17

Genesis 3:22a (ESV):

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil..."

I've gathered the following from the text:

  • Adam and Eve knew before the Fall that eating from the tree was wrong (see Eve's dialog with the Serpent), so this text cannot refer to the ability to distinguish right from wrong.
  • God "knows good and evil," so it cannot refer to experiential knowledge.
  • There appears to be some important sense in which this knowledge made them more like God (because the text says that they have "become like one us, knowing good and evil").

Can someone explain to me what the phrase "knowing good and evil" means in this context?

2
  • 3
    Young's literal translates the Hebrew correctly ' The man was as one of us, as to the knowledge of good and evil'. By partaking of the knowledge of good and evil, humanity was no longer 'as one of us'. Therefore he was banished from Eden. Otherwise the text makes no sense at all : to banish the man for becoming 'as God' (which is the lie of the serpent). Up-voted +1. The righteousness of God is not a matter of an external rule : else that external rule is greater than God (which breaks the first commandment of the Law).
    – Nigel J
    Dec 31, 2021 at 19:52
  • Knowing good and evil signifies being like God (Gen. 3:5, 22a) and wise as God (v6, see Is 7: 16). Scripture, and the Creation narrative, in particular, declares: YWH is the TRUTH, the Sole, Eternal, and the Sovereign Holy Legislator. It is the ultimate cutting line between the Creator and the creatures. Any creature - angels and man - to pursue such Divine sovereign right makes up rebellion against the Creator and declaration of independence in God's World. The Morning star (Is. 14:12-15) once attempted the same, only to be condemned to eternal damnation with no hope of redemption.
    – Sam
    Jan 6 at 3:44

15 Answers 15

7

Knowledge - daʿaṯ - knowledge, knowing. I’ve yet to find a theological answer that I can feel comfortable with. And I’m not convinced that a [Hebrew] word study can assist. The words - “knowledge, good, evil” are pretty straightforward.

But once you consider the whole Bible, then [and only then?] can you begin to understand Genesis 2:17.

GEN 2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Man ‘ate’ from the tree and died - the day he ate of it. I appreciate this verse is debated, and the original Hebrew is used to support varying ‘reasoned’ interpretations - but I argue that this is literal. Because I take the understanding that [Biblically] ‘death’ means separation - and Adam was [spiritually] separated from God.

But why? How? This answer is only really ‘understood’ by considering the rest of the Bible. What did Jesus come to give man? What was his ‘free gift’ Righteousness. Why? Because ‘man’ needs ‘righteousness’ in order to be be ‘one’ with God [joined, not separated.]

So what did Adam ‘lose’ by eating? [that caused him to become separated from God] - he lost Gods righteousness - by deciding [eating/partaking] of the ‘tree’ that would give him the ‘knowledge’ so that he could be responsible for his own righteousness. If Adam was going to be responsible for his own righteousness, then he would also need to be able to determine what was ‘right’ [good], or not right [evil].

Problem being, that as Isaiah graphically indicates, ‘man’s’ righteousness simply falls short - it “misses the mark”.

2
  • Considering God will restore the earth to the original order prior to the fall, it would not seem unreasonable by extension that Adam was righteous and had a right standing that was not of his own making. Jan 5 at 12:59
  • Well, not everything will be the same as how it was prior to the fall. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were husband and wife. But Luke 20:35 says, "But those who are considered worthy to share in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage." So, it won't be exactly how it was before the fall. There won't be any marriage and, subsequently, no reproduction/becoming fruitful and filling the earth.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 5 at 19:29
3

What, exactly, is the "knowledge of good and evil" in Genesis 3:22?

The thought process in the OP is along the same lines as the topic "Knowledge" in the Insight on the Scriptures:

After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Ge 2:17; 3:5, 6), Jehovah said to his associate in creative work (Joh 1:1-3): “Here the man has become like one of us in knowing good and bad.” (Ge 3:22) This apparently did not mean merely having knowledge of what was good and what was bad for them, for the first man and woman had such knowledge by reason of God’s commands to them. Furthermore, God’s words at Genesis 3:22 could not pertain to their now knowing what was bad by experience, for Jehovah said that they had become like him and he has not learned what is bad by doing it. (Ps 92:14, 15) Evidently, Adam and Eve got to know what was good and what was bad in the special sense of now judging for themselves what was good and what was bad. They were idolatrously placing their judgment above God’s, disobediently becoming a law to themselves, as it were, instead of obeying Jehovah, who has both the right and the wisdom necessary to determine good and bad. So their independent knowledge, or standard, of good and bad was not like that of Jehovah. Rather, it was one that led them to misery.​—Jer 10:23.

