A Delicious Paradise: The World of Man Before the Fall

What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created?

The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth (Gen. 2.8,15-16); putting the creatures under his dominion (Gen. 1.28), and ordaining marriage for his help (Gen. 2.18, Mt. 19.3-9, Eph. 5.31); affording him communion with himself (Gen. 1.26-29, 3.8); instituting the Sabbath (Gen. 2.3, Ex. 20.11); entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience (Gen. 2.16-17, Gal. 3.12, Rom. 10.5), of which the tree of life was a pledge (Gen. 2.9, 3.22-24); and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death (Gen. 2.17, Jas. 2.10). —Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 20

The Garden of God: The Habitation of Man Before the Fall

In prehistoric times, the Lord God planted a garden that He intended to be the first abode of humankind.  Of the events of these days we have no firsthand records, and the most reliable were written by Moses, the prophet of the Lord, many thousands of years after the fact, in the Book commonly called Genesis.

Moses says that God planted this garden “in Eden, in the east.” (Gen. 2.8)  A few verses later he gives another clue as to its location, when he writes,

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.  The name of the first is the Pishon.  It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.  And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.  The name of the second river is the Gihon.  It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush.  And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria.  And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Gen. 2.10-14)

Of these four rivers, we know for certain of only two—the Tigris1 and the Euphrates.  The text states that the Pishon “flowed around the whole land of Havilah.”  In the Table of Nations, Havilah was identified both as a son of Cush (Gen. 10.7), a son of Ham, and of Joktan (Gen. 10.29), a descendant of Shem, and Genesis later records that the descendants of Ishmael “settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria.” (Gen. 25.18)  Calvin opines that Havilah

is here taken for a region adjoining Persia.  For subsequently, in the twenty-fifth chapter, Moses relates, that the Ishmaelites dwelt from Havila unto Shur, which is contiguous to Egpyt, and through which the road lies unto Assyria.  Havila, as one boundary, is opposed to Shur as another, and this boundary Moses places near Egypt, and through which road lies into Assyria.  Whence it follows, that Havila (the other boundary) extends toward Susia and Persia. … Every thing which Moses asserts respecting gold and precious stones is most applicable to this district.2

Similarly unknown to us, the text states that the Gihon “flowed around the whole land of Cush.”  As noted above, the Table of Nations identifies Cush as a son of Ham (Gen. 10.6), one of the three sons of Noah, and Cush has traditionally been identified as Ethiopia,3 which gave rise to some of the ancients that the Gihon was to be identified with the Nile.  Calvin references the fact that “all interpreters translate this word Ethiopia,” and then further elucidates, explaining,

but the country of the Midianites and the conterminous country of Arabia, are included under the same name by Moses; for which reason, his wife is elsewhere called an Ethiopian woman.4  Moreover, since the lower course of the Euphrates tends toward that region, I do not see why it should be deemed absurd, that it there receives the name Gihon.  And thus the simple meaning of Moses is, that the garden of which Adam was the possessor was well watered, the channel of a river passing that way, which was afterwards divided into four heads.5

Based on the fact that the antediluvian river flowing out of Eden dividing into four was once the headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and that the modern-day headwaters of those two rivers are found in what is today eastern Turkey, then it is likely that Eden was also located there.  However, the garden, the river that issued therefrom, and the divergence of said river into the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, as well as (possibly) the Pishon and Gihon Rivers themselves, have disappeared from the face of the earth, likely as the result of the Great Deluge that devastated the antediluvian world and nearly made the human race extinct in the days of Noah.  Calvin, however, does not agree with this assessment, writing,

From this difficulty (that the Tigris and the Euphrates do not have a single source), some would free themselves by saying, that the surface of the globe may have been changed by the deluge; and therefore, they imagine it might have happened that the courses of the rivers were disturbed and changed, and their springs transferred elsewhere; a solution which appears to me to be by no means to be accepted.  For although I acknowledge that the earth, from the time that it was accursed, became reduced from its native beauty to a state of wretched defilement, and to a garb of mourning, and afterwards was further laid waste in many places by the deluge; still, I assert, it was the same earth which had been created in the beginning.  Add to this, that Moses (in my judgment) accommodated his topography to the capacity of his age.  Yet nothing is accomplished, unless we find that place where the place where the Tigris and Euphrates proceed from one river.  Observe, first, that no mention is made of a spring or fountain, but only that it is said, there was one river.  But the four heads I understand to mean, both the beginnings from which the rivers are produced, and the mouths by which they discharge themselves into the sea.  Now the Euphrates was formerly joined by confluence with the Tigris, that it might justly be said, one river was divided into four heads; especially if what is manifest to all conceded, that Moses does not speak acutely, nor in a philosophical manner, but popularly, so that every one least informed may understand him.  Thus, in the first chapter, he called the sun and moon two great luminaries; not because the moon exceeded other planets in magnitude, but because, to common observation, it seemed greater.  Add further, that he seems to remove all doubt when he says, that the river had four heads, because it was divided from that place.  What does this mean, except that the channels were divided, out of one confluent stream, either above or below Paradise?6

However, we know from nature that an enormous amount of water eroding over an area for even a short span of time can effect tremendous geologic and geographic changes, and the amount of water washing over the Middle East in the Noachian Deluge has not been matched—let alone exceeded—in the millennia since its occurrence.  Therefore, it is extremely likely that the topography of the lands following the Great Deluge was significantly altered from what it had been before.

Moreover, there is a theological significance of the one river flowing out of Eden and then dividing into four, that is subverted if misinterpreted to mean that one or more of the referenced rivers did not originate in the river issuing from the garden but merely flowed into either that river or one of its distributaries.  The garden in Eden is the garden of God (Ezek 28.13).  As Geerhardus Vos points out,

The garden is “the garden of God”, not in the first instance an abode for man as such, but specifically a place of reception of man into fellowship with God in God’s own dwelling-place. … The correctness of this is verified by the recurrence of this piece of symbolism in eschatological form at the end of history, where there can be no doubt concerning the principle of paradise being the habitation of God, where He dwells in order to make man dwell with Himself.7

Vos here refers to the vision of John recorded in the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation.  Here, John writes, “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.’” (Rev. 21.3)  And again, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” (Rev. 22.1-2)  The one river is likewise presented in Genesis as flowing out of Eden—out from the presence of God, who dwells there—and then divides into four distributaries that water all the lands.  This symbolism loses its theological meaning, however, if the effluence of the four rivers is misinterpreted to mean (in whole or in part) a confluence.

