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In Genesis 3:3 ESV Eve said:

but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

So, according to Eve, God not only prohibited eating, but also touching the forbidden fruit. However, God is never recorded explicitly uttering the touching prohibition, only the eating one. This means that our only source for the touching prohibition is Eve.

Is Eve's testimony reliable?

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    You have not commented on the second discrepancy in Eve's statement : lest ye die. Since there are two discrepancies, yes, it is unreliable. The question is, By whom did the word, spoken by God to Adam, become corrupted ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 16:45
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    Hello Mark, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Some readers indicate that Eve is quoting God's command directly; some Readers indicate that Eve is relaying 2nd-hand information and is misquoting God; some readers Indicate that this account is a Jewish myth (to be sure, I do not). We could assume these are God's words, Eve's words, Moses' words, or some unknown scribe's words. What assumptions (if any) would you want an answer to presuppose? A question like this could go several ways--so if I start writing an answer...I worry I might get too lazy to stop =) =) =) Commented May 6, 2023 at 20:25
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    @NigelJ I don't understand how the lest ye die creates a discrepancy. Actually, I never said that a discrepancy existed. Strictly speaking there is no logical contradiction between what Eve and God said. Eve is just adding new information that doesn't contradict what God was previously quoted to say in Genesis. Can you please explain your point further?
    – user56622
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 20:55
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    God said, 'Ye shall die' and God said 'thou shalt not eat'. Eve says 'lest ye die' and 'thou shalt not touch'. These are discrepancies.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 21:25
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    @NigelJ, they aren't discrepancies, they are additional information (which may or may not be reliable). When one Gospel describes an event and another Gospel describes the same event with more details, is that a discrepancy? It doesn't cause a contradiction, so I would say no. Commented May 6, 2023 at 22:48

4 Answers 4

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Short answer


Genesis does not tell us.


Long answer


On Discrepancies

Is there a discrepancy between Genesis 2:17 and Genesis 3:3? The former issues a command regarding eating the fruit, the latter references a command regarding eating or touching the fruit. These are not contradictory statements; logically, it is possible for both to be true (that doesn't mean they are true, we'll address that later).

For purposes of comparison, consider the feeding of the 5000 in Luke's account versus Mark's. In Luke, the event takes place in Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). In Mark, the event takes place in a field in a "desert place" (Mark 6:32,39). Textual critics have sometimes made quite a scene over this "discrepancy"...however, it takes but a very little imagination to identify the possibility that they could be in a field outside of Bethsaida. (The field presumably meant nothing as a geographic marker, but Bethsaida was a known town and useful landmark if they were in the general vicinity). If one were predisposed to consider the Gospels unreliable stories one might read these accounts and conclude that they are irreconcilable; but if one simply examines the text without prejudice, it is clear that the accounts provide distinct details which do not contradict one another.

(For another interesting example, compare Matt. 12:15, 24-28 to Mark 3:19,22-26. They tell the same story, Mark mentions they are in a house & Matthew does not. This isn't a discrepancy either: both accounts are logically compatible & Mark just happened to mention a detail that Matthew left out).

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Whose words are recorded in Genesis 3:3?

Who originally made the statement about touching the fruit? I see 5 possibilities:

  1. God
  2. Adam
  3. Eve
  4. Moses
  5. An unknown scribe

Those who believe in the inerrancy of the Biblical text will tend to exclude cases 4 & 5. Those who believe that the text is mythical will tend to exclude all cases except case 5 (and various positions in between may consider all 5). Thus, the assumptions one brings to the text will influence the answer to this question. We'll briefly consider the implications of each of the 5 cases.

Case 1

In this case, God specifically mentioned touching the fruit and Eve's account in Genesis 3:3 is therefore reliable. This specific detail just did not happen to be included in the telling of the account in Genesis 2:17.

Case 2

In Genesis 2, Eve is not yet physically present when God gives the prohibition on eating the fruit. In this case, then, Adam has related this information to Eve but has garbled the message in the process, adding details that were not given by God. In this case, Eve's account is reliable in that she is correctly relaying what she has been told.

Case 3

In this case, Adam has apparently relayed God's prohibition to Eve, and Eve has added this detail about touching the fruit. In this case, Eve's account is not reliable.

Case 4

In this case, Moses recounted the story from whatever source materials he had available to him (I see no reason to reject a priori the possibility that he had a combination of revelation and existing written records, but the genesis of the Genesis text is a huge topic all its own), and he recorded a Reader's Digest of what was said & done in Eden but without a verbatim transcript of the dialogue.

If Moses' account provides the message that was conveyed but not necessarily the precise words that were spoken, we cannot evaluate whether Eve is reliable or unreliable.

Case 5

Same conclusion as case 4 in that Eve is neither reliable nor unreliable, as the words in question were not spoken by Eve.

