Was Adam mortal before he partook of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Has this matter been considered in Christianity? I believe there could be only two possible options here: "Yes, he was" and "No, he wasn't". But what main supporting points have been put forth for either of these doctrines?

  • I will again try and get clarity on the question. What is meant by mortal? What is meant by immortal? Consider the amoeba from the perspective of the amoeba. Was Adam one entity like an amoeba or a series of entities unaware of its mortality and therefore from its point of view immortal like a haddock. (From the first man Adam to the last Adam). What kind of mortal/immortal are you asking about? Or is it an imaginary earthly immortality that is not of dust? Or an Adam that lived in a sort of Heaven (Eden)? Feb 1 '14 at 13:54
  • @gideonmarx - By "immortal" I mean being able - without partaking of the tree of life or the tree of knowledge of good and evil - to stay always and forever alive physically, that is, never to arrive at what Adam eventually arrived when he turned 930 years old - separation of his body from his spirit.
    – brilliant
    Feb 1 '14 at 15:36
  • We've hashed this question out plenty already. However, I cannot help but asking, "Is there any reason why God would NOT have granted Adam the gift of immortality? If so, what is the reason?" Additionally, "Is there any reason to believe God did NOT have the ability and/or the desire to make Adam's physical body immortal? If so, what would be the reason?" Just food for thought. Don Feb 17 '14 at 18:41
  • @rhetorician - “Is there any reason why God would NOT have granted Adam the gift of immortality?” – Before I can try to answer this and other of your questions, I need to know the exact meaning that you attach to the word “immortality” here. As our recent discussion in the chat has shown (here: chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/13841051#13841051 ), you and I have different things on our mind when we operate with such terms as “immortality” or “immortal”. It is better if we continue in that chat.
    – brilliant
    Feb 18 '14 at 18:27

First, we must understand that only God is inherently immortal. The apostle Paulos states that God "alone has immortality" (ὁ μόνος ἔχων ἀθανασίαν) (1 Tim. 6:16), for He alone is uncreated. Everything else that is not God is a creature, and thus, not inherently immortal. Now, although many creatures are not inherently immortal, God gives them immortality as He wills. This includes angels and Christians (John 10:28). (However, just as He gives immortality, He could also (potentially) take it away.)

As for Adam, we know for a fact that he was not inherently immortal, since only God is. Thus, the question we must ask is whether God ever gave immortality to Adam, before or after his transgression.

When Yahveh breathed into Adam's nostrils the "breath of life" (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), "Adam became a living creature" (וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה) (Gen. 2:7). However, we do not know whether Adam was immortal or mortal at this point. Some time thereafter, Adam partook of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6). Afterwards, Yahveh declared (Gen. 3:22), "Behold, Adam became like one of us, to know good and evil, and now, lest he put forth his hand and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever."

To "live forever" is undoubtedly synonymous with "be immortal." But, the scripture is clear that Adam would only live forever (be immortal) if he partook from the tree of life. The logical consequence is that Adam was not immortal - at least not after the fall - because he never partook from the tree of life. Yahveh obstructed Adam's access to the tree of life and banished him from Paradise (Gen. 3:24). Again, this only proves that Adam was not immortal after the fall.

However, there is a possibility, as Brilliant noted, that Adam was immortal prior to his fall, being made so by Yahveh. Then, by partaking of the fruit, he lost this immortality, and Yahveh prohibited Adam from regaining this immortality by impeding access to the tree of life.

But, we should note that, in his original state, Yahveh made trees in the garden that were "good for food" (טוֹב לְמַאֲכָל) (Gen. 2:9). While one may argue that the trees could have provided food for animals rather than Adam, Yahveh indeed informed Adam that he could eat from the trees (Gen. 2:16). Now, Jesus himself ate food after his resurrection (Luke 24:30; 24:43) despite having an incorruptible and immortal body. Therefore, the argument could be made that such trees in the garden, despite being "good for food," do not necessarily indicate that Adam required sustinence from the trees, just as Jesus did not necessarily require sustinence from the food he ate after his resurrection in his incorruptible and immortal body.

All that being said, I believe the apostle Paulos provides a definite answer in his first epistle to the Corinthians. In discussing the resurrection of the dead, he wrote,

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 Likewise it is written, the first man "Adam became a living creature" (*or soul). The last Adam [became] a life-giving spirit.

