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Relevant Passage:

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You[a] shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So 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 to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-13 ESV)

The serpent told them that they will not surely die but will just be like God, knowing good and evil.


Textual Information

God mentioned two things that would happen if Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

(1) They will know good and evil.

(2) They will die.

Adam and Eve were fully aware that they would die if they ate the forbidden fruit. However, they were tempted to eat it because they want the knowledge of good and evil. This is what the passage only informs us.


Conjecture

Regarding death, they must be aware of this probably through knowledge provided by God. My theory is that Adam and Eve thought that they would not really die even if they ate of the forbidden fruit since they were aware that they also have access to the tree of life (Genesis 2:9). They thought it would be a win-win situation. They would be like God - deciding what morality is and at the same time, living forever. Adam and Eve literally desired to be like God.

The serpent told them that they would be like God if they would eat the forbidden fruit. According to the serpent, disobedience to God will make them like God. In what way would they become like God? Context says that by knowing good and evil. That is, just as God knows good and evil, Adam and Eve will know good and evil. God knows good and evil. He knows what is wrong and right. The will of God is for the humankind to believe in what he thinks is good and evil. Therefore, Adam and Eve wanted to establish their own definition of morality. They did not want God to rule over them in regards to how to live their lives. They wanted independence from God. Is this correct?


Question

Why did Adam and Eve risk eating the forbidden fruit even when fully aware that they will die if they eat it?

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  • This is tantamount to asking why people succumb to temptation. In Adam's case, he was tempted by Eve, because men are easily tempted by women, since they desperately desire them (Genesis 2:24). In Eve's case, it was because of a combination of sensual, emotional, and psychological desires, listed in Genesis 3:6.
    – Lucian
    Apr 24 '19 at 23:31
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The clearest reason is that they thought they wouldn't die. Apparently, they believed the serpent.

Eve characterizes this exchange as being "deceived". And while the NT writers aren't our only interpretive lens, consider that Paul takes Eve's word for it in 1 Timothy and 2 Corinthians.

Why would Eve have been deceived by the serpent when she'd heard the truth directly from God? Here are a few thoughts...

Eve hadn't been made yet

Eve didn't hear it directly from God. He gave the instructions about the trees before Eve was taken out of Adam. Some people see this as indicating that Adam was responsible for passing on the information to Eve, the way God often partners with humans to be "prophets" to each other.

I personally find this a bit speculative: what exactly was the status of Eve before being taken out of Adam? In the absence of an explicit dialogue explaining how Eve heard the command, why assume the silence means Adam told her instead of God? But then again, we do have Paul's comment that unlike Eve, Adam was not deceived. Adam doesn't claim to have been deceived when answering God. (Though this might not mean they had different knowledge, just that Adam didn't talk to the serpent. But that opens up the question of "her husband, who was with her"!)

Note that if we establish that Eve was deceived, we still have to wonder: why did Adam risk death? Milton's Paradise Lost includes a monologue where Adam argues that he'd rather die with Eve than live alone, which is poetic but of course speculative.

The serpent was crafty

Another idea is that the serpent is just a good deceiver. We're introduced to him as the most "crafty" of animals. Plus, the word translated "crafty" can also mean "wise", which is how he might have appeared to others — after all, Eve concludes that this fruit he's so fond of is "desirable for gaining wisdom". If the serpent's dialogue doesn't seem that convincing to you, remember that dialogue in the Bible is often summary; the lines we get could just represent the idea that the serpent made compelling arguments. In favour of this locus of blame is that the serpent is held highly accountable when God pronounces the curses later.

By the way, this explanation may also account for Adam's eating the fruit since, in the moments after Eve's eating, the serpent seems pretty convincing: hey, nobody died! The serpent cleverly plays the world of immediate perception against faith that God's word will come true sooner or later, one way or another, which is a struggle we still have today.

Innocence — and motivation

A third line of thought is that the serpent didn't even need to be that convincing because the humans were simply bewildered. These are innocent new humans who have never encountered a creature acting against God's will before. Why not accept the clarification he offers about death? This innocence and credulity is how they're sometimes depicted in literature, e.g. in Twain's humourous account of the garden. Strikingly, we notice that they're deceived before eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Doesn't that suggest that they're naïve about the danger?

One counterargument is that if God put them in the garden without the ability to deal with contradictory information, particularly if he's omniscient and realizes there's a serpent out there who's going to mislead them, that seems like a setup for them to fail. Isn't that sadistic of him?

A possible reply is that it doesn't take knowledge of good and evil to simply obey God, and to know the difference between God and a serpent. They were gullible, but they could still have chosen not to let themselves be deceived. Paradoxical though that sounds, I find it psychologically realistic as an account of how we act.

To that point, Iain Provan observes that the serpent's first question undermines God ("Did he really say") and frames God's abundance ("You may eat of all the trees except") as restriction ("You may not eat from any of the trees"). As we saw before, he's crafty. He wants Eve to fixate on what she can't have so that she can be tempted beyond her self-control. I think this aligns with your idea about there being a motivation to believe the serpent — against better judgement.

Of course, these three ideas aren't mutually exclusive. They can all be true.

Other ideas

Other explanations involve them being aware they would die, as in your premise. For example, perhaps they knew but didn't understand what death was. That's possible, though the serpent treats it as though they all understand that it's bad.

Or maybe they did plan to eat from the tree of life. That has a certain dramatic thrust to it, and sure enough, God intentionally cuts off that option while suggesting that the plan would have worked. But I doubt it given that God doesn't even mention the tree of life to them, and they don't pursue such a plan when they have the chance. I think God is more concerned that this would happen because of another mishap like the first.

I hope this fills in some of the picture!

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You yourself quoted where the serpent said they would not die. They believed what the serpent said over what God said.

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  • Welcome to BHSE! Please make sure you take our Tour. , we'd like to see Biblical text to analyze. Thanks.
    – Bagpipes
    Apr 27 '19 at 9:10
  • You can analyze the text OP quoted. There is no need for me to quote it again.
    – colboynik
    Apr 27 '19 at 16:28
  • We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.Thanks Jack.
    – Bagpipes
    Apr 28 '19 at 9:07
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At the time, they didn't yet have the knowledge of good and evil, hence would have lacked the tool needed to make a reasonable judgement about their intention and resulting consequences.

Considering further that, at the time, they would have followed their momentary impulses due to said lack of a better tool, doing just that seems quite a plausible. After all, human nature was given to them 'as is'.

I'm also wondering how much of free will they could have possibly had considering their lack of insight?

Last but not least: from memory, I believe, they didn't die, hence their reckoning and the snakes assertion turned out to be correct - and God would have presumably known all that beforehand, raising the possibility, it was planned to happen all along.

Following an impulse when you have reasons to believe a reward is awaiting you while lacking the skill to make a reasonable judgement seems plausible to me. Why God would make it so in the first place is what makes no sense to me.

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