Unification News for

January 1998


Volume Two - Part Two

The Bible tells us that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, telling them they could enjoy everything in the Garden. "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat. For on the day you eat of it you shall die." (Gen. 2:17)

We may imagine Adam and Eve followed God’s commandment for a while. Soon, however, a serpent came to the woman and tempted her to sample the fruit. Beguiled by him she ate of it and gave it to the man:

"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." (Gen. 3:7)

In this act, Adam and Eve separated themselves from God, bringing about their own fall and the Fall of all humankind from a state of blessedness and grace.

If you have ever gone to Rome, you may have had the opportunity of seeing the magnificent Sistine Chapel. On the Chapel’s walls and ceiling, the great Italian painter Michelangelo depicted the history of God from the Creation to the Resurrection, covering the Bible from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation. Michelangelo worked on this project for four years, from 1508 to 1512.

Included in this panorama is a scene depicting the Fall of Man. Michelangelo depicts a fruit tree, with a man-like serpent offering what many think to be an apple to a reclining, naked Eve.

For Michelangelo, as sell as for millions of people before and after him, this action is what initiated the Fall. Indeed, this is exactly what Genesis describes, although it does not specify the fruit was an apple.

Literal or symbolic?

The question is, how are we to understand the Genesis passage? And in a larger sense, how are we to understand the Bible? Are we to think that its writers meant every word to be taken as literal truth or are some things to be understood symbolically? Specifically, is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge to be understood literally or symbolically?

For Divine Principle, the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is the book in which the word of God among His people has been recorded. It is a storehouse of God’s truth and wisdom, intended to enable us to find the true way of life, to construct God’s Kingdom on earth and ultimately to gain our own salvation. Thus, the Bible is a mediator between God and man.

Nevertheless, the Bible must be properly understood. Whether its passages are accepted literally or symbolically, it is important to understand the message they are trying to convey. For example, in the Book of Jonah, the prophet is described as being swallowed by a great fish and living inside it. We now know that ancient Middle Eastern cultures often described a person who was in trouble as being "in the belly of a fish," much as today we might say he was "in a pickle." Thus, to think of Jonah as being literally in the belly of a whale would be to miss the point. In fact he was in trouble because he was disobeying God.

Likewise, throughout the Bible spiritual truths are frequently presented through the use of metaphor or symbol. The parables of Jesus are an obvious case in point.

With regard to the story of the Fall, even those who claim to take the Bible literally often make an exception with the Adam and Eve narrative; both the ancient Jews and early Christians treated the narrative as pure allegory. Augustine, who was perhaps the most influential of all Christian theologians and a man who was particularly important in working out the traditional doctrine of original sin, argued that the Eden account should be taken both literally and symbolically; that is to say, taken partly as historic fact and partly as spiritual truth.

Heredity and the fruit

Whatever the sin of Adam and Eve was, it has affected the whole human race. Even today we suffer from its consequences. Therefore it must be an inherited sin. Could such a sin be caused by one’s eating a fruit? Science proves that substances taken into the mouth do not have hereditary effects. Along the same lines, Matthew reports Jesus as saying:

"...not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." (Matt. 15:11)

One’s eating a fruit will not affect the spiritual state of his children. It is impossible. Therefore, the fruit must be symbolic of something else.

Of course, for many people whether the fruit is symbolic or not is not the important issue. The very act of disobedience is the problem. God was angry when man disobeyed Him, and therefore quickly cast him out of the Garden.

But let us think. Would God be interested in testing the obedience of His children, particularly at the possible cost of their lives? Would any parent place some poisonous food in front of his children with the intention of testing their obedience? The answer is obvious.

By the same token, God is the caring Father/Mother of all people. As with any parent, God did not conceive His relationship with His children to exist solely on the basis of obedience. It is rather a matter of love. Disobedience is no doubt one component of the Fall, but it is not its cause.

If the fruit is not literal, let us examine what it represents. The Book of Genesis states that the fruit grew on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet if the fruit is symbolic it cannot grow on a literal tree. The tree, then, must also be symbolic.

In the Garden there were two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There were also, of course, two persons, Adam and Eve.

The Tree of Life is a rich symbol that appears throughout the Bible. In addition to the Genesis passage, it appears in the Book of Proverbs:

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." (Prov. 13:12)

It also appears in the last book of the Bible, Revelation:

"Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates." (Rev. 22"12)

For the writers of these books the image of the Tree of Life represented something highly desirable. It was the hope of people both of the Old Testament and the New Testament ages.

From reading Genesis, we can conclude the Tree of Life also represented Adam’s desire. Genesis 3:24 states that God,

"....drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every way, the guard the way to the Tree of Life."

Because of his sin, Adam was prevented from reaching what he wanted, the Tree of Life.

As stated in the Principle of Creation, according to God’s ideal the destiny of each person is to grow to full maturity and oneness with God. For this reason each of us is continually seeking higher degrees of happiness, self-expression, and love. By the same token, people of both the Old and New Testament ages and Adam himself must have had the hope to grow to maturity and full personhood, realizing their own ideals and the ideals that God had for them.

Adam and the Tree of Life.

If this was indeed Adam’s desire, it is logical to conclude that the Tree of Life in the Garden symbolizes a man who has reached full maturity, the state of true life. Thus the symbol of the Tree of Life represents Adam as he would be in perfection. If Adam had not fallen from God, but had accomplished the ideal of creation, he would have become a Tree of Life, giving birth to children of life.

Developing from this, his descendants could have established the Kingdom of Heaven on earth as a garden surrounding the Tree of Life. However as Genesis relates, Adam fell and his way to the tree of Life was blocked.

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