The expression that “death” means “separation” is such a commonly repeated mantra within Christianity, it is taken for granted as the absolute definition for the word “death” without question. However, we must question whether this is the biblical definition or has this been a persistent error causing major theological issues.

First, we commend that every Christian should be a diligent student of the Bible. Basic principles of hermeneutics are necessary for everyone. Too many people are simply lazy and unwilling to put in the time and effort to study the way that God’s word commands (2 Tim. 2:15). This comes down to the simplest concept of accurately defining words as the most elementary structure for conveying thoughts through language. Roy Zuck states, “Before we can determine their significance or relevance to us today, people who are not the original readers, we must first seek to determine what the words meant to those who originally read them.”1)Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth, David C. Cood (Colorado Springs, CO: 1991), p. 64 This indicates we must realize the culture of the original author(s) and recipient(s) of the Scriptures and how they would have defined words in their historical era, hence the literal historical/grammatical interpretation.

It is important also to understand the history and development of hermeneutical principles and their influences. Prior to the Reformation, a renewed interest in the original languages of the Bible began with what is called the humanists movement of the Renaissance (not to be confused with the humanists of today). This caused the shift away from the Catholic endorsed Latin Vulgate toward the original Greek and Hebrew. The first recent Hebrew Testament was printed in 1494 and Erasmus published the first recent Greek New Testament in 1516. The needed Lexicons for these original languages were produced in this era by the humanists. “One of their great passions was to recover anew the great classics of the Greek and Latin authors. However they insisted that a study of the language was not enough. The student of the classics had to know the history and culture of the people of the ancient world as well as their languages. Philology meant to them not only the study of words and grammar but the whole or comprehensive scholarly method of investigating the culture and history about the classical period.”2)Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics (Third Edition), Baker Book House (Grand Rapid, MI: 1970), p. 150 Though their thinking was accurate, they were misled by utilizing the Greek of the classic period (that is the pagan Greek authors) to interpret the Greek of the Bible. This caused the pagan Greek philosopher’s ideas and definitions of some words to be presented as biblical thought and definitions of some words in their lexicons instead of the Hebrew thought and culture of the Jewish authors of the Bible.

This error is further propagated by the facts that (1) many lexicons being written today are based on older lexicons and not original research, and (2) the influence of German scholarship, specifically Bultmann’s methodology that “words, concepts, and expressions used in the new Testament are to be determined by an exhaustive study of the whole historical, literary, sociological, and religious background of the words, concepts and expressions.”3)Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics (Third Edition), Baker Book House (Grand Rapid, MI: 1970), p. 84 Indicating, for example, the word “death” must be study as a whole of the ancient Greek language, not just from the Bible, because the liberal German schools perceived religions in an evolutionary view that one religious thought transitioned into the next religion by evolutionary processes of thought. In discussing the cautions of lexical aids in studying the Bible, the warning is presented that too often “to save time, we may bypass the concordance work by consulting such [lexicon] works first, yet the task of consulting the texts [of the Bible] themselves directly should not be handed over too quickly to someone else…. In performing word studies and using biblical wordbooks, lexicon, and dictionaries, the student should be aware that potentially fallacious conclusions can be drawn from such studies.”4)John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginners Handbook (Revised Edition), John Knox Press (Atlanta, GA: 1987), pp. 64-65 Robert Young indicated his purpose to develop his Analytical Concordance to the Bible was for this reason since other works carried theological biased definitions. He wrote in his prefatory notes:

As Cruden’s Definitions, though many of them interesting and good, often express too decidedly his own specific view of religious truth to be satisfactory, the present Work confines the definitions strictly to their literal or idiomatic force; which, after all, will be found to form the best (and indeed the only safe and solid) basis for theological deduction of any kind.