44 σπείρεται σῶμα ψυχικόν ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν ἔστιν σῶμα ψυχικόν καὶ ἔστιν σῶμα πνευματικόν 45 οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται Ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν

Now, it is important to note that in v. 44, the apostle Paulos is contrasting two bodies: the "natural body" (lit. "soulish body": σῶμα ψυχικόν) and the "spiritual body" (σῶμα πνευματικόν). Then in the very next verse, saying "likewise it is written," he establishes the proof of these two bodies, using as examples "the first man Adam" who "became a living soul" and "the last Adam," Jesus Christ, who became "a life-giving spirit."

By this, we can establish that Adam possessed the "natural body" (σῶμα ψυχικόν) at the very moment he "became a living soul." Since he became a living soul (Gen. 2:7) prior to his transgression and fall, then we could ascribe all the properties the apostle Paulos attributes to the "natural body" in 1 Cor. 15 to Adam himself prior to his fall. These would include:

More importantly, it would include mortality and corruptibility (1 Cor. 15:53-54). On the other hand, Jesus who became a life-giving spirit possessed the spiritual body with the attributes of immortality and incorruptibility.

  • Of course, there is yet another logical consequence, but it isn't directly related to this question. Since Adam would "certainly die" by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, yet Adam was already mortal (again, he was never given immortality), it should thus be clear that Yahveh's words ("certainly die") did not apply to physical death. :)
    – user900
    Jan 31 '14 at 5:10
  • "But, the scripture is clear that Adam would only live forever (be immortal) if he partook from the tree of life" - How is that clear?! I mean, how is it clear that that also applies to Adam before the fall? Couldn't it have been so that Adam was immortal before he partook of the tree of knowledge and because of partaking of it he then lost his immortality and, thus, now needed the tree of life to become immortal again? This option may sound a bit overstretched, yet it is a valid option that needs to be rebutted somehow before we can say "it is clear".
    – brilliant
    Jan 31 '14 at 5:55
  • Ah, I see. So you believe it's possible that God gave him immortality when He made him, his partaking of the fruit caused him to lose that immortality, and then God prevented him from again being immortal by obstructing access to the tree of life.
    – user900
    Jan 31 '14 at 6:59
  • Yes. Not that I believe for sure that that possibility was the case, but I am still forced to keep this option as possible until I am given the proof of its impossibility.
    – brilliant
    Jan 31 '14 at 7:07

Perhaps death was not the RESULT of Adam's disobedience, but CERTAIN ("surely die") death was the RESULT. That is, Adam was created mortal. As a mortal, Adam would eventually die. Hence, the availability of the Tree of Life (TOL). That is, unless Adam partook of the TOL which he was free to eat from, he would eventually die. It is clear from scripture this tree in some manner would impart immortality if it was eaten from (Gen. 3:22).

God's pronouncement that "you will SURELY die" conveyed the CERTAINTY of Adam's death if he partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (TOKGE) in his mortal state. Adam, as a mortal being would during the course of time eventually die. However, with the TOL being freely available for Adam to eat from, we can assume that he would eventually partake of it at which time Adam would become immortal (Gen. 3:22). Unfortunately, Adam partook of the TOKGE before the TOL, thus he would SURELY die. Inherent in this pronouncement that he would SURELY die is God's intention to keep Adam from partaking of the TOL if he partook of the TOKGE first. In other words, God would have to bar Adam from partaking of the TOL if he partook of the TOKGE first as Gen. 3:22 states God did. By partaking from the TOKGE first, it was certain ("SURELY") Adam would die because the TOL would no longer be available to the mortal to stave off death's eventuality. If the TOL was still readily available to Adam after his fall so that he could partake of it, he would "live forever" in his fallen state according to Gen. 3:22.

It is clear from Gen 3:22 that if Adam partook of the TOL, he would become immortal. If he partook of the TOL before partaking of the TOKGE, he would become immortal (without sin). Perhaps the TOKGE would then have been made available to Adam as a benefit to him. That is, with immortality imparted first, the TOKGE could be made available to him by God to add to Adam's godliness (God-likeness) "...knowing good and evil" like God (Gen. 3:22).

After all, having the knowledge of good and evil was not what was sinful for Adam, his disobedience was what was sinful, according to the Bible.

  • "...his disobedience was according to the Bible" - What do you mean by this last phrase in your answer?
    – brilliant
    Apr 14 '14 at 22:30
  • Thanks for your consideration. To clarify, according to Bible, Adam's sin was disobedience. God commanded him not to touch/partake of the TOKGE. The Bible does not say that Adam's acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil was sinful. In fact, Gen 3:22 states that Adam became like God knowing good and evil. Being like God (on His terms of course) is never sinful. Adam's acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil was on his own terms when he disobeyed God by taking from the TOKGE when he did. The proverbial "means does not justify the end" applies here.
    – user10777
    Apr 15 '14 at 15:21
  • @user10777 Great answer, though I do not concur with your comment as God NEVER told them not to touch it. The woman added to what God had actually said, falling deeper into Satan's deception. Great answer nonetheless. Jun 17 '16 at 18:31

H3br3wHamm3r81's answer is good, but it is maybe too well argued, and I think perhaps s/he is missing the forest for the trees.

