The Troublesome Tree of Life

(David Heddle) #1

What’s up with that mysterious old tree of life standing in the center of the garden? For when Adam and Eve are banished, we read:

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, prior to the fall, 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. 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. I have a bible with 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. It sends the message that the tree had a power apart from God, so God had to make sure that Adam and Even stayed away. God could have, had he chosen to, vaporized the tree ending any risk. No, I think the explanation is elsewhere.

Although this verse always troubled me, I have learned a simple explanation that is not inconsistent with my belief that Adam and Eve, even absent the Fall, 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 we partake of. The tree of life was the seal—and for Adam and Eve to eat of it, after they became covenant breakers, would have been profane. Likewise, eating the bread in an unworthy manner is profane. God did not prevent them from eating of the tree of life after the fall because they would have literally lived forever. The tree contained no magic. He prevented it because for them, in their fallen state, to partake of the sacrament signifying eternal life would have been obscene.

Do people believe in God mostly because they are afraid of hell? (spin-off topic)
(Phil) #2

The tree of life and tree of the knowledge of good and evil have always been the most troublesome things about that passage. When accepting a more literal interpretation, the problem was what do they mean, but now that I accept the more figurative interpretation, it is still a question as to what does the scripture mean. I think most people are happy with “nothing to see here, let’s just move along.”

(Christy Hemphill) #3

@heddle The tree of life shows up again in Revelation 22. I think the imagery there would be helpful in fleshing out your sacramental tree idea.

(David Heddle) #4

I’m sure you are right. Except understanding Revelation is more difficult than understanding Quantum Field Theory!

(George Brooks) #5


I think you are going to have to accept the tree as the source of eternal life for Adam & Eve. God even spells it out.

Did you miss that part?

(Ray Bailey) #6

@heddle, Here is the Revelation reference,

If you take it in the context (included) it is one of the significant features of the New Jerusalem. It also creates a question that mirrors the first appearance in Genesis. Here it says it “yields fruit every month” which begs the question, what kind of fruit? For what purpose?, And “Leaves are for healing” for what? Aren’t we supposed to be “perfect” in mind and resurrected body?

Okay, that may inform us to both something we are struggling with.

Was illness and mortality something that existed before the garden? (outside the garden?). If the tree is in New Jerusalem for what purpose is healing?

I am presuming we will have perfectly healthy bodies at the Resurrection, so could it be for the healing of our minds?
Is this to “heal our memories” of the lost ones who are burned up in the lake of fire?

This takes us to the theology of Hell and if it is “eternal” versus “consuming till gone”. If it is ongoing, then we will be reminded of the lost burning forever. If it is consuming, and then completed, then our memories will be the only thing left to be healed.

Since the Tree of Life is established in the garden, then the presumption of “everlasting Life” is appropriate to the reason of “and live forever” even if in an unfaithful and corrupted form.

Take a look at the Promise of Abraham. When Elohim makes a promise, he ALWAYS carries it out. Abraham was unfaithful with Ishmael. Issac was to be the Son of Promise. Yet Ismael also became a great nation, and the begetter of a world-wide religion (eventually) of Islam. Elohim’s promises are ALWAYS KEPT.

Hence the need to remove the Tree of Life when Adam and Eve were unfaithful.

Yes, David, I believe it is a sacramental Tree It is the visible form of the promise of Elohim’s action to be given if conditions are met. The pattern of “being” faithful/unfaithful is so ingrained in Elohim’s process that the “habit” of partaking is continued on in the New Heaven and New Earth (and New Jerusalem half-way between both).

Note the Wedding supper of the Lamb, which I presume will also enact the continuing celebration of Passover and Communion.

That’s my initial take (I need to go mow the lawn now… back later!)

Ray :sunglasses:

(David Heddle) #7

Sorry, why don’t you direct me to the text that I missed?

(George Brooks) #8

@heddle, happy to oblige. I wouldn’t want anyone saying Unitarians weren’t the very spiritual template of charitable love.

