How does the Tree of Life fit in EC

I understand how the creation narrative in Genesis can be interpreted to fit within an Evolutionary Creation perspective. In such a paradigm God used Evolution to beautifully create the biodiversity that we see in nature as well as create sufficiently intelligent beings (us humans) to enter into a growing relationship of responsibility and trust with. I can see how the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil can represent both humanities willful disobedience to God’s revealed will (Sin) as well as an image of humanity choosing to determine morality for ourselves, and in the process alienating ourselves from God and suffering spiritual death as the result. Yet, in Genesis 3:22-24 God seems to be afraid of Adam and Eve reaching out and eating of the Tree of Life because they would live forever.
So my questions are as follows:

  1. What does the Tree of Life represent in the Evolutionary Creationist interpretation of Genesis 3?

  2. Why would God be afraid of Adam becoming immortal? Is God not able to prevent such an event?

  3. Physical immortality seems to run counter to natural selection and the cycling of resources and space that is required for evolution to work. If the Tree of Life is what it seems (an antidote to physical death) was it part of God’s plan for Humanity to never suffer physical death? If so why create with a method that requires physical death to begin with?

  4. If the Tree of Life is the antidote to the death that Adam suffered after sinning and that death is Spiritual death then why would God be afraid of him partaking of such a tree? Isn’t this exactly what Jesus is/does for us?

Thank you for your insight. This question is one of the only ones keeping me from feeling that my Biblical faith is compatible with the truth of evolutionary biology.

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Welcome to the Forum. I only have a couple minutes at the moment, but I’ll try to come back later. I think the tree of life imagery is really interesting because it is established in Genesis, reiterated in temple imagery, like the menorah, and it shows up again in Revelation. It is a common symbol across many Near East cultures of eternal life.

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Thank you for your time! I am interested in your input when you get the time, but no pressure!

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Hi Oren,

Welcome!

This is just my opinion. Keep in mind that while I am an evolutionary creationist, I also believe in a historic Adam, Eve, and Eden. (Although I believe Adam and Eve would have grown old and died, even without the Fall.) With that said:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Gen. 3:22)

How are we to interpret this? Superficially it sure looks like a good argument that Adam and Eve would have indeed lived forever, and so they must be denied access to the tree of life.

But I cannot see this argument as satisfactory even to those who believe Adam and Eve would have lived forever without the Fall. Surely the tree isn’t magic—eternal life comes from God, not from the fruit of a tree. It cannot be that the fruit was “magic” although many commentators and bible notes treat this verse as such. My bible has a footnote that argues that man was (paraphrasing) graciously preserved from the pain of living eternally in a fallen world. That doesn’t smell right to me, I think the explanation is elsewhere.

Although this verse always troubled me, I have learned a simple explanation that is not inconsistent with the belief that Adam and Even would have eventually died. And even for those who believe they’d have lived forever, I think it is better than the “magic fruit” view.

We begin by pointing out that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we use the same language as used for the tree of life. We talk of eternal life being found in the meal that we share . I believe the explanation for the tree of life in the garden is that it was a sacramental tree. It was a seal that signified eternal life—just like the bread and wine we partake of. The tree of life was (and will be again) the perfect seal—and for Adam and Eve to eat of it, after they became covenant breakers, would have been profane. Even in our fallen state, eating the communion bread in an unworthy manner (although the standard is much lower) is profane. God did not prevent them from eating of the tree of life after the fall because they would have literally lived forever. He prevented it because for them, in their fallen state, to partake of the sacrament signifying eternal life would have been obscene. It would take the finished work of Christ until we were once again (based on his merits) able to commune with God sacramentally.

Anyhow, that’s how I get my ducks in a row.

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Hi, Oren, and welcome!

Some are tempted to think that EC needs to have a whole new “re-tooling” of theology or scriptural understanding because after all … it’s different, right? So there’s a vague impression that there should be an “EC version” of everything which of course won’t match up to a “YEC” or other versions of the same. In some cases, that’s certainly true as in, for example, how early Genesis is understood. But even there, most scripturally knowledgeable ECs probably do not see themselves as trying to “invent something new” so much as trying to return back to reputable early understandings that were/are already in play among apostles and church fathers far prior to the reactionary modernism that innovatively [and selectively, though YECs are prone to forget that] imposes its disdain for metaphor on so much of scripture.

