The traditional view that an everlasting life of conscious torment in hell is what the lost are headed for is upheld primarily by two key factors. One is a collection of 10 or so verses or passages of Scripture that people believe to teach this. On closer inspection, not a single one of those verses supports the idea that humans who reject salvation will be conscious and aware during eternity. I’ve done detailed studies of them all and have posted downsized versions of those studies over to your right under the heading “Traditionalist Proof Texts”. The other key factor in maintaining the traditional view of eternal conscious hell is what this page addresses. It’s the erroneous idea that once God creates a soul, it is indestructible and eternal, and that the death, destruction, and perishing that Scripture says are the fate of the lost soul are only so in a sense of a separation from the goodness of God. In other words, everyone ever born gets an eternal existence as an immortal soul. Virtually all of my favorite preachers and bible teachers believe and teach this. But some take it to an extreme: Tony Evans, Kay Arthur, David Jeremiah, and on and on. I love all these teachers and continue to listen to them daily, but they’re all saying the same thing when it comes to the subject of final judgment: something to the effect of (and this is a fairly close paraphrase of something David Jeremiah said recently) “I got news for ya folks. Everyone is going to live forever. It’s just a matter of location.” They all say it in their own words, but I’ve heard all three of these, and many others, claim that no one is ever going to die. (and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how Kay Arthur has phrased it). But the Lord nor any inspired writer of Scripture ever stated anything like this. Why should we? In fact, Scripture teaches from beginning to end that what we have before us is a faith decision to choose what leads to eternal life, or what leads to death. And there is no biblical call to redefine “death” as immortal eternal existence separated from God in excruciating mental and/or physical torment. The foundations for that faulty way of thinking trace back to misunderstandings about the Garden, and that’s why I’ve spent so much time in the first 3 chapters of Genesis over the years studying this very thing.
There is a mountain of Scriptural evidence against the traditional view of innate unconditional immortality. But just think of that one verse that almost everyone knows by heart: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever will believe in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life” (italics for emphasis). Something can’t perish eternally. And there are no mistaken or misspoken words in Scripture. Something perishing, will eventually perish away and come to an end, and we’re all perishing until we believe on Christ. The Greek word being translated as “perish” in this verse is apolummi and it is often used in Scripture as a description of the fate of the lost. And its primary meaning according to Strong’s is “fully destroyed”.
Recently mine and my wife’s Sunday School class began a study in Genesis. I knew what would be coming soon, but I read ahead in our Sunday School book and sure enough, there it was…teachings that were either wrong, or well off what the more likely meaning of a passage is. (please note that my being critical of one aspect of our Sunday School material is not a statement against our church, our Sunday School teacher, or our Sunday School class, all of which I love) My wife asked me to explain to her what I was seeing and explain what I find to be errors in our Garden doctrines. Having written two lengthy chapters about this in the book that contains this study (and that book is still unfinished), I don’t know why I thought I could sum it up for her in a couple of pages, but I did think that. I was wrong however. It took about 8 pages in MS Word, and I still don’t feel like I touched on enough of the points from the original study, but those 8 pages I wrote for my wife are what follows, with a few additions, and is probably the most brief summary I can do of a pretty multifaceted topic and still get the idea across. I did go through it and edit it a little so it wouldn’t be written quite as casually as when I wrote it for my wife, but it’s essentially the same thing.
Understanding what the Garden of Eden was really about, and what God was really doing there involves reversing some deep-seated ideas and assumptions that have been ingrained in most of us Christians practically from birth. But after studying chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis in detail several years ago, I found so many common Church teachings about the Garden to be somewhere between absolutely backwards and “not the main point of the passage at all”. Satan began his destructive “ministry” to humanity there in the garden, and I believe it is still a stronghold area for him to this day. It’s the place where he first lied and the place where he has, by means of doctrinal error, completely muddied what was actually a clear gospel presentation right from the beginning. It’s where in turn he has confused our concept of a merciful God, because the false notions that begin there ultimately lead to the teaching that we all have immortal souls that will never die (Satan’s first lie to humanity, and the one that the Church keeps fostering) and that most of human creation will exist forever in some form of conscious punishment, either literally on or in fire, or at the very least, if the fire is somehow figurative as many teachers claim, then “caged”, in some form, alone, and miserable for billions upon billions of years. And after those billions, well, then they’re just getting started, because eternity has no end.
