Genesis 3:4 CSB
“No! You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman.
How would Eve know what death was?
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The simple answer is: God had previously explained to Adam what dying and death were, but the narrative omits this conversation.
Consider this: in our daily lives, when someone discusses something we are unfamiliar with, our natural instinct is to ask them to explain it. “What is that?” “What do you mean by that?”
And Yahveh Good took the man and reposed him in the garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it.
Nowhere in the narrative does God explain how to dress and keep the garden, yet Yahveh commands Adam to do so. Are we to assume the omniscient God didn’t explain how to properly dress and keep the garden immediately after or before commanding Adam to do so?
Although the narrative omits the explanation of dressing and keeping a garden, God explained it. Consider the Book of Jubilees,
During the first week of the first jubilee Adam and his wife spent the seven years in the Garden of Eden working and guarding it. We gave him work and were teaching him (how) to do everything that was appropriate for working (it).
Likewise, although the narrative omits God explaining the meaning of death to Adam, God explained it. Otherwise, why doesn’t Adam immediately ask God, “What do you mean by dying?” if indeed Adam was unfamiliar with it?
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned
The answer to OP: How would Eve know what death was? depends, in large part, on what is meant by 'the world' that sin and death entered. Is it something like 'the orderly arrangement of the entire universe' or more like 'the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family'? Both senses are allowed in the definition of κόσμος (kosmos).
If there was no death at all anywhere in creation prior to Adam's transgression then the amount and degree of change that God would have had to suddenly make within the plant and animal world that He had created is truly staggering.
Although it is certainly possible that prior to Adam's transgression the reproductive rates of such animals as rats, rabbits, mice, and ants (3 million eggs per month) were drastically lower and that God radically increased these reproductive rates after death entered the universe for the first time, and, although it is certainly possible that prior to Adam's transgression all of the living world was vegetarian and that God transformed some of these creatures into predators and scavengers after death entered the universe, it is also possible that death was already present in the natural world right from the beginning.
As has been pointed out in comments below, animals and birds were given 'every green herb' as food and it was humans alone who were given 'every herb bearing seed and and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed'. This possibly constitutes an exclusion of animals partaking of the Tree of Life; that it was intended for humans alone. Perhaps a death free existence was never intended for animals, even from the beginning.
We know that all creation groans under the curse (Romans 8:22) but this curse is not sin, itself. It is more in line (by way of example) with the difficulty in profitable work and childbearing pronounced upon Adam and Eve as a consequence of sin. We also know that it is no sin for one animal to eat another; for a Venus Flytrap (for example) to consume a fly that developed from a maggot that hatched from an egg laid in an animal corpse. In the Christian theological constructs of which I am aware animals do not have sin.
"In Adam all die", says the Apostle Paul, and I know of no theology which places the natural world 'in Adam' here but only all of subsequent humanity. When he says that "through one man sin entered the world and death through sin" it is least problematic to understand this as 'the world of man'. This is in line with the consequence for disobedience spoken to Adam (and not all of creation) by God:
for in the day of thine eating of it—dying thou dost die. (Genesis 2:17 YLT)
Paul says "and so death passed upon all men", leaving open the possibility that such death already existed in the natural world but was never intended for humanity. They themselves were not, at this time, given animal flesh to eat; further separating them from the lifestyle of beasts. If this was the case, then Adam and Eve would have known what death was, as they would have seen it happening all around them.
How did she know to understand any English in the first place? ;-) Or any human language, for that matter, since no human can have taught her?
What I want to say is that even if we are inclined to take the story as a more or less literal account at all, the means of communication between God or His antagonist and the first humans were likely not exactly verbal in today's sense, and the words we use to tell the story are a feeble approximation at best.
There is no doubt that when God speaks to you, directly, in no unclear terms, you know what He means.
The OP asks:
Genesis 3:4 CSB
“No! You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman.
How would Eve know what death was?
That question is rhetorical because it really concerns a known paradox. In a world pre-dating death, the very concept can't be 'known' or explained in a meaningful way. No more than the term 'red' could be known, or explained in a world without colour.
