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Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” (Gen. 3:22, ESV)

 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:16–17, ESV)

Before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Good and Evil, they could eat from any tree, including the Tree of Life, giving eternal life. Was losing access to the Tree of Life Adam and Eve's punishment of death?

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First point - the tree did not give access to eternal life. The tree meant man could live forever. Eternal ‘life’ does not equate to ‘living forever. This is crucial, as I will explain soon. But first, an understanding, one that may not necessarily be accepted by all - so it is for consideration...

All live forever. Scripture clearly alludes to this. Although there are some who believe in Annihilation - Nevertheless ...

MAT25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Those ‘on his left’ are people! They are going to the same place as the devil and his angels

REV 20:10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Note - for ever! Everyone will ‘live’ eternally, but there is a difference between ‘life’ and ‘death’. Death does not mean not ‘being’. So what does it mean.

Here we run into a conflict between the dictionaries definition of ‘death’, and the biblical definition of ‘death’. Biblically, death means separation. In our (western) understanding, we [only] consider ‘physical death’. But ‘biblically’ physical death is separation of your [physical] body from ‘you’ [spirit/soul].

‘You’ will still be ‘alive’ after your [physical] body isn’t. [breathing]. But this ‘view’ is not ‘universal’ - so let’s just put that aside and look at your question from another angle...

Why didn’t God want Adam to be able to ‘eat’ from that tree?

GEN 3:22 Then the Lord God said, “Humans have become like one of us; they know good and evil. We must keep them from eating some of the fruit from the tree of life, or they will live forever.”

The ‘Bible’ reason is so that man wouldn’t live forever. You ‘interpret’ this as punishment. That not what is says. Nevertheless many argue that it is clearly ‘inferred’. But let’s consider scripture...

God said ...

GEN 2:17 [snip] for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

Did Adam die? Depends on whose definition you use. The dictionary says no. But, the Bible says yes! Now - remember ‘death’ [biblically] means separation. The day Adam ate - he [spirit/soul] were instantly separated from God. His ‘body’ didn’t ‘die’- his ‘body’ could still communicate. But ‘he’ was spiritually ‘dead’ [separated]. Separated from the One who gave him ‘Life’. So ‘he’ (although ‘alive’] - was in fact ‘dead’ - just as God said would happen if he ‘ate’.

1 COR 15: 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

Now let’s put this together - Adam was dead (spiritually). Because ‘death’ Biblically means separation, and Adam’s spirit was now separated from God. And if he could now eat from that other tree - he could ‘live’ forever. After all, it was the ‘tree of life’. But he would ‘live’ forever spiritually separated. He (man) could then no longer ever be reunited with God. Man would be ‘forever’ separated from God. Tragedy! This had to be prevented - and must not be allowed to happen. So God removed Adam from being able to access that tree - until ‘man’ could first be reunited back with God -

The expulsion was an act of Love - not punishment. The ‘tree’ of Life refers to physical life. The consequence of Adam being removed was physical death. Man must not be able to ‘physically’ ‘live’ forever separated from God. That would result in ‘hell’ on ‘earth’. A Loving God would never allow that.

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  • Consider how Jesus described eternal life as something you can have now (in John). This implies a change from before until after now. Thus, just as Adam and Eve died spiritually on the day they ate the fruit, they could have recovered spiritually from the tree of life. – Perry Webb May 25 at 21:32
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    @Perry Webb ‘Spiritual Life’ requires righteousness. God has to ‘see’ you as righteous. You can’t get ‘righteousness’ from ‘eating’ (a tree). You can only get righteousness from God. The ‘tree’ provided, or rather ensured that the [physical] body ‘lived’ [forever]. The ‘tree of life’ in Revelation 22 brought ‘healing’! Not righteousness. – Dave May 25 at 22:15
  • Your argument depends on your unsupported "But ‘biblically’ physical death is separation of your [physical] body from ‘you’ [spirit/soul]." - can you supply evidence for this? – Dottard May 26 at 3:23
  • @Dottard If I recall correctly you once used a reference to ‘Got Questions’ to defend a comment - so I’ll start with that site. Besides, the N.T is ‘full’ of references to ‘dead in your sins’. Sin separates us from God. (Col 2:13). If Adam ‘died’ the day he ate, how do you say he ‘died’ - I say he became separated from God. Numerous supporting scriptures. But I’ll start with this (gotquestions.org/physical-death.html) Then how about Blue Letter Bible? (blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_100.cfm) – Dave May 26 at 5:27
  • @Dave - good trick - but those sites do not provide any such Bible references to support the idea either. – Dottard May 26 at 5:48
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The answer is no. The Hebrew states " dying you shall die" not thou "shall surely die." In the day Adam ate, mortality was conferred upon man, and on all mankind through Adam ( Romans 5:12). Mortal is the opposite of immortal. Without resurrection there is no life after death. Jesus is the only person that has immortal life at this point on time ( I Timothy 6:14-16) -- everyone else who has died is still dead, awaiting their resurrection.