Although I believe most Christians have suppressed it and won’t verbalize it, there’s no way that these teachings don’t raise serious doubts about the merciful nature of an Omniscient Father. And it’s frustrating to me, as our Sunday School class is beginning a study of Genesis, to be reading adult Sunday School material that not only is identical to what older children or young teens might read about the Garden, but while the material correctly acknowledges that it is Satan’s aim to confuse us about the goodness of God…that same Sunday School material contributes to the very thing it is warning us against. It’s so frustrating. I’m just praying that God wakes us up to truth before it all comes crashing in, and that maybe there will be a major turning back to God, possibly fueled in part by a return to biblical truth about the true nature and character of the Lord, now in what in every way seems to be the very last days of this current age.
We have the hindsight of not only the entire text of the bible, but just our own life experience, as we go “back to Genesis” to study and learn… and that we (the Church, as a whole) continue to teach “milk lessons” (as the writer of Hebrews[probably Paul] might call it) from Genesis, and combine those with Satan’s own lies is inexcusable. I’m literally debating on whether or not to attend the September 20th class where we’ll talk about the “fall of man”. I’ll be sitting there biting my tongue. Ask yourself… What adult Christian hasn’t multiple times in their life, sinned and felt that yucky “separated from God” feeling? And what Christian hasn’t kept on in a sin and didn’t begin to even question their relationship with God? We all have. But it is uncalled for to use this fact that the sins committed by saved people that create an emotional separation from God has anything to do at all with supporting the idea that Adam and Eve’s initial sin “eternally separated” them from God, yet that’s the correlation that is often made. It did no such thing, but rather brought God in where He could really demonstrate love and mercy in a way He couldn’t prior to them sinning (much more about that below). The Church really needs to take another look at the Garden, and start actually learning something from it instead of continuing to talk through the same surface lessons we’ve heard countless times, many of those even taught by tradition and in opposition to what the text actually states. I know I’ve said this to you before, but I’m convinced that most people think they know all the “boring stuff” from the first 3 or 4 chapters of Genesis and don’t even read it anymore. There’s no way people could be really studying it, and continuing to believe so much of what they do.
The bigger picture of God’s eternal purposes don’t seem to be recognized in our common teachings about the Garden. In Ephesians 3: 9-11, Paul was saying that grace had been given to him “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden from eternity past in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord…”
According to this passage, there was an eternal purpose that has something to do with demonstrating previously unknown attributes of God, to even those “in heavenly places”. And somewhere Peter talked about even the angels wondering after the things that are happening as the gospel has played out on earth. Clearly there is a bigger picture, and there were things happening in heaven that led to God creating mankind in the first place, and in a state of neediness so that we might be saved, by the very One who by His own nature is Life and Light, has no inherent needs, and does all things ultimately as a demonstration of His unfathomable love. Add to this, that Revelation 13:8 states that Jesus was the lamb slain “before the foundation of the world”. (and obviously it didn’t actually happen “before” the foundation of the world, but was known and was intended to happen, back before the foundation of the world). So these passages are a huge clue that God was desiring to demonstrate a love and mercy that couldn’t be shown in merely creating a garden for sinless guiltless people to live and work in. Sinless people don’t need mercy or salvation. Perfect created beings would have no lack. Something that I think most people would acknowledge is that it takes the bad days to really appreciate the good ones. That’s a pretty common-sense principle that applies to all of life. And I’m mentioning that because it’s all about a reference point. Adam and Eve had no reference point for even the goodness of God, prior to sinning (remember it wasn’t just called the tree of the knowledge of evil…but the tree of the knowledge of good as well …which is another huge clue that they had little to no knowledge of the true goodness of God, prior to sinning). Albeit the garden may have been the most beautiful place that has ever existed on earth, but had Adam and Eve seen a dry barren land to compare it with? Without contrast there is no reference point to appreciate the better and higher things. A person born into wealth that never sees even a demonstration of poverty isn’t going to appreciate what they have because they lack that reference point. So while Adam and Eve may have existed in the most perfected place ever, they didn’t have the ability to appreciate it, until their “eyes had been opened” through sinning. And by the same token, an infinitely wealthy individual hasn’t really demonstrated true love and sacrifice, even by giving a great gift, because it didn’t really cost them anything (that would be God I’m alluding to, in a scenario of a sinless perfect world where His sacrifice for mankind was unnecessary due to His creation never falling). I don’t think for a minute that God was satisfied or that His eternal purposes(as Paul phrased it) in the creation of mankind were fulfilled in the mere creation of Adam and Eve and placing them in a beautiful