Genesis 2:16-17 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.”

Is there any possibility that the tree in the middle of the garden was able to make man intelligent?

If so, could it mean that God did not create men to have creativity, intelligence, innovations, explorations and discoveries, but after eating the fruit they got all this knowledge and abilities?

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    Hello @Mawia this was a great question! Towards the end it seemed almost like the beginning of an interesting speculation that could be part of an answer as well. I went ahead and removed that part. It doesn't detract from any existing answers and you can always copy and paste it from the edit history to begin a new answer with it if you ever decide to do so. I just wanted to leave a note here on why I did that in case you were wondering. +1 from me on the question now by the way, good stuff.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 4:18
  • @Mawia - God created man in His image, charged to replenish, subdue the earth, etc. The man possessed the intelligence to perform the Divine assignments with no intelligence tree. Also, Adam could communicate with God; name all the animals without education, experiences, and observations. Some savant researchers said those extraordinary mental abilities must be factory installed. Knowing good and evil signifies being like God (Gen. 3:5, 22a) and wise as God (v6, see Is 7: 16), and in the context, it is an explicit term attributed to God's Sovereign, Holy, Eternal Legislative right.
    – Sam
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 0:58
  • @mawia Tree of knowledge = teacher. Fruit is free.
    – R. Emery
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 0:39

7 Answers 7


According to Genesis man was already intelligent before partaking the fruit of the forbidden tree. At that time, Adam had already named the animals. And upon seeing Eve, his words take the form of Hebrew poetry.

This is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh
she shall be called woman
for she was taken out of man.

(Note the parallelism especially in the first two lines.)

Exactly what the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" connotates is discussed and debated. My personal conclusion is that the "knowledge" is not just a head knowledge but a knowledge of experience. I read it as God saying, "By eating from this tree after I have told you not to, you will know good and evil by experiencing it."

  • So is 'know' in v22 the same sense? ("Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil") Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 18:50
  • @JackDouglas, I would say so. ""Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil [by experiencing it]."
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 18:59
  • So 'knowing' good and evil it not in itself a bad thing (you aren't meaning 'practice' by 'experience')? Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 19:31
  • @JackDouglas Right. If we know mentally what is good and what is evil then we can choose to do the good and avoid the evil.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 5:22
  • @FrankLuke knowledge requires experience, at least 2ⁿᵈ hand via education. To me the bigger question is the significance of good and evil. The message seems to be: there is no place in Eden for judgmental man. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 19:13

The phrasing of 'good and evil' is a figure of speech called a merism.

Other merisms include: 'heaven and earth', meaning all of creation; 'ladies and gentlemen', used to address all people who are present at an event; or 'high and low', such as saying you searched everywhere you could think of.

As can be seen by the examples, a merism is when different items (usually opposites) are mentioned in unison, so that together they represent the whole of something: all creation, all people, all places, etc.

As a merism, gaining 'knowledge of good and evil' means gaining a new comprehension of moral decisions: knowing the difference between good and evil and making decisions accordingly. For Genesis 3 to say that Adam and Eve desire this knowledge, 'to be like gods' (3.5), is to say they desire making moral decisions for themselves, without instruction from YHWH God.

  • Note that in Biblical Hebrew, the usual form is “from ‹one small thing› to ‹another small thing›”. Example: Genesis 14:23, “from a thread to a shoelace”. Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 5:09
  • I liked your reference to merisms however disagreed with your conclusion. The merism means when knowledge of good gives rises to knowledge of evil, such as believing in good results in hatred or anger towards what is evil. Instead of forgiving evil, as Jesus taught, you get angry at evil due to your attachment or zealousness towards the good. Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 11:35

While I believe your question is exciting, I have not seen Etz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah translated in any other way other than "tree of the knowledge of good and evil". Can you supply some sources for considering an alternative translation?

You see, וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ טֹ֣וב וָרָ֔ע literally means, "Tree of knowledge of good and evil". There is no questionable translation there. I guess by stretching it a bit, you could say that everything is either good or evil (such as all NATURAL numbers are either odd or even) and therefore to know good AND evil implies everything.

