When God was ready to put the man Adam (also mankind) to work, He placed the man in the garden He had prepared for the abode for him. In that garden, and it appears in that garden alone, there were two trees that were different from all other trees that God created. The two trees occurred in one specimen each and that specimen was found in that garden. This unique pair of trees, tree of life and tree of the knowledge of good and evil, were placed in the center of the garden. When God placed the man into the garden, He specifically warned the man not to eat the fruit that grew on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It might be worth noting that God said nothing to the man concerning the tree of life. We may assume that, from God’s initial perspective at least, the fruit of the tree of life was available to the man for consumption (Genesis 2:16-17 as supported by Genesis 1:29).
Now, it doesn’t seem reasonable that God was setting the man up. He didn’t just tell him to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He indicated a specific outcome should the man decide to eat that fruit against His expressed will. The man was told that should he eat that fruit, a particular outcome would occur. That outcome was captured in the phrase mot tamut (Hebrew). It turns out there is a bit of a problem with the translation of that term. It contains an infinitive verb form with a future tense of the same verb. The root meaning of the verb is “to die.” Of that there is no dispute. But when the particular word combination occurs here, it seems to confound unanimity in translation. It sort of means, “dying you will die.” It implies the certainty of death. But, it is awkward to translate. The literal “dying you will die” doesn’t make really clear sense to us. Some say that the warning concerned the certainty of dying.
That is further complicated by the fact that God had said “in the day you eat it” as well. According to scripture, this particular man (Adam was his name) lived to be 930 years old. The events in the garden happened well over 800 years (probably quite near the 930 number) before he physically died. So, he certainly did not die “in the day” literally.
So we have these two complexities when confronting the content of the passage. First, the verb form is hard to deal with. Second, the statement of consequence is difficult to comprehend considering the length of time between the transgression and anything we can observe that would look like the announced consequence.
Can we make sense out of all this? Well, maybe we can. Let’s dig into that a bit.
Let me make a proposition. In order to get into that, let’s briefly examine some ideas about the other special, one-of-a-kind tree. That other tree obviously had life associated with it. The tree under consideration had death associated with it. Its name doesn’t say so, but the full prohibition does: eating its fruit would result in death. We might assume that eating the fruit of the tree of life would have a result that had something to do with life, and not death, by simple exclusion.
Fruit of one tree suggests something to do with life. Fruit of the other tree specifies something to do with death. That should be accepted at face value. None of the other trees in the garden, or outside the garden for that matter, was associated with these ascriptions; only these two.
It seems apparent then, that God had arranged matters so that the man was to be left with a choice between actions that led to death and the avoidance of those actions. In the avoidance of those actions, by implication, life would be the default. Apparently, life would be the default, even without eating the fruit from the tree of life. This stands in contrast to what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:18, but we will get back to that in a bit.
Another dimension of this scenario is that death was absent from the creation at the time God gave that instruction to the man. Had the man foregone the consumption of the prohibited fruit, the mechanism through which death came into focus in the creation would have not come into being. That is, of course, until some other person chose that fruit. Looked at in this way, we might form a tentative conclusion that the real issue was death itself, not the fruit. Actually, though, that doesn’t get us to closure yet.
So, let’s get to the proposition. Suppose we use the following rough understanding of the passage, “if you eat the fruit of that tree, you will, with certainty, introduce the principle of death into the creation.” I understand that is not a literal translation. Some may even be bothered by that interpretation. But, it seems to fit the circumstance of the prohibition and the history that followed the disobedience. Adam did eventually die a literal death insofar as the flesh is concerned. That is part of the human condition.
Allowing the proposition, we can include corruption and decay into our analysis. They seem to be quite closely allied with death.
So, if this is all reasonable, once the death principle came onto the scene, there was a question related to the tree of life. What if someone, after the death principle had entered the creation, ate the fruit from the tree of life? What would be the consequences of that? It seems God decided to head that off by banishing the man (and his wife) from the garden where the tree of life was located. Not only that, but He made re-entry impossible. Access to the tree of life was thereafter not permitted or possible. By the way, it appears it will be again in the age to come (Revelation 22:2).
Let’s get back to the secret meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus. Paul speaks of a law of sin and death in Romans 8:2. He also spoke of our liberation from that law. When Jesus addressed Nicodemus’s questions, He indicated that the current default condition of man is the condition of condemnation. This means that any one of us, in the raw state, is already condemned because we have not yet chosen to not be. In the garden, before the fall, the default condition was life. Now the default condition is condemnation. In that sense, then, the work of Jesus was to undo the impact of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Food for thought.
*Coming soon. A new book titled “The Beginning From the End” by Dr. Corbett Gaulden. It will be available in ebook format from eGen and Amazon, and in print format from Amazon.