The present Work is thus an entirely independent one, and in no sense an edition of Cruden, either in its plan or its execution.  Its great object, as Tyndale says of his New Testament, is to enable every “PLOUGH-BOY” to know more of the Scriptures than the “ancients,” by enabling him at a glance to find out Three Distinct PointsFirst, What is the original Hebrew or Greek of any ordinary word in his English Bible: Second, What is the literal and primitive meaning of every such original word: and Third, What are thoroughly true and reliable parallel passages.[bolds, caps, and italics in original]5)Robert Young, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody MA: reprint 2008), Excerpts from Prefatory Notes to the First Edition

Indeed, it is important to do our own individual research for defining words as we will identify in this article.

In the classic Greek authors, the pagan notion of death was the soul separating from the body. Perhaps the most influential Greek texts was Homer’s Odyssy which described, “the appointed way with mortals when one dies. For the sinews no longer hold the flesh and the bones together, but the strong might of blazing fire destroys these, as soon as the life leaves the white bones, and the spirit, like a dream, flits away, and hovers to and fro.”6)Homer, The Odysses 11.218-22; The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919.  accessible at The Greek philosopher Plato also had a major influence on the classic Greek period for pagan thinking. In Plato: “Death is frequently defined precisely in terms of the separation of soul and body, seen as something to be desirable.”7)N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN: 2003), p. 49 Plato writes in Gorgias 524b: “death, as it seems to me, is actually nothing but the disconnection of two things, the soul and the body, from each other.”8)Plato, Gorgias 524b; Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 3 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967; accessible at N. T. Wright further identified:

Many lines of Platonic thought led straight in this direction. The immortal (and perhaps even divine) soul is imprisoned in the unsuitable body, forgetting its origin in the process….

Who were the dead, for Plato? They were souls who had been released from their temporary embodiment.9)N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN: 2003), p. 52

According to N. T. Wright, this pagan view of death is quite contrast to the Jewish view as identified in the Hebrew Scripture. “Death itself was sad, and tinged with evil. It was not seen, in the canonical Old Testament, as a happy release, an escape of the soul from the prison-house of the body. This, of course, is the corollary of the Israelite belief is the goodness and god-givenness of life in this world.”10)N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN: 2003), p. 91 Interestingly, BDB Hebrew lexicon never indicates “separation” as a definition for מוּת  “die” or מָוֶת “death.”11)Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Claredon Press: Oxford, 1980, p. 559-560

The first mention of death is in Genesis 2:17 with the phrase “thou shall surely die.” In Hebrew the root מוּת “die” appears twice as a Qal infinitive absolute verb form followed by a Qal imperfect verb, in the second person, masculine, singular:

תָּמֽוּת מ֥וֹת

This doubling of the verb form is described as “an adverb of emphasis.”

Here the infinitive typically precedes (though it can sometimes follow) a finite verbal form of the same verbal root. When the main verb is indicative in mood (a simple statement of fact), English adverbs indicating certainty are often adequate translation equivalent (e.g., “certainly, surely, indeed, definitely”)…. When the infinitive follows the finite verb, it usually indicates continuation or repetition of the action.12)Robert B. Chrisholm, Jr., From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI: 1998), p. 77

Discussing Genesis 2:17, Robert Chrisholm Jr. states:

The infinitive emphasizes the certainty of the following verbal idea. Some have translated the construction literally, “dying you will die,” and then proposed that two types of death are in view (spiritual and physical). This interpretation of the construction is invalid. The infinitive highlights the following concept. The point is that death (however one defines it in this context) is certain.13)Robert B. Chrisholm, Jr., From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI: 1998), p. 77

