What Is the Tree of Life in the Bible?

Illustration of the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem
Illustration of an angel showing John the New Jerusalem in Revelation as the river of life flows and the tree of life grows on its banks.

The tree of life appears in both the opening and closing chapters of the Bible (Genesis 2-3 and Revelation 22). In the book of Genesis, God places the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the Garden of Eden, where the tree of life stands as a symbol of God’s life-giving presence and the fullness of eternal life available in God.

Key Bible Verse

“The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9, NLT)

What Is the Tree of Life?

The tree of life appears in the Genesis narrative just after God has completed the creation of Adam and Eve. Then God plants the Garden of Eden, a beautiful paradise for the man and woman to enjoy. God places the tree of life in the middle of the garden.

Agreement among Bible scholars suggests that the tree of life with its central placement in the garden was to serve as a symbol to Adam and Eve of their life in fellowship with God and their dependence on him.

In the center of the garden, human life was distinguished from that of the animals. Adam and Eve were much more than mere biological beings; they were spiritual beings who would discover their deepest fulfillment in fellowship with God. However, this fullness of life in all its physical and spiritual dimensions could only be maintained through obedience to God’s commands.

But the LORD God warned him [Adam], “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” (Genesis 2:16–17, NLT)

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they were expelled from the garden. Scripture explains the reason for their expulsion: God did not want them to run the risk of eating from the tree of life and living forever in a state of disobedience.

Then the LORD God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” (Genesis 3:22, NLT)

What Is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Most scholars agree that the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil are two different trees. Scripture reveals that fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was forbidden because eating it would necessitate death (Genesis 2:15-17). Whereas, the result of eating from the tree of life was to live forever.

The Genesis story showed that eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil resulted in sexual awareness, shame, and a loss of innocence, but not immediate death. Adam and Eve were banished from Eden to prevent them from eating of the second tree, the tree of life, which would have caused them to live forever in their fallen, sinful state.

The tragic result of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was that Adam and Eve were separated from God.

Tree of Life in Wisdom Literature

Apart from Genesis, the tree of life only appears again in the Old Testament in the wisdom literature of the book of Proverbs. Here the expression tree of life symbolizes the enrichment of life in various ways:

  • In knowledge - Proverbs 3:18
  • In righteous fruit (good deeds) - Proverbs 11:30
  • In fulfilled desires - Proverbs 13:12
  • In gentle speech - Proverbs 15:4

Tabernacle and Temple Imagery

The menorah and other adornments of the tabernacle and temple possess tree of life imagery, symbolic of God’s Holy presence. The doors and walls of Solomon’s temple contain images of trees and cherubim that recall the Garden of Eden and God’s sacred presence with humanity (1 Kings 6:23–35). Ezekiel indicates that carvings of palm trees and cherubim will be present in the future temple (Ezekiel 41:17–18).

Tree of Life in the New Testament

Tree of life images are present at the beginning of the Bible, in the middle, and at the end in the book of Revelation, which contains the only New Testament references to the tree.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious, I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7, NLT; see also 22:2, 19)

In Revelation, the tree of life represents the restoration of the life-giving presence of God. Access to the tree had been cut off in Genesis 3:24 when God stationed mighty cherubim and a flaming sword to block the way to the tree of life. But here in Revelation, the way to the tree is open again for all who have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.” (Revelation 22:14, NLT)

Restored access to the tree of life was made possible by “the second Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:44–49), Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of all humanity. Those who seek forgiveness of sin through the shed blood of Jesus Christ are given access to the tree of life (eternal life), but those who remain in disobedience will be denied. The tree of life provides continuous, everlasting life to all who partake of it, for it signifies the eternal life of God made available to redeemed humanity.

Sources

  • Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words (p. 409). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  • “Tree of Knowledge.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary.
  • “Tree of Life.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary.
  • “Tree of Life.” Tyndale Bible Dictionary (p. 1274).