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According to the serpent in Genesis 3:5, God's motive for prohibiting man from eating from the "tree of knowledge" was that man shall not become godly like him,

For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (NIV)

This daring statement of the serpent I interpret as: God is jealous of man, and afraid that he may one day rival him, so he bars him from eating the fruit that can make him godlike.

My question is, was this God's true motive according to the biblical author, or was this a lie just like the first part of the serpent's statement (that Adam and Eve would not certainly die). What else could have been the reason for God prohibiting man from eating from "the tree of knowledge"?

What evidence do you have to support either way?

Clarification: From the answers and comments that were posted it seems like my question was misunderstood, so let me rephrase it: my question was not whether the declaration that man would die if they eat from it, is true, in fact I think this declaration was true and even fulfilled. My question is whether the motive given in the serpent's dialogue, for God's prohibition, is true or false, that is the crux of my question and if answers could focus on that, it would be appreciated.

  • God warned that eating would result in death. And now, we all die. God's warning was real and true. And it has come to pass. – Nigel J Nov 13 '18 at 20:39
  • @NigelJ what makes you think I don't agree with your statement? – Bach Nov 13 '18 at 20:46
  • Another possibility virtually ignored in western Christianity is that Adam and Eve would one day be permitted to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but they were not yet ready to do so at that point in the creation narrative. – user33515 Nov 13 '18 at 20:57
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    @Constantthin They learned to distinguish good and evil when they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil... and their "eyes were opened" (Gen 3:7). – 習約塔 Nov 16 '18 at 21:23
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    Didn't we learn, negative plus negative equals positive - yes. But our English professors also taught us that double-negatives are not recommended because they can lead to this kind of confusion that you are seeing, so I have edited that. Please revert if this edit if you object. – James Shewey Nov 16 '18 at 22:53
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The serpent makes four claims in Gen 3:5, (1) "For Elohim knows that (2) when (on the day) you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and (3) you will be like Elohim, (4) knowing good and evil."

  1. "For Elohim knows" – What God does or does not know is theological opinion. Most people would agree that it would be reasonable for God to know the consequence of eating the fruit given that it is stated in the name of the tree.

  2. Gen 3:7, "Then the eyes of both of them were opened..." – The man and woman likely recognized the experience themselves as it occurred.

  3. Gen 3:22, Yahweh-Elohim says, "The man has now become like one of us..."

  4. "...knowing good and evil..."

So of these four claims by the serpent, one is directly verified by the man and woman, two are verified by Yahweh himself, and the remaining, only God knows. While the text does present the serpent more favorably than Yahweh, Yahweh's "true motivations" are never explicitly stated, so all anyone can do is speculate.

However, the events of this and other stories, as well as Yahweh's own words, are consistent with the portrayal of Yahweh as "jealous" (Exodus 34:14). If you are concerned about the theological implications of contradictory portrayals of God, see the end of the third part of this answer.


God and the serpent make several other claims in Gen 2-3, which I will address.

In Gen 3:4, the serpent tells the woman, “You will not certainly die”?

  • Gen 3:6 implies that Eve's previous understanding was that the fruit was poisonous. (When she saw that it was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and desirable for wisdom...)

  • Gen 3:16 – Dying is not part of Eve's punishment.

  • Gen 3:17-19 – Dying is not part of Adam's punishment.
  • Gen 3:22 – Dying is not a punishment or consequence of eating the fruit. Man is allowed to live, just not forever – because of "knowing good and evil", not because of eating the fruit.
  • Gen 5:5 – Adam does die, but was it really related to eating the fruit? Why isn't there a flashback to the garden? There are other examples in the Bible where distant events are mentioned as the rationale for a command or action of God when it wouldn't otherwise be clear.
  • Eve's death is not mentioned at all. Could she perhaps be still living now? (The Bible is not a complete record.)

  • We could quibble about the meaning of "certainly die". The Hebrew is a reduplicated verb. It can be thought of similarly to "it will kill you dead". When God uses the phrase (Gen 2:17), it's pretty clear a fairly quick death is meant because he specifies "on the day". The serpent gives the same time frame in Gen 3:5.

