Regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

by Johnathan Pritchett

“Why did God put the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden,” asks just about everyone. The answer, of course, is love. God is love. (1 John 4:8). Love is not just one attribute among others such as wrath, justice, holiness, etc. Nor does God change hats, taking off the love hat to put on the wrath hat, thus switching from attribute to attribute. God is infinitely perfect in all His attributes and thus also displays them as such. Love stands behind and backs up everything else. This is the same reason God put the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Often forgotten is that there were two trees, not just the one.

Love stands behind the placement of both trees. Adam and Eve had a choice. To eat from every tree, including the Tree of Life, and live in harmonious union and relationship with God, one another, and creation. Or, they could be disobedient and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

There are many common misunderstandings regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Often people think that Adam and Eve lacked knowledge of any sort pertaining to both good and evil. This is a mistake, and reading Genesis 1 and other bits of Scripture help to clarify our thinking on these matters. God’s creation was good (Gen. 1:4), good (Gen. 1:10), good (Gen. 1:12), good (Gen. 1:18), good (Gen. 1:21), good (Gen. 1:25), and very good (Gen. 1:31). Adam and Eve had knowledge of God, and God is good (Luke 18:19), and had a realization that they lived in harmony with the good creation that reflected the glory and attributes of God (Romans 1:20). It is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, not the ‘Tree of Gaining an Understanding of Any Goodness Whatsoever.’ Nor is it the ‘Tree of Understanding the Difference Between Obedience and Disobedience.’ Nor is it even the ‘Tree of Knowledge (of Good and Evil).’ We tend to look at it like that, i.e., ‘The Tree of KNOWLEDGE…’

It is none of that. Adam and Eve had an understanding of obedience. They had knowledge of and an understanding of good. What they did not have was what the tree was, being the Tree of Knowledge of GOOD AND EVIL. That last bit of emphasis is the emphasis. It was acquiring knowledge of both. It is a kind of knowledge only God understands perfectly.

We all know the story. Eve was deceived by the serpent and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of GOOD AND EVIL. Adam ate as well, and their eyes were opened (Gen. 3:1-7). Opened to what? Knowledge of GOOD AND EVIL.  Not only did the serpent acknowledge that this was knowledge like God had (Gen. 3:5), but God concurs with this (Gen. 3:22). Eve wanted the wisdom and to be like God in this regard. It looked so good. It was after Adam ate that the pair’s eyes were open. After all, male and female is the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Satan’s deception, blending truth with lies (i.e. abusing knowledge of good and evil) worked well against the dust-man and his wife.

After being caught by God and the blame game is played (Gen. 3:8-13), God delivers justice. Why does God discipline and punish with curses? Love (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6, Revelation 3:19). Indeed, God kicked the couple out of the garden not just as punishment, but also as an act of love.

Read Genesis 3:21-24 and see the love: “The Lord God made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them. The Lord God said, ‘Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life” (HCSB).

See the love there? This makes perfect sense in light of the love found in what God told the serpent in Genesis 3:15. Read it: “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

It was out of love that Adam and Eve were driven away from the Tree of Life after their disobedience. Why? Because the reigning powers of sin and death that Satan uses as tools bent on destruction entered the world when Adam sinned (Rom. 5:12, 14, 21). God had to act in love when the cosmos fell under the curse He subjected it to (Rom. 8:20) as a consequence of human rebellion. What good is it for the dusty image-bearers to exist in that fallen state in unending perpetuity? None. It is a state in which they (and we) are totally broken in their (and thus our) relationship with God, each other, and the rest of creation. A state in which they (and we) are armed with the knowledge of good and evil that they (and we) are totally unqualified to have and use rightly. From Satan and his demons in their deceptive work to the entire fallen human race, it has been the selfish, self-centered blundering of that knowledge of both good and evil that has been what perpetuates the reign of death and sin and the corruption of God’s creation.

The key is to focus on the hints of God’s love in Genesis 3:15, which is the love we find in John 3:16. A love, which was in view, even prior to creation (Rev. 13:8).

Without the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, there would be no choice in love, and thus no real love to return to God. It was God’s choice to create after all. He did so in love. He also did so with the knowledge of human idolatry, rebellion, sin, and death to boot! Adam and Eve understood love, and understood love as a choice. They were not the cause of their own existence, but they found themselves to be created in a very good cosmos, in a garden of paradise, being in harmonious relationship with God. They knew God, and thus knew that God was love. So, for God to create was a choice since knowing God and His attributes also entail knowing that God is self-sufficient and self-satisfied. They knew He didn’t need to create at all. They knew He chose to do so because He wanted to do so. It is a choice He made in love for His own good pleasure and purpose.

We must also remember that without the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, we image bearers would have also just remained dust-people. But, for those who will repent of sin and believe in Christ, they will be conformed to his heavenly image (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 15:49), and God’s future plan for those in Christ, planned even prior to “the beginning” (Genesis 1:1; Ephesians 1:3-14), is far greater than the dust we are now, and would have always been without the fall. Our wrong choices give way as means for God to receive glory and extend an even greater grace with a more glorious future. Christ was plan A, not merely a reactive solution to the fall.

We should praise God for both trees in the Garden and give Him all the glory. We should thank God for His wise eternal plan purposed in Christ before the foundation of the world. We should thank God for the choice He gave Adam and Eve and gives all of us. We should thank God for the love that stands behind the discipline and punishment of death that came from the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, so that the human race did not perpetually exist in such shame, curse, and brokenness. It is ultimately out of love that the wages of sin is death, just as it is out of love that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). So finally, we must echo the words found in Romans 7:24-25: “Who will rescue me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”