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Genesis 3:22:

And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (NIV)

What exactly does it mean when God says they became "like one of us, knowing good and evil?" In what way does God know evil?

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  • 1
    It is not at all clear to me that is a good fit for BH.SE. Unless @Gershom clarifies otherwise, it seems to be he wanted a theological answer about the nature of God, not a authorial intent answer. (I think the root problem is a understanding of English, thinking that "know evil" means "does evil". Gershom - the verse actually means that God knows/understands the difference between good and evil. Before they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve lacked that knowledge.)
    – ThaddeusB
    Sep 13 '15 at 19:07
  • I don't understand what you mean by "know" - can you explain what you are asking using different words?
    – ThaddeusB
    Sep 14 '15 at 14:13
  • I see this as perhaps a reference to having experienced evil in the form of the already fallen angels. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil could be a retrospective name for the tree, not a 'prescriptive function' of the tree in this case. God didn't want them to experience any evil whatsoever. They were already expected to know between right and wrong when they were commanded and punished for disobeying. Thoughts... Jun 16 '18 at 12:03
  • This verse simply say that God (and others - that's why plural) know that there is good and bad (why evil?) and know to different between them, and when Adam and Eve eat from the tree they can do it also. It's well connected to the verse "... יצר לב האדם רע מנעוריו..."
    – A. Meshu
    Aug 14 '18 at 11:55
  • Adam and Eve learned that it is good to wear clothes and bad to walk around naked. "“Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (Rev 16:5). The Hebrew word ra' (rah) can be translated into either evil or bad. May 2 '19 at 10:22
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The argument Gershom enhanced speaks about a pivotal point in man's history. Maybe we have to skip our direction of thought toward the truth that what we may include in the concepts of 'good' and 'bad' (I prefer to translate these two terms as 'suitability' [טוב] and 'unsuitability' [רע]) depends on a subjective viewpoint. God himself said that some Israelites had - compared to His - an opposite moral viewpoint. Using the same two terms we are disserting of He said: "Woe to those who call what is bad [רע], good [טוב], and what is good [טוב], bad [רע], who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isa 5:20, The Jerusalem Bible). Granted, God knows perfectly what is really 'good - light - sweet', and , in the same manner He knows fully what is really 'bad - darkness - bitter'. Nevertheless, the Israelites God referred there believed they did know what was morally 'suitable' [טוב] or 'unsuitable' [רע], for themselves.

So, the question isn't focused on a God exclusive capability, but on a choice men were able (and are able, today) to make - in this case, contravening IEUE's original purpose - that is, to establish what is טוב or רע for himself.

The Jerusalem Bible's footnote on Gen 2:17 ('knowledge of good and evil') is illuminating (the bold is mine): "This knowledge is a privilege which God reserves to himself and which man, by sinning, will usurp, 3:5, 22. Hence, it does not mean omniscience, which fallen creatures do not possess; nor is it moral discrimination, for unfallen man already had it and God could not refuse it to a rational being. It is the power of deciding for himself what is good and what is evil and of acting accordingly, a claim to complete moral independence by which man refuses to recognize his status as a created being."

So, your questions ('What exactly does it mean when God says they became "like one of us, knowing good and evil?" In what way does God know evil?') receive insight from the Bible itself.

Responding to your questions with a single synthetical answer: Both God IEUE and man are able to establish what must be included in the definition of 'suitable' [טוב] or in that of 'unsuitable' [רע]. Obviously, man often labours under the illusion that what he defines 'suitable' is really 'good' (and, what he defines 'unsuitable' is really 'bad'). The Creator moral paradigm is often different from man's, and is based not on an illusion but on truth.

Lord Jesus said: "But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." (Mat 11:19, Lexham).

The story of the IEUE's deeds in comparison of those of man demonstrates the failure of the man's claim, whereas highlightes long-sightedness, wisdom, and the absolute truth of our Creator.

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It probably ought not be read as meaning moral knowledge. Rather, it likely may have been meant primarily in reference to SKILLS and only secondarily to general knowledge or to moral judgments. All things good and evil may simply have meant skills mankind both should and shouldn't have.

After Adam and Eve take a bite from the fruit, that they have gained knowledge is shown by their practicing a new skill of being able to make clothes from leaves. God then one-ups them, showing he's still more knowledgeable, since he can make clothes from animal skins. (They had only taken one bite of the fruit. What would they learn had they ate more?)

