Can you explain “knowing” good and evil with respect to the Garden of Eden?


by Shawn Brasseaux

On four occasions in the Holy Bible, we read of “knowing” or “knowledge” as concerning the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Exactly what concept is involved here? Was the fruit itself evil? (No!) Partaking of it—eating it—was the problem. But, how was consuming it such a “big deal” before God? Why was the LORD insistent that Adam and Eve not eat that fruit? What underlying idea made their act so offensive, eternally serious, worthy of expulsion and damnation?

Genesis chapter 2: “[9] 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…. [17] 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.”

Scripture says in chapter 3: “[5] 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…. [22] 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:….”

To have knowledge of good and evil”—to know good and evil”—is not about possessing the ability to know good from evil. It is not a matter of understanding good and evil. Adam and Eve knew right from wrong from the very beginning. They understood that to follow God was right and to disobey Him was wrong. That was not the purpose of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, the emphasis on partaking of the forbidden fruit is being a judge, determining what is good and what is evil. This is the LORD God’s job alone. If Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they are attempting to usurp God’s right to be the final authority. As the Creator God, He alone sets the standards: His rules must be followed and not disobeyed. He defines or decides what is good and what is evil.

In chapter 3, Satan enticed Adam and Eve to be their own authority. Eating of the forbidden fruit is significant because they are showing God they want to function like He does. Verse 5 again: “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…. The “gods” here is not a reference to “God” (as modern English versions read). Adam and Eve knew they cannot actually become God. However, they were led to believe they could be “gods”—beings who pretend to be God in that they make their own rules and do as they please. Satan himself is called “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4, for he is ruling this evil world system as a usurper (Galatians 1:4; 1 John 5:19). Fallen angels—those who sided with Satan against God—are the “gods” of Genesis 3:5. They had already rebelled against the Creator, and Satan encouraged Adam and Eve to follow suit.

Unfortunately, we know the rest of Genesis chapter 3 (see also 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and the related study linked at the end of this article). Eve was deceived but Adam was not deceived. Operating without sound Bible doctrine, Eve ate the forbidden fruit—and Adam made a deliberate choice to follow her in eating. Here is the Fall of man, described quite clearly in Romans chapter 5 (which passage also discusses how the Lord Jesus Christ came to die and save us from that sinful state).


Let it also be understood that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a test that God placed before Adam and Eve. Would they rely on God’s performance—what He did for them, what He gave them? Or, would they prefer their performance—what they wanted and what they could do for themselves? See Genesis 2:16-17: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 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.” (Eve was not created until later that day, so she did not hear this directly from God. Presumably, Adam told her God’s Word.)

The LORD God Himself told Adam—and Adam was to convey the message to Eve—that He had given them all the trees of the garden for food except one. Save for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they had been granted permission to eat the fruit of any and every tree. This is God’s grace—abundant blessings, more than enough provisions, simply given because of His goodness!!! “Thou mayest freely eat.” Here is free will, friends. God did not force them to eat from the good trees, and He did not force them to eat of the one “off-limits” tree. It was not, “Thou must freely eat.” Neither was it, “Thou must not freely eat.” It was entirely up to them. Satan caused them to be ungrateful, ignore God’s provisions. They made the wrong choice, indeed, but it was their choice. God did not make it for them: He did not create them to be mindless robots!

God laid before Adam and Eve two choices. Firstly, they could function within the limits that He established for their own good. They could enjoy His goodness—and eat of all the trees except the one forbidden tree. In other words, they could by faith cooperate with His grace. Secondly, they could cross the barriers He erected. That is, they could ignore His grace, and attempt to be creatures He had not intended them to be, and try to provide for their own needs. It was most unfortunate—awful—they chose the latter route. This is the same course Abraham took when he ignored the son God promised him (Isaac) and fathered Ishmael. It is the same path the nation Israel took at Mount Sinai, when they threw aside everything God had done for them thus far and demanded a works-religion system. This is the same route people are taking today when they snub Christ’s finished crosswork at Calvary, and go about establishing their own righteous with religious works! It is absolute folly… and it will result in eternal damnation!!!

Also see:
» What was “the forbidden fruit?” Was it really an apple?
» Was God “unfair” to punish us for Adam’s sin?
» Could you explain 1 Timothy 2:15?

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