Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:22)


Misconceptions swirl around the nature of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" in the midst of the Garden of Eden that bore the fruit associated with the fall of humanity. You may be surprised to learn that this tree has nothing to do with the development of conscience or knowing right from wrong. Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong, aware that it would be wrong to disobey God and eat from that tree.

Actually, eating of the tree made one "like God" (Genesis 3:5), gave one powers of intellectual and spiritual penetration and discrimination. This is known from the use of the same Hebrew idiom in texts such as 1 Kings 3:9 and 2 Samuel 14:17.

The gifts of the tree are two-edged. Powers of penetration can help you get to the bottom of a matter, but they can also allow you to subdue and vanquish other human beings for your own selfish purposes. Powers of discrimination can help you sort out every kind of thing, but they can also allow you to treat certain groups unfairly simply on the basis of arbitrary differences. They can also lead to an extreme self-consciousness (cf. Gen 2:25), where you constantly evaluate yourself over against others.

15 Comments:

Blogger S and C said...

Prof. Chris Heard has some great comments on this post over at his Higgaion blog: http://www.heardworld.com/higgaion/ More on this soon above...

Sun Sep 10, 06:40:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Walter R. Mattfeld said...

For a different approach, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as recast Mesopotamian motifs and concepts regarding primeval man and his relationship in the edin with his gods cf.http://www.bibleorigins.net/EdensTreeofKnowledgeLife.html

Wed Jul 04, 01:02:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just what knowledge was gained? What is knowledge of good and evil? They ate the thing and then noticed that they were naked- what a trivial revelation. Yet nothing else is said. Either the reader already knows what Adam and Eve learned, and I do not see why this should be so (at least I do not know), or it is knowing that you are naked, or it has been lost over time and nakedness is all that survived.

Sat Aug 23, 02:09:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

I'm not sure I would view the knowledge of nakedness as trivial. It appears to suggest vulnerability and weakness in the OT (Deut 28:48; Job 1:21; Isa 58:7). When the couple receives their new power of discrimination from the fruit, the new knowledge that appears is very ironic, viz knowledge of being vulnerable and helpless now that they have given up their dependence on God! ---SLC

Sat Aug 23, 08:05:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger David said...

The tree seems to define the extent to which Adam was created in the image of God. Since God cannot sin, the first Adam did not embody Deity. Fortunately the Last Adam did embody Deity and also made it possible for us as well. It seems that we were created to need Him....What a relief!

Mon Dec 08, 11:25:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger JewishRoots said...

My study bible teacher has an interesting perspective on the Tree of Knowledge - Good & Evil. Good is not what us "Westerner's" presume to be..i.e: something that is pleasurable, delightful, joy, happiness,etc. But that it is the Presence of God. And evil is not what we "think" as being evil - something bad, down and out, unhappiness - But that it means it is the "Hiddeness of God" or the lack of awareness of God. Isn't that interesting? Has anyone done their research on this? I'm doing my own to validate my teacher's teaching. If you come across something let me know!

Wed Feb 04, 10:07:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger JewishRoots said...

My study bible teacher has an interesting perspective on the Tree of Knowledge - Good & Evil. Good is not what us "Westerner's" presume to be..i.e: something that is pleasurable, delightful, joy, happiness,etc. But that it is the Presence of God. And evil is not what we "think" as being evil - something bad, down and out, unhappiness - But that it means it is the "Hiddeness of God" or the lack of awareness of God. Isn't that interesting? Has anyone done their research on this? I'm doing my own to validate my teacher's teaching. If you come across something let me know!

Wed Feb 04, 10:08:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger John De said...

It would seem from Deut 1v39 that the knowledge of good and evil was simply the ability to discern moral good from that which is morally evil. Given that mankind was made like other creatures with defensive minds that give rise to ungodly actions, the awareness of what was good or evil inevitably gave rise to the pain of guilt. God was simply warning them not to eat it in order to prevent this state - which in turn would make then unfit for eternal life.

Sat Aug 29, 05:51:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

John, your comment seems to contradict the original post. To be clear, I would defend the position that this idiom, even in Deut 1.39 is a figure of speech called a merism (suggesting a whole by referring to its extreme opposites). IMHO, what the children in Deut 1 lack is general knowledge, wisdom, and discernment. Seen Jonah 4:11 for an example of how even adults who are culpable (and due for severe judgment) can be judged to be in such a state of lack of wisdom and orientation...

Sat Aug 29, 07:03:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger JRDavy said...

The passage that you have quoted does not say that the thousands in Nineveh that were unable to discern right hand from left were adults (it may have been a reference to the children in that place). It is generally accepted in scripture that adults have the ability to discern right from wrong where children do not. Even under civil law today minors are deemed to have a diminished responsibility for this reason.

I have my doubts that this is a merism but that the knowledge gained by Solomon (1 Kings 3) was specifically the necessary moral awareness necessary to judge the issues of his people Israel.

It is allegorical of the moral awareness that we all gain as we mature Heb 5:14 in our growth from infancy, through puberty to maturity.

Mon Apr 05, 08:19:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi JRDavy. Yes, I would differ with you on the interpretation of Jonah 4:11. True, it is sometimes suggested, that Nineveh here is said to have had 120,000 small children, but the Hebrew term 'adam,, "people," in the verse does not seem to be used of children alone. In any case, my main point that I do want people to keep in mind is that the eating of tree in Eden had nothing to do with coming of age or growth in maturity. That is why I would avoid some of the phraseology that you are using. As texts such as Eccl 10:2 make clear, the inability to discern right from left in Jonah 4:11 can easily be an issue that characterizes adults, not just children (cf. Matt 9:36).

