Published: 15 February 2021

Why Would Immortal People Need A Tree Of Life?

There is an almost unquestioned assumption in Christian circles that, in the beginning, mankind was created immortal. For some reason this idea is so ingrained in us that it’s just never questioned. It’s common knowledge that everyone “knows” to be true. It is oft repeated that Adam and Eve’s immortal bodies were changed and corrupted by their sin. Allegedly, Adam and Eve became mortals when they disobeyed. What does the Bible say?

It is true that Adam and Eve forfeited their immortality, but not in the way many people think. You see, God did not create Adam and Eve with immortal bodies! What God did was provide a means of immortality and it was up to Adam and Eve to take advantage of it. This is the very thing they failed to do.

Why would immortal people need a tree of life?

“And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen. 2:9 NKJV)

The implication is that Adam and Eve were created mortal and eating continuously from the Tree of Life would sustain their bodies in such a way that they would not die. Even after their disobedience, even in their fallen state, this tree would have sustained their bodies which is why they were expelled from the garden.

“22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.” (Gen. 3:22–23 NKJV)

Think about it; why would immortal people need a tree of life? It makes no sense to conclude they were anything but mortal from the very beginning of their existence.

to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (Rom 2:7 ESV)

Why would we seek for that which we already have? Why would we need to be given that which we already possess?

It may have been as much a mercy as a punishment for God to block access to the Tree of Life. He knew the horrors immortal beings who had been compromised by sin could inflict on themselves, others, and His creation. It was an act of grace for God to limit our exposure to sin by limiting our lifespans.

For dust you are

Gen 2:7 tells us that God made Adam from the dust of the ground. This communicates two things. (1) It tells us that we are of the Earth. We are of this realm in contrast to God who is a Spirit of the spiritual or heavenly realm. (2) God signals our mortality by telling us the kind of stuff we are made of and reminding us where we ultimately end up: 

“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”” (Gen. 3:19 NKJV)

Returning to the dust is an expression of mortality. According to Ecclesiastes we all come from the dust. We are mortal and made of mortal “stuff.” This is why Adam & Eve needed the Tree of Life in order to overcome their mortality. 

All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. (Eccl. 3:20 NASB) 

The point is that like the world around him, Adam was mortal and made of temporary, non-eternal “stuff.” He wasn’t a spiritual being, but a fleshly one. His origin is of this world. Adam is our archetype in this regard – he represents humanity as a whole. The point of Eccl 3:20 is that like Adam, we are all mortal. This is reinforced by Psalm 103:

“14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.” (Psa. 103:14–16 NKJV)

It wasn’t only Adam who was made from the dust, we all are. Being made from dust is the way the Bible’s authors communicated our mortality. 

Immortal souls?

Similar to the assumption that Adam and Eve were created immortal, there is likewise an assumption that our own spirits or souls are immortal. We all acknowledge the limited lifespans of our physical bodies, but assume our inner being is inherently and intrinsically immortal and cannot die. 

This is an assumption which the Bible does not sustain. 

to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (Rom 2:7 ESV)

Why would we seek for that which we already have? Why would we need to be given that which we already possess?

53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  (1 Cor 15:53-54 ESV)  

If our spirits are immortal by nature, why do we need to put on immortality?

and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Ti 1:10 ESV)

If we already have immortal life, why did Jesus need to bring it to us?

which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  16  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1Ti 6:15-16 ESV)

If our souls are immortal by nature, how can the Bible say that God alone has immortality? 

Some may argue that the phrasing in the above passages equates eternal life with going to Heaven and isn’t denying the immortality of the soul. It would be more accurate to say that Heaven will be the abode of those whom God grants immortality. The passages are direct and clear; we do not have immortality because God made us all immortal. We have eternal life only if God grants it to us. Those to whom it is granted will live eternally with Him in Heaven.

Without God we have no hope of immortality

The Bible is clear on this. No part of us was made immortal. Immortality is a gift given by God. God grants immortality to those who choose to be faithful to Him. We don’t have it, we seek it. We aren’t born immortal, we must put it on. We must be given eternal life from the One who alone has it.