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I am of the Protestant church and seeking some understanding of a concept from the book of Genesis. I will try to summarize this as succinctly as I can.

Genesis 1:27, states that God created mankind in His own image:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Though mankind had already been made in the image of God, Genesis 3:22 states that mankind became "like God" after gaining an understanding of good and evil. Becoming like God in this way caused negative consequences to Adam and Eve and they are no longer allowed to live forever.

Genesis 3:22

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

I had a lighthearted chuckle considering that it appeared contradictory to be made in the "image of God", but reprimanded for becoming "like God". (I very much enjoy the deeper thinking that biblical scripture provokes.)

My specific questions regarding this are:

  1. Why were there negative consequences for "becoming like God" when God had already made mankind in the image of himself? (Ironic?)

  2. If mankind was already made in the image of God, how could mankind become like God? (Redundant?)

I do hope that I have phrased these appropriately for this platform.

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  • Welcome and nice layout of your query. A few points to consider. 1/ Being made in God's image did not happen at creation - it only occurs in Christ and this was the plan from before the beginning. 2/ Eating the wrong tree - man has now become like one of us - not God specifically. All the heavenly beings know good from evil. 2 Cor 4:4 ‘Christ, who is the image of God’, 3:18 ‘we… are being transformed into the same image’, Rom 8:29
    – Steve
    Apr 24, 2022 at 13:04
  • 'but reprimanded for becoming "like God"' - not at all. No one was reprimanded in 3:22 for anything. In 3:11 and 3:17 Adam was reprimanded for eating the fruit of the tree that God told him not to. In 3:22, God said that the man, having become God-like in a very specific way, must be prevented from becoming immortal. There is no reprimand here for being or becoming like God.
    – LarsH
    Apr 25, 2022 at 1:55
  • Adam did not become like God. Rather, "the man has become like one of Us". Big difference.
    – Steve
    Apr 26, 2022 at 5:17
  • @steveowen The referent of "Us" is God. As in the Creator: "Let Us make man in Our own image .... So God created man in His own image." Hence, "You shall be as God/as gods, knowing good and evil .... God said: The man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil." If they were reprimanded for eating of the tree, it was because it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God says makes them, "like one of Us." Apr 28, 2022 at 16:16
  • Yes, that’s a very redundant view these days, even amongst trinitarian advocates who admit it’s not a valid hypothesis.
    – Steve
    Apr 28, 2022 at 18:44

8 Answers 8

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Suppose you have a young child:

  • It was born in your physical image (ten toes, two eyes, etc.).
  • It was born in your spiritual image (intelligence, emotion, self-awareness, etc.).

At two years of age:

  • It will say "no" when you tell it to do something.
  • It will decide for itself what is right or wrong.
  • It is not yet ready to be a fully developed adult and responsible human being.
  • Its behaviour will be carefully controlled by you, preventing it from doing things that it is physically quite capable of doing (e.g. playing ball on the highway).

At thirty years of age:

  • It will listen to you when you offer advice (though not necessarily follow; you aren't perfect).
  • It will understand the reasons why, when it was two, you wouldn't let it play ball on the highway.
  • It is now ready to be like you in every way.

So, “Why were there negative consequences for "becoming like God"?”: for the same reason you imprisoned your child within a cage or a fence, for the same reason you forced your child to have a nap or eat its food when it didn't want to. These are not punishments, but the natural consequences of being able to decide for oneself whether something is right without yet having the appropriate knowledge and understanding of why it might be wrong.

If mankind was already made in the image of God, how could mankind become like God?”: your child is already in your image, but it hasn't yet developed its character; it's not ready to assume its place in the world as a responsible adult. Children that are left to make their own decisions generally tend to become homeless street-kids, drug addicts, criminals, etc. They are like their parents, able to make their own choices, but they have never learned how to make wise choices.

The purpose of each Christian is:

  • To learn about and accept responsibility for the consequences of one's bad choices.
  • To desire to no longer make bad choices.
  • To avoid making further bad choices by changing one's character (repentance).
  • To accept and allow God's holy spirit to combine with one's own human spirit (baptism) to provide guidance and character development.
  • In general, to develop God-like character, to live and think just as God would do.
  • To eventually become fully in the image of God.
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    This reads like you think Adam/Eve weren't morally capable or responsible? Also that you think God didn't punish Adam and Eve at all?
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 25, 2022 at 5:54
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    @curiousdannii, People (including A&E) don't inherently have moral capability and responsibility; good character must be learned, tested, and developed. There's a difference between punishment and having to live with the consequences of one's choices or actions. The two can look the same, but they are very different. If I tell my young son not to climb the tree, but he does anyway, and ends up with a broken arm, is that punishment? I would say that the Bible shows that God withdraws protection and allows people to be hurt as a consequence of their actions, not that God directly punishes them. Apr 25, 2022 at 13:16
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So you are asking for some points to help you understand the concepts presented in Genesis 3. What follows is a conceptual outline. To do this you may? need to put some traditional understandings to one side first, as these will shape your thinking.

