In part 1 of this series, we looked at the traditional interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve. Upon examination, we realized that there is an inconsistency between how Adam and Eve seem to be treated by God and what we know of the character of God.
Now let’s reinterpret the story of Adam and Eve, beginning with Genesis 2. We pick up the story in verse 7:
“Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
So the first man is formed from clay like a potter takes a lump of clay and forms a piece of pottery [Isaiah 64:8] [Romans 9:20-21]. But the clay is lifeless until God breathes life into it. So the man’s life, his state of being or existence, come from God. In that way, the man and God are connected or unified.
Continuing in verse 8:
“Then the Lord planted a garden in Eden, and there placed the man he made.”
In the original Hebrew, the word ‘Eden’ means pleasure. So God creates the garden for the man to enjoy it. That makes perfect sense when you read the first half of verse 9:
“The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground – trees that were beautiful and produced delicious fruit.”
Good fruit comes only from good trees [Matthew 7:16-18]. Bear this in mind as we look at the second half of verse 9:
“In the middle of the garden He placed the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
The way verse 9 is written, it appears that God plants both the good tree (the tree of life) and the bad tree (the tree of knowledge of good and evil). But how could God – who is good, made all things good, and cannot be tempted to do evil – plant a bad tree?
Dropping down to verses 15 and 16, God places the man in the garden and gives him the following instructions:
“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…”
Notice that God places no restrictions on the man. He has perfect freedom to eat from every tree the Lord God planted in the garden; there are no limitations. He is free to enjoy all the pleasure the garden offers him. Then in verse 17, God warns the man, saying,
“…but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Hold on – God created a good garden for the man to enjoy with no restrictions, and now there appears to be a bad tree in the middle of the garden? What happened there?
This other tree is not part of the garden that God created. So why does it appear to be there?
I contend that the tree of knowledge of good and evil represents a misconception or an illusion. When we think of an illusion, we typically think of it as it is defined for example in Webster’s Dictionary: as “a false idea or conception; an unreal or misleading appearance or image.” But we can take it a step further. Encyclopedia Britannica states that “Illusions are special perceptual experiences in which information arising from ‘real’ external stimuli leads to an incorrect perception or false impression of the object or event from which the stimulation comes.”
In this case, the “real” external stimulus is the tree of life, and the incorrect perception is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The trees are of course symbolic. The garden represents God’s creation, which was made to be enjoyed. The trees are the center of the garden. They are the vantage point from which the entire garden is viewed or perceived. One of them is true, the other is false.
A tree is recognized by its fruit [Matthew 12:33]. The tree of life produces life. According to the scriptures, God is the Author or Source of all life [Genesis 1; John 1:1-4;Acts 3:15]. Therefore, the tree of life represents the presence of God. The presence of God is at the center of His creation, which is why the tree of life is at the center of the garden.
Conversely, the tree of knowledge of good and evil produces certainty that good and evil both exist and are at the center of God’s creation. When we believe that both good and evil are at the center of God’s creation, we are putting conflict and judgment in place of the presence of God. We also, in effect, say that there is evil in God, and that his creation is not very good [Genesis 1:31]. Since God is the source of our life, by removing Him from the center of His creation, we cut ourselves off from our source of life. We also cut ourselves off from each other. The end result is that we become like fruit separated from a tree – it eventually falls to the ground, decomposes, and dies.
By choosing to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve chose to take in and accept as fact the world that we now see. A world in which both good and evil seem to coexist. A world afflicted by endless conflicts, suffering, and death. And a world where God appears to be, in large part, absent. And we accept this as fact. We simply say to ourselves, ‘It’s just the way it is.’ But is it?
No, it’s not! And in part 3, we will reexamine the story of Genesis 3 to understand why not.