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 of it you will surely die.” — Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV 1984)
According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden. He commanded that they tend the Earth, and that they be fruitful and multiply. They walked in fellowship with God as they worked; it was a paradise, but not an idle paradise. He provided the tree of life that they might live forever, but forbade them from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
In Genesis 3, as we know, Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God and they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Was this a good thing or a bad thing? The correct answer, of course, is that this was a bad thing. That doesn’t stop some from twisting the story; consider the following from paleontologist L. Beverly Halstead:
Here [in Genesis] we have man being given an instruction by the supreme Authority, and he was expected to accept this quite uncritically—he was not expected to question it, he was certainly not expected to defy it, he was expected to obey it. Let us consider what this means. Here is a situation where you are placed in an environment where you have everything, all you must not do is think.
Samuel Butler in the last century wrote “The Kingdom of Heaven is the being like a good dog.”
A good dog does what he is told, gets a pat on the head, and that is all. This is a prospect that no real human being should ever stand for. But we are very fortunate in this story—we have the hero of this entire episode, the serpent, and he gave very good advice (Gen 3:5-7)
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.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened.
That, to my mind, is the most inspiring passage in this entire volume.
That was the original sin, the defiance of the Lord God was original sin, and this sin is the one which every scientist worthy of the name is dedicated to uphold.
(quote from Halstead, L. Beverly, “Evolution—The Fossils Say Yes!”, in Montagu, Ashley (ed.), 1984, Science and Creationism, pp. 241-242. )
Halstead simply distorted the passage for his own purposes. God did not forbid them from eating fruit from a “tree of knowledge,” as if knowledge were bad, but from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
“Knowledge” can mean knowing about something, such as knowing about European history or invertebrate paleontology. I think that is what Halstead had in mind; that somehow God wanted Adam and Eve to live in some sort of ignorant bliss. The passage, however, implies that God wanted Adam and Eve to have a kind of scientific knowledge about their world; how could they have dominion over the garden as God’s representatives on Earth if they were clueless about caring for the Earth?
There is another kind of knowledge that is experiential rather than just the intellectual knowledge inherent in science. We see this in Genesis 4:1 — “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” Adam did not just know about Eve as an intellectual exercise, but had a deep, intimate, emotional knowledge of her expressed in sexual intercourse.
This is the kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve would gain through eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not just gain an intellectual understanding about the world, or a textbook knowledge about ethics, but they knew good and evil, and this was a horrible thing to gain intimate knowledge of.
Think of what they “gained” through their submission to Satan, or as Halstead put it, the “hero of this entire episode, the serpent.” Here is what we have as the fruit of disobedience:
- A broken relationship with God.
- Broken relationships with one another.
- A broken relationship with the creation.
- Frustration in work.
- Pain in childbirth.
- Physical death.
- Decaying bodies.
All because of one piece of fruit. Was it worth it?
Grace and Peace
4 thoughts on “GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:16-17 — The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of sin”
In 27+ years as a believer, nobody has ever brought home to me the concept of *knowing* evil until just now. Thank you.
I wonder if L. Beverly Halstead would have been fine with his children ignoring his instructions and rebelling. Maybe he thought that it was a good thing if they questioned his authority as their parent, even to the children’s detriment in ignoring his instructions, and even if he carefully explained to them why they shouldn’t be doing certain things. I mean it isn’t like God didn’t explain exactly what would happen to us if we ate of the fruit. This wasn’t some blind commandment… it was do this, or this will happen, and we chose that because of disbelief and the desire to be like gods.
Anyway, I sometimes wonder as well about how I would feel put in Adam’s place with forbidden knowledge hidden from me for my own good and one commandment to follow. I definitely have slipped into similar thinking as Halstead, confusing the knowledge of good and evil for general knowledge. But, sadly, even understanding that it means an intimate knowledge and experience of the true nature of good and evil I know I would have rebelled as well and still do. That’s how I know that original sin is my sin too. Thank goodness for Christ though.
Skyorrichegg — Thanks for the insights. I know what you mean: sometimes we want to “know” something we “know” is wrong. We are rather irrational at times.
Years ago I had a conversation with an atheist about this passage and he referred to them being forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge. When I pointed out that it was really the knowledge of good and evil that comes from doing evil that was in question, he was stunned. He had apparently never read it for himself and had simply accepted this canard that what was forbidden was all knowledge.