Man was made to image God. God is spirit (John 4:24). So can not be seen. (Exodus 33:20). So the only way ‘man’ can see God is through man. Jesus reflected his Father. (John 14 8-10). We can ‘see’ God ‘in’ Jesus, becaJesus became ‘man’.

However, ‘eating’ of the ‘tree’ man man ‘like’ God. So now we need to come to the [biblical] definition of ‘God’. There is a doctrinal definition of God, and you being a Protestant would no doubt be aware of the apologetic answer, e.g. omniscience, omnipresent, etc. But, put these aside for now (note, I am not debating these!

Above all, God is righteous. But more, God is the source of man’s righteousness. Man can not be the source of his own righteousness. Ultimately this is what a ‘god’ is. Your source of righteousness. And for ‘man’ to be the source of his own righteousness, he needs knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘not’ (evil). That’s what ‘eating’ of that particular ‘tree’ means. You need that knowledge in order to determine what is righteous. You essentially make yourself the ‘judge’ of what is right.

Trouble is, even with all that knowledge man’ is still not capable of being righteous. Only God can be. That’s why’ an’ had to be removed from the garden, because there was this other tree, a source of living forever, the tree of ‘life’. Had Adam of eaten from that tree he would have been forever unrighteous. Hence separated from God- forever. If he had of ‘eaten’ from the tree of life, Jesus ‘coming’ would have been a waste of time.

Removal from the Garden was an act of Love - not punishment. It was a negative consequence for Adam, but that was not God’s intent, he had warned Adam.

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  • Punishments can be acts of love though. And God's punishments are arguably always outworkings of his love.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 25, 2022 at 5:55
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Genesis 3:22 is the crux of this question for the real point is about how man, who was alredy made in the image of God, may become as (or 'like') God in a particular sense, via a particular way. Does Genesis 3:22 state that after partaking of the forbidden fruit, the man then 'became' as God as to knowing good and evil? The answer is found in comparing the two occasions where the Hebrew word 'eie' is translated, first in verse 22 then elsewhere in Genesis. Here I quote from the book below:

"The AV translation 3:22 is as follows: ...the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil...

The Hebrew from which this is translated is as follows: ...e'adm eie k'achd mm'nu...

...the man was as one of us... [literal]

Compare this with Genesis 3:1: ...u'e' nchsh eie orum m'kl chith...

...and the serpent was crafty from all of animal... [literal] Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast... [AV]

The AV translators have decided to translate eie in Genesis 3:22, regarding the man, as the present tense - "is become". While they have chosen to translate eie in Genesis 3:1, regarding the serpent, as the past tense - "was".

Not only so, but they have chosen to translate eie as "was" in the following places also :-

Genesis 4:20 ...was the father of such... Genesis 4:21 ...was the father of all such...

There is considerable controversy about Hebrew tenses... Robert Young's literal translation of Genesis 3:22 as follows :-

"Lo, the man was as one of us, as to the knowledge of good and evil."

The AV translators have sided with one side of the controversy in Genesis 3:1, translating eie "was" with regard to the serpent, expressing a past tense from the point of view of the narrator, Moses, in a narration that introduces an as yet unknown character and describes that character's condition as he makes his appearance in the narrative.

Then, they have taken the other side of the controversy and translated the same word eie "is become" when treating of the matter of the man. Thus, in this case, they treat eie as a continuous present tense. However the narrator in this case is not Moses ! Moses is narrating the words which God uttered as God narrated the situation in question. And God, also, introduces a character, Adam, and describes his state - at the point of introduction.

...But let us look at the situation from a basic, logical point of view: The man was welcome in the garden. The man was told not to do something. The man did it. Then the man was not welcome. Then the man was banished. What the man did made him unacceptable to the host of the garden. Being unlike the host of the garden, he had to leave the garden. But before he did that thing, he was welcome. For, in that respect, he was like the host. As to the knowledge of good and evil, he was as the host. Afterwards, he was not like unto the host. So he had to go.