Death arises in the one and only sentence in Scripture spoken by God to man before the fall, when man was in the state of perfect ignorance of good and evil:
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 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.”
If we assume that all terms in that sentence were understood by Adam, then Adam must have understood death (non-immortality) before the fall. And hence the paradox: if Adam had knowledge of death before the fall, and death is only the product of sin (Romans 6:23, death equates with sin), then Adam had a priori knowledge of sin before the fall. Which is impossible.
The paradox was demonstrated with characteristic satirical wit in "Autobiography of Eve – c1906(?) The Bible According to Mark Twain 1996 Touchstone ISBN 0-684-82439-6" which available on JSTOR or Internet Archive with open registration.
It was a new word, like the other; we had not heard them before, and they meant nothing to us. My mind lept running on the matter, and presently I said-
“Adam, there are those other new words – die and death. What do they mean?”
“My child, can you not see that it is impossible for me to make even a plausible guess concerning a matter about which I am absolutely ignorant? A person can’t think when he has no material to think with. Isn’t that true?”
“Yes I know it; but how vexatious it is. Just because I can’t know, all the more I want to know.”
Perhaps Twain was exploiting how far it is reasonable to stretch literalism within Genesis before its fabric begins to tear. That is a reasonable conclusion if this Scripture is not intended to be read literally, but rather allegorically or symbolically. Like much poetic and prophetic text in Scripture, (Isaiah, Psalms, Revelation) strict literalism can not only miss the point, but is permitted to be absurd as a construct to convey the true message.
The crucial symbolic/allegorical message (IMHO) is that a world without evil has no death. Even if that is an abstraction in the here and now. The paradox of the OP question is permitted in Scripture because the true meaning is symbolic or allegorical.
I posit that is a reasonable answer to the OP question.
For example, but not limited to, it is possible that 'death' here is symbolic of spiritual death, rather than physical, meaning separation from God (cf Ephesians 2:1-3 'And you were dead in your trespasses and sins').
Forerunner commentary agrees:
Adam was never immortal; he needed to eat of the Tree of Life to live forever (Genesis 3:22). When Adam sinned, he immediately entered a state of spiritual—not physical—death, which contributed to the foundation of Satan's deception that life continues after sin.
This is why Jesus said things like “let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:60). Those who had not been called into a relationship with God were living in a state of death—condemnation—despite going about the normal activities of life. These people were devoid of spiritual life; they were the spiritual “walking dead.”
It's never a good idea to start with what the Serpent said. After all, the Son of God identified men who claimed to be Abraham's offspring as actually being the Serpent's offspring because they did not accept Jesus' words. Further, the risen Christ identified the Serpent in the last book of the Bible as Satan, the devil, the great red dragon, who deceives the whole world (Rev. 12:3 & 9), out to destroy that which is of God. Jesus asked those who disbelieved his testimony:
"Why do ye not understand my speech? Because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." John 8:43-44 A.V.
The account in question has God first speaking the truth by prohibiting the eating from the fruit of the tree that will lead to death - Genesis 2:17 - the first mention of death. God said it first. God told the truth, which Adam heard directly from God, and which Eve sufficiently understood before she started listening to the Serpent. The couple knew that the opposite of life would be the result of seeking knowledge in a way different to God's provision for that - the Tree of Life. Ah, but the moment Eve did not question what the Serpent claimed (a false claim) she became unable to understand. She began to think differently about what death was after entertaining for just a few seconds the possibility that God was trying to keep something good from them.
So, the answer to the question is that Eve began to misunderstand what death was as soon as she doubted the truth of God by finding the Serpent's temptation appealing. It matters not how much she understood (or did not understand) about the nature of death. She knew what God had said first about the need to avoid disobedience that would bring death, but failed to use that knowledge to instantly dismiss the Serpent's later lie.