God told our first parents

". . . for in the day that you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you will surely die" (Genesis2:17b).

I'll leave the Hebrew-to-English translation job to those who are well-versed in that valuable process. Assuming the translators of the NIV have done the heavy lifting for us already in that regard, I'll provide what I believe is a fair, albeit very liberal, paraphrase of God's instruction to the first man:

"Adam, in the garden I've designed for you to cultivate and keep, there are many fruit-bearing trees. Feel free, my son, to eat the fruit of any tree. There is, however, one tree, and one tree only, from which you are not allowed to eat, and that is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you choose to eat of that one tree, from the moment you eat of it you will begin to die, both physically and spiritually."

I've paraphrased vv.15-17 in the way I have because I think it makes at least one thing clear: Adam would retain the gift of immortality if and only if he were to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ("Good and evil," by the way, is a Hebrew merism which today we might translate whimsically "the whole kit and caboodle," or "from soup to nuts." In other words, "the whole ball of wax.")

I assume, for the time being, that the only insight into evil Adam had prior to his disobedience was that disobedience was the wrong thing to do. In other words, it was bad, and it had a bad consequence (viz., death). How much Adam and his soulmate understood about death, we do not know. Had they already partaken of the tree of life prior to their disobedience? Probably. After all, if you already have the gift of immortality, you cannot become more immortal than immortal!

What God makes eminently clear in the text is that His preventing them from eating from the tree of LIFE came AFTER they had sinned. To have allowed our first parents to partake of the tree of life as sinners would have been unthinkable for a loving God. Imagine living forever with no prospect of redemption. Personally, I shudder at the thought.

Now I realize my use of the word redemption, above, has anachronism written all over it, but think on it for a moment. In light of what we know today about our physical bodies, how that virtually every kind of cell in our bodies (save for brain cells) is replaced with a new cell on a regular basis, who is to say the process could NOT continue forever? Were it not for the "death gene" (again, another anachronism) being passed via Adam to the next generation and to each successive generation thereafter, there is no physical reason why the human species could not be immortal.

For as in Adam all die , even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22 KJV).

However, the last Adam--Jesus, the Son of God--did not receive the "death gene" from an earthly father. His genetic code came from His heavenly Father, even though the egg came from the ovaries of a mortal woman (who herself HAD inherited the death gene from an earthly father and was thus destined to die, according to Protestant theology, that is).

And so it is written , The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45 KJV).

In conclusion, my analysis of the text in Genesis 2 may be flawed by its inclusion of anachronisms, but if there is a flaw in my interpretation, it is not in the anachronisms; rather, it may be in my logic and reasoning (and here is where you might disagree with me):

Were it not for the first sin of disobedience, there would have been no death. Only in disobeying would our first parents die, and if they did not die, then they must of necessity have been given immortality when God breathed into their nostrils the breath of life. Immortal life. (rhetorician)

BONUS MATERIAL: Interestingly, in Revelation 22 we read of another tree of life.

"Then [the angel] showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, [and] in the middle of its street on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (22:1,2).

So here we have bookends; we have come full circle. What started as a second, forbidden tree, of which our first parents could not partake once they had sinned, ended up as an eternally fruit-bearing tree of which all God's children may partake.

As for how and why the leaves of this eternal tree serve to heal the nations, I'll leave that for another OP to question!

