Adam and Eve were warned that “in the day they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die.” What does this mean, for clearly they did not physically die on that day?
The most common response to this question is that Adam and Eve experienced spiritual death in that day. It is certainly true that something spiritual clearly happened when they disobeyed- there seemed to be a shame and fear of God which immediately emerged in chapter 3, as well as blaming one another for the sin. So clearly the concept of spiritual death may be seen there. However, is the heavily theological concept of death referring to a spiritual separation from God really the concept which was originally intended by the phrase “you shall surely die”?
By the end of chapter 3, there is clearly a reference to physical death- “dust you are and to dust you shall return”. Clearly this is the culmination of the consequences of the sin, and the fulfillment of the warning. As a result, I prefer to read the phrase “in the day” as having an idiomatic sense of the certainty of the consequence (for example, as seen in Ex 10:28, 1 Samuel 3:12, 1 Kings 2:37).