Genesis 2:17 in the KJV says:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

The Hebrew says:

but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil not eat of because in the day that you eat thereof dying you die

ומעץ הדעת טוב ורע לא תאכל ממנו כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות

Most translations agree, sometimes replacing shalt with "must" or something similar.

Is "shalt" necessary here, or is it possible this says "should not eat"?

  • In English, 'shall' (KJV English: shalt) generally implies a certain requirement, even stronger than 'must'. (An exception to this, up to the mid-20th century, was that 'shall' was used in place of 'will' in the first person, as you can see in some older books.) So if God is being portrayed as making an absolute command, 'shall' is better than 'should'. Nov 2, 2016 at 6:29
  • @DickHarfield Yes, but if the command is "Of every tree in the garden you shall surely eat", then "shall" does not need to be here, right? The Hebrew says "eating you eat", just like "dying you die", which means "you shall surely die". So it should say "And commanded YHVH God over the man, saying, From every tree in the garden you shall surely eat. But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you should not eat, because in the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die". I'm going to ask a seperate question about the double word idiom soon.
    – Cannabijoy
    Nov 2, 2016 at 7:02

1 Answer 1


According to Pratico and Van Pelt,1

To produce a negative command, Hebrew does not negate an Imperative form. Prohibitions (negative commands) are expressed with the negative particles לֹא or אַל with the Imperfect.

Thus, לֹא תִּרְצָח is to be understood as “Do not murder!”2 just as לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ is to be understood as “Do not eat from it!” Both are prohibitions properly translated into English by a negative imperative.3


Pratico, Gary D.; Van Pelt, Miles V. Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.


1 p. 211
2 Exo. 20:13
3 Thus, the issue of “shall” versus “must” is rather inconsequential once you understand that it is a prohibition, i.e., a negative command.

  • Thank you for the answer. I'm actually not sure this is the command. I have another question here that I probably should have asked first. Do you think it would be okay to delete that question and combine it with this one?
    – Cannabijoy
    Nov 2, 2016 at 7:24
  • 1
    @anonymouswho - It is a command, hence the reason the LXX translated it into Greek by the aorist imperative «οὐ φάγεσθε».
    – user862
    Nov 2, 2016 at 7:34
  • I'm aware that Jewish commentators have believe Adam sinned for a long time. However, none of the prophets, or any book in the OT, say Adam sinned; and the LXX was written about 1000 years after the Pentateuch. If "Of every tree of the garden you shall surely eat" is the actual command, then is "shalt" really necessary in verse 17?
    – Cannabijoy
    Nov 2, 2016 at 8:25
  • What about the phrase "Do not eat the poison ivy"? This is imperative, but it's not meant to be a command; it's meant to be a warning. Could this not just as easily explain the stucture of Genesis 2:17?
    – Cannabijoy
    Nov 2, 2016 at 13:20
  • 1
    @anonymouswho: בַּֽעֲבוּרֶךָ does not suggest benefit and can simply be translated as "because of you."
    – user862
    Nov 2, 2016 at 23:39

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