The differences between Islam and Christianity are innumerable. Some are immediately and obviously profound. Others seem trivial at first, but expose a deeper theological rift. Consider the almost irrelevant detail of what tree Adam and Eve ate from in the Garden of Eden. The Qur’an and the Bible give divergent descriptions of what this tree was. This seemingly inconsequential discrepancy reveals a much richer truth about the God of the Bible and the god of the Qur’an.
In Genesis 2:17 God instructs Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both Adam and Eve disobeyed and did eat of it. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the story given in the Qur’an has divergent details. According to the Qur’an, what tree did Adam and Eve eat from? Here is the relevant section,
[20.120] But the Shaitan made an evil suggestion to him; he said: O Adam! Shall I guide you to the tree of immortality and a kingdom which decays not?
Faced with this glaring discrepancy between the two texts, many present day Islamic scholars assert that Muslims don’t really know what the tree was. But early Islamic commentators had no trouble stating which tree it was. Ibn Kathir says in his commentary on the Qur’an:
Iblis did not cease prodding them until they both had eaten from it. It was the Tree of Eternity (Shajarat Al-Khuld). This meant that anyone who ate from it would live forever and always remain [i]
In the Qur’an, they took from of the tree of immortality, or eternity. In the Bible, Adam and Eve took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why even bother pointing out such a small difference?
The first theological difference that comes to mind is the direct implications of this action. Within Islam, this transgression is viewed as a mistake relating only to Adam. Islam teaches he repented of it, and was forgiven, thus transmitting no consequences to his descendants. Even the immediate removal from the Garden of Eden is not defined as a punishment.
“Adam and Eve left heaven and descended upon earth. Their descent was not one of degradation; rather it was dignified.” [ii]
However, the implications within Christianity are monumental. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is what brought sin into the world, and consequently its ramifications. This is especially pertinent in light of the Bible’s discussion of this topic in great detail, culminating in Romans 5:18 and 5:19. The fact that the Qur’an completely ignores these consequences of sin is an area that merits its own exploration. Yet there is something much less obvious happening here. As always, it’s the more subtle avenue of thought that will be pursued here.
In the Garden of Eden, there was another tree mentioned, the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). Nowhere does the Bible say this tree was forbidden from Adam and Eve. In fact, the implication is that the fruit of this tree was given to them, (Gen 2:16) and that Adam and Eve could have lived forever in a perfect and pure state before God had they not disobeyed. This tree of life appears again in Revelation 22:2, and then another time in Rev 22:14, which emphasize the privilege of partaking of that tree for those who are in heaven. Of course God doesn’t need a tree in paradise to grant us eternal life, but for whatever reason, God mentions it again nonetheless. This tree of life was only off-limits to Adam and Eve after they partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because they then could “live forever” (Gen 3:22) in their unredeemed state.
It is this tree of life, which matches the tree mentioned in the Qur’an, the tree of immortality. In both cases, partaking of this tree gives life in some supernatural way. But look closely at how this tree of immortality, or tree of life, is portrayed in the Bible compared to that of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an portrays the partaking of the tree of immortality as an evil and punishable act that requires repentance. In the Bible, eating from this same tree of life is the reward given to those who through a relationship with Jesus are granted eternity with God. Within Islam, that which gives life is forbidden, and that which brought death and our need for redemption is discounted. With Christianity, that which gives life is our eventual reward and that which brings death was what was originally forbidden. In Islam, the tree of life was off-limits while within Christianity, the tree of life is a gift of life given by God.
Even the minor discrepancies reveal the bizarre depths of theological disagreement.