QUESTIONS - THE TREE OF LIFE
A reader has submitted the following questions, which we will endeavour to answer:
Q 1: Did Adam and Eve need the Tree of Life to keep them living in the Garden of Eden?
Q 2: What was the purpose of the Tree of Life?
Q 1 Answer:
There is a school of thought that the purpose of the Tree of Life was to arrest the outworking of mortality whilst Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. The theory is that Adam and Eve were created mortal, dying creatures, and needed to regularly partake of the Tree of Life in order to stay alive. The penalty for sin, is thus seen as deprivation from the Tree of Life, to allow natural processes to run their course, eventually leading to death and dissolution back to the dust from whence man came. The command was: “of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thou shalt not eat of it …” (Gen.2:16-17). From this, it is assumed that the Tree of Life was to be freely eaten of, along with the other trees.
There are, however a number of valid objections to this theory:
Whilst it is quite true that Adam and Eve could “freely eat” of the fruits of the trees, there is no record of them actually eating from the Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life is spoken of in Scripture as being of a different class to the other trees which were intended for use as food:
“ … out of the ground made Yahweh Elohim to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9).
Notice this point there were plants for food, and “the Tree of Life also” in the midst of the garden: this tree is separate from those trees intended for food.
According to the record, death did not come by exclusion from the Tree of Life. Rather it was the partaking of the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good an Evil: “… 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” (Gen. 2:17).
Q 2 Answer – The Purpose of the Tree of Life:
The purpose of the Tree of Life is implied in verse 22 of Genesis chapter 3:
“And Yahweh Elohim 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 life for ever: therefore Yahweh Elohim sent him forth from the garden of Eden …”
The purpose of this tree then, was to impart life – and impart it in such a way that it would undo the consequence of eating the other, forbidden tree (as indicated in the word “also”). The first sinful pair had to be excluded from the Tree of Life in order that it’s life-giving effects of it’s consumed fruit could not operate upon them.
It has been thought by those who claim that Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Life(see for instance “The Divine Plan – A Reappraisal of some Christadelphian Traditions” 1998, by Eric Cave, and John Adey), that the Hebrew word translated “ever”, (as in “live for ever”), does not in itself contain the idea of eternity as per the AV rendering, (although it is conceded that it can be used in this sense), but it literally means a time of unspecified duration, and can also be used for short time periods. So the “life” given by the tree was not immortality, but by a continual eating of it, the first human pair were given life for a limited period – which meant they had to keep eating of it at intervals to prevent death. Thus, the sentence of death against Adam and his wife needed only to be exclusion from this type of food, and he would naturally die
The same publication also claims that whereas the Hebrew word for “also” is usually translated “also” it can also mean “again”, which would suggest that Adam had eaten of the tree, and that he was being prevented from doing so again.
But again, there are clear errors in this reasoning. Firstly, it is recognized that the AV rendering of these words is in accordance with the meaning that they can usually carry. And secondly, it is also recognized that the AV rendering is the usual way these words are translated – thus the case is far from proved. But in addition to this, there is a third point – surely there is something wrong with building a doctrinal structure, the logical outcome of which undermines fundamental points of our faith, upon a foundation which is no stronger than the possible meaning of two Hebrew words?
THE APOCALYPTIC TREE OF LIFE
In the Apocalypse, the Tree of Life is used to represent the reward given to the faithful: “to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7). Here, being permitted to eat of the Tree of Life is used as a representation of the reward given to those who have “overcome” a period of trial. This clearly contrasts with the expulsion from the Edenic paradise of those who failed to overcome, in order to prevent them from partaking of the life-giving Tree, and also suggests to us that had Adam overcome, he also would be permitted to eat from the Tree, as a reward for his faithfulness.
We read of this antitypical tree again in Revelation 22:14: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life … “. Similarly, we have another contrast with those who did not obey God’s commandment; they did not have a right to the tree of life, and were driven from it’s presence.
So then, from these two passages, we learn that as a symbol in the Apocalypse, the eating of the Tree of Life speaks of a reward given to those who endure and overcome a period of trial, who obey the commandments of God. Thus, it speaks of the bestowal of Immortality by the Lord Jesus Christ upon his brethren. We would suggest that if in Eden, the Tree was not present for this purpose, it would not be an appropriate symbol in the Apocalypse.
THE TREE IN EDEN
When we consider the literal Tree in Eden, every indication suggests that it’s existence was ready for the rewarding of man’s faithfulness (had he obeyed the Divine Command), with the bestowal of Immortality. Indeed, it’s very name, (the “Tree of Lives”, as it could be better rendered) is suggestive of this, it would give life to all those who would partake of it. In this, it stands as a great contrast to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which would cause death to those who transgressed the command in partaking of it. How appropriate for there to be a Tree which would give life consequent to obedience, and a Tree which would be the cause of death to those who transgressed.
