Geerhardus Vos on Spiritual Death

By Samuel M. Frost, Th.D.

Having pointed out the contradiction in R. C. Sproul’s book, The Holiness of God, wherein he defines “death” as having a “full sense” so that “spiritual death” took place “in the day” Adam ate, but not “death in the full sense” (this is called having cake and eating it, too), we now focus on Geerhardus Vos, who also makes a serious blunder with regard to Adam’s sin.

Vos, a stalwart of Reformed theology, and the “father of biblical theology” within that camp, is a must read for those interested in the developments of Liberalism and Fundamentalism that arose in the 1920’s and 30’s.  Even though he wrote at the turn of the century, Vos saw the incoming danger of “critical” scholarship originating out of Germany.  I had as required reading his marvelous book, Biblical Theology (Eerdmans, 1959), while earning my M.A. at Whitefield Seminary.

With that being said, concerning Genesis 2-3, Vos is aware of the ramifications of taking the phrase in Gn 2.17, “in the day”, literally.  He wrote that “returning to the dust is represented as a curse” (48).  Correct.  Death is not “the natural lot” of Adam.  Correct, again.  Death is not a natural thing, but a divinely imposed punishment.  All very good theology and exegesis.

This ends when he states, “Finally the stressing of the phrase “in the day” in 2:17, is not only uncalled for, but, in view of the sequel of the narrative, impossible.  As a threat of immediate, premature death the words have not been fulfilled, and that God subsequently mitigated or modified the curse, there is nothing whatever to suggest” (48-49).  In other words, since Adam did not “return to dust” that day when he ate, then “in that day” should not be “stressed”.

Vos feels the tension here when he further wrote, “what kind of form of death” is meant?  He admits of “several aspects of death” but “the answer is not easy to give” (50).  Indeed.  Bodily death “seems necessary” if one were simply following the bare text.  Correct.  But, the Dutch theologian cannot let it go there: “a deeper conception of death seems to be hinted at” (50).  Although he does not use the phrase, “spiritual death”, he speaks of an “internal sense” of death (50).  Man is “separated from God” in the form of “expulsion from the garden” (51).  This is, then, a death.  And, it must be added, this happened “in the day” he transgressed. 

One can see the glaring issue here.  If, on one hand, we should not “stress” the phrase “in the day”, so that with Vos, Adam “began to die” (50), and on the other hand stress the fact that Adam did “die” in the “deeper sense” when exiled from the Garden “in the day” he sinned, then we can see that Vos has muddied the exegetical waters here.  Without “adding” to the story another “sense” of death (exile), Vos would have simply been saying that the “principle of death” (49) entered into Adam and the rest of his children in the day he ate, but the phrase, “in the day”, should not be stressed to mean “immediate” death.  This is the view of many other theologians.  However, Vos doesn’t stop there and does bring in another sense of death that did, indeed, happen “that day”: exile, or separation from God; what goes under the phrase, “spiritual death.” The point is, if we need not “stress” the literal meaning of “in the day”, then why “stress” it so as to have Adam “spiritually die” in the day he ate? Vos “stresses” it, and wishes not to “stress” it. He “stresses” it for “spiritual death”, and de-stresses it for “bodily death.” Non-sequitor.

In his work, Reformed Dogmatics (Lexham Press, 2020, reprint from 1910), Vos is even more explicit.  When Adam transgressed he cut himself off, “in a way incomprehensible to us, from the supply of life by the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit departed from him” (260).  Here he is speaking of “spiritual death” (260).  “Bodily death is everywhere presented as a consequence of spiritual death” (236).  In this section, Vos is arguing against the other giant, Charles Hodge – an argument I won’t get involved with here.  The material in both Dogmatics and Biblical Theology are profound in terms of the minutiae of material discussions from abstract, philosophical and theological concerns.  It has been my contention that such discussions can be continued without referring to “spiritual death” as a “necessary” idea for exegesis or explanation of Gn 2-3.  In this, I remain on solidly Reformed grounds.

