Was the tree in the Garden of Eden a real tree or merely a symbol?

Would it be correct to say that the two trees mentioned in Genesis 2:9, viz, the “Tree of Life,” and the “Tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” are only symbols, and not literal trees? Does the latter tree represent the limit or boundary of the liberty God gave to-Adam?

Mere statements of opinion, even when said to be shared by “leading theologians,” carry no weight, unless supported by scriptural proof. Personally, I have never beard of any theologian or indeed anyone else who held such views as stated above, although of course, modern unbelief hates the story of the fall of man, and would fain get rid of it at any cost. But if the tree of knowledge is only a symbol, representing “the limit or boundary of the liberty God gave to Adam,” (!) (whatever this exactly means), of what is the tree of life a symbol?

The two trees are mentioned first in Genesis 2:9: “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree, that is pleasant to the sight, etc.: the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Here the same Hebrew word for tree is used throughout, and in each case the tree is said to have been made to grow out of the ground. Surely they are literal trees all through. Again, in verses and 17 the tree of life is not mentioned apart from the trees whose fruit might be eaten; the only exception being the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This would be very strange if it were intended to convey the injunction that they might eat of all the literal trees (including the symbolic tree of life), but that they must not eat of the symbolic tree of knowledge. It is the same in Genesis 3:2, “We may eat,” says Eve, “of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it.” Here we see that the tree of knowledge was like the tree of life, in the most accessible part of the garden, even the midst. How could two abstract symbols be in the midst of the literal garden? Eve clearly understood the tree of knowledge to be a literal tree, and so it is to the end of the chapter— “Hast thou eaten of the tree?” etc. The tree of life certainly was literal too, bearing fruit capable of maintaining the human body in its daily wear and tear—a kind of elixir of life, so much sought after since. I see that Cruden gives an interesting note in his Concordance under “Tree” in this sense: “Tree of life so-called because it was a natural means of preserving man’s life and freeing him from all infirmities, etc., during his abode on earth.” This agrees with the fact that after the fall God deprived his creatures of access to the tree of life, lest their existence should be indefinitely prolonged in a sin-haunted body.

Perhaps the great ages of the early patriarchs resulted from the fact that Adam and Eve had eaten of this life-preserving fruit. What then was the tree of knowledge? We do not know what kind of fruit it bore, except that it was very attractive, but God chose it to be the test tree for their obedience (for every moral creature, angel or man, has had to be tested). Much objection has been raised by unbelief against so much depending on such a simple thing as eating a bit of fruit! But surely the simpler the test, the easier of fulfilment, and the greater the responsibility of failure. If God had chosen to give them only one tree to eat from, and forbidden all the rest, that would have been, of course, perfectly legitimate, but much more difficult for them. Instead God gave man in His love an infinitely easy test, and solemnly warned him of the dreadful consequences of disobedience, but he fell and was alone responsible. How great the contrast of the Second Man! The commandment He received of His Father was to lay down His life. This was a test infinitely difficult of passing, but He came out triumphant: “He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name,” etc. Had Adam passed his easy test, I do not think he would have been put to another, but would for ever have been in blissful harmony with God’s will. I think what we have seen shows that we may safely reject the ideas referred to by our questioner, as unsupported by Scripture, and so contrary to the facts.

W.H.