Deut 1:39 states, "...and your children, who today have no knowledge of good and evil..."

I've read through all of the previous questions on this site concerning this passage and they all seem to focus on the meaning of the phrase in relation to the age of the "children". I've searched on the Jewish Encycl. and the Got Questions site with nothing found that peels the onion back on why the Spirit chose to use the exact same phrase to describe those entering the Promised Land as used to warn Adam/Eve about the tree that gives this knowledge. To me, this is a fascinating parallel in word use and phraseology pointing back to Gen 2:17 and that bears further understanding beyond trying to understand how it relates to physical age alone. It had no relation to age in the Garden. Any new insightful references or articles would be appreciated to shed light on this aspect of the passage would be appreciated.

  • The Gen 2:17 is using a word γινώσκειν which is akin to generate (random binary numbers 0/1) and good and bad while Deut 1:39 is using οίδε - see, behold and words for clean and shitty (literally). So even though it may seem similar it can be totally different in its meaning.
    – grammaplow
    Feb 1, 2023 at 22:53
  • There is no relation between the two. It is a misguided conjecture inserting parallelism by mish mashing the creation myth sequence with a very different passage of another book. Try to focus on the context of this Deut verse to expose the meaning.
    – Michael16
    Feb 2, 2023 at 14:12
  • Actually such parallelism can be put in the category of mysticism or Kabbala hermeneutics, though not to the general category. So anything is possible, based on what your purpose is.
    – Michael16
    Feb 2, 2023 at 14:54

5 Answers 5


Adam and Eve were given only one law/commandment while in the garden of Eden. They were forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Instead of believing God, they listened to the serpent. They were told to subdue the earth and keep the garden but failed and were defeated by the snake (the very last creature from the list of Genesis 1:28, a bottom feeder). As a consequence of breaking that commandment, they were kicked out of the garden.

The first generation of Israelites that left Egypt were forbidden to enter the promised land after tasting of its fruit because instead of believing God's promises, they listened to the evil report of the ten spies. They were told to subdue that land and get rid of the giants (seed of the serpent) but were too scared to even try.

The second generation of Israelites that left Egypt entered the promised land because of the faithfulness of Joshua and Kaleb. They entered uncircumcised (Joshua 5) and without being under the law of Moses/knowledge of good and evil (Joshua 8). Since they were children while at Sinai (Exodus 24) the law was not binding on them (Deuteronomy 1:39). It is a foreshadow of the faithfulness of the Messiah and the rest that all the believers have in Him. We believe that He was faithful in everything (Romans 1:17 & Habakkuk 2:4).

2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18

  • Is there a scriptural reference that states the Law of Moses was not binding on the children at Mt Sinai? Thats the first I've heard someone make that reference.
    – LHJim
    Dec 11, 2022 at 4:42
  • 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. (Deuteronomy 1:39) Dec 13, 2022 at 21:28
  • Eve did not receive a command from God, she did not yet exist and she also did not receive a command from Adam, because before disobedience, Eve was not submissive to Adam
    – Betho's
    Feb 2, 2023 at 2:36
  • I think you should carefully read the first half of Genesis 3 again. Feb 2, 2023 at 18:56

Two points about assumptions made, which turn out to be unfounded, are that the Deuteronomy verse gives "the exact same phrase to describe those entering the Promised Land as used to warn Adam/Eve" and "about the tree that gives this knowledge." The verse in Deuteronomy reads,

"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." A.V.

"And your infants, of whom ye have said, For a prey they are, and your sons who have not known to-day good and evil, they go in thither, and to them I give it, and they possess it" Y.L.T.

"That day" refers to the day the nation of Israel chose to reject the exhortation of Joshua and Caleb to enter into the Promised Land, to start taking it as the inheritance God had promised to them. They were on the border, 12 spies were sent out, but only two urged the people to trust the Lord's promise that that hill country of the Amorites would be conquered by them. Because of their disbelief, God was angry and said that not one person "of this evil generation" would see that land, bar the two faithful spies and their families.