The final thing to note about the first habitation of humanity is the presence of the trees.  Certainly, the Trees of Life and of the Knowledge of Good and Evil are specifically mentioned, but these have special theological significance that will be discussed later.  However, it is the trees—all the trees of the Garden—that give the Garden its paradisaical character, physically speaking. (Obviously, it was the presence of God in the Garden that gave it its paradisaical character, spiritually speaking.)  “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden…  And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Gen. 2.8-9)  Indeed, as the Lord elsewhere told the man, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Gen. 1.29-30, emphasis added)  As Matthew Henry waxed eloquently about the trees of Eden,

(The garden) had all the best and choicest trees in common with the rest of the ground.  It was beautiful and adorned with every tree that, for its height or breadth, its make or colour, its leaf or flower, was pleasant to the sight and charmed the eye; it was replenished and enriched with every tree that yielded fruit grateful to the taste and useful to the body, and so good for food.  God, as a tender Father, consulted not only Adam’s profit, but his pleasure; for there is a pleasure consistent with innocency, nay, there is a true and transcendent pleasure in innocency.  God delights in the prosperity of his servants, and would have them easy; it is owing to themselves if they be uneasy.  When Providence puts us into an Eden of plenty and pleasure, we ought to serve him with joyfulness and gladness of heart, in the abundance of the good things he gives us.”8

In later passages of Scripture, the trees in the Garden of God became the standard of majesty and beauty against which the majesty and beauty of earthly kingdoms were compared.  For example, Ezekiel, in prophesying against the Egyptian Pharaoh, wrote,

Whom are you like in your greatness?
Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade,
and of towering height,
its top among the clouds. …

The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
neither were the plane trees like its branches;
no tree in the garden of God was its equal in beauty.
I made it beautiful in the mass of its branches,
And all the trees in Eden envied it, that were in the garden of God. (Ezek. 31.2-9; see also Is. 53.3, Ezek. 28.13, Joel 2.3)

The Regulation of Man in the Garden of God: The Covenant of Life

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1.27)

When God created the first man, Adam, He created him in His own image.  Just as the Lord Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1.15), so too was Adam, save that the divine nature of God was not joined with the human nature of Adam, as it was with the Lord Jesus.  And even as the Lord Jesus was “made like his brothers (i.e., us) in every respect” (Heb. 2.17), except “without sin” (Heb. 4.15), so too was Adam.  Like the Lord Jesus, Adam was created by God in the state of what theologians call Original Righteousness,9 and in him was not to be found any taint of sin, that is, his heart was not naturally inclined toward rebellion against God.  He was not created above the possibility of falling into sin and thus losing his condition of Original Righteousness, as Genesis 3 makes only all too clear, but in his original condition as constituted by God at his creation, he was not naturally disposed toward sin, as we are, and as he afterward became.

Nevertheless, although not predisposed to sin, Adam’s life in the Garden of God still had to be regulated, in order to ensure that he fulfilled the purposes for which his Creator had made him, and God issued this regulation in the form of a covenant.  O. Palmer Robertson, in his text on the covenants in Scripture, defines a covenant as “a bond in blood sovereignly administered.”10  Although no blood was shed in the establishment of this particular covenant, as there was in each successive administrative establishment of the Covenant of Redemption, it was a “life-and-death bond” sovereignly established and administered by God,11 with a specific condition—namely, the prohibition of eating the fruit from one particular tree—with the threatened consequence of death, to be executed on the same day as the violation of this covenant.

Now, the first thing to be noticed is that the word covenant (Heb. berith; Gk. διαθήκη) does not appear in Genesis until 6.18, where the Lord announces to Noah, “I will establish my covenant with you.”  However, the absence of the term does not mean that God did not establish a covenant with unfallen man in the Garden.  As Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof points out,

All the elements of a covenant are indicated in Scripture, and if the elements are present, we are not only warranted but, in a systematic study of the doctrine, also in duty bound to relate them to one another, and to give the doctrine so construed an appropriate name.  In the case under consideration two parties are named, a condition is laid down, a promise of reward for obedience is clearly implied, and a penalty for transgression is threatened.12

The second thing to be noticed is that theologians are not agreed as to what this covenant should be called.  The Westminster divines alternately called it the “Covenant of Works”13 and the “Covenant of Life”.14  Old Princeton preeminent theologian Charles Hodge followed the Westminster divines in their use of both terms, writing, “That covenant (with Adam) is sometimes called a covenant of life, because life was promised as the reward of obedience.  Sometimes it is called the covenant of works, because works were the condition on which that promise was suspended, and because it is thus distinguished from the new covenant which promises life on condition of faith.”  However, the name of the chapter in which this quote appears, as well as in the subheadings and the rest of the text of the chapter, Hodge exclusively used the name “Covenant of Works”.15  Berkhof mentions that it has been referred to “as the covenant of nature, the covenant of life, the Edenic covenant, and the covenant of works.”  However, the nomenclature “Covenant of Nature” gradually fell out of use, as it was “apt to give the impression that this covenant was simply a part of the natural relationship in which man stood to God.”  Berkhof objected to calling it the Covenant of Life or the Edenic Covenant, because both names “might also be applied to the covenant of grace.”  And because of his argued unsuitability for the first three names, he preferred the name “Covenant of Works”.16  Vos, who labored at Princeton Seminary two generations after Hodge, also used this nomenclature, although he did not discuss the reason, other than to say that this was the name commonly given to it, and he neither mentioned any other name for it nor disputed it.17  Robertson objected to the name “Covenant of Works”, especially as contrasted with the “Covenant of Grace”, as the nomenclature “suggests that grace was not operative in the covenant of works,” and “that works have no place in the covenant of grace.”  Instead, he stated a preference for the names “Covenant of Creation” and “Covenant of Redemption”, respectively.18

Although I agree with Robertson’s objections to the terms “Covenant of Works” and “Covenant of Grace” and concur with his adoption of “Covenant of Redemption” for the latter, I disagree with his identification of God’s covenant with unfallen man with the Covenant of Creation.  In Jeremiah 33.19-26, the Lord references His “covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth,” and in Hosea 2.18 His “covenant…with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground.”  This context is much broader than the covenant God established with man in the Garden before the Fall, although the latter is undeniably an integral part—indeed, the chief part—of the former.  After all, the consequence of man’s violation of the terms of the first covenant had catastrophic ramifications for the greater Creation, which, on account of man’s sin, “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 decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8.20-21)  But the covenant in the Garden was specifically with man, not the whole Creation, signified and sealed by the Tree of Life, of which man in the Garden was free to eat, and conditioned by the prohibition against man partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—a prohibition that did not extend to birds or beasts.  The covenant in the Garden was intended to regulate the life of man, which was graciously given him under the terms of the covenant, whereas the Covenant of Redemption intends to restore to man the life he had in the Garden, and further to confirm him therein, just as he would have been confirmed, had he complied with the Lord’s injunction.  For had Adam remembered the Lord’s commandment during the serpent’s temptation, and not listened to the voice of his wife, who enjoined him to eat the fruit with her, instead gently rebuking her and reminding her of the Lord’s provision for their every need, reminding her of His trustworthiness and questioning the trustworthiness of the serpent’s doubt-sowing words—for unlike her, he was not deceived (I Tim. 2.14)—our race would have been confirmed in the life of Original Righteousness, having come to the knowledge of good and evil by learning obedience, just as the Lord Jesus had (Phil. 2.8, Heb. 5.8; see also Mt. 4.1-11, Lk. 4.1-13).  Hence, the appropriate name for this covenant is the Covenant of Life.

