Good News Blog


Posted by bonesiii on February 11, 2013 at 6:40 AM

Many people have wondered what type of fruit was being referred to in Genesis 2-3, from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Especially there is a common tradition that it was apples.

However, I've thought of a possibility that would rule apples out if it is correct. I cannot apparently be certain that this is the case (read on for why), but there are some interesting clues in Genesis 1-3 that the forbidden tree might not have been seed-bearing. There is only one such tree; it was apparently not supposed to be spreading around like other plants, and when God spoke about what our food would be, he specifically mentioned seed-bearing plants & trees.

If this is correct, since apples bear seeds, they could not have been the forbidden fruit. Nor could any other known plant of today, such as figs.

Here are the verses that got me thinking along these lines:

“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:8-9)

“And God said, '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.'” (Genesis 1:29)

“And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden...''” (Genesis 3:2-3a)

It makes sense that this forbidden tree would not be designed to reproduce, lest more of them grow somewhere other than the midst (middle) of the garden, and God's instructions become useless.

However, there is room for caution here. This is Eve's statement, but she goes on to add that God said not to even touch this tree. It is commonly pointed out by scholars that this appears to be an addition to what God actually said to Adam earlier. I have noticed something else rarely mentioned; it's possible she added the mention to the location. Here is what God actually said:

“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.'” (Genesis 2:16-17)

This is somewhat problematic because it's also stated that the Tree of Life is in the “midst” earlier. That part also confirms Eve's statement of the forbidden tree's location.

Either it is meant to be implied that Adam then asked God where this forbidden tree was and God told him the first part of what Eve said, or God was already giving Adam a tour of the garden and had just showed him this tree and told him what it was. If the latter, God may also have made it clear verbally that it's in the middle – or either Adam or Eve may have deduced this.

There is a reference in Revelation to apparently multiple Trees of Life:

“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; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.” (Revelation 22:1-2)

This seems to mean that there may in fact be twelve separate kinds – whether rootkinds or branchkinds is not clear – of Tree of Life. If this interpretation is correct, then “tree” in Genesis 2 when it refers to the Tree of Life may be plural (my attempts to find information about this online have so far been fruitless... haha okay). The garden could have been set up in concentric circles; a single forbidden tree in the very center, twelve Trees of Life with restorative properties ringing this, and then other edible trees ringing these.

However, this also opens up the confusing possibility that “tree”could be plural in the forbidden tree as well, which would probably nullify the theory that it did not bear seeds. So, take the “could” there as the keyword...

Another caution is that it's unclear whether the reference to seed-bearing plants was intended to mean only those could be eaten. God goes on to say this:

“'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.'” (Genesis1:30)

Do humans have the breath of life? Yes:

“...then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7)

So “every green plant” was allowed to be eaten, including by humans. This begs the question of whether the forbidden tree was green, but we are not told (the best we could get is a guess that the reference to Eve seeing that it was good for food referred to green color, but she also saw that it was desirable for giving wisdom, which seems baffling to understand in terms of today's known world, so we cannot safely make such a simple assumption).

Still, I must wonder, why does God bother to mention seed-bearing plants here? My guess is that it is meant to be cumulative, because of the rule that context determines intent. Not all animals would need to worry about this requirement – so all life could eat any green plant, and in the case of humans, an extra rule is added that we can only eat seed-bearing plants. The "good for food" statement just before the first mention of the two special trees could in this case mean good for animalian life in general, meaning that the forbidden tree is green, while the context is intended to clarify that for humans, the forbidden tree can be identified by more than just its placement because it lacks seeds.

This rule of interpretation shows up in another even clearer example in God's statement to Adam about what in the Garden he was allowed to eat. The first clause, “every tree in the garden” is clearly meant to be modified with the second clause, with the meaning of “except” for the forbidden tree.

So I would say that given the geometrical concerns of the Garden's layout given the clue in Revelation, and the reasonable idea that there was only meant to be one forbidden tree, we have one most likely theory: that the forbidden tree was singular and exactly in the center, with no seeds. (We can add a somewhat likely idea to this; that the forbidden tree was encircled by twelve distinct seed-bearing trees with life-sustaining and healing properties (apparently the means by which we would have lived forever physically had we not sinned), and these encircled by other trees including some that have surviving branchkinds today. However, read on for an alternate interpretation for the Tree of Life which seems more likely to me.)

There's quite a wide range of alternate possibilities that can fit the evidence; my theory here is not really a clear winner but it seems to fit the most naturally.

Perhaps there was only one rootkind Tree of Life and the twelve fruit mentioned in Revelation are branchkinds (basically the same idea as “speciation” or the forming of distinct “breeds” from pre-existing genetic information). This would make the geometry awkward if the exact center was the main way they could tell which tree was which.

Of course, it's also possible there were other identifying characteristics as we would expect and that God simply pointed out which one it was, and Adam could simply point out those details to Eve and their descendants. This would beg the question of why Eve makes it about the location.

It's even possible all these trees bore seeds, but that various reasons prevent their being spread, such as a need for humans to cultivate them, and humans were evicted from the Garden.

