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QUESTIONS: Re the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil


[I received this question through our church web site, http://www.Plymouth-church.com, where I answer questions from the Question Box.]

I would like to see thoughts on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17).  What did that imply and why did God forbid it?   What is wrong with knowing good and evil?  Did Adam and Eve not have the knowledge of good and evil before they ate it?   What did they gain after eating it?  Related to this, why were they not ashamed of being naked before eating it, but after eating it they realized they were naked and covered themselves?  Why was being naked okay at one time but not okay at another time?

I have long considered the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not as the knowledge of the mind but as the knowledge of experience. Adam and Eve intellectually knew that there was “right” and “wrong” before they ate the forbidden fruit. In eating that fruit, after listening to the voice of the tempter, they experienced evil, or rebellion against their Creator.

The temptation was that they could remove themselves from the rule of God and be wise (like God) enough to be able to determine for themselves what is good and what is evil. This, by the way, is still the fundamental temptation man faces! The promised sweetness of the fruit is the deceit that the pleasure of “doing our own thing” is the way to ultimate bliss.

Why did God tell them not to eat the forbidden fruit? The Bible does not say in so many words, but the likely reason is that there had to be some symbol of their subjection to God’s rule. This tree, as long as they avoided it, stood as a symbol that they were obeying God. Since they ate of the tree, it stands as a symbol of their disobedience.

Their nakedness seems to have been their trusting openness before God and each other. This enabled the sweetness of the fellowship they enjoyed in the Garden, both with each other as human beings and husband-wife – and their fellowship with God.

When their trusting confidence in God was gone, they also found they could not trust themselves to each other. As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” When we do not trust one another, we must hide ourselves, our true selves, from each other.

However, “fig leaf” coverings are not sufficient to cover us from God, for “everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). Hence, God covered them with the skins of animals, the first animal sacrifice for the sins of man. Today we are clothed, instead, with the Christ Himself (see Galatians 3:27; Romans 13:14).

Granted, this is an allegorical interpretation of the story in Genesis 3, but in no way denies the reality of the story – any more than Paul’s Galatians 4 allegorical interpretation of the Sarah-Hagar story makes the story of their conflict in Genesis less literal. In other words, it really happened, but what I suggest is how I understand the meaning of what happened.

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