These verses are not, as some sectarian teachers from various institutions have proposed, to be taken literally. There is no physical place called Eden somewhere on earth, where God planted trees of life and trees of knowledge, and God put a man, then removed a rib from the man and used it to make a woman, and then put a snake there to tempt the woman into eating the fruit that God didn't want them to eat. That would be a ridiculous story if taken as literal. What are trees of life and trees of knowledge? Is man missing a rib? If God didn't want them to eat from that tree why did He put the tree there in the first place? And why would God put a serpent there who supposedly accuses Him of deceiving Adam regarding the results of eating the fruit?
These are only a few of the problems presented by the assumption that these verses are to be taken literally. A literal interpretation produces a variety of mistranslations here and in other sections of this text.
Rather, these verses are discussing - in allegorical terms rich with symbolism - how some of the citizens of the spiritual world fell to the physical world.
Here is a listing of some of the symbolism used up to this point in the allegorical story of Adam and Eve in Eden - as referenced from earlier verses:
Eden represents the spiritual world. This is the part of God's creation where He is personally present. This is the location where the Supreme Being created and placed the spiritual living beings and enjoys exchanging unique relationships with each of them (each of us).
Adam represents the spiritual living beings created by God in the spiritual world (each of us). The living beings were created to care for God. Each of us thus has an inherent unique relationship with God. And since the living beings are created by God, each of us have some of God's essence. We each are made of a part of God, but we are not God.
Eve represents the spiritual community within the spiritual dimension. There are countless living beings in the spiritual world, and they all cooperate with each other and help each other, primarily in conjunction with their loving relationship with God.
The "rib" (a mistranslation - should be part or essence) represents the fact that all the spiritual living being share the same essence, given by God. That essence is our natural position of caring for God as His servant and caring for God's children and associates. This is our natural state: Our pure state. This is why we are always searching for someone to love and serve during our physical lifetimes: We are searching to regain our natural state, and the one we are searching for (our "soul mate") is actually the Supreme Being.
The tree of life is one of the two symbolic trees in the "middle" of Eden. The tree of life represents love for God. This is symbolized by a tree because a tree gives fruit that can be nourishing and sustaining. This symbolic tree of love for God gives each citizen of the spiritual world their sustenance: Complete fulfillment. Loving and caring for God within our unique relationship with Him is the lifeblood of every spiritual living being within the spiritual world. This is why it is in the symbolic "middle" of Eden.
The tree of knowledge has been mistranslated to "good and evil." As discussed with Genesis 2:9, the Hebrew words טוֹב (towb) and רַע (ra') are more appropriately translated to self-centered pleasure and pain. This 'tree' is also in the "middle" of Eden, symbolizing its importance, and necessity along with the tree of life.
This 'tree of knowledge of self-centered pleasure and pain' represents, as confirmed by the serpent here, freedom. Without the freedom to love God or not, there could be no real love. We would be virtual slaves if we didn't have the freedom to love and care for God - or not.
As an example, consider a teenage boy who must decide whether he wants to go to college. His parents want him to go to college, but the boy knows he can also choose not to go to college. The fact that the boy can choose not to go makes going to college ultimately the boy's decision. It is the same with our relationship with God. God made available the choice to not love and care for Him. This makes loving Him our decision.
Should we choose not to love God: We must live to please ourselves instead of living to please God. If we live to please God, we stay sheltered within our relationship with God. And we remain at home in the spiritual world (Eden), a place of ultimate happiness and satisfaction.
In other words, choosing not to love God creates a huge hole in our lives. The place that was once filled by our love for God is now a hole - and we must now seek to fill it by trying to satisfy ourselves.
That need to satisfy ourselves produces an envy of God. Why? Because God is self-satisfied. He is completely fulfilled within Himself. He does not need anything or anyone else to become satisfied.
We, on the other hand, are not self-satisfied. Our satisfaction is connected with God's satisfaction. We must please God to be satisfied. This might be compared to a finger. A finger cannot be nourished by eating food directly. The finger has to feed the food to the mouth to get the food to the stomach in order to become nourished. In the same way, we must care for God in order to be fulfilled.
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Again the Hebrew translated to "good and evil" (טוֹב (towb) and רַע (ra')) is more appropriately translated to 'pleasure and pain.' When we are acting within our natural position of loving and pleasing God, our pleasure is derived from our relationship with the Supreme Being. Should we seek our own pleasure, and elect to act outside of our relationship with God, we then must deal with the consequences of our activities directly. In that case, we must experience pain and pleasure directly as a result of our attempt to be independent of God. Therefore, the most accurate translation would be self-centered pleasure and pain.
The critical feature of the serpent's statement is "you will be like God." Why is this important, and who the heck is this serpent fellow anyway?