The idea that mankind's knowledge came illicitly from gods or angels or magic fruit or the like was a popular theme in ancient stories. Prometheus got in trouble with his fellow gods for showing people how to make fire. In the book of Enoch, angels are rebuked for having taught mankind sciences like farming and metallurgy.

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Everything as we know it was created within 6 days, as stated in Genesis. Isaiah 45:7 states that God created evil. How can this be? If God created everything, that would include the fallen angels. Of course, at one point they were not fallen. God knows the end from the beginning, so he definitely knew they would fall at some point.

So if God created Satan, who later fell, then it stands to reason that God "created" evil (per Isaiah 45:7) not by actual creation, but rather indirectly. By allowing Satan to exist, he is allowing sin to exist...for a time.

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  • Which translation are you using where "Isaiah 45:7 states that God created evil"? Each translation on biblehub.com says "darkness".
    – agarza
    May 21 at 19:48
  • 1
    The whole verse says: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the lord do all these things. (KJV) The Hebrew word for evil here is Ra, which is used 663 times according to the KJV concordance and translated as "evil" 442 times. I should have stated the entire verse in my post, my apolgoies.
    – user42370
    May 21 at 20:10
  • My apologies for not reading the entire verse myself. Bringing that Hebrew word to light, I see that it is translated as "evil" only in a third of the bibles on biblehub. It is most often translated as "calamity".
    – agarza
    May 21 at 20:19
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The 2 Questions

There are 2 questions to resolve in this answer: 1) Does God 'know' evil? 2) Is man 'like' God, who knows good and evil?

The Holiness of God

The attribute of God, which has been declared throughout Scripture, is His Holiness. In Hab. 1:13(KJV) it says,

"Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?"

Furthermore, He is described as a "holy" God,

And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.(Rev. 4:8)

And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.(Isa. 6:3)

Recognizing vs Knowing

To attribute evil to a Holy God is to blaspheme; He is either a Holy God, as Scripture states, or He is not God. Therefore, when the Scripture says, "Knowing good and evil", we must make a delineation between "knowing"(being intimately acquainted with as being the source of), versus "knowing"(recognizing the existence of).

Therefore, when we review Genesis 3, we must make the distinction between God's knowing "about" evil, and the consequences regarding it, versus God somehow being the 'author' of evil, which He clearly is not.

The next question is "Did man truly become "like God", knowing good and evil?

To answer this question in the affirmative is to say the serpent(ha-Satan) was telling the truth. In Gen. 3:5, the serpent says,

"For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

The truth was they were naked; they didn't know this until God, not the serpent revealed it to them,

And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked?(vs 11)

Knowing: Being At One

Therefore, far from "being elohim"(god/gods), they became naked souls, apart from God's protection and unable to clothe themselves, the leaves they attempted to weave fell apart. The key to understanding this comparison with God is the Hebrew word "כְּאַחַ֣ד "(kə·’a·ḥaḏ-as one). Man can never be "like God, knowing good and evil, because it was never God's intention that man would know evil. To be "one" or "whole/holy" with God is to reject evil in all it's forms. In effect, God was saying to man, "You're going to be 'one' with Me by knowing what I know?" This is the serpent's lie; they exchanged "knowing" for "living". They had ample opportunity to eat from the Tree of Life, which is the true path for being "one" with God. Adam and Eve were to "know/recognize" evil and avoid it; instead they 'ate' and became "כְּאַחַ֣ד"(at one) with it. The consequence for this betrayal was the forfeiture of their lives, and the means, The Tree of Life, by which they would live eternally.

Summary

To Summarize: 1) God recognizes, but is not "one" with evil. 2) Man, by aspiring to 'knowledge', cannot be "one" or in comparison to God. He was intended to "know God" by becoming "one" with Him; that was through eating from the Tree of Life.

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Notice the use of "hayah" in Genesis 3:1

  • וְהַנָּחָשׁ הָיָה עָרוּם מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה

Would you translate it to say

  • And the serpent henceforth has become cunning among all lifeforms of the field.

Or would you translate it as

  • And the serpent having been cunning among all lifeforms of the field

??

Then how is it possible that you would translate "hayah" as "having been" in Genesis 3:1 but willy-nilly translate "hayah" in Gen 3:22 as "henceforth being" ??

