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Is Death an Appropriate Punishment for Sin?

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

In today's society the word "sin" has become taboo. It's almost as offensive or is as offensive to some, as racism itself. The word "sin" smacks of bigotry and close-mindedness. In that way it makes sense to many modern thinkers that it would belong to a group of religious Christian bigots. After all, who could sentence someone to death for eating a piece of fruit? Who would require the death of an innocent in order to forgive sins?

By the end of this post I hope to show why death, instead of being some arbitrary punishment that God randomly chose, is a necessary consequence of sin and is actually unavoidable.

What is sin?

First, we have to do a little investigation as to what sin even is. The Hebrew word in the Old Testament for sin is ḥāṭā' and the Greek word in the New Testament is hamartia. Both words roughly mean, "to miss the mark". To sin is to miss or wander from the way, or to stumble in the path of morally correct behavior or thinking. (1)

What's particularly important to note is that Bible teaches that we sin against God, of course, but we also sin against our fellow human beings. Some people are surprised to hear that but sin isn't limited to actions against God. And sin as actions against our fellow humans is actually a common theme throughout the Bible.

The very first time we see the word "sin" is in Genesis chapter 4. Cain is jealous of the favor Abel had won and God warns Cain saying, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” And we all know what Cain does to Abel. The sin that God was talking about there manifested itself in Cain's murderous violence against his brother.

We also see this concept in the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments are focused on God. Then the remaining six are focused on humans. And again, we all know the many, many laws meant to elaborate on what those commandments looked like for the Israelites. But even the Ten Commandments are an elaboration on just two commands:

"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Deuteronomy 6:5


“ Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." Leviticus 19:18

Of course, Jesus brings them together succinctly in Luke 10:27, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

What I'm trying to show here is that, according to the Bible, "missing the mark" is understood simply as failing to love.

What kind of "love" is this?

It is the type of love that God expresses. Many regard love as God's basic attribute, the very nature or definition of God. In general, God’s love may be thought of as His eternal giving and sharing of Himself.(2) Paul does a great job defining this type of love in 1 Corinthians 13:

"Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Failing to love damages relationships because it causes a separation between the people involved. Complete separation is the ultimate consequence of sin. And as the NET Bible points out, "Death is essentially separation. To die physically means separation from the land of the living, but not extinction. To die spiritually means to be separated from God. Both occur with sin, although the physical alienation is more gradual than instant, and the spiritual is immediate, although the effects of it continue the separation." (3)

Therefore, when God told Adam, "... you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” He is warning Adam of the consequences of disobeying God. Choosing not to obey God is choosing not to love God.


Part of truly loving someone is respecting their boundaries. When someone establishes a boundary it is an act of love to respect that boundary. Especially when they have consistently proven to have pure intentions and to have abundant wisdom. To doubt that God has good intentions or that God is withholding something good without a good reason, is to fail to love God. It is to sin against God and that is what Adam and Eve did in the garden. They doubted that God had good intentions for withholding the fruit and so failed to love God by disobeying Him and damaged their relationship with God. Their actions caused them to be separated from God. In doing what they did, they brought both sin and death into God's perfect world.

In conclusion, when Jesus rebukes the sadducees saying, "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living," Jesus is making a comment to the status of those individual's relationship with God. But we all die as a result of our sin (Rom 7:9). So what can an all-powerful and perfectly loving God do to restore His relationship with us? I'll be talking about that in a later blog post.

"If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?" -1 Samuel 2:25


  1. Millard Erickson, Systematic Theology (p. 262)

  2. NET Bible, Genesis Chapter 2, Note 55

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