It’s frustrating at times watching christians attempt to describe what they believe as if it makes perfect sense, little realising that they’ve replaced what God actually said for what they want him to say in order for Jesus to be relevant and useful.
So they see that in the garden of Eden, God says “on the day you eat from the forbidden tree, you’ll most definitely die.” Yet man didn’t die on that same day. So what I hear from them is that the man died “spiritually,” that he lost some relationship with God, that he was consigned to having a sin nature, and a judgment of hell at the end of one’s life.
Some would say this “spiritual death” means a loss of innocence, a time when a man’s faculty of discerning right from wrong would be distorted, compromised and unreliable.
And either or both of these forms of “spiritual death” would be inherited by all humans that followed the first man and woman, the only solution being the execution of “the messiah,” someone who was either God in the flesh, or a sinless human who had some sort of pre-existence.
What is amazing about these christian notions is that it’s based on the notion that when God said “on that day … you must die,” he meant “within the span of a day and a night from the time the man eats the fruit, the man will expire, stop existing, stop breathing.” For those christians, if man didn’t die naturally within about 24 hours of him eating the fruit, then that gives them the liberty to “interpret” novel meanings of death and create a need for Jesus and also create the notion of “spiritual death.”
Let’s be blunt and honest, you and me. When God made man a living being, there is little confusion about what that means, even if it is hard to put into words. God formed man and breathed into him the breath of life, and then man could breath for himself, walk, talk, think, have biological functions. There’s no notion of “spiritual life.” The dude was just alive.
So when God threatens death, there is no valid reason for confusion about what He was talking about. God would take away that vital principle, the “autonomous,” biological and conscious aspect of man and reduce him to being inert.
Why make things more complicated by introducing a concept to the books of Moses that is nowhere there, the ambiguous concept of “spiritual death?” Well, except from trying to force Jesus into the text.
“But David, even you have to admit, man didn’t die on the same day that he ate from the fruit.”
Sure, I can admit that. But that’s not the issue. The first question to ask is what God meant when he said what he said, according to the Hebrew, not the English.
Now an old Jewish commentary/translation called Targum Yerushalmi (or Targum Jonathan or Targum Pseudo-Jonathan) gives its interpretation.
On the day you eat from it, you shall be liable to death. (https://www.sefaria.org/Targum_Jonathan_on_Genesis.2)
A rabbi from old times, RambaN, or Nachmanides, used concepts that were in the books of Moses to bring across his interpretation. He said, in his commentary on this verse, that this statement means that on the day the man eats from the tree, he shall incur the death penalty. The same phrase is used in 1 Kings 2:42 where king Solomon informs a man that on the day that he should leave a place, he will certainly die. The issue is the certainty of death, not the time of death.
Both of these approaches retain the understanding of “you are going to die” or “your death is certain” without resorting to novel ideas to push an agenda.
Think about it! God says “you’re going to definitely die!” To a living being, that makes simple sense. But to turn death into “separation from God,” or “losing a relationship,” or “loss of innocence,” or being consigned to eternal torment or such like is to rip and rid the word of its consistent meaning.
But it should not be surprising that christians load onto the text such novel, innovative and foreign ideas. For too many of them, these chapters describe where three Gods (“elohim,” “God’s spirit,” “let us make man …”) make a perfect creation (“very good” somehow means “perfect”), the evil devil turns into or possesses a snake, where the messiah is supposed to bruise the devil’s head while the devil bruises the messiah’s heel. All these things are supposed to happen but the text is silent on such things.
It seems like christians lose their grasp of language when they find a text they want to shove Jesus into.