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It is hardly surprising that most believe God spoke directly to Eve concerning the Tree of the Knowledge. We tend to assume, based on Eve's own words to the serpent, that is precisely what God did. However, we read the following from the Book of Genesis before Eve ever existed:

Genesis 2:16-17: "The LORD God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.'”

On the other hand, in the very next chapter, Eve tells the serpent:

Genesis 3:3b: "God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”

If Eve is relating the full truth of God's one commandment, if merely touching the tree produced lethal consequences, would Adam have (spiritually) died if he touched the Tree? How should we interpret this discrepancy?

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  • God’s instruction was eat, touching it would not have been an act of disobedience. Jun 21 at 21:38
  • @NihilSineDeo Does this not beg the question: Why did Eve tell the serpent: "or touch it, or you will die"?
    – Xeno
    Jun 21 at 21:42
  • you’ll have to speculate on that. But God said eat and made that clear. Jun 21 at 22:48
  • @NihilSineDeo I feel that to believe God told Eve something different, or that she wasn't clear about the tree are both highly speculative. We often think that Eve was told directly by God not to "touch it" - but that must surely be incorrect. It was Adam's duty to tell his wife of the Tree.
    – Xeno
    Jun 21 at 22:50
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In Biblical story telling, there is a lot that the reader has to fill in or infer. Most would have interpreted both verses that:

  • Adam (or God) taught Eve the rule as in 2:16-17 (touching is okay)
  • Adam wouldn't have died touching it, but Eve misrepresented the rule in Gen 3:3b in the heat of disputation with the serpent (plus probably a measure of carelessness and pride on her part)

The implicit lesson of Gen 3:2-5 is that we should neither make God's commands too strict (like a Pharisee) nor untrustworthy (like those who deny that objective morality came from God and want us to create our own moral truths).

The discrepancy is sometimes interpreted as a literary device showing how she trusted her reason more than God, which enabled the serpent to deceive her even more by enticing her to be like God. If she were humble, she would have asked God first if she wasn't sure or forgot the exact commandment. Instead she took matters into her own hand by making it too stringent, and probably upon touching she discovered she didn't die. From Robert Alter's Genesis: Translation and Commentary:

3 But, as many commentators have observed, Eve enlarges the divine prohibition in another direction, adding a ban on touching to the one on eating, and so perhaps setting herself up for transgression: having touched the fruit, and seeing no ill effect, she may proceed to eat.

Victor Hamilton's NICOT Commentary on Genesis shows how clever the serpent was to entice Eve step by step from planting the seed of mistrust of God to asserting one's will above God symbolized by the eating of the fruit:

1 ... the opening thrust of the serpent’s remarks is clear. As we have indicated above, his first words should not be construed as a question but as an expression of shock and surprise. He grossly exaggerates God’s prohibition, claiming that God did not allow them access to any of the orchard trees. Apart from this claim being unadulterated distortion, it is an attempt to create in the woman’s mind the impression that God is spiteful, mean, obsessively jealous, and self-protective. In addition, it cleverly provides Eve with an opportunity to defend God and to clarify his position, for by this one statement of the snake God has moved from beneficent provider to cruel oppressor. ...

2-3 In her response to the serpent, the woman attempts to provide a corrective. But in so doing she repeats, albeit for a different reason, the serpent’s tact. That is, she exaggerates. She is correct in her rejoinder regarding accessibility to all the trees in the garden. She makes an addition, however, when she specifies the forbidden fruit to be the fruit of the tree in the garden’s middle, and she further confuses the matter by putting words in God’s mouth—you shall not . . . touch it. She has apparently read too much into the prohibition, for “do not eat” has been extended to mean “do not touch.” These additions may be only innocent embellishments, but they pave the way for a surrejoinder by the serpent.

4–5 The serpent began with a feigned expression of surprise. Now he moves to a dogmatic assertion. Here is a direct frontal attack on God’s earlier threat (2:17) as well as an immediate disclaimer about any truthfulness in Eve’s concerns about death.

To buttress his case against God, the serpent appeals to God himself. First he had directed the woman’s attention to God’s word. Now he directs her attention to God’s inner thoughts. Implicit here is the suggestion that the serpent knows God better than the woman does, for he can penetrate his mind and claim to know what God knows.

