There is no small disagreement among theologians over the issue of Adam and the Tree of Life. Some have supposed that Adam was eating from the Tree of Life prior to his disobedience in relation to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For instance, John Calvin held the view that God gave the Tree of Life to Adam and Eve “as an earnest of immortality, that they might feel confident of the promise as often as they ate of the fruit” (Institutes 4.14.18). Others have suggested that Adam’s fall happened so soon after his creation that he never ate of the Tree of Life. Most Reformed theologians agree that the two trees in the Garden were sacramental–pointing beyond themselves to a spiritual reality and symbolizing what God had promised upon fulfillment of the conditions that He had revealed. Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 20 explains that the Tree of Life “was a pledge” of the reward offered to Adam in the Covenant of Works (Life). If we understand Adam to have been in a probationary period until he either obeyed or disobeyed God’s test–which test Satan turned into a temptation–then we might rightly view the fruit of the Tree of Life as the reward of his passing the test. This was, in fact, the position held by Jonathan Edwards. In what is one of his most fascinating entries in Notes on Scripture, Edwards suggested that the Tree of Life did not bear fruit until the probationary period was past. This certainly fits within the framework of the combined biblical-theological allusions to Christ–as the second Adam–and the meritorious reward of His people being given the right to the Tree of Life. Edwards wrote:
“397. Genesis 2:9 and Genesis 3:22–24. Concerning the Tree of Life. This tree seems manifestly to have been designed for a seal of Adam’s confirmation in life, in case he had stood, for two reasons: first, because its distinguishing name is the “tree of life”; and second, because by what is said in the latter end of the third chapter, there appears to have been a connection by divine [constitution] between eating of that tree and living forever, or enjoying a confirmed, certain, and everlasting life.
But yet here are those difficulties attending such a supposition. If it was so that this fruit was intended as a seal of Adam’s confirmation in life, and was by divine constitution connected with confirmed life, then it should seem that it was something kept in store, reserved by God to be bestowed as a reward of his obedience and overcoming all temptations, when his time of probation was ended. There seems to be an allusion to this inRevelation 22:14, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.” And Revelation 2:7, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life.” And so that it was not to be come at till the time of his trial was ended, for if he had eat of the tree before his probation was ended, confirmed life would doubtless have been as much connected with it as after he fell, and that would have defeated God’s design, which was that he should [not] have confirmed life till his obedience was tried. And if so, why was not there need of cherubim and a flaming sword before, to keep Adam from the tree before he fell, as well as afterwards? Whereas there seems to be nothing to keep him from this tree; the tree was not forbidden him, for he had leave to eat of every tree, but only the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And as there was no moral hindrance, so there seems to be no natural fence to keep him off. It don’t seem to be out of his reach; for, if so, what occasion was there for placing cherubim and a flaming sword after he fell? The tree don’t seem to be hidden from Adam; for if it was sufficiently secured from him by this means before he fell, so it was afterwards, and so what need of the cherubim and flaming sword? And by the account which Moses gives of the place of this tree, that it was in the midst of the garden, it appears probable that it was in the most conspicuous place in the whole garden (as the tree of life is said to grow in the midst of the street of the heavenly paradise, Revelation 22:2; the street of a city is the most public place in it), that Adam might have it in view, to put him in mind of the glorious reward promised to his obedience, to engage him to the greater care and watchfulness, that he might not fail.