  • The phrase may also be interpreted as an introductory clause rather than a complete statement in itself. – "Not kill you dead, for Elohim knows..."

  • Some interpret "on the day" to mean "when". It's a stretch to think that the time frame should be on the order of hundreds of years rather than seconds, minutes, hours, or days. A thought experiment to illustrate this in a bit.

In Gen 2:17, Yahweh-Elohim states, "on the day (or when) you eat this, you will surely die"? The implication is that the fruit is likely poisonous. This is indicated in Gen 3:6 when the woman sees that the fruit was good for food – agreeable for eating – not poisonous. Further, consider this thought experiment:

  • Suppose I place a slice of durian before you and say, "on the day (or when) you eat this, you will surely die". Does it at all sound as if the fruit is likely poisonous? Suppose the fruit is not poisonous. Am I lying about the fruit and death?

  • Now suppose you eat the fruit.

    • While you might feel like dying (it has an... acquired taste), you won't. Now suppose you do die several hundred years later. Did I lie to you about the fruit and dying? Would it matter if I said "on the day" vs "when"?

    • Suppose you happen to have an occult heart disease (hidden, not supernatural). As the durian passes through your esophagus, you have an arrhythmia and die. Was I telling you the truth about the fruit and dying? What if you survive the immediate arrhythmia, but die of another one several hundred years later?

  • The truthfulness of the statement is really an open question. However, far fewer mental gymnastics are required to justify the claim that Yahweh was at least somewhat deceptive. This is not a problem theologically, as I will explain momentarily.


God is portrayed very differently in the Old Testament than he is commonly described in modern times. The core attribute of God that ancient people were most concerned with is power. The attribute modern Christians tend to be concerned with is love or goodness. This difference explains why:

  • Ancients believed God is capable of deception. See I Kings 22:23 and II Chronicles 18:22, where Yahweh explicitly sends a "lying spirit" to the prophets.

  • Ancients believed God is capable of manipulating human actions toward "evil". See multiple verses in Exodus, including 9:12, where every time pharaoh was about to free the Hebrews, Yahweh "hardened pharaoh's heart". See Romans 9:17, where it is explained that God's purpose is to demonstrate his power.

  • Ancients believed God did intend to subjugate people. See any of numerous verses stating that the relationship between God and humans is equivalent to that between master and slave. See also Genesis 11:6, where Yahweh states, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."

  • God states, in Isaiah 45:7, "I form light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I, Yahweh, do all these things."

    Some people claim "evil" should be translated "calamity", "destruction", "chaos", etc. This is pointless hair splitting because – is it really any better for God to rain down destruction and chaos than "evil"? In ancient times, "evil" and "calamity" were synonymous concepts. It is the same word when God sees the "wickedness" of mankind. – The point is that God is powerful.

Recall the parable of the blind men and the elephant. People at different times have had different views of God. None are correct. Even in aggregate, they are no more correct than it is to claim:

  • elephant = wall + tree + rope + fan + spear + snake.
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  • The blind man and the elephant assumes The Elephant doesn’t reveal himself by divine inspiration in a Bible! There’s no need to guess, if God tells you, especially when you can still ask the author today what He meant. – Nihil Sine Deo Apr 17 '19 at 7:30
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Bach Jul 11 '19 at 18:45
  • This is a very good answer. I would, however, add the word "being" to the sentence "The core attribute of God that ancient people were most concerned with is power." The name Elohim references his power while the name YHVH references his being. That is, anything with power (or "transfer of energy") has power because of the first power—without the first power, there are no other powers. Similarly, anything which exists does so because something else first existed. There is no being from non-being, thus all that is owes its existence to the first thing which existed. YHVH Elohim is first of both – Rubellite Fae Nov 1 '19 at 9:05
  • @RubelliteFae I don't understand your comment or why you think the word "being" needs to be inserted. Electricity is power, but few would claim that it is God or that God is electricity. But there have been gods whose strength came from wielding (what we now know to be) electrical power. – 習約塔 Nov 5 '19 at 11:33
  • Not sure how to at you on the app (can't copy-paste your name). The etymology of Elohim is rooted in might/power. I'll have to look up the passage, but I recall reading that His power is that which enables anything to have power. This could imply either "first cause / prime mover" or a pervasive nature (imminence). Wrt "being," this is found in yhe etymology of YHVH and is backed up by (what is commonly translated to) "I am that I am." Regardless of how many people would make the claim (appeal to popularity), this is what the Hebrew shows. – Rubellite Fae Nov 5 '19 at 21:12
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The question, as clarified, is whether the motive given by the serpent for God’s prohibition is true or false.


