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Orthodox interpretation of Genesis 3.22 ('Man will be like us ... and live forever')

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#1 Pandelis


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Posted 27 October 2009 - 06:06 AM

22"Then the LORD 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"

This passage has confused me for some time now and I cannot find a specific thread on this which has covered it yet. Can someone please explain it concisely or direct me to a proper explanation on the web? What does God mean that 'man has become like one of Us' and 'lest he ... take of the tree of life, and eat and live forever'?


#2 Michael Stickles

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Posted 27 October 2009 - 01:51 PM

What does God mean that 'man has become like one of Us' and 'lest he ... take of the tree of life, and eat and live forever'?

As for the second, check the last quote in this post from the thread "the tree of life".

As for the first, God has specified what He means: "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil." I'd encourage you to check out some other posts in the thread "the tree of life" - especially several by Fr Dcn Matthew. Even though the thrust of that discussion is a bit different, I think it might help in gaining perspective on your current question.

In Christ,

#3 Kosta


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Posted 30 October 2009 - 06:38 AM

According to the Fathers, Adam and Eve were like babes before the fall, innocent and naive. Upon eating of the fruit there "eyes were opened" and immediately realized they were naked. They also spiritually died from this transgression, sin and carnal passions entered the world.

God cast them out of paradise to prevent them from eating of the fruit of the tree of life. Instead man would return to dust from where he came. God done this out of mercy. For it is better to die than live in eternity in sin. Physical death is the vehicle which puts an end to sin and corruption, both spiritual and physical. In God's plan, man was redeemed unto eternal life thru another tree of life, which is the Cross.

#4 L. Allen

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 12:48 AM

22"Then the LORD 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"

This passage has confused me for some time now and I cannot find a specific thread on this which has covered it yet. Can someone please explain it concisely or direct me to a proper explanation on the web? What does God mean that 'man has become like one of Us' and 'lest he ... take of the tree of life, and eat and live forever'?


My understanding is that the knowledge that was given when man ate the fruit was not simply pleasant, emotionally and spiritually un-inflected wisdom. To live forever through the gift of God (as in the first passage you quote) - or, indeed, to have eternal life through Jesus Christ - would be quite different from the sentence of an eternal lifetime in which to bear a knowledge too heavy and perhaps too terrible for mankind.

Similarly, one might 'know' good and evil in a very innocent way, without understanding how these things can be twisted and abused in the world. Think how ready children are to think that good must always overcome evil - the knowledge that it does not always do so (or certainly, not without time and suffering) comes with age. This I think is where the 'live forever' comes in: man is given time enough to know his mistake.

#5 Owen Jones

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 01:36 PM

Everyone experiences death as a kind of unnatural state, something that is the result of a mistake, a punishment for something even. Why should anyone actually die? Genesis is a theological statement, that is a true revelation of the state of man, his condition, his true state, and a foreshadowing of what needed to happen to restore mankind to its true, created state, and more. This is true for everyone, atheist or not. Note how much secular society is focused on overcoming death, taking control over death, and preventing what they perceive to be its causes. Everything is theological. The fact that Genesis is not an extended theological treatise, a la St. Gregory the Theologian, confuses a lot of people into thinking it is simply an historical account.

#6 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 02:07 AM

"True theology or knowledge of God, is revealed through prayer." That statement captures the essence of Orthodoxy and doesnt mention 'science'. Do not get me wrong, science can be compatible with Orthodoxy but Orthodoxy was not made for science and its a point I want to emphasise and set a foundation with before going deeper into the response to Pandelis. A theologian is one who prays, he is one who knows God through 'mystical' prayer and is not a self-centred individual but has become a true member of Christ's community of Saints. Theology, therefore, is not an isolated and individualistic exercise but it is a corporate striving to establish a relationship with the Divine.

For those of us who have been brought up in the west, the intellect is considered to be the "crown of our humanity". Who can deny this? It is surely our intellect that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom! When we encounter a lofty intellect or the genius of Einstein or some other great thinker, we naturally stand in awe before their greatness of mind. Rightly or wrongly we often treat them with a deep reverence that almost borders on worship. In our search for the meaing of life, the intellect is undoubtedly the final court appeal. The development of intellect is the sole purpose of education for example. Being intellectual is the equivalent of being rich! And being intellectual and rich is the crown of human achievement. Having a great mind and wealth is to have a godlike status in society. How can it be otherwise when the goal of our life is the development of the intellect?

While the role of the intellect is significant in our lives as Christians, its primacy is open to challenge from a spiritual perspective. Since the fall, the makeup of man has changed dramatically! Bronowski in his book 'Ascent of Man' presents us with a delusion for instead of evolving, we have developed from our godlike status to that of an intelligent yet spiritually immature beings.And yet we continue to ask or state - what is there that Man cannot discover, develop or conceive? Surely our technological achievements are proof of this ascent of intellect? But we forget that Man was made in the image and likeness of God and as such inhabit both the physical and spiritual worlds. While we can make some progress in material things, in the realm of spiritual activities we are still at the level of babes.