garden. And that certainly doesn’t seem to be what these verses above would imply. Jesus said that there is no higher or greater love that can be demonstrated than someone lay down his life for his friends (and He calls us friends if we obey Him). Obviously He was pointing to what He was about to do on the cross, when He said that. And this was His intention from the beginning – to demonstrate sacrificial love. Not only is it never stated in Scripture, but it seems so plainly obvious from so many other things in Scripture, that God never intended Adam and Eve and their descendants to just work the garden in blissful sinlessness with Him as their overseer to check in and talk with them daily and make sure everything was still going well. However, this is essentially the position the Church has taken. And this is the first traditional assumption that needs to be shifted away from in order to get moving in the direction of truth about what the Garden was really about. This is constantly taught, with absolutely no biblical evidence. Where is the place for their appreciation of God’s deeper attributes of love? God can breathe and have a world come into existence. Him creating a garden and giving them a place in it tells them very little of the deep riches of God’s love. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but the fact is: The fall of man was intended to happen from the beginning, and I’ll support that more as you read on. Now, one day, we who are saved will be in somewhat of a situation like what we wrongly teach that Adam and Eve were in…where we’re working for Christ (working the garden, so to speak…or maybe even literally), possibly in eternity, but definitely during the millennial kingdom when Christ will reign on earth for 1000 years, and we will be at peace, and for those of us who inhabit the millennial kingdom in newly made sinless bodies, we will be sinless…but far from lacking the knowledge of the deep deep love of Jesus which Adam and Eve lacked when they were “sinless”, we’ll be there in a state of unending adoration of God for the almost unbelievable way He loves us and what He did for us – which would be completely impossible had we not fallen, for God to then pick us up.
What I think Scripture supports is that if God had not intended the fall of man, He would not have made Adam and Eve able to sin first of all, secondly wouldn’t have given them a prohibition (a law or commandment), and lastly wouldn’t have allowed a tempter into the garden which He knew would facilitate their sinning. Put those three facts together with mounds of other Scriptural evidence and it is undeniable that all of that happened according to the plan and purpose of God. Sin was not some cosmic accident that God had to go into plan B mode to solve. Mankind’s sin was required in order to set the stage for God to demonstrate a love that none of us deserve, but that He couldn’t help but express outside of Himself, because He is Love. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul spoke about how God told him His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. God is unchanging. If His strength is made perfect in weakness now, it was made perfect in weakness from all eternity. In that passage, the Greek word being translated as “strength”, according to Strong’s concordance can mean miraculous power, meaning, ability, and a mighty work
The Greek word being translated as “perfect” means completed, accomplished, consummated, and finished. If we had not been created weak toward sin and “fall”-destined, then God’s mighty work and power, and the very meaning for creation in the first place could have never been completed or consummated. The error we constantly teach, that Adam and Eve were perfected and in a tight-knit close relationship with God until they went and messed it all up needs to be abandoned. It doesn’t work with Scripture, cannot be supported by a single verse, and is destroying the real gospel message that the Lord was laying out for us. I’ll explain more what I mean further into this.
The parallels between Paul’s recounting of the giving of “the law” and its effects for mankind and the first “law” given to mankind in the garden are very interesting. This is what Paul said in Romans 7:9…and couldn’t you imagine Adam or Eve saying this same thing?: “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” So here comes the 2nd shift away from the traditional teaching that has to happen in order to move on in pursuing the truth of the garden that Satan has us all confused about: Although there was a brief period before Adam and Eve actually committed the act of sin, they were as imperfect, able, and bent toward sin as any one of their descendants are. They were only as innocent as a newborn baby. That baby hasn’t sinned yet, but give it enough time, and it will. God was always omniscient right? Please catch this…because it’s the key to the whole thing: God didn’t give Adam and Eve the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as if He had some hope that they wouldn’t actually eat from it. He knew they would. (and if they didn’t, not only would they stay in an ignorant state about evil, but they would remain in an ignorant state about what is “good” (including the deeper things of the goodness and love of God Himself), as it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…not just evil. It’s so easy to miss that. What God was doing in that command to not eat was ultimately demonstrating to them that they have no ability within themselves to obey God fully and that they are completely dependent on Him for everything. (the same thing we teach about ourselves now. If we could live perfectly, we wouldn’t need a savior), Millennia later, Paul confirms this concept and makes it clear to us what God’s laws do for mankind:
Romans 4:15 says: “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law, there is no transgression.”
