Adam’s fall and Original Sin

Genesis 2:17, "And from the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat. For on the day thou shalt eat thereof thou shalt surely die." The religious authorities of the Christians deduce from this passage the belief that Adam, by transgressing the Divine prohibition, forfeited individually, and through him all his posterity, the enjoyment of the everlasting beatitude of the soul, and that he and his seed, including our patriarchs, prophets, and pious ancestors, fell a prey to hell, from which they were only saved through the death and intercession of Jesus. The reduplication of the Hebrew phrase מוֹת תָּמוּת (dying thou shalt die, or, thou shalt surely die), is taken to be a proper testimony of this singular tenet. As a further proof that the ancient personages mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures were aware of the doom awaiting them after their quitting this life on earth, Christian authors have cited the lament of Jacob in Genesis 37:35, "I shall go down into hell (Sheol) to my son in mourning." Also the words of Hezekiah, in Isaiah 38:10, have been pointed out as corroborative evidence, for he says there, "I shall enter the gates of hell (Sheol)."

Refutation.—When Adam was told by the Almighty, "On the day thou shalt eat thereof thou shalt surely die," it was implied that Adam should actually be punished with the loss of life, on the very same day he should counteract the command of God; but we evidently see by his continued existence that he only ensured the penalty of death. A passage similar to the one we have just quoted occurs in 1 Kings 2:37, where Shimei, once the insolent enemy of the fugitive king, David, was prohibited by the son of that monarch from quitting the capital; and he was told, "On the day thou shalt go forth from Jerusalem and pass the brook of Kidron, thou must know that thou shalt surely die." Yet Shimei was not punished with death on the same day he left Jerusalem. In like sense, we take the Divine injunction ending with the term, "Thou shalt surely die." It meant that on the day Adam would, by his disobedience, incur the displeasure of the Almighty, he would be afflicted by various punishments, such as reaping thorns and thistles, and living by his hard labor on the scanty produce of an unblessed soil, and until his severe trials should terminate in the fatal dispensation of death. This sentence being the most prominent and inevitable destiny of the transgressor, it was announced in the first instance, but not with the intent of its being immediately fulfilled.

As to the idea of the reduplication of the verb "to die," showing that the punishment attending the transgression of Adam was of an hereditary nature, we have found in Scripture a complete refutation of such an interpretation; for we read in Deuteronomy 24:16, "Fathers shall not die for children, nor children for fathers." The principle here laid down cannot solely be referred to the sentence of death, but relates also to every minor punishment, so that neither parents nor children are to be amenable to punishment for each other’s misdeeds.

The reader, on referring to the whole matter of Genesis 3, will perceive that it had not been the object of the Almighty to remove Adam from the earth on the day he committed the transgression of the Divine command. The punishments Adam had to endure, received their completion only at his death. In the passage above cited, it is stated that the mission of the first patriarch was the propagation of his species. His mode of subsistence is there pointed out to consist in long and wearying toil, and only after a period predetermined "by the Almighty" the doom was to be accomplished, which was pronounced in the words, "Thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return." These last words evidently show that the retribution of Adam’s sin related to the body, and not to the soul, for nothing but the inanimate corpse is the prey of the earth its native element. Of that portion alone it is appositely remarked in Ecclesiastes 12:7, "The dust returneth to the earth as it was, but the spirit shall return to God who gave it."

We see thus that the formula מוֹת תָּמוּת ("dying thou shalt die," or "thou shalt surely die"), alludes to the perishable state of the body, and not to the state of the soul. But we have further evidence that the souls of the posterity of Adam were not consigned to perdition, in consequence of the sin of the first father; for we find in the Levitical laws that abscission of the soul from her people is to be the punishment for various sins. See, for instance, Leviticus 7:27: So that each man who dies in his own guilt must suffer for his own iniquity, and is severed from his people, that is to say, his soul is excluded from a reunion with the souls of those who have gone before him into the realms of bliss. On the other hand, we find numerous instances, that, in describing the death of the righteous, the text used runs thus: "And they were gathered unto their people," see, for instance, Genesis 25:17; Deuteronomy 32:50. A sentence in direct opposition to the annihilation of the soul, illustrating our argument, may be found in Leviticus 22:3, "That the soul shall be cut off from my presence, I am the Lord."

