Arguing from the English Translation?

That’s not how it works. There’s a difference between dynamic and formal equivalence translation philosophies, and that limits how much the translator is allowed to inject his preferred interpretation in to the translated text. Given that you don’t seem to be aware of the issues involved in Bible translation, your personal disagreement about how translators operate is not convincing.

Given how biblical Hebrew has only two main tenses, I’m not sure the situation is as simple as you make it out to be. Furthermore, as @structureoftruth demonstrated, even in English the situation isn’t non-ambiguous.

Sorry @Rumraket, but this reply just evinces a misunderstanding of how Christians understand the perspicuity and inspiration of Scripture. It’s just not how we approach debates like these.

@dga471, to be fair, Christians certainly don’t all agree on this sort of thing, i.e. the “plain reading” threads. However, your point is a good one and there is a lot of Christians that have a more nuanced view of inspiration.

@Faizal_Ali, do you think non-Christian readers (Jewish and Muslim) have interpreted Genesis 2:17 as a lie? Are there any other possibilities in your mind (assuming God is really out there) to interpret that passage besides a lie? Could it be that God changed his mind between 2:17 and 3:23? Maybe God had mercy on them and instead of an immediate “capital punishment” he instead exiled them. Is that a valid reading?

You also read this passage as saying:

That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because the distinction between God and humans is pretty stark. When was the last time any of us created an entire universe ex nihilo ? Sure, maybe he didn’t want them to become immortal (that’s something @swamidass talks about in GAE), but that’s quite a bit different than what you describe. Are you just trying to make God sound like an overly sensitive and insecure jerk?


I see. Well, we keep waiting for you to avail us of your expertise in this area and provide a translation that is closer to what you insist is the correct one. But nothing seems to be forthcoming.

Anyone can look for themselves on the Bible Gateway website, which provides about 60 different translations:

The only one I could find that seemed to favour your interpretation was the Amplified Version:

22 And the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), knowing [how to distinguish between] good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take from the tree of life as well, and eat [its fruit], and live [in this fallen, sinful condition] forever”

So the way things seem to work here is that whatever “condition” one is in when one eats from the Tree of Life is how one will remain. Adam and Even could then have been eating from it all along in their sinless state, but now God has to stop them from eating the fruit so they don’t stay “frozen” in a sinful state. OK, except, that’s what ends up happening, anyway, until Jesus comes along to provide redemption. Does this mean if they had eaten from the Tree of Life after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Jesus sacrifice would not have worked? So confusing.

In any event, though I am no Hebrew scholar, I am a bit skeptical that the original text made reference to “Father, Son, Holy Spirit”. Could this particular translation be just a bit tainted by Christian theological presuppositions?

On the other end of the spectrum is this translation called “The Message”, which leave little from for doubt, though I make no claims that this is a definitive translation:

22 God said, “The Man has become like one of us, capable of knowing everything, ranging from good to evil. What if he now should reach out and take fruit from the Tree-of-Life and eat, and live forever? Never—this cannot happen!”

How Christians understand Scripture is irrelevant to this discussion. I am interested in how someone would read this text with no religious preconceptions whatsoever.

No, but they are hardly neutral, either. They tend to believe God would never lie.

Such interpretations would depart wildly from the text.

Not me, but whoever wrote this story. There are lots of stories in which gods come across like jerks. Actually, this would hardly be the most jerkish thing the Old Testament god is described as doing.


I’ve repeatedly stated that I don’t have expertise, which is why I will try to refrain from creating more confusion by putting in more bad arguments. One important thing I learned in graduate school is that sometimes it’s better to be silent when you don’t know something rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

These are all strawmen arguments, since no self-respecting Bible scholar would choose The Message, The Amplified Bible, The Good News Version, or International Children’s Bible to make any sort of point about the proper exegesis of the Hebrew text. They’re devotional translations (each with their supporters and detractors) and so have little value for scholarly study.

That being said, the fact that the Amplified Version may be used to support a different interpretation is unsurprising, since it was meant to reflect the ambiguity and uncertainty of the translation process (which is why you have a bunch of brackets with additional clarifying words added by the translators, to help laypeople who don’t know much about Hebrew). But it’s also been harshly criticized for precisely that reason - because it gives a sense of false security that you can know everything about the Hebrew text without actually studying the original. As far as I know few seminaries and schools recommend using the AV for exegesis.

Why would that be a more legitimate or preferred reading rather than others, given that the text wasn’t meant to be read by such a person in the first place?


OK, so then:

is more like “unencumbered by any belief system that privileges Genesis above ancient near eastern mythology”? It’s not a huge leap, but I just wanted to be clear if it was Christian theology in particular that you were taking issue with, seems not.

I’m afraid I don’t see it. How would God changing his mind from immediate death to exile-followed-by-death depart wildly from the text? Doesn’t it fit quite well? A lie is an intentional deception, it’s pretty hard to prove that from this text. I have a much harder time seeing that from this text than God changing his mind about the timeline of the consequence (going easy on them, you might say). If God was threatened or afraid that Adam & Eve would challenge his “special status”, why wouldn’t he just zap them where they stood? It doesn’t make sense for God to be afraid of them and then not do what 2:17 says (immediate death), does it?



The early Genesis chapters talk about the children of Adam and Eve. And there is the section that says Cain had a son.

Did he mate with a close cousin? Or were the other families not mentioned? Which interpretation does the Bible favor?

Returning to the question of Adam’s immortality: how do we know whether the Fountain of Youth must be drunk from continually? … or whether it only requires one cupful?

