Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever -“ Genesis 3:22 NASB
Might – In Hebrew, you notice that one particular word is repeated, a word that plays an important role in another verse, Genesis 3:3, the verse about God’s single commandment in the Garden. The repeated word, pen, is a conjunction that negates dependent clauses. It serves to express a precaution, something that requires attention in order to prevent it from happening. In Genesis 3:3, this word is glossed in the NASB as “or” in the phrase “or you will die.” But it doesn’t mean “or” just like it doesn’t mean “might” in Genesis 3:22. It means “lest,” the conditional alarm for a particular disaster. This verse should read “and now, lest he stretch out his hand.” It is not an acknowledgement of potential action. It is a warning of consequent choice. Why the NASB translators decided to gloss the word in both occurrences isn’t clear, but what is clear is this: the gloss removes our ability to see the connection between this verse and the original commandment.
This connection raises all kinds of questions. If Adam is able to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (and he is, of course), doesn’t God’s warning indicate that this action results in death? Yes, it does. But Adam eats and he doesn’t die. Of course, theologians claim that he dies spiritually, and subsequently physically (some 900 years later). But doesn’t that diminish the intensity of the warning? Doesn’t it seem odd to you that God doesn’t spell out the consequences more accurately?
And then there is this very strange verse, Genesis 3:22. If Adam is now a fallen sinner, what could it possibly mean to suggest that he may still eat of the Tree of Life and live forever? I thought living forever was the exclusive privilege of the righteous. Doesn’t this verse sound more like magic than theology? Can a sinful man actually eat from some tree and enable himself to live eternally? Where is God’s sovereignty over life and death in this suggestion? Is Man in the Garden after the Fall able to circumvent the consequence of the first commandment? If this verse really reports the potential of eternal existence independent of God, then why did God leave this tree in the Garden in the first place? Is there really a way to live eternally in rebellion against God through my own action? If the warning is real in verse 3, doesn’t it have to be real in verse 22?
This is a story we have read so many times that we no longer question its implications. But we should. Frankly, on the surface it doesn’t seem to make any sense. How can God be God and still be worried about a man fallen from grace finding some nearly magical way of acquiring eternal existence? The plot is so thick as to be undecipherable. Maybe Ellul is right. “[T]he Bible is a book that is full of questions but never gives any answers.” Can you live with that? Or does your Greek mind rebel and demand resolution even if it requires glossing the text and inventing the theology?
Topical Index: lest, pen, Genesis 3:22, Genesis 3:3, Tree of Life, eternal life
 Jacques Ellul, The subversion of Christianity, p. 24.