The exact same Hebrew expression is used in 1 Kings 2:42, which is clearly a reference to a physical death being what Shemei was sentenced to if he were to leave the city. The death sentence was issued the moment he left the city yet his death did not occur that exact moment, just as the case is in Genesis. A similar Hebrew phrase, “he shall surely be put to death,” is used again to express the death sentence that will occur as soon as one is condemned for committing certain crimes (Exodus 21:12, 15, 16, 17, 20). Also the Egyptians understood the judgement of God in the tenth plagues was sentencing them to death if Israel was not permitted to leave so they said “we be as dead men” (Exodus 12:33). This phrase is in the Qal active participle, which is the same construction in Genesis 20:3 where God warns Abimelech “Behold, thou art but a dead man,” which follows in context with the phrase “thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 20:7) as the same grammatical construction as Genesis 2:17 identifying these phrases as synonymous expressions of warnings. None of these are used in a spiritual sense but, rather a very physical sense of dying. Jonathan Sarfati explained the phrase of Genesis 2:17, “It doesn’t seem likely that it’s referring to ‘spiritual death’, because the punishment turned out to be an unambiguously physical death…”14)Jonathan Sarfati, The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11, Creation Book Publishers (Powder Springs, GA: 2015), p. 319 Indeed, this is obviously a very physical death as God Himself defined it to Adam when pronouncing the curse of death upon him as “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). “Kulikovsky suggest an alternative understanding as well, that this phrase [“thou shalt surely die” in Gen. 2:17] could be taken in the ingressive sense—that is, a verbal form that designates the beginning of an action, state, or event. In other words, the focus is on the beginning of the action of dying—i.e. God’s warning really means, ‘for when you eat of it you will surely begin to die.’”15)Jonathan Sarfati, The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11, Creation Book Publishers (Powder Springs, GA: 2015), p. 320; referencing Andrew Simeon Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall,, Restoration: A Biblical Theology of Creation, Christian Focus Publications (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: 2009), p. 193, n. 88 To read two types of death into this verse is not justified by the text so any attempt to impute the “separation” definition as Adam being separated from God through a spiritual death is not valid. Yet W. E. Vine used the classic Greek definition to explain this Hebrew text, defining death with the secondary sense of “the separation of man from God; Adam died on the day he disobeyed God, Gen. 2:17…”16)W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with their Precise Meaning for English Readers, Fleming H. Revell Co. (Old Tappan, NJ: 1944, 1966), Vol. 1, p. 276 But God sought Adam out from his hiding place (Genesis 3:8-11), which is hard for one to understand as such a separation. Furthermore, if this is to be understood as a “spiritual death” meaning separation from God, than Paul’s use of comparing Christ’s death with Adam would imply that Christ suffered spiritual death, meaning separation from God (Romans 5:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). This interpretation becomes theologically horrifying, although it is very popular. How can the intra-Trinitarian relationship be severed and disrupt the very nature of the immutable Triune God?

If we understand the doctrine of the Trinity properly, we will be in a position to see that saying “the Trinity is broken” amounts to saying “God does not exist.” Such a view is utterly antithetical to the Christian faith.17)Thomas H. McCall, Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters, IVP Academic (Downers Grove, IL: 2012), p. 44

The “broken-Trinity theology” is exactly how W.E. Vine understands the gospel: “The darkness symbolised, and His cry expressed, the fact that He was left alone in the Universe, He was ‘forsaken;’ cp. Matt. 27:45, 46.”18)W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with their Precise Meaning for English Readers, Fleming H. Revell Co. (Old Tappan, NJ: 1944, 1966), Vol. 1, p. 276 This is a perfect example of what Robert Young warned about, theology being read into the definitions of words.19)for a rebuttal on the “broken-Trinity  theology, see Heath Henning, “Was Christ Separated from the Father?” It is of an interest to note that for the first 14 centuries, no orthodox Christian author understood Christ being separated from the Father, but rather vehemently argued against such a conclusion as being the interpretation from Gnostic heretics. William P. Atkinson, who wrote his doctorates dissertation of the “Spiritual Death of Jesus” doctrine as espoused by the heretical Word Faith teachers, examined commentaries and determined that Martin Luther was the earliest author he was able to find teaching an actual separation. “By the time of the reformation, the approach to the cry had changed, and it was now understood as an expression of a real abandonment. Luther, quoting Matthew 27:46, wrote in terms remarkably similar in some respects to those used by Kenneth Copeland..”20)William P. Atkinson, The ‘Spiritual Death’ of Jesus: A Pentecostal Investigation, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden (The Netherlands) 2012, p. 162 This would make sense as the earliest to make such an interpretation as: 1) Gnosticism had ceased from being a threat and was thus forgotten about along with their heretical interpretation and, 2) Luther was one of the first expositors of Scripture to follow the heels of the new Greek lexicons produced by the humanists movement of the Renaissance which applied classic pagan Greek definitions to the Koine Greek of the New Testament.

