revives” (we are made aware of mortality and sin). In this, Paul, using the aorist, states, “and I died.” The aorist captures the whole process which ends in death as a “single point.” Paul is not saying he “spiritually died” and then later on he will “physically die.” Such dualistic (Greek) aspects are not found in Paul’s rooted thinking in the Hebrew Bible. We are alienated in our minds, which in turn works death through and through. Until the indwelling of the Spirit, our minds, and all of our actions lead to death. That is, we will die in sins unatoned for through grace unless arrested by the Spirit of God before we die.
 Here, some speak of two resurrections, one “spiritual” and another “physical.” Again, this type of inexact thinking brings in all sorts of problems for Paul’s overall thinking. Paul understands that the work of the Spirit begins the process of resurrection Life that is not complete until glorification, the “redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23). This process involves the whole man, body and soul, and is a singular work of the Life in Christ; “being confident of this, that He did begin a good work in you will carry it to completion as far as the Day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The work is singular. It has a beginning and an end. Its end is resurrection of the body. There is only one resurrection life.
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