For Sproul, who basically brings in Vos’ idea of of “folds” of death (this from Augustine, from Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenistic, Jewish Philosopher extraordinaire).  It is not necessary, for “the wage of sin is death” – not “spiritual death is the cause of death” (as Vos has it as a “consequence”).  Adam transgressed the command of God.  The command of God carried with it a threat of capital punishment: a return to the dust, or “bodily death”.  This, as stated in the law, is presented as a “consequence”, barring no unforeseen circumstances, or undue “mitigating” issues.  We know in Moses’ law (who authored Genesis, too) that God’s law allowed for “mitigating circumstances” – as all proper law does.  Yes, Adam did transgress.  He could have by this received death “in the day” he sinned.  However, God asks his wife what happened, too.  From this, the Judge receives truthful information about this “serpent” who “deceived” Eve (not Adam); tricked her, got her to do something she thought was “good”, when instead, it was “evil.”  That’s what “deception” is.  We could plea, “I was entrapped”.  God does not lower the boom on the Man and Woman, but when he speaks to the serpent, His words are quite forceful in delivery: “Because you did this!”  Yes.  Satan did “do this”.  Remove him from the Garden scene, the law would not have been broken, for Eve was even prepared not to touch the fruit!  Can’t eat it, if you don’t touch it, so best not to even touch it.  Good thinking.  Calvin agreed.  Thus, God, due to the mitigating circumstances of Satan’s crafty scheme against a totally unsuspecting newly wedded couple (after all, God made this creature, too), does not kill Adam that day.  He lets him live with the very same Spirit/Breath of Life with which (who) he was made.  Far from Vos’ entirely invalid inference that the Holy Spirit “departed him” (nowhere presented in this text), Adam was shown mercy; the mercy of the court. 

Yes, sin did enter in through the transgression of Adam (not Eve).  And death entered through sin (Romans 5.12).  We find that Adam’s two boys, Cain and Abel, encountered both of these powers, or principles.  “Sin” is first mentioned in Genesis 4.7.  Murder follows.  Death.  Abel dies before Adam does.  O’ Adam, what have you done?  Cain was not “spiritually dead” either.  He sinned against God, who was having a discussion with him before the murder, and after.  Far from it, God protects Cain from vengeance of his siblings!  Doesn’t sound like an atheist to me.  Sounds like a rebel.  Sound like one who “fled from the presence of God” (4.16).  With Abel, man is either submitted to God, and does what he requires, or man is not submitted to God, and often sins and rebels based on his own reasoning “from his heart”.  If we sin, there is a forgiving God.  If we go on sinning, not acknowledging God, and finally coming to the place of the dust without faith in God, we are ‘dead in sin.’  This is how God set it up in the beginning, taking in the full consequences of man’s sin, yet also providing a way for his redemption at the same time: faith in a God who forgives.  When Jesus of Nazareth appears on the scene, God manifests his constant love for the world in him, the love that He had from the beginning.  God didn’t start loving the world when Jesus was born!  He has always loved the world, and always planned on redeeming the world from sinners and wickedness.  By divine grace, God imposed death on mankind, the Great Equalizer from which there is no escape.  At once, in all religions and philosophies, Death is the main topic.  Turn on the news and you will see Death.  Read the history books and there Death makes its stand.  Turn to a religious book, whether it be Siddhartha, Q’ran, the Vedas, or Anton LaVey.  Death is there.  Yet, with the specter of Death facing all mankind, there is another voice: ‘Listen to Me! I can redeem you from Death!’  This season of Lent, when we contemplate the dust of the earth (Ash Wednesday) and the Resurrection of Life (Easter Sunday), we spend forty days (the number of repentance from dead works) so that we can arrive to the Promised Inheritance of a New Creation, a New Genesis that awaits the saints on earth and in heaven.  No more Russia, or Ukraine.  No more Iraq and NATO.  No more Death, or Sin.  Creation in its full array without taint of Death.  Pure Utopia, with Christ as King, and all the Nations in Him as willing, glad, eager followers of every jot and tittle of his word in perfect, harmonious, free obedience without the slightest hint of doubt or resignation.  Dear children….think on these things.

