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Why did God prevent Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned?


Published: 29 November 2016 (GMT+10)

In Genesis 2:9, we are told that in the midst of the Garden of Eden, God placed the Tree of Life as well as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam was permitted to eat of every tree in the garden except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned that if Adam ate of its fruit, he would surely begin to die. (See this article for an explanation of why that is the best understanding).

In Genesis 3, the Bible describes the fall of mankind and how sin, death, and suffering entered the world when Adam disobeyed God’s commandment and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Towards the end of Genesis 3, we read:

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. 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 to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22–24)

This raises an interesting question. Why would God prevent Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned? The Bible tells us that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). But if death is an enemy, wouldn’t it have been a good thing for Adam to live forever by eating from the Tree of Life?

When Adam sinned, mankind became estranged from God and physical death entered the world. In this way, through one man, physical death entered the world (cf. Romans 5:12, 17), and through Adam, death now came to all men. If Adam had eaten from the Tree of Life after he sinned, he would have lived forever, but he would have lived in a state of eternal estrangement from God.

While death is tragic and an enemy to God’s perfect creation, this same curse of death, is also what allowed Christ to become incarnate as a man and to actually die on the cross as a ransom for His people. If Adam had eaten from the Tree of Life after he had sinned, all mankind would have lived forever, estranged from God; and Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer, would not have been able to die on the cross in redemption. In other words, if God did not subject sinful humanity with a curse of death, sinful man would not have any chance of being reconciled back to God. If God did not prevent Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned, a future redemption through the physical death of one of Adam’s descendants (Jesus Christ) would not have been possible.

So the irony of it all is that while the wages of sin is death, and while death is the last enemy that would eventually be destroyed at the final consummation of all things, the entrance of physical death is also the mechanism that allows for the Gospel of redemption.

No physical death, no redemption by a Kinsman-Redeemer, no hope for a future restoration and union with Christ.

So while death is an enemy, and while creation itself was subjected by God to futility, and while the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); through Christ, one day, at the final consummation, death will lose its sting (1 Corinthians 15:54–56). Through Christ, the entrance of physical death into the world as a result of sin, serves as the means through which the Messiah would be able to reconcile His people back to Himself by dying on the cross in redemption. Through Christ, creation itself would one day be restored to its former glory and more. Finally, through Christ, all who believe in Him would one day be redeemed, resurrected and restored in perfect union with God; God will recreate a New Heaven and a New Earth, and death itself would one day be destroyed forever (1 Corinthians 15:26).

As Romans 8:20–23 explains, the entrance of physical death in Genesis 3, through Christ, serves the purpose of bringing about the eventual spiritual reconciliation and physical resurrection of all believers; and so that creation itself would one day be set free from the curse.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

The biblical account of creation in Genesis, the historical reality of the fall of man, and the entrance of physical sin, are all central to the gospel and our blessed hope.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:1–5).

One day, all of creation would be restored to its former glory. Death, suffering, sin, and the curse will be done away with. When that happens, believers will once again have access to the Tree of Life which will once again be present in the New Heaven and New Earth. (Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 14, 19).

The historical reality of Adam’s exclusion from the Tree of Life in Genesis 3:22, the protevangelium of Genesis 3:15, and the God-Man of Genesis 4:1, all point us forward to what Jesus would eventually do on the cross ~2,000 years ago, and how the curse of sin would one day be destroyed. Together, these verses paint for us the foundational elements of the Gospel. Through the first Adam, death entered the world. Through the last Adam, Jesus Christ, death on the cross becomes the means through which Creation is reconciled and restored; and when all is completed, death itself, the last enemy, will be forever destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26).

This is the reason why God forbade Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned.