Listening to God first is key to understanding the truth about any matter, be that death, or anything else. But this question starts with what the Serpent said. If we start to compare what God has said with counter-claims of the Serpent, as did Eve, we will fail to understand God's speech (as Jesus pointed out to those who disbelieved him.) God spoke the universe into existence, including all life in it, before humanity heard a word of a lie from the Serpent. Start with what God says, then anything else anybody else says to contradict God can be instantly dismissed and fail to lure us into the Serpent's deceptions.
The simplest answer is that God explained to them about "evil" previously as per Genesis 2:9, 16, 17
9 Out of the ground the LORD God gave growth to every tree that is pleasing to the eye and good for food. And in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
16 And the LORD God commanded him, “You may eat freely from every tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.”
Now, it is certain that because Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of each day (Genesis 3:8) and that their conversation would have been considerably longer than the terse summary we have in Genesis 2, it can be reasonably deduced that the concepts of "good and evil" had been explained to them.
The question about how the first woman came to know about death, the consequence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, begins with the command. The man received the command before the woman was created and there is no direct statement God told the woman. Thus, how did the woman know not to eat from the tree because death would ensue?
The implication from silence is the woman learned from the man.
The entire narrative is given in a way so it does not accuse anyone of an action to which they did not confess.
The man confesses: I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. Results in Genesis 3:7-8
The man confesses: the woman you gave to be with me she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. Results in Genesis 2:18-25.
The woman confesses: the serpent deceived me and I ate. Results in Genesis 3:1-7
Anything which was not confessed to the LORD God, is not included in the narrative.
One must conclude the man told the woman about the prohibition and the consequences and the meaning of death. In addition, since the woman knew the name the man had given to the serpent, we must assume this came from the man.
We will never know for how long Adam and Eve lived in Eden before they would sin and get expelled. Now, the gift of immortality had been given only to them. There were birds and animals around,each of which they had named: cat, dog, cow, chicken, duck ....They were all multiplying, and were therefore, dying in order to pave way for the new generation to live. Naturally, Adam's pet dog and Eve' s pet cat would have died before their own eyes. So, death was nothing new to Eve when the serpent spoke to her.
IN Genesis 22:1 "God tested Abraham". God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham was not told that ultimately Isaac's life would be reprieved.
What was being tested was Abraham's obedience to God's command. Abraham's understanding about what came next was not being tested. If consequences and understanding are not being tested but obedience to God's command is being tested, in both Eve and Abraham's lives, then Eve does not have understand what is "death" for her obedience to be tested.
When Adam hid [Gen 3:10] and God said to Eve "I will multiply your pain"[3:16], Eve must have known the death of a stress free relationship with God. That is the first time I think the Bible gives an instance of the meaning of "death" coming to Eve.
In the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent assured Eve that she would not die from eating the fruit, which raises the question of how Eve could understand what death meant, given that it was supposedly a consequence she had not experienced prior.
Genesis 3:16 mentions, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth," indicating that Eve was already familiar with pain. This suggests that Eve had some prior understanding of physical suffering, which is linked to the idea of negative consequences.
The concept of death in this context is tied to not having access to the Tree of Life, which was located at the center of the Garden. It is implied that consuming the fruit of the Tree of Life would grant eternal life. Animals in the Garden that did not partake from this tree would experience mortality. Therefore, Eve may have had some understanding that mortality and the cessation of life were linked to not having access to the Tree of Life.
In summary, while Eve may not have had a complete understanding of death, she likely had some knowledge of pain and the idea of consequences, which allowed her to grasp the concept of mortality based on the information provided regarding the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit.
First of all, we must know that the Bible is not really interested in communicating literal history, but more on communicating spiritual truths.
Even if we take it literally, I don't see here a problem. We see in Genesis 2: 16-17 that God told the man about death:
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden,
17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
Even if God didn't explain what death means (although if Adam didn't knew, he must of asked - as a child would ask his father about many things that don't know - as we see that even in our 2 year old child), they didn't needed any explanations because they had Communion with God (they walked with God, and I presume that they did this often) and they didn't needed verbal communication in this Communion.
