O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
Adam was promised the death for eating from the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil. What kind of death was it?
Some say this death was physical death. Some say this death was spiritual death. And some say this death was spiritual death followed by physical death 900-some years later.
Some believe Adam was created immortal, that, had Adam not sinned, he would never die. Does this make any sense?
Before Adam sinned, he had to eat to live.
Adam was told to name the animals. He named the lion "does violence" and the hawk, "tears flesh." (Those who will protest this need to consider that their argument also applies to naming the woman.)
Some will claim that Eden had different physics. That Eden was safe. Yet, several places, we are told, were like Eden, or like the garden in Eden. Genesis 13:10. Eden was in our physical world.
And Adam lived some 900 years after he sinned. We have a saying, "Justice delayed is Justice denied." Or as Solomon wrote, "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Ec. 8:11. Dying 900-some years after the event is not punishment for his crime.
If physical death was God's intended punishment, then the serpent was correct when he said, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When they ate, "the eyes of both of them were opened." If physical death was Adam's death, then the serpent told the truth and God was the liar. But the serpent was the liar and God told the truth. Adam died, the type of death God intended, in the day he ate. That death was not physical death.
For those who say spiritual death, what is this spiritual death they talk about? A common answer is, "Separation from God." What is that?
Was Abel separated from God? Abel appeared to have a fine relation with God, until his brother killed him. "Enoch walked with God." Was he separated from God? "Noah was a just man, perfect in his accounts. Noah walked with God." Was Noah separated from God? They were all dead in Adam, for Romans 5:14 tells us, "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned [as Adam had sinned], ..."
What really drives this idea of "spiritual death" is the interpretation that "natural" (in 1 Cor. 15:44-46) means "physical" and "spiritual" means "non-physical." (And because of this confusion, "non-physical" often means "other physical.") Adam's death wasn't physical death, therefore, it must have been non-physical death. That tells us what Adam's death isn't, not what it is or was.
Adam's death was not "separation from God." Spiritual death provides no answer to the question, What was Adam's death?"
What was Adam's Death?
To understand Adam's death, we need to look at what Adam was given, what was taken away, and what Christ restored.
1. Luke 3:38 tells us that Adam was a son of God. As Jesus was the only begotten Son, this suggests that Adam was adopted.
With that Adam was given all the things a rich man would have been expected to provide an adopted son:
2. The image of the Father.
3. The breath of life.
4. Land and wealth.
5. Work to do.
6. And a wife.
And how do we know these were lost?
1. The sons of the son are also sons of the father. Adoption into Christ is one of the themes of the New Testament. Adoption would not be needed, unless somewhere along the line, they ceased being sons. Adam's death in Genesis 3 fits.
2. In Genesis 5:3, Seth was in the image of Adam, not the image of God. The son was in the image of the father. In the New Testament, Jesus was in the image of God and we are to be conformed to that image. Without Christ, we don't have the image. Somewhere the image was lost.
(A whole theology has developed concerning the image of God. This theology is not based on Scripture, but is based on the assumption that all humans have the image and animals don't. I prefer to use Scripture, not vain philosophy to determine what Scripture means.)
3. In John 20:22, we see Jesus giving the disciples, the breath of life. Theologians have argued that the breath of life is what gives physical/biological life to all living creatures. But is that what it really means? Scripture also has God's breath. Is Scripture physically alive? God's breath doesn't give physical/biological life. It gives some other sort of life.
In Polynesian cultures, when a child is born, the father breathes the breath of life into his child. Literally he blows in the baby's face. Does this have physical significance? No. It is a declaration by the father that the child is his. When God gives the breath, He is showing what is His.
4. When Adam was thrown out of the garden, his land and wealth were given to another. In Rev. 20-21, we are given a city with streets of gold. The wealth is restored in Christ.
5. Adam's work increased. Is. 65:23 shows what this increase was. Adam became a servant. He was no longer working for himself. Eve was no longer producing sons of God. Instead Adam was working for his Master and Eve was producing more servants. In the New Heaven and New Earth this would be restored back to how it was in the garden,
6. Adam got to keep his wife. But she also lost everything and became a servant.
Adam lost all those things. Christ restored them.
The son was dead. The son became a servant. This was Adam's death.
Adam's death, on the day he ate, was not physical death. It wasn't spiritual death. God's adopted son, lost his adoption and became a servant. Those "in Adam," from that point forward were servants of God. Those "in Christ," are sons of God.