As previously stated, the Covenant of Life was instituted to regulate man’s life in the Garden of God.  Specifically, we see three broad areas of man’s life that the Covenant regulated, namely: labor, worship, and marriage.


God did not create man to no purpose, but gave him meaningful work to do under the Covenant of Life.  Specifically, he “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Gen. 2.15)  So, contrary to the popular adage, the “world’s oldest profession” is that of gardener or farmer.  The negative and burdensome connotations often associated with labor today were completely absent from man’s life in the Garden; warnings against indolence (e.g., II Thess. 3.10-12) were completely unnecessary.  The ground was not cursed, nor did it yield thorns and thistles as a reward for man’s labor, for these were a result of the Fall (Gen. 3.17-19).  To the contrary, as Calvin wrote, “This labour, truly, was pleasant, and full of delight, entirely exempt from all trouble and weariness.”19  Likewise, Robertson notes, “Labor is to be seen as a principal means by which man’s enjoyment of the creation is assured. … Labor belongs integrally to the role of man made in God’s image.”20

More broadly, man’s work was not simply to have stewardship over the Garden alone, but over the whole earth.  “And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1.28)  To be sure, the subjugation of and dominion over the earth was not intended to be an oppressive government or an abuse of the earth’s resources, as the rule and dominion of man is wont to be, this side of Eden.  Rather, it was to be a benevolent lordship, to the creation’s benefit, just as God’s Lordship is likewise benevolent to man, whom He made in His image.


On the cusp of their entrance into the Promised Land, Moses told the children of Israel, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Dt. 8.3; quoted by the Lord Jesus in Mt. 4.4, Lk. 4.4)  This was no less true of man under the Covenant of Life than it is of man under the Covenant of Redemption.  Adam did not live by the fruit of his labor in the Garden of God alone, but by his fellowship in worship of the God who created him out of the dust of the ground.

On the day on which man violated the Covenant of Life, he “heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” (Gen. 3.8)  From this we may infer that it was at this time of the day, after man’s labor for the day was complete, that the Lord was accustomed to commune with him.  But more than this, God Himself had set a pattern, whereby for six days He had toiled in the creation of the world, and on the seventh He rested (Gen. 1.3-2.2).  And further, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” (Gen. 2.3)  And it was to this specific pattern that He referred, when He gave the children of Israel the Fourth Commandment, that is, to labor six days and rest on the seventh, keeping the seventh day holy (Ex. 20.8-11).  Thus, in addition to meeting with man at each day’s end, it follows that God expected him to rest from his labor one day out of every seven, and to spend that holy day in communion with Him.


In the first chapter of Genesis, one finds a common refrain, wherein God has just created something according to His design, and then the text says, “And God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1.4,10,12,18,21,25)  And then, once His Creation was complete, with the creation of man and woman, the text says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1.31)  The whole of His Creation was not merely “good” (Heb. tob), but “very good” (Heb. tob meod).  As Calvin wrote of this, “On each of the days, simple approbation was given.  But now, after the workmanship of the world was complete in all its parts, and had received, if I may so speak, the last finishing touch, he pronounces it perfectly good; that we may know that there is in the symmetry of God’s works the highest perfection, to which nothing can be added.”21

Yet prior to this final pronouncement, there was something of His Creation that God said was not good, namely: “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.’” (Gen. 2.18)  Now we know from Genesis 1.26-31 that God created mankind male and female, which was essential for the fulfillment of the blessing and commandment that He gave there, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”.  However, from the narration in Genesis 2 detailing the specific creation of mankind, we know that He created man first, and then after an unspecified amount of time (which, if the “days” of Creation in Gen. 1 were literal twenty-four hour periods, would have had to have been no more than a matter of hours, for man and woman were both created on the Sixth Day) He created woman.  Thus, at the point in the narration when God made this pronouncement that man’s solitary existence was “not good”, Adam had no frame of reference to know that God intended to create others like him.

Then the Lord brought to Adam “every bird of the heavens” that He had created on the Fifth Day, and “every beast of the field” that He had created on the Sixth Day, in order to see what Adam would name them, and ostensibly to select a helper fit for him.  “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.”  The motions of going through this “selection process” were solely for Adam’s benefit, for God knew from before He began His work in Creation that no animal could fulfill the role of Adam’s helpmate, and He had already planned to create a woman to be the “helper fit for him.”  So, as the Lord brought the birds and beasts to him, Adam could see that they came in pairs—male and female, as God had created them—whereas He had as yet created no female to correspond to Adam, and Adam could thus see and understand his own need for a mate.

Once Adam understood this, God put him into a deep sleep, during which He removed one of his ribs, closing up the place from which He took it with flesh, and then proceeded to transform Adam’s rib into a woman, in His last work of Creation.  In remarking on this text, Matthew Henry wrote,

The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.  Adam lost a rib, and without any diminution to his strength or comeliness; but in lieu thereof he had a help meet for him, which abundantly made up his loss: what God takes away from his people he will, one way or other, restore with advantage.22

Although woman is “the (physically) weaker vessel” (I Pet. 3.7), she is the helpmate fit for man, corresponding to his nature.  She is neither his superior nor his inferior, but is his intellectual equal, and yet is temperamentally different from him, with a different perspective than his, owing to the unique way in which God created her, as opposed to how He had created man.  These differences were ordained by God at Creation and are to be respected and celebrated.

Then the Scriptures state that after God transformed Adam’s rib into a woman, He “brought her to the man.”  Logically, given that Adam was sleeping during this act of creation, and that the woman was formed from his side, it follows that God created her lying next to him, cradled by his body as he slept.  And when they had awoken, Adam would immediately have known what God had done, and from where He had taken the woman He had formed for him.  Thus, in the first recorded poetry spoken by man in the Scripture, Adam said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman (Heb. ishshah),
because she was taken out of Man (Heb. ish).” (Gen. 2.23)

Following this, Moses declared, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2.24)  Make no mistake: God created woman to be the mate of man in a lifelong covenant of monogamous marriage, for the purpose of producing and raising children, which is the meaning of the man and his wife quite literally “becoming one flesh.”  Had man not fallen into sin, man and woman would have been happy and content with this arrangement.  The discontent that leads couples to separate or divorce, or for a person to take multiple spouses, to commit homosexuality, or to commit a plethora of other forms of adultery and fornication, finds its root in the sinful heart of man after the Fall, perverting the good and positive desires God planted in the heart of man before the Fall, which he uses for selfish and self-seeking reasons, and not for the purpose of glorifying God, the purpose for which He created man in the beginning.