Romans 5:13 says: “for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law” (What I’m saying is that this is a consistent concept that allows us to infer some things about that first “law” given to mankind. I’m not saying that Paul was directly referring to the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or that sin existed prior to Adam and Eve’s sin. Oh but wait, it did …in heaven, where Satan sinned. So in one sense, sin was already in the world before any rule, law, or commandment had been given to humanity, like Paul said. But I don’t think he was making a reference to that first “law”, although the wording works perfectly. …anyway, what I’m saying is that no one yet has explained to me how Adam and Eve even could sin if they had no sin nature, no ability to sin, or a bent toward it. And I’m claiming, contrary to standard teaching on this, that they were created with the same “sin nature” that all since them have been born with…whereas the standard Church teaching on this was that they were created in perfect innocence, and by almost some sort of unfathomable accident, found some way to still sin, and now we descendants are genetically predisposed to sin. How did they sin if they didn’t have that same predisposition? They had only one rule to follow and couldn’t do it. And I think it’s worth noting that there’s not like years and years of biblical history in the garden given to us in Scripture before “the fall” happened. That leads me to think they sinned fairly quickly. And it appears to have happened before they ever consummated their relationship. And let’s be honest…How long was that going to take? It really just doesn’t work with Scripture or logic to see them as perfect beings. Adam and Eve were just like us. They were us. And they were only “innocent” in the same sense that a newborn baby is innocent…He or she just hasn’t sinned yet. And before it has come to an age of knowing right and wrong, but does something we would consider to be “wrong”, they really haven’t transgressed have they? Because there is no “law” …at least none that they would understand. I guess what I’m saying is, it was the act of giving a law to a creature who by nature has no ability within himself to obey that, like Paul said, made the transgression to be counted. And there was nothing magical about that particular tree. ANY tree that God had chosen to be the one forbidden which Adam and Eve were not to eat from would have become “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, because it is in consciously disobeying that their eyes are opened to a number of things: their inability to obey God, His greatness, their weakness, etc (and it’s no different for us) and then a sense of shame about sin hits, and the need for God’s mercy is realized. And only then, can they come to know His graciousness. Only then can they see that not only can their Maker create a nice garden, but He’s so very much more.
A lot is said about a supposed great relationship and sweet close fellowship that God had with Adam and Eve before they sinned, and that Adam and Eve had with one another prior to sin. I’d challenge anyone to show me either one in Scripture, or even show me how the latter could have taken place before they recognized their neediness of God. A few things to note: There is no 2-way communication between God and man noted in Scripture until after they sinned. (Read it for yourself. You won’t find it) Prior to Eve being created, Adam was apparently not in a tight-knit relationship with the Lord. Could you imagine feeling “alone” if you were in Jesus’ embrace right now? But God not only looked on Adam as being “alone” according to Scripture, but even said it was “not good”. Fact is: This supposed close relationship that God had with sinless man is imaginary, created by Satan to distort other more important things about the Garden, and ultimately the gospel itself. It is said all the time that Adam and Eve used to walk daily with God in the garden in the cool of the day. It’s a sweet thought, but it’s not in the bible, and while it seems harmless enough to teach this, it’s actually a pretty big error that leads to other misconceptions. On the day they sinned, we are told that they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, and it happened to be in the cool of the day, which is noted. They were afraid and hid themselves. And that is absolutely all you can squeeze out of what Scripture says about there being any walking with God in the Garden. It’s not there. When I was studying this years ago, I consulted a Hebrew scholar about it and he said there is nothing in the original text, or hidden in the verb tenses, etc of the original Hebrew of that passage that even hints that this happened daily, often, or ever before at all. It takes a lot of uncalled-for reading into the passage to come away with the theory that God used to walk daily with them. And they were not walking with Him when this happened…They just heard Him. He may or may not have ever walked in the Garden before that day. We aren’t told that, but just make assumptions. And Jesus said that no man has seen God at any time. Someone might ask, “Well how did they know it was the Lord, if this hadn’t happened before?”