BIBLE DIGEST - Number 74                                                                          September 1997

Allon Maxwell

The following comment on the Hebrew idiom for the word " surely " is taken from :-


It is found at the front, just before the "A"s, included in a list of "ADDITIONAL WORDS". 


In Hebrew often expressed by repeating a verb in an infinitive form (adverbial infinitive). 

So with come (Hab. 2. 3), deliver, (2 Ki. 18. 30), die (Gen. 2. 17, Judg. 13.22),

be put to death (Exod. 19. 12, Judg. 21. 5), etc. 

The word "surely" occurs with "die" or "be put to death" about fifty times in the Old Testament and is then always a translation of an emphasizing infinitive.


The expression "surely die" from Genesis 2:17, is a translation of the Hebrew words " muth temuth ". This idiom has been the source of much confusion.

This confusion arises from wrongly interpreting the note in the margin of the KJV, (" Dying thou shalt die ") to say that God's " surely die " meant a long slow process of " dying ", occupying more than 900 years! 

It is claimed that this 900 year process, is the death penalty of "mortality", which was imposed on Adam for his sin. It is then further claimed that our own "human nature" somehow involves us in that penalty, because we have inherited our "mortality" from Adam. However, as we shall see, this is an error which results from ignorance of the Hebrew idiom contained in the words "dying thou shalt die".

If we do understand this idiom correctly, we shall also be able to form a much clearer picture of what really did happen in Eden, following that first sin.


Of course most of us don't understand Hebrew at all. Fortunately, however, we do not need to become experts in Hebrew to correctly understand the idiom. A quick visit to Young's Concordance will find the extract quoted above. 

"Muth temuth" is what Young calls an " emphasising infinitive ". By using this Hebrew idiom God was emphasising the certainty that, if Adam sinned, he would be put to death.

But God did not say only that death was certain. He also said, ...... " in the day " (Hebrew "b'yom").

The threatened punishment was certain death on the very same day on which the sin was committed! 


No wonder that Adam and Eve hid themselves when they "heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day"

The day was nearly over. They understood clearly that the threatened punishment was imminent! They thought God was coming to get them! 

Put yourself in their place and feel their fear .


The simple answer is that Adam and Eve did not die that day . Instead they were promised a Saviour and pardoned! Adam lived on for 930 years.


Ezekiel helps us to understand why Adam and Eve did not die on the day that they sinned .

Ezekiel 33:14-16

"Again, though I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die ,' (muth temuth) yet if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, ..... and walks in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live , he shall not die. 

None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right, he shall surely live."

That is what also happened in Adam's case. He did not die! He surely lived


God's threatened judgement against sinners, is conditional. It is conditional on our response to the offer of an opportunity to repent. 

For those who do repent, God has given His Son to save us from the penalty of our sins. In Christ we are forgiven and the penalty is cancelled. 

When God confronted Adam and Eve in the garden on the day they sinned, He did not put them to death. Instead He promised Jesus as the one who would destroy the power of Sin. Then He expelled them from the garden of Eden to live under the new and harder conditions, on which their probation for immortality was renewed.


It is important to discern the difference between dying because of "mere mortality" and dying because we have incurred a penalty for sin.

Of course either way we are just as dead! But the reason for the death is what makes the difference.

The death that results from "mere mortality" comes to all men as a result of having bodies which are subject to decay or accident. It is a sleep from which we can be awakened at the Resurrection.

On the other hand, to die as a result of incurring a death penalty, is to have life deliberately cut short by God, as a judgement against sin. From that "penal death" there can be no return.

The death of Jesus does not save us from experiencing the sleep that is the common lot of all men ..... sinners or saints alike. But for those in Christ, it certainly does save us from the fearful prospect of the judicial "second death". At the Judgement, we shall not die. We shall surely live!

But the certain lot of unrepentant sinners is that they shall indeed surely die.


Those who misconstrue the idiom of "surely die" also extend the mistake to those other words from Gen 3:17-19. These too are incorrectly interpreted as the penalty of Adam's sin.

Of course, they are clearly consequences of Adam's sin, But they should not be seen as the "penalty". There is a difference between the two!

When David repented of his sin with Bathsheba, Nathan said "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die". Of course this did not mean that David was no longer mortal, any more than it did for Adam. It did mean that he was not going to be stoned to death for adultery.

There were however unavoidable consequences of David's actions, which could not be undone. 

Just so for all of us. The story of Adam and Eve tells us that, even though we can know now , the assurance of sins forgiven, we also may have to live with the unpleasant consequences of the past.

There was also a time limit for Adam's probation. When he reached that limit, he would return to the dust, to await the resurrection and the outcome of his probation. That also is a lesson for us. 

"Behold now is the acceptable time; Behold now is the day of Salvation." (2 Cor 6:2)


To read the 900 year continuing process of Adam's mortality into the Hebrew idiom "muth temuth" flies in the face of Young's comment on the correct meaning. It also ignores other important evidence, which enables us to understand why the incurred penalty was never carried out, and why, instead, Adam and Eve were pardoned and allowed to live.

Today we call that the Good News ; the Gospel of repentance, and forgiveness, and remission of the penalty of sin. It is ours through the grace of God, and the gift of His Son, first promised in Eden.

When those animals were slain in Eden to provide a covering for the shame experienced by Adam and Eve, God was speaking to all of us.

The story contains a wonderful promise of our own pardon, and release from the guilt and shame of our sins. We also can surely live for the rest of our mortal lives, no longer under fear of judgement, but pardoned. We also can be restored to relationship with God, under conditions where we can "work out our salvation in fear and trembling". (Phil 2:12)

(But of course, also like Adam and Eve, our probation is served outside Eden, until the day comes when God is ready to re-open the way to the tree of life.)

To see clearly how God really did deal with Adam and Eve, is an important aid to our understanding of how God will deal with our sins. As God dealt with Adam, so He will surely deal with us. 

God's patience with us is our salvation, just as it was for Adam and Eve.

This is an exciting discovery which gives great comfort for the repentant sinner!