Genesis 2 reports the creation of Adam and Eve. They lived in the garden of Eden, and in the center of this garden were two trees. One tree was the “tree of life” (Gen. 2:9). We may gain insight about this tree when we see God’s words in 3:22: “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever . . . ”
The “tree of life” was (1) accessible to Adam and Eve, (2) able to be eaten, and (3) associated with immortality. Then in Genesis 3:24 God “drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Here we see that the “tree of life” was (4) guarded after the expulsion of Adam and Eve.
Outside the garden, and at age 930, Adam “died” (Gen. 5:5). But did he die because his body was no longer immortal after his sin? Or were Adam and Eve created mortal yet given the hope of greater life (signified by the “tree of life”)?
Sometimes I’ve heard believers speak of Adam and Eve as if God created them with invincible bodies. The notion of a “perfect” beginning seems to exclude bodies that could die. The impression seems to be of a physically immortal couple who are subjected to death only after their expulsion from the garden. After all, doesn’t Genesis 2:17 say “in the day that you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die”? Doesn’t this imply that if they don’t eat of the forbidden tree, they can’t die?
But I don’t believe Adam and Eve were physically immortal. The words of Genesis 3:22 (“lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever”) suggest that immortal life was what Adam didn’t yet have and what he was then prevented from acquiring (see 3:24). And if he didn’t have immortal physical life, then by implication he had mortal physicality.
Adam and Eve could die, and this ability coexisted in a state of being without sin in the garden. The ability to die doesn’t equate to a state of sinfulness. If it did, wouldn’t this objection also apply to Jesus? When Jesus was born, he was born physically mortal, able to die. And if we are to remain biblical in our christology, we must assume that mortal Jesus was also sinless Jesus.
In the situation of Adam and Eve, God clearly promised that “in the day that you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17), but the fulfillment of that promise did not involve a reversal of physical immortality. If immortality could be taken away, was it ever true immortality in the first place? The “death” Adam and Eve experienced was first an effect on their relationship with God, but there was a physical component as well because God exiled them out of the garden. Exile was a kind of death, and it ensured their physical death.
The garden of Eden had provided the conditions for physical immortality, for in the center was a tree called the “tree of life” (Gen. 2:9), and any who ate its fruit would live forever (3:22). But the hope for immortality was outside the bodies of Adam and Eve. Apart from the tree of life, their bodies would not live forever. And barred from the garden of Eden, their bodies would and did die. Their death outside Eden was not the reversal of immortality, it was the proof of mortality.
Fast forward to 1 Corinthians 15. There was a first Adam in Genesis, but Paul speaks of “the last Adam” Jesus (1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus, the Last Adam, was raised from the dead as the firstfruits of all who will be raised at his coming (15:20-23). At the future resurrection of the dead, “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (15:53).
Jesus was born mortal, able to die. But he was raised immortal, never to die again. His glorified body is now imperishable. Like Jesus, we will be raised imperishable and put on immortality. This hope means that Adam and Eve, who were created mortal, will be raised immortal too. The first couple will finally have what they never had in the garden of Eden.