The desire to be God (envy) becomes the immediate disease for someone who wishes to become independent of God. This desire for independence means we need to get what God has: happiness. Yes, God experiences both pleasure and pain, but His pain is connected to love, so it is also pleasurable to Him - and He remains fulfilled, because both are all part of His pastimes.
But when we desire to experience self-centered pleasure, we also experience self-centered pain - and neither of these are fulfilling. Our self-centered pleasure is empty, and our self-centered pain is also empty. Our envy results in emptiness.
Let's use an example. Let's say that two people have been close friends since childhood. They've shared everything for several decades, and they are very close. Then they find themselves running for the same office in their high school. One gets elected, and the other becomes envious that their friend won the election and they didn't. For their entire relationship up til then, when one succeeded, the other supported that success and was happy when their friend succeeded. But now, after to their competition for election, one has become envious of the other. This changes everything. Their entire relationship changes because of this envy. They can no longer share or support each other, because one of them is envious of the other. And what is left of their relationship? Pain. Emptiness.
In the same way, becoming envious of God changes everything. In the spiritual world we were intimate with the Supreme Being. He was our entire life. We shared everything with Him. We did everything to please Him and He reciprocated in that relationship. It was pure bliss.
Then we become envious and everything changed. We wanted to enjoy like He enjoys. And that changed everything. We became self-centered instead of God-centered.
What came first, the envy or the desire for independence of God? The two are so intertwined that it is useless to separate them. Wanting independence from the Supreme Being and becoming envious of the Supreme Being are two branches of the same tree.
So what did God mean by telling the symbolic Adam and Eve "you will die"? And why did the serpent say that was untrue? Was God lying to the symbolic Adam and Eve?
Absolutely not. God is not a liar. It is a matter of reference. The death that God communicated is spiritual death. This death is the loss of our loving relationship with God. The serpent, on the other hand, did not value our relationship with God in the same way.
That brings us to the notion of the serpent. Just what does the serpent represent and why would God put such a symbolic creature in the spiritual world to basically tempt the spiritual community?
Remember that Eve represents the spiritual community of the spiritual world. The members of the spiritual community must all have the choice to love God or not. If they didn't have the choice, there would be no real love. This doesn't mean they have to act on that choice. But they have to know they have the choice.
In order to have the freedom of choice, two possible options or avenues must be set up. For example, the boy who is deciding whether he wants to go to college or not must know there is an alternative to going to college. He must realize that he could travel the world and work odd jobs all his life instead of going to college, for example.
In the same way, God had to give us an alternative to loving and serving Him. So He gave us the potential to become self-centered and envious - the opposite of loving and giving.
So the serpent represents our desire for independence, and our potential to become self-centered and envious of God. These are the more "crafty" elements of each of us, as they allow for optional behavior - behavior outside our natural or pure state. Snakes are also known to bite, and poisonous ones will inject a lethal venom. In the same way, self-centeredness and enviousness will also bite us - they are poisonous to our spiritual life.
The 'bite' is that they give us the ability to turn from our loving relationship with God. Why are these forces - self-centeredness and enviousness - strong enough to make us turn from God?
Their strength makes the choice fair. If the Supreme Being did not give us a fair choice, then we could not make a real decision - and our choice to love Him would not be as relishing to Him.
In the same way, if the boy decided to go to college and gave up the notion of traveling the world working odd jobs, this would give his parents great satisfaction that their son made a wise decision.
This analogy about the boy and college has its weaknesses, however. In the case of our freedom, this is given to us by God, and the child's inherent freedom to go to college or not is part of our culture. Also, when we are choosing God we are choosing to love Him over our self-centeredness. It's a lot more personal than deciding to go to college.
Yes, love is what drives the pleasure of the spiritual dimension. We all seek love and someone to love. Just about every movie, every popular song and every effort we make during our physical lives are all about love. We all want to exchange love. We want someone to love who will truly love us back. And we want to care for and serve the one we love. We are each driven by love from every angle.
This is because we were created by the Ultimate Loving Person. God feeds off of love. He is all about love. He doesn't need our love, but He enjoys our love. The Supreme Being is completely self-fulfilled, but His pastime is the exchange of love with the living beings - us. And we also enjoy giving our love to God. This completely fulfills us. It is our true nature, and the joy and bliss of the spiritual world.
This is why all of God's representatives ask us to return to our loving relationship with God. This is why Moses said:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:5)
"Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, His decrees, His laws and His commands always." (Deut 11:1)
"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today - to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut 11:13)
"If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow - to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to hold fast to Him - " (Deut. 11:22)
"because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today - to love the LORD your God and to walk always in His ways - " (Deut. 19:19)
"For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws" (Deut. 30:16)
"and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life...." (Deut. 30:20)
And this is why Moses' student Joshua taught:
"But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Joshua 22:5)
"So be very careful to love the LORD your God." (Joshua 23:11)
"Love the LORD, all His saints!" (Psalms 31:23)
"Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked." (Psalms 97:10)
and why Jesus said:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)