The Gospel

The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). In other words, the reason we die and the reason we are in need of salvation is because we are all sinners. All of Adam’s descendants are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5). Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Thankfully, we also know from the next three verses that follow, that Jesus came to undo the curse of sin and to grant us eternal life. How is this possible? The Bible tells us that to redeem us, God had to become incarnate as man, live a perfect sinless life on our behalf, and then, as our Kinsman-Redeemer, die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. By paying the penalty for sin through his death, those who believe in Him might be reconciled back to God (cf. John 3:16). As our substitute on the cross, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God through his death; and all believers are in turn credited with the righteousness that belongs to Christ. John 3:18 tells us that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18). One day when Christ returns, Jesus will restore His (Acts 3:21) creation to a state where once again, there will no longer be any more death and suffering. Jesus will redeem, restore, recover, return, renew creation and resurrect every believer. As Jonathan Sarfati points out, all these “re–” speak of a restoration of the very good creation that was once marred by sin.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Lester V.
Another factor involved is found in the verb "know". Since God is omniscient, He knows everything. But Adam and Eve only knew what He told them. They knew Good because they knew God. The prohibition of eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was intended to protect them from "knowing" evil in a personal and intimate way. This alternate definition of the verb "know" is seen in its being used to describe the intimate sexual "knowledge" between a husband and his wife. If Adam and Eve had not eaten of the "forbidden fruit" they would have had no knowledge of the impact of evil. God told them everything they needed to know to live full and productive lives. They decided that they wanted to experience first hand the knowledge of evil, rather than trusting what God had told them. It was their desire to be independent of God that resulted in the Fall, and humans suffer from the same desire today, rejecting the revealed Word of God for man's fallible ideas.
John H.
Virtually every writer of Christian books state that we humans rebelled against God or the world is as it is because Adam sinned.
Careful reading of Genesis does not agree with these claims nor do subsequent statements found in the New Testament.
We know by reading Genesis that Adam and Eve were in a complete state of innocents when they were deceived by the subtle serpent, which God had created, into committing an act of disobedience. That after this God told them of the consequences of their being deceived and then God said to the serpent “Gen 3:14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:”
The bible also informs us that a rebellion took place in heaven and that sin existed before the creation of man. I offer the following two of a number of passages that confirmed that we are all victims of the works of the Devil.
1 John 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil
Rev 20:1-4 AND I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden so the could not eat from the tree of life and perpetuate everlasting sin.
Joel Tay
Dear John,

1. The Bible tells us that Eve was deceived, but Adam was not deceived. Adam's rebellion against God was deliberate.

1 Timothy 2:14—and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

2. Neither does the Bible teach that Satan fell before creation. Genesis 1 tell us that after God created the heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1:1), everything God had made was very good.

Genesis 1:31—And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

3. Likewise, in Ezekiel 28:13, the fall of the prince of Tyre is often likened to the fall of Satan. Many commentators take this passage to be a reference to the fall of Satan.

Ezekiel 28:13—You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared.

If this passage is speaking about Satan in his unfallen state in the Garden of Eden, then it should be obvious that this could not have been before Day 3 of creation—the day plants were created. There can be no garden of Eden prior to the creation of plants. So again, we cannot place Satan's fall before the creation of man. In any case, as discussed earlier, Genesis 1:31 does not allow us to place Satan's fall before day six of creation because all God had created (i.e. the Heavens and Earth) was very good. It was not just earth that was brought to decay due to Adam's sin, but the entire Created order.

Likewise, Romans 8:20-23 tells us that the whole creation (not just Earth) itself was subjected to futility as a result of Adam's sin.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

4. Adam and Eve's creation are also likewise regarded as happening at the beginning of creation. Adam and Eve's fall a couple of days/weeks after creation is also regarded in the New Testament as occurring at the beginning of creation, so one cannot just use 1 John 3:8 to mean that Satan had to sin before the creation of the world. Mark 10:6 says:

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

5. Finally, it is indeed true that Adam and Eve would have lived forever in sin if they had eaten from the Tree of Life after they had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. That is the reason why they were driven away from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24). But that raises another question. Why would they have been perpetuating everlasting sin? It's not only because they were sinners. More than that, Adam and Eve (and the rest of their offsprings) lived forever, there would not have anyone to die in their place to redeem them back to God.

