The Garden of Eden

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 of it you will surely die."

Genesis 3:1-7 (see also Genesis 3)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

How could God condemn Adam and Eve when they didn't know right from wrong?

Though Adam and Eve lacked knowledge of good and evil before eating from the tree, that doesn't necessarily mean they had no understanding of obedience and disobedience, or that they were totally ignorant of right and wrong - any more than the presence of the tree of life meant they were dead until they ate from it. Even today, we lack a complete understanding of good and evil - we continually debate and question various moral issues - yet we are not completely ignorant of good and evil either. God explained to Adam both what he was not to do (eat from the tree) and what the consequences of disobedience were (death) in Genesis 2:16-17. In other words, God taught them that eating from the tree was wrong, so they did know it was wrong, even if they were ignorant of other ethical matters. Eve clearly understood the command and the negative consequences, for she was able to explain it to the serpent.[1]

Some have objected that Adam and Eve wouldn't know what death was. However, God was able to communicate with them, apparently using spoken language, as soon as they were created. It would make sense for God to give Adam the command about the tree almost immediately, before Adam had the chance to eat from any of the trees, yet Adam was able to understand what God said, even if he hadn't yet eaten anything. If God was able to give Adam and Eve the understanding of language, he could also have given them an understanding of what death was before they witnessed death themselves. (Interestingly, they may have witnessed animal death before eating the fruit - see Did Death Occur on Earth Prior to Man's Sin? by Bert Thompson.) Additionally, Eve at least understood that death was something to be avoided, for she gave death as the reason why they were not to eat the fruit, and the serpent persuaded her by telling her she wouldn't die.

Another way of looking at this is to consider the moral state of young children. Children lack moral knowledge and need to be taught right from wrong. Yet children are not completely devoid of moral knowledge, either: they know that when another child cuts in front of them in line or takes the toy they were playing with, they have a right to object. Children don't have to be taught that there is such a thing as right and wrong, or that hurting people is wrong. They don't have to be taught to feel guilty when they do something wrong. What they do have to be taught is which particular actions are wrong or will result in someone getting hurt.

It's possible that Adam and Eve's initial state was similar to this. In other words, they had the foundations of moral knowledge: they knew there was such a thing as right and wrong, and if one of them had hurt the other, they probably would not have regarded the act as morally neutral. However, they lacked specific knowledge (e.g. they didn't recognize the difference between modest and immodest dress), and therefore learned some things when they ate the fruit. Their relative innocence still didn't provide them with a valid excuse, as their awareness of morality coupled with God's explicit instruction meant they knew it was wrong to eat the fruit.

God told Adam and Eve they would die if they ate the fruit, but they didn't.

Adam and Eve died and did not die. They died spiritually: they were removed from a place where they had direct contact with God, and could not go back. They did not experience immediate physical death, but they did eventually die; it may be that the process of aging and decay started on the day they ate the fruit.

Other responses (offsite):

The test in the Garden was set up so that humans would fail.

Response by Glenn Miller (offsite)

Why did God put the tree in the garden, if he didn't want Adam and Eve to eat from it?

Why didn't God create the Garden of Eden without the tree of knowledge of good and evil in it, since he didn't want Adam and Eve to eat from it? Wouldn't all the subsequent problems have been avoided if Adam and Eve couldn't get to the tree?

If God had constructed the Garden of Eden so that there were no rules and no way for Adam and Eve to do wrong, then Adam and Eve would be effectively forced to obey God. In order for us to be free - which in this case refers to the freedom to follow or ignore God - we have to be able to make choices. Adam and Eve couldn't have chosen to follow God if they literally had no other choice.

Why did God forbid eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Isn't knowledge a good thing?

Is it wrong to have moral knowledge? Did God's instruction to Adam and Eve signify that he wanted them to remain ignorant?

