Interpreting the early chapters of Genesis
Published: 3 November 2012 (GMT+10)
Flickr: Ian B-M
S.V. from New Zealand writes:
Concerning how adam and other animals could live forever, god mentions that they did and could eat from ‘the tree of life’. Since the ends of our dna molecules run out, perhaps. This tree would provide fruit that would supply the neccesary ingredients for the ends of the molecules or perhaps had the ends whole in itself (im not a genius but hopefully you get what I mean). They would then eat this fruit which enabled their cells to divide indefinitely. When they left the garden the ends would’ve started to run out and they died. In revelation it states that god will make a new tree of life and a new tree of knowledge of good and evil. We will also live infinitely there too.
Lita Cosner responds:
Since we don’t have access to the Tree of Life and can’t test its effects, we can’t know precisely what its function was. However, there would be considerably more to immortality than simply keeping the telomeres from getting shorter (cancer cells can divide forever, after all, and that isn’t considered a good thing). Mutations (both inherited genetic mutations, and somatic ones accumulated throughout one’s lifetime) would have to be prevented. There would also have to be no possibility of infectious or ‘lifestyle’ related diseases such as atherosclerosis or other degenerative diseases that were not repairable merely by ‘cells dividing). And it’s hard to think of how a fruit could confer invulnerability—the ability to not be injured by any accidents, etc.
For these and other reasons, some of us lean toward a symbolic view of the Tree of Life. This view says that like the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the Tree of Life was an actual tree with a symbolic meaning; access to it symbolized Adam’s perfect relationship with God and continued immortality. Conversely, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil wasn’t poisonous or evil in and of itself; the fruit itself didn’t confer death. Rather, the only way that Adam could eat of the tree was in disobedience and rebellion, so eating the fruit brought death not because the fruit was deadly, but because the rebellion was deadly.
Others of us lean toward an actual function of the Tree of Life in granting immortality, though it’s difficult to say exactly what that was. One reason is that God removed Adam and Eve from access to the Tree ‘lest they eat and live forever’. This would suggest that God designed the Tree to grant life in some sense, and it would do so even after Adam and Eve had sinned. Also, when it re-appears in Revelation, its leaves are ‘for the healing of the nations’, and we will eat of its fruit, suggesting that it will have some positive health-giving function even in a perfect creation where there is no death or pain or suffering (though again it’s difficult to say for certain how such things will work).
Either view of the Tree is consistent with a biblical view of creation, because both are consistent with how God has worked elsewhere in Scripture, and we’re really not given enough information to decide between the two views decisively.
There is the possibility that the Christian understanding of Creation has led to imagined scientific difficulties, particularly in relation to starlight.
This is the age-old starlight and time chestnut. We are well aware of this. See: How can we see distant stars in a young universe? and further reading at: How can we see light from stars millions of light years away? But did you know that the standard ‘scientific’ model of the origin of the universe, the big bang, has its own starlight travel problem? See: Light-travel time: a problem for the big bang
Some Jewish texts do not associate verses 1, 2, and 3 in the same temporal sense. The word “create” is not used again in relation to the heavens and earth after verse 1. The six days of creation, on Earth, may have followed a period after God created the heavens and the earth (verse 1). Verse 2:4 can be interpreted in many ways. No amount of exegesis can resolve this, and to my mind, this ancient Jewish understanding perhaps has more authority than the Christian interpretation developed through Hellenic ways of thinking. I cannot know which interpretation is correct, but would offer that neither can anyone else. However, this Jewish interpretation may offer a new line of thinking for creation scientists, and may lead to far simpler scientific explanations. We should not let established dogma constrain our thinking.
You do not give any references for your claim that “Some Jewish texts do not associate verses 1, 2, and 3 in the same temporal sense”. I know of no Jewish sources that do any such thing. Indeed, all known Hebrew texts of Genesis 1:1,2,3 are the same and the Hebrew construction is clear to anyone who knows biblical Hebrew. This and your argument about the Hebrew for create (bara) are answered in detail here: Gap theory revisited. Our standard treatment of the ‘gap theory’ (which is what you are proposing) also deals with the grammatical construction that absolutely rules out the idea you propose: What about gap theories?
Furthermore, Orthodox Jewish tradition is absolutely clear that there is no temporal disconnection between the first verse and subsequent verses. Please see: Creation days and Orthodox Jewish tradition.
I hope this helps you to see that there is no ‘wriggle room’ here at all to allow ‘deep time’. But allowing for ‘deep time’ also leads to accepting that the rocks and fossils are also very old and then you have death and suffering in the world that God called ‘very good’. This also undermines the Gospel. But please read the above articles that spell this out. This is no esoteric debate merely about the age of things; it affects the goodness of God, the historical basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection and what they mean, as well as the doctrine of future things.