Also, far from bringing damaging repercussions—so says the snake—disobedience will bring positive blessings. Consumption of the forbidden fruit will make the woman godlike, knowing good and evil. Her eyes (and the man’s eyes) will be opened.

The whole mixture here of misquotation, denial, and slander fed to the woman by the snake is reinforced even by the ambiguity of the passage in Hebrew. For the phrase good and evil may function in apposition to “God”—“you shall be as God who knows good and evil.” More likely it is to be understood as predicative—“you shall be as God, that is, you shall know good and evil.” Rather than providing insights about theism to Eve, the serpent intends to place before her the possibility of being more than she is and more than God intended her to be. As the narrative later makes clear, “eating the fruit is a wrong that brings an advantage, and a gain which brings a disadvantage.”

Should she decide to proceed and implement the serpent’s suggestion she will begin her heavenward climb. Von Rad is quite correct when he says that “the serpent’s insinuation is the possibility of an extension of human existence beyond the limits set for it by God at creation, an increase of life not only in the sense of pure intellectual enrichment but also familiarity with and power over, mysteries that lie beyond man.”

Deification is a fantasy difficult to repress and a temptation hard to reject. In the woman’s case she need give in to both only by shifting her commitment from doing God’s will to doing her own will. Whenever one makes his own will crucial and God’s revealed will irrelevant, whenever autonomy displaces submission and obedience in a person, that finite individual attempts to rise above the limitations imposed on him by his creator.

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God's command to Adam and Eve was not to eat of the fruit. When Eve was speaking with the serpent, she overstated this command, which then gave the serpent advantage, needing only to get her to touch it before claiming, "See! No harm comes to you by touching it."

But that even the serpent was aware of the details of God's actual command is on evidence in the fact that he persisted in his persuasion of Eve until she had actually eaten of the fruit.

"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5)

Clearly, the serpent would not be satisfied until Eve had eaten of the fruit. There would have been no actual sin (albeit, certainly an increase in risk) to have merely touched the fruit.

One wonders what might have happened had Adam picked all the fruit to feed the elephants!

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Would Adam have died by touching the Tree?

Answer: No. God explicitly said not to eat of it.

First, it might be helpful to recognize that, at no point did God ever labor under any illusions that Man and Woman would not immediately be lured by the cunning of the serpent.

Indeed, He paved the way for everything to occur as it did to hasten the Fall. This was necessary for every human being to be allowed to make a conscious decision either to choose the life that God intended — or to reject that Life in favor of "the World".

Perhaps we should consider several reasons why Eve may never have received an explicit command from God. Let us examine some of the evidence:

  1. Note the wording in Genesis 2:16-17: “The LORD God commanded the man [only], saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (emphasis added). God never told Adam that touching the Tree would bring forth death.
  2. Why did God not wait to inform both the man and woman equally? We must remember that Eve had yet to be created: Her physical origin occurs five verses later in Genesis 2:22. So, why did God not wait until both were present before making such a pivotal announcement?
  3. It seems most plausible that Eve did not misquote God at all since we never read that God told Eve: “Do not touch [the Tree] or you will die.” In fact, we never read that God warned Eve about the Tree anywhere. We assume as much based on Eve's words in Genesis 3:2-3.
  4. Adam was certain to have told his new bride: “We must not eat of the Tree nor should we even touch it lest we die!” This underscores Adam’s concern that his wife should never disobey this sober warning. In modern vernacular: “Eve darling, that Tree in the middle of the Garden is ‘hands-off!’
  5. This all makes sense if Eve’s decision was based, not on what God told her, but on what her husband related. Adam’s warning would never carry the weight of God’s imposing character regarding this abomination, one deliberately placed directly in the middle of the Garden (which itself is very curious).
  6. Had Eve been told directly by God never to eat of the Tree, it seems exceedingly unlikely that she could have been so easily duped. It is one thing to be warned by Adam; it is quite another to be warned by Almighty God. Such an encounter with deity would surely have been deeply etched in Eve’s consciousness.

If we believe that God did explicitly command both Adam and Eve not to "touch the tree [or you] will die", then it necessarily follows that God's command to Adam was inadequate: Yes, Adam would die merely by touching the Tree.

So, which is easier to believe:

A. God instructed Adam incorrectly about His one great command to humanity;
B. God then decided to correct His error when speaking later to Eve, or,
C. Eve received a different message, most likely from her own husband Adam, since the duty to lead falls on all heads-of-households.