Under the topic "Sovereignty", the question "What was 'the tree of the knowledge of good and bad'?" gives us additional information in reference to a footnote from the Jerusalem Bible (1966):

This knowledge is a privilege which God reserves to himself and which man, by sinning, is to lay hands on, 3:5, 22. Hence it does not mean omniscience, which fallen man does not possess; nor is it moral discrimination, for unfallen man already had it and God could not refuse it to a rational being. It is the power of deciding for himself what is good and what is evil and of acting accordingly, a claim to complete moral independence by which man refuses to recognise his status as a created being. The first sin was an attack on God’s sovereignty, a sin of pride.

So it is the ability to decide between right and wrong that Adam and Eve now had basically taken from what was rightfully Jehovah God's sole domain.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

1
  • 2
    If I was to give my own answer then that would be my opinion which is not what this site is about. What I have observed here on SE is that good answers will have additional information or references to support the answer being given. As to why the Insight on the Scriptures, as a JW I will use this publication since it is like a biblical encyclopedia with scriptural support and well-researched information.
    – agarza
    Dec 31, 2021 at 18:58
3

This is a profound and important question. One might go on.—Why is it not called the Tree of Death, since it is so closely contrasted with the Tree of Life? And what is wrong with knowledge, even knowledge of good and evil? Are we forbidden to study ethics? Does Proverbs not enjoin us to seek wisdom? Does Jesus not instruct us to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16)?

The way to deal with all such questions is to produce the right theory regarding the symbolic meaning of the tree. It was the only forbidden thing on earth at the time. By making it available, God was, it seems, testing man—here, to be carefully distinguished from tempting man—who failed the test. Therefore, eating from the tree represented not merely breaking God’s first commandment; it represented our freely substituting our own judgment, and our pretensions to be able to judge what is good and evil for ourselves.

So the tree brought death, true, but it brought it by respecting man’s free choice. Since Adam and Eve were initially sinless and innocent, like children, eating from the tree was very like the first act of childhood rebellion against authority.

In response, God repaid the rebellion by removing his protection and caretaking. Fruit of this tree resulted in a kind of knowledge of good and evil in the intimate sense of direct experience of deciding what shall count as good and evil; after all, that is precisely what Adam and Eve did, i.e., they decided for themselves that it was acceptable to eat of the tree, and this was itself evil because contrary to the Lord's command. Eating the tree also caused direct acquaintance with the painful consequences of rebelliously taking him out from under God’s tutelage—and that was a great evil indeed. That then is what "knowledge of good and evil" means, in the text.

In short: of course knowledge is good, studying ethics is fine, and we ought to seek wisdom in order the better to do God’s will. What was punished was not seeking after that sort of wisdom, but instead open rebellion against a loving God that, as a side-effect, led to direct experience, and so knowledge, of evil, both in terms of wickedness and in terms of calamity.

3
  • Thanks very much for the welcome. Jan 4 at 1:42
  • MY hearty welcome to BH Community. A well-thought-out comment. (Please know I deleted last comment for revision. See the comment below.
    – Sam
    Jan 6 at 3:51
  • Knowing good and evil signifies being like God (Gen. 3:5, 22a) and wise as God (v6, see Is 7: 16). Scripture, and the Creation narrative, in particular, declares: YWH is the TRUTH, the Sole, Eternal, and the Sovereign Holy Legislator. It is the ultimate cutting line between the Creator and the creatures. Any creature - angels and man - to pursue such Divine sovereign right makes up rebellion against the Creator and declaration of independence in God's World. The Morning star ( Is. 14:12-15) once attempted the same, only to be condemned to eternal damnation with no hope of redemption.
    – Sam
    Jan 6 at 3:52
2

The explanation of this mystical phrase depends on your own intellectual-spiritual development. Kant would say: “Adam and Eve yet do not understand that the criterion of what is good and evil is not outside them, transcendently to them, but inside them, as a priori, transcendent-al, i.e. immanent ideas. God did not want them to know it before a due time, and they violated this.” You must become a philosopher or theologian, the two being the same, put cognition of the meaning of life above all, think about it more frequently than about sexual pleasures, and then you will find answers, very different ones and one deeper than other.

1
  • Knowing good and evil signifies being like God (Gen. 3:5, 22a) and wise as God (v6, see Is 7: 16). Scripture is clear, YWH is the TRUTH, the Sole, Eternal, and is the Sovereign Holy Legislator of the eternal, universal "good and evil" which is the ultimate/eternal cutting line between the Creator and the creatures. No creatures - heavenly hosts and men- can cross the line for eternity.
    – Sam
    Jan 7 at 1:43
2

The adversary always speaks some truth with lies.

