Thursday, April 2, 2015

Three Special Trees

A few months ago there was an interesting post by Nicholas Batzig, A Biblical Theology of the Trees of the Garden. He contends that the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil did not have any inherent magical powers. Rather, both trees were sacramental symbols, pointing to a reality beyond themselves.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was an ordinary tree, arbitrarily chosen by God to represent what man could attain by obedience or disobedience. Unhappily, man attained experiential knowledge of good and evil from the wrong side, by becoming evil.

The culmination of human evil occurs at the cross, a second "tree" (1 Peter 2:24) of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the last Adam, unlike the first Adam, rejected the evil and chose the good. He is the source of all true knowledge of good and evil. By hanging on the tree, He restores, for His believers, the knowledge of the Good, which Adam lost by eating from the first Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Christ's sacrifice on the cross also restores access to the Tree of Life, which Adam forfeited. The Tree of Life symbolized eternal life with God. In the institution of the Lord's Supper we are to "take and eat" of the body and blood of the crucified Christ, the fruit of the cross, which now becomes a new Tree of Life for believers. In glory, we will eat of the Tree of Life forever by feeding on Him (Rev. 2:7; 22:2). We will have the Knowledge of Good and Evil restored perfectly, so that we will forever choose the good and reject the evil.

A fitting meditation for Easter.

Were the two trees in the Garden of Eden merely sacramental symbols?

Not everyone agrees that the two trees in the garden had no special inherent powers. Arthur Custance, for example, contended that the forbidden fruit contained a poison, perhaps some form of alcohol (see The Seed of the Women, p.132). This poison caused biological and moral degeneration, and was passed on to Adam's posterity through the paternal sperm (op.cit., pp.145-147). The Tree of Life,on the other hand produced the antidote to this poison, which would have allowed Adam to regain his physical immortality. That is how Custance viewed Gen.2:22-23: "Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever -" therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden.

Yet, most Reformed theologians, including John Calvin, Geerhardus Vos, and Louis Berkhof, have held that the trees had no special properties. The knowledge of evil gained by Adam was caused by his moral sin, not by any physical effect of the tree; Adam's subsequent death was a punishment by God for his disobedience, not a consequence of fruit poisoning.

What about the Tree of Life? Calvin writes,
"There never was any intrinsic efficacy in the tree, but God made it life-giving insofar as he had sealed his grace to man as he used it. In short, God resolved to wrest out of the hands of man what gave grounds for confidence, in case he should form for himself a vain hope of the perpetuity of the life he had lost." (Commentary on Genesis)
Eating from the Tree of Life was a symbol of life, received from God, for fellowship with Him. Since God is the giver of all life, Adam would not have been able enjoy life against the will of God, even if he had eaten the whole tree.

Louis Berkhof concludes that Adam was initially created immortal, in the sense that he did not bear within him the seeds of death, and would thus not have died necessarily due to his physical constitution (Systematic Theology, p.209). As long as he did not sin, he was not liable to death. After the fall, Adam's body became subject to decay, disease, and death.


Henrietta said...

Thank you - so much food for thought!

john byl said...

Hi Henrietta

Nice to hear from you. I hope you are doing well. Have a blessed Easter.

Unknown said...

So we should believe in a literal Adam and Eve , but the trees , which to me are the centeral part of the story are metaphorical?

john byl said...

Hi Omar

As I stated in the post, the trees are real, not metaphorical. But they serve as sacramental symbols having a profound meaning.

tresc77 said...

I have wondered about this topic, the trees of Life, and the tree of knowlege of Good and Evil also.

What I have considered, is the logic of what they might be.

1. - The Tree of Life.

Re: The Name of the Hebrew Scriptures, is the Tanach.

There was apparently a legend of a Tana Tree, in a Place called Tana in Ancient Egypt.

There is a Tana Tree, native to Kenya, in which an Ape lives, from eating the Leaves of the Tana Tree.

Further, there is something the way, in Old Dutch, used to define the word, Believe.

To be a Leaf.

The Name Leaf is a Name of an Adventurer named Leaf Ericson, Son of Eric the Red.

The concept, of Memorizing the Scriptures, as Memorizing a Leave in a Codex, is easily understood to mean, BE Lieve, or be a leaf in that Codex, of the Book of Life.

The Tree of Knowlege of Good and Evil, could also be looked upon as Disobedience regarding the First Commandment of God, to Be Fruitful and Multiply.

This disobedience would be complete, in Commission off Homosexuality.

This was said to be why, Ham was Cursed by Noah.

Further, if Cain was told, by Adam, that he would no longer be able to take the strength, of the Earth, from the Earth, and not be able to Eat the Fruit of the Earth, also, then He would only be able to Eat that which could, eat the Fruit of the Earth, which is cattle and Sheep and Goats.

Further he would almost of necessity need to be a Vagabond and a fugitive in the Earth.

Mitch Cervinka said...

I agree that the trees had no physical properties that made them intrinsically deadly or able to impart eternal life, but I think perhaps it misses the mark to refer to them as merely "sacramental symbols".

There was an actual penalty associated with eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (TKGE)--namely, guilt, corruption and ultimate death for Adam and his posterity. This came upon Adam, not because of any physical properties of the tree or its fruit, but because of the command of God. God had singled out this tree and promised death to Adam if he should eat of its fruit.

I believe the Reformers were correct in describing this as a "Covenant of Works" between God and Adam which promised death if Adam should eat of the tree (WCF 7:2-3).

It appears there was a similar covenant attending the Tree of Life (TOL), since, according to Genesis 3:22, Adam would have lived forever if he had eaten of that tree. This appears to imply that, (hypothetically) had Adam chosen to eat the fruit of the TOL before choosing to eat from the TKGE, his probation would have ended, and God would have taken away access to the TKGE, preventing him from falling into sin.

Since Adam had already fallen under the curse of death for eating from the TKGE, he had forfeited his right to eat from the TOL, so God expelled him from the garden and guarded it to deny him access to the TOL. Given that eating from the TOL would have afforded him eternal life, can we not conclude that access to the TKGE (which would have brought death upon him) would have been discontinued if Adam had eaten from the TOL first? It appears that eating of either of the two trees is mutally exclusive with eating from the other one, and thus the consequence of eating from either tree would be that access to the other tree is thereafter denied to him.

The TOL appears later in scripture (Rev 2:7; 22:2), teaching us that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the TKGE and has not only restored access to the TOL, but has in fact obtained for us the benefits which the TOL offered--namely, eternal life and (ultimately) the impossibility of ever sinning again (Romans 6:22; 1 Thes 5:23).