Eden, of course, is the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve enjoyed creation perfectly as God had created it. A location “east of Eden” is mentioned in Genesis 3.
After Adam and Eve sinned, they were expelled from the garden. “So the Lord God banished him [mankind—both Adam and Eve] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:23–24). Presumably, the only entrance to the garden was on the east side, as this was the only side that God chose to guard. If Adam and Eve left the garden on the eastern side and kept going in that direction, they were living east of Eden.
We are not told, but it is reasonable to assume that Adam and Eve as well as their children knew where the Garden of Eden was and that it may have still existed in some form through their lifetimes. If this were not the case, it would have been unnecessary for God to guard the entrance to it and bar access to the tree of life.
The phrase east of Eden also shows up in Genesis 4. After Cain was given his punishment for killing his brother, Abel, he “went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). It seems that Nod was even farther away from Eden than his parents had settled. This is the result of the fall intensified.
These are the only two passages where a place “east of Eden” is mentioned. However, in both cases the context is one of denied access to Eden as a result of sin. Living “east of Eden” is contrasted to living “in Eden” and as such is a metaphor for living in a fallen world.
The phrase east of Eden has come into popular usage due to the novel of that name by John Steinbeck and the film based on the novel. In the novel, two families compete and experience the full range of fallen human nature. The film is based on the final part of the novel in which rival brothers vie for their father’s affection. The environment of sin, disappointment, and hopelessness portrayed in these works is an accurate representation of the human condition “east of Eden.”
When the new heavens and new earth are the abode of all who have had their sins forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ, the whole world will be Eden. Access to the tree of life will once again be restored:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:1–5).