by Matt Slick
In one sense, there was death in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve sinned, and in another sense, there was not. It all depends on how death is defined.
The first mention of death is in Genesis 2:17 when God says that the day that Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die (Gen. 2:17). Did they die the day they ate it? Yes, they did. But the death they experienced immediately was spiritual. Later physical death manifested as a consequence. The immediate death they suffered was being separated from God which was manifested by them hiding from God and eventually experiencing physical death.
We know from Isaiah 59:2 that our sins cause a separation between us and God. This is the kind of death that is most important, and that is why it is alluded to by God in Gen. 2:17. This death ultimately ends in eternal damnation out of the presence of God in hell if the person does not trust in Christ's sacrifice as a remedy for that separation. Sin has its profound effect both spiritually and physically. In physical death, there is a separation of the spirit from the body. Spiritual death there is a separation of the spirit from God. These are two different senses of the word death.
On the other hand, there would be physical death in the garden of Eden before Adam and Eve sinned. Let's say that Adam reached up to a tree and grabbed a fruit and ate it. The cells in that fruit are alive while he's chewing it. But eventually, the cells would be destroyed through the digestive process. This qualifies as a form of death because the cells are no longer living. If we take this concept and extend it a little further, it is possible to assert that there were other forms of this kind of death were present in the garden. If there were animals that were vegetarian, their consuming of the fruit would have a similar effect; that is, cellular death would have occurred.
Victory over death
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, death has no more power over him and he can never die again (Romans 6:9). Furthermore, he is the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18). As he is the first one risen, we who have trusted in him will likewise be risen from the dead. So, as a result of Christ's sacrifice and our faith in what he has done, though we will experience physical death (which is a consequence of our sin), we will not experience the spiritual death of separation from God. We have, in Christ, victory over spiritual death and ultimately go for physical death because as Jesus was risen from the dead so too will we be risen.