Two Trees, One Truth: Answering the Critic Regarding the Tree of Life

Today we are going to discuss another common objection that I have come across in denying that spiritual death[1] did in fact take place in the garden narrative[2] recorded for us in Genesis 3. This objection is related to the Tree of life. The argument places emphasis on the fruit of this tree as that which gives life; without which one cannot live forever.

When the serpent challenges Eve the question posed implies that God is being a bit overzealous as Creator. He says to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” (Gen 3.1).[3] It is as if the serpent is saying to the woman:

“God is being less than honest. God’s really keeping you from your full potential. His prohibition, Eve, is really pride on His part…He’s just wanting to micro-manage every aspect of creation. The real reason God doesn’t want you eating from that tree in the midst of the garden is because He’s using His privilege to oppress you and keep you from being like Him knowing good and evil. Eat the fruit, you’ll find out who’s really being truthful here…I promise.”

The Trees in the Midst of the Garden…

I have a question: How do we know which tree is being referred to at this moment? The serpent says “trees,” the woman limits the number to one tree and identifies this tree as the one in the midst (middle) of the garden. Why is this important? Because the emphasis in Genesis 3 is not on the Tree of life, but the Tree of knowledge of good and evil.  In fact, if we look at the command given in Genesis 2:17 we find that the prohibition emphasizes the one tree and not the other.

There are two trees that God planted (created) in the middle of the garden of Eden (Gen 2.9). They were both real trees that bore edible fruit. Both trees are a delight to the eyes and good for food. However, one of the two God has placed a no trespassing sign. This is the reason why the Tree of knowledge takes center stage in the narrative, when both of the trees are in the midst of the garden. The question is who will be acknowledged as rightful Lord over the garden, and in so doing, Lord over life.

In the garden, God is saying to Adam—and to the woman (Eve) through her husband—the following truth:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land…” (Deut 30.15-16; ESV).

But you say, “God didn’t say that to Adam in the garden. He told that to Moses who relayed it to the children of Israel.” True enough, but who are the children of Israel? Are they not the heirs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Are they not identified as God’s covenanted people? Would it not then follow, that if they who were in covenant with God, due to His promises and great love remembered in their forefathers, that the same stipulations presented to them are true of every child of God via faith?

Covenantal Faithfulness As a Means of Living and/or Maintaining Life

Put another way, does it make sense that God would provide to all those who would be (or are) His people obedience as the means of living, through faith demonstrated in fidelity to His Word? Isn’t the same standard applied across the board of all those that love God to keep His commandments. And in turn the Lord promises to preserve their life and bless those lives in the land (earth) where they dwell?

But you say, “God wasn’t in covenant with Adam in the garden, so it’s not the same thing.” Why, because it is not spelled out in detail “This is my covenant and this is what is required of you to be blessed, and this will result if you fail to heed my Word via faithful obedience?” Huh? Wait a minute, God does state these things. Maybe not as clearly as the critic of today may want it laid out in order to satisfy their own minds, but the covenantal nature of God with Man is present in the garden.

Five Points…

God is Creator and therefore the Sovereign (point 1), who has representative in the Man (a creature) which He created (point 2). God has an ethical standard—covenantal boundary/agreement (point 3)—that stipulates the consequence of obedience (blessing/life) versus disobedience (cursing/death; point 4). God in turn promises an inheritance to Adam depending on his response (point 5). All of these are necessary points of a biblical covenant.[4] All of these are present in the beginning. The distinction between Adam and Israel is that Adam was made without sin (very good).

Access to the Tree of Life

Adam and Eve are free to eat of any tree in the garden, except the Tree of knowledge. Which means what? That they have free access to the Tree of life. When the commandment given is broken, access to the Tree of life is denied:

“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’—therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3.22-24; ESV).

If only assumptions were true…

I suppose that if all you had of the biblical account was Genesis 1-3 you might safely assume that the fruit of the Tree of life was what granted to human beings’ immortality. But we have more than just these earlier chapters of Genesis. Not only that, but this is not the only place in Scripture mentions a Tree of life.

Thankfully, we know that biblical revelation is progressive in nature. Which means that what was shared in the beginning of it is later developed throughout the rest of the canon. This is vitally important to understanding various terms and concepts taught in the Holy Bible. In the past God spoke to His people through various means, but in these last days He has spoken to us through His one and only Son Jesus the Christ (Heb 1.1-3). One of those means was shadowy imagery or types/anti-types. In other words, the Bible is highly symbolic, but those symbols do point to a deeper reality.

Symbolic Types…

The trees in the midst of the garden were symbolic types (see fn. #6). I’m not saying that they weren’t real trees. In fact, if you reread what I said earlier I said the exact opposite. However, this does not change the fact that the two trees (Tree of Life; Tree of Knowledge) are symbolic representations of a larger picture, a deeper truth. The Tree of Life represents obedience. The Tree of Knowledge represents disobedience. The former represents living faithfully and lovingly with our God, the latter represents living a life separated from Him due to sin (i.e., death). They speak of fellowship or a breaking of fellowship with God.

What am I saying? I’m explaining that the two trees in the garden have an underlying, overarching principle behind them:

“…loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life…” (Deut 30.20; emphasis added; cf. Deut 4.4; John 11.25-26).

God gives life. God brings death. They are keys that He alone holds (see Deut 32.39; 1Sam 2.6; Isa 22.22; Matt 16.19; Rev 1.18). By the power of His Word all of creation is sustained (Heb 1.3; Col 1.17; Rev 4.11), in the state that we find it, in the state that it is finalized in, in the state that His Word has determined according to His will (Eccl 8.4; Isa 55.10-11).