. One possibility is that since Adam and Eve are the only two creatures who walk or stroll in a “human-like” bi-ped manner, and they were already looking at each other, when they heard it, they knew it must be the Lord. Just a possibility. Another possibility is this… While most versions have that they heard the “sound of the Lord God walking”, the King James has that they heard “the voice of the Lord God walking”. It’s kindof a strange way to phrase it, but it does say they heard His voice…maybe a pre-incarnate Christ praying to the Father while He walked?? But the most likely thing to me is just to look at the very next verse where it says He called to Adam. That’s His voice, coming from near enough by that they know He’s there walking in the garden. Regardless of which of those 3 ways is the most accurate way to understand Genesis 3:8,9, or if something else explains it better, there’s no biblical or logically deductible evidence that they had a close relationship with God or walked daily in the Garden with him before they sinned. It seems harmless enough to believe this, but it actually has implications that cloud the gospel, and ultimately lead to a repetition of Satan’s first lie to humanity…I’ll explain in a minute. And I hope I haven’t made anything confusing by claiming they didn’t yet have a close relationship with God. God loved Adam and Eve dearly, as I believe He loves all His creation dearly, but we just can’t draw very close to God until we see our real need for Him, and it was no different for them, is all I’m saying. But after they sinned, God did draw close. Yes he punished them (an indicator of love and sonship according to other places in Scripture), but he came to them and spoke with them, and he apparently slew an animal (possibly a lamb), to make skins to cover their nakedness, a primitive form of the teaching of the gospel and the first picture of what Christ would one day do for mankind, covering our need, as we are told to “put on Christ” in the New Testament. Now that’s real love…not just giving them a garden to work and roam, and leaving them never knowing the deeper things of the One who made them and loves them. He allowed them to fall, but for their ultimate good, so that an eternal life with and in Christ, lived out in an imperishable body could be their future, as opposed to the distant relationship with their Creator who they knew little of, being lived out in the body of dust they (and we) began in.
Another concept that gets twisted (traditional assumption #3 here) is the picture and purpose of Adam and Eve’s nudity. It wasn’t a picture of their innocence as is so often taught, or even a picture that in a marriage, constant nudity could be perfectly acceptable (…couldn’t have been a picture of the latter since they were not technically married, in the Old Testament sense, until they had come together and consummated their relationship, which happened later, outside of the garden. I realize that some teachers teach that when God created Eve and brought her to Adam, that was their marriage, but I don’t think that’s the best interpretation. Other places in Old Testament Scripture equate “coming together” with “marriage”). Their nudity was a picture of their ignorance about their neediness and lack…not a picture of innocent, sinless, perfection. If being nude was the pinnacle picture of innocence, a number of things might read differently in Scripture. For one, when Jesus was transfigured, rather than being clothed in blinding white, He might have appeared nude. When John the revelator saw the countless throngs of people in heaven future, instead of being clothed in white, they would have been nude. After all, old things have passed away and the remembrance of sin gone. And basically we’re getting ready for a “return to Eden” in one sense. When Isaiah had a vision of heaven, he saw God’s clothes…He didn’t see a perfect and nude Lord. Does anyone really think we won’t be clothed in the new heaven and new earth? But if our interpretation of nudity in the garden equaling innocence is correct, why wouldn’t we? After all, we’ll be perfected, made new, sinless, and in new bodies. Nudity is a picture of lack and need throughout Scripture. And the fact that we are told that Adam and Eve were naked but were not ashamed is telling us that they were ignorant (not dumb, by the way), but just lacking of the knowledge of what was appropriate, in fact, lacking a knowledge of what is good and evil entirely….well, because they hadn’t disobeyed yet by doing the one thing that was forbidden. So as nudity is always a picture of neediness or sinfulness in Scripture, it would be poor interpretation to see Adam and Eve’s nakedness differently if we are to let Scripture interpret Scripture. Here’s some examples: Jesus told the church at Sardis that they had a name as if they were alive, but really they were dead, being wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. In