Inerrancy is not a quality of the God of the Bible. 

These observations are not intended to be tendentious, but objective.


According to Genesis chapter 2 God’s first conversation with Adam was a warning against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil:

For in the day you eat of it you shall die (2:17).

Dr James Barr who is professor of Biblical Hebrew at Oxford University comments:

“The Hebrew itself makes this very definite; its locution is well represented by the Authorised Version with its ‘thou shalt surely die’.”

The serpent in the story comes along and gives another account of this:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5

As we know, the man and woman did eat of the forbidden tree and God pronounces the verdict:

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden…

Genesis 3.22

In other words God’s warning proved not to have been accurately fulfilled. They had not died in the day in which they ate the forbidden fruit. In fact they did not die for a very long time. The man is not punished by immediate death. His punishment is rather frustration in his work. To the man he said,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

Genesis 3:17-19.

Not only this but there is a danger that man will become immortal (Genesis 3:22 above). He might despite his disobedience achieve the status where he will never die at all. God must take action to prevent this from happening. Even so Adam lived to be 930 years (Genesis 5:5).

It turns out that when God said ‘in that day you eat of it you shall die’ his warning was far from confirmed by the actual outcome.

It was the serpent whose prediction proved to be entirely accurate. From the beginning he had said that they would not die – and they didn’t.

He said they would obtain the knowledge of good and evil – and they did.

He said they would become like God – and they did.

Perhaps surprisingly, inerrancy is not a quality of the God of the Bible. 

Categories: Bible, God, Hebrew

7 replies

  1. Instead of just acknowledging this problem, Christian apologists try to explain it way by claiming that “death” in the passage means “spiritual death” not physical death. But the word “spiritual” is neither mentioned nor even implied in the passage.

    The Hebrew word used for “death” in the passage is תָּמֽוּת (tā·mūṯ) and is never used for anything except physical death throughout the Old Testament.

  2. In coming from Ken, with helpful words in Farsi and attacks on the Qur’an.

    • Were on to you mr. Paul William’s! We know what country you live in! We know the park you like to have discussions in! We know what you look like! And we know you speak the truth! So ty for increasing our knowledge in your field of expertise and work in a manner that I can respect😉

    • Ha ha Paul. (it turns out there are Arabic words IN THE Qur’an, related to the fall of mankind that we have in Farsi – see below.)

      the key is the expulsion from the garden of Eden and the cherubim (plural) – a kind of angel that had a flaming sword to keep mankind out of the garden – meaning they no longer had a spiritual relationship with God and cannot get back into that relationship, unless they come to God on His Biblical terms (repentance and faith, not works). Genesis 3:22-24

      Barr left out verses 23 and 24. So spiritually dead is correct.

      Genesis chapter 5 shows they all died later physically. Death (both spiritual and physical – is the result of sin )

      Even Islam indicates this with “Go down” (Allah’s punishment on Adam and Eve and expelling them from paradise, which apparently in Islamic theology, was not on the earth. )

      But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said, “Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time.”

      Surah 2:36

      Ephesians 2:1-10 is a commentary on Genesis 2:16 and 3:22-24

      So James Barr is wrong.

      We said, “Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.
      Surah 2:38

      “all of you” is جمیعا – a clear understanding of more than 2. We have this in Farsi also which means “all” and it comes from root verb of Jam’e جمع , which means “to collect”, “to sum up”, “to add”, “to gather up” (more than one thing). It is also used of a Mosque/ Masjid – “Jami” – the place of gathering together” and the word for Friday, جمعه – comes that root – the day to gather and go to worship at the Masjid. Masjid means the “place of bowing down” and Jami means the place of gathering.

      It it interesting to me the the word اهبطوا (go down, descend) – in Farsi we get the word for “the fall” of mankind from this root – هبوط

      that they would go down to the earth and become enemies to each other.

      see more here:

  3. I’ve been scratching my head for ages thinking of a response to this and finally think I’ve joined everything up.

    The focus should not be on “you shall die” as I don’t think anyone would interpret it as not meaning a physical death in the end.

    The words to focus on are “in the day”. This phrase appears in most translations and can appear a bit ‘clunky’. But “in the day” is a phrase used commonly among English speaking nations or at least the United Kingdom. I would use it when looking back to a time period, often with rose-tinted glasses. For example “Ah, summer holidays, back in the day the sun would always be shining”. There the phrase refers to an undetermined but distinct time period.

    I would also add that the same Hebrew construction is used elsewhere in relation to an extended time period rather than instantly, least Google says so.

    • This is an interesting article, dealing with an interesting problem, thanks Paul. What’s the source for James Barr? It’s a complex problem, and there are many interpretations that have contributed to our understanding.

      However, my main objections are to this presentation are:

      1. none of the rich exegetical history discussing the problem was cited or surveyed.

      2. no serious attempt was made to understand why the narrative is fashioned the way we have it by its author.

      Chris: The Hebrew phrase beyom means litterally “in the day” but it can be translated as “when”. This is how it’s usually understood a few verses earlier in Gen. 2:4: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when (beyom) the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”. One may, in other words, understand it not as it will happen on the very same day.

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