Regarding the following passage:

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17

The tree is that of knowledge of good and evil - a specific type of knowledge. As an aside, knowledge requires experience at least via education (2nd hand) - working knowledge, aka actionable/useful/pragmatic understanding.

Obviously this means, or equates to, the tree of judgement. A determination that something is good or is evil is a judgement.

So, then, the message seems to be that making judgement calls regarding what is good or evil was never meant for man.

Is this line of thinking sound, or have I misinterpreted the passage? Is it judgements that poison our experience. Or, am I off base?

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    – Caleb
    Jan 15, 2017 at 7:13
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    This is one reasonable interpretation of the text (though I have not yet decided between a few myself), but I do have some info which may help clarify. The words often translated to "good & evil" is more closely related to the concepts of "pleasure & pain." Thus, should we accept the interpretation in your question, we should see this as, "people ought not focus on pleasures and pains." (I use "ought not" because Qal verbs are imperatives given for our own sake, not commands we are punished for breaking.) Nov 1, 2019 at 9:44

2 Answers 2


It is worldly defiled judgments that poison experience rather than holy judgments of grace. Genesis 2:16-17 does not refer to the knowledge of 'good' that is 'holy' or 'undefiled' but ideas of 'good' that give rise to concurrent 'evil'.

For example, Cain believed his offering to the Lord was 'good' and when the Lord rejected Cain's offering & accepted Abel's offering, Cain got angry & jealous and murdered his brother. Cain only did this evil deed due to his ideas about what was 'good' & not having his idea of 'good' fulfilled. Cain did not get the 'good' that he craved therefore became 'evil' or angry, also viewing is brother as 'evil'.

Here, James 4:1-2 states:

What causes conflicts and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the passions at war within you? You crave what you do not have. You kill and covet, but are unable to obtain it. You quarrel and fight.

Or in John 8, a woman caught in adultery resulted in the crowd wanting to stone her to death due to their knowledge of good & evil where as Jesus, although knowing adultery is not good & is evil, was not moved to anger in respect to his knowledge but to mercy. He said: "Go & sin no more".

Therefore, Genesis 2:16-17 continues with the consequences of this knowledge of 'good-evil', namely, the things that husbands & wives fight about with their conflicting, greedy & selfish ideas about what is 'good' & what is 'evil', such as the wife believing a bigger house is 'good' while the husband believes a smaller house is 'good' & a bigger house is 'evil' (because it increases his work & debt obligations).

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Following what Jesus taught will approach the Tree of Life & move away from the Tree of Knowledge:

37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Luke 6

Paul gives many teachings about upholding the Law (of good & evil) however emphasizes salvation comes from Grace and not from the Law (alone) since obsession with the Law leads to all kinds of inner self-judgment & neurosis, let alone outward anger & hostility.

Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

In short, the kind of 'good-evil' knowledge in Genesis 2:16-17 is judgments that lead to spiritual 'death'.

  • That's a solid answer. So, insofar as I am American (a country predominantly protestant Christian) seeing we incarcerate more people than any other country, and that the Bible Belt incarcerates the most within America, I am left perplexed... Jan 16, 2017 at 17:53
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    Serious criminals must be incarcerated. This is related to the law of the land rather than to the spirituality of Biblical Christianity. However the social conditions that lead to a high level of incarceration for less serious crime is related to the social/charitable values of a society. The USA built on colonization, greed, killing of & theft from the indigenous people, slavery, focus on individual wealth, etc, was not built on the social & moral values of Biblical Christianity. Not all that claim to be religious follow the teachings of their religion, as stated many times in the Bible. Jan 16, 2017 at 19:15

Your thinking is sound, however to determine that 'making judgement calls regarding what is good and evil was never meant for man' would cause one to question why this particular tree was in the garden of Eden to begin with. So making these judgements would instead be a privilege or an authority to be earned in time. A long time, it appears in hindsight.

The first judgement Adam and Eve made, therefore, is that nakedness is wrong. Going from your aside, that knowledge requires experience via education or pragmatic understanding, there has been no such knowledge acquired here.

In hindsight, was this particular judgement informed, educated or otherwise accurate? Is it based on any useful or pragmatic understanding? We know that clothing offers the benefit of protection (from weather, from injury, even from lustful attention), but does that make nakedness itself wrong? No. Just because something is beneficial or 'good', does not make the opposite wrong. When God speaks, He doesn't ask 'how did you know that?' Instead he asks 'who told you that you were naked?', as if to say 'where did you get a silly idea like that?'

So this judgement alone demonstrates how far Adam and Eve were from earning the authority they acquired - they lacked the experience, awareness and understanding to wield it accurately. This is understandable - by all accounts they were literally born yesterday. This is like handing the U.S. Presidency to a two year old. Giving them access then to the tree of life would be like giving that two year old an unlimited term of office.

Jumping ahead to Genesis 4, and Cain feels despair and anger because God apparently looked with favour on his brother's offering, but not on his own. When God speaks to him, again He gives no indication that Cain's offering was rejected, nor does He confirm that Abel's offering was either favoured or preferred. So along with Cain, we have made that judgement ourselves based on what we have read. Just because I pat one of my children on the back for their soccer game, does not mean that I have rejected my other child's performance.

While we appear to have gained some knowledge and experience over thousands of years to date, we are still a long way off the ability to make judgement calls without the potential for error, bias or naïveté. Yet we still make them, and in doing so, we bring pain, anger, shame and despair to our experience and to others.

  • Appreciate the answer. Two trees - that of life and that of knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the garden. Shame is the word used. It seems that one feels shame for doing wrong (not for doing evil)? Right v Wrong seems a whole different case than Good v Evil. Worth pondering what it all means?... Aug 19, 2017 at 12:31
  • Yes it is worth pondering. A quick check on google defines 'wrong' as 'unjust, dishonest and immoral', while 'evil' is defined as 'profoundly immoral and wicked'. So it seems there is little difference except in degree. Aug 19, 2017 at 14:57
  • Wrong (or Evil) as a noun (fruit of a tree, as it were) must be an action, whereas Wrong in verb, adverb, or adjective form is a disposition. It seems Good captures what is, while Right captures what should be / potential. Aug 20, 2017 at 23:34
  • I tend not to recognise wrong or evil as nouns, so I admit that I hadn't considered that viewpoint. I saw them only as adjectives, because we are talking about judgement, after all. And the question of nakedness bringing shame pertains to moral judgement in particular. I can see your point now. To judge nakedness as wrong is to believe it can be corrected. To judge it as evil, however, is to abandon hope of redemption, as it were. Interesting distinction. I will make the edit. Thanks for your time on this. Aug 22, 2017 at 11:39

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