One tree or two trees? What’s the difference?


I’ve posted a number of times on the initial conditions in the Garden of Eden. The following table aims to draw together in one place the contrasts between the traditional “one tree” model of the garden and the “two tree” model.

This table may alter from time to time as I tighten up the language and add some comparisons.

One Tree Garden Narrative Two Tree Garden Narrative
Covenant of Works
Covenant of Grace
God created man and woman to live with him forever, but had not promised that they would. God created man and woman to live with him forever, but had not promised that they would.
God annexed a law to a tree in the garden prohibiting Adam and Eve from eating from that tree upon pain of death God annexed two promises to two trees, the first promise was eternal life and the second was moral knowledge, AND he annexed a law to one tree prohibiting Adam and Eve from eating from that tree upon pain of death
The kind of death threatened by God only became increasingly clear after the fall and was threefold: mortal death, spiritual death and hell (eternal conscious torment and physical torture). The kind of death threatened by God was made plain to Adam and Eve before they sinned. They knew God would execute them by royal decree for breaking his law.
Adam and Eve were created with immortal souls Adam and Eve did not possess any form of immortality, God alone is immortal and this is not a communicable attribute. Rather, they were sustained in life by the presence of God until such time as they ate from either tree.
Adam and Eve faced a two-way choice. They could obey or disobey the law annexed to the second tree. Adam and Eve faced a three-way choice. They could exercise their faith in God’s word by eating from the tree of life; they could lust after knowledge but disobey God’s law by eating from the second tree, or they could abstain from eating from either tree
Adam and Eve’s continuing to live with God was conditional upon their obedience to God’s law. Adam and Eve’s continuing to live with God was conditional upon their obedience of faith. Adam and Eve were to eat by faith in God’s word from the tree of life and so gain eternal life and they were to abstain from eating from the prohibited tree.
Man and woman disobeyed. Man and woman disobeyed.
God carried out his threat of death by excluding them from his presence. God did not carry out his threat of execution but, instead, graciously excluded Adam and Eve from his presence to protect them from his all consuming purity whilst they were in a state of sin. This graciously prevented Adam and Eve from gaining eternal life whilst in that state of sin.
Under judgement Adam and Eve grew old and died and were spiritually dead. As a consequence of being shut out of God’s life giving presence, Adam and Eve grow old and die and are spiritually dead. These two types of death are not punitive in the sense of Genesis 2:17 but are consequential.
Mortal death and spiritual death do not sufficiently explain what happens at final judgement and so hell is later added to the sentence. As mortal death is not the punishment promised in Gen 2:17 then death is not the end for humans. God will raise all people from mortal death in order to fulfill his promises and threat: eternal life and the sentence of execution.
Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. Jesus died on the cross to save sinners.
The death of Jesus rescues people from spiritual death and from hell The death of Jesus rescues people from spiritual death, hell and the second death.
Jesus’ death does not rescue people from the penalty of mortal death, by which all people are punished as a result of the fall Mortal death is not punitive and so Christians continue to fall asleep (1 Thess 4:14)
Jesus died as a substitute so that by his death people would avoid the previously unrevealed (only hinted at in the OT) punishment of eternal conscious torment Jesus died as a substitute so that by his death people avoid the promised and equivalent punishment of execution by royal decree (Gen 2:17), which is the second death (Rev 20:14).
The sentence of eternal conscious torment is not equivalent to Jesus’ execution by royal decree and is not, therefore, truly substitutionary in nature The sentence of execution by royal decree (second death) is equivalent to the execution of Jesus, and is, therefore, truly substitutionary in nature
What happens to the wicked in the intermediate state is uncertain, they are kept in some form of confinement as they await judgement and sentencing The wicked are kept in hell where there is conscious rebellion and wailing as they await judgement and sentencing
On the last day all people will be raised to judgement. On the last day all people will be raised to judgement.
The wicked are thrown into the lake of fire which is the “second death”. This is a euphemism for eternal conscious torment. The wicked are thrown into the lake of fire which is the “second death”. This is the literal execution by royal decree promised in Gen 2:17
As Adam and Eve were created with immortal souls, the lake of fire cannot destroy them As Adam and Eve did not possess any kind of initial immortality God does not impose immortality on them and so the lake of fire consumes them as it would any mortal being

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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