They were dead. Adam and Eve. But not really.
There is some confusion about the verb 'die' in Genesis 2 and 3. God uttered a death threat to Adam, conditioned on consuming a fruit from the tree of moral knowing (Genesis 2:17). The devil challenged the Divine ultimatum: "You will not surely die, but your eyes will be opened."
And they didn't die. At least, not on cue. In fact, from a cursory reading, the devil's contention appears more integral than God's prediction.
Were I encountering Genesis 3 for the first time, I would expect Adam and Eve to slump to the ground like Princess Aurora at the prick of her finger on her Sweet Sixteen. I would expect them to melt like wax like the German raiders who peered into the Lost Ark. I would expect them to vanish behind the Death Chamber veil like Sirius Black.
But they did not die. Rather, they stood--naked and aware. Then they hid--fig-leafed and ashamed. Their breath continued ascending; their hearts continued pumping; their neurological synapses continued firing.
Did God lie? Did He withhold information? Or is the answer to these and similar questions buried in the minutiae of Hebrew lexicography?
First of all, if it takes a certified Hebrew scholar to answer a given theological question, I fear circumcision may become preferable to hermeneutics. Dead is dead is dead. For the sake of the curious, all three occurrences in the Creation and Fall narratives (2:17; 3:3-4) employ the same verb. (Good job Bible translators, you steered us right!)
Second, time is non-sequential for God. His declarations are anachronistic. For mankind, the phrases ...when you eat of it and ...you will surely die can be separated by ages. For God, when and will are not applicable terms. This is why the Lamb of God could be slain before the foundations of the world (1 Pet. 1:19-20) and days and years are interchangeable on His calendar (2 Pet. 3:8).
Finally, words can be figurative and literal--connotative and denotative. Because death has no predecessor prior to Genesis 3, it difficult to say what God meant by death. Death as mortality (i.e., physical)? Death as an end (i.e., cessation, discontinuation, permanent break)? Theologians have opted for a both/and definition. The immediate consequence was "spiritual death," culminating chronologically in "physical death."
So perhaps dead is not dead is not dead. "....it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment..." (Heb. 9:27). So they are dead, but they are not too. As were Adam and Eve. As is each one whose lust gives way to sin, and sin miscarries into death (James 1:14-15).
Whether figurative or literal, temporal or eternal, the uncertainty of death is not intended to shackle us in fear. Paul professes that Jesus' resurrection frees us from such terror and its Satanic litigator (1 Cor. 15:55-56; Heb. 2:14). That freedom, of course, cost Jesus Christ his life. Forsaken, his spiritual death preceded his physical death (Matt. 27:46; Luke 23:46).
And now there is a new reality; the when/will of the Fall has been reversed to the now/then of Redemption. Amen.