God knows that in the day of your eating of it—your eyes have been opened, and you have been as God, knowing good and evil.”Genesis 3:5

Their eyes were opened Immediately after they ate of the forbidden fruit and they experienced shame, fear of the Lord, regret, bitterness. To dying they were to die and they started feeling death in their minds and emotions. They were now under the control of the adversary and knew evil.

God knew this is what would happen to them and now they know what God knew.

The Lord God covered their nakedness and shame with garments of skin. They now see the mercy of God and his kindness to them in the mist of their disobedience to Him. They knew the goodness of the Lord and His caring for them. Their eyes had not been open to that before because there had been no contrast. Mercy can only be revealed to those who need it.

God knew He was good and now some of that goodness is revealed to Adam and Eve and they to see His good.

Now that their eyes are opened they have experienced both evil and good.

God has something better planned for them so He had them leave the garden and not reach out and eat from the tree of life and remain in that state of death. This was good.

2

I'm not sure your first point is justified. It's clear that Adam and Eve knew that eating from the tree was wrong, but not that they could distinguish right from wrong. Before the fall, they were given that knowledge in particular but not necessarily knowledge of right and wrong in general.

If that's true, then "knowledge of good and evil" is simply the natural meaning: being able to intuitively know what is right and wrong.

3
  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Jan 1 at 13:58
  • Why do you think that Adam and Eve couldn't distinguish right from wrong?
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 3 at 0:26
  • 1
    @curiousdannii I don't intended to claim that (here). I merely point out that them knowing that eating from the tree was wrong does not strongly support the idea that they did know right from wrong. Then I provide the natural conclusion if that's correct. Jan 3 at 1:33
2

"The knowledge of good and evil" is exactly that- knowing good and knowing evil. What they are, experiencing them first hand. Compare the phrases found elsewhere.

Deuteronomy 1:39

Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.

2 Samuel 19:35

I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil

Isaiah 7:16

For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.

There are more, but these should suffice to understand the phrase in context.

1
  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Jan 2 at 21:01
1

Young's literal translates the Hebrew correctly ' The man was as one of us, as to the knowledge of good and evil'.

By partaking of the knowledge of good and evil, humanity was no longer 'as one of us'. Therefore he was banished from Eden. Otherwise the text makes no sense at all : to banish the man for becoming 'as God' (which is the lie of the serpent).

The righteousness of God is not a matter of an external rule : else that external rule is greater than God (which breaks the first commandment of the Law).

The knowledge of good and evil is the pinnacle of all knowledge and is further clarified when God reveals it in its entirety at Sinai - see Exodus and Leviticus in their entirety.

But that is not the way to live - Life is by way of the Tree of Life, not the Tree of Knowledge.

And saith Jesus 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me'.

5
  • 1
    Point of clarification for my understanding: why did the Serpent promise Eve that eating the fruit would grant her knowledge of good and evil and tell her that it would make her like God? Would the Young's Literal Translation of this phrase imply that the Serpent was promising her something she already had? Dec 31, 2021 at 23:00
  • 2
    No. The man was as 'one of us' in his created condition. Tempted, he partook of that knowledge and then became not as 'one of us'. God does not live like that. Nor can humanity. It is death.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 1 at 8:27
  • 3
    That's not what is written in Hebrew though. I also show how the grammar in YLT is pretty weird. The translation was produced in the 1860's, people did not speak English the same way we do today. While speaking about a future event, it talks about it as though it has already happened, i.e. "for God doth know that in the day of your eating of it -- your eyes have been opened, and ye have been as God, knowing good and evil." Is the serpent saying that their eyes are already opened, even though they haven't eaten of the fruit? Obviously not, and yet that is what it clearly says.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 2 at 2:54
  • 2
    Also, I hope you realize that you are saying that out of the hundreds of Bible translations made in the recent century, which all say the exact same thing, i.e. "he has become like one of us," a Bible translation from almost 200 years ago(when English was spoken in a very different manner) is the only right one. Does that seem reasonable? What does seem reasonable is that YLT is saying the same thing as every other translation in the whole world. "God does not live like that." I'll address this in my coming answer. "He has become like one of us" does not mean what you think it to.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 2 at 2:58
  • @Nigel This is how I make sense of the difficult text of Gen 3:22. Having a personal knowledge of evil means that man has broken his bonds with God. He is now born of his own will rather than the will of God, in whom evil cannot abide (Ps 5:4). He is “one of us” in the sense that he is no longer a child of God. He is no longer one with God (cf Jn 14:20), but one who stands next to or apart from God. Otherwise I agree with you that God is not, cannot be the author of evil. Rather evil denotes death and the very absence of God.
    – Nhi
    Jan 8 at 16:22
1

Simply put, it is knowledge of the law. There are two ways. One can please God by walking with Him, and allowing Him to make us righteous, and give us everlasting life. It is all fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Or one can earn his/her righteousness by keeping God's commandments aka knowledge of good and evil. Which is impossible and always leads to death.

