Did God prohibt or encourage Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge?

Genesis 2:17 is generally read as if God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Knowledge. My reading, however, suggests that God may have told them to eat of the Tree and their sin may have been of not eating soon enough.

The question is important because eating of the Tree led to opening of their eyes. So why would God want to keep them in the dark?

Please guide me if my understanding is incorrect.

In Genesis 2:17, God said:

Interlinear Translation: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil not you shall eat from for in the day that you eat of it surely you shall die.

The two words given in italics require reconsideration. The word for “not” is Hebrew “lo” (Strong’s 3808). Of the 1200-odd times it is used in the OT, about 1150 times it is used in the sense of negation: “never, no, none, nor, nothing…” However, in 2Sam 13:26 and 2Kings 5:17 it is used as “if not.”

The second word requiring consideration is “eat” (“akal” Strong’s 0398). It is used in the sense of eating-without-devouring as well as eating-with-devouring—often in the same verse. Few examples of the latter use are Joel 1:4, Psalms 105:35, Psalms 14:4, Nahum 3:15, Jeremiah 5:17, Amos 1:7 and Zechariah 11:1.

By using alternate meanings we can render this verse as follows:

Our Translation: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil if not you shall eat from; [and] for in the day that you devour of it surely you shall die.

Thus rendered this verse could tell of God telling Adam to eat from the Tree but not to devour it. Please guide me if this makes sense… Thanks.

Hi, Bharat - and welcome to the forum!

I suppose Hebrew scholars will step in here and give a more technical answer, but I can’t imagine how such extra knowledge could make a difference regarding the thing you ask.

Why would the translators ignore the plain and most-used sense of the word “not” - ignoring its “1150 normal uses” as it were in favor of some highly anomalous usages of which there are only three examples? I mean … if translators couldn’t get something so basic as that right, then we’ve got pretty big problems on our hands … does “thou shalt not kill or steal” really mean “thou shalt …”? [Not to mention that the whole narrative plot doesn’t lean that way in all the rest of that story … God doesn’t come looking for them in the garden with admiration or congratulations on his mind…]

I don’t really see how this could be a confusion except by extreme contrivance on someone’s part … evolutionary-minded people are often accused of “not taking the plain sense” of scripture (unjustly I would say) but at least they have good reason for thinking as they do both from within scriptures as well as the testimony of creation itself. But I don’t see the same case here. Will remain interested in other replies from scholars, though.

Mervin. Thanks for asking that question. My query arises from reading Julius Wellhausen’s take on Genesis 2-3. The results of eating of the “forbidden” tree were entirely fortuitous–Adam and Eve tilled ground and presumably grew plentiful food, their eyes were opened, they gave birth to Abel, Cain and Seth. There are, therefore, two paths open to us. Either we ignore the negativity of Genesis 2-3 or we reinterpret it. I believe that the Bible is a Word of God and I am reluctant to ignore these Chapters. Thus, I have tried to reinterpret them to align our understanding with the “progress of outward culture” mentioned by Wellhausen and seen by us directly.

I’m not familiar with Wellhausen’s work (except perhaps indirectly). In any case I don’t suppose there is any shortage of plot devices or speculation about the positive sides of “knowing good and evil”. Even from within Christian thought, there is the culturally audible narrative theme of “coming of age” - “the awakening”, etc. How could knowledge be a bad thing, after all? …some would note the apparent echo such speculations seem to be from somewhere in scriptures. We aren’t the first to give them voice, and it shouldn’t be lost on us that this very theme (or one unmistakably like it) was first given voice by one serpent in the garden itself.

Whatever our ambivalent or torn perspectives may be on moral knowledge and humanistic enlightenment, I don’t see the benefit of trying to make our early Christian narrative tell a different story than it does. We can try to craft it in ways that we might now prefer, but to do so is (I think) to relocate the true source of inspiration from the ancient authors into our modern selves. Isn’t the genius and the inspiration of that ancient narrative in the very fact that is sits in challenge and counterpoint to every human culture including ours now? I prefer to be forced to deal with the story as it is, and to hopefully let my life be a mirror to it, rather than trying to force it to be a mirror of me.

As a Christian, my convicting suspicion is that I’m the one in need of change rather than the text. Novel interpretations may indeed eventually have their necessary place - modern science-minded people know that as well as anyone. But if there is correction to be made in how the church has long interpreted the texts, those changes need to be authenticated from within scriptures under the light of Christ’s spirit. At least that’s the way I would put it for now, even as I ever remain interested in hearing out ideas.