This is not to say, however, that an individual woman’s worth is found only in her identity as her husband’s wife, as if Angela Golden should be loved and cherished solely because she is the wife of Loren Golden.  To be sure, I am joyfully obligated to love and cherish her for that very reason, but she is an individual created by God for His purposes, with thoughts and ideas of her own that have merit, and as I am called to love her as Christ loves the Church (Eph. 5.25-33, I Pet. 3.7), it is my privilege to encourage her to find ways and opportunities to employ the gifts with which our Heavenly Father has richly endowed her in ways that redound to His glory.

Finally, Moses remarked that “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen. 2.25)  The physical nudity of Adam and Eve prior to the Fall symbolized the spiritual reality that they had nothing to hide—no unworthy thoughts, desires, or memories of actions of which to be ashamed.  They were naked spiritually as well as physically, transparent with one another and with God in a way in which we, with all our sinful baggage this side of Eden, cannot be.  And this free conscience, allowing for the deepest intimacy without a sense of shame, is perhaps the greatest loss we suffered in the Fall, for its loss utterly disrupted our unimpeded communion with God, making us unfit to stand in His presence.

The Test of Man’s Covenantal Faith: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

As previously stated, Adam was created in the state of Original Righteousness, free from the taint of, and inclination or bent toward, sin.  He was disposed toward fulfilling his covenantal responsibilities—working and keeping the Garden of God, and exercising dominion over it and over the birds and beasts that dwelt there; resting every seventh day and enjoying regular communion with God; and loving, cherishing, and cleaving to his wife.  After all, these activities redounded to his own benefit, and he knew that God was providing for his every need.

Yet there was one thing that God had forbidden him, namely, the fruit from one particular tree, which was given the unusual name of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.23  “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2.16-17)

The first thing to observe is that God Himself planted the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of His Garden—the same Garden in which He placed man (Gen. 2.8,15, 3.3).  It was not planted in the periphery of the Garden, but in its very midst, so Adam could not easily avoid it in his daily tasks of caring for the Garden.  It might be suggested, then, that the very presence of this Tree was temptation staring Adam in the face every day.  He likely could see the birds and beasts partaking of its fruit with no consequence, but it was denied to him.  One might ask why God might tempt him like that, why He did not forbear from planting it in the same Garden in which He intended to place the man whom He had created.  But “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (Jas. 1.13-15)

The bare fact of the Tree’s presence in the midst of the Garden was, in and of itself, insufficient to tempt man to disobey his Creator’s injunction.  True, there was God’s threat of death on the day on which he partook of its fruit, but more than this, man was without sin when he dwelt in the Garden.  Sin perverts the good desires implanted in man’s heart at Creation and makes him desire that which is denied him, and Adam and his wife were free from its debilitating influence before the Fall.  They were content to obey God’s solitary injunction and freely partake of the fruit of every tree in the Garden except this one—until the day when the serpent sowed doubt and discontent in the woman’s heart (Gen. 3.1-3)—and one must not underestimate the power of godliness when found in combination with contentment.  “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (I Tim. 6.6-8)  Adam and his wife possessed this power, and it was recharged every evening and every seventh day, as they found their rest in Him.  “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Heb. 4.9-11)

The second thing to observe is that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil had no intrinsic properties that could endow those who partook of it with knowledge of any kind, let alone the specific knowledge of good and evil.  To be sure, the serpent insinuated that it did, when he said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3.5)  Likewise, the woman believed that the fruit somehow did possess some kind of intrinsic properties to convey the knowledge that its name suggested, for she saw “that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3.6).  Yet when they did partake of the fruit, and “the eyes of both were opened” (Gen. 3.7), having come to the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3.22), it was not anything intrinsic to the fruit that brought them this knowledge, but the sudden realization that they had violated God’s solitary injunction in the act of eating the forbidden fruit, which act was evil, whereas to have kept God’s commandment would have been good.

The prohibition of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a test of man’s faith in God, quite similar to the Lord’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved son and the son of God’s covenantal promise, which Moses expressly stated was a test of Abraham’s faith (Gen. 22.1 ff).  Frequently theologians and other Bible scholars refer to this prohibition as a test of man’s obedience.  As Calvin writes, “Moses now teaches, that man was a governor of the world, with this exception, that he should, nevertheless, be subject to God.  A law is imposed upon him in token of his subjection; for it would have made no difference to God, if he had eaten indiscriminately of any fruit he pleased.  Therefore, the prohibition of one tree was a test of obedience.”24  Similarly Westminster, “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works (Gen. 2.16-17, Hos. 6.7, Gal. 3.12), wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity (Gen. 3.22, Rom. 5.12-20, 10.5), upon condition of perfect and personal obedience (Gen. 2.17, Gal. 3.10).”25  And likewise Berkhof, “The promise in the covenant of works was not unconditional.  The condition was that of implicit and perfect obedience.  The divine law can demand nothing less than that, and the positive command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, relating as it did, to a thing indifferent in itself, was clearly a test of pure obedience in the absolute sense of the word.”26  However, what this viewpoint overlooks is that what was on trial was not man’s obedience, but his faith.  Would man, when the veracity and trustworthiness of God’s Word was challenged, continue to put his trust in Him, or would he compromise his faith in God to the challenger?  To be sure, man’s faith has to work itself out in obedience to God’s command, but to focus on man’s obedience as the point of his probation is to miss the point entirely.  “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (I Sam. 16.7)  Does Adam truly trust God?

Those who believe Adam’s probation to have been a test of his obedience are not wholly off-base, because faith is validated in outward works of obedience, as a public demonstration of trust in what one believes.  After all, it matters not that a man believes a particular bridge is structurally sound and capable of taking him to where he wants to go, until he demonstrates trust in what he believes by physically crossing it.  Likewise, Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15.6, Rom. 4.3, Gal. 3.6)  Yet it was not until the Lord tested his faith, by asking him to demonstrate his trust in His promises by sacrificing his beloved son Isaac, the son of God’s covenant promise to him, that his faith was validated (Gen. 22.12, Heb. 11.17-19, Jas. 2.21-23).  As Paul emphasized, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2.10)  And again, “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Tit. 2.14)  The works we do are not approved, however, unless they are done from a motive of faith.