Here is the verse where God kills several furry critters so that Adam & Eve have durable apparel.
Gen 3:21
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

Here is the verse where God specifically says the Tree is the source of eternal life - - indirectly from God of course. We also learn that even in his state of sin, Adam & Eve would still derive immortal benefits fromt the Tree of Life. They were not expelled because they could not survive in the garden, nor that the garden would die because of their presence. They were expelled because God didn’t want humans to become his equal.
Gen 3:22
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

Gen 3:23
Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

And here is where we learn that the only thing keeping humans from being like Yahweh was an angel armed with a flaming sword.
Gen 3:24
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

(David Heddle) #9


Yes, that (Gen 3:22) is the very verse I quoted. So I can understand a criticism that I missed the boat in my exegesis, but I don’t understand why you ask whether I “missed that part.” But whatever, it’s all good.

Is anyone arguing those reasons for expulsion?

No, that does violence to the text, both in the Hebrew and in the translation. The text says nothing like: if man eats from the tree of life he will become God’s equal. Eating from that tree was permissible for A&E before the fall–would it only make them equal to God if they ate of it after the fall? (The idea that eating from a tree could possibly make one the equal of God is so contrary to all of scripture that I’m surprised you didn’t question that interpretation–regardless of how much you actually believe the bible.) The text states, paraphrasing, given that they ate (past tense) from the forbidden tree, they know have some sort of knowledge (not elaborated upon) that bars them from eating the tree of life.

(George Brooks) #10


I didn’t read every sentence in your post. It never occurred to me that someone could read that text and still wonder where eternal life came from.

Now I’m more mentally prepared for the possibility.

(George Brooks) #11


Is anyone saying that anyone is saying that? Could you put your quills back in their case?

(George Brooks) #12


I stand corrected. Regarding this verse, I should have said:

Gen 3:22 - And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

They were expelled fromt the Garden because God didn’t want them to have eternal life, now that they knew Good from Evil.

As you say, David, it was okay for them to have eternal life as long as they didn’t know too much.

(David Heddle) #13

You shouldn’t try snarky. You don’t do it very well. It takes a certain knack. It’s sort of unseemly when you try.

(George Brooks) #14


Oh, I don’t know, David. When snarked at, my snarks usually achieve a buoyancy similar to what I receive.

(Christy Hemphill) #15

For the healing of the nations. I think it’s wrong to immediately take this to an individual level, when clearly it is corporate. Just as the nations were the object of discipleship in the great commission. I take it to mean the healing of human culture and bringing all human systems into perfect alignment with God’s justice and peace.

(Ray Bailey) #16

@Christy Of course, I should remember that corporate is the definition of nations. So that interpretation would mean that A&E are being treated as the Archetypes and not individuals concerning the Tree of Life.

Not that it is satisfying to our sense of “discovery” in all things, perhaps the "healing is something we can’t yet imagine.
Perhaps it is the process of healing our “soul” that still must take place even though our brains and bodies are perfected. We still must “grow into them” and the Fruit of the Tree of Life is that very thing. All our culture and systems are dependent upon our mental processes, which need to be aligned to the New Heaven and Earth.

I am still trying to learn to take off my “Western Individual Glasses” when I read :dark_sunglasses: . (I am currently reading “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” by Richards and O’Brien.

Ray :sunglasses:

To what degree might chronological snobbery affect our thinking about the matters we discuss on this forum?
(Peaceful Science) #17

Spurgeon says Jesus was the tree of life.

We believe our Lord Jesus Christ to be none other than that tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We can scarcely conceive of any other interpretation, as this seems to us to be so full of meaning, and to afford us such unspeakable satisfaction.

It is a very common trope in art.

(Christy Hemphill) #18

Ooh, good book. :+1:

(Ray Bailey) #19

Yes, I agree. The symbolism of both the Garden and New Jerusalem, seem to be couched in the same vein as Communion sacraments. The line between what the symbol is versus the power (person) behind the symbol is veiled at this time.

In essence, we are talking about “leaves” for healing, the same as the wings tzitzit of Jesus’ robe.

Ray :sunglasses:

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20

@Swamidass: Spurgeon says Jesus was the tree of life.

I would say that the Cross and all it connotes is the Tree of Life.

It is often called a tree and it brings all these meanings together, life, death, and eternal life.