The AV translators have, by their rendering of Genesis 3:22, made it seem as though the suspicions of the serpent and the insinuations of the serpent - are true ! In their rendering, the man has become like the host of the garden. And now, the host of the garden desires to be rid of the man !

...If the translators are correct, then God has banished them for no other than being as he is. If that be the case, then the serpent was right. The serpent was right about his insinuation of what God's motives were. The AV translators make the serpent righteous and they make God to be unrighteous. And they do this by standing on one side of a controversy for one verse. Then taking the opposite side of the controversy for another verse...

Mr Young's full literal rendering is thus : Lo, the man was as one of us, as to the knowledge of good and evil.

That is, he was - before he took of the tree !

And now, lest he put forth his hand... Now he must be banished.

Before taking of the tree, the man was as God - in that respect. The respect of his stance with regard to the knowledge of good and evil. Now, having taken, he is no longer as God - in that respect. The respect of his stance with regard to the knowledge of good and evil." (Knowledge and Life, pp 20-23, Nigel Johnstone)

That is why there were negative consequences for trying to be like God as to knowledge of good and evil, by means of a forbidden way - the way of the serpent. That is why being created in the image of God would have enabled continued obedience to God's instructions, had a desire not arisen for being attracted via the lying image of the deceiver, to be like God by disobeying God.

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  • Interesting view. I wonder why Jewish translations don't see it that way? (Sarcasm not intended here; I really do wonder why.) JPS Hebrew has Now that humankind has become like any of us, knowing good and bad. Kaplan's has: Man has now become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Tanakh Online has: Behold man has become like one of us, having the ability of knowing good and evil. Apr 24, 2022 at 21:04
  • is the weird transliteration (solely representing the consonantal text, but using Latin vowel letters for some Hebrew letters, with inconsistent use of apostrophes) in the original text of the book or your own for writing up here?
    – Tristan
    Apr 25, 2022 at 8:56
  • @Ray Butterworth Yes, I know the Jewish view is different but I am speaking as a Christian, on a Christianity site. The Jewish view has very many valid points which we can learn a great deal from, but not with respect to everything, otherwise we would end up rejecting Jesus of Nazareth as being the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures.
    – Anne
    Apr 25, 2022 at 9:03
  • @Tristan My old computer does not do foreign-language markings. Neither have I discovered how to get Hebrew or Greek text from elsewhere to copy and paste. As it happens, the book I quoted from was published in 2013 with accent marks for the Hebrew that I could copy, though later-year publications certainly had ‘proper’ Greek text. I’d have to search for ‘proper’ Hebrew text. I suggest you contact the author directly, via his web-site, belmontpublications.co.uk where a free pdf of all 20 of his doctrinal books can be downloaded (without registration).
    – Anne
    Apr 25, 2022 at 9:22
  • thanks. I wanted to check if it was in the original book as such (as it seems to be) before submitting an edit with either the original Hebrew or a scholarly romanisation. I must say though, this weird and inconsistent transliteration does not make me especially confident of the author's command of Hebrew
    – Tristan
    Apr 25, 2022 at 9:29
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What does “the image of God” mean? An image is not the reality – it is a reflection.

The image of God (Latin: imago dei) refers to the immaterial part of humanity. It sets human beings apart from the animal world, fits them for the dominion God intended them to have over the earth (Genesis 1:28), and enables them to commune with their Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.

Mentally, humanity was created as a rational, volitional agent. In other words, human beings can reason and choose. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom.

Morally, humanity was created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all He had made (humanity included) and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state.

Socially, humanity was created for fellowship. This reflects God’s triune nature and His love. In Eden, humanity’s primary relationship was with God (Genesis 3:8 implies fellowship with God), and God made the first woman because “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

Part of being made in God’s image is that Adam had the capacity to make free choices. Although they were given a righteous nature, Adam and Eve made an evil choice to rebel against their Creator. In so doing, they marred the image of God within themselves, and passed that damaged likeness on to all of their descendants (Romans 5:12). Today, we still bear the image of God (James 3:9), but we also bear the scars of sin. Mentally, morally, socially, and physically, we show the effects of sin. https://www.gotquestions.org/image-of-God.html

How did disobeying God make man like God? Genesis 3:22 tells us:

The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.

Adam and Eve already knew, intellectually, the difference between good and evil because of God’s command to not eat of the tree’s fruit. They knew it was right to eat of those trees and wrong to eat of that tree. However, when they chose to disobey, they knew evil experientially because they themselves had sinned against God. At that point, they fully understood both right and wrong. God, who knows everything, already understood the nature of evil. When Adam and Eve lost their innocence, they, too, understood the nature of evil because of its very real presence within them. They became “like God” in that they now realized the reality of evil.