I’m not a theologian, but my layman’s attempt to see this (which is based on my reading of scripture and has nothing to do with whatever science I’ve happened to embrace - apart from helping me stay away from untrue readings of scripture) is that the tree of life is God’s good provision for our long-term (even eternal) welfare. As Christy already mentioned, it shows up in the eschaton as a significant source of blessing to the final new creation all put to rights. To me this represents God’s provision, not just for material needs but for all of our needs to be fulfilled in His presence. I.e. - it’s not really about the tree so much as about God. Just as when a prophet declares that “we have been saved by the arm of the Lord”, it isn’t about a fleshly super-arm somewhere, but about the Lord. The imagery is just our way of speaking of such things. So when we sin and cut ourselves off from God, we lose (in part) a significant source of blessing (life itself) that God provides. So it isn’t about a literal tree somewhere from which we have been banished. It’s about our sinful flight away from all that would do us such good. And that reading has nothing to do with how one accepts (or doesn’t) evolutionary history, though it does reject some understandings that may insist on literal trees and such.

Nothing shouts symbolism in the Bible louder than those two trees. The story does not sound like it is taking about two species of flora, and I do not believe in magical trees with fruit which gives either knowledge or eternal life. As Christy mentioned the tree of life is the easy one for many references are made to it. It is wisdom in Proverbs 3; it is the fruit of righteousness in Proverbs 11; it is a desire fulfilled in Proverbs 13; it is a gentle tongue in Proverbs 15; it is the paradise of God in Rev 2; the right to it is granted to those who wash their robes and taken away from any who alter the text in Rev 22.

To sum it all up, I believe the tree of life represents eternal life and a relationship with God. This was available in the Garden and lost in the fall.

The other tree is more difficult. It is not spoken of elsewhere in the Bible. It seems to represent some shortcut to becoming like God in some way. Having knowledge of good and evil is certainly a way in which we could be like God, but this cannot be a bad thing for imparting such knowledge seems to be the aim of all religion. I believe it represents the authority to say what is good and evil for that is a shortcut to being like God which can and has done a great deal of harm. And this is something which is very easily acquired. All you have to do is beget children.

Thanks guys! Your insight (and this community as a whole) has been instrumental in my faith journey so far.
One thought that came to mind today after posting my question is: Christ’s cross is also called the tree. It could be that the Adam was barred from the Tree of Life mentioned in Genesis because after his transgression because Christ’s blood had not been shed yet.
In the same vein as John Walton’s explaintion of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil being wisdom and Adam and Eve’s usurping of God’s process of revealing that wisdom was sinful. So then access to Christ’s righteousness (the Tree of Life) without the process of the law, prophets, Christ’s incarnation and all of redemption history would have been equally sinful. And thus God prevented Adam and Eve from compounding their sin by eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life until in the fullness of time He sent Jesus.

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Jesus was hung from a tree indeed!

From the forbidden tree of knowledge to the torture device of the Romans to the tree of life, it would seem trees figure prominently in all the great scriptural themes. Thanks for that insight!

They all are known by their fruit.

I wonder if the tree of life is symbolic of God’s presence among his people. Some OT scholars have written about the temple imagery of the Creation narrative and the elements of the Garden that were echoed in the details and layout of the temple in Jerusalem. The Garden was where God walked and talked with humanity in the cool of the evening and when they were banished from the Garden, they were effectively banished from God’s presence in some respect. The temple and sacrificial system of Judaism created a remedial way to enter the presence of God, but only the high priests were allowed and only at certain times and only after certain rituals had been properly performed.

Jesus, whose name was Emmanuel, God with Us, established a new way of experiencing God’s presence through his mediation and the gift of the Holy Spirit, (pretty much the topic of Hebrews). In John 1:14 when it talks about Jesus coming to live among us, John uses the noun for tabernacle, and coins a verb with it. So Jesus “tabernacled” among us. The tabernacle was a temporary tent that housed God’s presence as the Israelites were wandering in the desert, before the temple was built in Jerusalem.

Even though God is present in the Church, there is still the sense that the full presence of God with his people will be fully restored only in the Eschaton when those in Christ are resurrected to eternal life (which the tree symbolizes) and God comes to “dwell” with his people (Rev. 21:3). It won’t be a temporary dwelling like the tabernacle, but he’ll come to live permanently in the holy city, the new Jerusalem. Rev. 21:22 says there isn’t a need for a temple (perhaps like there wasn’t a need in the Garden, because all of creation was God’s temple): “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

Then in Revelation 22:1-3 you have the tree of life representing the restoration of Eden, only this time it’s a city not a garden, and instead of a couple, you have the “nations.” (which in Greek means ethnic groups, not states) It is interesting to me that instead of cultivated nature (that God prepared) like in the garden, we see perfected and beautified human cultural artifacts (Rev 21: streets of gold, a throne, a city, walls, gates, foundations, finished gems, geometric calculations.) In the City of God, nature and human cultural achievements meet up.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.”

