Genesis 3:6-7 - "6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves."
Genesis 1:6-7 is arguably the most pivotal passage in scripture. It is the moment when the Original Sin is committed, and God's ultimate consequence enters the world...
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree
was good for food and pleasing to the eye,
and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
And they both died, just as God as had promised (Genesis 2:17, 3:3).
Or did they?
7a Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they realized they were naked
It seems that -- given a straightforward reading of scripture -- on the one hand, God promised Adam that he would immediately die if he ate from the Tree of Knowledge. On the other hand, Adam did not immediately physically die.
How does one reconcile the timing of Adam's physical death with the commission of his sin?
If one believes the earth is young, then this is when physical death entered the world. Admittedly, Adam and Eve did not die immediately, but their bodies started to age; the dying process had begun.
If one believes the earth is old, then physical death has been in the world since life formed. The death Adam experienced upon sinning was spiritual... a separation from God. This death was the one God warned of. It was immediate and universal. As for Adam's physical death, it occurred later, and was a logical consequence of his sin, but his separation from God was the punishment.
Adam's Physical Death
According to scripture, Adam would have lived forever if he had not sinned (Genesis 3:22). But, he did sin (Genesis 3:6), and eventually he did die...
5 Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years... - Gen. 5:5a
And it is easy to show that his death was connected to his punishment for having sinned...
22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.
He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword
flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. - Gen. 3:22-24
God could have said, "The man has sinned, and so must not be able to live." But instead, God essentially said, "The man knows sin, and so must not be able to live forever." That is quite different, and shows concern over what a sinner would do with a Tree of Life. God also made this statement after pronouncing Adam's punishment... a life of turmoil. By cutting Adam off from the Tree of Life, God was preventing Adam's turmoil from lasting forever, and was guaranteeing Adam's resurrection later. No, cutting Adam off was not in anger, but in wisdom.
Adam's Punishment was to Live
Before speaking the order to His angel that would guard the Tree of Life against Adam's return, God told Adam what the punishment for his disobedience would be...
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you,
'You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Verse 19 connects Adam's toiling in the dust to the fact that he is dust. His life in the Garden was now over. Gone were the days of righteousness that comes from living without sin, fellowshipping with God (Genesis 3:8), and living free from self-imposed limits (Genesis 3:11). Adam would now live separated from God, toiling in the dust, sweating in it, eating from it, until he died. Death would eventually bring relief. In fact, one day Christ would preach to Adam in death (Luke 16:22-23), resurrect him (Daniel 12:2, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22), and grant him eternal life in Heaven (Revelation 20:12) where God will restore Eden and the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:1-5). Physical death would lead Adam to eternal life in Heaven, renewing his communition with God. In the meantime, his life on earth would be miserably separate from God... a separation passed on to us, but reconcileable through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:12).*
Based on the scriptures, it would seem that Adam started out mortal... he needed the Tree of Life to live forever. This suggests that physical death was already part of the design for this world. Then, Adam sinned and God punished him with the chore of toiling in the dust for the rest of his life, separated from God (until he died at 930 years of age). In the meantime, Adam still knew where the Tree of Life was, and his sinful nature made this an untenable situation. So, God placed an angel by the tree to guard it against Adam. Eventually Adam died and saw Christ at Abraham's Bosom. Like others with faith in Christ, Adam will later resurrect, and God will let him into Heaven when his name is read from the Book of Life.
* Adam dates to 4336 BC, the beginning of the Ubaid 3/4 period. The archaeological sites that tell us of this time are located in the NE corner of Iraq, at the edge of the mountains where Noah would eventually go to build his ark. These cites reveal a culture of dry farming, quite punishing for someone who may have come from the more southern Ubaid 2 sites along the Tigris. It suggests a connection to the migration of mankind (northward), evident within the archaeological evidence, and consistent with a primitive's notion of paradise (Eden) and punishment (cursed ground, leading to dry farming).
12/23/2011 - Corrected typo
1/30/2012 - Added footnote about Adam's origins