Ezekiel 16: 7-17 (and beyond), God, in reprimanding Jerusalem, uses nakedness as a picture of their sinfulness and neediness, and goes on to talk about how He clothed them, only for them to go back into whoring after other nations, etc. There was a time when God had Isaiah walk naked before the Egyptians, but it was as a sign and a portent against them, not a demonstration of “the purity we once had in the garden”. There are quite a bit of examples of nakedness and uncovering in Scripture and they all display a lack of knowledge either of one’s weakness, or of something they are doing against the Lord, whether they know it or not. I’m not going to point every one of them out. I found and wrote about many of them in the chapter of the book I’m writing, that was primarily about these misconceptions about the garden. But we have completely misunderstood (Thanks satan) the Garden statement that “They were naked and not ashamed”. We’ve understood that to mean that since they were in “sinless innocence”, their nakedness was a sign of purity. Every single piece of biblical and logical evidence points to the fact that they had no close relationship with God yet, before sinning, and that they knew virtually nothing of His goodness. Their eyes had not yet been opened to either “evil” or “good”. Remember the name of that forbidden tree (tree of the knowledge of good and evil). They were simply ignorant of so much, but we’ve set their situation up as some sort of goal to attain, paradise lost. It makes no sense. The entire bible is a love story of the extreme lengths that the Lord went to in order to demonstrate the highest love that ever could be to His creation. I can’t help but think it is highly offensive to God to believe that He intended us to remain in that ignorant state…when so many places in Scripture, especially in the New Testament seem to say that all of God’s eternal plans and purposes could only happen if we were a fallen race, aware of our weakness and our neediness of God.
Traditional Garden position #4 that needs to get shifted away from: The expulsion from the garden. This is the granddaddy of them all, in a way. Many Christians, myself included, see the covering of Adam and Eve’s nakedness with skins as a picture of what Christ would do in salvation, shedding His blood, to cover our neediness, and while most of us would probably acknowledge that Adam and Eve had free will to reject that covering and say “no thanks, we’ll stick with our leaf clothes we made”, they however graciously received God’s offer and covering, representing their personal salvation and them being reserved for eternal life one day. But then many Christians will go on to view (and teach, unfortunately) that the expulsion from the Garden was a type or foreshadowing of “separation from God”, with many Christian pastors and teachers teaching that this was even symbolic of “eternal conscious separation from God”. There’s a big problem with that. We can’t interpret their God-given covering with skins as representative of salvation, and then turn around and see their expulsion from the garden as representative of their eternal damnation. Fortunately, the bible tells us exactly why they were expelled, but there’s a little phrase in the middle of that verse that I think gets overlooked. But I’m gonna back up, and give you the traditional teaching, and then show how it doesn’t really work with other Scripture or logic. The traditional teaching goes something like this: “God told Adam and Eve that in the day they would eat of the forbidden tree, they would surely die, but after they ate, they didn’t keel over and die, so death doesn’t really mean death; it must mean separation from God since what we see happened later that day was they were expelled from the garden, removing them from God’s presence.” On the surface, it seems reasonable enough, but actually there’s lots of problems there with this line of reasoning. Starting at the end, God’s presence wasn’t then, or isn’t now, confined to a garden, or anything else, and they were obviously in God’s gracious presence even after the expulsion because we are told after Cain killed his brother, that his punishment was to “go out from the presence of the Lord”. Therefore, he must have been in his presence when he was given that command. And remember, God spoke to Cain, and even reasoned with him after he saw that he was angry that God accepted Abel’s offering and not his. God even offered restoration, saying to Cain, “If you do right, will you not be accepted?”