Author: Samuel M. Frost, Th.D.

Samuel M. Frost has gained the recognition of his family, peers, colleagues, church members, and local community as a teacher and leader.  Samuel was raised in the Foursquare Gospel tradition and continued in the rising Charismatic Movement of the early 1980’s.  While serving in local congregations he was admitted to Liberty Christian College in Pensacola, Florida where he lived on campus for four years earning his Bachelor’s of Theology degree.  It was there under the tutelage of Dr. Dow Robinson (Summer Institutes of Linguistics), and Dr. Frank Longino (Dallas Theological Seminary) that he was motivated to pursue a career in Theology.  Dr. Robinson wrote two books on Linguistics, Workbook on Phonological Analysis (SIL, 1970) and Manuel for Bilingual Dictionaries: Textbook (SIL, 1969).  It was under these teachers’ guidance that Frost entered into his Master’s studies, being granted a scholarship for Greek I and II at Pentecostal Theological Seminary, accredited, in Cleveland, Tennessee (adjunct of Lee University).  Frost completed his study under Dr. French Arrington (The Ministry of Reconciliation, Baker Books, 1980), who used the text of J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners. Frost studied Hebrew for two years under Dr. Mark Futato (author, Beginning Biblical Hebrew, Eisenbrauns, 2003) and Dr. Bruce K. Waltke (author, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Eisenbrauns, 1990) at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida. With combined credits from PTS and RTS, Samuel completed his Master of Arts in Christian Studies and Master of Arts in Religion from Whitefield Theological Seminary in Lakeland, Florida under the direct tutelage of Dr. Kenneth G. Talbot, co-author of the well reviewed work, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism (Whitefield Media, 2005) with Dr. Gary Crampton (and Foreword by the late, Dr. D. James Kennedy).  Dr. Talbot also oversaw Samuel’s Dissertation, From the First Adam to the Second and Last Adam (2012) earning him the Magister Theologiae (Th.M.) degree.  He also helped put together A Student’s Hebrew Primer for WTS, designed and graded exams for their Hebrew Languages course. Samuel’s studies lead him into an issue in the field of Eschatology where his scholarship and unique approach in Hermeneutics garnered him recognition.  Because of the controversial nature of some of his conclusions, scholars were sharp in their disagreement with him.  Frost’s initial work, Misplaced Hope: The Origins of First and Second Century Eschatology (2002, Second Edition, 2006 Bi-Millennial Publishing), sold over four thousand units.  While arguing for the Reformation understanding of sola Scriptura as defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith, Frost’s book launched a heavily footnoted argument for a total reassessment of the doctrine known as the Second Coming of Christ.  The conclusion was that the events of the war of the Jewish nation against their Roman overlords in 66-70 C.E. formed the New Testament authors’ eschatological outlook, and went no further than their own first century generation; a view otherwise known as “full” or "hyper" Preterism.  Internationally recognized Evangelical author and speaker, Steve Wohlberg remarked, ‘On the “preterist” side today…we have such influential leaders as Gary DeMar, Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., David Chilton, R.C. Sproul, Max King, James Stuart Russell, Samuel M. Frost, and John Noe.  To these scholars…the beast is not on the horizon, he’s dead” (Italics, his)” (End Time Delusions, Destiny Image Publishers, 2004, page 133).  It should be noted that only Noe, King and Frost supported the “full” Preterist position. Thomas Ice and co-author of the best selling Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye, quote Frost’s work, Misplaced Hope, as well in their book, The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming under Attack (Harvest House Publishers, 2003, page 40).  Dr. Jay E. Adams, who single handedly launched “a revolution” in Christian Counseling with his work, Competent to Counsel: An Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling, (1970, Zondervan), also wrote an analysis of Frost’s work in Preterism: Orthodox or Unorthodox? (Ministry Monographs for Modern Times, INS Publishing, 2004).  Adams wrote of Misplaced Hope as a "useful, scholarly work" (p.6 - though he disagreed with the overall thesis).  Dr. Charles E. Hill, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, wrote of Misplaced Hope that Frost, “attacks the problem of the early church in a much more thoroughgoing way than I have seen” (When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper Preterism, Ed. Keith Mathison, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2003, ‘Eschatology in the Wake of Jerusalem’s Fall’ p. 110-ff.).  There were several other works as well that took the scholarship of Frost seriously, like Ergun Caner in The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective, Eds., Steve W. Lemke and David L. Allen (B&H Publishing, 2011). Because of the controversial nature of Frost’s conclusions on these matters, it was difficult to find a denomination within the Church-at-Large to work in terms of pastoral ministry.  That situation changed when Samuel was called by a Bible study group in Saint Petersburg, Florida to found a congregation.  