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A Tale of Two Trees

• Greg Boyd

There were two trees in the Garden of Eden, one representing where we get true life from and one representing a prohibition from what steals from life. This sermon explores the significance of these two trees.

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There were two trees in middle of Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first tree is about trusting God’s provision for life (Tree of Life), while the second is about honoring God’s prohibition from trying to know good and evil.

When we eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it leads us to believe that we have the right and the ability to competently define good and evil for ourselves. This tree is the original and foundational sin of the Bible because it keeps us from fulfilling our all-important original mandate: to participate in God’s love by loving God, loving ourselves, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and caring for the earth and animal kingdom.

Life as God intends it to be lived revolves around two things. We must trust God’s provision of fullness of life as we get all of our core needs for feeling significant, special, fully alive, secure and loved from our Creator. And we must honor God’s prohibition to not think of ourselves as kings who have the right or the capacity to pronounce judgments on others.

When we take of this tree, we are acting as kings, becoming the judge of others, as we ascribe worth to ourselves at the cost of others. Our actual calling is to ascribe worth to others at cost to ourselves. When we judge, we are acting like vampires, sucking the worth from others for our own benefit.

This point is thoroughly expounded in the New Testament, including Matthew 7:1-3, 1 Timothy 1:15, Romans 2:1, 1 Corinthians 6:3-5, James 4:11-12, and Romans 12:4,10. The first of these passages is the core passage for this series and it reads:

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s[ eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?’ — Matthew 7: 1-3

If you don’t want to be judged on the judgment day, don’t judge others. If you judge, it will come back on you. When we judge we minimize our own faults and maximize those of others. Jesus says instead, that we must maximize our own sins and, minimize other’s. Whatever shortcoming you see in another, it’s a mere dust particle compared to your own log.

This attitude should distinguish a Kingdom community compared to others. While most communities rally around a distinctive claim of superiority they make for themselves, a Kingdom community can make no distinctive claim of superiority for itself. We are a community that confesses that we are all broken, and we humbly place ourselves at the bottom as sinners who are being saved and transformed by Jesus Christ.

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Topics: Judgment, Love

Sermon Series: Sermon on the Mount, Cross Examination


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Focus Scripture:

  • Genesis 2:9, 3:1-8

    Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. … Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

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10 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Trees

  1. Jan says:

    Food for thought in the sermon today, as always. Greg — understandably as a career theologian and senior pastor — is fonder of Pauline writing than some of us who tend to prioritize and harmonize all of the gospels’ red letters. Any of us can agree to disagree as well on whether we’re keener on the idea of the bible as “God’s word” or embrace the primacy of Jesus as living eternal Word of God with post-resurrection dispensation of the Holy Spirit.

    For years by internet I’ve found this ministry overall to be healing of a rigid evangelical background in which I was raised where a sex-based surpassing worth was ascribed only to males who had “headship” over all females subordinated by the overt behaviors and messages of church.

    This series, however, as much as I wish it weren’t so, seemingly veers into a thought-blocking cherry-picking of biblical passages about judgment that will never be healing emotionally, physically, spiritually or sexually for girls and women subordinated to abusive behavior of male “headship.” (Not being a POC I cannot fairly speak to what may be a similar if more unspoken racial marginalization in many U.S. church cultures headed by white men, but I have attended predominantly black churches and experienced the greater freedom and joy there for my sisters and brothers in Christ.)

    As followers of our Savior and Lord Jesus, to exercise discernment so that harmful behavior can be corrected, we must first admit that never at any reported time did the ministry and message of Jesus so much as hint at church institution of the man-made male “headship” behavior that has afflicted every century since to thwart, suppress and otherwise harm the female half of humanity.

    This harm, as explicated by my long comment last week, cannot be resolved by sermon abstractions about non-judgment separated from social stratification by man-made church design that contravenes the message of love and justice the way Jesus taught it.

    Since Greg likes Paul’s writing, here are a few of Paul’s additional verses:

    1 Corinthians 2:15 NRSV
    “Those who are spiritual discern [some translations read “judge”] all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.”
    1 Corinthians 6:1-3 NRSV
    “When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters?”

    Here, Jesus before Paul, providing instruction:

    Luke 12:54-57 NRSV
    [Interpreting the Time]
    54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain,’ and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
    [Settling with Your Opponent]}
    57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”

    John 7:24 NRSV
    24 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right [some translations read “righteous”] judgment.” (See also the law of Moses, Leviticus 19:15, NRSV: “…with justice [some translations read “righteousness”] you shall judge your neighbor.”)

