Why Did God Create the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?
And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)
Since the earliest ages of human history, people have tried to excuse their wrong actions, and thereby avoid their personal responsibility. In the beginning, man used his mental capabilities to “ingeniously” create the first excuse that would absolve him of his culpability for breaking the law of God. He declared in his own defense: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). The woman, following the “shrewd example” of her mate who thought he had placed the guilt upon her, quickly pondered: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).
Actually, the situation has not changed much since then. Man has continued in his endless search for ever more subtle, sophisticated, and convincing excuses that could set him free from his moral and/or spiritual responsibility. In a more brazen way than the first man—who charged the woman directly, and God indirectly, when he said: “The woman whom You gave to be with me…” (Genesis 3:12)—many today have puffed themselves up with pride to set God up as the initiator, promoter, and instigator of the tragedy in Eden. Norman Masters, in answering the question, “Who’s to blame for mankind’s fall in the garden?,” emphatically declared:
The “Lord God” is the “Tempter” in Eden in Genesis 2:17 when He says, “…but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”…. Tell a child or juvenile not to do something and you’re immediately establishing the temptation to do it. If you don’t want to tempt them you never mention it—and make sure the temptation is not available to be yielded to (2000, emp. added).
Therefore, with this single defamatory charge, many men have attempted to forsake all weight of culpability and responsibility. [The truth is that if God is accused of our tragedies, errors, and corrupt actions, then man becomes “free” of his responsibility to God—and it is this freedom (or licentiousness) that many want to attain]. However, these men simply have not wanted to retain God in their lives (Romans 1:28), and in their efforts to find some peace in their licentious actions that impute their conscience, they have involved themselves in a deliberate search for a kind of intrinsic evil in the Divine nature.
On the other hand, there are those who do believe in the loving God the Bible reveals (1 John 4:8), but who find it difficult to understand (or explain): (a) why God allows some things to happen to His creatures without supernaturally intervening; and (b) why it even “appears” that sometimes God Himself influences things negatively, thereby bringing misfortune down on man. Hence, the question is bound to arise: Why did God create the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
THE INTRINSIC NATURE OF THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
The Creation account of Genesis is one of the most sublime narrations recorded in the Bible. The Creator’s masterpiece is a harmonious symphony that delights our ears. There is only one thing that squeaks in our eardrum—something that has impeded many from believing in the Creator—the creation of a specific tree. For many, the question, “Why did God create this tree,” is unanswerable, since they cannot reconcile the idea of a benevolent God with the fact of the creation of something that resulted in man’s fall. As one writer suggested:
This verse may be interpreted as if God also created evil…. Often believers affirm that all good comes from God, and evil comes from man, [but] it seems that at the moment of reading the Bible they forget that the same God who created the good, also created evil…. [W]hat necessity did God have to plant this tree whose fruits were fruits of evil? And here a dilemma is posed, either God did not know what was going to happen with this bothersome little tree, or if He did know, then why did He make the tree? If He did not know it then He was not wise, and if He knew it He was wicked (Alba, n.d., emp. added).
However, assuming that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was evil is the main error that a person makes while wanting (or not wanting, as the quotation above makes obvious) to understand God’s ways. Genesis 1:31 records: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” Scriptures clearly declare that everything God had created was not only good, but “very good.” Exodus 20:11 records that everything was created in the six days of divine creative activity; thus, nothing was created after those days. The truthful and unavoidable conclusion, then, is that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was in fact “very good.”
There is something else that needs to be stressed when addressing the intrinsic nature of this tree. Although the name given to the tree hints at something negative because of the word “evil”; the fact is that this tree was not a generator of evil. The tree itself was not “of good and evil”(i.e., that it did not contain good and evil). Rather, it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These are two very different things. When Moses wrote about the “knowledge” contained in the fruit of this tree, he used the Hebrew term da´at—which implies discernment and distinction, but does not imply necessarily intimate involvement. [This term is used only twice in Genesis, and in both instances it refers to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil]. Nevertheless, when expressing discernment and/or intimate involvement, Moses used the term yada. About this term, the Vine’s Expositive Dictionary notes: “Essentially, yada means: (1) to know by observation and reflection, and (2) to know by experience” (Vine, 1999, p. 65, emp. added).
Consequently, a difference in the usage of these two terms can be found in Genesis 4:1, where “…Adam knew (yada—knowledge by intimate involvement) Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain,” and in Genesis 2:17, where God stated: “…but of the tree of the knowledge [da´at—distinction of the knowledge] of good and evil you shall not eat.” Certainly, this knowledge did not involve anything bad by itself, since it was not based in the experience of good and evil, but rather in the enlargement of the mind’s understanding to distinguish between good and evil. As in the case of the Bible—which gives us the knowledge of the good that we need to do, and the evil that we need to avoid (without necessarily inducing us to do evil)—this tree contained such knowledge. But if this tree did not have an evil nature, then what made this tree one which was not good to eat?
THE NECESSITY OF THE DIVINE COMMAND AND PROHIBITION
If something made the fruit of this tree not ideal to eat, surely it had nothing to do with the nature of the tree itself (since everything God had created was “very good”), but instead had to do with God’s command and prohibition. When God prohibited man from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17), He did not attribute anything bad to the tree per se. However, He did point out the tragic consequence of eating from the tree, which was not a result of the tree’s intrinsic nature, but of disobedience to God’s command. [Consider the fact that God likewise could have prohibited man from eating of the tree of life (alluded to in Genesis 2:9). Even though by its very name this tree denoted something positive, man still would not have been excused if he had disobeyed a divine command not to eat its fruit.]
But why was the divine prohibition regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil necessary? Could not God have left out this tree, and thus the accompanying prohibition, and thereby have guaranteed the eternal happiness of His creatures? Rich Deem has discussed these very questions.
