What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden?

The Result of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Theologians usually and correctly teach that when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they became sinful—totally depraved—and brought sin upon all of their descendents. But almost no theologians teach what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was.

Let me ask you a question. What is a knowledge of good and evil? In other words, what lets you know what is good and what is evil? That’s right, law. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was, or represented, the law. It was the one thing in Adam and Eve’s existence in the Garden that has law connected to it. God gave them a commandment, a law, not to eat from that tree. It was the tree of the law. So, when Adam and Eve chose the law, they did so listening to the Serpent (Satan—Revelation 12:9; 20:2) and disobeying God. The next time you hear someone preaching the law, ask yourself who he is representing. By the way, God later gave the Ten Commandments and other laws to Israel to make their sins even more obvious to them (Galatians 3:19; Romans 5:20).

Theologians often talk about the innate moral law that we are all born with. Where did this come from? Most theologians will say that Adam was created with it, that it comes from the image of God in which we are created. In an article about the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, Richard C. Barcellos writes, “The theology of these confessions should now be clear. First, at creation God wrote Moral Law, the Decalogue, in the hearts of Adam and Eve. Second, all men by creation have this same law written in their hearts. Third, this Moral Law was later written upon tablets of stone by God and delivered to Israel through Moses. Fourth, this law stays in effect for all men even after the Old Covenant has been abolished. And fifth, Christ upholds this law ‘as a rule of life’ (Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, 19:6.) for his church” (“Seventeenth Century Reformed Confessional Theology on the Natural Law and the Ten Commandments“). Barcellos is right that these confessions teach this, but this is certainly not what the Bible teaches.

Other articles on this website address the fact that the Ten Commandments that God gave to Israel at Sinai are not the rule of life for Christians and that they were only a shadow of New Covenant law (see, for example, “Dead to the Law,” “Gadsby’s Questions About the Law,” and “Loosed From the Law“). Here I will ask this question: “If Adam and Eve and all men have the moral law of God written on their hearts by virtue of their creation, then what can God in Jeremiah 31:33 (also quoted in Hebrews 10:16) mean when He says, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people”? Obviously, God was speaking of an event future to Jeremiah and a covenant future to Jeremiah. In Jeremiah’s day, this was something God had not yet done. Therefore, natural men who are not in the covenant God has reference to cannot have the law written in their hearts.

These same theologians will often also say that Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence. They don’t seem to see that being created with an innate law and being in a state of innocence is a contradiction. Innocence is to be ignorant of good and evil. This is the state in which Adam was created. Thus, Adam was not created with an innate moral law. He had no law whatsoever until God told him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Bible clearly says what happened when Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22). Clearly, before he ate from the tree, Adam did not know good and evil. He lived in what we might say was ignorant bliss. He was truly innocent for he was completely naïve of any standard of good or evil. Then God gave him one standard: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why? The implication is because the tree was the law and the law will kill you. After he ate from the tree, he knew good and evil. In eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam chose law as a way of life. People have been doing this ever since. They are born with the knowledge of good and evil that comes from the tree—an innate moral sense of right and wrong.

This moral sense from the tree is not at all the same as having God’s law written on their hearts from Creation (something the Bible does not teach). If the image of God in man gave him an innate moral law, then man could have been tested on any of those laws. There would have been no need for God’s one test command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather than giving him law, I believe that God’s creating man in His image gave man rationality, the ability to love, self-awareness, and so on that set him apart from all other creatures. Also, we must also see that the sense of right and wrong that man gained from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a far cry from God writing His law on the hearts of born again Christians under the New Covenant.

Because of the sin and depravity of Adam and Eve and their natural descendents, their sense of good and evil gotten from the tree is warped. Also, all transgress their sense of good and evil, and they are thus condemned by the law. Because of this, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil may also be called the tree of death, because, just as it brought death to Adam and Eve, it brings death to everyone else.