In these early records of humanity we have a clear lesson of the immortality of the soul. The pious and worthy are received into undisturbed beatitude, while those who defile themselves by sins are removed from the enjoyment of the glorious contemplation of the Deity.

Far be it, therefore, from us to put faith in the doctrine propounded by Christians divines, that the predecessors of Jesus were, without regard to their innocence or piety, totally and collectively abandoned, and consigned to the abode of hell. Far be it from us to believe that, that God causes "His pious servants to see perdition"; that He hated those who loved Him, or that He regarded them favorably while they lied on earth, yet disowned them after they had quitted the scenes of their pious aspirations.

It is utterly revolting to the mind to attribute to the almighty the slightest degree of injustice, or of indifference to man, whether he be righteous or iniquitous. How could such a prophet as Jonah have prayed, Jonah 4:3, "And now, O Lord, do Thou take my soul from me, for my death is better than my life." Would he, cognizant of the future punishment of the soul, have desired to be taken away from this earth, in order to undergo inevitable torments in after life? Again, when Enoch and Elijah were "taken away by God," as Scripture expresses it, and which removal could happen to the soul only, should we imagine that God designed to manifest His special love to them, by giving them over to constant torments in hell?

We have to combat another unfounded opinion set forth by our antagonists. They maintain that their "God Messiah," through his own death, saved the souls of those who had gone before him from their doom in hell. How can it be asserted that the first sin of the first man should meet with retrospective and prospective atonement, through the perpetration of the far more heinous crime in laying a violent hand on the body of a presumed Deity? The difficulty of the position of those who maintain these views is increased by the very words of Paul, in his epistle to the Romans 5:14: "Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression," etc.

In Leviticus 18:5, we find a still stronger proof of the inconsistency of believing that a divine displeasure was felt against all predecessors of Jesus. We read there, "And ye shall observe my statutes and my commandments which man shall perform, and through which he shall live." Scripture here points out to us in the clearest and most incontestable manner, that immortal bliss is conceded to the individual who faithfully adheres to the Divine will, so that man is not in any respect dependant on the acts which may have been performed by his ancestors. We may now apply this reasoning to the sin of Adam, since we see that man receives rewards and punishments according to his performance of the Divine commandments, and that he is individually responsible for his actions, also Adam could only be personally accountable for the sin he had committed.

The commandments, being denominated "a tree of life, for those who take firm hold of them," do not suggest that our terrestrial existence is to be prolonged by their observance; but they are calculated to place us on an equality of excellency with the patriarchs, the chosen servants of God. Without closing our ears against truth and reason, we cannot admit that a responsibility is imposed upon man for the sins of his first progenitor. Man’s own immortal life is imperiled by his own doings, and therefore God, in His Divine mercy, has enjoined on us His commandments, "which man performeth and lives thereby." Passages to the same effect are repeatedly found even in the book of Ezekiel, see 18:19, where he speaks concerning the life of the soul, "He who does judgment and righteousness shall surely live and not die." And again, it is written there, "And who does judgment and righteousness, his soul shall live;" for except the life of the soul, there is no life but what is succeeded by death. From all that has been adduced hitherto, it is clear, that the holy and righteous men were not condemned to hell, nor afflicted with the spiritual torments of the first man, they not having rebelled against the Lord; but, on the contrary, they found favor in His sight, and secured everlasting salvation through their own merits, without requiring extraneous interference to save their souls. In support of our conviction Ezekiel says, chapter 18:20, "The soul that sinneth shall die. The son shall not be visited through the iniquity of the father, nor the father through the iniquity of the son," etc. The object of the prophet is to declare that there shall be no condemnation to the soul, except through its own crime, not through the crime of another. It is here in place to settle an apparent contradiction of Scripture—namely, We find stated in the ten commandments, "He visiteth the iniquities of the fathers on their children," etc.; from this an hereditary punishment seems obvious: but on a close examination, this phrase is satisfactorily explained. The punishment of fathers on their children takes place where the iniquity is continued to be exercised by the children; and therefore Holy Writ holds out the threat of successive visitation, saying, On those who hate me, which explanation is applicable to all similar passages in Scripture. Conformably to this interpretation, the author of the Lamentations says, chapter 5:7, "Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we have borne their iniquities," which means, "Our fathers, through their guilty conduct, brought on the troubles of the captivity, and they died in consequence of their misdeeds. We also, who succeeded them in this captivity, have added to our own transgressions those of our ancestors, by imitating their evil deeds, and thus fulfilling the prediction, Leviticus 26:39, "And they who are left among you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemy’s land, and also through the iniquities of their fathers retained among them they shall pine away." The pious contemporaries of the captivity, however, as for instance, Jeremiah, Baruch the son of Nerejah, Ezekiel, Daniel with his companions, and others, were benefited through the very trials which they shared with their sinful brethren; for among the Gentile governments they were raised to far greater distinction than they had attained under the kings of Israel. These advantages they enjoyed solely through the care with which they avoided the deeds of their wicked ancestors; and therefore they labored not under the infliction of curses which the Almighty ordains to the race of sinners. The opinion of the Christians, that no salvation was granted prior to the death of Jesus, meets with another refutation in Luke 16:19: the history of the beggar Lazarus represents that he was after death to repose in beatitude on the bosom of the patriarch Abraham. This shows that Abraham and Lazarus were not in hell, and leads to the conclusion that the pious were not deprived of a felicitous eternity, even before Jesus was said to have redeemed them, but that the wicked only meet with merited retribution.