As Moses reminded the nation of their disbelief, he then spoke what's written in verse 39. This shows that there is no direct connection between the phrase there, and the phrase in Genesis about a tree. Although it is called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", Deuteronomy speaks of little children too young to be included in the culpability of their parents' choice "that day". The parents deliberately chose an evil, disobedient course, and paid for it with their lives. Their little children were innocent of that, so God promised that they would enter the Promised Land, but not the older "evil generation" that had deliberately made a sinful choice.

The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 1:39 is 'yada' = 'to know', and is correctly translated as "had no knowledge between good and evil", unlike the parents whose disbelief of God on that day would rightly cause them to be labelled an "evil generation".

In Genesis something rather different is being unfolded. There was no law given by God to the couple in the garden. And it is only law that enables sin to be identified, exposed as sin, as evil, and requiring punishment. Romans 3:20 states, "For by the law is the knowledge of sin." Had the couple been given law, they would already have known about the evil of sin. They had been instructed in the form of a warning as to something that would cause them to die. Yet they chose to disbelieve God and decided to try something that held out a [vain] promise of elevating themselves to an even higher degree than God had created them as. They were already made in the image, likeness, of God. They knew nothing but good from God. Oh, but that wasn't good enough for them, once they believed the lie that they could choose for themselves how to aspire higher.

We all know that no fruit from any tree can impart knowledge, either of good, or of evil. The Genesis account teaches us higher things that require spiritual discernment. The first couple were culpable before God because they chose not to believe him. In Genesis 2:9 & 17 the Hebrew word for 'knowledge' is 'daath', which is not the same word as in Deuteronomy 1:39. Yes, the Deuteronomy account certainly reinforces God's warning to his people who think they can choose to disbelieve God's stated word and decide for themselves what they think will be the best course. But at a literal level, the children there had no knowledge of any of that and so they were not culpable before God on "that day". They would grow up and despite being sinners themselves, 40 years later they would take the Promised Land, having buried all of the previous "evil generation" in the wilderness. Not because they deserved to, but because God had promised that they would, and God never lies. God decided who would die in the wilderness, and which of their offspring would eventually enter it.

Conclusion Summary: So, it is not correct to assume that the Genesis and the Deuteronomy phrases about good and evil are the same. In Genesis, the couple thought they would learn about good and evil so as to put themselves on a par with their Creator. That sinful choice that day cost our first parents paradise, and cost them their physical lives many years later. As children of Adam and Eve, we also make sinful choices and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). In Deuteronomy, the children remained innocent of the sinful choice their parents made that day, which gave those parents the label of "an evil generation" because they had God's law by then. Their choice cost every one of them their lives outside of the Promised Land before 40 years were up. There are intriguing lessons to be learned by comparing both accounts, especially the spiritual application.

Those who do not know good and evil are to enter into the land of promise. They are repentant, knowing that they do not enter in by their knowledge, nor by applying to law. They are humble because they know God decides who will enter, and who he will keep out. They enter in, following the Lamb wherever he goes.

  • Thank you Anne.
    – LHJim
    Dec 11, 2022 at 4:15
  • It is true, there was no Mosaic Law given as of yet, but the first "law" or command as I see it was in fact given when God/Elohim told them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That was the only law given to creation at that point. I posit, via that command, they knew of the difference of good and evil, because God already set the parameters. They had no EXPERIENTIAL knowledge of evil at that point. Its interesting then, the same phrase was used "no knowledge of good and evil" was used with two different words from the original text.
    – LHJim
    Dec 11, 2022 at 4:31

I suggest that "knowledge of good and evil" should be understood as "knowledge of the difference between them", discerning where the boundary comes between "right and wrong".

Then the offence of Adam and Eve would have been that they wanted to make their own decisions about the boundary. As we all do, now. Thus seizing control of a power which belongs to God alone, which is how they "became like God".

Then the complaint in Deuteronomy woud be that the children don't have any sense of the difference between right and wrong, not even the "natural" sense atttempted by Adam and Eve.