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    He is asking about the connotation of the phrase not the denotation.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 15:51
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    I think this adds somewhat to the answer, because it does point out that there is no alternate to it being a literal Tree of Knowledge. The action of eating the fruit, didn't create in Adam and Eve intelligence, it unlocked the intelligence they had within themselves. It unlocked the human nature of their temporal bodies, the natural man. Just as it did with all the animals, plants, and nature in general. The whole state of existence changed from being of perpetual peace and light (unrestrained by the laws of nature), to the natural terrestrial world we know today, subject to natural laws.
    – skrap3e
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 20:55

The scribal author of Genesis doesn't delineate what the fruit of the Tree actually is in the open text, however he has cleared this up for us in the gematria of the text[1]. ‎

‎ומפרי העץ אשר בתוך־הגן

"And the fruit of the tree which in the middle of the garden".‎

In my experience of the calculating art, typically the use of the word 'middle'‎ ‎ ‎בְּתוֹךְ‎ denotes division by 2 of the following noun which in this case is ‎הגן‎ 'garden' 58. Therefore: ‎‎58 / 2 = 29 and when we add 29 to ‎ומפרי‎ 'and the fruit' 336 the result is 365; suggesting the solar year. Therefore the prohibition of God would be to take from the solar year, but I do not see how this could make them intelligent. It appears only to have necessitated their manifestation on earth and eventual death.

[1] Paleo-hebrew gematria uses the following values:

א 1 ב 2 ג 3 ש 3 ד 4 ת 4 ה 5 ו 6 ז 7 ח 8 ט 9 י 10 כ 20 ל 30 מ 40 נ 50 ס 60 ע 70 פ 80 צ 90 ק 100 ר 200

This type of gematria is proprietorial to the Seven Palaces[1b] of the Merkabah and therefore was a prohibited subject of discussion. According to the Mishnah Hagigah 2:1 "‎“The Merkabah may not be expounded by an individual unless he is a scholar that understands it on his ‎own.”[1c]‎ The gematria values published in Talmud and Midrash are a blind; that is - they were made deliberately incorrect to throw off the average general reader. Academic studies that have sought to prove or disprove the presence of Gematria in the Torah have used these incorrect values and thus have nothing to say about Paleo-hebrew gematria, because it has not been academically reviewed or studied outside of the Jewish world (except by myself and the 19th Century self-styled occult magician 'Aleister Crowley').

There is absolutely no doubt about the presence of gematria in the Tanakh however, and these incidences are not isolated occurrences but a rich and frequent vein of information. Anyone who applies themselves for a mere 10 minutes with a calculator to the first few verses of Genesis should (if they are not intellectually sub-normal or willfully prejudiced and closed minded) be able to fully satisfy themselves on the factual basis of this statement.

[1b] Conformations of the Tree of Life, July 23, 2017 By BethSheba Ashe. http://bethshebaashe.com/conformations-tree-life.

[1c] The Faces of the Chariot: Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel's Vision By David Joel Halperin. https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Faces_of_the_Chariot.html?id=_ICO0Mv3cw4C


Frank Luke is on the right track when he suggests that there are different kinds of knowledge, and that Adam, prior to his fall, had already been endowed with knowledge and had used it in various ways, which included his fellowship with God. Knowledge is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. Call it intellect, call it rational and abstract thinking, or call it knowledge. What kinds of knowledge are there?

There is head knowledge.

There is experiential knowledge.

There is knowledge that is an admixture of the two.

What I have to say next may seem like a digression, but it's not, so bear with me. Years ago as a counselor at a Christian rescue mission in New York City, I got to know a resident at the mission by the name of Craig. He was a longtime drug addict, but he had been clean and sober for awhile and he manifested certain encouraging signs that he was on the road to recovery.

One day as I was chatting with him, he suggested that I would be a better counselor to him, a drug addict, if I myself had had struggles with drug addiction, too. Somehow, to him at least, my not being a recovering drug addict made me less competent to counsel him than someone else who had walked in his moccasins, so to speak.

Was Craig right? Before you answer my question, go back immediately to God's prohibition to Adam in Genesis 2. Keep in mind that the "knowledge of good and evil" is a Hebraism that means "the whole gamut of knowledge, from one extreme to the other, and everything in between." Would Adam somehow be a better counselor to his progeny if he were to disobey God, thereby acquiring experiential knowledge of death (separation from God)? I hope you respond by saying "God forbid!" or "May it never be thus!"