It’s a metaphysical question… with no answers.

The Hebrew language is often under-determined (i.e., there may be several viable options for interpretation)–especially in an under-determined text like Gen 2-3–and, as noted by others, translations are limited (e.g., philosophy of translation, variance in semantic and syntactic ranges between original and target languages, interpretation of the translator). Relevant here is the difference between Hebrew and English concerning verbs. English is heavy on verb tense (past, present, future), while aspect (i.e., how the action is being viewed, especially in relation to other actions) is usually noted by additional endings (e.g., -ing for gerunds) or additional words (e.g., has been running, had eaten). In Hebrew, however, while tense is not absent, aspect is more dominant, and tense often has to be inferred. Thus, an imperfective verb–like the chain of imperfective verbs at the end of Gen 3:22 (it’s actually more complicated than this, but I’ll try to keep it simple)–could be understood in various ways (e.g., eat ever, eat from now on, eat continually or intermittently, etc.).

I think we need to separate two issues (answers to which must bring in multiple factors): (1) Did A+E eat from the tree before this moment?; and (2) What is being prevented in the future by removing access to the tree?

On #1, I don’t think it’s clear (nor does it matter!). On one hand, the tree of life was one of the multiple options, so one might assume they had eaten from it (but, then again, we don’t know how long they were in the garden). On the other hand, nothing says they had (and Gen 3:22 could certainly be taken to mean they hadn’t). But does it matter? I suppose it would matter if eating once from the tree resulted in irreversible immortality. But nothing in the text demands this (certainly not the verbs in Gen 3:22). [BTW, the rabbis had a field day wrestling with all of this!]

On #2, it seems clear the exile from the garden was to keep sinful A+E from living in a perpetual state of sinfulness. But what would’ve granted them this sustained state (i.e., immortality)? One could point to the tree itself (having some sort of magic powers)…then one might ask why God just didn’t remove the tree. Or, in concert with the rest of Scripture (IMO), “life” is granted to those in the presence of God. This would allow the tree of life as a means to stay in God’s presence. Having been created mortal, loss of access to the means to stay in God’s presence resulted in A+E to suffer their natural mortal state. (Thus, the idea of continually needing to eat of the tree would’ve been necessary.)

Of course, there are larger issues at play, such as genre. That is, while the narrative is about trees and a talking, sinning snake and a strolling God (and other “gods” with the “us”), we still need to ask the larger interpretive questions about authorical intent with these references and symbols. But that’s beyond the discussion here.


Um, no, that is not clear at all. In fact, it is quite clear that had nothing to do with it.

This all comes from the Judeo-Christian invention of a totally good god. Most cultures did not, and do not, have such a thing. If you just keep an open mind on whether god is hero, villain, or neither in the story, then the plot is clear.

1 Like

Well, the Bible is the product of the Judeo-Christian worldview.


Parts of it. There is no clear evidence that Genesis is, AFAIK.

Your statement is like saying the stories of Adam and Eve in the Quran are the product of Islam.

On what basis do you decide that Genesis isn’t part of the Judeo-Christian worldview but other books are?


Two things. One, readers do come to a text needing to decide the “limits” of the interpretive grid. One could conceivably limit the scope of a story (e.g., Gen 2-3) on its own terms. Or, one could read it in light of a larger literary (or even canonical context). For Jews and Christians, this story is part of a larger (meta-)narrative, and thus the large and small stories will be mutually interpretive.

Two, there is plenty of (linguistic, literary, theological) evidence that Genesis is integrated into the Pentateuch, which is integrated into the Primary History (Gen-Kings), which is integrated into the Hebrew Bible. In fact, I can’t think of counter-evidence! The standard critical model is that Genesis (as the Pentateuch as a whole) is ultimately a product of the exilic/post-exilic community (regardless how much earlier material was reworked).

No, it’s not. Judaism and Christianity predate Islam. However–and this is where you have a point–reading the Eden story within the context of the Quran does (theoretically) change the way the story should be read. It’s a different canonical context. Even so, there’s quite a bit of crossover between Muslims, Jews, and Christians on how to understand this story. Go ahead and ask a Muslim if Allah is good, and if that affects his reading of this story.


I do wonder if the story of Utnapishtim is relevant? I believe one dose of his particular plant was sufficient to render him immortal, and that was also the implication for Gilgamesh.

I didn’t say that. I said that it cannot be known that it is a product of that worldview.

It is also part of the Islamic worldview, but Islam did not produce this story.


In this discussion, I am concerned with the story on its own terms.

I think it’s worth noting that the way the Tree of Knowledge “worked” was that, once you ate from it, you got the effect permanently.

I presume the Tree of Life worked the same way. Accordingly, the notion that it was eaten from continuously appears to me to be odd and unlikely.


If that’s what you want to do, look at actual scholarly interpretations by non Christians. Test your theory. Find examples that agree with you. You can. But you will also find examples that don’t. Report those too.


Did any Christian (even a YEC) ever claim that they read Genesis 2-3 in isolation from the rest of the Genesis and the Bible?

1 Like

Not that I am aware. Why do you ask?

I’m just asking to understand what this method of reading is ultimately trying to achieve. Based on your answers so far, it seems that it has little to do with rebutting arguments made by Christians about what the biblical text says, or arguing that the text is inconsistent with Christianity. Rather it seems that you are just embarking on your idiosyncratic way of reading, which in my opinion is rather anachronistic and possibly incoherent. But of course, it’s a free country.

1 Like