  • 1
    The problem with this is that the entire tree (of knowledge of good and evil) is warned, by God almighty, to be not only inedible (thou dost not eat of it - Literal and Young) but deadly. Thou shalt surely die. The idea of a "self imposed boundary" being the issue is just not present in the text of Genesis. They were not banished for imposing something on the tree. They were banished for partaking of it.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 29, 2022 at 15:29
  • Yes, they were partaking of the "knowledge of good and evil". That is, on my interpretation, they were partaking (illegitimately) of the right to decide which was which. Nov 29, 2022 at 17:11
  • 1
    Again, that is not what the words of the text say. Forsaking (or ignoring, which is the same thing) they partook. God said, Thou dost not eat of it. It is not a way of life. Life is in the word of life. Which was in the midst.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 29, 2022 at 17:15
  • Not sure I agree that the children in the desert didn't have any sense of good and evil based on your input. I mean how could they walk in the desert with their "imperfect" parents who surely found other things to complain about and have no sense of good and evil?
    – LHJim
    Dec 11, 2022 at 4:38

The best treatment of this (in my opinion) is found in Harstad's commentary on Deuteronomy:

Compare "Who do not know good and evil" (Deut. 1:39) with Is. 7:15-16. While the expression does not delineate a precise age, it refers to children so young that their intellectual maturity has not yet advanced to the degree that they can make clear and cognitive decisions about right and wrong. That does not deny that people of all ages are accountable to God for their sins. Note that in his boyhood, even sinless Jesus, true God and true man, grew intellectually according to his human nature. Luke reports: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature in favor with God and people. (luke 2:52)

—Concordia Commentary Series, Deuteronomy. A. Harstad, p. 86


The Knowledge of Good and Evil

And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9, KJV)

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:17, KJV)

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. (Deuteronomy 1:39, KJV)

The Serpent's Lie

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: (Genesis 3:4, KJV)

The Serpent's Truth

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 3:5, KJV)

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: (Genesis 3:22, KJV)

We Are Now as Gods

I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. (Psalm 82:6, KJV)

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? (John 10:34, KJV)


The knowledge of good and evil is what has made us like the gods (Heb. "elohim"), who know good and evil. The word "elohim" has multiple possible senses of meaning, and can be translated as "angels", as "judges", as "gods", or as "God" (the one true God of creation). In the earlier occurrences of this Hebrew thought progression, the word "elohim" is not limited by other expressions in terms of its number, so we cannot actually be certain whether the serpent were tempting Eve with the possibility of being like God or like "the gods." The word is ambiguous without added context, i.e. verbs or adjectives that would help us know its number.

Jesus' quote of the passage in Psalms uses "Theoi" in plural in the Greek, a clear reference to us in a plural sense--yet again, without settling the question as to which "God" or "gods" we are likened--the God of heaven, or the false gods.

Judges of Good and Evil

Countering some of the other ambiguities of the language, the usage made of "elohim" in the Hebrew to denote judges (see note below) gives us something to consider.

A judge must know and be able to discern between both good and evil. This is also what God does, as the Judge of the universe. The Bible acknowledges that we have been given knowledge of both good and evil, and there is a responsibility, a duty of proper discernment, that comes with this knowledge.


Deuteronomy 1:39 appears to be a promise that, whereas up to this point in time the children of Israel have lacked sufficient discernment between good and evil, this knowledge would be given them.

It was never originally a part of God's plan for us to have a knowledge of evil. It is not a necessary knowledge. Knowledge of evil comes at a price; but once this knowledge is obtained, the ability to discern between evil and good becomes essential. And as we learn to judge between both good and evil, we become as "gods", for God also must judge between good and evil.

Note: The Hebrew "elohim" was translated as "judges" in multiple places, including Exodus 21:6, Exodus 22:8-9, and 1 Samuel 2:25; as "angels" in Psalm 8:5; as "a mighty" (prince)--referring to Abraham--in Genesis 23:6; "God" (to Aaron)--referring to Moses--in Exodus 4:16; "a god" (to Pharaoh)--referring to Moses--in Exodus 7:1; etc.

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