Christians who have the law of the New Covenant written on their hearts, however, do not come under condemnation. God does not tell Christians that if they do not obey they will die. Jesus took away our sin and the penalty we incurred for it, and the law of the New Covenant has no penalty attached to it. Notice, for example, Romans 8:1-3: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”

The Tree of Life

There was another special and symbolic tree in the Garden. It was the tree of life. As we have seen, Adam did not eat from it. God drove him out of the Garden to prevent his doing so. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was also the tree of law and death. Its opposite was the tree of life. What does the Bible contrast with the law? Grace. The tree of life was the tree of grace. By eating from the tree of life, Adam could have freely and graciously obtained eternal life. Instead, he chose law.

This is the pattern that continues today. Carnal man continues to choose the law over grace, and by doing so, he condemns himself. Even those who think of themselves as respectable Christians are falling for Satan’s lie that they will not die if they take the law. But it kills them every time. Only those people to whom God gives a change of mind by being born again eat from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7; 22:14).

Now notice these words of Jesus: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). Do you see the connection between eating of Jesus’ flesh and having life? The symbols Jesus was using in the context of John 6 were manna and bread. That is because these are the symbols God instituted with the nation of Israel, and Jesus was talking to Jews. But the principle is the same. Eat from the tree of life and live; eat from Jesus and live. What does that make Jesus?

Now read Revelation 2:7: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). Now read Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” How did Jesus redeem us from the curse of the law that is the curse of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? He hung on a tree. In fact, the Bible refers to Jesus’ cross as a tree at least five times (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; 1 Peter 2:24).

Next read Colossians 2:13-14: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way [Greek mesou—”midst”], nailing it to his cross.”

Jesus was born under the law (Galatians 4:4) and lived it perfectly (Hebrews 4:15; Romans 5:19). But He took our sins, our transgressions of the law, and went to the Cross. Thus, as Colossians 2:13-14 that we just read says, when Jesus was nailed to the cross, so was the law. I believe that while Jesus was on the cross suffering and working for us, the cross was symbolically the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Just as it killed Adam, it killed Jesus. But, unlike Adam, Jesus did not die for his own sins. He was totally righteous. He died for our sins. When He made atonement for our sins by dying, He took the law away and gave us eternal life. What was the cross then? I suggest that it was symbolically the tree of life, and it is from that tree that sinners today must eat to graciously receive eternal life.

With Jesus in Paradise

A few Scriptures back, I referred to Revelation 2:7, which refers to the tree of life as being in the midst of the Paradise of God. The word Paradise is found only three times in the Bible. From Revelation 2:7, we see that Paradise seems to refer to both the Garden of Eden and heaven. In fact, the Garden may be seen as a type of heaven. In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul uses Paradise to refer to a place that someone (probably Paul himself) was temporarily taken to, either bodily or in vision. The only other place in the Bible where the word Paradise is found is in Luke 23:43 when Jesus speaks to one of the robbers that were hanged on either side of Him. The one He speaks to is repentant: “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus used such an unusual word as Paradise? Why didn’t He simply say “heaven”? I think Jesus wanted the robber and us to learn something. John 19:32-33 tell us that Jesus died before the robbers. As I suggested earlier, when Jesus died, His cross became the tree of life. John 19:41 says, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.” This does not say, as some translations wrongly render it, that the garden was near where He was crucified. The Greek literally says, “In the location (or spot) where He was crucified, there was a garden.”

There was a garden, and in the midst of it were three crosses. On one of those crosses hung Jesus. While He lived, making satisfaction to the law for the sins of all who would believe on Him, His cross was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The other two men were dying for their own sins while Jesus was dying for others (Luke 23:41). But one of those men became a believer. Then Jesus died, removing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from the midst and replacing it with the tree of life. So, there stood the tree of life with the dead body of Jesus in the midst of that garden. And that garden, with its ugly crosses and blood, became Paradise, and those two men symbolized the entire human race. One was dying and heading for the eternal punishment he deserved according to the law. The other, in physical agony, had been given eternal life and was already that day in Paradise on earth with Jesus next to him as he looked forward to Paradise for eternity.

Dear reader, I hope you will see, as did that robber even physically—creating a typological picture for us—that once we have eaten of the tree of life by taking Jesus to be our Savior, we enter Paradise even now with Jesus at our side as we await our eternal reward!

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18

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Copyright © 2010 Peter Ditzel