Many modern textual scholars would prefer this case as they are of the view that the Genesis account is a mythical tale that was committed to writing after a lengthy oral history, and there is not a historical basis for the events recorded in early Genesis. This view is a consequence of the preference among a subset of Biblical scholars to assume naturalism in the study of the Biblical text. This is, however, a textbook example of circular reasoning. One cannot objectively evaluate a book about the supernatural by starting with the a priori assumption that all supernatural claims are false--to do so would be to decide on the very variable under consideration before even looking at the evidence (not very scientific!). From a logical standpoint, then, this is not a viewpoint to be taken very seriously.

However, a more logically consistent expression of case 5 is adopted by other Biblical scholars, who consider Genesis to have been compiled from earlier sources (see discussion of toledoths here), with some influence from the hand of later editors (exactly how much influence is a matter of intense debate).

This leaves open the possibility that the Eden account is generally reliable, but scribes compiling/editing earlier sources may not be giving verbatim quotes of everything that was said (tangentially related is the possibility that early written accounts of the first few chapters of Genesis were conveyed through pictographic script rather than alphabetic script - the macro story was handed down through pictures but the detailed dialogue was handed down orally when the pictures were used in teaching). The humble response to this possibility would simply be that we do not know exactly what Eve said.

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Concluding Thoughts

Among those who see the Genesis dialogue as a verbatim account of what was said, the following are all logically possible:

  • Eve is reliably conveying true information (Case 1)
  • Eve is reliably conveying false information (Case 2)
  • Eve is unreliably conveying information (Case 3)

Genesis does not provide sufficient detail to objectively rule out any of these possibilities, and the variant details between Genesis 2:17 and 3:3 do not contradict one another.

Among those who do not see the Genesis dialogue as a verbatim account of what was said, the question is moot.

In either case, the underlying question can still be asked: "did God give a prohibition on touching the fruit?" The answer is: we don't know.

It is not difficult to see how one who has been told not to eat the fruit might adopt a personal commitment to not even touch the fruit (i.e. I won't go anywhere near temptation).

I will offer the following as a personal opinion: comparing the brevity of the words from God recorded in Genesis 2-11 to the immense timespans covered, I suspect God said much, much more to Adam, Enoch, Noah, etc. than is recorded in Genesis. Given that I believe the Fall really happened and that God is Omnibenevolent, I suspect God said quite a bit more to Adam (and Eve) than the precious few words that are preserved in Genesis.



Post-script to earn downvotes

Lest discrepancy

In Genesis 2:17 God gives a command (thou shalt not eat) with a clear consequence (thou shalt surely die). In Genesis 3:3 Eve uses a somewhat softer term "lest ye die". Is this a discrepancy?

The Hebrew word translated "lest" here is פֵן ("pen"), and it has sufficient semantic range to convey:

  • A certain consequence, in the sense of "otherwise" or "or else". Examples where this word conveys a result that is assured include Exodus 23:33 and Judges 14:15
  • An uncertain consequence, in the sense of "this may happen". Examples where this word conveys a result that is not assured include Genesis 42:4 and 2 Kings 2:16.

Basic grammar does not require ruling out either possibility. Therefore, Eve's statement could imply some uncertainty about what will happen, but it certainly (see what I did there?) doesn't need to convey uncertainty.

While this is a possible discrepancy, I suggest it is a stretch to read a disagreement between 2 texts where agreement is possible. The principle of charity so often requested by Christians in interpreting the New Testament may be applicable here: don't assume an error if there's a viable reading that is not erroneous.

It is possible that the devil had planted doubt in Eve's mind--planting doubt is one of his most cunning and favorite tricks--causing Eve to question "will I really die?", but in my view the easier reading is that Eve is just paraphrasing what she's been told: we've been told not to do this otherwise we'll die.

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Did Satan distort the prohibition?

There's no reason to believe the master deceiver wouldn't distort God's commands if it helped him achieve a goal - this type of tactic shows up all the time when people are tempted to water-down God's commandments. Or when "Divine Command" is considered an insufficient basis for obedience if the reason behind the command was not given.

Let's consider a hypothetical scenario: the devil plants in Eve's mind the idea that not only is eating the fruit prohibited, but so is touching it, when in reality the prohibition is only on eating. Then, having associated touching the fruit with death, the devil touches the fruit himself (one might imagine him actually plucking the fruit from the tree to hand it to Eve) and saying "look, I touched it, and nothing happened to me. See, it's fine." As a result, Eve now is tempted to doubt the reality of the consequence promised by God.

However, this exercise is entirely speculative. While that exchange could have happened, if our goal is to interpret the text rather than to create an imaginative reconstruction of the past, we have no basis to claim that such an exchange did happen.

Furthermore, Genesis 3:1 attributes the following words to the devil:

Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

His focus is on eating. If he said anything about touching the fruit before Eve responded, Genesis does not record it. If the entire discrepancy under review here is based on the idea that God didn't say something because Genesis does not record God saying it (if we were to accept that reasoning)...then would we not also conclude that the devil didn't say something because Genesis does not record the devil saying it?

