The Lord God said to our father Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:17). Why then did not Adam and Eve die on the same day they ate of the tree?
It seems that the question concentrates on the death of the body alone, whereas there are other kinds of deaths which our forefathers died on that same day:
1. There is moral death, by which our forefathers lost the divine image they had in the likeness of God (Gen 1:26, 27). After Adam had sinned, God said to him, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19). Thus, Adam became dust after having been in God’s image. This moral death appears also in Adam’s being sent out of the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:23). As a consequence of this moral death, Adam lost the purity and innocence he had before eating of the tree and he got the knowledge of evil and became aware that he was naked (Gen 3:21).
2. There is also spiritual death, which is separation from God.
Adam became afraid from God and began to hide from His face and stand before Him as guilty and sinful. Sin is indeed death as the father said about his lost son, “For this my son was dead.” (Luke 5:24). The apostle also described the widow who lives in pleasure as dead while she lives (1 Tim 5:6). When Adam fell in sin, he deserved the description given afterwards to the Angel of the Church in Sardis, “You have a name that you are alive but you are dead.” (Rev 3:1). It was not the death of the body but spiritual death as that by which the widow who lives in pleasure was described.
3. Adam and Eve were also under sentence of eternal death.
That was the reason for being prevented by God from eating from the tree of life (Gen 3:22).
When he died, he went to Hades and waited for the salvation of Christ.
4. As for the death of the body, it began to work in Adam and his nature became mortal.
His nature became mortal from the moment he ate from the tree as we say in the Holy Mass, “The death that entered into the world by the envy of Satan.”
However, this death delayed for the following reasons:
+ If Adam had died at that same moment, all of humanity would have perished and have no existence. We would have not been born, nor he who asked this question. But God had blessed Adam and Eve and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28).
+ The blessing of multiple offspring must have come true because God is faithful even if we are faithless.
+ The coming of this offspring would give a chance for the coming of the Virgin from the offspring of Adam and Eve and the coming of the Lord Christ born from Her by whom salvation will be given and in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 3:15, 22:18).
Postponing death was then necessary that the Lord Christ may come and effect salvation.
However, this postponement does not mean that the sentence of death was not executed fully and at that same time as aforementioned.