The temporal entrance of death in the world allows for God to be incarnate as a man—as a seed of the woman— and to die as an atonement for man as a kinsman redeemer. Had Adam and Eve eaten from the tree of life and lived forever, the same would have applied to all their offspring. But if that happened, a future seed of Eve would not be able to die in our place as a propitiation (1 John 2:1-2) for sins. Adam and Eve would have been lost forever because they would not have a redeeming savior. The Gospel is not be possible apart from death's temporary entrance in this world. Yet, since death is an enemy, it will one day be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26) at the final consummation, and the created order will be restored back to the sinless, deathless state it was before sin entered the world through Adam. If on the other hand, sin and death existed long before Adam sinned, then what kind of restoration would that be? A restoration to millions of years of death and suffering? That is not good news. The good news of the gospel only makes sense in light how it was through Adam that sin and death entered the world; and how through the last Adam, Jesus Christ, the curse will be done away with and Creation restored back to its sinless, and deathless state at the very end.
Thomas K.
Regarding R.R.'s question about Adam and Eve gaining knowledge of good and evil by disobedience:
1. Joel Tay is correct that they already had a faculty of moral discernment (moral conscience) and some specific moral knowledge, at least that implied in three specific commands (don't eat from one specific tree; do subdue the earth; do be fruitful and multiply). They were like very small children, who already have an innate faculty of moral conscience, but who only know the rules adults teach them.
2. I believe God always intended them to gain the knowledge of good and evil, but He wanted them to gain this ability to exercise moral discernment by means of obedience instead of disobedience. I believe that if they had rejected Satan's temptation, their subsequent observations would have enabled them to enter that same state of knowledge of good and evil (but without a sinful nature and cursed body!). Consider that, if they had not sinned, at a minimum they could have reflected on how it would have been if they had faced God that evening having disobeyed Him. Besides that, and perhaps more convincingly, it is reasonable to assume that they would have observed God's judgment on Satan that evening and thus learned that the consequences of sin are death (separation from God)--have learned it as the holy angels know it, without having ever sinned themselves.
Consider 2 children who hear their elementary school teacher exhort them to diligence so they will be happy later. Neither has the experience to discern this wisdom by themselves. One obeys the teacher, graduates from college and gets a good job. Another disobeys, drops out of school, & is unemployed. By then both are able to independently discern that diligence brings happiness; one via obedience, the other via disobedience.
Peter G.
See also my article on creation.com, from many years ago...
R. R.
I'm aware that God is not sinful, but the Genesis passage where God states his reasoning for prohibiting the Tree of Life (ToL) seemed interesting. God seems to imply that one of the "properties" of being in a sinful state (for lack of a better term) is having knowledge of what good and evil are, since it says "the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil".

The passage seems to plainly indicate that Adam/Eve have knowledge of good and evil in the same way God does, yet man is sinful and God is not.

So, my question is: How is it that mankind has to sin in order to know good and evil in the same way God does, but God has this knowledge without having to sin himself?

While this analogy will not be perfect, it seems similar to saying that in order for me to get wet, I must first go into the water, but that someone else can already be wet without having ever touched the water in the first place.

I hope my explanation is good enough to get the main idea across. What are your thoughts on this?

Joel Tay
You raise an interesting question.

There are generally two acceptable ways to understand this passage.

