Adam and Eve, Good and Evil
Did Adam and Eve know of good and evil prior to sinning? It was only after Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that the Bible says they came “to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:5,22). How could God punish them for an evil action if they did not know what evil was?
Consider a hypothetical situation: What if two godly parents living in the most wicked city in the world chose never to let their children out of their house. They gave them everything they needed for survival inside the house. They filled their home with only good things. Their children never saw evil on television, heard of it on the radio, nor read of it in books. The children could play in any room in the house and open any door, except they had been forbidden to open the front door that leads to “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Do these children know what they can do and cannot do? Yes. Have they seen, witnessed, or experienced the evil outside their house (and compared that evil to the good within their own house)? No. Everything in their house was good. They had the freedom to do any number of things within their own house. They were forbidden to do one thing: open the front door. Did they know they were not supposed to open the front door? Yes. But did they know of the evil on the other side? No. They had never seen it, heard it, thought it, or experienced it.
The term “know” (Hebrew yada, Greek ginosko) or one of its derivatives (i.e., knew, known, etc.) is used in Scripture in a variety of ways. Several times it refers to a man and woman having sexual intercourse (Genesis 4:1,17,25; Judges 11:39; 19:25). Jesus used the term to refer to His regard for His sheep (i.e., people—John 10:27). In contrast to the way of the wicked that will perish, the psalmist wrote that God “knows” (i.e., approves, takes delight in, etc.) the way of the righteous (Psalm 1:6). Paul used the term “know” in Ephesians 3:19 in the sense of knowing “experimentally what intellectually is beyond our powers of knowing”—the love of Christ (Jamieson, 1997). The fact is, like so many other words in Scripture (and in modern times) the word “know” has a variety of meanings.
When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden everything was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). They had the freedom to eat of “of every tree of the garden” (2:16), but were forbidden to eat of the fruit of one of them (2:17). They knew of God’s good creation and they knew that if they ate of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (the one forbidden tree), God said they would die (3:2-3). However, it was not until after they ate of the forbidden tree that they actually “knew” (experienced) evil. Thus, in one sense Adam and Eve did know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil (they knew what they should and should not do; they understood moral distinctions), but they did not know of good and evil experientially until after their disobedience.
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).