At Genesis 3:22, God says

"And now, lest he reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever ..."

This sounds like a one-and-done - Adam eats once and therefore lives forever.

But there is a tension here with Revelation 22:2, where the Tree of Life is depicted as something that can be eaten of in an on-going way.

"On either side of the river stood a tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and yielding a fresh crop for each month."

Is there anything in the grammar at Genesis 3:22 to indicate God is trying to preempt a single action, or if what God is trying to preempt might be an on-going pattern of eating from the tree instead?

  • 2
    Other religions of the time had a conception of a holy fruit that needed to be eaten regularly for their gods to have everlasting life. But there are counter examples where some mortal seems offered a one-time meal which would give everlasting life.
    – user2055
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 5:28
  • Jumping from Genesis to Revelation requires a theological perspective to justify, since they are nearly a thousand years apart. Despite what the grammar indicates, if a theology takes both books it must reconcile this.
    – user2055
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 5:31
  • @frеdsbend Sure, but NT authors routinely quoted from and used OT as source or inspiration. No? Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 5:35
  • Yes, that's why you can take an exegetical approach that's systematically theological when looking at Genesis, but you don't need to. Without a theology including future works, there's no expectation. The exegesis is insular, and maybe reaches to contemporary works for similarities in form, etc. Thus, if you must consider Revelation because of personal conviction, the actual grammar doesn't matter, since the Revelation passage is much less ambiguous. Maybe the Genesis author wasn't sure either? A theological answer like "progressive revelation" allows a conflict, for example.
    – user2055
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 5:46
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    Doesn't answer your question but I'll point out that even if the fruit needs to be eaten regularly it's still possible for a single meal to be problematic. If the fruit adds a month of life then there would be immediate concern that Adam would live 1 month longer than intended. In which case there's no contradiction no matter what the verb tense of Genesis is.
    – SkySpiral7
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 21:12

5 Answers 5


Looking for a solution to this question in the grammar of Gen. 3 is barking up the wrong tree (sorry for the bad pun). We get a better clue by looking at the other tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But the direct answer is that the eating of the Tree of Life represents an ongoing pattern of perfected humanity participating in God's sustaining grace.

Already having eaten of the forbidden fruit in Gen 2, Adam and Eve had figurately died on the day they ate of it, and were thus unqualified to eat of the Tree of Life. God was not literally worried about Adam eating of literal fruit here. Nor is the flaming sword that bars his way a literal sword. It is a spiritual reality: having violated the Commandment, Adam/mankind must be restored to an Edenic state before we can partake of the Tree of Life. This is depicted in the Book of Revelation as an ongoing process. The same would have been the case for the original Adam and Eve, and their descendants, had they not fallen.

We also get clues that the Tree of Life represents an ongoing reality from other biblical passage:

  • Her (Wisdom's) ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed. (Proverbs 3)

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

  • Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)

  • The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

  • Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14)

These references to the Tree of Live (or a tree life) show that it is often used as a symbol to refer to human beings who embody virtues such as truth, wisdom, purity, hope or righteousness. Some have suggested that the Tree of Life thus represents the perfect man, originally meaning Adam if he had not fallen, and Christ as the "last Adam." (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Along these lines the 17th c. Calvinist theologian Francis Turretin wrote:

Christ [is] the true tree of life… No one except Christ is in the midst of paradise (Rev. 2:7) and of the street of the city (Rev. 22:2). Christ is in the midst of the church (as a more honorable and suitable place) to be near all and diffuse his vivifying power among all; to be seen by all, as the center in which all the lines of faith and love ought to meet, that they may acquiesce in him. [He is] the fruit-bearing tree (Rev. 2:7), which bears the sweetest and most exquisite fruit for the support of believers (Cant. 2:3), bears twelve kinds of them (Rev. 22:2), i.e., the most abundant and richest, sufficing for the twelve tribes of Israel (i.e., for all the members of the church, which from his fullness draw all gifts necessary for them). It bears them every month (i.e., perpetually) because the power and efficacy of the righteousness and spirit of Christ are perpetual and unceasing for the consolation and sanctification of believers. Its leaves (never falling and perpetually green) are appointed for the healing of the nations because it has the virtue not only of aliment (to feed our souls), but also of medicine (most healthful to cure all our diseases, Is. 53:5; Mt. 11:28).

Thus, eating of the Tree of Life may be understood to represent perfected men and women participating eternally in the life-giving spiritual food provided by God. Whether applied to Adam in Genesis or to Christians in Revelation, is not a question of "eating" once but of partaking eternally in God's sustaining grace.


I have always argued for "ongoing pattern". That is, "lest they eat" should be understood as "lest they continue to eat". One clue is the fact that the tree of life is in "the middle of the garden". This implies that it was always intended to be at the centre of their existence there. This assumption takes away the paradox of "what if they managed to grab a bite before he expelled them", wich is based on a false analogy with the other tree. And I agree that the Revelation picture backs up the interpretation of "life through continual eating".

