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Genesis 2:9; the Tree of Life and the Tree of Death, Part 2

by Karl Kemp  
6/24/2014 / Bible Studies

We continue with the study of Gen. 2:9 here in Part 2, starting with quoting the last part of the verse.

"and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [[God warned Adam in Gen. 2:17 that if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good AND EVIL, he would in that day die. As the sad story unfolds in chapter 3, we learn that Eve, followed by Adam, listened to the devil and joined him in his rebellion against God - they rejected the light (and life) of God and submitted to the darkness (the darkness that must, with top priority, be kept separate from the light), and that very day they died (they died spiritually that day, having lost their life-flowing relationship with God, and the physical death process was initiated). I believe the tree could have been named "the tree of the knowledge of light AND DARKNESS" without changing the revelation in any substantial way. Or it could have been named the "tree of the knowledge of life AND DEATH," or more simply, "the tree of the knowledge of DEATH," or more simply yet, "the tree of DEATH." They ate of the forbidden fruit of that tree, and they died, as God had said they would (Gen. 2:17; 3:3).

There were two trees in the middle of the garden. ((I had a footnote: Genesis 3:3 confirms that the tree of the knowledge of good AND EVIL was also in the middle of the garden. These trees were IN THE MIDDLE of the garden because they were the most important trees in the garden; their importance far overshadowed all the other trees in the garden. They were, in fact, much more important than the physical garden itself. By saying that these two trees are to be understood in a non-physical, symbolic sense, we are not at all detracting from the supreme importance of these two trees or wandering off into a world of unreality. We are interpreting words in the highest possible sense, and we are dealing with the highest possible realities. The words "tree of LIFE" and "tree of the knowledge of good AND EVIL" when understood in a symbolic sense communicate vital truth, and the communication takes place in a powerful, relatively easy to understand way.)) One was the tree of LIFE. The other was the tree of DEATH. Adam and Eve had to choose between them. (We, their offspring, also have to choose between the two trees.) To choose the one was to reject the other; God did not (and He could not) give them the option to eat from both trees. Christians may argue about the exact meaning of the words "the tree of the knowledge of good AND EVIL," but no one who believes the Bible can dispute the fact that for Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of that tree resulted in their death (both spiritual and physical death) - it was, therefore, the tree of DEATH.

Through rebellion Adam and Eve lost their LIFE-FLOWING RELATIONSHIP with GOD (the only source of life), and they died spiritually. (The physical death process was also set in motion.) They were cast out of the garden of Eden (the place where they, for one thing, had communion with GOD and His LIFE). They were separated from God and His life, and the cherubim and the flaming sword (Gen. 3:24) enforced that separation. Man in rebellion and DARKNESS cannot have a life-flowing relationship with God in the LIGHT (cf., e.g., 1 John 1:5-7). This is not to say that God totally abandoned man. Clearly He didn't, and He already had a plan (before He created the world) to eventually restore spiritual life to man (not to all people, but to those who would repent and submit to His plan of salvation), and even to take believers to a place much higher than what Adam and Eve had before the fall.

((I had a three-paragraph footnote: It must be understood that the rebellion of Adam resulted in the death (the spiritual and physical death) of his descendents (cf., e.g., Rom. 5:12-15; 1 Cor. 15:21, 22). His descendants were born outside of the garden; they didn't have a life-flowing relationship with God. But new-covenant salvation in the blood of Christ and the outpoured Spirit makes spiritual life available to believers. A large part of the message of the gospel of the new covenant is that Christ has defeated sin, death (spiritual death and physical death), and Satan and his kingdom of darkness through His all-important atoning death (and resurrection).

The heart of the message of the gospel of new-covenant salvation is that Jesus, the Son of God, the sinless, perfect Lamb of God, bore our sins, back to Adam and Eve, with the guilt and the penalties, including the major penalties of spiritual death and the bondage to sin that comes with spiritual death. He bore the guilt, so we could be forgiven. He bore the penalty of spiritual death (I didn't say He died spiritually), so we could be born again and partake of the spiritual life of God. And He bore our bondage to sin in His atoning death, so we could walk with victory over all sin. "He Himself bore our sins [with the guilt and the penalties (including the major penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin)] in His body on the cross, SO THAT WE MIGHT DIE TO SIN AND LIVE TO RIGHTEOUSNESS [my emphasis]; for by His wounds you were healed [referring to Isa. 53:5] (1 PETER 2:24).

"...that through death He [Christ] might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil" (Heb. 2:14). Old-covenant believers had salvation, but they had to wait for Christ to solve the sin/spiritual death problem in His atoning death and resurrection before they could enter into many of the benefits of that salvation. For example, though the Spirit of God was active under the old covenant, the new birth and the new-covenant dimension of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit were not available yet (see Rom. 6:14; 7:5, 6; 8:1-14; Gal. 3:21, for example; these verses, and many like them, are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ" and my recently published e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." Both books are available at Also, when old-covenant believers died, they went to Sheol/Hades (the kingdom of death), but for them it was not a place of punishment (cf., e.g., Luke 16:19-31). Once Christ had conquered sin and death, He took the old-covenant believers to heaven (cf., e.g., Heb. 11:39, 40; 12:14; these verses from the book of Hebrews are discussed on pages 166, 167 of my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin").))