So we see in Revelation that the tree of life is an important symbol of God’s presence restored, the elimination of the curse of the Garden, and the healing of the whole world. In Revelation 2:7 it is the reward for faithfulness: “I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

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This is a great question, and something I wonder about too. The creation and garden narratives are so amazingly full of symbolism that they bring me back to deep thought over and over again. It is meditation literature, after all.

Many have said something close to this already, but I believe the tree of life is symbolic of God’s presence. But I view this as a “thick” presence that you would find in, say, the holy of holies within the temple. The walled garden paradise is like a holy of holies within what you might call the “cosmic temple” of creation.

How I understand it, Adam and Eve were mortal beings from their start, indicated by being formed from dust, as we also are. However, I believe they could have lived indefinitely in the garden because of the presence of God, a life-giving and restorative force. After being kicked out of the garden, they lost access to that presence, and so death and all those other nasty things were now a reality for them. I think it fits to say that physical death was a reality outside of the garden all along, and all part of God’s good creation.

And so now that humans are aware of their vulnerabilities (covering themselves up), and therefore knowing how others are vulnerable, they can take advantage of that. So I think this knowledge of good and evil becomes a redefinition of good and evil on our own terms, and for our own gain at the expense of others. And now that we have perverted this knowledge toward suffering and pain, God isn’t going to let us linger around forever and take that suffering and pain to its logical and disastrous conclusion. So, cherubim and sword, and stay out. And in the meantime, God will work out new ways with humanity to re-establish his presence among them. Something like that.

There are more than a couple loose ends hanging from what I just said, but I hope it was helpful in some way. And if not, well, it was fun trying to sort out my own thoughts anyway.

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yep, I think trying to sort out our own thoughts is a common denominator around here.
Welcome to the forum! It is good to hear your voice, and we look forward to getting to know you better. In general, we don’t bite, and if we get a “biter” we make them stand in the corner.

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Ok… I’ll bite.

Adam and Eve mortal from the start? yes.
physical death a part of God’s good creation? yes.
I believe this world is a second womb and death a second birth into much greater universe of the spirit. Only the loss of a relationship with God and the death of the spirit makes physical death something to fear.
God a life-giving spirit? yes. But only as a source of spiritual life and that which makes an eternal existence worthwhile, and NOT as some kind of fountain of youth to make people live longer. There is nothing to support such an idea in experience of religion let alone the Bible.

Too much of a stretch, I think, and that is not what I see in the story. I see them covering up their sexual parts in shame, and that with other things points rather solidly at them doing something wrong with those parts. I know it seems this doesn’t fit with the earlier command of God to multiply. But in reality we don’t have a singular narrative but a collection of parallel narratives. Or it is like telling your children they will drive cars when they grow up, and then commanding them not to play in the road or they will die. There is a matter of timing involved.

That is a bit more like my idea that the this tree represents the authority on what is good and evil rather than authentic knowledge of good and evil – a shortcut to being like God which can cause a great deal of trouble.

So… death is a part of the natural order but not God’s plan for mankind. Sounds like an elimination of the spiritual and reduction to the physical alone which doesn’t work with the reasons I believe.

I see what y’all did there! Go stand in the corner, Mitchell, and think about what you’ve done!

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist that juxtaposition. I’m only half sure you did that on purpose. :smile:

Oh, I did. Definitely! Was deciding whether to just say nothing or launch into that personal evaluation or not. Either way was ok with me. Nothing wrong with just accepting what he said as his perspective. But if I was going to take a critical approach then I ought to at least acknowledge that I being the “bad guy,” devil’s advocate, or whatever you want to call it.

Standing in the corner. I am willing to the pay the price. :slightly_frowning_face:

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Hi Mitch, thanks for biting. :smile:

I see what you mean, and I do want to be careful about leaning too much on my assumption. Although, it doesn’t appear that the author(s) of the text were interested in making any clarification or distinction between natural and spiritual life/death.

Yes, I think death is part of the natural order. But how that ties in with God’s plan for mankind might depend on some other things. Are Adam and Eve possibly a subset of a human population who were placed in the garden, or are they used more as a literary stand-in for all of humanity? I am not really decided on my view there, but tend to see them as historical individuals.