Genesis 3

22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

Deuteronomy 11

26 Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; 27 A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day: 28 And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.

Deuteronomy 30

15 See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;

Galatians 2

16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 3

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

The tree of life (Jesus) and the tree of knowledge (the law) don't mix. It is either or.

3
  • Quick point of clarification for my understanding: can you clarify which law eating the fruit granted them knowledge of? Is this some early revelation of the Law of Moses, or some other law (e.g. a general moral law of some kind)? Dec 31, 2021 at 22:56
  • 2
    I consider it to be a general principle that we can't earn salvation and make ourselves righteous by keeping any law. Adam had just one commandment and couldn't keep it. The law of Moses takes our inability and magnifies it to ridiculous levels. Jan 1 at 11:48
  • 2
    Psalm 19:7-8 describes the law of Moses as the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Pleasant to the eyes, good to the soul/heart, and making one wise. By design, it is a material for further meditation. Jan 1 at 11:48
1

In this answer I want to look at your 2nd point where you say, "it cannot be experiential knowledge".

"The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil". Genesis 3:22 NIV

Part of what God is saying here is that "us" [God], already "knows" good and evil. i.e. God already knows/knew evil before Adam did.

One does not have to do evil to experience it. It could be something done to someone.

"Then Satan entered Judas" Luke 22:3

Satan entered Judas and then Judas betrayed Jesus. Here Jesus experienced evil not as one who did it but as having it done to Him.

"The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" Revelation 13:8

When did God experience evil? Before the foundation of the world, before Adam and Eve were created, God, who is all knowing, knew all about the cross, all about Satan; knew all about how He, God, could and would make good come from evil.

Before creation God knew the cost of creating a world with evil in it, knew the reason, the cost and the result. Result= "Wherefore God hath highly exalted him...". Philippians 2:9.

What does "knowing good and evil" mean in Gen 3:22?

God knows/knew evil not as Satan. Satan knows evil as the one who does it. God knows evil as the One who has it done to Him. God is holy and good. He knows good because He is good. He knows/experiences evil because He knows the holy reason, the cost of love, [loving the Father He obeyed to the end],having to be paid on the cross.

0

Adam and Eve knew before the Fall that eating from the tree was wrong (see Eve's dialog with the Serpent), so this text cannot refer to the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Sorry I have no time to read the actual passages so Ill be brief and probably wrong but I think that they knew it was FORBIDDEN not right or wrong.

To me, the whole passage is about transitioning to the state of consciousness of humans from the one of intellectually advanced animals. Animals know the idea of forbidden. The serpent told the truth, knowledge of good vs evil makes you like God. God told the truth, that ethical knowledge makes you RESPONSIBLE for what you choose, so it makes you literally able to sin, and "the wage of sin is death". Animals acting out of instinct cannot sin. It also is a sin in itself because they disobeyed. Eating the fruit made them conscious about own nakedness, which fits.

Symbolically speaking you can squeeze out many themes from this passage but it is OT.

1
  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Jan 2 at 13:26
0

Starting Points

Let's take note of a few vital points.

(1) It was God Himself who named the tree, "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." The name given for the tree cannot be a misnomer in any way, but accurate and precise, because God knows all things[e.g. Psalm 147:5, 1 John 3:20] and cannot lie[e.g. Romans 3:4, Hebrews 6:18]. Thus, when God calls the tree "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", He calls it that because that is what it does; give the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:17 "but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day that you eat from it you will certainly die."

(2) God knew that the man had the ability to follow His command. If he didn't, God would not have given the commandment to him in the first place. But with the ability to follow comes the ability to not follow. We shall see why this is the case.

Genesis 2:15-17 "Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and tend it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day that you eat from it you will certainly die."

(3) Is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is bad? It can't be, because everything that God directly creates is good and can only be good. In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates the whole universe and everything in it, and notices that it is all good seven times; at the seventh, He notices that it was very good. Therefore, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is good, because it serves a God-ordained purpose. We shall see just what that is exactly.

Genesis 1:31 "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day."

Genesis 2:9 "Out of the ground the Lord God caused every tree to grow that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."

What About Knowledge Itself?

So far what we know about the tree is that it is good in some way or another, that God knows the man can choose to follow His command, and that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is just that, i.e. it gives the knowledge of good and evil. We know all that about the tree, but what about the knowledge of good and evil itself? The tree must be good because God directly created it; but knowledge of any kind isn't something that God creates per se(it is certainly something that God can give), so is such knowledge(of good and evil) inherently good or bad? First, let's take a look at the Hebrew word for "knowledge". The word is דַּ֫עַת, pronounced da'at. Here are a few of the many places where the word is used in the Hebrew Bible.

