“Dying You Shall Die”: Augustine’s Solution to an Enigmatic Text

It is a truism that nearly all matters of theological significance have been passed to the present generation through Augustine. His views on a range of subjects are either well known or are being retrieved, reevaluated, and marshaled in support of a range of contemporary concerns, with Augustine’s commentary regarding the early chapters of Genesis being a case in point. The proposed paper is no exception. It will evaluate Augustine’s treatment of the universal experience of death as introduced in God’s warning to Adam (“dying you shall die”) and demonstrate that Augustine’s explanation of death as the multi-faceted judgment of God on human sin best expresses the meaning of Genesis 2:17.

In brief, Augustine maintains that Adam was created in a state of conditional immortality in which his continuance was based on obedience to the express will of God. Therefore Adam’s death was neither natural nor necessary. Rather, the death of Adam and his posterity is the consequence of God’s vengeance on Adam’s transgression. According to Augustine, the death warned of by God in Genesis 2:17 includes the spiritual, physical, and final (or second) manifestations as the “inevitable consequence” of Adam’s willful disobedience. Augustine writes that when Christians are pressed for the precise meaning of death as introduced in Genesis 2:17, “we must answer, It is all.”

To demonstrate the correctness of Augustine’s statement the paper will proceed as follows. Following a brief Introduction, Part One will evaluate Augustine’s position on the origin, nature, and consequences of death utilizing De civitate Dei as the primary source of his mature thought. Part Two will evaluate the concept of death in the wider context of Genesis 2:4a-5:31 to determine whether Augustine’s conclusions are sustainable in light of the Biblical teaching. Part Three will briefly interact with adherents of evolutionary creationism, particularly Gavin Ortlund (Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation) and John H. Walton (Four Views on the Historical Adam).

4 thoughts on ““Dying You Shall Die”: Augustine’s Solution to an Enigmatic Text”

  1. unusual
    I share what others have said about questioning its appropriateness for this setting, but it does address Augustine’s theological anthropology, & it does address an important topic.

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