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While reading through Proverbs, I found a somewhat startling verse:

Proverbs 11:30 (NIV)
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
and the one who is wise saves lives.

My immediate thought was that this was a reference to eternal life, such as the tree of life in Genesis:

Genesis 3:22 (NIV)
And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

However, I'm somewhat skeptical of my initial understanding of the passage. I know Proverbs are supposed to be sayings that immediately make sense and are practical for every day usage.

So, is this "tree of life" found in Proverbs 11:30 the same as the one from Genesis 3?

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Critically, the tree also appears in Rev. 22 (esv.to/Rv22) –  Ray Oct 12 '11 at 10:59
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See also, Proverbs 3:18, 13:12 and 15:4 –  Amichai Oct 12 '11 at 12:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Although I doubt the difference is there in the original language, it seems to me the translators are correct to give the two references different articles - at least in the ESV, all the references in Genesis and Revelation are translated with the definite article, including the very first:

9And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   Genesis 1:9 ESV

Just as there is a difference between "a god" and "The God", "The Tree of Life" is the ultimate form of "a tree of life" - so they are similar in nature and effect, but one is the ultimate expression and the other is a subordinate concept - the degree of subordination must be inferred from the context. In the case of Proverbs 11:30, the exegetical question is whether "the righteous/wise" save lives just in the literal sense, or whether the concept of 'eternal life' (which is a quality of life, not just a duration) is entangled and to what degree.

I would lean towards the literal sense because of the genre of Proverbs - that seems to be the sense in chapter 3 ('She' refers to 'wisdom' in the verse 18):

18She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
   those who hold her fast are called blessed.   ESV

and:

21My son, do not lose sight of these—
   keep sound wisdom and discretion,
22and they will be life for your soul
   and adornment for your neck.
23 Then you will walk on your way securely,
    and your foot will not stumble.
24 If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
   when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror
   or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
26for the LORD will be your confidence
   and will keep your foot from being caught.  ESV

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So, the fruit of righteousness is {a tree of life} meaning everlasting life? –  Richard Oct 13 '11 at 12:49
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I think you should connect "a tree of life" with "saves lives" in this proverb - often the two parts of a proverb say the same thing slightly differently, which is a Hebrew idiom. –  Jack Douglas Oct 13 '11 at 13:01

Malbim (ad loc.) explains that "tree of life" here means "source of eternal life of the soul", and interprets the verse as follows. (I'll boldface the parts that are translating the verse.) The yield of a righteous person, one who acts righteously, is that he's a source of life for those who follow his lead: their souls get eternal life[1] by their doing as he does. And the wise man, that is, someone who has acquired wisdom from his teachers and teaches, draws his students' souls along with him into wisdom.

So, no, this is not the same "tree of life" as in Genesis 3.

[1] Whatever that means.

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All I know about Malbim is from Wikipedia, but it sounds like he wouldn't make this connection because of "his proven principle that there are no true synonyms in the Tanach." ;-) But in this case the connection certainly seems not to be there. Would you say it's more similar to the tree analogy drawn in Psalm 1? –  Jon Ericson Oct 31 '11 at 16:04
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@JonEricson, the no-synonyms thing he's famous for refers to words, like כֶּבֶשׂ, keves, and כֶּשֶׂב, kesev, both of which mean "sheep", which he distinguishes between. I don't think it refers to different meanings (or referents) of the same word, like etz chayim ("tree of life") here. –  msh210 Oct 31 '11 at 16:31
    
Ah. That does seem more likely (and manageable). I am curious about your footnote, but comments aren't likely the best place to have that discussion. –  Jon Ericson Oct 31 '11 at 16:38

Oh, how complicated (and therefore subject to misinterpretation!) many want to make it.

The meaning is simple: righteousness produces life!

This is true in the physical sense to some extent and even more so in the spiritual application. The chapter is full of metaphors involving "righteousness." This has absolutely nothing to do with the Genesis account--except in the context that sin always brings death and righteousness gives life. True righteousness is only that which is imputed to us in Christ, however. Yet, we must live in obedience to walk in all the light we have regarding God's will.

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The tree is used as a prophetic metaphor of the cross.

De 21:23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

Ga 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that hangeth on a tree:

Notice how the law contains a shadow of the good thing coming? (Heb 10.1) This is sensus plenior.

The tree... the cross is life or death depending upon how you approach it, in grace or in judgement:

1Co 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

The tree of life is the cross.

Since there are none righteous...

Ro 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

The righteous referred to must be Christ.

Pr 11:30 ¶ The fruit of the righteous [is] a tree of life; and he that winneth souls [is] wise.

Therefore: The fruit of Christ is the cross, the ultimate symbol of God's love. The verse has a shadow of the good thing coming.

The tree of life and the tree of 'death' (knowledge of good and evil) though literally two trees, are figuratively two aspects of one tree representing Christ. Christ, the same tree in Revelation is one tree with two roots, grace and law (holiness). Christ is the source of life or death depending upon how you approach him. The same of the water which gives life of floods to destroy, and the fire which destroys or refines. Christ reconciles law and grace as the one tree revealing both natures of God.

The cause of God's anger toward man is defined in Rom 1:18 ff, that he did not acknowledge God nor give him thanks. Though Adam walked with God, he considered him a peer, and he usurped God's position, making himself to be a God, by ignoring God's definition of good and evil by His very character, and instead determined that it was acceptable for him to eat the fruit. Once man had usurped the position of God by defining good and evil for himself 'knowing (or declaring) his own good and evil', Christ had to die on the cross.

Had salvation been given freely without the cross, God's holiness would not be manifest. As such, the Gospel was hidden until the time of Christ. This is the same reason that Jesus spoke in riddles and parables.

Mt 13:15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Mk 4:12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

These passages indicate that Jesus did not want them to get saved at that time. They could not take of the tree of life until after the cross.

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@Richard that Adam's sin was more a problem of "law making" than "law breaking" is not at all a novel claim - see how Adam appears to accuse God of wrong in 3:12 and it is one way of understanding the name of the tree. –  Jack Douglas Oct 17 '11 at 4:04
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@Bob To be useful on this site, which is based around the text of the Bible, you need to back up what you say either from the Bible or some other source - are you willing to edit your answer to add references and more explanation for why you think as you do? It may also help to explain what tradition your thinking is from if any as background information. –  Jack Douglas Oct 17 '11 at 4:07
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This answer doesn't cite a source, but whoever it is is showing his prejudices: Obviously, it's ludicrous to ascribe an interpretation abut Jesus to a verse of Tanakh, unless one is starting from Christian postulates. –  msh210 Oct 31 '11 at 7:13
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@msh210: I agree. If possible, it would really help to cite sources. As for the interpretation itself, it's inevitable that Jesus is found in the Tanakh due to the answer's Sensus Plenior perspective. Since the answer is not doctrinally-neutral, it's not a good answer here, in my opinion. Further, I think it draws a false analogy. –  Jon Ericson Oct 31 '11 at 16:21
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I've started a meta question to see if as a community we think citing sources ought to be required. @Bob: I know you have some issues with the idea, so it would really help to make your case there. (Please don't take this as personal. There have been a few answers in the past that needed be more careful with sources, but their authors aren't as prolific as you. Personally, I think source citations would make your answers better.) –  Jon Ericson Oct 31 '11 at 19:43

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