The ancient Greek translation of Genesis, called the Septuagint (LXX), uses the Greek word θανατω. This is derived from the word θαναος, which W. E. Vine gives the primary definition as “the separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…”21)W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with their Precise Meaning for English Readers, Fleming H. Revell Co. (Old Tappan, NJ: 1944, 1966), Vol. 1, p. 276  J. H. Thayer defines it as: “the death of the body, i.e. that separation (whether natural or violent) of soul from the body by which life on earth is ended…”22)Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Harper and Brothers (Franklin Square, NY: 1896), p. 282 immediately citing John. 11:4, 1323)W.E. Vine also cites John 11:13, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with their Precise Meaning for English Readers, Fleming H. Revell Co. (Old Tappan, NJ: 1944, 1966), Vol. 1,  p. 276; Acts 2:24; Phil. 2:27, 30; Heb. 7:2324)W.E. Vine also cites v. 23, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with their Precise Meaning for English Readers, Fleming H. Revell Co. (Old Tappan, NJ: 1944, 1966), Vol. 1,  p. 276, and 9:15 among others he does not directly relate to the idea of separation in his discussion. In addition Vine offers Heb. 2:15, 5:7 to consider this as the primary proof text of this definition. Notably, none of these references offer such a definition. They simply have the word present. But if one does not presume this definition, one would not conclude it from these verses. In other words, these lexicons are guilty of begging the question and eisegesis to prove their point. They are reading into the Biblical Greek a Pagan definition of death.  For example, Philippians 2:27 and 30 refer to Epaphroditus who “was sick nigh unto death”  which says nothing of the soul being separated from the body unless you read into the text the pagan author Epictetus who wrote in his Discourse 3:10: “For what is it to be ill? is it that you are near the severance of the soul and the body? what harm is there in this? If you are not near now, will you not afterwards be near?”25)Epictetus, The Discourses of Epictetus, with the Encheridion and Fragments. Epictetus. George Long. translator. London. George Bell and Sons. 1890; accessible at 

D. A. Carson discussed the error being made in his 1984 book Exegetical Fallacies. What he referred to as a “Semantic Obsolescence” he stated:

Here the interpreter assigns to a word in his text a meaning that the word in question used to have in earlier times, but that is no longer found within the live, semantic range of the word. That meaning, in other words, is semantically obsolete….So also in the biblical languages: Homeric words no longer found in the Septuagint of the New Testament are of relatively little interest to the biblical specialist, but a Hebrew word that means one thing at an early stage of the written language and another at a latter stage, or a Greek word that means one thing in classical Greek and another in the New Testament, can easily lead the unwary into the pitfall of this third fallacy.26)D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, Baker Book House, Grand Rapid, MI: 1984 fifth printing 1988), p. p. 34-35

In the more recent and scholarly lexicons such as TDNT27)Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. Gerhard Kittel; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley) WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1964-1976) Vols. 10; θανατοσ is discussed in Vol. 3, pp. 7-21 and  BDAG28)A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979) θανατοσ is discussed on pp. 350-351 no reference to separation is indicated outside of classic Greek pagan authors. The only modern lexicon work I am aware of defining death as separation is Spiros Zodhiates, which is a perfect example of how being dependent on older lexicons caused him to inaccurately define the word. He acknowledges four lexicons for his Greek work: John Parkhurst, A Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament (1767); R. C. Trench,  Synonyms of the New Testament (1876); Hermann Cremer, Biblical-Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (189); and W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (1940).29)Spiros Zodhiates, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, AMG Publishers (Chattanooga, TN: 1991), p. 1679