  • Genesis 2:17 "but of the tree of the knowledge[דַּ֫עַת] of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

  • 1 Kings 7:14 "He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in bronze. And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill[דַּ֫עַת] for making any work in bronze. He came to King Solomon and did all his work."

  • Job 34:34-37 "Men of understanding will say to me, and the wise man who hears me will say: 35 'Job speaks without knowledge[דַּ֫עַת]; his words are without insight.' 36 Would that Job were tried to the end, because he answers like wicked men. 37 For he adds rebellion to his sin; he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God."

  • Proverbs 1:7 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge[דַּ֫עַת]; fools despise wisdom and instruction."

  • Proverbs 1:29 "Because they hated knowledge[דַּ֫עַת] and did not choose the fear of the Lord,"

  • Proverbs 9:10 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge[דַּ֫עַת] of the Holy One is insight."

  • Proverbs 18:15 "An intelligent heart acquires knowledge[דַּ֫עַת], and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge[דַּ֫עַת]."

Knowledge(דַּ֫עַת) in the Bible isn't just knowing things, which is how we think of knowledge today. Hiram had wisdom and understanding, and the knowledge he had was a skill with working with bronze. You don't learn a skill by knowing things; you learn it by practicing. In the passage in Job, knowledge is treated synonymously with insight. In Proverbs 1:7, the fear(יִרְאָה[yirah]) of the LORD(i.e. total reverence, respect, and adoration for God that leads one to abide by His commandments, not terror/dread in particular) is the beginning of knowledge! And then in Proverbs 9:10, the same concept is reiterated as the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and it follows with knowledge once again being synonymous with insight. Finally, in Proverbs 18:15, knowledge is said to be something that both the intelligent and the wise seek for and acquire.

In the majority of the Hebrew Bible, knowledge is painted in a positive light. The story in Genesis is one of the only places where it is painted in a negative light; where to acquire it means sure death. The point is, knowledge, in and of itself, is not a bad thing at all, and can be very good(lead to insight, wisdom, understanding, discernment, etc.). So, the phrase "knowledge of good and evil" would probably be better off as "the ability/skill to discern between good and evil." And that is what I am going to treat it as; the two phrases will be synonymous from now on. Now, what about knowing "good and evil." How many places is that mentioned in the Bible? Well, not many places. Let's see them.

  • Genesis 2:17 "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

  • Genesis 3:22 "Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—"

  • Deuteronomy 1:39 "And the little ones you said would become captives—your children who on that day did not know good from evil—will enter the land that I will give them, and they will possess it."

  • 1 Kings 3:9 "So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?"

  • Isaiah 7:16 "For before the boy knows enough to reject evil and choose good, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste."

In Deuteronomy 1:39, the "little ones" who did not know good from evil were Israelites below 20 years of age(which was generally the age one reached adulthood in Israel). So, not knowing good and evil is associated with being young. So, was it a good thing that they didn't know good and evil? No! In Deuteronomy 31, Moses talks about how the generation of "little ones" who did not know good and evil was going to turn out exactly like the last generation.

Deuteronomy 31:27 "For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?"

Not knowing good and evil didn't make them any more righteous than the previous generation, and it didn't indicate that they would have a better future; according to Moses, quite the opposite. What about 1 Kings 3:9? That's when Solomon was taking God up on His offer to ask Him what he wishes for God to give him. How did God respond when Solomon asked for the knowledge to discern between good and evil?

1Kings 3:10 "It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing."

It was pleasing to God! But that doesn't match with how God responded to Adam and Eve wanting the knowledge of good and evil... He banished them from the garden, dooming them to death. God cannot contradict Himself, so perhaps this gives us a clue; that the knowledge of good and evil Adam and Eve wanted wasn't the same knowledge of good and evil that Solomon wanted. Now, what about Isaiah 7:16? Well, in order for one to choose good, you must first know what good is; likewise, in order for one to reject evil, you have to know what evil is. Essentially, you need the ability to discern between good and evil.

The Story

Ok, so what other things did we learn? Well, we know that knowledge is not a bad thing, and is usually very positive. We also learned that discerning between good and evil is also not bad. So, knowledge, as well as the ability to discern between good and evil, are things we should pursue... which makes the Genesis story so much more confusing. That is exactly what Adam and Eve were doing! Pursuing the knowledge of good and evil! So, why did God punish them? Well, now is the time we read the story of Adam, Eve, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, keeping everything we've learned so far in mind.

Genesis 2:9; 16,17 "Out of the ground the Lord God caused every tree to grow that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."; "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day that you eat from it you will certainly die."

Genesis 3:1-7 "Now the serpent was more cunning than any animal of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You certainly will not die! 5 For God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 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 desirable to make one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves waist coverings."