John 5:25. -- Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.

That time had not yet come.

At the "former" resurrection, the righteous dead from Israel and martyrs during the Great Tribulation will be raised from the dead.

Revelation 20:5 -- But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.

David is in his grave to this day (Acts 2).

The tree of life bears 12 types of fruit, one for each month " for the healing of the nations" which shows those who eat from it do not yet have immortality. The fruit from that tree sustains life. Eating it regularly gives the person life so that they do not die. This shows the New Earth is not the final state. The Consummation follows, when Christ abdicates his throne and turns the Kingdom over to God as Father who then becomes All in all ("I Corinthians 15;20-28).

Banning mankind from the tree of life wasn't Adam's death then but it ensured that man, in his disconnected state (from God) would not live perpetually, which prevents man from building evil gangs and empires while "fallen."

"Spiritual death" is a term not found in the Word of God for this simple reason. Man is a spiritual being no matter if he is joined to God or not. The spirit of man gives him his temporal life and at death it returns to God who gave it. The spirit is not the consciousness nor the personality of man, that is in "soul" which ceases to exist at death for there is no life left to support it.

Genesis 2:7 -- And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

The person is a living soul until death, then he or she is a dead soul, unconscious, awaiting resurrection.

Man not joined to God is not called "spiritually dead" but he or she is dead to God and the spiritual aspects of life. But he is still a spiritual being, enlivened by the spirit of man ( I Corinthians 2:11).

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  • What is ‘immortal life’? You say 1 Timothy 5:17 says Jesus is the only one with this - are you sure your quoting the correct verse? And, in what way was ‘man’ disconnected from God? – Dave May 31 at 1:44
  • Sorry, I Timothy 6 14-16 -- immortal is beyond the reach of death. No word for eternal in Greek, combining a negation stem with a noun (im-mortal) is how timelessness is described. – Christian Doulos May 31 at 15:52
  • Man was "disconnected" from God through disobedience (Genesis 3). He has to be joined to God through Christ. – Christian Doulos May 31 at 15:53
  • Man ‘disconnected’ after Genesis 3? - Well, He had no trouble chatting with Cain in Genesis 4? – Dave Jun 1 at 18:29
  • What I meant by disconnected has to do with right standing and thus access to God. God can speak to anyone at anytime but man's access to God is another thing. – Christian Doulos Jun 2 at 3:07
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The answer is, "probably", but we are not told explicitly. The best we can do is to note two facts about the tree of life:

  • Gen 3:22b-24 - And now, lest he reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever...” Therefore the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. So He drove out the man and stationed cherubim on the east side of the Garden of Eden, along with a whirling sword of flame to guard the way to the tree of life.
  • Four times in the book of Revelation (2:7, 22:2, 14, 19) we are told that access to the tree of life will be restored in the "paradise of God", or the "New Jerusalem" fed by the river of the water of life. See also Isa 65:22.

Clearly, the tree of life is somehow essential to eternal life; denying access to this tree prevented Adam and Eve living forever and will permit the righteous in Paradise to life forever with Jesus.

APPENDIX - Tree of Life used proverbially.

Several times in Proverbs, we see the idea of the "Tree of Life" being used proverbially such as:

  • Prov 3:18 - She [Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who embrace her, and those who lay hold of her are blessed.
  • Prov 11:30 - The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.
  • Prov 13:12 - Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
  • Prov 15:4 - A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

Just how these should be interpreted might be the subject of another question but I assume that these are referring to something much more than biological life, presumably with encouragement toward eternal life.

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  • Dottard, in your Appendix you quote from Proverbs, where the "tree of life" is assimilated to "wisdom", to the "fruit of the righteous", to "desire fulfilled", to a "soothing tongue". Doesn't all this suggest a figurative, rather literal meaning of the expression "tree of life"? – Miguel de Servet May 25 at 10:31
  • @MigueldeServet - that is correct - as the heading to the appendix says. – Dottard May 25 at 10:33
  • Forgive me for pushing the point further, then: what does the expression "tree of life" mean in Genesis? What does the expression "take ... from the tree of life, and eat" (Gen 3:22) mean? BTW the expression "used proverbially" could mean "used in Proverbs", literally, and quite naturally, in the given context ... – Miguel de Servet May 25 at 10:41
  • @MigueldeServet - I am not sure I understand your first question here. To take [fruit] from the tree of life (Gen 2:16, 17) is fairly uncomplicated. – Dottard May 25 at 10:56
  • Dottard, having agreed that the expression "tree of life" in Proverbs is clearly figurative, is it figurative or literal in Genesis? Careful ... – Miguel de Servet May 25 at 11:05

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