So it was with Adam.  He communed with God every evening and every seventh day, and he experienced God’s blessing in the fulfillment of his every need—a suitable environment that met his physical needs, meaningful labor, a mate corresponding to his sexual needs and his needs for human companionship and assistance in his labor, and above all else His own presence to fulfill his deepest spiritual need.  As a witness of every blessing, a recipient of every good and perfect gift, and whose every need was abundantly fulfilled, Adam had every reason to trust and obey God.  And left to his own devices, he would have blissfully continued in this existence, but without an opportunity to exercise his faith through trust in God’s Word in the face of opposition to His Word.

Enter the serpent.  Physically, a serpent was present, but it was not a mere animal that tempted Eve—especially not an animal lacking vocal chords and the ability to form human words with the shape of its mouth.  Rather, as Scripture elsewhere makes plain, this serpent was the tool of the principal demonic spirit known as Satan (literally, the Adversary) or the Devil (literally, the Accuser; II Cor. 11.3-15, Rev. 12.9, 20.2).  Just as the Lord gave Satan access to Job, in order to try his faith (Job 1.6-12, 2.1-6), He allowed Satan access to Adam and his wife.

The tempter’s first tack was to sow doubt in God’s Word.  He asked Eve, believing her to be more susceptible than her husband to his insidious words, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  This was an exaggeration, but it implied that the prohibition of the one tree was somehow unreasonable, and Eve’s reply indicated that she believed it was: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’.” (Gen. 3.1-3)  God had prohibited the eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil but said nothing about touching it.  Moreover, she shortened the penalty to, “lest you die,” whereas God has expressly stated, “for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2.17)  The Hebrew idiom translated as “surely die” is a repetition of the word “die”, indicating the certainty of the threatened punishment for violating the solitary injunction.  Thus, Eve’s omission of the repeated word constitutes a lessening on her part of the severity of God’s threat.  Now Scripture recounts that God gave this prohibition to Adam when He placed him in the Garden, before He created her, and so she may have learned of the prohibition solely from him.  However, given that God communed with both of them every evening and every seventh day, it seems unlikely, given how she worded her response to the serpent’s question, that the subject of the prohibition had not come up during any of those times.  Yet despite what God might have told her during these times, she may have continued to harbor doubts as to the reasonableness of the prohibition.

Then seeing Eve’s susceptibility to the implication in his question, the tempter outright contradicted God’s Word: “You will not surely die.” (Gen. 3.4)  On one hand, it would seem that Satan was correct in saying this, for neither Adam nor Eve died that day after eating the fruit.  Interpreters generally attempt to explain the seeming disparity between the expressly prescribed punishment in one or both of two ways: First is that what was envisioned in the penalty was a spiritual death, rather than a physical death, for Scripture elsewhere says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. … But God, … even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2.1-7; see also Rom. 7.7-25)  The second way is to say that on the day on which Adam and his wife ate the forbidden fruit, they became mortal, subject to death, as emphasized in God’s curse and the account of Adam’s death and the subsequent accounts of the deaths of his posterity (Gen. 3.19, 5.5,8,11,14,17,20,27,31, 9.29), excepting godly Enoch only (Gen. 5.21-24, Heb. 11.5).  Now it is true that man died spiritually on the day that he partook of the forbidden fruit, but this hardly does justice to the severity of the penalty of “you shall surely die”; nothing less than Adam’s physical death is envisioned here.  It is also true that man became mortal on that day, but this also falls short of the specified execution date: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (emphasis added)  The only reason that Adam and Eve were not summarily executed on the same day as their rebellion, in fulfillment of God’s Word, was that God provided and accepted a substituted sacrifice in their place and clothed them with its skin as a garment (Gen. 3.21).  However, this is getting into the Covenant of Redemption and will be discussed at greater length in a future post.

Finally the tempter told Eve, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3.5)  This was a half-truth.  The words themselves were correct: their eyes were opened (Gen. 3.7), and they did become like God in knowing good and evil (Gen. 3.22).  But this knowledge, gained by violating the Lord’s commandment, did not benefit them in the slightest.  They became the recipients of God’s curse, they were expelled from paradise, and eventually they died (Gen. 3.16-24, 5.5), and all Creation was subjected to God’s curse along with them (Gen. 3.17-18, Rom. 8.20-22).  Eve thought “that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3.6), but seeking “to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1.22), opening a floodgate of iniquity, “and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Rom. 1.27)  “For as in Adam all die.” (I Cor. 15.22)  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5.12), “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom. 5.19).

One will notice that Adam alone is afforded the blame for the Fall, not Eve, who was deceived (Gen. 3.13), nor yet the two of them together.  Adam “was with her” (Gen. 3.6) during the temptation, witness to the transaction between his wife and the serpent, but whereas “the woman was deceived and became a transgressor”, “Adam was not deceived” (I Tim. 2.14).  He knew the command of the Lord, and the serpent’s words did not beguile him, as they did her.  He should have stood firm, reminded his wife of the Lord’s provision for their every need, reminded her of the solitary injunction against eating the fruit from this particular tree, and challenged her reasoning for believing the serpent’s word above that of their Creator.  Yet he did not.  He “listened to the voice of (his) wife” (Gen. 3.17); he let her persuade him to eat the fruit against his better judgment.  As the head of his wife (Gen. 3.16, I Cor. 11.3, Eph. 5.23), Adam was responsible for her and for her conduct, as well as for their progeny and their conduct.  Thus, because of Adam’s sin, and Adam’s alone, all of humanity was made a race of fallen, mortal sinners, justly deserving God’s condemnation.

The last thing to observe with respect to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is that had Adam refrained from eating of its fruit and kept his wife from doing the same, he and his wife would have come to the knowledge of good and evil without losing their Original Righteousness.  It is good to obey the Lord and to refute the testimony of those who speak against His Word, and it is evil to listen to the voice of those who speak against God’s Word and follow according to theirs.  Had Adam overcome Satan in the Garden, as the Lord Jesus did in the desert, he and Eve would have learned this lesson by their faith worked out through obedience to the Word of the Lord, and thus come to a righteous knowledge of good and evil, qualitatively superior to the knowledge of the same that they gained by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.  And that makes their acquisition of this knowledge by the means they employed in the Garden all the more ironic.

The Sign and Seal of the Covenant of Life: The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life, like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, was planted in the midst of the Garden of God (Gen. 2.9), but unlike the other named Tree, there was no prohibition against man eating its fruit before the Fall.  Thus, when God said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen. 2.16), He included the Tree of Life in the scope of His permission.

