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And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. - Genesis 2:8-9

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. - Genesis 2:15-17

Some see the mention of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil here as including them within the category of "every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food" while others see their mention as "in the midst of the garden" to indicate that they are symbolic and not "out of the ground" as are the other trees.

The first view is more straightforward in that God says Adam may eat of every actual tree save one. The second, symbolic view has God telling Adam that he may eat of every actual tree but not of one of the two symbolic trees.

On a larger scale, some see the entire creation account as symbolic while others view it as a literal history. If the whole story is symbolic then obviously the two trees are as well, so this question excludes that position. Amongst those who accept some level of the literal history view of creation, is there warrant within the text to see these two named trees as symbolic only?

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    If all of Gen 1-11 is not literal, then the Bible is meaningless.
    – Dottard
    Aug 1, 2022 at 21:16
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    @Dottard Gen 1-11 can be literally true - e.g. the text is true -- and still not meet naive expectations for literalism. E.g. was John the Baptist Elijah? Is Jesus literally bread that comes from Heaven, and do we literally eat him? I really don't like these "literal" questions because they put the carnal world, which is illusion and metaphor, above the world of spirit, which is true and eternal.
    – Robert
    Aug 2, 2022 at 10:54
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    @Dottard, Isn't it more likely that Genesis is both literal and richly symbolic. Aug 2, 2022 at 12:44
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    @Robert - being literal does not prevent metaphors and figures of speech. I am simply saying that Gen 1-11 is history not myth,
    – Dottard
    Aug 2, 2022 at 12:50
  • @MikeBorden - of course Gen 1-11 is both literal and highly symbolic as the countless references to it in the rest of the Bible makes clear. These Genesis stories are used as types of all kinds of later stories.
    – Dottard
    Aug 2, 2022 at 12:52

4 Answers 4

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And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. [Genesis 2:9 - KJV]

The question asks 'according to the text' are the trees symbolic or actual ?

There is no 'tree' that grows 'out of the ground' that provides knowledge. No such tree exists. Nor is such a 'tree' (within the scope of what the word 'tree' means) possible. Trees do not work that way.

The concepts being dealt with in the whole passage, are metaphysical concepts : what is humanity ? how is humanity to live ? how might humanity attempt to live in a wrong way ? what is given (by God) that provides for humanity to live ?

'Live' here being not mere organic life - Adam had that already. He was a living, breathing human being. But he lacked something. What was lacking ? Later, failing to provide for himself (by the tree of knowledge of good and evil) he attempted to cover himself. Something was missing and he was ashamed.

These are spiritual concepts and in order for us to grasp them, as is often the case in scripture, we are given imagery. Our minds need to grasp something in order to process thought.

There is a knowledge, once there is a creation and once sentient beings with intelligence are within it, that is just there. God did not especially provide it, it springs into existence with the creation itself.

But that knowledge is not the way to live. That is to say, to live spiritually. To live unto God. To find the invisible God and to do his will and to do the things that please him.

Partake of that knowledge, with a view to such a purpose - and one will die.

God warned of it. That is not the way to live.

But there was a 'tree' already 'in the midst'.


Out of the ground, the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil was not good for food. We know that now. It causes death. God warns of it.

He did not make it grow. It exists because creation exists.

The text does not state that it is in Eden. The text does not state that it is good for food. The clause 'and the tree of knowledge of good and evil' is added at the end of the sentence, after 'the tree of life also in the midst of the garden'.

There is a hiatus to the sentence.

Thus, as the question asks, the text does not state that these two trees are as the other trees mentioned.

They are extra. One in the midst. One not good for food.

There is no physical tree that can give 'life' in the context being opened up in the passage, of spiritual life.

There is no physical tree that provides the knowledge of good and evil.

But both systems of life (the word of life and the letter of the law) are structures with a main uprightness and with branches coming out of the uprightness and further smaller branchings from the branches. Like a tree.

They are symbolic concepts given to us to understand spiritual truth.

Thus, also, a spirit who behaved in a serpentine manner is called 'serpent'.

The concept of union with God is 'settled' at the eastern extremity of the garden, after the first humanity fails of that concept. That concept (expressed by cherubim) waits for another humanity in which to be fulfilled.

But if some wish to see these all as physical actualities on earth, I see no problem to that, as long as there is understanding of the concept which is attached to the representation.


As stated in the question, I see the real and true account of creation in the first pages of Genesis. In six days was creation made and on the seventh, God rested.

Adam and Eve were both real people and were a direct creation of God. Eve really was taken out of Adam.

God really did make every species directly as the account states.

And, later, a real global flood carried all away, except for eight persons.

Yes, I believe these things.