God gives commands for different reasons. Some of his commands reflect absolute moral principles (e.g. "Don't commit adultery"). Other commands are given to specific individuals in specific situations. For instance, God's commandment to Noah to build an ark doesn't apply to the rest of us, nor does it mean that shipbuilders and sailors are holier than those who stay on land. God's command to Adam and Eve was not a command to avoid all knowledge, nor was it a command to all of humanity to avoid learning about morality. It was the command God chose to give in order to test Adam and Eve, to give them a free choice whether to obey him or not.

Adam and Eve were allowed to keep the new knowledge they gained after eating the fruit. God even helped them to follow their enlightened consciences by providing clothing for them.[2] In fact, it's possible that God chose the tree of moral knowledge to be the forbidden tree because he knew Adam and Eve would disobey him and would need the knowledge they gained in their new life outside the Garden.

Why did God punish Adam and Eve so severely for simply eating a fruit?

This question is rather like asking, "Why do people get sent to jail for life just for moving a small lever?" Someone who points a gun at another person and shoots them is, in a simplistic sense, merely moving a piece of metal and pulling a small trigger. The difference betwen this action and an ordinary action is that it results in injuring or killing another person. Adam and Eve ate a fruit that God had warned them would cause death - essentially, they were drinking from a bottle labeled "Poison" and passing it around.

Furthermore, Adam and Eve were disobeying a direct command from God and distrusting what he had told them about the tree. By distrusting what God had said, they were disrespecting someone they owed respect to, as well as foolishly disregarding the instruction of someone wiser and more knowledgable than themselves. By disobeying a perfectly good God, they were choosing to follow evil instead of good.

All Adam did was fail to blindly obey God, so he wasn't wrong

Would Adam have been blindly obeying God, if he obeyed? Or did he have reason to obey God? Consider Adam's life up to the point of eating the fruit: He'd always lived in a garden, which was described as "very good." Presumably he knew God created him and the garden: he knew God created Eve by using his rib, and God communicated with him. God gave him an occupation as a gardener, provided for all his needs (both food and companionship), and gave him a good measure of freedom (he could eat from any tree except two; he and his wife were free to talk to someone opposed to God; etc.). Adam had no reason to think God was giving him false information or was acting against his best interests in any way when he said, "Don't eat from that tree or something bad will happen to you." On the other hand, what reason did he or Eve have to believe the serpent? Adam and Eve chose to trust a stranger and to doubt God's goodness and wisdom.

A talking snake?!

Can we take Genesis 3 seriously, since it records Eve's conversation with a snake? Why would Eve talk to a serpent to begin with, unless she was very ignorant - and therefore lacking the mental competency to make moral decisions?

Interestingly, this is not the only place in the Bible where an animal speaks. God used a donkey to rebuke the errant prophet Balaam.[3] If it had served God's purposes, God could have caused one of the animals in the Garden to speak to Adam and Eve. However, it is generally assumed that Satan was speaking through the snake, not God or the snake itself. Thus Genesis does not mean to imply that snakes have human-like intelligence or are capable of human speech.

Why would Satan choose a talking animal? Possibly, Satan had the ability to possess the snake, but not to create a new creature (e.g. a third human) or disguise himself as a human - or God prohibited him from doing so.[4]

As for Eve, she didn't necessarily have the same perspective we do on talking animals. We know from history as well as our own experience that animals don't talk. We also grew up with stories of animals talking, and were taught to regard them as imaginary. Adam and Eve didn't have a childhood, nor did they have other humans to learn from. They may not even have been alive for very long when the incident occurred. For all they knew, animals did speak from time to time.

It's also possible that this was not the first talking animal Adam and Eve had encountered. Perhaps Satan or even God had used animals to communicate with Adam and Eve before. Finally, if we were in Eve's shoes, what would we do? The snake was speaking to her in a language that she understood, and was asking an intelligible question. Adam was nearby and could verify that she wasn't imagining things. It was therefore not unreasonable of her to answer.

Further reading (offsite)

Related articles


1. Gen 3:2-3 (Back to article)
2. Gen 3:21 (Back to article)
3. Num 22:21-35 (Back to article)
4. Even Satan is constrained by God in some areas - cf. Job 1:12, 2:6 (Back to article)

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