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    – agarza
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 21:59
  • +1 How do you connect "One clue is the fact that the tree of life is in "the middle of the garden". This implies that it was always intended to be at the centre of their existence there." with Genesis 3:3? "but about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You must not eat of it or touch it, or you will die.’ ”" Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 23:39
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    @OneGodtheFather, it's always been a lot easier kill and destroy, than it is to build and keep alive. The former is acomplished by momentary action. The later requires continual vigilance and wisdom.
    – Austin
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 15:55

Gen 3:22 has puzzled many - it appears to imply, based on the Qal imperfect tense of the verb "put out" and its association with other in the phrase: "lest he put out his hand and take", that this an on-going action which would have kept the humans living.

That is, one might translate the pertinent phrase as: "lest he continue to put out his hand and take ...".

The story then says that God banished the pair from the garden to separate them from the source of eternal life, ie, the tree of life, and thus prevent them living forever. Just how this worked, we do not know because we are not told.

However, the source of eternal life was now to be changed - instead of the tree of life, eternal life would now be invested with the Son of Righteousness (Mal 4), the One born of woman (Gen 3:15) and the One who would call Himself (the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25, 26). See also 1 John 5:11, 12.

  • +1 "based on the Qal imperfect tense of the verb "put out" and its association with other in the phrase" Can you say more about what you mean by 'its association with other'? Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 23:48
  • @OneGodtheFather - the words occur in the same phrase in Gen 3:22.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 23:51

Nature, it is often said, is God's "Second Book." It really should be considered the first, because all creation existed before the Bible was written. However, within the "book of nature," we have a big clue as to the answer for this question.

The DNA in every cell of our bodies must be replicated each time a cell divides, the daughter cell replacing the original cell. Except for meiosis, in which the haploid gametes are produced, the two DNA strands must be kept attached to each other to keep them correctly aligned. When cell division occurs, therefore, they are "unzipped" up to the maximum length that still keeps the two strands held together at the end, and the open portion is then copied. With each such copy, a part of the end of the DNA strand, called the telomere, grows shorter.

The telomeres are just extra lengths on the end of the DNA strand, containing no genetic information, and are there just for the purpose of allowing the actual genetic portions to be fully copied. But once the telomeres are shortened or lost to the point where the genes cannot be fully copied, genetic information that is important to cellular function is lost, and the cell soon dies (apoptosis). When enough of one's cells have reached this age-related threshhold, organ failure will eventually occur, and death is the result.

There is no elixir on earth that can lengthen those telomeres. Many creationist biologists believe that the Tree of Life is the key to doing this. In theory, by simply lengthening the telomeres periodically, one's life could be extended, potentially forever.

If this is related to the mechanism for prolonging one's life, it would indicate that the Tree of Life is something from which all of us would need to partake on a regular basis. Exactly how often that might be, we are not told. Obviously, daily consumption would be unnecessary. Would it be enough to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life once per year? Perhaps. The interesting detail that the Bible gives is that the Tree will yield twelve kinds of fruit per year--one per month.

In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2, KJV)

We also know that throughout eternity we will gather together at least once every week--on the Sabbath--so we would have at least weekly access to the Tree.

22 For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. 23 And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 66:22-23, KJV)

The most important point is that in order to have the right to eat of the Tree of Life, one must keep God's commandments.

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14, KJV)

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    +1 for an interesting angle and contextual evidence for on-going eating being what's referred to. But even if telomeres are 'replenished', people will still die from accidents, no? Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 16:31

God isn't worried about anything because he is the Almighty, sovereign ruler over all that is. Nor was the issue of eating any particular fruit the matter of concern. That's because there is no literal fruit that can give humans eternal life any more than there's any literal fruit that can give humans knowledge - of anything. Eating is not the problem, either eating something only once, or eating something several times.

In the Genesis account, the life God would give is set in opposition to the knowledge God's adversary tempts humanity with, which he claims will give them something God is trying to keep from them. That is the deceptive temptation which humanity fell for in the Garden, and which all of us (children of the first Adam and the woman he named Eve) continue to fall for.

This is about believing God, who cannot lie, or believing some creature who whispers lies beguilingly in our ears. We cannot do both. We either stick to what God has told us, or we end up being beguiled with half-truths and downright lies from God's adversary.

There is no tension with Revelation 22, for the vision John received was not about a literal tree with literal fruit any more than it was about a literal great city in heaven that is, simultaneously, the bride of Christ. This is symbolic language. Grammar in Genesis 3:22 has no bearing on the question because that verse is about what God did to deal with the choice Adam made in preferring to aspire to be as God regarding knowledge. For as long as the thought is that it's about a literal fruit tree in some long-disappeared garden, those thoughts will result in a perpetual circle being worn into the ground, with nobody getting anywhere. No hermeneutic approach will get anybody out of this ever-deepening circle because it's a spiritual approach that is called for. In my view, that is. I know many will disagree but I'm not here to argue or to defend my answer.

  • 1
    Couldn't the fruit be both literal and symbolic? If it is symbolic only then what is to prevent the entire creation account from being merely symbolic? Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 13:28
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    @Mike Borden, indeed, it is both, but the point of my answer was to get the focus off literal, material things and on to the spiritual meaning. Likewise, there was a literal Ark used for the saving of souls, animals and birds during a literal global flood, yet that symbolises the salvation only found in Christ.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 14:25

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