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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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5  
See also, Proverbs 3:18, 13:12 and 15:4 – Amichai Oct 12 '11 at 12:50
up vote 6 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 2:9 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
3  
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
1  
Although I doubt the difference is there in the original language ... -- no need to start this off with an unnecessary qualification. :-) The Hebrew bears this out (Gen. ʿēṣ haḥayyı̂m = "the tree of [the] life"; Prov. ʿēṣ ḥayyı̂m = "a tree of life"). – Susan Feb 15 at 4:28

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
    
But see העמ״ד ברא׳ ב׳ ט׳. – msh210 Mar 22 '15 at 17:51

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