Genesis 3:22 "Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out with his hand, and take fruit also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever—""

What Does It All Mean?

Ok, so what do we know? The tree gives the ability to discern between good and evil. Also, God created(caused to grow) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so it's good and serves a purpose given by Him. God also commanded the man not to eat of the tree. Perhaps the purpose of the tree is connected to God commanding the man not to eat of the tree, i.e. the purpose of the tree is to be a test for the humans. A test to see if they would abide by God's commandments. Hey, you know what that reminds me of... Proverbs 1:7, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge(cf. Proverbs 9:10). So, if Adam and Eve were to have a fear of God and keep His commandment to not try to attain knowledge of good and evil(which itself is wisdom, remember what Solomon asked for?) from the tree, doing so would then lead them to attain knowledge and wisdom. So, by refraining from trying to gain knowledge and wisdom by themselves, they would gain knowledge and wisdom(because the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge). But then, by whom would they learn good and evil, if not by themselves? Well, God of course!

That's the purpose of the tree! To be a test for God to see who the humans were going to trust to attain wisdom and knowledge. To not eat of the tree would be to follow His command(fear of the LORD), and it would signify to God that they want to trust Him to teach them what good and evil are; trust Him to give them the ability to discern between good and evil. And to eat of the tree would be to break His command(not have a fear of the LORD), and would signify to God that they want to trust themselves to learn good and evil; trust in themselves to gain the ability to discern between good and evil.

And this is also why God had to give the humans the ability to willingly obey or disobey His command. By choosing to not disobey His command and follow it instead, God could know that they trust Him to teach them good and evil. But if they were incapable of disobeying His command, then they could never choose to not disobey it. You see that, right? If they did not have the ability to disobey God at all, that would mean there's a 0% chance that they would disobey Him, which would then mean that there's a 100% chance that they would obey Him! You can't willingly choose one thing over another thing if you are only able to choose one thing and entirely unable to choose the other. That is not a choice. Thus, if God didn't give them the ability to disobey His commands, they could only ever obey His commands, and thus they could never choose to obey His commands, and God could not know if they truly trust Him over themselves.

Now, remember the clue that we learned from the story of Solomon? That the knowledge of good and evil Adam and Eve wanted wasn't the same knowledge of good and evil that Solomon wanted. Why wasn't it? Well, when Solomon asked for the knowledge of good and evil, God was pleased. And when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God was clearly displeased. What's the difference? Solomon asked God to give Him the knowledge of good and evil. Did Adam and Eve ask God? No! Remember, eating the fruit of the tree would signify to God that they trust themselves to learn good and evil and wanted to teach themselves how to discern between them. But Solomon asked God to teach him good and evil, thus this signified to God that Solomon trusted in Him instead of himself, and wanted Him to teach Solomon good and evil. And that is the entire point! Having the ability to discern between good and evil is a good thing when we're trusting in God to teach us what exactly good and evil are. But to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is to do the opposite. It means to trust in yourself to define good and evil. And that's what Adam and Eve wanted; to define good and evil for themselves.

Defining Good and Evil

Wait, but what does that mean? To "define" good and evil for yourself? What am I talking about? When I say Adam and Eve gained the ability to "define" good and evil for themselves, what I mean is they gained the ability to (1) come up with notions of good and evil that deviate from what good and evil truly are(i.e. what God says good and evil are) and (2) believe in and accept said notions.

For example, one might come up with the notion that adultery isn't bad, and then believe in that notion(which might then lead them to commit adultery). And so, that's what the tree gave Adam and Eve; the knowledge to redefine good and evil for themselves; the ability to discern between good and evil on their terms, according to what they believe good and evil are. And that's what it meant for them to become like God. God also has this ability. So, when God said in Genesis 3:22 that humankind had "become like one of Us, knowing good and evil", He meant it.

The difference between us and God, however, is that God's wisdom is to an infinite degree, and consequently, only He has the ability to discern between good and evil perfectly, and any deviation from what He says good and evil are will always be imperfect(and imperfection in a world that's meant to be perfect will always lead to death and destruction), and thus corrupt by definition. Any definition of good and evil that diverges from what God says good and evil are is, by virtue of diverging, counterfeit and corrupt, and will always lead to death and destruction. Why?

Because what good and evil actually are is set in stone by virtue of God having the infinite wisdom to know it; it's ingrained into the very fabric of the universe as fundamental laws of nature that cannot be broken. "But people murder and commit adultery and do all sorts of other sins all the time. Doesn't that mean they're breaking the commandment?" Yes, people do break God's commandments all the time. But the fundamental law isn't that God's commands cannot be broken; it's that His commands cannot be broken without it leading to death, destruction, and/or disaster. If you break God's commandments, something bad will happen, and there's absolutely nothing anyone can do about it(it's like gravity; it's impossible to let go of a cup without it falling to the ground).