First there is the matter of what the Biblical text actually says. The King James translation of the Masoretic Text reads ye shall be as gods (plural, miniscule). Two Jewish translations are similar:

But God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad (JPS Tanakh)

For God knows that on the day that you eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like angels, knowing good and evil (Rosenberg translation)

A midrash from the Talmud (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 13) explains:

Just as He creates worlds and destroys worlds, so will ye be able to create worlds and to destroy worlds. Just as He slays and brings to life, so also will ye be able to kill and to bring to life

The Septuagint reading is similar:

ᾔδει γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ὅτι ἐν ἧ ἂν ἡμέρᾳ φάγητε ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ, διανοιχθήσονται ὑμῶν οἱ ὀφθαλμοί, καὶ ἔσεσθε ὡς θεοὶ γινώσκοντες καλὸν καὶ πονηρόν.

For God knew that in whatever day ye should eat of it your eyes would be opened, and ye would be as gods (θεοὶ), knowing good and evil (Brenton translation).

So the NIV translation, ... like God ... (singular, majuscule), might be a little liberal.


With the above in mind, the question becomes whether God forbade Adam (and Eve, to whom Adam presumably later explained the prohibition) to partake of the tree of knowledge because (1) their eyes would be opened and (2) they would become like gods, (in the sense of) knowing good and evil.


As seems to be the case with what the devil says, there was truth mixed with falsehood or at least irony. In his extensive commentary on Genesis, the 20th century Eastern Orthodox writer Seraphim Rose states:

The temptation offered by the devil contains the same elements we fallen men know in our own fight against sin. He offers, first of all, not an obvious evil but something which seems good and true. Men were indeed created to be gods and sons of the most high (Psalm 82:6) … In causing our first ancestors to look at the good thing of becoming like gods, the devil hoped to cause them to forget the “small” commandment.1


Their eyes were in fact opened, but they were opened to the fact that they were deprived of grace. John Chrysostom comments here:

It was not the eating of the tree that opened their eyes: they had seen even before eating. But since this eating served as an expression of disobedience and violation of the commandment given by God, and for this reason they were then deprived of the glory that clothed them, having become unworthy of such great honor, the Scripture says: They ate, and their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked. Being deprived of the grace from on high for the transgression of the commandment, they saw also their physical nakedness, so that from the shame that took hold of them they might understand into what an abyss they had been cast by the transgression of the Master's commandment ... When you hear, "their eyes were opened," understand this to mean that God gave them to feel their nakedness and the loss of glory they had enjoyed prior to eating.2


Furthermore, they also do come to know good and evil, but through the consequence of their transgression and not through some quasi-magical effect of the fruit itself:

The tree itself represents the knowledge of evil, since tasting of it meant disobeying the commandment. Adam learned about evil through his disobedience. He chose the way of sin and thereby discovered in bitter experience what it meant to be evil, and then to repent of that evil and come back to goodness.3


I think we must conclude, therefore, that the serpent may have been speaking the literal truth about God's motive, though it was presented and probably understood in a very warped sense.


