What the Bible says about
Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
(From Forerunner Commentary)
When we read in Genesis 2:17, do we not subconsciously read into it, "Yes, but He does not really mean that. He means we will eventually die"? We soften it, expecting that God will not carry through with what He literally says.
The Keil-Delitzsch Commentary says about this verse, "That in the day that you eat thereof you shall die." It means as soon as he ate, he would die. The Keil-Delitzsch is a very conservative commentary. The Interpreter's Bible Commentary, which is one of the most liberal commentaries, says, "Death would follow immediately!" From one of the most conservative commentaries, Keil-Delitzsch, to one of the most liberal, The Interpreter's Bible Commentary, they agree the verse says that when they touched that tree, thus showing the intent of their heart, they would die.
In the beginning, at creation, all sin is deemed as worthy of death. Every sin is a capital offense. In creation, God was not obligated in any way to give life to you or me. Life is a gift that puts us under obligation, and that obligation is stated, or at least implied very strongly, right when man is being created. God gave life to man and put him under the obligation of being the image-bearer of God (Genesis 1:26). That is why we were created.
In chapter 2, we are further obligated by God's command to take of the Tree of Life, and not the other tree. The implication there is that only God knows how we are to live in order to fill our obligation to be the image-bearer of God. We have to learn that the root of sin lies in the desire of men to live their lives in self-centered independence from God. This is what keeps us from being the image-bearers of God that He intended us to be. If we deviate from this, have we not broken our obligation to God? If we deviate from this—if we go from the path, if we miss the mark—we have sinned. We have broken our obligation to mirror and reflect the holiness of God.
Implied by the name “Tree of Life,” God is telling us that we do not intrinsically possess the kind of life that God has, and that if we want that kind of life, it must be added. It is added through what the Tree of Life symbolized. What if we do not meet our obligations? We forfeit the gift of life when we sin.
Is God unfair if something is so clearly stated? Do we see why He commands us to choose life? He sets before us two different ways. He commands us to go in a certain direction, because if we go in the other direction we have broken our obligation to be image-bearers, and then He is not obligated any longer after that to continue our lives. He is under no obligation to continue the life that He gave to us as a gift. God is not acting unfairly nor with injustice, for the commands are very clear.
When the penalty was stated to Adam and Eve, did God say, "If you sin, some day you will die"? No. The penalty is clearly stated to be instant death, just as suddenly as it fell on Nadab and Abihu, and on Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzza.
Let us look at this realistically and let us not try to soften what God very clearly and literally says. He meant the death penalty in the fullest sense of the word. The only reason they lived was because it was right at that point that God extended grace. God was no longer obligated to continue their life.
They had broken His Word, deviated from the path, and the just thing for God to have done would have been to kill them just as He did Uzza. That is not what He did though. Instead, He gave them mercy, and He gave them grace. There is a saying, "Justice delayed is justice denied," but not always so. In this case with Adam and Eve, the full measure of justice was delayed for grace to have time to work.
We need to be thinking of this in relation to ourselves, because He is establishing a pattern. Justice was delayed so grace would have time to work. In this case, the delay of justice was not the denial of justice, but the establishing of mercy and grace. So right at the very beginning of the Book, in its third chapter, grace is introduced.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Justice and Grace
The word “shrewd” more closely captures Satan's character than "cunning." Shrewd means “sharp and clever in a selfish way.” Though “cunning” is not incorrect, “shrewd” has clearer connotation.
To be cunning and shrewd like Satan indicates malevolent brilliance—with the emphasis on malevolent. He is seeking to kill. His cunning is like that of a tiger, silently padding through the jungle with eyes malevolently seeking something to kill and eat.
Consider how clever his tactic was. He subtly made a suggestion rather than an argument to discredit God's authority, casting doubt about God's credibility. Satan asked, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'"
Through the tone and inflection of his voice, Satan implied that there was doubt that God told them the truth. This is shown by the way Eve replied; she corrected him. She knew from the inflection of his voice that he was really asking a question and casting doubt. When she replied, she over-corrected.
Like a good salesman, the serpent got his victim to agree with him, getting the victim to say “Yes, yes, yes,” and then, "I'll buy it!" Eve was already influenced when she gave her reply because she over-corrected.