Mon Apr 05, 02:44:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger JRDavy said...

I hope you don't mind continuing the conversation, I am finding your position quite interesting but I am not really convinced.
The idea that this is a merism seems a little odd to me. The problem with stating a merism in the negative is that rather that expressing a broader truth, it narrows it. To say that someone doesn't know their right hand from their left isn't to say that they don't know everything but that they don't know anything. To say that Adam and Eve didn't know good and evil would be the same - that they didn't know even the basics. Even as a merism the implication is that they had no ability to discern right from wrong.

I don't see a lot of relevance in Matt 9:36 to what you have said

I do see the gaining of a knowledge of good and evil as a two edged sword though as you say – but for different reasons. Sin and guilt are only possible when you have a knowledge of good and evil – which is why children and animals are not counted as sinners. Such knowledge with God presents no problems because the mind of God is not carnal – but man was made as a carnal creature with all of the insecurities and defensiveness necessary for the species to survive. Have the mind of God to discern moral rights and wrongs in a carnal being will always lead to sin and guilt. Yet without it we were always going to be unable to love God for his righteousness that was hidden to us.

We are nowhere told that Adam & Eve could discern between right and wrong before this. The fact that they had a command is no different to us commanding an infant or pet dog to do something. They may understand quite well yet choose to disobey – this does not mean that they can tell the difference between right and wrong in a moral sense.

Mon Apr 12, 03:55:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

I see your point that refering to the "good and evil" diction as a merism could be confusing. What I think is going on with this idiom is the idea of being so in command of the range of knowledge that one can make discerning observations and decisions, just like "an angel of God" (2 Sam 14:17). The problem with desiring the tree in Eden wasn't a problem of wanting to "learn the basics" but the problem of wanting to be "like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). The tree itself partakes of the archtype of the "cosmic tree," the mythic pillar supporting the tiers of the cosmos. To grasp this tree is to grasp God's cosmic prerogative at the center of existence. What we see going on with the tower of Babel in Gen 11 is surely related. One should also compare Ezekiel 31. I struggle to understand your position that you map out in you last few paragraphs. It is interesting, but it makes the expulsion from Eden something other than a sin, perhaps a protective measure of some sort, no? In contrast, I would defend the position that actual sin was involved--that Adam and Eve were not Pavlov dogs. A parallel "fall from Eden" account in Ezek 28 specifically calls the fall a sin (Ezek 28:14-16).

Mon Apr 12, 09:05:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger JRDavy said...

Yes I agree that the knowledge to be gained was God-like and from the unknowing perspective of Adam & Eve before eating of the tree they may have thought of it as omniscience and expected no less. However I still think that the term used strongly infers only a (Godly) moral awareness.

I suspect that Adam & Eve were striving for some sort of equality with God.

The passage in Ezekiel 28 does have some parallels with Eden – but some marked differences too. Verses 17 & 18 make it plain that the sins committed bear no similarity to the events in Eden and I think it would be stretching the point say that this provides a proof that Adam & Eve sinned. Remarkably, there is nowhere in scripture that says they did!. Both Job and Paul comment that they transgressed (disobeyed a command) but their actions are never called sin.

I should say that I have been mulling over the passage in Genesis 2&3 for about 30 years and was never satisfied with the range of explanations given.

I rather unashamedly looked for an understanding that didn’t have God issuing a pointless command and backing it up with a draconian sentence of death. I believe that all of Gods commands are righteous – not just because he says so – but because they are intrinsically righteous in intent and content.

I have come to believe that the command given was not a test but a warning of what would be the natural result of eating of the tree. God says “you will surely die’ (or dying you will die) but he does not say “I will kill you”

The only way this makes sense is if the effect of the tree was to bring about their death.

When we look at what the serpent says to Eve, it is completely unconvincing if God was to execute judicial death for disobedience. The serpent provides no reason at all for God not to take Eve’s life if this is what was intended. The fact that Eve was deceived implies that she had a different understanding of the command – that God had warned them not to eat of the tree (because it was not good for them).

Look at what the serpent says “Ye shall not surely die:
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.”

So the woman observes that the tree was safe to eat and desired to make her wise:-

“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 the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil”

There is obviously a lot more to this but I don’t want to wear out my welcome so I will leave it at that - thanks for listening

John

Fri Apr 23, 01:54:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a few observations regarding the passage and some ideas that involve the whole of Scripture. First observation is that a tree is likened to knowledge and that it had fruit . Second observation is in the form of a question, if Adam and Eve truly understood the nature of evil and the long standing destruction that it would cause would they have done it? I have a hard time believing they knew much of anything. They lacked vision. Third observation is that sin causes separation from God and in our soul we experience this separation in the way of peace being taken from us. Yet our mind are under developed in the knowledge to know what is truly happening. Sin witch brings understanding that something was done wrong causes us to want to hide what we did. To be naked seems to indicate we realize we did wrong and to hide seems to mean we are trying to cover it up.
Ideas;
If there is a tree of knowledge of good and evil and God is using the whole scripture to tell us what to do and what not to do, is he not the defining the knowledge of good and evil to us? Further if the first question is yes is it possible that everything in scripture is a depiction of that knowledge at work in us? If that question is yes does it mean that God is defining the human soul, what is in it, how it was designed and how it operates and in so doing revealing his image in us? Might I suggest that to have the knowledge of good and evil defined would be equivalent to having God's will defined and his heart that his will caries out and then finally his very mind that directs his heart is revealed ? I have no other thought then this. Anyone that is ignorant of God is a child and has need of an education until they grow into maturity in that knowledge through experience and applied application. Thank you for a most interesting time in scripture!

Tue Dec 07, 10:45:00 PM GMT-5  

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