If “death” can truly be defined as “separation,” then a simple test may be suggested: replace the word “death” and all its relevant synonyms—“die,” “dead,” “mortify,” “sleep,” etc.—with the word “separation” and see if it makes sense in all of its usages. Furthermore, use the word “separation” and replace it with “death” wherever it appears to see how much sense it makes. Why is αφοριζω “separated” not defined or interpreted as synonymous with death?30) Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Harper and Brothers (Franklin Square, NY: 1896), p. 90 Consider also that the root meaning of the word “holy” is in Hebrew קֹדֶשׁ “idea of separation, withdrawal… apartness, sacredness”31) Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Claredon Press: Oxford, 1980, p. 871 and the Greek áγιος which carries the same idea as something separated or consecrated for religious purposes. Imagine calling the Holy God (Josh. 24:29) the “dead” God in contradiction to (Ps. 42:2; Matt. 16:16; 1 Tim. 4:10), or the angels crying “dead, dead, dead is the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:3), or calling the Holy Spirit (Ps. 51:11; Is. 63:10, 11; Luke 11:13; Eph. 1:13; 4:30)  the “dead” Spirit, or the Lord Jesus Christ “thy dead child” (Acts 4:27, 30), or any other such preposterous thoughts. Even the word “saints” carry this root, and therefore would not be spiritually alive, but “dead.” Consider the confusion of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology text, which states: “Death is a temporary cessation of bodily life and a separation of the soul from the body.”32)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapid, MI: 2000), p. 816 But if death is separation of body and soul, than both the body and soul are defined as dead. The Lord promised those who believe on Him “hath ever lasting life” (John 5:24), which is a present tense position with no end in sight. Grudem recognizes this when he sites Matthew 22:32, saying, “thus implying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were living even at that very moment, and that God was their God.”33)Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan (Grand Rapid, MI: 2000), p. 822 To justify these two statements, Grudem would have to say there are two types of living as there are two deaths. Is the first living defined as union of soul and body and the second soul being united to God? Such a phrase as second life is foreign to Scripture. But than what does it mean to be alive unto “God” (Romans 6:11, 13)? This phrase would be synonymous with judicial justification. Upon salvation, one is judicially justified of their sins in God’s eyes. Thus they are no longer under condemnation as their sins have been justified. Death is the penalty of sin, so in God’s eyes, death is no longer the penalty hanging over someone. They are now made alive in God’s eyes instead of being dead as the sentence was before being justified.

1 Corinthians 11:26-27 “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death [separation] till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” The Lord ’s Table is commemorating Christ’s physical death on the cross which is evident in the bread and grape juice representing His body and blood. This is not in remembrance of Christ’s spirit being separated from his body or His separation from this earth as we await His return.

Consider also how baptism is likened unto death (Romans 6:3). Are we baptized into His separation? What would that mean? Baptism by imersion depicts a very physical death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16 “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again… the dead in Christ shall rise first…” This is resurrection terminology, hence “died” and “dead” is clearly referring to physical death. The dead bodies of believers will be raised as Christ’s body was raised. “…physical death is not the final end but is followed by judgement (Heb. 9:27) and that physical death is thus either reversed by the resurrection or, if the resurrection of the righteous is expected, it is followed by a period of torment in hell.”34) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. Gerhard Kittel; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley) WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1964-1976), Vol. 3, p. 17 In other words, resurrection reverses death by physically raising the body. If resurrection reverses death (separation from the body) then how are we to understand the second death unless one denies the resurrection of the unregenerate?  When the first death is reversed how can a second one carry any meaning especially in light of the fact that this is all presented in a very physical description? To present it in mathematical concepts: “first death” minus “first death” because it is being reversed (1-1=0); and to add to this another death would not equal a second death (1-1=0, 0+1=1).

