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What specifically is the "Tree of Life" in Genesis 2:7

What specifically is the "Tree of the knowledge of good and evil" Gen. 2:7

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  • I choose not to weigh in on this one, but I commend to you the reading of Revelation chapter 2 (especially v.7), and Revelation 22 (especially vv.2, 14, & 19). What was once forbidden and guarded by cherubim and a flaming sword in Genesis is in Revelation freely available to "overcomers" and to those who "wash their robes." Just a thought. Don Jan 2, 2016 at 16:54
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    I think this question needs to have the focus narrowed. First off, a post for each tree might be in order as quite a bit of detail could be written about each. Secondly, it opens lots of cans of worms. To answer this question, you may need to decide if the tree is literal or representative of something. Furthermore, the origin of the tree as it appears in other religious texts (so the literary influences) could be a valid answer as well as what kind of tree these were traditionally through to be (eg, fig tree vs apple tree) Jan 2, 2016 at 17:20
  • Welcome to Stack Exchange! If you haven't done so already, check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is not a comment on the quality of the question, just a standard greeting Jan 2, 2016 at 17:22
  • @Mark I would say that this is a perfectly good question IF you include 1 Word: "Meaning". If you ask,"What is the Meaning of the Tree of Life in Gen. 2:7, and add meaning in your next sentence-it "removes" the natural/biological quotient and I believe it gets at the heart of your question. Essentially, I agree w/James Shewey-I'm offering a 'fix' so it doesn't get deleted. Thank you!
    – Tau
    Jan 14, 2016 at 2:07

7 Answers 7

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The Tree of Life

Adele Berlin says (The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, page 751) that the Tree of Life, a tree whose fruit gave life to all those who partake of it, was a frequent mythological symbol found in Semitic and other cultures. Adam's expulsion from the Garden of Eden was motivated by the concern that he would eat from the Tree of Life and thus gain immortality.

Maurice H. Farbridge (Studies in Biblical and Semitic Symbolism, page 73) says that amongst both the Babylonian and Hebrews, the serpent is connected with the Tree of Life. A Babylonian seal, with two figures seated on either side of a tree and a serpent behind one of them, was once thought by many scholars to be a Babylonian representation of the Hebrew account.

Emil G. Hirsch and George A. Barton (Jewish Encyclopedia) discuss a view that in the earliest account of the Garden of Eden there was only one tree and that the story evolved to include both the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life.

The above studies all reach the conclusion that the Tree of Life was symbolic, and not a literal tree. Leon R. Kass regards the Garden of Eden as a mythical place and says in The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, page 58, the story tells permanent truths about our humanity, rather than a historical yet idealised portrait of a blissful existence we once enjoyed but lost. On page 69, he says that by placing a tree of life in the Garden, the story speaks more to the impossible longings of its readers, who wished for immortality, than of the desires of original, innocent man.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

This tree gave those who partook of its fruit the knowledge of both good and evil. This is sometimes interpreted to say that until they ate its fruit, Adam and Eve had no understanding of good or evil, so probably had no moral guidelines. On the other hand, the ancients thought of all creation as comprising just two sets: those things that are good and those things that are evil. On this view, knowing good and evil meant omniscience - knowing everything. They knew everything and now realised they were doomed to die, so they had good reason to want to eat of the Tree of Life:

Genesis 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:

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  • Interesting response except that I see no scriptural references to support the answer. Hence I am still looking for someone to relate the tree of life in Genesis and the one in Revelation 22
    – Dr.Apell
    Aug 13, 2018 at 22:11
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Tree of Life

I assume the other biblical authors were inerrant so a quick keyword search in Logos provides a lot good interpretations for the first question. First, it was a literal tree given the narrative nature of that part of Genesis (just as Paul believes that Adam was a literal historical man Ro 5:12-15). So Genesis 3:22 shows that it had real fruit that could be grasped with the hand and make one live forever. It also needed be physically blocked by the angel (Ge 3:24). Here it was a literal tree that could make one's body live forever. That does not mean that one bite would make one immortal, but possibly that eating the fruit would at least keep one healthy.

In the OT a generic "tree of life" is mentioned as a source of blessing in this life time when it is a metaphor of wisdom, righteousness, and hope (Proverbs 3:18, 11:30, 13:12, 15:4, ESV). However both Genesis and Proverbs keep the effects of the tree in the current physical life.

But the most interesting parallels which are more specifically linked to the Genesis tree are in Rev 2:7, 22:2-19. This shows a rolling back of the curse and an undoing of sin and death. Similar to Jesus saying that he is the "life" (John 14:6) it means more than physical life. Parts of Revelations are allegorical with literal implications. The point here is not that there will be a tree in the new paradise (although we have good reason to believe there will be), but that there will be a restoration of the "very good" creation, blessings, and enjoyable eternal life with God (Gen 1:31).