1. Genesis, Creation and Early Man: The Orthodox Christian Vision (2d ed.; St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2011), p.256
2. In Genesis, Creation and Early Man, p. 259.
3. Ibid., p.233

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  • If what the serpent said was true then one can only wonder why God would bar man from becoming godlike. Was god being selfish? – Bach Apr 18 '19 at 13:25
  • @Bach, the Patristic understanding was not that God was being selfish, but rather that man was not yet prepared for what God ultimately had in store for him. In this view, the essence of man's transgression was pride - attempting to achieve something on one's own quickly rather than with God's help in the time God had intended. There is a great deal of discussion of this in the book by Seraphim Rose (an Eastern Orthodox monk) that I reference. There is another question floating around related to the one you posted here that I was going to try to study and offer an answer on. – user33515 Apr 18 '19 at 15:08
  • "the essence of man's transgression was pride" How can man have transgressed before having a conception of morality? – Rubellite Fae Nov 1 '19 at 9:28
  • Why do you assume he had no conception of morality? – user33515 Nov 1 '19 at 17:36
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If we think of God as the as the origin of all knowledge and that man was to learn form him (Eccl 12:13-14) this would make God their ruler as he would have to teach humans right from wrong as Adam was created with a blank sheet for a mind which his creator would help him to fill with all kinds of good information to help them, Adam & Eve, to care for the and to fill the earth with humans:-

NIV Gen. 1:28 "God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

So God gave them a direct COMMAND they MUST obey (Gen 2:2:17); not to eat from the tree of Knowledge of good and bad, showing that he as their maker was also their ruler having the right to tell them what is Good and Bad, not to decide for themselves; which is what the Tree stood for:-

NIV Acts 5:29 "“We must obey God as ruler . . ."

So for Eve then Adam to do what God had COMMANDED them (see Gen 2:16) NOT to do was a attack on his rulership over them, thus over all future offspring of theirs; if their children would do as God says or disobey like Adam and Eve did?

The result of eating from the Tree God told them not to eat from and thus rejecting him a their ruler was death:-

NIV Gen 2:17 "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.”

You ask if all this is true; well humans die:-

NIV 1 Cor. 15:22 "For as in Adam all die ..."

NWT Romans 5:12 "That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because they had all sinned—.2

As to disobey what God has told them as a rejection of his rulership over them; to do as The Devil (Serpent) told them to do was to except them as their NEW ruler:-

[] Added

NWT 1 John 3:8 "The one who practices sin [e.g. disobeys God; like Adam & Eve] originates with the Devil [the both did as He said] , because the Devil has been sinning from the beginning [influenced Adam & eve to reject what God said (Gen. 3:3-5)]."

Adam and Eve became their own gods (Gen 3:5b) it that they now decided what was good and bad for themselves instead of The Almighty God who made the point that was his domain as at:-

NWT Exodus 19:5 "Now if you will strictly obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will certainly become my special property out of all peoples, for the whole earth belongs to me."

The Big Issue!!

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  • If you read hermeneutics.stackexchange.com, you will surely die. (O snaps.) – 習約塔 Apr 17 '19 at 7:39
  • Qal verbs are to be taken as mitzvot. That is, "it is best for you (not) to _" rather than "I will punish you if you do (not) _." – Rubellite Fae Nov 1 '19 at 9:31
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There are several things that are happening here and creating the context might shed some light. However for time sake I will have to plug in verses at a later date

The serpent of old (satan) was a cherub/seraph or a serpentine creature.

He was also a son of God or an elohim.

Jesus says in John 17 that prior to Creation He had a glory. Jesus was also the angel of the Lord or if you like a cherub/seraph as far as all the other “angels” heavenly hosts were concerned.

Jesus was a member of the Godhead that represented the invisible God or we know Him as the Father.

From satan’s vantage point Jesus was the same as himself. Mostly because Jesus had taken off His divine glory prior to Creation. Jesus has at least four different states of being.

  • Prior to Creation, glorified God
  • After Creation, God but without His glory in appearance a cherub
  • Incarnation, God in a non glorified humanlike body
  • After resurrection, God in a glorified body.

In satan’s eyes satan wanted to be like the most high and says as much in Isaiah. If the ‘angel of the Lord’ (Jesus), whom the demons knew to be the son of God, if He could be God, why couldn’t satan himself also be God? Consider the train of thought satan might have had.

This was bugging him, that the invisible God was withholding from him the ability to be God too just like this other cherub (Jesus) was God. Lucifer might have even had a higher standing than the angel of the Lord or equal standing other than that title of God.