Christ Covenant Church was established in 2002 operating under the principles outlined by Presbyterian historian James Bannerman’s work, The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974, original, 1869).  By-Laws and a Constitution were drawn up in the strictest manner for what was considered an “Independent” establishment of a Presbyterian Church, granted that a “call” was received and recognized by Presiding Elders duly ordained from existing and recognized denominations.  Two Elders, one ordained in the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Mike Delores), and another ordained in the Presbyterian Church of America (Dr. Kelly N. Birks, now deceased) tested and reviewed the call, ordaining Samuel on October 20th, 2002, the Twenty Second Sunday after Trinity.  Proper forms were submitted to Tallahassee, Florida with the stamp of a Notary Public Witness.  Christ Covenant Church (CCC) functioned as a local church for five years with a congregation as large as 30 members.  Frost was gaining recognition after Misplaced Hope had been published in January of that year, and conferences were hosted that included debates with another prominent "full" Preterist educator, Don K. Preston.  CCC hosted best-selling authors, Thomas Ice, and Mark Hitchcock from Dallas Theological Seminary; and Dr. James B. Jordan (Westminster Theological Seminary), well-known author/pastor in Reformed theological circles.  Frost was invited for the next several years to speak at over 25 conferences nation-wide, was featured in articles and an appearance on local news in Tampa for one of CCC’s conferences.  The Evangelical Theological Society also invited Samuel to speak at the Philadelphia conference (Frost is currently a Member of ETS as well as Society of Biblical Literature). During this time Samuel had submitted one more book, Exegetical Essays on the Resurrection of the Dead (TruthVoice, 2008; repr. JaDon Publishing, 2010); and co-wrote, House Divided: A Reformed Response to When Shall These Things Be? (Vision International, 2010).  Frost also wrote several Forewords for up and coming authors who were influenced by his teaching materials, as well as cited many times in books, lectures and academic papers.  However, because of certain aspects of Hermeneutics and Frost’s undaunted commitment to scholarship (with always a strong emphasis on the personal nature of devotional living to Christ), several challenges to the "hyper" Preterist view he espoused finally gave way, largely due to the unwavering commitment to Samuel by the Dean of Whitefield Theological Seminary, Dr. Kenneth G. Talbot, who continually challenged him.  In what shocked the "hyper" Preterist world, Samuel announced after the Summer of 2010 that he was in serious error, and departed the movement as a whole, along with Jason Bradfield, now Assistant Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, Florida .  Christ Covenant Church had dissolved after 2007 while Samuel continued as a public speaker and writer, largely due to reasons that would unravel Frost’s commitment to "hyper" Preterism as a whole. The documentation of Frost’s departure was published by American Vision’s Founder, Gary DeMar, with a Foreword by Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry.  Why I Left Full Preterism (AV Publishing, 2012) quickly ran through its first run.  The book was later republished under the arm of Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry and is sold today (GoodBirth Ministries Publishing, 2019; though still available in Kindle form from American Vision).  Dr. Gentry also gave mention to Frost in his book, Have We Missed the Second Coming: A Critique of Hyper Preterism (Victorious Hope Publishing, 2016), noting him as "one of the most prominent" teachers within Full Preterism (135).  Dr. Keith Mathison, Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida, endorsed the book as well.  Samuel has gone on to write, Daniel: Unplugged (McGahan Publishing House, 2021); The Parousia of the Son of Man (Lulu Publishing, 2019); God: As Bill Wilson Understood Him, A Theological Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous (Lulu Publishing, 2017).  He is also active as a certified Chaplain with the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana, and enrolled with ICAADA (Indiana Counselor’s Association on Alcohol and Drug Abuse), and worked directly under Dr. Dennis Greene, Founder of Christian Counseling and Addictions Services, Inc., for a year.  Frost’s passion is in the education of the local church on various issues and occasionally works with Pastor Alan McCraine with the First Presbyterian Church in Lewisville, Indiana, and Bethel Presbyterian Church, Knightstown, Indiana, where he periodically is called upon to give the sermon. Samuel, with his wife, Kimberly, helped to establish Heaven’s Bread Basket food pantry that donates food items to local families in need once a month – a ministry of the Session of First Presbyterian Church, Lewisville, Indiana. Samuel also works part time at Ace Hardware in New Castle, Indiana for several years.  He has a solid, family reputation in the community, and has performed local marriages and funerals.  He also sits on the Board of the Historical Preservation Committee in New Castle. Recently, he has completed his two year quest for a Th.D from Christian Life School of Theology Global, Georgia.