    Following the teaching of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews spoke of those whose “faculties” of spiritual discernment “have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:14 NRSV.

    When Jesus admonished that we judge not that we be not judged, the context was hypocritical judgment where we perfectly imperfect humans (not baboons, not vampires) can tend to judge others (criticize, condemn, gossip) for the garden-variety shortcomings we also have. In the vernacular you may have heard, “you spot it, you’ve got it.” Whenever in this manner we hypocritically judge someone without examining our own routinely aversive behavior and rooting it out, we judge ourselves.

    This lesson on ubiquitous judgmental hypocrisy from the gospels does not contradict the directive, as Jesus followers, to judge what is right — mature spiritual discernment in following what Jesus and not anybody else taught or teaches.

    It’s unloving not to tell the truth about socially engineered power-tripping unrighteous behavior that hurts real people, and sweep it under an absolutist rug of abstraction about non-judgmentalism that Jesus never taught in loving and championing the “least of these.”

    Jesus said it best in Mark 9:42 NRSV:
    “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” If by telling the truth in right judgment I can spare even one other girl or woman from being harmed by male “headship” church leaders (viz., recently and credibly reported SBC coverups of criminal sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches), so that she can start to heal and trust Jesus again, that’s love. It’s also what Jesus taught.

  2. Matthew says:

    I really, really dislike proof texting, but I feel as though I must:

    John 7:24: Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.

    There are also many verses about wise discernment. I feel like the intentions are very good with this sermon series, but the weight of the teachings is unbalanced. There is so much going on in the U.S., so much around the globe, that needs to be judged and called out for what it is … especially actions (or inaction) taken by our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we not to judge the actions of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow with respect to Ukraine? Are we not to judge the inaction of many, many evangelicals in the U.S. regarding support for gun control legislation? Are we to keep our mouths shut in the name of not judging when our religious leaders continue to act in improper ways?

    I am growing weary at the sheer amount of Christians who say “Don´t talk politics or policy, just preach the Gospel.” I´m sorry, but preaching the Gospel should influence the heart and mind and spur a person toward participation in the political process (if they are free to do so) for the love of neighbor. As such, this process calls for and demands judgment, often times moral judgment, against even those who we call the closest of family.

    The time is not for shutting down and shutting up. The time is ripe for action and righteous judgment. This may be uncomfortable, and may even seem at first glance to be value sucking, but it is a necessary if we want to combat a greater evil.

    1. Dan Kent says:

      Hi Matthew,

      You raise some important points, and shared an important teaching (in a specific verse) does not amount to proof-texting in my book.

      We will address your valid and wise feedback soon. There’s a reason this topic went almost a year(!) last time we did it.

      Thanks for taking the time to put together your message. Circle around to us when the series concludes and let us know how we did at addressing your challenge.

      Dan Kent

      1. Matthew says:

        Thanks so much Dan.

  3. Cindy says:

    Hello
    I/we (my husband and I) are deeply blessed and challenged by these sermons with LOTS of application questions. So much to wrestle with and learning to live and love in the midst of not having clear answers on how to do it. Thanks for tackling this issue. My question is a little bit lighter, maybe. As I read the scriptures referenced here I am always struck that, at least to me, it appears that Eve misquoted God’s prohibition. God said “do not eat” . Eve quoted God as saying ” do not eat” and also saying “do not touch” . It seems to me she enlarged the scope of the prohibition. That seems significant to me.
    …. Is this part of the human tendency in history to label some people untouchables?
    …. When she did touch the fruit to pick it and did not die….did this encourage eating?
    I realise this is a minor issue but I am curious to know if any one else notices this and thought I would ask you and the WH staff who have done a lot more theological reading than I have. Thaks for any attention you can give this. Cindy Freeman

    1. Emily says:

      Hi Cindy,

      Interestingly, a number of ancient Jewish rabbis noticed the same thing you did in Genesis 3:3. Some of these rabbis connected this observation to the fact that in the Genesis narrative, God gave the commandment not to eat of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” directly to Adam before Eve was even created (Genesis 2:15). Some concluded that this would mean that Eve never heard the commandment directly from God. Rather, she was dependent upon Adam to tell her about God’s commandment. In other words: God’s word was mediated to Eve through Adam. These rabbis speculated that, since she had only heard the commandment second-hand through Adam, she would have been more vulnerable to deception with regard to the commandment.