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The phrase “you shall not eat” (לֹא תֹאכַל) is the exact same form, construction, and part of speech as other phrases such as “you shall not murder” ( לֹא תִּרְצָח) or “you shall not steal” (לֹא תִּגְנֹב). it would be exceedingly odd for this very simple and straightforward phrase, that means “thou shalt not” or “do not” in every similar situation, to mean nearly the opposite here.

Not to mention it would be odd if, for generations upon generations, the native Hebrew speakers and interpreters missed this, only to be discovered for the first time in the 21st century.

Finally, i should observe that the Hebrew word “lo” (לֹא) does not mean “if not” in 2Sam 13:26 and 2Kings 5:17. it may not be obvious from an interlinear, but in these two verses the word lo (not) is preceded by the waw prefix (וָ), making the term used not “lo” (לֹא) but “va-lo” (וָלֹא). This prefix is essentially a conjunction, usually simply connective (and often translated “and”) but often used to contrast (and translated “yet”, “but” or “if”). in those verses you site, “lo” is, like always, being translated as “not”; it is the “w” conjunction that is being translated as “if.”

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I guess I’ve never actually looked at this specifically in hebrew. But I can’t imagine that’s what it says since they essentially blamed the snake for deceiving them into eating it and even in the new testament it mentions it. All indicators seem to point towards eating from the tree was bad.

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Concur: all the immediate context - they were afraid and hid because of what they did, rather than proudly getting up and saying, “mission accomplished!”… they shifted blame and the like, God’s punishment , banishment from the garden - and the New Testament interpretation… sin came into the world through this one man; the woman having been deceived and become a “transgressor”… I cannot think of anything in the context of anything in the Bible that would support such novel interpretation.

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I understand the difficulty but I do not think this is the solution. There is no way I can believe in a God who does not want us to have knowledge of good and evil. On this I think we can agree. But demolishing the whole structure of the story and turning the events on their head is not the solution. Instead I would suggest that there is no such thing as a magical fruit which imparts knowledge, and there never was. Knowledge, especially an understanding of good and evil is not so easily acquired. One learns that by painful experiences. And this is what suggests a completely different solution to the problem. Instead of a magical fruit this tree represents something which gives one a superficial resemblance of authority on good and evil without the actual substance. In fact, I think the thing which it represents is parenthood where you are put in the position of having to teach this to your children whether you understand it or not. After all it doesn’t take any great moral understanding in order to give birth to children.

P.S. What has been suggested in the OP is the theology of the LDS (Mormons).

Mervin: I agree that we must not “relocate” the inspiration of the ancient authors. But how do we know what was the inspiration of the ancient authors? To my mind, we must be deeply respectful to the text as we have received it. At the same time, we have to interpret is, and reinterpret it, and again reinterpret it to enlighten us on the questions we face today. We should approach the text with an open mind and see what it says without any preconception. If I recollect, Brevard Childs of Yale University says this quite clearly. I approach the Bible as an Inspired Text meaning thereby, it has to be consistent with truth, within which is the march of humanity.

I also agree we must change ourselves not the text. As I see it, I am not changing the text. I am only reinterpreting the text is our present-day circumstances.

My understanding is that such reinterpretation does not dilute the light of Christ one bit. I give my interpretation of Romans 5:12-15:

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin , and so death spread to all people because all sinned . (Verse 12)

We can understand this verse as follows:

So then, just as the active psyche entered the world through one man and the spontaneous connection with God was severed , and so the active psyche spread to all people because the spontaneous connection with God was severed for all.

The next verse is:

for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam transgressed.

We can understand this verse as follows:

for before the law was given, there was no way to attain peace , but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. Yet the spontaneous connection with God was severed from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam transgressed by not eating of the Tree of Knowledge despite being told to do so.

The next verse is:

But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many!

We can understand this verse as follows:

But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if many suffered the severing of the spontaneous connection with God through the action of eating of the Tree of Knowledge of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many by reconnecting actively with God !

Hence there is no challenge to the NT in my interpretation.

Thank you for this comment. I have checked again and you are right. In Genesis 2:17 it is “lo” while in 2Sam 13:26 and 2Kings 5:17 it is “wa-lo.” I am stumped on this. However, I found that the variant “we-lo” is used 1589 times and is translated many times as “did not” (e.g. Genesis 26:22). The distinction between “lo,” “wa-lo” and “we-lo” is only of a vowel, which, I understand, was not given in the ancient Hebrew. I don’t know how to unravel this. Please guide me how to access the original Hebrew without vowells. Then we can take this forward. But I get your point and thanks for this learning.