6 thoughts on “Geerhardus Vos on Spiritual Death”

  1. It seems obvious to me now that actual physical death was meant, but also the second death, yes? Because at the end of this age when Christ returns, the wicked are resurrected and cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. So, I love this thought of our God taking matters into His hands (providing animal skins for covering) and showing His mercy and grace right from the start. What a great God we serve! He didn’t just start loving the world when Jesus came. He was loving the world, and had a plan in place to redeem it from before the very beginning! Praise Him!

    Like

    1. Greg,

      It is worthy to consider whether “the second death” was meant in the original threat. I, at this time, do not think that it was. God created Adam in such a way that “if” he transgressed, a “way” is provided out of that through “faith.” That is, Death did not “kill the spirit” or render it ever non-functioning. Thus, the only death meant in the threat is what we call, “bodily” or “physical death” – which is the base meaning. I say “base meaning” because “death”, “dead” “die” can be used metaphorically, and you know that a metaphor is built upon a “base” meaning, or “actual” meaning. “This party is dead” – metaphor. “Frank is dead” – actual meaning. Adam’s death, then, did not suspend his ability for “faith” and “resurrection”.

      I asked this to another person defending “spiritual death”, who also stated that “eternal death” was contained within the divine threat. That is, Adam “deserved” the “full sense” of death – and by “full sense” is meant the “threefold” meaning(s) of Death: spiritual, physical, eternal. However, if Adam “died” spiritually when he ate, and God put him death physically, also, that day, then God would have had to “raise him” from the dead so as to place him “in the lake of fire” – which is “the second death”! However, to bring about “resurrection” requires the offering and resurrection of Christ! You can go from here to see that this would bring about enormous problems…..

      Thanks for your reply!

      Sam

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is a good point regarding the “second death.” I hadn’t gone to the bottom line regarding what would’ve been necessary “in the day” if second death was meant. I’m enjoying this. It draws me to Jesus. Thanks for your honest thoughts. I know you “suffer” for them quite often. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Greg,

        I enjoy the fact that, as brothers, we may disagree on things, but yet are willing to go to the bottom of issues, and still emerge even more intact as members of Christ’s family. Some just don’t have that kind of nerve!

        Sam

        Liked by 1 person

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