Death Is Covenantal
There came in Eden a calamitous intensity to the experience of pain and death due to "the fall" – literal pain and death were part of the equation of life in the Garden pre sin. This can be deduced from the fact that God said: "I will greatly increase your sorrow…" Gen 3:16. "…And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" Gen 3:22.
Both these verses strongly imply both pain and death to be present before Adam and Eve transgressed. To increase pain presupposes its prior presence; as does likewise the potential to "live forever" indicate that up until that point physical death was indeed a factor in creation. Consider also the decomposition [biological death] of plant life that sustained them both – there was death-life in action in Paradise.
Gen 2:17 "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die"
Reflecting the Hebrew tense, Young's Literal Translation reads "…dying thou dost die." The literal Hebrew rendering of Gen 2:17 is "dying die." The differences in verbal tensing do not affect this Hebraism i.e., Hebrew idiom – a form of expression having a significance other than the literal one. In the Hebrew, when a word or short phrase is sequentially repeated it intensifies or strengthens its given meaning, as in Jer 7:4 and Ezk 16:6 – giving it an unequivocal definitive position of certainty. For example: Jesus often said "amen! amen!" meaning "truly! truly!" i.e., "with absolute surety I say…". Gen 2:17 literally means without fear of contradiction "you SHALL die!" And in this instance, according to this verse "…in the day…" thereof. This was NOT talking about the beginnings of a "process" of biological demise, no; this verse carries a strong overtone of the immediate execution of the divine judicial sentence.
This whole issue of "death" in relation to Adam's stance before God is important to grasp. A big problem straight up front is the impasse over this whole "spiritual" versus "physical" death argument. It is an erroneous concept [Greek thinking] that has muddied the waters and brought much confusion and misunderstanding.
'Death' in the Scriptures is far more than just corporeal. In relation to our stance before God it is primarily covenantal i.e., RELATIONAL. Under the Old Covenant when someone was cast out of Israel they were out of covenant and therefore considered dead – their stance in fellowship was broken, they were out of fellowship with their brethren, the people of God, and therefore with God Himself – and this invariably due to sin. This is the "death" described in Eden, a covenantal or relational separation from God. Lk 15:11-32 reflects the truth of this brilliantly – the son that was lost [dead] is now found [alive].
Lk 15:32 "It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."
With this issue of biblical death; if by "literal" is meant "physical" then we are presented with a few problems beyond the text. Covenantal life is all about restoration i.e., resurrection from covenantal death – it was and is definitely "literal" – it's just not physical. Jesus literally meant what he said: "you must be born again" [Jn 3:7] – he just didn't mean literally as in physically. Jesus was speaking of a covenantal reality. Nicodemus who hankered after a "wooden literalism" missed the spiritual import of Jesus' words at that time. Again, in relation to man's stance before God, death was covenantal.
It was covenantal death that God in Christ rectified, thus bringing covenantal life. Just as the first Adam brought covenantal death to all mankind, so the last Adam brought covenantal life to all humanity.
Rom 11:32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.