GENESIS 2:17  


Hebrew Grammatical Study: qal infinitive absolute used for emphasis

DYING YOU SHALL DIE - Genesis 2:17

There is a common grammatical construction in the Hebrew language that expresses emphasis. It combines the qal infinitive absolute (to die or dying) with a main verb in either the imperfect or perfect tense, in order to bring special attention to the action of the main verb and give it emphasis. The context will determine the nature of that emphasis. Usually the emphasis is historical certainty which is indicated by the English word, "surely."

At Gen. 2:16, we see an example of volitional certainty - that is, the certainty of having a choice in a particular situation.

There is no grammatical basis for signaling out each of the verbal forms in this construction and giving them a different meaning. The statement does NOT mean, "dying spiritually, you shall die physically." It simply means, "you shall most certainly die!" The type of death that is in view must be determined by the context of both Genesis 3 and the rest of the Bible, and it is the determination of this writer that spiritual death is the primary concern at this point and is the initial result of Adam's sin. The consequence of physical death did indeed arise out from spiritual death and the acquisition of the sin nature, but the critical issue is loss of relationship with God, not loss of physical life. In fact, even in view of the condition of spiritual death, the consequence of physical death could have been prevented had Adam and Eve eaten from the tree of life (Genesis 3:19-24).


Gen. 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;

qal inf. absolute + qal imperfect of Akal = eating you shall eat
The emphasis is on volitional certainty.

Gen. 2:17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die."

qal inf. absolute + qal imperfect of muth = dying you shall die
The emphasis is on historical certainty.

Gen. 3:4 And the serpent said to the woman, "You surely shall not die!

qal inf. abs. + qal impf. of muth (neg. in front) = not dying you shall die.
The emphasis is on contrary historical certainty.

Gen. 17:13 "A {servant} who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

niphal inf. abs. + niph. impf. of mul = being circumcised he shall be circumcised

Gen. 18:10 And he said, "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.

qal inf. abs + qal imperfect of shub = returning, I will return

Gen. 18:18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?

qal inf. abs. + qal imperf. of hAyAh = becoming, he will become

Gen. 20:7 "Now therefore, restore the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live. But if you do not restore {her,} know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours."

qal inf. abs. + qal imperf. of muth = dying he shall die

This is the same construction that occurs at Gen. 2:17.

Gen. 26:11 So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, "He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."

qal inf. abs. + hophal imperfect of muth = dying, he shall be killed.

Gen. 30:16 When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, "You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son's mandrakes." So he lay with her that night.

qal inf. abs. + qal perfect of sAchar = hiring I have hired

Gen. 32:12 "For Thou didst say, 'I will surely prosper you, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'"

hiphil inf. abs. + hiph. imperfect of yAtabh = prospering, I will prosper

Gen. 37:33 Then he examined it and said, "It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!"

qal inf. abs. + pual perfect of tAraph = being torn, he was torn

Gen. 44:28 and the one went out from me, and I said, "Surely he is torn in pieces," and I have not seen him since.

qal inf. abs. + pual perfect of tAraph = being torn, he was torn

Gen. 50:24 And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob."

qal inf. abs. + qal impf. of pAqad = visiting (aiding), he will visit (aid).

Gen. 50:25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, "God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here."

qal inf. abs. + qal impf. of pAqad = visiting (aiding), he will visit (aid).



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