The Tree of Life was a fitting symbol of the Covenant of Life, inasmuch as it signified and sealed the covenant blessings to man, in particular the blessing of everlasting life.  Thus, when man violated the Covenant by partaking of the fruit from the forbidden Tree, he forfeited all right to partake of the Tree of Life, and the Lord had to take steps to prevent him from doing so ever again.  “‘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 … 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.” (Gen. 3.22-24, emphasis added)

The implication of the Lord’s statement, that by eating of the Tree of Life man would “live forever”, was that man was endowed with everlasting life at his creation, that it was his to lose, and that only by partaking of the proscribed Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Berkhof takes this a step further, observing that although Scripture nowhere states before the Fall that man had been given the gift of conditional immortality, “it is clearly implied in the alternative of death as the result of disobedience.  The clear implication of the threatened punishment is that in the case of obedience death would not enter, and this can only mean that life would continue.”27

Moreover, what we have in Christ’s work in Redemption is a reversal of the curse that God laid down on our race and all of Creation at the Fall, a restoration to us of the life man had in the Garden before the Fall, and our confirmation in that life, to ensure that we can never lose it again.  “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility (i.e., at Eden; see Gen. 3.16-19), not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8.19-21, emphasis added)

Again, in the holy city, the new Jerusalem that will come when Christ returns victorious at the end of human history, “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.”  This is what man had in the Garden of 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.” (Rev. 21.3-4)  And if this were not enough, there is in the new Jerusalem “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city,” just as there was in the Garden of God the river that flowed out from the presence of God there to water all the lands.  “Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev. 22.1-2)

Finally, the Lord Jesus announced His purpose when He said, “I came that (my sheep) may have life and have it abundantly.” (Jn. 10.10)  If this were not clear enough, He told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3.16)  Likewise, He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (Jn. 11.25-26)  And as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Then comes the end, when (Christ) delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’” (I Cor. 15.24-27)  Death will be destroyed.  Everlasting life, found abundantly in Christ, will be restored, just as it was in the Garden of God before the Fall.

Sadly, not all Christians believe that God created man in the Garden with conditional immortality, or that the penalty involved in violating the terms of the Covenant of Life was nothing less than the physical death of man on the day he violated those terms.  In particular, well-known Christian author and apologist C. S. Lewis, for whom I have a great deal of respect, and whose books I enjoy immensely (even if I strongly disagree with some of what he says), apparently believed that God had created Adam to be physically mortal.  In his first work of science fiction, Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis created not one, but three races of unfallen beings (or hnau) on the fictional planet Malacandra (Mars, as it had been powerfully shaped in the popular imagination of the first half of the Twentieth Century)—the hrossa, the sorns, and the pfifltriggi.  Also on Malacandra was a dangerous species of aquatic predator called the hnéraki, against which the hrossa, in particular, would band together to hunt, just as the hnéraki hunted them.  But even beyond the occasional death of a hross by a hnakra, the hrossa had a natural lifespan of “about 80 Martian years, or 160 earth years.”28  However,

except for some few whom the hnakra gets, no one dies before his time.  All live out the full span allotted to their kind, and a death with them is as predictable as a birth with us. … (Those who are near death are sent) off, to receive the last counsel of Oyarsa, to die, and to be by him “unbodied.”  The corpses, as corpses, will exist only for a few minutes: there are no coffins in Malacandra, no sextons, churchyards, or undertakers.  The valley is solemn at their departure, but I see no signs of passionate grief.  They do not doubt their (spiritual) immortality, and friends of the same generation are not torn apart.  You leave the world, as you entered it, with the “men of your own year.”  Death is not preceded by dread nor followed by corruption.29

Thus, in the microcosm of Lewis’ Space Trilogy, “A world is not made to last for ever, much less a race; that is not (God’s) way.”30  Of course, Out of the Silent Planet is a work of fiction—and speculative fiction at that.  An author might write something in a work of fiction that he does not believe to be true and would not hold to it if challenged.  However, Lewis has a much larger body of non-fiction works, where what he says can reasonably be expected to represent what he believed.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, Lewis includes a chapter on the Fall of Man, in which he discusses, among other things, what he believed about Adam’s origin before the Fall.  At the beginning of this chapter he writes, “Christianity asserts that God is good; that He made all things good and for the sake of their goodness; that one of the good things He made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil.”31

So far, so good.  As a Calvinist, I might challenge his definition of free will, and his gloss leaves unexplained why a good creature of God’s should desire to avail himself of the possibility of evil, but such issues have been debated by Christians for most of Church history, and the Church has been divided along these fault lines for centuries.  The point is, Lewis believed, as do I, that God made man upright, morally good, but with the possibility of falling into sin and disobedience.

However, Lewis did not believe that God literally made man from “dust from the ground” (Gen. 2.7), nor woman from the rib of man (Gen. 2.21-22), as Scripture states.  “If by saying that man rose from brutality you mean simply that man is physically descended from animals, I have no objection.”32  Now on the face of it, Lewis might be saying, “If this is what you believe, I am not going to argue with you,” without committing to the doctrine of theistic evolution.  However, just a few pages later, he expanded on this, more clearly stating that he believed in theistic evolution:

What exactly happened when Man fell, we do not know; but if it is legitimate to guess, I offer the following picture—a “myth” in the Socratic sense, a not unlikely tale.

For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself.  He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated.  The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity.  But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends.  Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me”, which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgements of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past. …

Judged by his artefacts, or perhaps even by his language, this blessed creature was, no doubt, a savage.  All that experience and practice can teach he had still to learn: if he chipped flints, he doubtless chipped them clumsily enough.  He may have been utterly incapable of expressing in conceptual form his Paradisal experience. … I do not doubt that if the Paradisal man could now appear among us, we should regard him as an utter savage, a creature to be exploited or, at best, patronised.  Only one or two, and those the holiest among us, would glance a second time at the naked, shaggy-bearded, slow-spoken creature: but they, after a few minutes, would fall at his feet.