The type of fruit does not matter. The authors were not concerned with telling us that and it is more likely we no longer have such fruit available to us today. The authors were concerned with the significance of the fruit in the story and history of salvation. Further more the tree of life in Rev 22:2 produces many different kinds of fruit.

Tree of Knowledge

Again it was a literal tree of an unknown fruit, but this time the author uses it to represent the experience of sin or divergence from God's will. It was appealing to the eyes similar to many sins but brought the opposite of "life". It is not referenced again in the Bible.

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To grasp what the ‘tree of life’ is, consider that the text in which it was first addressed no longer exists.

”The first and foremost concept that a reader of the Biblical text must learn is that the ancient Hebrews were products of an eastern culture while you, as the reader, are the product of a western culture. These two cultures are as different as oil and vinegar; they do not mix very well. What may seem rational in our western minds would be considered irrational to an easterner of an ancient Near East culture. The same is true in the reverse, what may be rational to an ancient Easterner would be completely irrational in our western mind.

The authors of the Biblical text are writing from within their culture to those of the same culture. In order to fully understand the text one needs to understand the culture and thought processes of the Hebrew people.

All existing Hebrew Lexicons of the Bible convert the vocabulary of the ancient Hebrews into a vocabulary compatible to our modern western language. The greatest problem with this is that it promotes western thought when reading the Biblical text. In this Lexicon the mind of the reader is transformed into an eastern one in order to understand the text through the eyes of the ancient Hebrews who penned the words of the Bible.” https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/ahlb/

I believe that, in the beginning, God ‘penned’ his words for all of his children to understand, from the time of his first writing until the writing was no longer needed. In knowing that his words would need to carry understanding for the different language speaking peoples and the different cultures they live in, he would have expressed his words in a way that would have provided the best method of conveying his meaning.

Stories were told to help the receiver better understand the concept and meaning of the words of the originator. Stories convey emotions, and emotion is a powerful tool we use to express ourselves to others. Poetry is another method of telling a story as poetry also conveys emotions.

Consider a tree and what it does. A tree projects a description of food, protection, strength, and shelter. A tree takes that which is deadly and converts it to something necessary for life as we know it to exist. A tree has roots that draw water and nutrients from its base, channels it up its trunk, through its branches and transpires the water out of its leaves. The water moves to other places that benefit from it. Water also cools the air and provides relief on a hot day. A tree is both a source and a resource. This is, for all I see, a partial description of Jesus Christ.

Jesus describes himself as food, and a vine, and a Root. Isaiah described him as a shoot from the stump of Jessee. Jesus said that we are branches grafted onto his trunk and that our fruits are good for others. He said that his Father is the gardener. He said that those that believe in him will have streams of living water flowing from them, like a tree.

Genesis 3:22:

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.”

And he placed a guard to block man's access to the tree.

The apostle John wrote:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

In the beginning, man was given the right to eat of any tree in the garden except one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man chose not to eat from the tree of life but chose instead to travel a different direction from God. Perhaps the forbidden fruit is just that: man’s willful act to live apart from God.

Jesus Christ was there for God’s children in the beginning, as he is for each of us today. Our lives begin in the same way at different times. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Jesus said

“… I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus has the authority to allow God's children to access eternal life.

There are at least 50 names in Scripture that are used to describe Jesus Christ. I believe that ‘tree of life’ should be added to that list.

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  • Actually the ancient Hebrew text exists but the language was different than the language of today. Sorry for the incorrect statement. Also, the last verse reference is from John 14:6.
    – Ray
    Jun 12, 2022 at 15:36
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The Tree of Life was definitely a Sumerian concept, first mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh in Tablet XI, detailing the Deluge, Gilgamesh's testing by Utnapishtim, and his obtaining the 'Plant of Eternal Life' on his journey home to Erech, one of the first cities of civilization circa 3100 Bce. It was stolen from Gilgamesh by the 'serpent', which connects to the biblical Garden of Eden. But as with the serpent itself, the Tree of Life may in it's metaphoric nature represent more than simply physical entities. So the serpent may represent DNA; or serpent/'dragon' lines which traverse the world carrying the solar and stellar energies of the cosmos which enable Life to have growth on Earth. Likewise the Tree of Life may represent - the Heaven Earth world-tree or axis; the spine which connects body and mind, spirit and matter; and equally, the Way of Life which the Sumerians/ Babylonians called the Milky Way - this because the source of the Sun and solar system was the centre of the galaxy, and from where further energies flow to the Solar System. Attached is a stela (carved stone artwork) from the Assyrian period circa 18oo Bce shown at the British Museum. As can be seen, the Tree of Life is surrounded by gods and humans, and has a geometrical appearance, indicating the numerical and geometric nature of the forces of Life, particularly light itself. Many Hebrew concepts existed beforehand within the Sumerian Assyrian and Babylonian cultures, and enriched Judaism in it's growth from nascent belief-system to world religion.The Tree of Life with Celestial discof Anu, the sun-god Shamash and human (Adama?), from the Mesopotamia Rooms, British Museum.