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  • It's interesting that YLT has "causeth to sprout from the ground every tree desirable for appearance, and good for food, and the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.", whereas KJV inserts "also" in place of the first "and". Aug 2, 2022 at 20:13
  • This confuses me mightily: "The concept waits for another humanity in which to be fulfilled. The cherubim." You cannot be saying that the Cherubim are another humanity. Aug 2, 2022 at 20:19
  • @MikeBorden The concept (cherubim) waits. Another humanity (the second man, the last Adam) will fulfil that concept. The first humanity (in Adam) failed of that concept. Edited for clarity.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 3, 2022 at 18:42
  • Ezekiel seems to indicate 4 Cherubs associated each with a wheel and the whole as the living creature which he saw. This is a fourfold concept of union with God? Aug 4, 2022 at 12:49
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    @MikeBorden Feel free to download the book 'The Cherubim of Glory' from my website wherein I cover the entire subject, in detail, through several books of scripture.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 4, 2022 at 12:52
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According to the text, the trees seem to be actual… though “the text” might vary according to your preferred translation.

If we drop the religious baggage, ignore how trees being “pleasant to the sight” could help and look at the text alone, what are we left with?

God made every tree to grow… the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil

How does that not leave “…every tree… the tree of life also… and the tree of knowledge of good and evil”? There, what could “…and the tree of knowledge…” add?

How, then, could the trees being symbolic or actual depend on anything but the phrase “the tree of life also…”?

According to the text, how could that crucial “…also…” mean anything other than “just like the others”?

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I believe that the Bible clearly shows that the two trees are real trees with special properties, which also serve special symbolic purposes.

The garden of Eden is the earthly counterpart to God's dwelling place in the spiritual realm, in which God fellowships with His children. It can be reasonably assumed that God habitually visits Eden in order to instruct the man and his wife, and also to enjoy each other's company.

In the centre of the Eden, God plants two special trees: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The first serves as a symbol; it teaches that fellowshipping with God is life itself, and that there is no life apart from being in constant communion with Him. Genesis 3:22 also indicates that its fruit has some special property which makes the consumer to be permanently crystallized in whatever moral state they are in.

The second also is a symbol; it teaches mankind what pleases God and what displeases God. What pleases God is mankind's fellowship with Him. And their fellowship is based on their obedience to His instructions, which God gives them for the sake of their own happiness. What displeases God is disobedience, because it breaks their fellowship and results in their death and dishonour. When God sternly warns mankind not to eat the fruit of the second tree, God gives mankind the objective knowledge of what is evil (i.e. what displeases God), that is, the act of disobedience. As long as the tree exists in Eden, it serves as a constant object lesson to remind the mankind that obedience is life, and that they must be careful to heed all their Father's good instructions. At the same time, eating the actual fruit would impart in them the sin nature, and bring them death.

According to their perfect innocence, they joyfully obey. They have experienced nothing but loving fellowship with their Father, and have not experienced any guilt and its accompanying shame. They are completely pleasing to God; there is nothing dishonourable within themselves to try to cover over, as demonstrated by their complete nakedness.

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The OP asks "according to the text," but the text doesn't say explicitly whether the trees are literal or symbolic. Gen. 1 clearly describes literal trees, however, so we can at least deduce that the trees in the Gen 2 were special. I think they were symbolic. A hint comes when the man and woman cover their sexual parts after eating the forbidden fruit. In my opinion eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge represents sexual activity before it is permitted by God.

(added 9/30/20:) This view is supported for example by Jacob Milgrom, former chair of Near Eastern Studies and UC Berkeley:

Much ink has been spilled over the Garden of Eden episode (Genesis 2:4b–3:24), but its meaning remains elusive. I submit, however, that there is a plain, unambiguous meaning to the story, which we can readily see by paying close attention to the text, unencumbered by the overlay of subsequent theological traditions. It is a story about sexual awareness and the creativity of which that is a part.

The Tree of Life perhaps represents humanity in perfection, which was barred to them due to their immature union. The restoration of humanity's loss of chastity is described in Revelation 22:14 where the Tree of Life is restored to those who wash their robes. In ch. 14 they are specifically described as being chaste and undefiled (7:14).

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  • Making original sin into "sex outside of marriage"? That sounds a bit like Aquinas. They already had the command to be fruitful and multiply so the Tree must symbolize something else. I personally, and biblically, think that the nature we inherited from Adam is more broadly corrupted. Aug 6, 2022 at 20:20
  • @MikeBorden you are right about the commandment to multiply, but IMO Adam and Eve were created as less than fully mature. The commandment not to 'eat' was temporary. Sep 28, 2022 at 14:14
  • You think all of creation groans under a curse because Adam couldn't "keep it in his pants"? What about God saying, "Look, the man has become like us knowing good and evil"? Does this mean that God is sexually active? Sep 30, 2022 at 12:32
  • God's image is male and female, so God must be the same. God gave birth the the universe and his process of creation is analogous to human procreation IMO, but I wouldn't call it being "sexually active." Sep 30, 2022 at 14:14
  • Or, He created both the male and the female in His image (which actually has no physical corollary because God is Spirit). LDS believe that God has a mortal body by this very same reasoning. Do you think God also has arms and legs because we are in His image? Oct 3, 2022 at 12:45

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