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Tree of Life Podcast

Are Humans Naturally Immortal? Tree of Life Q+R #1

Why are moments of testing on high places often accompanied by sacrifice in the Bible? Why does the Eden story seem ambiguous about the number of trees in the garden? Were humans mortal when they were placed in the garden? Tim and Jon respond to these questions and more in this question and response episode.
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Episode Details

February 3, 2020
37 min

Episode Details

February 3, 2020
37 min

Show Notes

QUOTE

Once you have a humanity infused with the life presence of the creator and one with him, as Jesus says in John 17, then that solves the problem. That is the solution to the problem of the human condition.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The images in Proverbs of Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly can be connected to the tree of life and the tree of knowing good and bad.
  • The narrative in Genesis 2-3 seems to support the idea of two distinct trees in the middle of the garden of Eden.
  • The Eden narrative claims that humans are mortal and that they receive eternal life only when living in proximity to God’s eternal life.

Trees and Sacrifice

In part one of the episode (0:00–8:05), Tim and Jon recap a discussion about the role of sacrifice within the theme of trees in the Bible.

Metaphorically, we sacrifice our desires when we decide to live by God’s wisdom. In a similar way, Noah makes a costly sacrifice on a high place as an offering of thanks and atonement. Noah’s moment of decision with wood on a high place leads to communion with God.

Abraham also had a moment of decision that combined wood, high places, and sacrifice. God asked him to sacrifice his son, and symbolically Abraham sacrificed his own wisdom and actions to take God’s promise for himself. God’s promise exists because of his gift, not our efforts.

Later in the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses, David, and the people of Israel all face tests before trees in high places. This becomes a major image of humanity’s rebellion in the book of Kings. The solution for humanity is a human who can choose life and also account for the sum of human rebellion and pain.

In the second part of the episode (8:06–37:00), Tim and Jon dive into listener questions. These questions are listed below with the timestamps.

Could Lady Folly be a metaphor for the Asherah?

Peter from Utah (8:06)

In the wisdom series, you compared Lady Folly and Lady Wisdom to wisdom metaphors of the tree of life and the antithesis. I was wondering if Lady Folly could be considered a metaphor of the Asherah?

Tim shares that the speeches in Proverbs 1-9 are a warning from Solomon about two life paths, wisdom and folly. They become metaphors for two women, Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. Lady Folly is called by a number of titles, including “the foreign woman.” One of Solomon’s failed tests was marrying many non-Israelite women and worshiping their gods.

Asherah was a foreign goddess of fertility whose altar was on high places and whose statues took the form of sacred trees. Israel and their kings failed at the tree when they sacrificed offerings and even their children to Asherah. They created and worshiped in an anti-Eden.

How many trees are in the garden of Eden?

Terese from California (12:00)

In chapter two, line nine, where God is populating the garden of Eden, it describes, “in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” But the verb there, “were,” is confusing me because that sentence makes it sound like there are definitely two trees—separate trees—one is the tree of life, and one is the knowledge of good and bad. But then in chapter 3, in the fall, when Eve is talking with the serpent and she’s repeating to the serpent what God told her, she says, “God did say, ‘You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden,’” and she’s only talking about one tree. I’m curious—where do scholars come down on that? Is there one tree that is all those things, or are there two trees, and why is it translated like that?

Tim explains that some people think Genesis 2 is talking about one tree. But Genesis 2 clearly says that the tree of life is in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:8-9), and Eve clearly says that the tree they’re commanded not to eat from is in the middle of the garden (Genesis 3:2-3). The two choices are represented by two trees growing in the middle of the garden.

Were humans mortal when they were put in the garden?

Gina from Alabama (20:21)

You pointed out a new thought and great point for me, that the Tree of Life in Genesis 3:22 indicates, "Humans do not possess the ability on their own to live forever." My understanding has been that it is sin that brought on the aging process and the end result, death. Maybe we can only speculate, but I was wondering what you thought would happen to humans if we had never sinned. Would we still age and/or die? If we had eaten of that tree first, could we still have eaten from the other and been in a worse position?

The narrative is clear that God forms humans from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). The image is God forming humans from the wet ground of the wild world before there’s a garden. Humans become alive when God breathes life into humanity. Then, God plants a garden in Eden and places the humans there (Genesis 2:8).

Dust is a primary image of mortality in the Hebrew Bible. Tim cites several different passages. Psalm 103:14 says that God remembers we are dust. In other words, we share the same identity as the first mortal in Genesis 2. Job uses this image several times (Job 4:19, Job 10:8, Job 33:6), a narrative image of mortal humans who without the breath of life are just dust.

Tim shares that different Christian traditions have different understandings of human mortality. The Eden narrative seems to claim that humans are mortal, and it’s only by being placed in proximity to God’s eternal life in the garden that we can be transformed to eternal life.

Jon mentions the Hebrew concept of Sheol, the underworld or place of the dead. Tim says this is a state of nonexistence, where people don’t have volition or agency. The Psalms share positive images of the afterlife, associated with life after death as a gift from God. In the Eden narrative, Tim says the image is of a conditional, embodied immortality.

The tree of life represents continual proximity to God’s own life. Within the logic of the narrative, the choosing of both trees is an impossibility. This is the same question as whether humans can rebel in the new creation. The culmination of the biblical narrative is humanity becoming one with God through the person of Jesus. Humanity infused with the life presence of the creator is the solution to the problem of humanity.

Show Music

  • Defender Instrumental by Tents

Show produced by Dan Gummel.

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