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The Tree Of Life

The purpose of this tree was to greatly extend the life of the first humans in the garden of Eden so that they may multiply and fill the earth.

Apparently, Adam ate of this tree because he lived for 930 years. His descendants also had exceedingly long lives, and this leads me to believe that the anti-aging properties of this tree were so potent, they could be passed on to his children. Adam's son Seth, lived for 807 years (Gen 5:7).

According to the book of Enoch, this tree was a literal tree. It was beautiful. It had a strong scent and its leaves were immortal.

Chapter XXIV

  1. And amongst them was a tree such as I had never yet smelt, neither was any amongst them nor were others like it: it had a fragrance beyond all fragrance, and its leaves and blooms and wood wither not for ever: and its fruit ⌈⌈is beautiful, and its fruit⌉⌉ resembles the dates of a palm. 5. Then I said: '⌈How⌉ beautiful is this tree, and fragrant, and its leaves are fair, and its blooms ⌈⌈very⌉⌉ delightful in appearance.'

The Tree Of Knowledge of Good and Evil

This tree was responsible for making us like gods. I think the intent of the author of Genesis is to tell us that before Adam and Eve ate of this tree, they were more like animals. The animals have no understanding of nakedness, right and wrong, or good and evil. All they know to do is eat and reproduce.

After eating of this tree Adam and Eve knew they were naked (Gen 3:7).

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  • Book of Enoch is a reject and not acceptable for doctrinal derivation.
    – Cynthia
    Jan 14, 2016 at 11:06
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The two trees in question could have been two normal fruit trees.

The Tree of Life could have been a papaya tree, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil could have been a banana tree.

The Tree of Life could symbolically have referred to the body of a woman, namely Eve’s body, and to eat from it could simply have referred to the feeding of babies.

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The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, on the other hand, would then have referred to Adam’s body, and eating from it would have been forbidden because no babies could be born that way. Consequently, if the forbidden tree was eaten from the human race, which Adam and Eve were the only progenitors, would die already on the drawing board.

Let us now turn to the Tree of Life on the New Heavenly Earth, of which the Book of Revelation 22:2 seems to indicate that there are twelve. These would not have to be real papaya trees because the symbolism has already been established, and the Book of Revelation just have to reuse the old symbolism in its prophecy about the particular part of the future that it is here addressing.

Instead, the prophetic text of the Book of Revelation could be referring to the bodies of future twelve matriarchal progenitors of the heavenly Israel; the female half of the twenty-four elders of Rev 11:16 and 19:4. The ones whose main mission may be to produce new bodies for the chosen dead. Cloning with applicable corrections of possible DNA glitches and space-time travel are futuristic technologies that could be used in this endeavor.

In conclusion, the two mystical trees in the Garden of Eden could have been ordinary trees with some symbolical resemblance to the male and female bodies. To arrive at this conclusion a lateral interpretation of Mark 8:24 was attempted.

"He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” (Mark 8:24)

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  • A person’s spirit is, according to Jesus in John 3, born of Spirit, and a person becomes born again in a spiritual way that way. But, as Jesus also touched on in verse 6, if a person is going to be furnished with a new body one day after death, that body has to come from another body, because: “that which is born from flesh is flesh; and that which is born from Spirit is spirit” 3 hours ago
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The first decision

Are the trees literal trees or a metaphor?

Here we see the first account of the trees

Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing 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 NASB)

From this verse either the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are part of the trees that came "out of the ground" or are of separate entity.

Evidence that supports a metaphorical tree:
Solomon's usage of the phrase

How blessed is the man who finds wisdom And the man who gains understanding. 14 For her profit is better than the profit of silver And her gain better than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her. 16 Long life is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. 17 Her ways are pleasant ways And all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who hold her fast. (Pro 3:13-18 NASB)

and here:

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls. (Pro 11:30 NASB)

and here:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Pro 13:12 NASB)

and here:

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, But perversion in it crushes the spirit. (Pro 15:4 NASB)

Data mining to attribute the metaphor

  • Understanding
  • The fruit of the righteous
  • Desire fulfilled
  • A soothing tongue

Evidence that supports a literal tree (from a perspective)

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 NASB)

The action: "he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat" holds physical attributes, however the concept "stretch out his hand" may hold metaphorical expression as well.

Conclusion to the first decision: Are the trees literal trees or a metaphor?

Although possible that the trees where at one time literal trees with undefined Genus and Species. Evidence does support that the phrase "tree of life" does hold metaphorical expression.