  • (1) "Had they already partaken of the tree of life prior to their disobedience? Probably" - I find it rather hard to agree with. From God's concern about Adam's future after his fall and His follow-up actions in preventing Adam from partaking of the tree of life we can at least infer that the effects of partaking from the two trees are not mutually-excluding, that is, it is possible to have the effect of partaking of the bad tree (being separated from God and being aware of good and evil) and at the same time to have the effect of partaking of the good
    – brilliant
    Feb 1 '14 at 13:20
  • (2) tree (being immortal). Thus, if Adam had already partaken of the tree of life prior to partaking of the tree of knowledge, then he would've already been immortal and it would've already been "too late" for God to do anything about it.
    – brilliant
    Feb 1 '14 at 13:20
  • @brilliant: "if Adam had already partaken of the tree of life . . . then he would've already been immortal," you said. Not necessarily. If we assume the ONLY function of the tree of life was to convey immortality, then you may be correct. If, OTOH, we assume the tree of life had other special attributes, then you might be incorrect. Life to our first parents involved evolution (not macro-evolution!) of their spiritual, physical, emotional, aesthetic lives. IOW, the "tree of life" as metaphor, if you will, conferred blessings on two souls who were ALREADY immortal because they were without sin. Feb 1 '14 at 18:12
  • "If we assume the ONLY function of the tree of life was to convey immortality, then you may be correct. If, OTOH, we assume the tree of life had other special attributes, then you might be incorrect" - Even if it had other special attributes, their presence still did not nullify its ability to convey immortality, otherwise God would've not said "... now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" (Gen. 3:22)
    – brilliant
    Feb 1 '14 at 18:24
  • The tree of life in the new heaven (Rev 22) confers something other than immortality to God's children, since we'll already possess it! Perhaps in heaven our lives will continually be enriched, enhanced, and capable of growth in understanding of and appreciation for all that God had prepared for us well in advance of our being with Him in His abode. I think we need to leave a little metaphorical wiggle room in how we view the tree of life. The expression "L'chaim" implies growth, not merely longevity. God alone is the possessor of eternal life, and He never grows. We, on the other hand . . .. Feb 1 '14 at 18:24

Life is determined by our relationship to God.

Mortality is being susceptible to death, Adam was always susceptible to death and God warned Adam of his susceptibility:

Genesis 2:16,17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

We were intentioned for life:

2 Corinthians 5:1-4 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.

We look forward to life eternal:

John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Eternal life is subject to our relationship with God:

Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Therefore, man was created mortal, susceptible to death but the new birth assures eternal life, life eternal in Christ!


(Just sharing a different idea based on the pseudepigraphical book "The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan")

Adam had immortal body before the fall

Adam and Eve had a perfect immortal body before they eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After eating the fruit, their body was altered and became mortal, which will ultimately return to dust, though their soul(or spirit) is still immortal.

And, indeed, when Adam looked at his flesh, that was altered, he wept bitterly, he and Eve, over what they had done (Chapter IV, verse 2)

Adam had a bright nature before the fall.

THEN Adam wept and said, "O God, when we dwelt in the garden, and our hearts were lifted up, we saw the angels that sang praises in heaven, but now we do not see as we were used to do; nay, when we entered the cave, all creation became hidden from us." Then God the Lord said unto Adam, "When thou wast under subjection to Me, thou hadst a bright nature within thee, and for that reason couldst thou see things afar off. But after thy transgression thy bright nature was withdrawn from thee; and it was not left to thee to see things afar off, but only near at hand; after the ability of the flesh; for it is brutish." (Chapter VIII)

Adam did not need food and water before the fall.

"And of Thy goodwill, O Lord, Thou madest us both with bodies of a bright nature, and Thou madest us two, one; and Thou gavest us Thy grace, and didst fill us with praises of the Holy Spirit; that we should be neither hungry nor thirsty, nor know what sorrow is, nor yet faintness of heart; neither suffering, fasting, nor weariness. "But now, O God, since we transgressed Thy commandment and broke Thy law, Thou hast brought us out into a strange land, and has caused suffering, and faintness, hunger and thirst to come upon us. (Chapter XXXIV)

Adam and Eve will go to Hell after they die and will be tortured with fire by Satan. They will be delivered from Hell only when God shed His blood for them.

God said also to Adam, "See this fire kindled by Satan around thy cave; see this wonder that surrounds thee; and know that it will encompass about both thee and thy seed, when ye hearken to his behest; that he will plague you with fire; and that ye shall go down into hell after ye are dead. "Then shall ye see the burning of his fire, that will thus be burning around you and your seed. There shall be no deliverance from it for you, but at My coming; in like manner as thou canst not now go into thy cave, by reason of the great fire around it; not until My Word shall come that will make a way for thee on the day My covenant is fulfilled. (Chapter XLV, verse 9,10)

And, again, as regards the Water of Life thou seekest, it will not be granted thee this day; but on the day that I shall shed My blood upon thy head in the land of Golgotha. "For My blood shall be the Water of Life unto thee, at that time, and not to thee alone, but unto all those of thy seed who shall believe in Me; that it be unto them for rest for ever." (Chapter XLII, verse 7,8)


Mortality (one among the changes) was injected into humans by the consuming of the fruits by Adam and Eve. Jesus Christ repaid that debt for humanity to be reaped by whoever believes in Him [1Corinthians 15:21+].

[Romans 5:12+]

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