Was God withholding anything good from His creatures by telling them there was a kind of knowledge that was off limits to them? Again, I would hope you'd say "No!" All the things you mention in your question--"creativity, intelligence, innovations, explorations and discoveries" were already aspects of God's endowment to Adam and his soon-to-be wife. One thing "missing" from that endowment was a kind of experiential knowledge in one direction, and one direction only, and that was in the direction of evil.

If God did not withhold anything good from Adam, ergo Adam was not lacking anything good. [I insert an edit here:] Via the vehicle of God's gift of eternal life to Adam--God's Plan A, as it were, Adam had the privilege of discovering in time and space more and more of: 1) God's goodness, and 2) all the good things God had created both for Adam's benefit and God's glory, and which God had pronounced "very good" (Ge 1:31). [edit ends here]

Now, go back to Craig. Was he correct in his thinking? In one sense, yes he was! It is obviously easier to empathize with people when you have been in their shoes. Perhaps recovering drug addicts do make better counselors to other recovering drug addicts, in part because both groups have experiential knowledge of an obvious evil. However, is the message of recovery any different whether it is coming from a non-drug addict or a recovering one? No.

Adam's heeding God's message would have led him to grow in the right kind of knowledge (both "head" knowledge and "experiential" knowledge) as he continued to live in the path God had laid out for him.

Would Adam's progeny have been better off had their first parents not acquired the knowledge of evil? Most definitely. Not only would they have lived forever, physically and spiritually, but their "creativity, intelligence, innovations, explorations and discoveries" would have been enhanced and would not have been, as we know they became, alloyed with the stigma of sin.


A question arises, "If Adam already knew the good, what's the point of there being a tree of good AND evil--why not just EVIL?" (I.e., "Why would the tree offer him what he already had?")

Adam's having been created in the image of God meant that he possessed not only intellect (knowledge) but also volition (will). Since evil had already entered the universe through Satan, whom God also gave volition, there must be from God's perspective something special about volition--and there is! Had God wanted to create man without volition, He could have. That He created man with volition implies He wanted man to have what volition itself implies: the ability to choose obedience. Obedience was, as it were, Adam's "default setting."

While Adam could have chosen to live his life on this default setting, he chose evil instead. Remember, God in His wisdom had already allowed evil to infect the universe by allowing Lucifer to rebel against Him, and Lucifer took with him perhaps a third of the angelic hosts.

At this point in my addendum we cannot avoid the subject of theodicy, which is in essence a way to reconcile two seemingly irreconcilable axioms: 1) God is holy, omniscient, and omnipotent; and 2) God imparted His attribute of volition to His creatures, both celestial and terrestrial, fully knowing they would exercise their wills in opposition to His.

A good theodicy suggests that while God could have prevented evil from raising its ugly head, His eternal decrees prevented Him from doing so. From a human and necessarily finite perspective, we might ask: Would it not have been better for God simply to take a mulligan, as it were, annihilate Satan and his cohorts, and simply start over again? No.

Despite His hating evil, God knew from eternity past that He would eradicate evil from His universe once and for all, but only after He implemented in time and space His plan for the ages and within the grand arc of history. Through this plan He would 1) vindicate His holy character; 2) gather a people unto Himself who would willingly and obediently choose to follow Him; and 3) usher in a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells forever and ever.

Satan and his world system and all who align themselves with that system, will one day be separated eternally from God's new creation, and sin thereafter will be eternally powerless to infect that new creation. From our finite perspective, we are tempted to rail against God and ask "WHY? Why did you allow sin to enter the universe in the first place? Weren't you powerful enough to prevent evil?"

If there were ever a best time to invoke the words of Isaiah, perhaps it would have to be now:

"'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' declares YHWH. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.'"

Recall what I said above about God's other attributes which co-exist with His omnipotence; namely, His holiness and His omniscience (or infinite wisdom). At this point I would add a fourth attribute: His love, the kind of love which can be expressed only in a relationship.

Here is where Judaism and Christianity have to part ways. If love cannot exist apart from relationship, then either a relationship already existed from all eternity within the Godhead, among Father, Son, and Spirit), or God, whom Jews and Muslims alike insist must not be associated with any other infinite being, could express His love only by creating sentient beings with whom He could have a relationship.