. So that right there shows that they were not “eternally” out of the presence of God, even though they had been expelled from the garden. But there’s more. Back where God told them that in the day they ate of the forbidden tree, they would “surely die”, the Hebrew for “surely die” is the verb form of the word “death”, repeated twice consecutively, but in two different tenses. It literally says “dying, die”. This is a Hebrew verbal technique called an infinitive absolute. What that technique is doing is making an incredibly strong statement about whatever verb it is being used with. So God was making a strong statement that death would become a sure reality once they had sinned. It could just as correctly be translated to English, and I think, more accurately so as “In the day you eat of it, death will become sure”, rather than, “you will surely die”. Because that’s what really happened, and it happened in the very day they ate of it, just as God said. There was one thing that could take them off the path to perishing that they were on and make them go on living forever according to Scripture(Gen 3:22), and it was to eat from the tree of life (which Adam and Eve were not even told about…at least it’s not in Scripture. Seriously, read it). And the expulsion from the garden (which apparently happened “in the day they ate from the forbidden tree”) cost them their access to that tree, now making death a sure reality, since it was eating of that tree that would have made them go on living forever. The Church teaches (incorrectly and unbiblically from all evidence I can find) that Adam and Eve came into existence as perfected eternal beings. If that were the case, what value was there in eating from the tree of life? It really messes up the whole grace story to teach this as we do. You see, God didn’t make some tweak in Adam’s genetics so that now, after sinning, he’d have a mortal body whereas before their body was somehow immortal. They were already mortal, and subject to death. He simply cut them off from their access to the one thing that Scripture says would have altered their mortality and made them “go on living forever” according to Genesis 3:22. So they were already dust, and on a course to return to dust if they didn’t follow the command to eat from all the other trees of the garden except the one forbidden, because that would include the tree of life, albeit they didn’t know about it…at least not according to anything in Scripture…and certainly then didn’t know which tree it was, if they didn’t even know it existed. But there was a veiled command to eat from the tree of life embedded in the command to eat from all the other trees. Oh, and it was in fact a command. Look at Genesis 2:16. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat…”: It is far more than just an allowance that they may “freely eat” from all of the other trees, as it gets interpreted. Not only does the verse contain the very words “commanded the man”, but that verb for “eat” that is getting translated as “thou mayest freely eat” is actually another infinitive absolute, and it literally says “eating, eat”. It could, and probably as a better interpretation of the original more accurately read “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden, eating of them will become sure” or “you will surely eat”. Interpreting it as “may freely eat” rather than the command to eat from all the trees puts another dent in the true Garden message. It is a command to eat from all trees in the garden (not necessarily in any particular time frame…but just to make sure to eat from all of them), and then verse 17, the following verse tells them of the one tree they are not to eat from. But this leads to that little phrase in the middle of a verse that I literally never hear taught in Christianity, and it’s the gospel key that gets overlooked. Here’s the whole passage: Genesis 3: 22-24 “Then the LORD God said, 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– therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He 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.”
I italicized that phrase that I think is so important. It wasn’t that God doesn’t want them to have eternal life. They are covered(remember the shed blood and the skins?) and they are reserved for eternal life when Jesus one day gives to all who have “put on Christ” as a covering for sin to eat from the tree of life(Rev.2:7) after we have persevered in this life, just as any who accept God’s mercy and grace in salvation are. It’s rather that he doesn’t want salvation and eternal life (going on living forever) to be by their own hand. It says this right there in the verse. And that’s the same no-works gospel we correctly teach today. But we miss how God taught it back in the garden. So the expulsion from the garden has absolutely nothing to do with further punishment or being removed from God’s presence, as is so often taught (show me where the bible says that…It doesn’t). God’s presence continued to rest on those who love and acknowledge him throughout biblical history, and beyond. The expulsion was a clear demonstration to all mankind that salvation is a work of God, not something we can do by our own hand. That was the whole point of it and it set the stage on which to view God’s mercy and our neediness of Him to all future mankind….but no, we turned it into a false teaching. God cannot be happy about this. I really think that so much of our problems in humanity source back to poor interpretation and teaching of God’s Word. But maybe if we could turn that around here in the last days, hearts would turn to Him and He would have mercy on us.