And did you notice that is exactly what the serpent lied about? It was actually the only thing he lied about(the serpent said that their eyes would be open and that they would become like God[Genesis 3 verses 7 and 22 confirm that he was telling the truth]). But it was the greatest lie to ever be told(probably an understatement). "If you disregard what God says, you most certainly will not die!" In other words, "Following God's commandments isn't necessary! You can get away with disobeying God and never have to suffer the consequences of doing so; you can define good and evil in a way that deviates from God's definitions, and it won't lead to death or disaster!" How many millions of people who have lived and are living on the face of this planet have convinced themselves of this lie? It's the very lie that Satan told; the lie that has been perpetuated throughout all of human history. No wonder Satan is called the "father of the lie"(John 8:44).

Corruptibility

So, eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil gave Adam and Eve the ability to define good and evil like God, but there was an unexpected side effect. Large-scale corruptibility. Of course, they had the potential to be corrupt before they ate; how else were they deceived by the serpent into eating the fruit(all beings who aren't God and have the free will to define good and evil have a corruptibility potential. That's how Satan, who was once a perfect angel, became evil)? But the corruptibility was at such a diminutive scale before they ate it because, well, they didn't know much! What do I mean?

Before they ate, Adam and Eve could only distinguish between one good thing and one evil thing, because God had only given them one command. To obey His command is to do good, and to disobey His command is to do evil, i.e. to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is good, and to eat from it is evil. Therefore, they had a conscience to help them distinguish between good and evil. But that was it. It was an infinitesimally small conscience. As the conscience of a little child(which Adam and Eve were in the eyes of God[cf. Deuteronomy 1:39]), whose knowledge is limited to knowing certain things, i.e. it's bad to lie and good to tell the truth. A little child doesn't know that murder, adultery, torture, rape, etc. are bad(because he doesn't even know what they are), he just knows that if he takes a cookie from the cookie jar it is good to tell his parents that he did so(and bad to tell them that he didn't).

It's the same with Adam and Eve. Their corruptibility(i.e. their ability to be deceived by themselves and by others into thinking that redefinitions of good and evil[that necessarily deviate from God's definitions] are right and won't lead to death) was limited by how much they knew about good and evil, which was hardly anything, thus their potential to be corrupt was small. But at the moment they ate of the tree, at the moment their "eyes were opened," ALL that changed. They knew much more about good and evil now, and having the ability to redefine what good and evil are on such a tremendous scale was way too much for them to handle. It meant having the proclivity to fall prey to their own self-deception(as well as the deception of others) on a scale hitherto undreamt of; they became susceptible to moral corruption(both from sources outside themselves as well as from within themselves) like never before.

And this leads me to my final point. Every day you and I have a chance to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as well as a chance to have a fear of the LORD(the beginning of knowledge and wisdom). When we choose to do things that we know to go against God's commandments, we are choosing to eat from the tree. And when we choose to refrain from going against God's commandments/choose to abide by and obey God's commandments, we are trusting in God(trusting that He knows better than we do), and thus having a fear of the LORD, which corresponds to NOT eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So, in summary. Having the ability to discern between good and evil is very good in the eyes of God when we are abiding by God's definitions of good and evil(the only right ones); it means trusting in Him to teach us what is right and wrong. And the ability to discern between good and evil is bad when we are choosing to abide by our own(or someone else's) definitions of good and evil, ones that deviate from God's definitions. It's bad because we are deceiving ourselves into thinking that they're right, OR that we can get away with disobeying God, both of which are straight-up lies. Adam and Eve wanted the ability to discern between right and wrong on their own terms; they wanted to define for themselves what right and wrong are, just as God can do so. And by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they got what they wanted and became like God.

They gained the ability to define good and evil for themselves, which is a nice way of saying that they gained the potential to become tremendously corrupt, a level of potential that they weren't even close to having before they ate. Corrupt because, in reality, any definition of good and evil that diverges from what God says good and evil are is, by virtue of deviating, counterfeit, and will always lead to death and destruction. By defining good and evil for ourselves we completely disregard this fact, and convince ourselves that it isn't true, even though it actually is; hence corruption! And every day you and I are faced with a decision; are we going to define good and evil for ourselves(eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), or are we going to let God define good and evil for us(have a fear of the LORD, the beginning of all knowledge and wisdom)?

So, I hope this helps. Great job if you made it all the way down(you deserve a medal). Have a great day! :)

0
0

The answer may be found in Jonah 4:11.

And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

The people who can not distinguish between left and right are young children. Only young children can run naked on the beach without feeling ashamed.