Christians cannot accept the latter assumption in that it suggests God is somehow incomplete without us. Even the Tanak makes it clear that God needs neither anything or anyone in order to be complete. He is already, always was, and always will be perfectly complete.

Because God is love He chose to create us in His image so that we could share in the love fest with Him. This is our inestimable privilege if we choose to enter into a relationship with Him. We can do so, however, only on His terms, not ours. Sad to say, many people, even religious people, think we are all children of God by virtue of having been born. Not so, which John 1:11-13 makes clear:

"[Jesus] came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

Perhaps I am oversimplifying, but for me, I choose to believe that God is a triune God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Love within the Godhead triggered the creative work of God, and while from our finite point of view God seems to have made a mistake by creating sentient beings (first, angels, and then, humans), I am willing to defer to God in what are, ultimately, only partially-answerable questions. He alone is God. I, on the other hand, am just a man. He is the Potter, and we all are the clay, literally:

"Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man becamse a living being" (Ge 2:7).

and figuratively:

"But now, O JHWH, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand" (Isa 64:8).

"Will the clay say to the potter, 'What are you doing?'" (Isa 45:9).

"Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, 'He did not make me'; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Isa 29:16).

"The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" (Ro 9:20,21).

In conclusion, we creatures of clay may struggle with doubts about the Potter's modus operandi, but at least three things can assuage the doubts and questions with which we grapple: 1) God loves us too much to be in the least bit threatened by us or upset with us for all our doubts and questions; 2) God invites us to enter into relationship with Him, to choose the good and refuse the evil; and 3) God will have the last word regarding both good and evil, and His last word, though a terror to some, will also be music to the ears of others.

  • Sermon aside, what is your take on the OP’s proposed explanation? Is it plausible? Are there flaws in the logic? (Other than “I prefer this other interpretation”.) Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 5:15

In the very first sentences of the Bible, God tells us that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and that the earth was without form. This created earth without form indicates it is spiritual, just as all the other created items mentioned in Genesis 1. God confirms this spiritual aspect when He states He created man in His own image and likeness, which is always spirit. Again, God confirms this creation was spiritual when he refers to mankind as His hosts in the very first sentence of Genesis 2. This confirmation appears all throughout the Bible; especially where the term hosts is used hundreds of times to refer to the Angels of God. Therefore, in Genesis 1, God created all mankind as perfect Angels of God. This is further confirmed in Isaiah 14: 16, Ezekiel 28: 2 and Daniel 9: 21 where God refers to the angels Satan and Gabriel as men. Moreover, in Ezekiel 28, God confirms He created Satan as a perfect man, which then establishes that all mankind were created perfect— in the image and likeness of God.

Somewhere between the creation of Genesis 1 and the formation of the world in Genesis 2, Satan and his angels sinned and became transformed from perfect to imperfect and were cast out of heaven. This eviction from heaven is confirmed in Isaiah 14: 12, Ezekiel 28: 16, Luke 10: 18 and Revelation 12: 3-9. In the judgment of Matthew 25: 41, Christ Jesus confirms this ancient fall from heaven when He refers to the sinners of mankind as the “devil and his angels.” Confirmation of this fall of man further appears in Ephesians 1: 4 and in 1 Peter 1:18-20 where God establishes that man existed and sinned before the world was created or formed. So the creation or formation of world in Genesis 2 and Job 38 are not the same spiritual creation of Genesis 1; but instead, an alteration within the creation of God.

This alteration is confirmed in the very first sentence of Genesis 2 where God establishes that His creation is “completed.” Therefore, in the sentences which immediately follow, God describes an alteration and not creation. God further differentiates this alteration when He repeatedly uses the word “formed” in Genesis 2, as opposed to His use of the word “created” which He repeatedly used in Genesis 1. Since the nature of God is perfect, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, He cannot coexist with nor tolerate and accept imperfection, and therefore, all imperfect beings such as sinners automatically become finite or temporary by nature. Scripture defines these sinners as the living dead; so when man first sinned in heaven, he had to be evicted and separated from the eternal living for perfection to remain in heaven. This eviction led to the formation of the temporary world—an alteration to an eternal creation. According to Scripture, this temporary world we now live in will soon end.