Consider for example, “the second death” (Revelation 20:14) as commonly described with the term “spiritual death” meant to be understood as separation from God for eternity. Note the phrase “spiritual death” is not found in the Bible 35)though the concept is valid Matt. 8:22; 1 Tim. 5:6; 1 John 3:14 granting most verses cited as proof texts can easily be understood as physical death. For example, BDAG references John 8:51; Rom 7:10, 24; Matt. 4:16; Luke 1:79; James 1:15; 5:20 which I find no reason to understand as spiritual death and seems to be reading Philo into the Bible at these verses. see Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979) p. 351, 2a, and that the “second death” is defined as “the lake of fire.” Revelation previously states that those suffering in the lake of fire are “in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10-11). The most commonly cited passage to claim hell is eternal separation from God is the phrase in 2 Thessalonians 1:9—“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary states, “Separation from the Lord’s presence (lit., ‘face’) is the essence of eternal punishment.”36) John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, Victor Books, 1987, p. 716 The interpretation of this verse hangs upon how the word απο “from” is to be understood. It could be understood as the punishment being “separation from” the presence of the Lord as Paul uses the word in 2 Thessalonians 3:2, 3, 6; or it could be understood as the punishment is “coming from” the presence of the Lord according to the use of the word in 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 7, 2:2, 13, 3:18. If it is interpreted as “separation from,” it causes a contradiction with Revelation 14:10! Through the process of elimination we are forced to understand it as punishment is “coming from” the presences of the Lord at His coming. The grammar of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 also proves judgement comes from the Lord’s presence is how it should be understood when compared to the Old Testament usage. One example is Numbers 16:46 which states, “there is wrath gone out from the Lord” (יָצָ֥א הַקֶּ֛צֶף מִלִּפְנֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה) which literally translates “wrath has gone forth from the face of Jehovah.”37)the Hebrew Scripture verse is Numbers 17:11 Similarly, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament also renders it “for wrath went out from the face of the Lord” (ἐξῆλθε γὰρ ὀργὴ ἀπὸ προσώπου Κυρίου)38)LXX is also enumerated as Numbers 17:11 which corresponds to the Paul’s expressions, “everlasting destruction from the presence (lit. “face”) of the Lord” (ὄλεθρον αἰώνιον ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ Κυρίου) (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Craig Keener explains,

The “face of the Lord” represents his presence (e.g., Gen 3:8; 2 Cor 3:18), essentially (like his name) his person (Jdt 4:11; 1 Pet 3:12). Judgment comes from there (Num 16:46 [17:11 LXX]; 2 Thess 1:9); God’s face is so awesome as to have dramatic effects (Judg 5:5). Thus one may contrast the negative repercussions of the Lord’s showing his face in some passages (Isa 2:10, 19, 21; 2 Thess 1:9).39)Craig S. Keener, Acts An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 3:1-14:28, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2013), Vol. 2, p. 1109

2 Corinthians 5:14 “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died [separated]for all, then were all dead [separated]:  and that he died [separated]for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died [separated] for them, and rose again.” Here again we find an emphasis on resurrection as contrasted to death. This would constrain us to interpret “resurrection” and or “life” to mean “union” or “reunion” further making many passages meaningless. But note that if separation is to be understood for death, than the death of Christ being the atonement for sin would be sufficient without the shedding of blood. If death is to be understood in a very physical sense, then the physical element of blood would carry its rightfully emphatic position that Scriptures identify (Hebrew 9:12; 9:18; 9:22 10:19; 13:20; Matthew 26:28; Colossian 1:14; 1:20; Roman 5:9; 1 Peter 1:18- 19; Revelation 1:5; 5:9; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:7).

To be sure, there are many passages that seem to indicate “separation” as a legitimate definition, but it needs to be universal, not just in some or even the majority of the usages of such words. Genesis 35:18 and verse 29 can be sited here, referring to Rachel’s soul departing upon death and Isaac who gave up the ghost. Ecclesiastes 12:7 speaks of the spirit returning to God upon death. However, none of these verses say specifically that “death is separation,” though they may be interpreted to say as much. These passages that give such an allusion are not being denied but viewed in a “cause and effect” relationship. If I throw a ball, it will fly through the air (unless I throw like a girl in which it would fall to the ground), but the word “throw” is not to be interpreted as synonymous or defined as “fly” (or “fall”). “Throwing” is the cause and “flying” (or “falling”) is the effect. Thus death is the cause of the soul departing (or vice versa); but they are not the same thing.

The word “deadly” as in poisons (Mark 16:18; James 3:8), deadly wounds (Rev. 13:3, 12) seems hard to interpret as separation. In Hebrew Scripture “deadly destruction” (2 Sam. 5:11), and “deadly enemies” (Ps. 17:9).