      This observation then led some to speculate that Eve must have added the words “or touch it” to the original command to “not eat” of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (not to mention leaving out the words “in the day that you eat of it you shall die”). For example, one rabbinic text (Genesis Rabbah 19.3) argues that by adding this additional command, Eve is “lying,” and actually set herself up to be deceived by the serpent. According to this rabbinic passage, the serpent simply pushed Eve against the tree, showing her that she does not die by touching it. He then deceives her by saying “just as you have not died by touching it, so you will not die by eating it.” Again, presumed in this passage is the idea that, since Adam heard the command directly, while Eve only indirectly (through a human mediator, Adam), this left Eve in a more vulnerable position in which deception by the enemy would be more likely.

      In another rabbinic text (According to Rabbi Nathan), a different theory is offered that says perhaps Adam is the one who added “or touch it” when he reported the commandment to Eve. His motive would have been to add a layer of safety to God’s command – i.e., if Eve couldn’t “touch” it, then she certainly couldn’t “eat” it. But according to this text, Adam’s plan back-fired and the serpent used it to his advantage to deceive Eve. With this theory, once again it is understood that Eve is left at a disadvantage, due to the fact that she never had direct access to the commandment as stated by God himself, and thus is at the mercy of Adam’s recounting of – and in this case wrongful addition to – God’s prohibition.

      Obviously, all of this is speculation on the part of these ancient rabbis. But it is an interesting question and one that Bible interpreters have wondered about for many centuries.

      —Paul Eddy, Teaching and Theological Resource Pastor

      1. Cindy Freeman says:

        Thanks Paul, I’m glad to hear others have wondered about it. Interesting and I never noticed that Adam heard the command directly, but not Eve.
        Lots to wonder about in all this, but in the end not crucial to our Life in Jesus. Again thanks for responding.

  4. Jan says:

    God be with all of you at Woodland Hills in Minnesota and those who connect online. I’ve appreciated knowing you by internet, contributing in several ways over the years, and now it’s time to say good-bye in its original sense of “God be with you.”

    Until today a theo nerd, I just finished John A.T. Robinson’s exhaustively cross-referenced tome, The Priority of John, and decided, after this final comment, to let go of theological discourse with Woodland Hills because God’s calling me to a simpler directive. Pushing age 70 I know enough “stuff” theologically now to satisfy my soul so I’ll instead be going forward, day to day, simply to do my best to pray, meditate and from there to love and be loved as Jesus taught in the company of people throughout the community where I live. Your Woodland Hills sermon series and comment process has brought this clarity, and for that I’m entirely grateful.

    When we choose to follow Jesus with love (and justice) in the company of others, connected to organized religion or not, we are the “ekklesia.” Jesus is The Way, and the varieties and behaviors of organized religion under the Christian label are among the many ways of human preference, sometimes sin, but I’ve already commented in this series about love and right judgment regarding abuse of the vulnerable under cover of male headship “leaders” or otherwise in church, e.g., the current SBC debacle.

    To embrace one specific way of preference with an organized leadership tends to be a feature of human choice [the way of Paul or Apollos, the way of James or Peter, the way of the unnamed writer of Hebrews some scholars believe to be Priscilla or Junia who like Jesus didn’t write epistles, the modern way of Roman Catholics, or Orthodox, or Evangelicals, or Charismatics, or Mainline Protestants, or Anabaptists, or Mennonites, or Southern (or General, or Northern, or American) Baptists or any of the countless denominational subdivisions and non-denominational ways of teaching and gathering with claim to the correct approach to following Jesus].

    The Way of Jesus is nonetheless above the fray of the aggressively divisive history and current dilemma of organized religion’s divergent churches. Jesus never called his followers Christians but instead, disciples (and at the pre-crucifixion end of earthly ministry, friends). By about 40 years post-ascension, a mere three biblical references attributed to Peter and apostles noted the Christian nomenclature first used culturally by non-disciples. Some historians have categorized the earliest disciples as followers of The Way.