We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state.  But sooner or later they fell.  Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods—that they could cease directing their lives to their Creator and taking all their delights as uncovenanted mercies, as “accidents” (in the logical sense) which arose in the course of a life directed not to those delights but to the adoration of God.33

Lewis was enamored by the notion of Christianity as the “true myth”, a notion he shared with his good friend, J. R. R. Tolkien,34 and he clearly regarded the early accounts in Genesis among the “myths in Holy Scripture”, for which he had “the deepest respect.”  He believed “the story in Genesis is a story (full of the deepest suggestion) about a magic apple of knowledge,” that pointed to a more pedestrian reality, as outlined above.  Yet he expressed disappointment that, in developing the doctrine of the Fall, the early Church Fathers regarded the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil “simply and solely (as) a pledge of obedience,” devoid of any mythical significance.35

When taken together, Lewis’ claims in Out of the Silent Planet and The Problem of Pain show that he believed that God created man mortal, albeit positively good and in right standing and relationship with Him, which condition was lost when he fell into sin, but nevertheless mortal, destined to die eventually.  To be perfectly fair to Lewis, there is one passage of Scripture that seems to lend credence to this line of thought, where the Lord through the prophet Isaiah announces,

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,

and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. (Is. 65.17-20, emphasis added)

Immediately we are reminded of John’s parallel words near the end of the Apocalypse:

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.” (Rev. 21.1-2, emphasis added)

Rather than saying, “No more shall there be in it…an old man who does not fill out his days,” that “the young man shall die a hundred years old,” the Apocalypse says that in the New Jerusalem, “death shall be no more.”  How, then, are these two seemingly contradictory passages to be reconciled?  Is Lewis correct in teaching that God never intended to make man’s body immortal, but only his soul?  Is Christ’s work in redeeming man, restoring him to the original condition he enjoyed in the Garden of God, limited to a restoration of full spiritual life only, wherein he is once again in a right relationship with his Creator, the source of his life, but in which physical death is inevitable, albeit without its sting?  If Lewis interprets the Scriptures correctly, this would be the condition in which man in the Garden of God found himself.

However, Paul writes,

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (I Cor. 15.20-26)

Paul in this passage (which begins with verse 12) is addressing the resurrection of the dead and likening it to Christ’s.  Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we who are found in Him will likewise be raised from the dead; in the manner in which Christ was raised, we, too, will be raised.  As he elsewhere said, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6.5)  Then Paul goes on to discuss the resurrection body.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.  It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. … Behold!  I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15.42-55; citations from Is. 25.8, Hos. 13.14)

Christ, having died, was raised immortal and imperishable.  “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Rom. 6.9)  Likewise, when we who are found in Him are raised from the dead at His Second Coming, we will be raised immortal and imperishable, no longer subject to death either.

So, too, then, was man before the Fall immortal and imperishable, contingent upon his fulfillment of the terms of the Covenant of Life.  But man sinned, and in his sin, the imperishable put on the perishable, and the immortal put on mortality.  Yet the imperishable and immortal Christ without sin put on the perishable and the mortal, in order to reverse this curse and restore man to the imperishable, immortal nature he enjoyed before the Fall.

Man as a creature of God was created with a body as well as a soul, and that body God declared to be “very good” (Gen. 1.31).  The souls of those who have died in Christ have returned to God who gave them, there to await the resurrection from the dead, while their bodies suffer corruption in the ground (Eccl. 12.7, Rev. 6.9-11).  Yet a disembodied soul is less than a man, incomplete without a body.  Although “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (II Cor. 5.8, Phil. 1.23), it is not God’s design that man should be a disembodied spirit like an angel, but that man should live with Him forevermore in a body suited to that purpose, as he was originally fashioned in Eden.

So then, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” (Is. 65.20)  “Death shall be no more.” (Rev. 21.4)  “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.  The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Ps. 90.9-10)36  As Calvin comments on this passage in Isaiah, “But Christ comes to repair our strength, and to restore and preserve our original condition.”37  Likewise as Henry comments,

Believers through Christ shall be satisfied with life, though it be ever so short on earth. … As for old men, it is promised that they shall fill their days with the fruits of righteousness, which they shall still bring forth in old age, to show that the Lord is upright, and then it is a good old age.  An old man who is good, and wise, and useful, may truly be said to have filled his days.  Old men who have their hearts upon the world have never filled their days, never have enough of this world, but would still continue longer in it.  But that man dies old, and…full of days, who, with Simeon, having seen God’s salvation, desires now to depart in peace.38

But, “for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.” (Is. 65.20)  Again, as Henry comments,

Unbelievers shall be unsatisfied and unhappy in life, though it be ever so long.  The sinner, though he live to a hundred years old, shall be accursed.  His living so long shall be no token to him of the divine favour or blessing, nor shall it be any shelter to him from the divine wrath and curse.  The sentence he lies under will certainly be executed, and his long life is but a long reprieve; nay, it is itself a curse to him, for the longer he lives the more wrath he treasures up against the day of wrath and the more he sins he will have to answer for.  So that the matter is not great whether our lives on earth be long or short, but whether we live the lives of saints or the lives of sinners.39

As stated, the Tree of Life signified and sealed the promise of the Covenant of Life—namely, everlasting life—to man before the Fall.  By this we must not suppose that the fruit of the Tree of Life was somehow endowed with mystical power to bless whomever partook of it with eternal life, much to Lewis’ disappointment, nor yet that the fruit possessed natural properties that would have enabled man to live forever, if he continued partaking of it, as Hodge suggests.40  Neither should we presume with Vos, based on the Lord’s statement in Genesis 3.22, “that man before his fall had not eaten it,”41 nor yet that there was a second injunction, albeit temporary, against eating of the Tree of Life also, the privilege to do so contingent upon man fulfilling the terms of the Covenant.  Rather, as Calvin observes, God

gave the tree of life its name, not because it could confer on man that life with which he had been previously endued, but in order that it might be a symbol and memorial of the life which he had received from God.  For we know it to be by no means unusual that God should give to us the attestation of his grace by external symbols.  He does not indeed transfer his power into outward signs; but by them he stretches out his hand to us, because, without assistance, we cannot ascend to him.  He intended, therefore, that man, as often as he tasted the fruit of that tree, should remember whence he received his life, in order that he might acknowledge that he lives not by his own power, but by the kindness of God alone; and that life is not (as they commonly speak) an intrinsic good, but proceeds from God.42

The significance of the Tree of Life is sacramental, functioning in the life of the Garden of God under the Covenant of Life in much the same way as the Lord’s Supper functions in the life of the Church under the Covenant of Redemption.  God terminated man’s access to the Tree of Life after the Fall, not because its fruit would literally enable him to “live forever” (Gen. 3.22) in his fallen, sinful condition, but because in his sin, man had broken the Covenant of Life and forfeited its promise, and for him to continue partaking of the sign and seal of the broken Covenant would be to eat the fruit “in an unworthy manner,” to be “guilty of profaning” the Lord of the Covenant, who was represented in the Tree of Life, bringing “judgment on himself.” (I Cor. 11.27-29).

The Once and Future Covenant of Life

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.  God has done it, so that people fear before him.  That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. (Eccl. 3.14-15)

Although man in his sin has abrogated the Covenant of Life and forfeited its blessings and promise, he has not—nor indeed could not have—destroyed the Covenant of Life, for God is the author of the Covenant of Life, and “whatever God does endures forever.”  That which has been, namely, the Covenant of Life, is that which is to be, for although God drove man from the Garden, He now seeks him, “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19.10; see also Ezek. 34.11-16, Lk. 15).  God seeks fallen man in order to redeem him and to restore him to the Covenant of Life.