The personification of “death” would seem very odd if defined as “separation” (Rev. 6:8).

In 1 Samuel 30:12 states “his spirit came again to him” of an Egyptian after eating some food. He obviously was not dead. Josephus uses a similar expression in his discussion of Esther. When she was to come before the king without invitation and thereby risking her life, Josephus expressed her under such great distress as to have her soul leave.

…when he [i.e. the king] looked at her somewhat severely, and with a countenance on fire with anger, her joints failed her immediately, out of the dread she was in, and she fell down sideways in a swoon… And after she had recovered herself by these encouragements, she said, “My lord, it is not easy for me, on the sudden, to say what hath happened, for so soon as I saw thee to be great, and comely, and terrible, my spirit departed from me, and I had no soul left in me.”40)Josephus, Antiquitites of the Jews, Book XI, Chap. VI, sect. 9; The Complete Works of Josephus (Trans. William Whiston), Kregel Publicaions (Grand Rapids, MI: 1981), p. 240

Paul’s phrase “as dying” (2 Corinthians 6:9) would be hard for anyone to interpret as separation by anyone placed in this context.

Romans 4:19 throws the whole idea of separation out of a possible meaning. “And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” So does this mean Abraham did not think his body was separated when he was a hundred? or Sarah’s womb separated from her? Did Sarah have a hysterectomy since her womb was separated?

Of Nabal it is said “his heart died within him” (1 Samuel 25:37). If “died” means separation than how can it be “within him”? Especially since he actually died ten days later (1 Samuel 25:38).

Consider also Scriptural use of death in such symbolic language as referring to plants (Job 14:8-9; John 12:24; 1 Cor. 15:36; Jude 1:12) which uses the Greek word αποθανη, Job uses מוּת. The “twice dead” tree in Jude may be understood as a tree dying with it’s roots in the ground (as in Job 14:8) then being plucked up by the roots as in separating it from the ground being the second death of the tree. But what was actually separated during the first death? Would it be it’s withered fruits that it is “without?” However, the passages in John 12:24 and 1 Cor. 15:36 indicate sowing dead seeds brings life. The analogy of plants dying in Scriptures would cause confusion to force the definition of “separation” into “dead.”

Another significant word is the Greek word νεκρος “dead.” The most common verse discussed as proof that “death” means “separation” is James 2:17, 20, 26, specifically verse 26 which uses this word. This passage is using the analogy of a dead body being without a soul is dead to explain the theological message that faith without works is dead. To understand the theological message properly we need to accurately identify what “dead” means in the physical analogy. If “dead” means “separation” it would imply there was previously a union—a living person existed as soul and body united, and then died being a separation of soul and body, hence “dead.” Now the theological message would stand that faith and works were once united expressing a truly regenerated individual, but the works became separated from the faith so the individual’s faith is now dead. This definition of “dead” would only allow an Arminian theology to be interpreted from this passage. Dead faith would express a loss of salvation. However, the entire passage is to be understood as a true saving faith produces works so faith and works cannot be separated. If one professes to be saved but shows no evidence of salvation through works, that person was never saved to begin with. Saving faith is always coupled with repentance which manifests a transformation of one’s life through their actions (Matt. 3:8, cf. Luke 3:10-14).

The LXX use νεκρον to describe “dead bodies” (Jer. 33:5). This seems meaningless if “dead” means separation. The New Testament uses the word πτωματα (Rev. 11:8, 9) which simply means “lifeless” or “corpse.” The Jewish thought expressed in the apocryphal text Wisdom of Solomon speaks of a “dead [νεκρον] image, that hath no breath” (Wisd. 15:5)41)The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff), Barnes & Noble Inc. (New York, NY:1992), p. 148. Was this idol separated from its breath or soul? The idea of dead idols is expressed in Ps. 115:4-8 and 1 Thess. 1:9 which reveal true repentance from worshipping dead idols contrasted with the living and true God whom the former pagans turned too.