The second decision

The location "midst of the garden" is it literally physical location, or does it hold metaphorical locality?

Evidence that supports metaphorical locality

You are a garden spring, A well of fresh water, And streams flowing from Lebanon.” (Sng 4:15 NASB)

For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away Or as a garden that has no water. (Isa 1:30 NASB)

Placing a blessing over the curse
Hopefully you will be like an oak whose leaf is perfect or as a garden that has much water.

And He will destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body, And it will be as when a sick man wastes away. (Isa 10:18 NASB)

Placing a blessing over the curse
And he will build the glorify of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man goes to perfection.

“And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isa 58:11 NASB)

Data mining to attribute the metaphor

  • You (hence, the person represents the metaphor)

Evidence that supports a literal garden (from a perspective)

The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. (Gen 2:8 NASB)

Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. (Gen 2:10 NASB)

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:8 NASB)

Conclusion to the first decision: The location "midst of the garden" is it literally physical location, or does it hold metaphorical locality?

Although possible that the garden represents a true garden. Evidence does support that the word "garden" does hold metaphorical expression. Therefore the phrase "midst of the garden" does have possibility of describing "you and inside you".

Conclusion Based on Literal Expression

If the "Tree of Life" and also the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" where both literal trees, inside of a literal garden then both Genus and Species remain unknown from the records available to my cognition of fact finding resources, unless we play captain obvious and say that the "Tree of Life" is a "Tree of Life Tree" and the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" is a "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Tree".


Deduction of the Metaphorical Account

Let's begin with this description of the metaphor "garden, both soul and body" (Ref: Isaiah 10:18 NASB) to see what hermetical boundaries we learn.

Now even though this word "soul" gets translated from a Hebrew source, the Greek word for "soul" perhaps will give some insight into this metaphor. The word is "ψυχή" and is recorded as 5590 psyxḗ (from psyxō, "to breathe, blow" which is the root of the English words "psyche," "psychology") – soul (psyche); a person's distinct identity (unique personhood), i.e. individual personality.

Psychology gets defined as the science of the mind or of mental states and processes.

Using the rules of replacement the metaphor now may Be defined as:

  • gardenVar = "the mental states and processes, and the body";

Adding previous decided metaphorical description "you and inside you"

  • gardenVar = "you and inside you, the mental states and processes, and the body";

The Metaphor of the Tree

And he looked up and said, "I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around." (Mark 8:24 NASB)

The word here for men tis the Greek word ἀνθρώπους defined as 444 ánthrōpos – man, also the generic term for "mankind"; the human race; people, including women and men.

Interesting that this metaphor of the tree can also get defined as the pronoun "you" as "you" references one of mankind in a perspective. However for exactness sake:

  • treeVar = "you (like that of the human race)";

John the Baptist use this tree metaphor.

The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:10 NASB)

This usage of the tree metaphor we can find in the Matthew account, its also stated in Luke 3:9.

Jesus use this tree metaphor.

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and is thrown into the fire. (Matthew 7:19 NASB)

The Metaphor of the fruits

So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:19 NASB)

The Greek word for "bad" here πονηροὺς gets defined as evil, bad

Here the pronounced division in the metaphor gains classification:

  • Fruit.Class.Good = "Good Fruit";
  • Fruit.Class.Evil = "Evil Fruit";

Metaphorical Connection! The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

in the midst of the garden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

"in the midst of the " . gardenVar . "the" . treeVar . "of the knowledge of" . Fruit.Class.Good . "and" . Fruit.Class.Evil

Rendering Echo
In the midst of the you and inside you, the mental states and processes, and the body the you (like that of the human race) of the knowledge of Good Fruit and Evil Fruit

Grammar Filtration
Among the mental states and processes of you and your body, your knowledge of good and evil.

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    Though the connections might be interesting, this argument appears to be a classic case of eisegesis, of reading a later notion back into the biblical text. The following explanation might be of some help: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/5325/6884
    – Schuh
    Aug 9, 2016 at 1:17
  • Do you think using object oriented classes and string concatenation is really the best easiest and most straightforward way to communicate you thoughts to the non-programmers out there? Or are these placeholders for your own thoughts? (If placeholders, it is best to post your answer once you actually have completed it) Aug 11, 2016 at 8:47
  • Well, editing in response to comments or to add new information is fine, but excessive editing is usually not recommended. Every time you edit a question it moves it to the top of the active questions board. If this is excessive, it is usually frowned upon, so we usually like to see the answers completed before they are posted to help avoid that from happening. Hermeneutics however should exegete (get meaning from) the text rather than read a meaning back into the text (eisegete). Do you think your interpretation obviously arises from the text as the origional author intended it to mean? Aug 12, 2016 at 5:57

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