This appears to be the reasoning of Bro. Thomas, for speaking of the Tree of Life in Elpis Israel, he wrote:
“Its fruit, however, was of a quality entirely opposite to that of which they had eaten. Both trees bore good fruit; but that of the Tree of Life had the quality of perpetuating the living existence of the eater for ever … It is probable that, had he (i.e. Adam) been obedient to the law of the Tree of Knowledge, he would have been permitted to eat of the Tree of life, after he had fulfilled his destiny as an animal man; and, instead of dying away into dust, have been “changed in the twinkling of an eye” (Elpis Israel p70).
What this means, is that Adam and Eve had immortality to look forward to, had they remained obedient. But following the Fall, access to the Tree was barred, and the sinful pair were thrust out from it’s presence. We can only begin to imagine how Adam and Eve must have felt outside of the Paradise in Eden, knowing they were to lead a life of travail and suffering, as dying they would surely die. At one time, they were faced with the prospect of be- ing like the Elohim in nature – if they had obeyed, but now all was vanity as they were denied access to the Tree of Life, and condemned to return to the ground from whence they came.
But this hope was only deferred, not removed altogether! The Lord, in His Kindness and Mercy had ordained a “Way” back to the Tree, which was pre- served by the Cherubim, and Flaming Sword, placed at the entrance to the garden (Gen 3:24). And, even before their expulsion from Eden, both Adam and Eve were taught the need for Sacrifice in order to provide a covering (atonement) for sin, a practice they were to continue at the entrance to the Way, as we learn from the opening verses of Gen 4.
This situation is aptly described in Proverbs thus: “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life” (Prov 13:12). Despite the sickness of heart Adam would experience because of the condemnation of death, he nevertheless had a hope of life. As He stood at the entrance to the Garden (which was also the place where “the Way of the Tree of Life” began), to offer his Sacrifice, it is quite possible that he would be able to look beyond the sword of fire, wielded by the Cherubim of Glory, along “the Way”, to the Tree in the distance, yielding it’s life-giving fruits. Indeed, the role of the Cherubim to “keep”, or “preserve” the way (Gen 3:24) would suggest this, for the record states that it wasn’t simply the entrance to the way, but the way itself, which was preserved. The features of the Cherubim would teach him what he must become, being a depiction of the glorified Body of Christ(Ezek1). And the fiery sword, being the means by which the Way was preserved would teach that he, as all who seek “glory and honour and immortality” (Rom 2:7) have the duty to preserve the Way of God (Psa. 119:33-35, cont. Gen 6:12) by the effective use of the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), cutting down the high things which exalt themselves against the knowledge of the Truth (2Cor 10:5). And being a Fiery sword, as well as speaking of the bright flame of the Word, it would also teach him that keeping the true Way is often accompanied with a fiery trial (1Pet 4:12) of affliction.
And so as Adam gazed past these things, along the “Way” to the Tree which was “afar off” (Cp Heb. 11:13), in the midst of the Garden, he would be able to look beyond his sentence of death, and all that it entailed, past the depiction of what he must do to be saved, to the glory which lay ahead. And this place itself, being a place of Sacrifice, would teach that the means to access the things that this tree offered would ultimately be provided by the One who had the power to overcome, through death, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
But there is a further point to consider. The question naturally arises, “If the Tree of Life gave Immortality, why didn’t Adam and Eve immediately go to that tree, and eat from it after the Fall?” Indeed, it would seem that they did have opportunity to go to the tree, as after they transgressed, and before their appearance before God, there was a time when they were hiding in the trees of the Garden. A possible explanation, is that there was no fruit on that tree for them to eat, for the Scriptures say nothing about it yielding fruit, prior to transgression. In Gen 1:14, we read that there were “seasons”, and we know that trees bear fruit according to their particular season. In “very good” conditions, trees would give fruit at their appointed time. And as the Tree of Life was designed for the reward of faithfulness, the season for it to bear fruit would surely be when faith had been shown? And being a Type of Eternal Life in Christ, to those who are in need of healing from mortality, in the event of transgression taking place, another season for it to bear fruit would surely be after transgression, and after a way of reconciliation had been appointed? If there were fruit on this tree, we would suppose that there would be great urgency to drive man out from before it. Yet, in Genesis 3, we find that this was the last thing to be done, immediately following the appointment of Sacrifice.
So then, the presence of the Tree of Life in the Garden taught Adam and his wife that if they were faithful, their faithfulness would be rewarded. But even in the event of their transgression, there would be a Way of Life provided – on God’s terms, as it duly was. The expulsion of Adam and his wife from the Garden taught that the way of life can only be accessed by the means of God’s appointing. Thus, the tree stands as a powerful exhortation to us, not to devise fables which contradict the main thrust of Scripture, not to walk along the broad way that leads to destruction, but rather to under- stand and accept the way of Salvation, as appointed by the Lord Himself. We must seek wisdom, and then walk in it’s ways, which are the ways to the Tree of Life. And then, if we show ourselves to be faithful, if we “keep” God’s ways, if we seek to “overcome” sin, then by God’s grace, when the Lord returns, we might partake of the Antitypical Tree, and so be “partakers of the divine nature” even as the Lord has promised (2Pet 1:4).