One nuance of the meaning of the serpent's question hinges on the translation of מִכֹּל עֵץ (Gen 3:1). Translated as "from every tree" or "from any tree" basically determines whether the serpent insinuates that God forbade some trees from consumption or he forbade all trees from consumption, respectively. Though "every" and "any" may initially seem similar they create almost opposite requirements. If I say, "Don't eat every piece of pizza" one can eat all of them but one, but if I say "Don't eat any piece of pizza" one cannot eat a single piece.

God's actual command (Gen. 2:16-17) reflects the "every" translation (all trees but one, i.e., the forbidden tree) and this is perhaps why earlier translations (Douay-Rheims, KJV, Darby, English Targum Translations) tend towards "every." But later translations almost all choose "any." Any ideas on which translation is correct and why?

The significance of course would be whether the serpent initiates surprise at what God actually said or is it a double bluff, surprise at what God didn't say?

Update Found some interesting information on this every vs any issue. There is a syntactical ambiguity in English that is highlighted and resolved in syllogistic propositions (native English speakers solve the ambiguity subconsciously in speaking). The four categorical propositions are:

A: universal affirmative proposition (All [S] is [P]; e.g, All men are mortal)
E: universal negative propositions (No [S] is [P]; e.g, No men are mortal)
I: particular affirmative propositions (Some [S] is [P]; e.g, Some men are mortal)
O: particular negative proposition (Some [S] is not [P]; e.g, Some men are not mortal)

Notice that in particular propositions (I and O), the "Some" is preserved in both propositions and the negation is accomplished by simply negating the predicate adjective. But in universal propositions (in English at least) this is not done. There is no "All men are not mortal." Why? Because this does not communicate a universal negative. It appears to be a universal negative but semantically it is an O proposition (particular negative) meaning that "Some men are not mortal." But it is a "tricky O proposition" because it looks like an E proposition. So logical convention solves this ambiguity by dispensing with the word "All" and using "No" instead in order to make an unambiguous universal negative.

Going back to the Eden narrative, we have God's command of מִכֹּל עֵץ־הַגָּן אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל (Gen 2:16 WTT) "you shall eat freely from all/every tree of the garden" (Gen. 2:16). This can be stated as a universal affirmative:

All [trees of the garden] are [that which are to be eaten].

The serpent asks, "Did God really say, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן" (Gen 3:1 WTT). So we have literally, "no you eat from כֹּל tree of the garden." So the million dollar question: Is this a universal negative?:

No [trees of the garden] are [that which are to be eaten]

Or is it a particular negative proposition that is "tricky O" because it looks like an E.

All [trees of the garden] are not [that which are to be eaten] = Some [trees of the garden] are not [that which are to be eaten]

An English translator could very well translate כֹּל as "every" ("every" of course produces the same ambiguity as "all") in both God's command(Gen. 2:16) and the serpent's ostensible quote of God (Gen. 3:1) thinking they were being consistent in their translation. But if they were unaware that negating universal propositions necessitates the use of "any" or "no" in order to remove ambiguity they would inadvertently mistranslate כֹּל in their effort to be consistent and use the same word.

My hunch is that in the Hebrew, the serpent's use of the negation לֹא was intended to change God's universal affirmative into a universal negative but that because the syntactical ambiguity of negating universals was not considered, "every" is a mistranslation of כֹּל in Gen. 3:1. But I don't know Hebrew or other languages well enough to be confident that this is an ambiguity unique to English. If Hebrew speakers or those fluent in languages other than English could shed light on this, that would be helpful.

I relied heavily on Peter Kreeft's book, Socratic Logic "The Ambiguity of 'All S is not P'" p.150.

  • 1
    From a translation point of view, עֵ֥ץ is masculine singular, so מִכֹּ֖ל עֵ֥ץ can only be "every tree", not "all trees". The LXX has it the same: παντὸς ξύλου, where ξύλου is masculine singular, thus forcing παντὸς to be given as "every". Of course, in general conversation only a pedant would argue the difference between "every tree" and "all trees". Besides, God's instruction didn't finish at "every tree", it was every tree BUT ...
    – enegue
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 3:57
  • Sorry for the confusion. Bringing the word "all" into the discussion was only for the sake of showing how the syntactical anomaly of negation is known and discussed in the literature and that it pertains to this translation. The issue is whether כֹּל should be translated as "every" or "any." Both keep "tree" in the singular (I fixed that in my post BTW, thank you). Yet, "every" yields a particular negative whereas "any" yields a universal negative.
    – Joseph O.
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 20:08

2 Answers 2


The pivotal Hebrew term in this argument is כֹּל (MT), starting from Gen 1:21.

To understand better its meaning we have to refer to the original idea contained in the conceptual root from which this term was derived. So, What is the basic idea? In the MT there are variants of the same meaning: KLA (e.g. Gen 2:1, 'to close'; Lev 19:19, referring to a type, or kind, of plants), KLL (e.g. Exo 28:31). If we would operate a 'linguistic convergence' using all these variants we will be able to infere that the basic idea of KL- was 'to close a whole, a (math) set'. In the Akkadic language (a very ancient Semitic language) 'kalu' was 'to hold back', 'to block', and so on). Is it a sheer coincidence this meaning was used also by non-Semitic languages, like Latin and Greek, with the verb 'claudere' (to close), the noun 'clavis', 'clavus' (key), in the first case; and with the verb 'kleio', in the second case?

So, a good translation of the phrase you ask for would be: "Do you maintain that God says that you must not eat from the whole of the trees of the protected garden?"

The Eve's answer to this question backs this all-absorbing understanding.


Trees grew out of the ground, in the Garden, planted by God himself. And there was the Tree of Life, in the midst of the Garden.

But it is not stated that God planted the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, nor is it stated that it was, actually, in the Garden. Genesis 2:9 has a hiatus; it is two statements.

This is the subtlety of the Serpent - to confuse.

Adam and Eve could freely eat of 'every' or 'all' of the trees in the Garden, without any harm.

  • An interesting proposal but how do you see וְעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע (and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) grammatically connected to the sentence it originates from? Plus, the woman says, "but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, (Gen 3:3 ESV)." The grammatical connection of Gen. 2:9 and the woman's statement seem to point that the tree in question was indeed in the garden.
    – Joseph O.
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 3:50
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    The knowledge of good and evil is present once there is a Creation. But God makes it clear that that is not the way for humanity to live. The Serpent confuses Eve, thus Eve places the Knowledge central. But it is Life that is central. And John tells us . . . In Him was Life and the Life was the Light. . . not knowledge.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 8:43

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