Skeptics often complain that God set Adam and Eve up to fail. However, God had to give Adam and Eve a choice. Without free will to choose, Adam and Eve would have been mere puppets. True love always requires choice. God wanted Adam and Eve to choose to love and trust Him. The only way to give this choice would have been to command something that was not allowed (2004, emp. added).
In fact, the creation of this tree and the subsequent delivery of Heaven’s prohibition can be explained (if not totally, at least in great part) on the basis of divine love. The Bible declares that God is love (1 John 4:8). Therefore, all His actions toward man—from his creation to his redemption—were products of His love. Wayne Jackson has noted:
[H]eaven’s love was demonstrated in that humanity was endowed with free will; we were granted freedom of choice (cf. Genesis 2: 16,17, Joshua 24:15, Isaiah 7:15, John 5:39,40, 7:17, and Revelation 22:17). Could anyone conceive of God as a loving God Who created intelligent beings, but then programmed them to slavishly serve Him without any personal willpower? Hardly! (1994, emp. added).
The truth of the matter is that love requires free will—and free will, for its consummation, requires the possibility that a choice one way or the other can be made. In order for man to have choices that allowed for the use of his personal volition, a divine command was necessary. Simultaneously, of course, having the command in place paved the way for the possibility of freely choosing to either obey or to disobey such a command.
God, in His infinite love, wanted for man to enjoy free will, and to choose to do His will. He wanted for man to love Him, not because it was the only option available to him, but because it was the only option that would guarantee him eternal joy.
We also need to remember that just because God knows the future, does not somehow make Him evil if He does not act on that knowledge to change the future. We, as humans, act in a similar manner. For instance, there are many things we do for “love,” even though we recognize before we do them that there will be times when things will not always turn out for the best. As an example, we bring children into this world with the foreknowledge that they will get sick, make wrong choices, suffer, be hated, get old, get weak, and die. While God knows the future and has the power to change it, He cannot do so if man is to retain his personal volition.
In a profanely titled article, “Sins of the Father,” the following declaration can be found:
If he didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat from it, then why did he put it in Eden in the first place? This boggles the mind! Why create such a dangerous yet alluring object and place it right in the middle of Paradise, unprotected, where it could readily be eaten from? He could have put a fence around it at the very least!…[D]id God set a trap for his creations? Did he want to have an excuse to exile them from Paradise? (see Ebon, n.d., emp. added, italics in orig.).
Now, God is charged not only with creating something “dangerous” for man, but also with not providing any prevention and security system in order for His creatures’ safety. However, as noted earlier, God is love (1 John 4:8); and this trait of God, as exhibited in the tragic story of Eden, is shown in His providence for man. This providence is carefully placed within the account of Genesis 2—although it is a type of providence that many people cannot see (or do not care to acknowledge). God always wanted for man to keep His commands, and hence He used various means to facilitate such obedience. Consider the following points.
First, God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden (Genesis 3:3). This location was strategic. Because the tree was located in the midst of the garden, there was no way that man could eat of its fruit by mistaking it for another. Unlike what is declared on occasion by skeptics, this location assured that man would not sin through ignorance or disorientation.
Second,God also placed the tree of life in the midst of the garden (Genesis 2:9). The fact that this tree, too, was in the midst of the garden served as a means of attraction to do good when man was influenced to disobey God. By locating this tree very close to the other tree, God reminded man that he had the freedom—and thus the option—to choose obedience over disobedience, life over death.
Third, the prohibition and potential punishment were intended to serve as a “fence” to prevent man from violating the divinely instituted boundary. God told him: “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Because there was a promised consequence for his actions, there also was the fear of enduring this terrible consequence. That alone should have been enough to keep man away from this tree.
Fourth, God created many more trees, with the intent that man would not have need to eat of this prohibited tree (Genesis 2:9). God not only made various types of trees grow in the garden, but the text informs us that “every tree that was pleasant to the sight.” God not only made sure that there were many trees for man, but He also made sure that these trees looked attractive to man. The attraction of every tree in the garden represented a fundamental piece intended to distract any possible craving that man might have for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Certainly, God provided the necessary means for man to obey His divine will. In spite of that, some still see the creation of this tree as a fundamental proof of God’s “dark side.” Yet we should not level such a charge against the God Who created a perfect world for man, endowed him with free will, and provided so much warning to keep man from sinning.
In conclusion, one more point needs to be stressed. Adam, as has every man after him, enjoyed the free will that would allow him to choose to do right. Although Adam decided to disobey God, it does not mean that God’s plan failed. The truth is that when man falls into sin and disobedience, God should not be blamed. The inspired writer James declared: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (1:13, emp. added). Bible believers can be sure that, in our exercise of personal volition, God’s desire will be always our well-being. In the same way that Adam had to choose between life and death, you and I are called to make our own choices. It is the will of God, of course, that we choose life. Moses urged the people of God: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Alba, María (no date), “Génesis 2: El Hombre en el Huerto del Edén,” [On-line], URL: http://www.sindioses.org/genesis/genesis2.html.
Ebon Musings (no date), “Sins of the Father—The Fall from Eden,”[On-line], URL: http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/sinsofthefather.html.
Deem, Rich (2004), “Why Wouldn’t God Want Adam and Eve to Have Knowledge of Good and Evil?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/tree.html.
Jackson, Wayne (1994), “Does Human Suffering Disprove the Existence of God?,” [a tract] (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Masters, Norman E. (2000), “Who’s to Blame for Mankind’s Fall in the Garden?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/whm2000/norm.html.
Vine, W.E. (1999), Diccionario Expositivo de Palabras del Antiguo y Nuevo Testamento Exhaustivo (Colombia, Editorial Caribe. Inc.).
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