About the knowledge of good and evil, I will let John Chrysostom explain what it does not mean, in The Sixth Word on the The First Homilies on Creation:
So, I would dare to say that even before he ate he knew how to make this distinction: that if he did not know what was good and what was bad, he would have been a beast than the beasts, and he, the master, would have been more mindless than servants: for as if it were not a thing out of place for him like sheep and goats to know which greens are necessary for them and which are poisonous to them, and not to rush at whatever falls in front of them, but to distinguish and to know clearly what harms them and what is useful to them, and man be deprived of such protection? Well, if he had not had it, he would not have made a penny, but would have been more unworthy than all living things: for it would have been much more desirable for him to spend his time in darkness and have his eyes put out and be deprived of light except that he does not know what is good and what is bad, because if you deprive our life of this knowledge, you have robbed our life completely and filled everything with much confusion - because we differ from animals and are more better than beasts in that we know what is wickedness and what is virtue, and know what is evil, and are not ignorant of what is good. And if we know this now - and not only us, but also the Scythians and the other barbarians - much more did man know it before sin; and there was no way that the honest one with so many honors could remain desolate from the height of goodness - such as the image, the likeness and the other blessings, because only those who are by nature devoid of mind do not know good and evil - and Adam was filled with much wisdom, and able to distinguish between the two. And to convince yourself that he was filled with spiritual wisdom, hear the proof:
"God brought the beasts to him to see what name he would give them: and as Adam called them, this is their name." Think, however, of how much wisdom he was filled with, that he was able to give names to so many varieties of life so various and special - animals, creeping things, birds - and also for each one separately: that God received the giving of names and did not want to erase them, so that those names remained unchanged - which proves that Adam did not err, because the Scripture says: "everything as Adam called them, that is their name."
And then, Adam did not know what is good and what is bad? And what would the name be? And again: God brought the woman to him, and when Adam saw her, he immediately knew that she was of the same nature as him. And what does he say? "Behold now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh": since God had brought before him a little before all the living things, Adam wanting to show that this living thing, that is, the woman, is not one of those living things, he said:
"Behold now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." And some say that not only this thing is understood here, but also the way of making the woman, and because there will be no more birth like this for the woman, Adam said: behold now - what someone else, interpreting more acrimoniously, has said: This one time, otherwise said: "Only now was woman made only from man; and then it won't be like that anymore, but from both of them". Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: for out of the whole mixture God took a piece and thus made the woman, that in everything she became a partaker of the man. "This, he says, will be called woman, because from man she was taken." See how the name gives it to teach you the fellowship of nature, and the teaching about the fellowship of nature and the way of making be the theme of eternal love and the bond of the union of the mind.
After that, what does he say? "For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife." He did not simply say: they will unite, but they will cleave to one another, showing how close the connection is. And they shall both be one flesh. So, he who knew such things, tell me, did he not know what was good and what was bad? But what would that mean? That if he did not know what was good and what was bad before he ate from the tree, but found out after eating from it, sin became his teacher of wisdom, and the snake was not a deceiver, but a counselor to those of use, making man out of the beast he was. But it's not like that, no - God forbid! That if he did not know what is good and what is bad, how could he receive the commandment? Since no one gives a law to one who does not know that breaking the law is bad; and God gave a law, and punished him who transgressed it: and he would not have done any of these things if he had not made him from the beginning a knower of virtue and wickedness. Do you see how it is proven to us from all sides that he did not know good and evil after eating from the tree, but he knew them even before?
Later, on The Seventh Word, Chrysostom explains what this "knowledge of good and evil" means:
Today I need to say what is the reason why, while man did not receive the knowledge of good and evil from the tree, the tree is still called "of the knowledge of good and evil": it is not a small thing to find out why it has this name the tree. Even the devil said: "Every day you eat from the tree, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil (Gen 3:5). "Then how sayest thou," say some, "that he hath not given them the knowledge of good and evil?"
