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There are many passages in the Bible which have been interpreted by theologians in ways that were probably not intended by God. One of the ways that these misinterpretations get corrected is by scientific evidence and a little bit of common sense.

A good example of this is the way ancient theologians interpreted Revelation 7:1. The passage says, “I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, … .” Artwork from ancient times shows the earth as a flat surface and sometimes even shows an angel at each corner of the flat earth. When it became obvious that the earth was not flat, people took a second look at Revelation 7:1 (and perhaps at their whole view of the book of Revelation) and realized that the passage was not saying that at all.

Some theologians have suggested that Genesis 2:16, 17 is intended to tell us that there was no death of any kind until man sinned. There are many creationists who believe that this applies to the plant and animal kingdom as well, so the notion that Tyrannosaurus rex, or lions, or sharks, ate other living things is rejected. We even see some creationist literature showing happy human babies riding on the back of smiling adam & eveTyrannosaurus rex adults. Prophetic passages like Isaiah 11 are held up as proof that physical death is completely dependent on man’s sin since some prophecies talk about wolves dwelling with lambs, leopards lying down with goats, calves living with lions who eat straw, and babies playing with asps (verses 6 – 9).

Such explanations take the Genesis account out of the realm of common sense and scientific evidence. You cannot eat any fruit without something dying. Straw is dead plants. Adam had skin (Genesis 2:23) and skin dies and he got new skin. In fact every cell in our body (with the exception of some brain cells) are replaced every seven years. Insects die and together with dead plants, produce the soil needed for a garden to exist. Some theologians have handled this situation by maintaining that Genesis is an allegory and not historically true. Others have maintained that all of science and all of our common sense is worldly thinking and a rejection of a literal understanding of the Bible. I would suggest that the problem is a refusal to think about the real message of Genesis. Let us look at what it says more carefully.

The Garden of Eden was not heaven. All that man needed was in the Garden, but man was still physical and had to do physical things. Genesis 2:15 tells us that man had to labor, he was to “dress and keep” the Garden. That would involve labor which our physical bodies need to remain healthy. Heaven is not going to involve physical labor. When our souls are united with our Creator our whole nature will change, “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53).

adam & eve at
      treeGenesis 2:9 tells us that there were two trees in the Garden of Eden in addition to our familiar trees. “And the LORD God made all kinds of trees to grow out of the ground — trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” describes our familiar trees. But then we are told, “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Man was forbidden to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “… for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). In chapter 3, verse 5, Satan told Eve that death is not the issue in eating the fruit, but that “your eyes will be opened and you will be as God, knowing good and evil.” In verse 7 we are told that when they ate the fruit, “the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked.” What “eyes” are we talking about? Is this passage talking about physical, light-dependent, bodily eyes? No, this is referring to spiritual sight. In verse 22 God confirms this by saying, “the man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” The man and woman had disobeyed God and they bore the punishment for their sin. They would now be cut off from the fruit of the tree of life. They had died a spiritual death by disobeying and cutting themselves off from God. Now they would have to die a physical death by being cut off from the tree of life. In verse 22 God said that if the couple could continue to eat from the tree of life (which they were never forbidden to eat from) they would live forever in this sinful state. Whatever a person’s interpretation of this passage might be, the implication was that eating of the tree of life would prevent death. The two trees, and what their fruit would do, seems to suggest that eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was distinct and separate from eating of the tree of life. Knowing good and evil and physical life are two different things.
sad adam & eve
So God prevented mankind from eating from the tree of life after they had sinned. The source of everlasting life was lost because of sin. However, when we turn to the book of Revelation we find the tree of life again becoming available to those who are redeemed by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. In Revelation 2:7 Christ tells the church in Ephesus, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” In Revelation 22:1– 2, 14, and 19 we are told that the tree of life grows along the river of the water of life which flows from the throne of God and runs through the city of God. Verse 14 says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life … .”

The theme of the Genesis 2 – 3 account is not physical death, but spiritual death. Physical death is always portrayed in the Bible as a natural thing. Ecclesiastes 3:1– 2 tells us “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, a time to die; … .” In 1 Corinthians 15:25 – 58 Paul talks about the fact that there are “natural bodies” (our physical, material bodies) and that there are “spiritual bodies” (verse 44). He tells us our physical bodies are dying bodies (which) cannot inherit what will last forever (verse 50). In verse 53 we are told that our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die. As Revelation 22:17 tells us, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ … Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”
--John N. Clayton
Pictures in this article: Art Explosion by Nova Development Corporation, © 1997– 2001.

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