1) The first is that Adam and Eve did gain a greater understanding of morality. Before the fall, Adam and Eve already had some understanding of morality. For example, they understood God’s commandment not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. After they ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve gained an even greater understanding of morality. In contrast, God has always been omniscient. He never learns anything because he already knows all things. Thus, there is no need for God to sin in order to have complete knowledge of morality. Morality, after all, is based on the very nature of God, so it would in fact be self-contradictory to suggest that God could have an incomplete knowledge of morality at any point in time. Knowledge is a very good thing to possess, and knowledge itself is not sinful. What was sinful was not the obtaining of knowledge, but the means through which Adam and Eve went about obtaining that knowledge. That is, instead of obtaining truth by approaching the source of all truth and knowledge (i.e. God), Adam and Eve instead chose to disobey God and break God’s commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their sin was not their increase of knowledge (which is a good thing in and of itself); their sin was for disobeying God.
2) The second way is to understand God’s statement in Genesis 3:22a that “man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil”, as a form of irony or sarcasm. That is, the Serpent promised them that if they ate of the fruit (Genesis 3:4), they would become like God knowing good and evil. Now, after eating the fruit, and quoting Satan’s words that they would become like God, the irony or sarcasm is that man’s final state is actually worse off, and less like God than before. Man, who was made in the image of God, was now hiding from God and ashamed of being naked. Man, who was given authority over the animals and who was supposed to lead Eve, failed to lead Eve and was now subjected to a Serpent. Man who was immortal, now became mortal. Man who was blessed, is now cursed. Man came from dust, but would now return to dust. I could go on, but I think you get the point. The irony or sarcasm is such that in the attempt to become like God, man became less like God.

It could also be that it is a combination of the above two reasons. God’s statement could be pointing to the irony of situation, and yet at the same time, man did indeed gain more knowledge about morality. He just obtained it in the wrong way by disobeying God. Since knowledge in and of itself is a very good thing, God is not sinful just because he has complete knowledge concerning morality.

I hope that helps,
Joel Tay
David M.
Thanks for a thought provoking article Joel, though I was a little surprised to read the warning from God written as “he would surely begin to die”. Still I clicked on the link to “The spiritual death of the Adam tribe?” article and on reading now again I was a little surprised (but for a different reason) seeing that I had commented on that article nearly 3 years ago!

Shaun Doyle responded to my comment back then and I think his quotations from Athanasius are worth repeating for this discussion:

"Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection." (On the Incarnation of the Word, 27)

"So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, 'O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?'" (On the Incarnation of the Word, 27)
Philip K.
Thank you for a very helpful article concerning the tree of life. It gives a clearer picture as to the question of why the tree of life itself becomes "forbidden fruit" after the fall. However, the article does not address the question "Why a tree of life in the first place?" Adam and Eve were created with no ageing and no death why therefore is there a need for a tree to give them no ageing and no death. If I have missed any article on this point please forgive me and point me in the right direction!
Joel Tay
Hi Philip K,

The Bible doesn’t teach in Gen. 3:22 that Adam and Eve would have needed to eat from the Tree of Life to stay alive prior to the Fall.

There might be a number of reasons for why there was a tree of life in the Garden.

For example, Ezekiel 47:12 tells us that there would be all kinds of trees on both side of the river which are there for food and whose leaves are for healing. This same passage is taken up in Revelation 22:2 to describe the New Heaven and New Earth where on either side of the river, would be the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of nations. Yet, this passage is describing the final consummated state where there is no more death—but there is still some kind of a function of the tree of life begin there. So in the same way, just because there was a tree of life in the garden of Eden does not imply that Adam and Eve would have died if they did not eat from the tree. There will be no more death in the New Heaven and New Earth, but there will still be the tree of life.

Second, also consider how in the Ezekiel passage mentioned earlier, the Tree of Life was also given for the purpose of food. (Genesis 2:16). There was no prohibition against eating from this tree until after Adam had sinned. So food would also be a reason for the existence of the tree in the Garden.

Third, one should also consider the symbolic meaning of the Tree of Life and what it stood for. (i.e. it is a real physical tree with a symbolic meaning).

These relevant articles would further explanation: The Tree of life; Pre-fall animal death ; and Did Adam and Eve have to Eat?

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