The serpent’s deception in the Garden had included a grain of truth. Satan told Eve, “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). What the serpent did not say was that knowing evil would damage Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. https://www.gotquestions.org/knowledge-good-evil.html

Why were there negative consequences for becoming like God?

Adam had been told, directly, by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He was therefore like God in the sense that he knew about good and evil. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God they were not just simply aware of evil but they actually experienced it. Adam had everything he could possibly want. He didn’t need to experience evil. God’s warning should have been sufficient.

The sin of Adam and Eve was not in attaining knowledge but in disobeying God’s direct instruction. At that point, their eyes were opened all right – opened to sin and its dreadful consequences.

Final thought: Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to do the will of his Father in heaven and did not succumb to the temptations of that deceiver, the father of the lie. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the preeminent and perfect image of God: “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3, NLT; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). To see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9). To know Christ is to know God. Jesus Christ shows us what God meant when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image.”

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    This is a great answer. It is the one that I think most respects the Scripture rather than leaning heavily on personal opinion like some of the other answers. One suggestion: add a TL;DR at the top of the answer since it’s pretty long.
    – bob
    Apr 26, 2022 at 3:10
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    That said I’m not sure the quotes from gotquestions.com are needed. This answer would be stronger in my opinion if you strip out everything but the final two paragraphs (not sure about the “Final Thought” section though. I fully agree with it up to the final line, but not sure what the last line (“Jesus Christ shows us…”) means and not sure that section adds to the answer).
    – bob
    Apr 26, 2022 at 3:13
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    @bob - Does TL;DR mean "too long; don't read"? If it does, then why would I make that suggestion? Perhaps it's because I'm old-fashioned and I do tons of reading - out of books, mainly. I think it's best to leave everything in then folks can make up their own minds as to what's relevant (and what might be irrelevant). Thanks for the feedback.
    – Lesley
    Apr 26, 2022 at 15:34
  • Just because many people these days skim and will skip a long post. That’s all.
    – bob
    Apr 26, 2022 at 17:02
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    @Lesley You say "they were given a righteous nature". I think that their "righteous nature" to commune with God was not free of the need for grace and truth when temptation came. Is a nature that cannot cope with temptation really righteous?
    – C. Stroud
    May 1, 2022 at 18:49
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Why were there negative consequences for "becoming like God" when God had already made mankind in the image of himself? (Ironic?)

With respect to my friends here, I think some of the responses on this thread are missing the fundamental point. When the Genesis talks about "becoming like God," it also describes in what way, "knowing good from evil." In the original Hebrew, the word for knowledge meant knowledge by experience. The sin therefore of Adam and Eve is that of refusing to trust God's guidance and instead "knowing," or experiencing and then deciding for themselves, the good and evil of things. This coincidentally is the same temptation that we have today. "Why should we listen to some archaic ten commandments? We can decide for ourselves what is good and evil!" The sense in which this is "becoming like God" is that in our perversion of will rebelling against God, we try to set ourselves up as the supreme arbiters of truth, declaring good and evil.

If mankind was already made in the image of God, how could mankind become like God? (Redundant?)

It is important to note in what sense mankind is made in the image and likeness of GOD. When God makes us in His image and likeness, the early Church fathers understood this to mean that God created us with an intellect (with which to know) and free will (with which to love). With the exception of the angels, humans alone have been given these amazing gifts. These gifts are damaged when abused by sin, which is why the intellect became darkened and the will weakened after the original sin of Adam and Eve. The truly ironic thing is that God does indeed WANT us to become like Him in a true sense, which is why He came down in the flesh, becoming man and winning for us by His death on the cross the grace of redemption. Grace is nothing less than the gift of God's own Divine life within us. "Jesus answered, and said to him: If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him." The worst part about the sin of Adam and Eve is that by distrusting God and trying to seize for themselves "godhood," they actually became less like God. So much more I could say here, but I hope this brings some clarity. Please feel free to ask me to clarify or explain anything that I have not adequately made clear. God bless you, my friend!

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Adam’s sin was in his disobeying God. Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened knowing good from evil (and thus becoming like God in this way) because of their sin, and their sin was the only way for their eyes to be opened in this way because it was not God’s will for them to know good from evil but rather to simply obey Him with complete trust (Eve had to distrust God to disobey Him and believe the devil’s lie that God was holding out on her and lying to her). So the problem here wasn’t that their eyes were opened per se, but rather that they had disobeyed God and sinned (and their eyes being opened to know good and evil was a consequence of this sin).