Why is this? The answer lies in the lives of God's chosen ascetics, His saints who have "shown the power of His kingdom." (Ps 145) For example, Blessed "Pelagia", a Russian peasant, was blind and illiterate, yet she possessed such spiritual knowledge that bishops, priests and lay people came to her for advice and healing. How could a blind, uneducated woman possess such knowledge? Who was this simple Russian peasant who was esteemed by high-ranking Church officials, intellectuals and ordinary people? Another example, Schema-nun Nila. She was occassionally visited by monastic elders whom she received in love, feeding them with spiritual food ... during these visits, she would say things like

"What amazing elders are these! Prokhor is 149 years old, Efrem 120, Alexander and Tikhon. These holy men live in the clefts of the rocks in the mountains, where they continually raise up their hands in prayer. They pray for the world, for Russia and for all of us." (Schema-nun Nila, 1992)

These holy people possessed spiritual and intellectual levels of knowledge which is beyond the understanding of our greatest minds.

From a Christian evangelical perspective, man is not merely an intelligent physical organism but a child of God, endowed with an immortal soul and the potential to be like God. This potential is apparent in man's creative talents and energy. For how can this physical universe produce the genius of Bach or Shakespeare if it were not so?

But in comparison with the universe at large, man is a puny organism, subject to annihilation by the minutist change in the earth's atmosphere. He is vulnerable to the simplest virus and yet he has been placed, by God, on this earth as the "lord of creation". According to Orthodox spirituality, man is considered in terms of his spiritual achievements and not in terms of his physical and rational accomplishments. The true man has the ability with the help of God, to detach himself from earthly interests and to establish within himself, the Kingdom of God. God created man to become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) - it is his spiritual nature that distinguishes him from other rational creatures and it is his aptitude for an interior life as a son of God that demonstrates that man has been given an immortal soul. (cf. Ps 81:6)

1. St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain says that God created the invisible world first and then the visible world, "After everything else He creates man, of an invisible soul and a visible body". Just as the physical universe appears to be endless and considered to be continually expanding, so the soul of man with its natural powers is able to transcend physical boundaries.
2. For Elder George of the Danilovsky Monastery, the walls of his death cell miraculously revealed the beauty of the Heavenly Kingdom.
3. Blind matrona could take a student of architecture on a tour of the splendours of the Piazza while in her cell and advise her how to correct and improve her doctoral thesis.
4. Matushka Nila conversed with the saints.
5. Father Alexander when serving the Litrugy was able to transport those around him to the heavenly realm. The clergy serving with Father Alexander felt the presence of grace in the Altar during the services.

As St Gregory the Theologian affirms, God places man on the earth like a second cosmos and what is more, as a greater cosmos within a smaller, physical one. St Gregory Palamas concurs when he writes that man is a cosmos, which encompasses universes, the visible and the invisible, "Your true self, that which is principally man, is not the visible body but the invisible soul, the inner man." (St Basil the Great)

The inner man is immortal while the outer man is temporal and perishes. For those who belong to eastern religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism - man is God. For the Orthodox man is a son of God.

If you believe that God truly made man in His own image and likeness, then you are most likely to accept the Gospel reality of man rather than the scholastic view based on Aristotle's rational man. Man is a son of God. Man is divine. This is the reality, not as my own opinion but as that which has been unanimously carried throughout our Orthodox history. In the everyday murk of life, the divinity of man is often hard to find. The perfect man is found in the Gospel. He is Christ. To be truly human is to be like Christ.

This is the knowledge of Good and Evil.

Apart from the physical and psychological makeup of man there is a spiritual dimension that separates him from the animal kingdom. This spiritual dimension is more than intellect, creativity and invention. It is a state that transcends the physical world and yet at the same time encompasses it. If we take Christ as our model, we find that men do indeed have the spiritual characteristics of the God-man. For man is able to endure suffering, to forgive his enemies, to seek peace etc - as Christ promised (John 14:12).

When we come in contact with these Holy people of God, we recognise that they are grace-filled people. They are blessed by God to guide and heal us from our own misguided ideas. According to St Symeon the New Theologian, the fallen state of man affects all of his faculties - everything he was given by God and holds dear has become corrupted:

1) Intuitive reason;
2) discursive reason;
3) Opinion;
4) Imagination; and even
5) Sensations

Man "thinks" but his thinking is not sound. He [man] desires but his desires are foolish.
Only through prayer can man regain that "godlike" status that is promised to us.

#7 Pandelis


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Posted 02 November 2009 - 11:58 AM

Thank you all for your comments

#8 Ivan Miletic

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 02:38 AM

From what I know, the tree of life is a metaphor for spiritual knowledge. By this I mean knowledge of God and the Holy Spirit, and of our relation to God. God wanted them to have this knowledge fully but only through Him, and not outside of Him. The knowledge itself was not forbidden per se, but how they got it was not proper, i.e. not through God and what He wants. Since this was obtained improperly its revelation was not bearable to them and caused them to feel shame of their state. Their disobedience was not followed by repentance and a turn towards God. Instead they turned towards themselves and looked to hide. To me, this is what prompted the punishment.

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