We return once more to the reduplication of the term thou shalt surely die, which, as we have before stated, has been misapplied to the death of the soul. The argument is totally wrong, and rests on the misapprehension of the Hebrew idiom, according to which the infinitive is frequently placed before the ordinary tense; see, for instance, 2 Kings 8:10, "Go and say, Thou shalt surely not live; and the Lord revealed unto me that he shall surely die" (the infinitive מוֹת to die, and חָיה, to live, here accompanies the respective future tenses). The sentence quoted here serves as a reply to the question asked by the king, "Shall I recover from my illness?" (literally live through). The answer can only suit the question. The enquirer asks merely whether he is to live on or die (in a bodily sense), and the answer refers to the death with regard to the body only, and is given with the double verbs. Such a reduplication occurs also in 1 Samuel 14:44, where Saul says, מוֹת תָּמוּת יוֹנָתָן, "Surely Jonathan shall die," and in the same book (22:16), מוֹת תָּמוּת אֲחִימֶלֶךְ, "Surely, Ahimelech, thou shalt die." Though the threat of death is expressed with the repetition of the verb מוֹת (to die) it has no other signification than bodily death. Other verbs are repeated in a like manner, for instance, Exodus 21:20, נָקֹם יִנָּקֵם, he shall surely be revenged: Ibid 19:13, סָקוֹל יִסָּקֵל אוֹ יָרֹה יִיָּרֶה, "He shall surely be stoned or shot through." Genesis 15:13, יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע (knowing thou shalt know.) "thou shalt surely know." On the other hand, we find in Scripture that the use of the simple unrepeated verb, מות, to die, is sufficient to indicate perdition of the soul, as, for instance, Ezekiel 18:20, "The soul that sinneth it shall die," הִיא תָמוּת. From the preceding proofs and argument it is established that there is not the remotest allusion to hell in the lament of Jacob. Genesis 37:35, "I shall go down into the grave (Sheol) unto my son mourning." Neither in the thanksgiving of Hezekiah (Isaiah chapter 38:10), where he says, "I shall go to the gates of the grave שְׁאוֹל (Sheol). Thus we find also in the Psalm (49:16, in the English 49:15), "Like sheep they are laid into the grave (Sheol)." Again, "Sheol cannot thank thee." In these passages, the word מָוֶת (maveth) death might be used appropriately for Sheol (the grave). In other parts likewise Sheol is used as the resting place of the inanimate body; for instance, Job 14:13, "O that Thou wouldst hide me in the (Sheol);" Ecclesiastes 9:10, "In the (Sheol) wither thou art going;" Genesis 37:35, "I will go down into the grave (Sheol) unto my son;" and instances where Sheol means the depth of the earth are to be met with in the Psalm (139:8), "If I make my bed in the grave (or depth of the earth), Thou art there;" and Job 11:8, "And deeper than the grave what canst thou know?"

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