I would suggest that (C) is the only option. If correct, Eve was likely evaluating whether the serpent was more astute and reliable than her husband in the matter. Weighing the warnings of Adam against the promises of the serpent, Eve may never have fully grasped the gravity of the circumstances. She may even have felt that her husband was mistaken, which seems to be one of the points the serpent is making (although his real target is God Himself).

God’s explicit words would surely have instilled great fear and trepidation in Eve. There would have been no doubt in her mind regarding the dangers of the Tree.

It seems that God expected every human being to be just as accountable as every other beginning with the first couple. His Plan was to ensure that each of us has the same culpability and the same avenue of redemption.

These thoughts are grounded both in Scripture and logical congruity. There will always be those who disagree, maintaining that God spoke directly to Eve after He spoke to Adam, and that he apparently did so with a different message. But this makes absolutely no sense at all, especially when we are contemplating the spiritual death of humanity. No, the Fall was ordained by God, One whose omniscience exceeds that of all human capacity.

Adam and Eve were perfect human specimens. They had never suffered the consequences of hundreds or thousands of years of mental and physical degradation as we have. It is highly unlikely that Eve would ever misquote God on something as crucial as this: “God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” And, it is also highly unlikely that she made a mistake about something so vitally important.

Note her words carefully: “God has said…” Why would Eve not simply tell the serpent: “God told me? or God told us?” If Adam had related what God had said, that would naturally have been exactly the way Eve conveyed the warning.

There is even more to consider.

  1. Why, for example, did Eve not tell the serpent that “the tree which is in the middle of the garden” was, in fact, “the Tree of Knowledge?” Notice what God told Adam:

Genesis 2:16b-17a: "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat...”

Why did she not identify the Tree if God explicitly warned her? One wonders whether Eve knew the name of the Tree at all.

  1. Eve’s account sounds suspiciously like someone relating a narrative that was conveyed to her secondhand. And, lest we forget, someone had to commit the one disobedient act that would inexorably follow. The stage was set: Eve was the perfect choice to fall victim to the circumstances set before her — according to God’s expectations.

The point of this exercise has been to demonstrate that while God obviously spoke to Adam (Gen. 2:16-17), we cannot conclusively state that He explicitly warned Eve: we have every reason to believe He did not, and her actions seem to confirm this.

We also know the man is responsible for his wife (Eph. 5:22-23). The most plausible explanation for the discrepancy lies in the fact that Adam assumed his proper role by relating God’s severe warning to Eve. It is not possible that God delivered a different message to Eve — assuming He ever spoke to her about it at all.

Yet, that is what so many will adamantly claim based solely on Gen. 3:2-3. Merely assuming that God issued this command directly to Eve is conjecture, although it is not unreasonable.

Such naturally follows from Eve’s: “God has said... lest we die.” Since God told Adam, Adam would surely instruct her. Understanding the severity of God's command, he probably added: "nor even touch it" in case Eve entertained any doubts.

Neither Adam nor Eve would die by touching the fruit: God is incapable of error — and Eve did not misquote Him either.

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  • I think you would find the 2 most voted answers to this related question useful. Also this blog article. Another blog article from BioLogos offers the view of some ancient interpreters. Jun 22 at 1:58
  • @GratefulDisciple Interesting links (I hadn't seen them before). Thanks for that. One of the reasons I broached this subject was that the incident in Gen. 3 may help provide answers to: 1) What is evil? and 2) From where did it originate? By that, I mean that once we discover the origin and motive for disobedience - which leads to sin and lawlessness, we may then understand its meaning and origin from sinless perfection (pre-Fall).
    – Xeno
    Jun 22 at 2:12
  • One very interesting theory that has been gaining ground in the past few decades, esp. in the past 15 years is one proposed by Dr. Michael Heiser and his Divine Council theology starting with his dissertation and developed in a few recent books about it. Jun 22 at 5:24
  • There's a good 5 Part Series about it by Joel Edmund Anderson: Intro in Part 1, Eden and the Serpent in Part 2 (has excellent video). The scholarship brings in Near Eastern language & culture research in past few decades, throwing light onto the supernatural background of both OT and NT. Jun 22 at 5:27

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