0

It doesn't look to me like there is ever going to be "exact" answer to this question, for a number of reasons... the more prominent among them being that there are notable variations in how Gen. 3:22 might be translated and/or perceived, and in speaking of it distinguished separated and distanced from the tree that was "in the midst of the garden." Hence, it feels rather uncomfortable addressing which or what (or perhaps, whether anything) might be "exactly" right. However, several other answers to this seem to be compelling me to respond.

That said, this will likely be marked a "not exactly" answer. So... before moving on to a few possibilities of what it might say or mean, let's look at a few things it doesn't (or might not) say or mean. For starters, the verse doesn't say "knowing all good and all evil." And, maybe it's not very clear what "knowing" (any good and/or evil) means, or whether Adam was even able to distinguish between the two. Evidently Adam suddenly thought it was wrong or bad (or evil?) to be naked. (Gen.3:7.) But was it? It was God's doing, and God declared everything that he had made to be "very good." If God is good (Mark 10:18) and everything that he made was good, then surely Adam must have had some knowledge or knowing of good prior to eating of the forbidden tree. Did evil exist prior to this? Perhaps this question wouldn't exist or make any sense if we weren't so quick to parse the phrase apart and try to think of it piecemeal, rather than considering it as a whole package or singular unit. In other words, maybe a better way to think of it is strictly as one venue (or dendrite?) of perception (or receiving information) rather than it being focused on two differing or opposing bits of information.

Of course, this doesn't mean or imply that there is never any distinction to be made between good and evil (as plainly stated in Hebrews 5:14.) I just don't see it as the emphasis or what's important here in Genesis 2 and 3. Which, if correct, immediately throws into question how man - using a new venue of confusing and commingled information - can possibly be thought of as being more "like us" (i.e., like God.)

It could be that "become like one of us" is simply not the best or most accurate translation, as it is surely not the only way that this verse in Gen. 3:22 might be translated or understood. Fact is, it appears to be debatable whether or not the prepositional phrase וּנֶּמִמ should be interpreted as singular or plural, or exactly what it should modify. (see History of the Jewish Interpretation of Genesis 1:26, 3:5. 3:33 in the Middle Ages, by Matthew Oseka, top of page 17. https://scriptura.journals.ac.za/pub/article/view/1355 ) In other words, it is possible that the verse doesn't actually make any reference to man being like (or more like) God, but rather, points towards man being "unique" or "alone" with... or what seems to make the most sense to me, "at one with"... a new venue of "knowing good and evil." The natural and logical result of which is man being less like God (not more like.)

Furthermore, a confirmation of this difference between God and man is plainly stated in Isaiah 55.

[8] For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. [9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

This appears to be radically different from the initial intrinsic nature of man, when God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it, or when He brought every beast of the field and every fowl of the air unto Adam to see what he would call them (Gen.2:19.) Evidently there was a tremendous "dumbing down" event that occurred, which is identified in Gen.3:11.

Given how all of this perspective might significantly alter what one sees can or might be "gathered from the text," maybe it "un-answers" more here related to the question than it answers. However, I appreciate and welcome any feedback some of you might have and are willing to comment on.

-1

I think that it was a test of faith. Trust is a vital part of faith. Paul said that whatever is not of faith is sin. Sin simply means 'missing the mark.' Faith expressed through the act of trust is a part of the process to receive anything from God (including eternal salvation, answered prayer, blessings, etc.). God simply wanted them to trust 'his word.' This is key to this understanding. They were already like God in every aspect except, apparently, this one. Whatever is meant by 'the knowledge of good and evil.' God had created them to be 'faith people'. Some might misunderstand this and think that I'm talking about some kind of prosperity gospel 'faith people.' Those are not the people who own or determine what faith is. The Bible determines what faith is quite clearly. God wants his people to 'walk (live) by faith.' 'The just (ones) shall live by faith.' The test was to see whether or not they were going to trust God. And, rather than always hearing about and focusing on their disobedience to God (as most churches and preachers do regarding this passage) I believe that the focus should be returning to their spotless, unwavering faith in God (before their disobedience). We should be focusing on how we can 'walk by faith' every day rather than constantly revisiting the idea that we are fallen beings. We are children of God. 'For now you are the children of God.' We were created (in the beginning) as children of God; made in his very image. So the question we should be asking is 'how do I live my life by faith 24/7'. So, I think it was an issue of trust/faith. The only question we need to be asking ourselves now is, 'how do I live in faith 24/7'? This is how we live pleasing to God (Heb. 11:6).

2
  • 1
    "They were already like God in every aspect except, apparently, this one" Wait, what? Adam and Eve were omnipresent and omnipotent?
    – Rajesh
    Jan 5 at 20:43
  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Jan 5 at 22:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.