Moreover, the Covenant of Life has been fulfilled: The covenantal faith that was lacking in the first Adam, leading to the Fall, has been found in the second Adam, who continued to put His faith in God, when the veracity of God’s Word was challenged.  The second Adam truly trusted God, demonstrating and validating His covenantal faith in outward works of obedience: He “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2.7-8)  He was the ultimate substituted sacrifice that God provided and accepted in the place of the first Adam, and the source of our shame—our spiritual nakedness—is covered by His righteousness as a garment that is infinitely more durable than the garments of skin with which God clothed the first Adam and his wife (Job 29.14, Is. 61.10, Rom. 13.14, Gal. 3.27, Eph. 4.24, Phil. 3.9, Col. 3.10).

Further, it is of no accident that the Cross on which the Lord Jesus was hung is sometimes in Scripture referred to as a tree (Acts 5.30, 13.29, I Pet. 2.24), for Paul, referencing Deuteronomy 21.22-23, writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” (Gal. 3.13)  Nor is it a coincidence that the Lord Jesus, in His Bread of Life Discourse, said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6.53-56)  So then, taken together, the image of the Cross as a Tree and the image of the body and blood of Christ hung thereupon as “true food and…true drink” form a powerful image of the Crucified Savior as the Tree of Life, signifying and sealing to those of us in the Covenant of Redemption the promise of the Covenant of Life, with His body and blood represented in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper (Mt. 26.26-28, Mk. 14.22-24, Lk. 22.19-20, I Cor. 11.24-26).

Finally, in the Resurrection, in the new earth and the new Jerusalem, we see the restoration of everything man lost in Eden. The foundations of the city walls are “adorned with every kind of jewel,” the city gates are fashioned from pearl, and the city streets are “pure gold” (Rev. 21.18-21), reminiscent of what the Prophet Ezekiel wrote, “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering.” (Ezek. 28.13)  The presence of God fills the city, obviating the need for a temple, and providing all the light the city needs (Rev. 21.22-25).  The throne of God will be established in the city, where all His servants shall worship Him (Rev. 22.3-4), and from His throne flows “the river of the water of life,” just as it did in Eden. Along the banks of this river grows “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree (are) for the healing of the nations. … Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev. 22.1-2,14)

Sin will be abolished, and we who are found in Christ will be transformed into His likeness and His glory, that we may be found fit to dwell in the new Jerusalem, for “nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21.27)  Marriage between man and woman will be no more, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mt. 22.30, Mk. 12.25, Lk. 20.34-36).  However, the greater reality to which marriage in this world imperfectly points, the marriage of Christ and His Church, of God and His people, will be consummated (Is. 54.5-8, 61.10, Ezek. 16.6-14, Hos. 2.14-20, II Cor. 11.2, Eph. 5.22-33, Rev. 19.6-9, 21.2,9-11, 22.17), for the things in this world “serve (as) a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8.5, 10.1), and “when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (I Cor. 13.10).

And gone will be the specter of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We will have been raised incorruptible, and sin will have no more dominion over us (Rom. 6.14, I Cor. 15.42-44).  “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.” Jer. 31.34)  And as we shall all know the Lord, enjoying intimate fellowship with Him, and as no evil thing can enter the new paradise of God, there will be no tempter to try our faith.  We will know the difference between good and evil, and like the Lord, we will “know how to refuse the evil and choose the good.” (Is. 7.15)

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8.18)

Come, Lord Jesus, as you have promised (Rev. 3.11, 22.7,12,20), quickly come!


1    The Hebrew name of the referenced river is Hiddekel, which the Septuagint translates as Tígris.

2    John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, Volume First, trans. Rev. John King, M.A., in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. I (reprinted Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), pp. 123-124.

3    Indeed, the Septuagint translates the name Cush in Gen. 2.13 into Greek as Αἰθιοπίας.

4    Numbers 12.1; compare Exodus 2.15-22.

5    Calvin, Commentaries on Genesis, Vol. I, p. 124.

6    Ibid., pp. 119-120.

7    Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948; reprinted Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975, 1992), pp. 27-28.

8    Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. I: Genesis to Deuteronomy (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), p. 13, emphasis original.

9    For examples of Reformed teaching on Original Righteousness, see Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Faith, trans. Henry Beveridge (reprinted Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), Book I, Chapter 15; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II (1872-1873; Reprinted Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 99-102; Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1938; reprinted 1993), pp. 202 ff.

10   O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980), pp. 4-15.  In his research, Robertson focused on the primary covenants in Scripture—God’s covenant with Adam before the Fall, His covenant with Adam after the Fall, His covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David, and His new covenant in Christ’s blood—with additional studies of the covenants implemented in the ancient Middle Eastern cultures surrounding Israel.

11   Ibid., p. 67.

12   Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 213.

13   Westminster Confession of Faith VII.2, XIX.1,6; Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 30.

14   Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 12; Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 20.

15   Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, pp. 117-122.

16   Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 211.

17   Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 23.

18   Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, pp. 55-57.

19   Calvin, Commentaries on Genesis, Vol. I, p. 125.

20   Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, pp. 80-81.

21   Calvin, Commentaries on Genesis, Vol. I, p. 100.

22   Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. I, p. 16, emphasis original.

23   Vos notes, “The phrase (in Hebrew) is not ‘knowledge of the good and the evil’.  It reads, literally translated: ‘knowledge of good-and-evil’, i.e., of good and evil correlated, mutually conditioned conceptions.” (Biblical Theology, p. 31)

24   Calvin, Commentaries on Genesis, Vol. I, pp. 125-126.

25   Westminster Confession of Faith VII.2.

26   Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 216.

27   Ibid., p. 213.

28   C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (1938; reprinted New York: Macmillan, 1965), p. 156.

29   Ibid., p. 159.

30   Ibid., p. 100.

31   Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940; reprinted New York: Harper Collins, 1996, 2000), p. 63.

32   Ibid., p. 67.

33   Ibid., pp. 71-75.

34   Justin Taylor, “85 Years Ago Today: J. R. R. Tolkien convinces C. S. Lewis that Christ Is the True Myth” (The Gospel Coalition, Sept. 20, 2016).

35   Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 66.

36   As an aside, it is curious that Moses, to whom Psalm 90 is attributed, and whom Scripture recounts to have lived to the age of 120 years (Dt. 34.7), whose father lived to the age of 137 years (Ex. 6.20), and whose successor lived to the age of 110 years (Josh. 24.29), should state that “the years of (man’s) life are (only) seventy or…eighty.”

37   Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Volume Fourth, trans. Rev. William Pringle, in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. VIII, p. 400.

38   Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. IV, p. 305, emphasis original.

39   Ibid.

40   Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p. 125.

41   Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 28.

42   Calvin, Commentaries on Genesis, Vol. I, pp. 116-117.