I don't see that the counterpoints raised regarding "lest" (in the uncertain sense) or regarding the devil being the originator of the "touching prohibition" are impossible, but they are speculative. I do see, however, that claiming both discrepancies is logically inconsistent. The very justification for claiming the first discrepancy is violated in claiming the second.

Conclusion: there was probably more dialogue than what is recorded in Genesis, but Genesis does not answer this question, presumably because the author did not consider the matter essential information for the reader to know.

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  • Excellent answer, you really did your best to consider all the angles! To make your answer even more complete, could you please say something about the alleged second "discrepancy" mentioned by Nigel? Quote 1: "God said, 'Ye shall die' and God said 'thou shalt not eat'. Eve says 'lest ye die' and 'thou shalt not touch'. These are discrepancies." Quote 2: "'Lest' ye die has a different meaning to 'thou shalt surely die'. 'Eating' and 'touching' have different meanings. They are not additional information. And now I shall not comment any further. This is very basic grammar.".
    – user56622
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 12:54
  • By second "discrepancy" I mean 'Ye shall die' vs. 'Lest ye die'.
    – user56622
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 12:56
  • Is Nigel right that this is an obvious "discrepancy" based on very "basic grammar"?
    – user56622
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 13:05
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    @Mark I've updated my post re these 2 points Commented May 11, 2023 at 4:10
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    Another thing you might want to cover is where’s the difference between eat and touch? Is touching with a tongue = eating? Is chewing without swallowing? Is smelling = eating since some molecules do enter the body? Maybe the impossibility of making such clear distinction made necessary a complete prohibition to touch?
    – grammaplow
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 5:34
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Well, the Bible says let every word be established by the testimony of “two” or “three” witnesses. (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; & 2 Cor. 13:1) So, who else testifies to what she says? God (who doesn’t need a witness, but let’s keep checking). He told them not to eat it and that they’d die. (Gen. 2:16-17) and we could say Paul in 1 Tim. 2:14 & Rom. 5:12 (though he doesn’t clarify the “sin”). So, I’d say yes, her testimony to what God said is true. They were supposed to eat it. Period.

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Such interpretations are highly misguided and confuse the ancient literature of Bible with some modern transcript or exact dictation of dialogues reported by the author. The words of Eve represent the accurate detailed commands of God. If she lied, or was an ally of Serpent, then it would've been presented explicitly so. God did not command them that you shall not eat however, you are free to go near, caress, flirt, lick and touch it. This would be quite a licentious interpretation. There are other questions which asks whether Satan's quotation of God's words was accurate, by expecting the quote to be exact and direct speech. These kinds of fundamental errors are on the level of very basics of understanding any literature, let alone the ancient Hebrew literature.

Her words also don't mean it was her own reflection, interpretation, addition. But such are always the nature of the commands. If something is wicked, sinful, forbidden, you are commanded not to even think and speak of it.

Exo 23:13 "Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let [them] be heard from your mouth.

[Eph 5:3-4 NASB] But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and [there must be no] filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

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This is an excellent question.

The discrepancy between Eve's statement and the original command is something we are intended to meditate one.

It is possible that Eve's statement is an accurate retelling of God's command, that "and you must not touch it" was present, but not recorded in the Genesis 2 event.

However, because we have two parallel accounts, it is more likely that any differences are deliberate literary device and are intended to force us to compare and contrast them.

Firstly, the Genesis 2 account comes first, so I would say that it is the template. Usually the first instance includes more detail, and later versions contain less -- less is needed because you can usually imply most of the detail. This usually means ADDED detail stands out.

Because the Genesis 2 account comes first, and is in the context of being stated by God in the ideal environment (Eden), this account should be trusted over the account given in the context of giving in to temptation.

This is context of the Genesis 2 account:

Genesis 2:9 The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

So in the original account we have God creating a garden in which ALL the trees are good to look at and good for food. There is also a tree of life. The emphasis is on the abundance of all the trees, then on not eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good an Evil. Then it begins an account of God in his wisdom providing a defender for Adam.

In the Genesis 3 account, all the "trees are good to look at and good for food" idea is gone. Also gone are the ideas that the Tree of Life is in the middle of the garden, and God as a source of wisdom.

So, where this "do not touch" idea came from. If it didn't come from God's original command, then it is a restrictive rule created by either Adam or maybe Eve came up with it herself.

It is interesting that this restrictive practise did not succeed in preventing her from taking the fruit, and I think we are meant to ponder an alternative solution to the problem. If rules don't prevent temptation, then what do we do.

For me the solution is properly functioning relationships. When God identified a problem with Adam's alone-ness, he created a person for him to relate to. In the same way, the solution to Eve's temptation was a relationship with an equal, who would defend her by standing up to her and reminding her of the abundance she had already been given.

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