Magical Fruit…

Now you may prefer to believe in magical fruit. You may think to yourself, “Nope that cannot be. The fruit from the Tree of life really did grant eternal life or make man in some sense immortal. Or else, why kick the man and woman out of the garden, place cherubim with a flaming sword at its east gate (the only entrance)[5] and deny access to the fruit of that tree, if that tree’s fruit didn’t provide life giving-sustenance?”

I am not denying that eating of the Tree of life would have been beneficial. However, I am saying that the fruit of that tree was no more beneficial than any other tree in the garden from which the man and woman were allowed to partake. The tree symbolized life-sustaining fellowship with God. Being driven from the garden meant that man was no longer free to enjoy that fellowship. What had been in the initial created state of the man and woman was lost. Their relational status with God had changed. No longer was Mankind upright, but had seriously fallen to a bankrupted state.  Grace and mercy were their only hope now, as the covering of skins signified. Some other’s life must be substituted in order for life to continue.

Walking in His Light…

From where do I draw such insight? The Scriptures. I will not quote these passages that prove my point, but I will submit them for the reader to investigate on their own. In them you will find that the symbol being identified, merely points to a greater spiritual reality. Now you may use the same sort of strange woodenism and come to the same erroneous conclusions that some do, when pointing to the fruit of the Tree of life, but I am hoping you will see that this is not necessary. In fact, you should avoid it at all costs.

  • Tree of life references: Prov 3.18; 11.30; 15.4; Rev 2.7; 22.2, 14, 19
  • Rivers of life references: Jer 17.13; John 4.10-11, 14; 7.38; Rev 17.17; 21.6; 1
  • Bread of life references: John 6.33; 48, 50-51; Deut 8.1-3; Matt 4.4; Rev 2.17[6]

Read the passages and then ask: What is the proper sense in which they should be taken? That it is the fruit, the water, and the bread (manna) that give life eternally? Or are we to see them in light of Jesus Christ?

They are shadows that point to a deeper truth, a better reality. It is not the substance of such things that provide life or the absence of such things that bring death, but as symbols they demonstrate an everlasting principle—In God alone we find life. “It is not the letter, but the Spirit that gives life” (2Cor 3.6; paraphrased; cf. Rom 2.29).


[1] I.e., separation in terms of relational status with God’s holiness, righteousness, etc.

[2] Bear in mind that this is not merely a story to give life lessons, but an actual recording of historical record from the witness of God and perhaps a retelling of other inspired men (Adam, Noah, Moses) to ingrain within the minds of the people of God what truly transpired in the past. A theology that is not historically rooted is nothing but fable tales. The Bible does not treat any of its accounts in a mythical fashion.

[3] Unless otherwise noted all quoted Scripture shall be of the New American Standard Update version (NASB).

[4] This five-point covenantal model was first rediscovered by Ray Sutton in his book entitled That You May Proper: Dominion by Covenant. A correspondent to Sutton gave it the acronym: THEOS. Gary North in his book Political Polytheism writes it as follows: 1) Transcendence (sovereignty), yet immanence (presence), 2) Hierarchy/authority/representation, 3) Ethics/law/Dominion, 4) Oath/judgment/sanctions (blessings, cursings), 5) Succession/continuity/inheritance. Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 35, PDF E-book.

[5] David Chilton writes,

“When man lost fellowship with God and was driven out of the Garden, he evidently went out from the east side, since that was where God stationed the cherubim who guarded the Garden from intruders (Gen 3:24). This raises an interesting question: Why were the cherubim placed only on the east (cf. Song of Sol. 4:12), and that entrance had to be made through the eastern ‘gate’…Apparently, the godly tended to stay near the eastern entrance of the Garden for some time—perhaps bringing their sacrifices to the ‘gate’—for when Cain fled from ‘the presence of the Lord’ (a technical term in Scripture for the official cent er of worship), he headed for parts farther east (Gen 4:16), away from God and godly men. It is thus significant that the entrance to the Tabernacle was from the east side (Ex. 27:13-16): to enter God’s presence through redemption is a gracious re-admittance to Eden.”

David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, [1985], 1994), 29, PDF E-book.

[6] This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but to give the reader some initial steps in pursuing truth. Hopefully, you will notice how these elements of creation, which are sustaining elements for mortal creatures, are only used symbolically to illustrate that God will provide life. These things (bread, water, fruit) are expressions of thought that we can relate to, but are not to be seen as the real source of our living eternally. Only God, the eternal One, the Alpha and the Omega, revealed as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (3persons in 1 Being) give lasting quality/quantity to life.

As Chilton further expounds,

“The symbolism of the Bible is not structured in a flat, this-means-that style. Instead, it is meant to be read visually. We are to see the images rise before us in succession, layer upon layer, allowing them to evoke a response in our minds and hearts…We must read the Bible visually. The visual symbols themselves, and what the Bible says about them, are important aspects of what God wants us to learn; otherwise, he wouldn’t have spoken that way. So, when the Bible tells us a story about water, it is not ‘really’ telling us about something else; it is telling us about water. But at the same time we are expected to see the water, and to think of the Biblical associations with regard to water [e.g., salvation, purification, blessing, drink, wrath, etc.]…Thus, when the Bible speaks of water, we are supposed to have in our minds a vast host of associative concepts, a complex of Biblical [sic] images that affects our thinking abut water. To put it differently, water is supposed to be something like a ‘buzz-word,’ a term that calls up many associations and connotations.” Chilton, Paradise Restored, 19, 20.

Some of those associations might be the “river that flows from the garden” (Gen 2.10), the Flood waters from which Noah and seven family members were saved (Gen 6-8), the life-giving water from the rock that Moses struck (Exod 17.6), water as purification of vessels which points to baptism (Lev 8.6; Ezek 36.25; 1Pet 3.21).