Chris C. from the United States writes:
Dear CMI, When en. 2:5 is talking about the plants of the field, is the Hebrew saying that their kinds hadn’t been created yet or that they didn’t begin to grow, sprout and propagate (implying they were already created)? In both cases, were the plants that grew in the garden of Eden these plants of the field (it doesn’t seem like it because it says that God made them grow, not rain and man), or do the plants of the field only begin to appear or propagate after Adam and Eve leave the garden to till the ground? If the latter is the case, it doesn’t seem like they would’ve been supernaturally created then, but that they began to grow, sprout, and propagate, but I have no idea. When I first read the Bible, I thought this was just referring back to day three, but that can’t be the case if it says man and rain is required for these plants. Help would be appreciated. Thanks for reading. Your brother in Christ, Chris C.
CMI’s Lita Cosner responds:
We know that the modern crops of wheat, barley, rice, and corn which form staples of human diets all around the world were created by cultivating existing created plants to be more suitable for human consumption—with bigger grains, more grains per stalk, etc. These plants are dependent on rain (as any farmer will tell you!) and people to take care of the crops. So there were no ‘plants of the field’ like corn and wheat in the same sense that there were no Chihuahuas and Great Danes—the crops required human cultivation in the same way that today’s modern dog breeds resulted from careful selective breeding. Interestingly in the context of the Genesis narrative, this sort of working the soil was a result of the Curse—in the Garden of Eden, Adam had easy work tending the fruit there, there’s no indication of hard agricultural labor. So perhaps 2:5 should be seen in light of 3:17–19.
See this paper from Journal of Creation for more information.
Chris C. responded:
Thank you. That was a great answer and exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for the details and the dog analogy. It seems very likely that 2:5 should be seen in light of 3:17–19, but I’ll be sure not to be dogmatic about it. Thanks again and God bless.
I like the article and the feed back concerning the tree of life.I must tell Our God is great and He can do whatever pleases Him for His and our enjoyment. I believe there is now the time when we receive more understanding about the Bible,Genesis and the book of Revelation. Lita Cosner writing was brilliant again, however I don't agree with S.V. From New Zealand, about the ...."a new tree of knowledge of good and evil"...as this is not in the Bible.Sorry.Book of Revelation 22:2 talk about the tree of life /leaves are for healing../, and verse 3 says.."no more curse..." No more curse, no death also.
I see the good plan of God when He drove the first pair out of the garden of Eden and protected them and the tree of Life,- if God did not move,they would eaten of the tree of Life, then mankind forever would live in sin sickness,eternally would be lost, and no Salvation message would go forth,as it happening now.Thanks God whatHe had done!
I must admit, in the Heaven where is His throne, there is no evil presence/God never let His kingdom be divided/, and on the Earth He can do the same, no death on Earth, however when and how, we will know it when we trust Him enough to reveal it to us.
Kind regards, Mrs. K. P.
"Others of us lean toward an actual function of the Tree of Life in granting immortality, though it’s difficult to say exactly what that was. One reason is that God removed Adam and Eve from access to the Tree ‘lest they eat and live forever’. This would suggest that God designed the Tree to grant life in some sense, and it would do so even after Adam and Eve had sinned."
I think there're some good/simple points that could be raised against the position that God created the ToL to keep Adam/Eve alive. If the ToL's fruit was in place to keep them alive, then
* It would imply that death was possible "in some sense", had they chosen to abstain from its fruit;
- I've debated other Christians that promote this view b/c they assume that death-before-sin was possible
* I would've expected God to inform Adam about it being necessary to eat from the ToL during his one and only warning regarding death. Since God did not include this in his warning to Adam, I think it's good evidence that the only way to die was by disobedience, not by abstaining from the fruit.
Regarding Adam/Eve being removed from the Garden "lest they eat and live forever", I think there's a simple solution in the symbolic view, from my PoV at least. Certainly eating from the Tree of Knowledge (ToK) was an act of rebellion, which was the problem. It seems to me that, had Adam/Even been allowed to remain in the Garden and eat from the ToL, they would've been able to:
* walk up to it, eat, and "save themselves" --w/o God, contradicting Ephe 2:9 before it was revealed;
* live forever because their actions would imply active trust in God's promise of eternal Life, just like eatting from ToK implied rebellion
Both possibilities needed to be avoided.
PS: It's diff. to add more detail here, but you get it.
Thanks for these comments, all useful. Because we are not given a lot of detail about how the Tree of Life functioned, there will necessarily be some uncertainty as we discuss these sorts of things. But one of the reasons God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden was to remove them from access to the Tree of Life, so they couldn't eat from it and live forever (Gen. 3:22).
Whenever I hear of someone trying to explain away the days, I ask my favourite question.
"If YOU wanted to say something happened in an ordinary 24-hour day, and be sure anyone in the world would understand it, in any culture & for all of time, how would YOU say it?"
I can't think of a better way than using "evening and morning"!