That is exactly the problem I am grappling with. The text as available to us seems to point towards eating from the tree was bad; but the results were fortuitous. So either we reinterpret (not rewrite) the text; or we jettison the truth staring in our eyes.

With due respects, I think we need to focus on the main question: If they indeed sinned and hid, then how come the results of the sin were altogether fortuitous?

Please, let me submit that my suggestion is not contra Romans 5:12-15:

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin , and so death spread to all people because all sinned .

We can understand this verse as follows:

So then, just as the active psyche entered the world through one man and the spontaneous connection with God was severed , and so the active psyche spread to all people because the spontaneous connection with God was severed for all.

The next verse is:

for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam transgressed.

We can understand this verse as follows:

for before the law was given, there was no way to attain peace , but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. Yet the spontaneous connection with God was severed from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam transgressed by not eating of the Tree of Knowledge despite being told to do so.

The next verse is:

But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many!

We can understand this verse as follows:

But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if many suffered the severing of the spontaneous connection with God through the action of eating of the Tree of Knowledge of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many by reconnecting actively with God !

Hence there is no challenge to the NT in my interpretation.

Mitchell. Thank you for your observations. I am not “demolishing the whole structure.” The main structure of the story is that Adam sinned. I am holding on to this. The modification I am suggesting is that he sinned by not eating of the tree soon enough. Now, if we deny the existence of the fruit that would equally “demolish” the whole structure of the story. If there was no magical fruit, then there would be no prohibition either. At the same time, I agree that no “tree” would likely impart the knowledge of good and evil. However, a tree can give the capacity to think, which, in turn can help think of good and evil.

The Mormon theology holds that God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree, they sinned is eating of it, but this was part of God’s plan of salvation. They do not think the sin was deep or calamitous.
My understanding is distinct in that I think God wanted Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree and they did not eat of it. I agree with the Mormons in sin being part of the plan of salvation. But my explanation of the “plan of salvation” is that man was living in a primitive bliss somewhat like animals. God wanted them to eat of the Tree so that their psyche would be activated and they would start making effort to develop consciously—both materially and spiritually. I am not sure whether the Mormons would agree with this explanation.

Nowhere in the Bible are the results described as fortuitous. Everywhere the results are described as bad – regularly described as death and contrasted quite clearly with life. The LDS theology that this gave mankind free will is not in the Bible but in texts which they add to the Bible, and it is not consistent with the Bible.

That might work for the tree of life, but it does not work for the other tree. It makes great sense that the problem was the order in which they partook of the two trees. It also makes a great deal of sense to suggest that they ate of the tree too early, but what you suggest makes no sense at all. God’s command was just like the common commandment of parents, “do not play in the street or you will surely die.” But of course the street exists for a reason and the commandment is not meant for all time. But going into the street when they are not ready is dangerous. But punishing them because they didn’t disobey the commandment fast enough it ludicrous.

Personally I don’t think “eating the fruit” was even the first sin. I think this identification of sin with disobedience is wrong. Children disobey and make mistakes – it is part of how they learn. Instead I think sin should be equated with self-destructive habits. Thus the real start of serious problems in the story, was the blame game they played after eating the fruit, for you cannot learn from your mistakes if you don’t even acknowledge them.

Incorrect. That is like saying if Jesus parable of the seeds was not about gardening then it means nothing at all. Not true. Just as the seeds represent the truth and gospel, so also does the fruit of the two trees represent something else. We know from many reference in the Bible that this is the case with the tree of life. This is not a Walt Disney movie with golems made by necromancy, magical fruit, and talking animals. This is about the origin of evil in God’s creation, how the human spirit died, and the way our relationship with God was broken.

I do not agree. I think this is nonsensical. It is made abundantly clear throughout the Bible that it is only because of sin that we need salvation. I absolutely refute the idea that evil and sin is necessary for good. Free will is necessary – and thus you can say the possibility of evil is necessary, but that is all.

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Did not seem like it was by accident. Seems like they were directly disobedient. They were told not you. She regurgitated that she was not too. They did it anyways and knew it was wrong and hid. Then each one blamed another until it landed on the serpent.

That you see Romans refers to it as a transgression … well and fine. But I have to agree with @mitchellmckain that jumping from “they sinned” to “they didn’t transgress soon enough” is not a jump any scriptural text makes with you.

From this Calvinist’s perspective, it is entirely unsurprising to find actual disobedience, bona fide sin, evil actions, lawlessness, and wrongdoing bring about quite fortuitous and good outcomes. This I find all over the scripture.