But who gave it to them, tell me? Isn't it the devil? "Yes," they say, "saying: 'You will be like gods, knowing good and evil.' Well, you bring me the testimony of the enemy and the schemer? If he said, "you will be like gods," does that mean they became gods? So, just as it is true that they did not become gods, it is also true that they did not then receive the knowledge of good and evil: that the devil is a liar, and he does not say anything true - that the Lord says: "he did not stand in the truth" (Jn. 8, 44). Let's not bring but, let's not bring the enemy as a witness, but let's see, starting from the facts, why the tree is called "the knowledge of good and evil". And first, if you want, let's examine what is good and what is bad.
What is good? It is good to obey. what is bad It is bad to be disobedient. And now, so that we do not go astray regarding the nature of good and evil, let us show how things stand in detail on the basis of the Scriptures. To convince yourself that the good and the bad are what I have shown, listen to what the Prophet says: "What is good, or what does the Lord ask of you?" (Mich. 6,8). Say: what is good? "Love the Lord your God." Do you see that listening is good? That from love comes obedience.
And again: "My people have done two evil things: they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of the water of life, and they have dug themselves broken wells, which will not be able to hold water" (Jer. 2:13) . Do you see that disobedience and forsaking God is bad?
So, for now, let's remember that obedience is good and disobedience is bad, this being the way we will find out what we are looking for - because the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was called that precisely because the commandment given to harden in obedience was regarding it. Adam knew even before that obedience is good and disobedience is bad; and later, by trial, he understood this even more clearly, just as Cain knew very well that it is bad to kill his brother before stabbing him. And as proof that he understood the evil of his plan, you hear him say: "Let's go out into the field" (Gen 4: 8).
But what do I say? Because we know that bad things are bad even before we do them, and afterwards we understand this even more clearly - but much more clearly when we are punished.
For example, Cain also knew that it was bad to kill his brother even before he did it, and later, through the punishment, he learned this even more clearly. And we know that health is good and illness is burdensome before we get to know the latter on our skin. However, we understand the difference between them much more after we get sick.
In the same way, Adam also knew that obedience is good and disobedience is bad; and later he found out even more clearly - when, tasting from the tree, he was thrown out of heaven and fell from that happiness. So, after he fell into punishment because he tasted of the tree despite God's prohibition, the punishment taught him more clearly, by seeking, how bad it is to disobey God and how good it is to obey Him. That is why it is called the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil".
"But why is it called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, if the nature of the tree itself did not have the knowledge of good and evil, but from the punishment for the disobedience committed in relation to the tree, the man learned more clearly what is good and evil?" Because Scripture has this habit: that when something happens, it names the places and times in which it happened.
And to make what I'm saying clearer, I'll explain it to you with an example. Isaac once dug wells; the neighbors tried to destroy these wells; some quarrel happened there, and he named the well: Opposition (Gen. 26: 21) - not because the well harbored any hatred, but because the quarrel was made regarding it. Thus the tree is called "of the knowledge of good and evil": not because it had this knowledge, but because through it the knowledge of good and evil was established.
About the words of John Chrysostom: they are a fast translation using google translate, so please excuse the eventual semantic mistakes.
The answer lies in two words, "in" and "on".
2 Peter 3:8 KJV
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Genesis 3:5 KJV
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.
God intended for Adam to live one thousand years without sin, one day in His time, after which he would be translated from his physical body to a spiritual body and enter into eternal life with God in the kingdom and government of God.
Adam transgressed God's command and sinned. Transgression of God's law is sin. The penalty of which is death.
Romans 6:23 KJV
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Adam lived in Eden and was taught God's laws by the Word of God, Jesus.
Adam sinned and lived to the age of 930 years and died forfeiting 70 years of his intended lifespan of 1000 years. One day.
Adam broke the seventh command of the Ten Commandments and knew exactly what he was doing. Therefore, the seventh Commandment x 10 Law = 70 years punishment was taken from his intended lifespan of 1000 years. 1000-70 = 930 and died at the age of 930 years old.
Eve's transgression occurred **on the 17th day of the second month which commenced the day of the flood that destroyed her offspring.
Genesis 7:10 KJV
10 And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.