I have also considered that it's possible the location was very easy to tell due to being on a small island. Genesis also tells us that a river, which later splits into four other rivers so apparently was quite massive, flows out of Eden. If the forbidden tree was the only one on such an island it would be patently obvious which one it was to everybody.

This could fit with multiple rootkinds of Trees of Life, evoking similar geometry as the “both sides of the river” arrangement as in the New Jerusalem in Revelation. But if there was only one individual rootparent Tree of Life, this would also make it easy to tell which was which if it wasn't on the island (it would lose the nice circular symmetry of the other theory, but who knows if that would have been of any value anyways). I would venture to say that an island with a single forbidden tree, and a single Tree of Life somewhere off the island (that later branched into twelve types for the New Jerusalem) is more likely than twelve original rootkinds of the life tree, since this makes the term “tree” singular in both cases, which is apparently correct (otherwise I would have expected to find some search results pointing out the difference...).

In any case, there's another very good reason to conclude that the forbidden fruit could not have been apples or any other known fruit of today.

Both the Tree of Life and the forbidden tree are given special attributes. Both are mentioned as being in the midst of the Garden. In the case of the Tree of Life, God gave this reason for mankind's eviction after their sin:

“Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. 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 to work the ground from which he was taken. 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.” (Genesis 3:22-24)

So even if both kinds of trees bore seeds, God would not have permitted those seeds to leave the Garden and plant elsewhere. If wind or animals could do this for the one kind, there would seem to be at least some risk of the same for the other.

Therefore, almost certainly no seeds of either of the two special trees (or thirteen special trees) ever left the Garden.

Another problem is that Eve seems to be able to tell that the fruit would give wisdom by sight. This is taken as if it was perfectly normal, much like the talking serpent in the same passage. The phrasing is literal, so the literal meaning apparently has to be that the fruit had an actual power to impart wisdom. But neither apples nor any other modern fruit can do this, barring some extremely surprising genetic anomalies we might find when/if we eventually sequence and understand all plant genetics.

Would it hurt us if we were still eating this fruit nowadays?

Apparently not. God did not mention the forbidden tree as part of the reasoning of evicting us from the Garden. Once the knowledge of the potential for other sins (besides the original single rule) was attained, the Bible seems to teach, it is inherited naturally by all of us, probably genetically. So if apples or whatever WERE the forbidden fruit, we would probably not suffer any further ill effects from eating it.

Still, all the evidence seems to imply strongly that God would also not design the forbidden fruit to spread to survive on the post-Flood Earth today. Apples, etc. are present outside the Garden, therefore they couldn't be the forbidden fruit if this reasoning is correct.

One further caution, however, relates to a common theory among biblical scholars that it is possible that eventually, when mankind had gained significantly in scientific and spiritual knowledge and had matured, God would have granted us permission to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This knowledge does not sound like it would be inherently, eternally, dangerous. Revelation and the rest of the Bible seems to confirm that the saved will still have it eternally, yet we will not sin at all. And we have it now, yet through accepting Jesus and relying on the heartfelt guidance from the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can avoid sinning already, to an increasing extent the more we grow in our relationship with God.

And God can give a rule and then rescind it later as it becomes unnecessary, as seen with the rescinding of the requirements for sacrificial offerings after Jesus paid the price for sin once and for all.

So it's possible that eventually God would allow people to gain that knowledge and it would be treated properly, perfectly, with none of the ill effects described in Genesis 3 or after. If so, this opens up the possibility that there would indeed be a benefit to this tree being able to be reproduced, although it's also just as possible people would simply make a pilgrimage to the one tree's location.

However, we obviously cannot know, for now, whether God would have done that, as the Bible does not say. And this would still not provide positive evidence for the idea that seeds from that tree did grow beyond the Garden in the actual course of events.

NOTE: Of course, much of this reasoning assumes that the Garden was taken away into heaven, or the Trees were, prior to the Global Flood.

If the forbidden tree (or the Tree of Life for that matter) had seeds which could survive the waters, and if these seeds didn't happen to be buried under the Flood sediment, then it could exist on the post-Flood Earth. It seems clear this cannot have been the case for the Tree of Life, but it remains slightly possible that the forbidden seeds could have still been planted outside Eden, accidentally during the Flood. In that case, they could be apples.

However, if it did not have seeds (or any equivalent), then the Global Flood would spell the permanent end of the forbidden tree. I consider this most likely.

Also, the reference to the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem, which Jesus seems to imply in the gospels and John in Revelation is already in existence and being prepared, would imply that it/they were transplanted there, probably by uprooting so none were left on Earth, prior to the Flood. I like to imagine that Enoch had something to do with that, but who knows.

In conclusion, there is not an absolutely definitive answer, but I think we have enough strong textual evidence to say that the forbidden tree is probably not related to any extant (surviving today) tree.

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1 Comment

Reply TLhikan
9:15 AM on April 16, 2013 
Bones, only reading your stuff can make me feel smarter and really dumb at the same time :P. Good work.

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