Of course, the usual tactic is to pull out and play the "context" card. But established biblical fundamentalism rules say you cannot use a context to circularly prove itself. You cannot willy-nilly use a context that is YET to have a biblical basis, and use it to prove the biblical basis.

Otherwise, anyone could create any context and use that context as a biblical basis. Even if that context is created by a so-called "biblical authority". Because the Hebrew text of the Bible is the FINAL authority. And if the Hebrew text of the Bible clashes with the "contexts" of the so-called "new testament" of Christianity, then it would prove that the Christianity's "new testament" faithfulness to the ancient Hebrew text is questionable.

It is a mistake to read that verse meant to say G'd knew good and evil.

Always go back to the original Hebrew.

וימר יי אלהים
and said LORD G'd

הן האדם היה כאחד ממנו
Here/now the man is like one from Us

לדעת טוב ורע
to understand good and evil

ועתה פן ישלח ידו
and then lest he sends forth his hand

ולקה גם מעץ החיים
and takes also from the tree of life

ואכל
and eats

וחי לעלם
and lives forever

The passage is not saying,

The human is now become like/as one of us, who understands good and evil

The passage is saying,

The human is now become like/as one from us.

To perceive good and evil and lest his hand takes from the tree of life and eats and lives forever.

It is not good for anyone to perceive the Universe as good vs evil. But now the man and woman had eaten the fruit that opened their eyes towards seeing all around as good vs evil. And lest they live forever with that horrid and imprecise perspective.

True, today we have religions that call others evil. Accusing each other of evil, as justification to massacre and to kill.

From Genesis to the last chronological book of the Bible in Hebrew Malakhi, there is no concept of "hades". [שאול] SheOL, being the passive participle of [שאל] ask/question, merely means unknown/mystery. But men having fallen into the temptation of the inaccurate perspective of good vs evil, had decided to induct the pagan concept of Hades.

I'm sure people who do not read the Bible in Hebrew will be rather displeased with my answer.

But in the original Hebrew, from Genesis to the last chronological book of the Bible Malakhi, there is not a single person with a personal name [שטן] satan. "[שטן] satan", as evidenced by Numbers 22:22 is merely a verb that means impede, be a barrier. Raising the barrier. But men having eaten the fruit of the perspective of good vs evil, had fallen into the temptation of inducting a Persian pagan super demon into their belief systems. A super demon not found between Genesis to Malakhi.

Diversity is the will of G'd, but faithless people had decided that anyone different from them are evil.

The question is, did G'd deliberately allow humans to fall into the intellectual trap of the perspective of good vs evil? Why would G'd allow humans to perceive things in a way He Himself would not?

In Mathematics, we don't say if concepts are good or evil. Vectors may contend or align with each other - it is the interaction of those vectors that is optimal, edifying, or otherwise inefficient or ineffective.

Is killing unborn babies evil, good or a misalignment from the purpose of G'd?

Is killing unborn babies thro hunger due to climate change due to excessive human activities good, evil, or inefficient mode of human survival?

[חטא] the major word translated as "sin", actually means misalignment. I understand the Greek word for sin too actually means shortcoming or off-target.

Do we wish to see the world as bipolar good vs evil, or as a cacophony of vectors that we need to align and resolve to the purpose of G'd?

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  • Hey Blessed Geek, you are probably right about לדעת טוב ורע, but you may want to link to a Lexicon for this. Since your answer centers on this, it might be good to show your work. I would speculate that this is probably why your answer was down-voted. Sep 25 '15 at 17:37
  • You said: "But in the original Hebrew, from Genesis to the last chronological book of the Bible Malakhi, there is not a single person with a personal name [שטן] satan. "[שטן] satan". This affirmation isn't true. Bible passages, like Job 1:6, etc. make us conclude there is a single person with the name 'Satan' (adversary, who makes opposition'). See, for one example, the passage of Zec 3:1. Mar 12 '18 at 15:48
  • There, we find various characters, the great priest Joshua (יהושׁע), an unnamed angel (מלאך) of God, and an individual one with the name השׂטן ('The Adversary'; note also the prefixed determinative article that indicates an adversary well-known to the reader). Granted, a lot of Bible names are essentially titles, but this is an archaic and normal procedure of 'to name' something. Mar 12 '18 at 15:51
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    In book of job is always {השטן / ha-satan}. Like ha-melekh = this-king among other kings. Like ha-yom = this-day among other days. There is nothing different in Job 1:6 concerning ha-satan from other instances of ha-satan. In fact, you cannot even guarantee the same satan ireferenced thro out the book of job. Mar 13 '18 at 9:51
  • 1
    I think writing off context in this case is a big mistake. As my Greek 2 professor used to say, context is king. Languages in actual use do not follow neatly defined rules so context is absolutely necessary to understand why the same word might be translated differently in different places.
    – P. TJ
    Aug 23 '19 at 15:55
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According to Genesis 3:22, God knows evil. What does that mean?