Further Adam was given dominion over the whole of God’s creation, but Adam was inferior according to Psalm 8 to the heavenly hosts because human beings were not created immortal as Psalm 82 points out the sons of God were. Also the tree of life being in the garden would serve no purpose if Adam was immortal.

So to answer your question

In view of the fact that satan was envious of this one cherub who was God and was called the son of God, satan was convinced that God was hiding something from him that prevented him from also being God like this cherub (Jesus).

When he confronted Eve, satan was merely projecting his frustration onto Eve. He was convinced that God was hiding something from him and if Eve would eat of the forbidden fruit then she too would at least know as much as he knew. Certainly satan had skills and knowledge intuitively that Adam and Eve had no idea about.

It’s possible that satan was banking on eating the fruit himself to gain this knowledge but couldn’t risk ruining his chances. He is extremely shrewd.

Everything he achieves is through legal technicalities and he perpetuates most of his success by keeping people in the dark. If people could know how weak his position actually is, his bluff would be called and he’d lose a lot of ground.

The idea that satan might have wanted to eat of this forbidden fruit isn’t far fetched considering manna was called the food of angels and satan is an angel. Therefore the implication is that angels eat (at least something).

By deceiving Eve to eat, and bringing sin into the world satan stole the dominion from man and supplanted God by establishing himself as god over God’s creation. On technicality if God were to justly apply justice to satan then God would be forced to also judge mankind. So instead of immediately effectuating justice and destroying all of humanity through Adam, God allowed humanity to perpetuate in a fallen state with the intention that every individual could chose God on an individual basis, where Adam has failed. He even provided the ultimate sacrifice freely, which essentially gave God the legal right to take full rights and dominion back.

And the most remarkable of all is that God intends to give dominion right back to man who lost it in Eden, God is giving mankind dominion in the new era to come when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Just to summarize, satan was bluffing, satan had no idea if Eve would be like God or not, but he was willing to deceive Eve into eating the fruit to see what would happen.

Adam and Eve were already like God because they were made in His image. God does not ‘know’ (experiential) evil because He has never committed it.

Also it’s curious that satan is said to use elohim you will be like elohim. It’s as if he is enticing Eve to achieve something he has, which is the status of an elohim, something she doesn’t as a human. He was offering her something he couldn’t offer her but was profiting from the fact that he was an elohim even if he was The Elohim. It’s almost reads like he was pretending to be god himself in those moments. You won’t die, look I’m an elohim I if you want to be like me (just like I am like that cherub who visits you every day walking in the garden, that cherub who is called God) then all you need to do is eat the fruit. And Eve was deceived.

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  • Nothing in the text references the serpent as Satan or any other being. Archaeological records show that, for several Levantine & Mesopotamian cultures serpents were to femininity & fertility what bulls were to masculinity & virility. This is the more likely symbolism behind the serpent motif, but even this comes from archaeology and not Hermeneutics. – Rubellite Fae Nov 1 '19 at 9:35
  • @RubelliteFae “He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;” ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭20:2‬ ‭plus the LXX uses the same word as John in revelation ὄφις further the Hebrew נחשׁ because in its original form did not have the niqqud depending on the niqqud placement changes the word from a verb, adjective and noun. As a noun it’s a serpent, as a verb it’s to deceive and as an adjective it to shine brightly. Should Moses have meant all three it’s a bright shining serpentine creature that deceives. It’s ALL in the text! – Nihil Sine Deo Nov 1 '19 at 11:33
  • I can't understand seriously attempting to use Revelations to discuss Genesis – Rubellite Fae Nov 1 '19 at 20:43
  • There is nothing to understand. Firstly I included other supporting arguments directly from the Hebrew, no need to get hung up on one point, second the NT response is equivalent to someone responding on this stack with an explanation except much closer to the original event, original language/culture/history and original supporting documents. Third there is the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit that reveals and maintains a common thread in the Bible regardless the author, language, culture or time period. – Nihil Sine Deo Nov 2 '19 at 10:22

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