In Rev. 16:3 the sea becomes red “as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.” What is blood of a separated man? Here, the phrase “living soul” is contrasted to “died” and would cause us to interpret “living” as “united” if “died” is “separated.” This would also cause us to ignore other factors such as the word “soul” often times indicates the whole individual, not just the immaterial essence. Such would resort to the Platonic dichotomy of soul versus body which is not always how Scriptures use the word “soul.” An example is in Leviticus 17:12 where the soul is able to eat, obviously indicating the whole man body and soul.

The word “sleep” or “slept” is often used to mean “death” (Ps. 13:3). Godly kings sleep with their fathers (1 Kings 1:21; 2:10) as do ungodly kings (1 Kings 14:20), which means they were buried in a near proximity of their ancestors. Clearly “sleep” is a reference of a very physical death. The claim that only those who are saved are represented as sleeping with death is false. Dan. 12:2 reveals “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” “Sleep” here is “death” and “awake” is “resurrection” which is applied to both the saved and those who are damned. This passage, as well as 1 Thess. 4: 14 depicts a very physical dead body described with “sleep,” contrasted with “awake” depicting resurrection. This contrast, again, would force us to define resurrection/awake as unite or reunion if “death” means “separation.”

Romans 6:23 gives us another great insight on the meaning of death. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We have here a antithetical chiastic structure. The first half of the verse is contrasted with the second half.

Wages… sin… death…

Gift… God… life….

Thus defining “death” is evident as the opposite of the definition for “life.” “Wages” is something earned through work, contrasted to “gift” something given freely. “Sin” is diametrically opposed to the holy “God.” Sin is the works we have preformed to earn the wages which is death. God is who provided this free gift of life. The definition of “death” weighs in on the understanding of the Greek preposition εν translated as “through.” If “death” was to be understood as separation, this word would need to be translated as “with” meaning “life” is defined as being “with” Jesus Christ in the sense of being united with Christ expressing the opposite of “death” being separated from God. The word can be commonly translated as “in” as many modern Bible version render the verse. However, such a translation is wrong. Grammatically it is acceptable, but the exegetical expression is indicating the God has provided eternal life through the means of Jesus Christ who paid the wage of sin with His death. This gift was paid in full by Christ. The following verse use the Greek preposition εν as translated “through” to express salvation provided by the means of Christ – Rom. 3:25; 6:11, 24; Gal. 3:14; Eph. 2:7. It is significant to note the immediate context, that within the same chapter Romans 6, the same word is used to identify the same thought “alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). This was the message of the early church, preaching that the resurrection was “through” the works of Christ (Acts 4:2) and there is no other name “whereby” (εν) we can be saved (Acts 4:12). The meaning of Romans 6:23 is explaining the one time receiving of the free gift of salvation through Christ; not the progress of sanctification as our position “in” Christ after getting saved which is the discussion of Romans 8 where εν is translated as “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1, 2). All the verses which translate εν as “through” are (Matt. 9:34; Luke 1:65; 10:17; 11:15; 11:18; John 17:11; 17:17; 17:19; 20:31; Acts 4:2; Rom 1:24; 3:7;3:25; 6:11;6:23; 15:13;15:17; 15:19; 2 Cor. 11:3; Gal. 3:14; 5:10; Eph. 2:7; 2:22; Phil. 4:7; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2:16; Titus 1:3;Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1:6; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1:2; 1:4; 2:3; 2:18; 2:20; Rev. 8:13). The same concept is expressed, that salvation is “through” Christ, often with a different Greek preposition δια (Acts 15:11; Romans 3:24; 5:1, 11, 21; 1 Cor. 4:15; 15:57; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 4:7; Titus 3:6; Heb. 10:10). The point of the passage is that eternal life is given as a free gift from God being provided by, i.e. through, the works of Christ because our own works can only earn us death. Properly understood, this verse provides a great definition of “death” not being separation.

Defining “death” as “separation” obviously has a dramatic effect on our theology if we hold to it dogmatically and consistently. It may sound good in popular preaching, but lest we preach pragmatically, it is exegetically and theologically wrong and therefore ought to be avoided. Let every reader of this article and student of Scripture test more thoroughly for themselves whether “death” and the various terms that carry the concept can be consistently defined as “separation.”