    We can, if we choose, follow Jesus without participating in organized Christianity as conceived by men. Jesus summarized (Mark 10:6) the first and earliest written Genesis 1 story that “from the beginning of creation” God (Elohim) made humans “male and female” in Elohim’s own equally and dually sexed image. Jesus sidestepped the second and later added tale of Adam and Eve with its garden, trees and stench of male-ascribed entitlement to dominate. Please know that multiple times I’ve literally heard that second story Jesus never taught be translated from the male headship church pulpit as “evil Eve, the downfall of man.” Take from that what you will.

    Many of us, especially women quietly following Jesus outside the man-made church, accept Jesus as the eternal living “Word (Logos) of God.” We read the bible more as time-limited literary words pointing to what others saw, experienced, concluded or sometimes manipulated about Jesus than as replacement for our own lived reality following Jesus under the daily care, comfort, guidance, healing and inspiration of divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit.

    As to the second Genesis story about Adam and Eve, because Jesus didn’t bother to teach it, I read it as not universally instructive. Plus there are nearly as many theological interpretations of that origin tale as there are theologians! The Adam-and-Eve story can however provide excellent personal insights, as about untouchables and caste systems that Jesus came to abolish.

    The bible, even for those of us who do not accept its infallibility or inerrancy, is an amazing read that can spark new insights and awareness as well as connect us back through time with others wanting to know and love God better. Most importantly the bible set as Christian canon in the fourth century Roman Empire points us back to Jesus Christ as Lord through God’s loving salvific work of the cross. (So the Empire wasn’t all bad. Or God worked through it anyway. And I won’t expand the fleeting open-theism thought that other texts of antiquity unearthed in the past 100 years at places with names like Nag Hammadi might have earlier done the same but without the Crusades.)

    As to our freedom in Christ, we can, if we choose, follow Jesus without believing in apostolic succession. The biblical texts across separately written component books don’t entirely agree on the apostles’ 12 names, which if we weren’t talking about our beloved bible would in other literature be considered a fraud indicator for those passages. Protestants obviously disagree that Jesus established Peter at the top of apostolic succession in a papacy to head one global Catholic church. Even if elevated to status as paper pope, the bible regarding the Catholic claim to church establishment merely indicates that Jesus spoke to Peter (Gk., Petros or rock-man) to then use the feminine form for rock (Gk., petra, not a name) signifying the all-comers’ foundational invitation to become “the called out ones” (Gk., ekklesia, mistranslated as church based later on western civilization’s terms and customs).

    And so, sharing the ekklesia, this farewell comment’s written also to share a couple of things in kindness.

    First, I’ve especially appreciated not only when women preach but also the online theological discussion at Woodland Hills over many years. From the archives, in 2019 Dan Kent meaningfully and with empathy and insight addressed sociocultural reality in a podcast answer to a question I posed. As another example, Greg Boyd’s scholarship on open theism is exceptionally clear, and I apply it to modern physicists’ multi-verse theorizing as science approximating the mind of God and vastness of cosmological possibilities for sentient beings with say-so. Open theism also bespeaks a theological humility that blueprints are what not God but human beings have made — mere human minds, no matter how intelligent, cannot adequately define or limit the vastness of divine power working through us as God’s creation.

    Secondly, you’re of course free to disagree about any or all of this. I would never expect pastors and their church devotees to see this in the same light as I do now. And I wish you all well, dear friends, with love and God’s infinite grace in Christ, always.

    1. Elizabeth says:

      Jesus always spoke out when he encountered injustices. He even referred to some groups as a den of vipers. I Agee that we should pray for our enemies but speak out when we see those same individuals wronging innocent ones. I also know that it the takes the Holy Spirit to guide us as to when we should speak and what we should say. And some will be offended, but that never stopped Jesus, because the truth will set them free, maybe not at that moment, but truth spoken will give them food for thought. I believe that loving your enemy is telling them not what you think but what Jesus says. And that is judging righteously.

      1. Jan says:

        Loved your comment, Elizabeth: “Jesus always spoke out when he encountered injustices. He even referred to some groups as a den of vipers. I Agee that we should pray for our enemies but speak out when we see those same individuals wronging innocent ones. I also know that it the takes the Holy Spirit to guide us as to when we should speak and what we should say. And some will be offended, but that never stopped Jesus, because the truth will set them free, maybe not at that moment, but truth spoken will give them food for thought. I believe that loving your enemy is telling them not what you think but what Jesus says. And that is judging righteously.” Feel free to contact me any time: janfacilitator@gmail.com.

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