Before Adam and Eve rebelled against God and ate of the forbidden fruit, they knew only GOOD, with No EVIL. (We discussed the nature of that very serious rebellion in my paper on Genesis chapter 3.) The creation account of Gen. 1:1-2:3 emphasized that everything that God created was GOOD. In the paper on Gen. 1:1-2:3 that follows this paper, we will discuss in some detail that the EVIL of DARKNESS (speaking of DARKNESS in a symbolic sense, which includes sin, spiritual death, and Satan and his highly organized kingdom of rebels) was very much on the scene in the background, and that the LIGHT must be kept separate from the DARKNESS. It is very important to see that the angelic being who rebelled and became Satan, apparently one of the cherubim (cf. Ezek. 28:11-15), had been created, fell, and was judged (judged in a preliminary sense), along with those who joined him in his rebellion, all before Gen. 1:1. Genesis 1:2 undoubtedly shows some of the results of that judgment.

Before the fall Adam knew GOOD in the biblical sense that he always willed, thought, and did good (what was right, in accordance with the will of God), and in the biblical sense that he always experienced good (the blessings that came from having a right, life-flowing relationship with God). The GOOD goes with the LIGHT of God, which includes His truth, His righteousness, and His holiness. Adam and Eve were required to continue to live in obedience to God and to walk in His LIFE (and LIGHT); that is, God commanded them to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good AND EVIL (and DARKNESS and DEATH).

Through rebelling and eating/partaking of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good AND EVIL, Adam and Eve increased their knowledge, but the knowledge they gained was All EVIL (bad). Adam and Eve came to know EVIL in the biblical sense of thinking, willing, and doing evil (they lost their innocence), and in the biblical sense of knowing the curses, consequences, and penalties that come with rebelling against God. They came to know the DARKNESS and DEATH that go with sin and rebellion. Before eating of the sinful (forbidden) fruit Adam and Eve knew only GOOD. Through eating the fruit, they came to know EVIL. Before eating of the sinful (forbidden) fruit, they had a life-flowing relationship with God and all the attendant blessings. Through eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of DEATH they DIED.

I'll quote DEUTERONOMY 30:19: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants." This verse, which conveys a dominant biblical theme, is quite parallel in meaning with the message God gave Adam and Eve in the garden by warning them that they must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they stay faithful, they will continue to live - they will continue to partake of the GOOD fruit of the TREE OF LIFE. But, on the other hand, if they rebel and choose to follow the devil in his rebellion against God and eat of the forbidden fruit, on that very day, they will forfeit life and die. How could it be otherwise? You can't be in rebellion against God and live in peace with Him. We shouldn't be surprised when things don't work right when we rebel against, doubt, and/or ignore the Creator.

The fact that sin brings death for God's people is a common theme throughout the Bible. See, for example, EZEKIEL 18:1-32 (I'll quote Ezek. 18:20a: "The person who sins will die."); EZEKIEL 33:10-20 (I'll quote Ezek. 33:11, 18, 19: "Say to them, 'As I live!' declares the LORD GOD, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?' (18) When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it. (19) But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and practices justice and righteousness, he will live by them."); ROMANS 6:16, 21-23 ("Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience [to God and His word] resulting in righteousness? ... (21) Therefore what benefit [fruit] were you then deriving [having] from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. (22) But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive [have] your benefit [fruit], resulting in sanctification [an abiding state of holiness] and the outcome, eternal life. (23) For the wages of sin is death [If you serve sin, when it comes time to collect your wages, you will receive eternal death (no matter what the devil promises you).], but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."); ROMANS 8:13 ("for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit [the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9)] you are putting to death the deeds [works] of the body [of the old man], you will live." [To put to death the works of the flesh (of the old man) equals not doing the works of the flesh. On the works of the flesh, see Gal. 5:19-21; 6:8]); JAMES 5:19, 20 ("My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death...."); and 1 JOHN 5:16 ("If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this.").

As with the "tree of life," I don't believe there was a physical "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" in the garden, but there is no need to be dogmatic on this point. I understand this tree (along with the tree of life) in a symbolic (spiritual) sense: To eat of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good AND EVIL was to rebel against God (DO EVIL) and suffer the EVIL consequences. If such physical trees did exist (and it is very difficult for me to see how they could exist), they would have been very subordinate to the reality of a right, life-flowing relationship with God in the light, or the reality of the awful alternative of rebelling against God and siding in with the devil and his kingdom of EVIL, darkness, and death.

I'll include a brief excerpt from what Henri Blocher said on the Meaning of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" ("In the Beginning," pages 125-134): "If the tree of life is figurative, the same must be said for its counterpart, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ... No parallel for the second tree has been found outside the Bible. The idea that it was an apple tree rests solely on a Latin word-play, "malus"/"malum" (evil/apple)..." (pages 125, 126).

May the will of God be fully accomplished through this paper and His people be edified! We want the truth, the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches! We ask you to deal with us as required to bring this to pass in us! In Jesus' name!

June, 2014

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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