Genesis 3:22:

"And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (NIV)

By virtue of God's command, both Adam and Eve were aware what was good and evil:

Genesis 2:17, 3:5-6 (NASB)

God's command to Adam and Eve.

2:17" But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

3:5 "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate."

A young child is not aware what is good and what is bad, and at this stage it is left to the parents to decide , however as they grow up ,they attain the sense of judging for themselves,of what is good and what is bad.

So when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they lost that innocence or dependence which they had on God, their Father to decide for them, what was right or bad. Now they were independent, they established their own standards of good and bad.

Conclusion.

"Knowing good and evil," means that God decides what is good and evil,He judges what is right and wrong for his creation. By disobeying God, Adam and Eve no longer accepted God to determine what is right or wrong for them, they were going to decide for themselves, what to do with their lives and not let God decide for them. By doing so, they brought death to themselves, and misery to mankind.

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There is a significant difference in meaning between the words evil and sin, a difference that profoundly affects the implications of a number of passages of Scripture of great importance to a correct understanding of the basis of divine judgment and human responsibility.

In ordinary conversation, we commonly equate evil and sin, employing the words more or less interchangeably. But in doing so we effectively conceal a distinction between the words as employed in Scripture, thereby creating problems in interpretation which are then resolved only by the very unsatisfactory method of assuming that the text cannot possibly mean what it says. When we learn that God does evil, appoints evil, intends evil, purposes evil, and even creates evil, we seem to be left with no alternative but to explain such passages away. And this we must do, of course, if evil and sin mean the same thing, for we cannot suppose that God is the author of sin. Indeed, we know He is not, for He refuses to listen to those who sin (Isaiah 59 2; John 9:31). A. Custance book, Sovereignty of Grace.

I thought this question would be more in line with... When the wicked are fulfilling the purposes of God, how can they justly be held accountable? Not every evil deed is foreordained, for not every evil deed forms part of the predeterminate counsel of God, but it must surely be by his permission. We do know from Scripture that some evil deeds are foreordained, like the selling of Joseph or the crucifixion of our Lord, and that in spite of their predetermination those who performed them were nevertheless held accountable.

Perhaps this too is why Satan created perfect from the hand of God but importantly WITH free will, still rebelled in the perfect environment of heaven? Like Adam in the garden, innocent but after the fall, of course, both Satan, fallen angelic beings and humanity all know evil and are good at sin.

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I am going to answer your question using both logic and knowledge obtained in my years as a Southern Baptist. You are free to agree or disagree with both my logic and the veracity of the Scriptures quoted.

God is the creator of good and evil, and it was he who made the knowledge of them accessible to mankind.

Genesis 2:9 KJV And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Evil did not begin with Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Evil had raised it's ugly head in Heaven probably before creation. It infested Heaven when Lucifer rebelled against God and convinced one third of the Angels to also rebel with him.

Evil is essentially the opposite of good and God would of necessity have to know both Good and evil in order to distinguish what was proper activity both in Heaven and on Earth. Essentially the knowledge of both good and evil is necessary to Judge; just as knowledge of the law and knowledge of a crime is necessary for a Judge in a court of law.

We see that God executes judgment as the triune God in the ejection of Satan from Heaven;

Luke 10:18 KJV And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.

Or in the Great White Throne judgment as Jesus;

Revelation 20:11 and 12 KJV And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Unless there were present on those occasions the knowledge of both good and evil, would there be any basis for judgment.

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  • You say God is the creator of good and evil. Please define Evil from God's perspective. Leave Satan and the humans and angels as well.What do you mean by God knowing Evil?
    – Gershom
    Sep 13 '15 at 12:08
  • @Gershom We don't need to overthink this. God is good; anything that goes against God - His integrity, His will, His being, His moral core outlined in the laws - is evil.
    – Steve
    Sep 13 '15 at 15:14

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