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  • Adam did not become like God. Rather, "the man has become like one of Us". Big difference.
    – Steve
    Apr 26, 2022 at 5:15
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Connecting the dots between Gen 1:28 (Be Fruitful), Gen 3:22 (No to Eternal Life), and The Sermon on the Mount (Producing Best Fruits)

I have structured my argument as outlined below, which in large grounded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, & 7) and formulated around tree core topics in the teachings of Jesus alone:

A. ‘WILL of God’ (WG)

B. ‘Rules of Righteousness’ (RR)

C. ‘Eternal Life’ (EL) in the Heavenly Kingdom of God (HKG)

Only those who do the WILL of God will get into the Kingdom of God (not those who say Lord, Lord ... don't even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father!) as it is concluded at the end of the Sermon (Matthew 7:21-27).

Doing WILL of God requires a profound full engagement with the world and the strive for accumulation of treasures in the Heaven by putting into practice the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as Rules of Righteousness or engagement, which

• would ultimately lead to Eternal Life of the ‘individual’ human agents --- that itself IS the WILL of God, while

• makes this world progressively a better place for all beings live in justice and peace--- that itself IS the WILL of God as well.

Sinlessness or passive ad hoc engagement alone will not lead to fulfilment of WILL of God. The agent ought to possess active and sincerely motivated engagement. In other words, it is not only about staying away from sexual immorality, deception, stealing, murder, etc. but it is about full realization of the power of God-given faculties (Conative, Affective, and Cognitive) in production of best fruits.

Prayers, remembering, fasting, rituals, etc. are means and not an end, such that their practice could strengthen the will of the agent and maintain her will in alignment with the WILL of God over a life course of engagement and practicing RR.

In the Sermon Jesus not only affirms RR but also is transcending/upgrading and making them tougher to practice! Narrow and rough is the road that leads to Life--- shifting self-interest to common interest--- "Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, … Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven (Matt 6:19-20). Nevertheless, "Don't be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom, sell your possessions and give to those in need (Luke 12:32-33).

The new formulation of RR as living a joyful ethical life and for the satisfaction of God, eradicates the fear of sin-game which was the road of priests to collecting treasure for themselves: feeding Yahweh his food and satisfying him with the pleasant aroma of burning fat! “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice”.

And why am I putting my eggs in the basket of Jesus alone? Because in Prophetic discourses, paradigm shift to the Kingdom of God and the urge for attainment of Eternal life was clearly proclaimed by simultaneous Testimony of ‘two’ living Prophets: John the Baptist and Jesus.

Warning:

  • I am not arguing about any conception or any form of kingdom in this world/earth, whatsoever, and for now I am indifferent to it for the sake of not provoking unnecessary factional zeal!

  • Eternal Life is only possible in atemporal/timeless realm. In a temporal world, where soon or later will end, any claim of Eternal Life is a false proposition.

  • The irony is that the lack of distinction between the function of The Spirit in this world and the Heavenly Kingdom of God created a lot of awkward confusion. For a short and simple explanation please see here:

https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/75724/49796

I aimed to make it hopefully short and clean for ‘understanding’. Having these words in mind, you may reread the Sermon along with parallel verses and SEE if it makes sense! I’ll provide some sample verses in another post in a few days.

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    – agarza
    Apr 27, 2022 at 3:56
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Elohim in [Genesis 1:27] is not a female or male, but a Maker of humanity.

The צֶלֶם Tzelem (Image) of Elohim = 'Intelligence'.

  • 'Intelligence' was given to humanity for Maintaining & Naming ... Not for creating other humans. [Humanity's Job #1] Maintaining the garden, as stated in Genesis 2:15; [Humanity's Job #2] Naming animals as stated in [Genesis 2:19].

In Genesis 3, The-Woman (later called חַוָּה Chavah) notices clever animals like the serpents could be כֵּאלֹהִים like-Elohim and generate new life on their own through knowledge. After revealing this knowledge to Adam, Chavah becomes like-Elohim [Genesis 3:16] attaining knowledge of pregnancy & labor.

Creating life כֵּאלֹהִים like-Elohim != (is not equal) to having צֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִים Intelligence of Elohim.

[Genesis 1-3] is the Hebrew origin story for how הָאָדָם "the-human" was gifted the ability to speak language & cursed with the ability to create humans.

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