Does anyone here have any opinions on how physical death my have been different if Adam and Eve had not yielded to the temptation to sin?
We have one opinion here:

Another here:

I lean toward the notion that Adam and Eve represent all of humanity in either a symbolic way or as in a federal headship. I also tend to think that the biological constant of physical death, that God used to create human beings he could have a relationship with, would not cease to exist in a world without sin. With all that said, does anyone have a way to understand physical death coexisting with the thick presence of God? It is hard for me to square a scenario like a tree falling on and killing a child’s father with God’s presence being unimpeded by human sin. Yet, I do not see anywhere in scripture natural disasters being considered the result of human sin. Instead, we see in Luke 13:4-5 Jesus refuting such a connection and drawing our attention to the reality of Spiritual death being worse than physical death.
I understand that we are in the realm of “speculative theology” here and none of this is doctrine per se, but I do believe it is important to understand in one’s personal theory of everything?

Yes, exactly. Well-put. And I think this idea works both if you think Eden was an actual physical place and Adam and Eve were historical figures and if you think the narrative is a symbolic way of communicating the truth about the relationship God had with humanity “in the beginning.”

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I am not seeing the reason for needing imagery mixed in with literal accounts. There really is nothing special about imagery when we already accept Adam and Eve were just as literal as Jesus and the Cross. Yet we associate even the cross with lots of imagery.

Trying to figure out their meaning and how they associate with life is not a sin or wrong, but does that change the fact that they were literal and had a literal purpose? They were not magical either. Their purpose brought an end to a reality if they were eaten from. The Tree of Life would only change reality after eating from the other tree, but it could be freely eaten from before such time, because it did not change reality one iota. The reason for not eating after reality changed was the point it was not a simple justifiable task to change reality back to a previous condition. One reason being that Adam and Eve were still tasked with having offspring and their offspring would have to live with the consequences of their parents actions.

I do not get the big deal about trying to wish away reality by claiming the two trees were not literal, but only symbolic. There still has to be a single point in time that a single action would change reality for all those living on earth at that time. Perhaps a reality that does not fit into evolution of species, and one that should not be accepted on the very basis of God allowing humans to get to a point in human evolution just to prevent a condition one had just arrived at?

To those who accept change over time, a single action in time may not be palatable? Jesus death and resurrection was not a drawn out and evolutionary act needing long periods of physical time, so we have proof that God can and does change reality as God’s plan based around short instances of physical reality. We also see that humans cannot keep covenants with God and evolve away from the spiritual side of reality, and base their knowledge on the physical side only. I do not ever see the physical evolving into a better spiritual being. That can only take an act of God. At this point in reality the spiritual can only be worked out of the physical condition, by a definite choice each human has to make on a constant basis. In Paul’s day, it was daily. Now it is probably hourly or even more often. The Tree of Life would be that means for us to avoid making a physical choice, but just eat and be changed. An action not based on free will, but perhaps an escape from having to deal with the choices we do make. It seems to me if looking at the evolutionary process, the tree would represent an arrival of sorts, where change was no longer needed but fixed, such a tree may make perfect sense. To me though it was a choice more binary than most would care to admit. It would ever be a literal choice that was rejected for a more tempting one.

When the book is The Lord of the Rings, everything is accepted as is stated because it is just a fantasy. But the Bible is supposed to about the real world in which we live – a world in which there are no fruits which give knowledge or eternal life, the Earth is 5 billion years, and,the universe is 13.8 billions old. So if you really want to see this book as other than a marvel comic or sci-fi novel then it is natural to resort to symbolism, especially when it starts naming objects with abstraction like knowledge and life. In Matthew 13 the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables where seeds are more than just features of plant reproductive processes. He explains that if people want to close their eyes and ears with literal interpretations then God apparently want them to have the freedom to do so. Why? Because truth isn’t of universal benefit to everyone. Sometimes, like the general says in A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth.”

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I am definitely with MeanderTall on this one. I also see them as historical persons and see no reason not to. But that is because I don’t take seriously the idea of them as the sole genetic progenitors of mankind for even one second – let alone credit the idea that God is some ancient necromancer making golems of dust and bone. So… Historical? Yes. Literal. No. And that means that some of the story here is metaphorical and symbolic. So the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil don’t sound even a little bit like species of flora. Nor is the tree of life treated as such in the rest of the Bible. So why in the world would we treat the other tree any different?

Though to give details… I see Adam and Eve as human individuals selected out of population of homo-sapiens by God speaking to them, and that the ideas God shared gave birth to the human mind, which is a self-organizing manifestation derived from language and ideas – a living organism in a medium other than biochemistry, meme life rather than gene life. Then… ideas spread a great deal faster than genetics, and the result is a human kind with a memetic inheritance from God through Adam and Eve, and in that sense the children of God. This is even though our genes come from a somewhat larger population than just these two people.

Of course… this means we have another inheritance from Adam and Eve also in these self-destructive habits which Christianity give the name of “sin.”