Well I hinted at it a couple times above, but just realized I never actually got to it. It’s often taught that satan told two lies to humanity in the garden. The first was that they wouldn’t die. The second was that they would become like God knowing good and evil. But satan will mix truth with lies often, and that second part isn’t actually a lie. God confirmed this happened just a few verses later. They did “become like God, knowing good and evil”. The only lie was that they would never die, the same thing the Church teaches about all humanity today. And unless I’m mistaken, it’s the only lie ever noted in Scripture that is directly from satan’s mouth to human ears. That tends to make me believe it was a pretty big one for him, and may be something he’s very interested in maintaining. Again, I believe satan has kept a stronghold on the Garden, and he has used it for centuries as a starting point for wrong doctrine. He loves to make people question the love and goodness of God, and this idea of unmerited immortality for all humanity is the foundation for the teaching of eternal conscious suffering, which in turn drives many away from God, and even in the hearts and minds of Christians, can confuse us about God’s mercy. There’s another dangerous effect this teaching has. I think that deep down, although we are giving it lip service, we have a place of doubt somewhere in us that this is really what God will do. But if we believe that this is taught in Scripture, then what we end up doing is actually doubting God altogether, and in some ways may end up going through the motions of the Christian life…just in case. I believe this false doctrine has done a great deal of damage. And even if I was just speaking for myself, and not make observations and assumptions about the effect it’s had on others, I can say that just in my own life it seriously hindered my comprehension of a merciful Creator.
Lastly, We Christians say all the time, “You can’t be good enough for God.” But we fail to apply that to the original two humans when we speak of their “sinless perfect harmony” they supposedly had with God before the fall. The fact that they were briefly without sin didn’t impress God. God longed to demonstrate deep love and their sinless state was simply no platform on which to do that. Someone might say, “But because they hadn’t sinned yet, it wasn’t even a battle between trying to be good enough in themselves or putting their hope in God, like the situation we’re in today. They knew God more intimately because they’d not yet sinned.” I’d have to continue to disagree wholeheartedly with that position. I’ll never be convinced that it wasn’t God’s intention from eternity past to be a Savior who desired to demonstrate the ultimate sacrifice in order to exhibit the ultimate love. They simply could not have known God deeply and intimately until they knew Him as the Rescuer He is. And as I’ve pointed out probably too often, the very name of the forbidden tree gives away the fact that they had little or no concept of even what was good, prior to sinning, since it was in fact the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you don’t even have a reference point for what is good and what is evil, and you don’t recognize your own frailty and neediness of God, you’re a long way from having anything close to an intimate relationship with Him, even if you haven’t committed your first sin. Let’s move on from this false doctrine that Satan has blinded us with, so we can then move toward letting go of this “eternal conscious separation” theory that is distorting the gospel and the merciful character of God.
Ok, actually last thing now….and not directly about the Garden, but in this same vein of how the Church teaches that all humans are already immortal… When I was in the early days of this study almost a decade ago, I was reading that it was “church father” Saint Augustine that had a lot to do with the furtherance of this pagan idea that souls are immortal from conception, so I found some of his writings and started reading through them. It was telling. In fact, he did acknowledge that this was a pagan doctrine, but he stated that when the pagans hold a doctrine that the Church should adopt, we should plunder it and claim it for our own like when the Israelites plundered the Egyptians’ gold and jewelry during the exodus. I couldn’t help but remember the first thing the Israelites did with all that gold… They shaped it into a false God. Now I’m not claiming that we’ve gone that far with this doctrine. But I definitely think we’ve “re-shaped” God into a far less merciful God because the immortality doctrine leads to the conclusion that those who reject God’s grace and salvation, instead of being destroyed out of existence and given back to the nothingness they were before God brought them in to existence, will actually be in torment for all eternity. A billion years is a drop in the bucket of timelessness. I don’t think we really understand what we’re accusing God of when we teach this. And I don’t think we realize how far we’ve stretched Scripture in order to believe this either. It is this concept of immortality for all, combined with a handful of mishandled or misunderstood verses, that leads to the erroneous doctrine of eternal conscious suffering in hell. (and I’ll have summaries of those verses up shortly, over to your right on this blog page. Some are up now under the heading “Summaries of Traditionalist Proof Texts”) We have little time left before the Lord returns. The signs are all around us. Things are lining up in the middle east according to bible prophecy, and lawlessness and a love grown cold is all around us. We need to get this right, and see if some of those who have rejected God because of such teachings may repent and turn to the only One who offers them any eternal hope. And perhaps even many Christians whose relationship with God or their willingness to witness has been in any way hindered by the eternal hell teachings will be able to turn things around here.
Well there’s a lot more in the garden, but that’s about the shortest summary of it that I can give and still hit all the main points and issues I’ve found over the years. I welcome comments and questions about this.
God Bless You!
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