Joseph’s brothers committed a vile and evil sin by selling him off into slavery, motivated by their jealousy, anger, and hatred of him. this is not in dispute, no one to my knowledge suggests that they were not sinning in this action.

yet God intended that event for something fortuitous, something good. and the fact that God did indeed bring something good out of that action (“the saving of many lives”) in no way mitigated the fact that the act itself was yet evil. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today…”

similarly, the crucifixion. This was indeed a “fortuitous” event, done for our salvation, done according the the set purpose and foreknowledge of God. but this doesn’t meant that those that did it were not doing an evil thing…those that crucified Christ were indeed doing evil. ”this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

So I must demur with @mitchellmckain’s contention that “Nowhere in the Bible are the results described as fortuitous,” depending on exactly what we mean. medieval Christian theologians used the term “felix culpa,” or “happy sin,” to refer to Adam’s fall because they viewed the many positive, glorious, and wonderful things that came about after the fall. the glorious forgiveness, mercy, redemption, and the like… but they did so all the while acknowledging that his sin was unquestionably a sin. it may have indeed been a “felix culpa”, but it remained a culpa.

i for one observe in Romans 11… that “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” the disobedience of Adam was purposed by God to bring about certain good blessings, namely, the demonstration of the depth of God’s mercy. but again, it must be noted that God accomplished this “fortuitous” outcome was through Adam’s disobedience, not his obedience. all the wonderful blessings of redemption are an indirect result of the fall. we can debate about whether we should define that as fortuitous, but they are indeed good things that came about from that state of affairs after the fall.

but where i don’t think Mitchell and i would disagree is this… whatever “benefits” or good things did or didn’t arise from the fall, Adam’s fall was presented as a sin. bottom line, one can indeed perceive and recognize various fortuitous results and good benefits that came as the result of the fall… while yet acknowledging that these were the result “of one man’s sin.”

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not trying to get too deep into linguistics, but in Gen 26.22, the “waw” before the lo is actually just “and”… it is almost always simply a conjunction. the “did” you’re seeing is simply how the verb is translated.

strictly literal, the phrase in gen 26 would be translated “and (וְ) not (לֹא) they did quarrel (רָבוּ)”. Hebrew puts the negation word (לֹא / “not”) before the verb entirely, whereas in English we typically put it in the middle of a verb when the verb is composed of multiple words…

e.g., “You shall not murder” is originally simply “lo tiretsach” (לֹא תִּרְצָח), which quite literally would read “not you shall murder.” but since that’s not how we speak in English, we move the “not” word to within the multi-word verb. But here, like elsewhere, “lo” doesn’t mean “shall not” or “did not” or “does not”, it simply means “not”. the “waw” (וּ) (or “va” or “wa”) at the beginning remains only a conjunction… usually connective (e.g. “and”), but often contrast (e.g., “but”, such as in Gen 2… “But (וּ) for Adam, no suitable helper was found…”)

so shortly, the “did” you’re seeing there is simply part of the verb, it has nothing inherently to do with the word “not”/“lo”.

Yes God brings good things out of evil and I would even agree that God may sometimes have a role in provoking evil (like in the case of pharaoh) in order to bring about a greater good. I am reminded of what Revelation 3:16 says about lukewarm rather than hot or cold. God often acts in order to separate good and evil so that the good can be rewarded and the evil destroyed or defeated. But this is only because the evil already exists and is mixed together with the good and NOT because evil is needed in order to bring about good. Otherwise we have the criminal actions of someone who brings about disasters in order to be able to play the hero and save the day – there is nothing good about that! Found it… it is called hero syndrome, it has a lot in common with a mafia protection racket – and I certainly condemn the idea of God saving us from Himself in a similar sort of operation.

My take has to do with God’s purpose for us. As most understand it, salvation through Jesus means having eternal life united with God after the judgement. Less well understood is that Jesus represents the new covenant God spoke of to Jeremiah 31:33-34, “ I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. ”

If Adam and Eve had trusted in God, God would have guided them to this goal without humanity having to go through this long process of falling from grace, being separated from God and enacting the many millennia process of the “multiplication of wickedness.” But they did not trust him and, in fact, rebelled against him in believing the serpent. Their eyes were opened, but not to the truth in all its completeness, but rather to the truth of their situation, which was/is that they are totally dependent on God. Yet, this “awakening” meant they could not trust God completely, and thus God could not lead them the way he would have if the had trusted him. We have to learn the hard way.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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