It is a common assumption that God created the first humans to be immortal; the primordial couple were made to live eternally, but this changed after they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, a closer look at the meaning of the Hebrew language shows that this understanding of original immortality is imprecise. Instead, God creates humanity to be mortal, and human mortality (and, eventually, death) only becomes an active problem after the expulsion from Eden.

The Hebrew of Genesis 2:7 employs poetry and metaphor to expresses the fact that God included mortality in the creation of humanity: “The Lord God formed the human from the dust (עפר; afar) from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.” That the human is formed from dust should give us pause because dust, due to its delicacy and granularity, is not a formable material. Most often in Scripture, it is clay (חמר; chomer), not dust, that God uses to form things (cf. Isa 45:9; 64:8; Jer 18:4-6). The oddity of the divine use of dust in Genesis 2:7 focuses the reader’s attention on the creative material and implies that “dust” has a deeper meaning than simply soot from the soil.

In ancient Israelite thought, “dust” is a symbol for mortality. Job asks God if he can expect imminent death with the question, “Will you return me to the dust (עפר; afar)?” (Job 10:9; cf. 34:15); the psalmist notes that people “die and return to their dust (עפר; afar)” (Ps 104:29); and Ecclesiastes states, “All are from the dust (עפר; afar), and to dust (עפר; afar) all return” (3:20; cf. 12:7). Qohelet’s assertion echoes Genesis itself, in which God introduces a ramification for Adam’s disobedience: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat food, until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust (עפר; afar), and to dust you shall return” (3:19).

Insofar as dust expresses mortality, it is clear that God, in forming from dust, creates humanity with the ability to die. Despite their capacity for death, while Adam and Eve are in Eden they can live forever by eating from the Tree of Life. Once the two are expelled, however, God appoints cherubim to “guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Gen 3:24) so that humanity no longer has access to eternal life and, therefore, will eventually die. It is this post-Edenic problem of death that Paul says has been reversed in the death and resurrection of Jesus: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22).

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32 COMMENTS

  1. Were Adam and Eve especially formed as the start of the Saviours bloodline As God said like produces like then it was all of Mankind formed in Gen. Ch 1. How can all various different humans differ if from one union. Please comment.

    • The text doesn’t demand that Adam and Eve are the only people in the world until Eve gives birth to Cain (Gen 4:1). After Cain kills Abel, he is concerned that others might find him and kill him (4:14), and God puts a mark on him to ensure that this doesn’t happen (4:15). Thus, the Genesis narrative assumes that other people (outside of Adam’s immediate family) exist in the earliest chronological stratum of biblical history.

      • Is it likely that the Genesis 1 creation of humankind described the creation of biological humans whereas the Genesis 2 creation of Adam and Eve describes them as a later special creation of civilization creators who were endowed with conditional immortality and as members of the Divine Council.

      • The other people are Adam and Eve’s other children and grandchildren, as well as their children and grandchildren. We don’t know how long it was until Cain killed Able. Couple of hundred years? Could have been hundreds, if not thousands of people by then.

        • Read the book of Jubilee. It provide the exact dates when Kain killed Abel. It was discovered with dead sea scrolls and in Ethiopie.

  2. In the KJV it reads that GOD “CREATED”man in His image ,BOTH Male and Female,CREATED HE them,and later in this reading, it says that GOD “FORMED”ADAM from the dust of the earth
    How does this read in HEBREW?

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  3. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate this close reading. Can you help other Christians who have read Genesis 2-3 through the lens of Romans 5:12 understand how mortality (=death) was part of God’s design from the beginning?

    • Thanks for your question, David. “Mortality” and “death” are not quite the same thing. God creates with “mortality” as a fact of human existence, but “death” doesn’t come into the world until Adam eats from the fruit (as Paul notes in Rom 5). Once Adam and Eve no longer have access to the Tree of Life (cf. Gen 3:24) “death” enters the world, and every one after Adam dies because, like Adam, everyone sins (Rom 5:12).

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  4. This is an example of what I have against the arts and humanities – speculation is seen as something worthwhile. The whole dust premise is nothing but speculation. We are mainly carbon – known to us mostly as a black, sooty substance. Yet, that’s not what makes us mortal.

  5. I have read doctors who have said there is no medical or logical reason for people to die apart from disease or injury. Every organ in the body, except the brain, renews itself constantly by creating new cells and sloughing off old.

  6. A “common assumption” has nothing to do with truth. And there is no need for “semantic” blahblah about dust. And Jahweh forbade only Adam only to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. After Adam and Eve have eaten, Jahweh got jealous, they could not die, and threw them out…

    • God does state He is a jealous God but He threw out as an act of mercy so that they might not eat of the Tree of Life and wind up in a never ending spiral downward into ever-increasing eternal torment. We do not want to agree with the devil.

  7. Before Humans were formed Jesus was to be sacrificed for our sins. God knew that we are weak and unable to make ourselves pure. God only has this power. We look around this world. Brag about the things we’ve done. We’re not even close what God has done. Thank God.

  8. Yes, our physical body dies, and we are buried in the earth. However, we are resurrected when Jesus returns, and those who know Him spend eternity with Him! Those who don’t know Him … don’t.

  9. Very important subject you brought here Dr Schaser. Does the Hebrew Bible make mention of Cain and Abel having twin sisters whom they married? Thank you for educating us.

    • Thank you for reading, Lerato. There’s no mention of a wife for Abel or of twin sisters. The text mentions Cain’s wife (Gen 4:17) but doesn’t tell us anything about her.

  10. Yes I totally agree Dr Schaser with everything you said in this article, by implication of what Paul is saying in 1Cor 15:22.. immortality is once again attainable to all mankind through Christ (I’m talking about living and not dying), just as death fell as a curse to all mankind through Adam’s sin.. Man can once more, live and not die, through Christ.

  11. We die because of sin adam took over 900years we ate now down to 70 years anything more is a bleesing now through Jesus we may live forever being baptised and filled with the holey gost speaking in toungs resurrected to be with him

  12. Woah. While some might debate this as semantics, I think it’s an incredible insight. Of the created things in need of redemption, it does seem important to include mortality on the list! Guess this is applicable to the concept of what it means to be “truly human”. When death and decay is no longer an issue, we can then finally step into true life as well?

  13. Genesis 1:27 States: So G_d created man in his own image, in the image of G_d, created he him, male and female created he them. How does one reconcile both passages? the former, he made man in his image {imortal}and the later, Genesis 2:7 man is created from dust.

  14. Not out of a primordial ooze. “When no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of of the field had yet sprung up..” ” But a mist went up and watered the whole face of the ground…” “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground…” The first thing adama must have said is ‘Lord I thirst’ and he would see all of the formation God accomplished as He planted a garden for adam to inhabit. Not only from the Spirit do we have access to the source of all creation and the knowledge of it, from the particles of our being in the physical we have a witness.

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