In forming the temporary world of Genesis 2 and Job 38, God’s loving-kindness provided a place and time of rehabilitation for some of His fallen angels of Revelation 12: 3-9 whose names remained in the Book of Life. This rehabilitation is not offered to all fallen angels as Scripture teaches that Satan and his demons have already been judged. Therefore, their names are not likely to be found in the Book of Life. They are also not likely to be found among the recipients of God’s Holy Spirit, a prerequisite to the discernment of Holy Scripture.

According to Scripture, all must overcome sin to be redeemed and fully restored to everlasting life. Therefore, when we sinned and fell from heaven, we were dead to eternal life and the wisdom of God by our separation from Him. It appears we were mercifully given our opportunity of redemption in the Garden of Eden where we were first formed into humans; however, we humans sinned there and were banished further away from God to the present earth age we now live in.

In all cases, the wages of sin is death, a separation from God. When man sinned in heaven and was evicted, they became separated from God. When humans sinned in Eden, they became further separated from God. Soon, at the final judgment, all sinners will be thrown into the lake of fire, causing their spiritual death—a permanent separation from God. In the Garden of Eden, centrally located, God planted the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Scripture, certain trees are often used as metaphors for certain people. In His teachings, Christ Jesus explains that a tree is known by the fruit that it bears, just as a man is known by his works. Therefore, in Eden humans had the choice to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life and live there forever, or to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and die to their life there. When they ate of the forbidden fruit, the humans immediately died to their life in Eden when they were evicted and banished to the current earth age.

In this earth age, to become redeemed, we are required to have the knowledge of good and evil to overcome sin. At the creation, we were all created perfect with that knowledge—when we were created in the image and likeness of God. However, when we followed Satan and sinned, we became dead to that wisdom and knowledge. This is why Scripture teaches we must renew or reprogram our minds to become reconciled to God. In Genesis 3: 22, God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden. In the 40-year wilderness where the Torah originated, in Deuteronomy 1: 39, God tells Moses, “and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.”

In Hosea 4: 6, God declares: “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as My priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.” In Acts 17: 30, God’s word says that “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.” So today, at the culmination of the ages, we must repent of our ignorance of the knowledge of good and evil which God provides within the pages of the Bible.


The Trees of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life must be understood Figuratively to derive their true meaning. In nature, one cannot 'find' a tree that would make one knowledgeable, nor to give one life. Therefore, they must be representitive of another reality. But how do we know what reality they represent?

The answer lies when we look 1st at the Tree of Life. Jesus says in John 6:48, "I am that bread of life." In vs 51 He says,"I am the living bread which comes down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever." Jesus therefore is the Tree of Life, which Figuratively Adam and Eve were to eat from. There was no commandment about eating from this Tree-in fact, had they eaten more from this Tree, they would have recognized they other Tree, just as when we eat from the bread of life, we seek the good and shun the evil.

But what does the Tree in question represent? 1st of all, it is important to remind the reader that God is all goodness. He hates evil, in fact the fear of the Lord is to hate every evil way, which we are reminded in Ps. 97:10 and Prov.8:6, along with numerous other passages. When it says, "I make peace and create evil", in Isa. 45:7, evil is translated calamity, something the Lord does to warn men of their wickedness. Therefore, the Lord did not create evil, even as James 1:13 says,"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted, neither tempteth He any man." God allows evil to fulfil His Purposes, but all things and all evildoers will be cast into the Lake of Fire(Matt. 13:41-42). The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents Satan's attempt to subvert man, and the serpent had access to this Tree. He had knowledge from the beginning, when he witnessed the works of God as Lucifer, or lightbearer and he tempts man, right at this very hour, through a system which defyies God and exhalts man through his intellect. Some of this knowledge appears beneficial to man, but God never intended for man to 'know' evil, rather to recognize it, shun it, reprove it.

Both of these Trees were restrained from man after the Fall, the Tree of Life because man cannot 'eat' Christ unworthily, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, because Christ had to be revealed 1st. But in this day and time, both 'Trees' are there for all to see: Christ, was revealed to the world after the curtain in the Temple was torn in 2, and Antichrist, the belief that through 'knowledge', man can be a 'god', knowing good and evil without the help of God. This is known as Secular Humanism; Socialism, Communism, and other isms derive their existence from it, and since the 18th century has been the scourge of the earth. We saw a brief sign of it in Gen 11:6, when God said,"And now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do." In our day, even language is no restraint against this force which controls men.


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