Satan successfully magnified God's strictness in her mind, reminding her that the way is narrow. She began to agree with him, thinking about God in terms the serpent wanted her to think. She began to agree, saying “Yes, yes, yes” to the salesman's ploys.
Satan immediately minimized the penalty, saying an outright lie, "You shall not die" (3:4). Then to clinch the sale, he offers her a reward: "You shall be like God" (3:5). What a price she paid! Satan offered a reward that must have seemed so big to Adam and Eve that they could not afford to reject it. What he offered was enough to reorient their lives.
They did not catch the complete significance of what he offered, but enough to know it was big. He offered the self to become the dominating focus of life; "You shall be God." He completely reoriented their lives by turning their focus away from obedience to God toward obedience to the self. He gave them the right to choose and to set the standards of right and wrong. They bought it hook, line, and sinker.
From that point on, mankind has viewed God as a rival and competitor rather than a friend—Someone with whom to compete and outwit rather than cooperate, for they were now gods too!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)
Satan made a seemingly gentle suggestion against God's word and work, first by presenting them in a negative light. God had spoken to Adam and Eve, giving them His word. They had gathered much about the mind and personality of God because of what He said.
In addition, they could see with their own eyes a great deal about God's person, personality, and mind by what He had made. They were in a beautiful garden, which reflected the mind of God. They could see the beauty of His mind, and how His mind provided things beautiful and delightful to enjoy. They knew a great deal about the mind of God simply from what they were able to observe.
By making the challenge the way Satan did, he first made them mildly skeptical about God's love, asking them, Does God really love you?
Second, he made it seem as though obedience to God was, in reality, servility. He made them begin to feel as though God's way was restrictive; that He was holding back good things from them. This thought naturally led them to think much more could be obtained from life if they just followed their body's and mind's natural inclinations.
Third, he played his trump card: Not only would they not die, but they would be in control, free to determine right and wrong. In short, they would be equal to God!
Satan successfully brought them into a spirit of competition against God, resulting in the enmity described in Romans 8:7. He indirectly lied about God Himself, and he directly lied about the penalty, giving them misinformation about the reward.
He did tell them the truth, that their eyes would be opened and that they would not immediately die. Their eyes were opened, and they now looked at things through the twisted perspective, seeing evil in everything. From innocence, they became ashamed of their nakedness. The effect began immediately.
This is important because right thoughts precede right actions; right thoughts determine the release of proper emotions. Our thoughts express themselves even in our most casual relationships, in daily work, and most importantly, in our intimate relationships in our home and family. Most of all, they express themselves in our relationship with God. False beliefs about God and His purpose for man are far more destructive than alcohol and drugs. They confuse, divide, and bring on warfare.
Satan's lies, his counterfeits, and his devices are usually so subtle that only a trained mind can discern them. God teaches us to be able to see. He trains us to be able to spot the ploys, contrivances, and stratagems of our enemy so that we can overcome and defeat him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)
Clearly, Eve, like Adam, was instructed and warned. In that regard, both were without excuse. Eve adds the prohibition against touching the fruit, and the context shows she admired its beauty, which is not a sin in itself but reveals her intensifying desire for it even before the serpent makes its sales pitch. The problem became much more critical because she listened to the serpent, apparently making no effort to flee the potentially sinful situation. As the Bible reports, she was clearly deceived, but she was thinking right along with the satanic sales pitch, as the desire to eat and be wise grew within her. All these pressures were edging the pair closer to choosing to sin. In doing so, they reaped the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, experiencing the pains of suffering and death.
Adam was guilty of idolatry and of deliberate sin. God directly curses Adam in Genesis 3:17, charging him, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it,' . . . .” He then lists a series of consequences, which would make life more difficult for him. These, of course, affected Eve as well.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fourteen): A Summary
The Devil asserted that by taking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, human eyes would be opened—implying wisdom and enlightenment—to allow a person to know good and evil as God does. Immediately, Satan places the emphasis on knowing, but it is contrasted with living eternally. Satan proposes that mankind should be like God in taking to himself the knowledge—the definition—of what is right and wrong, asserting that this is a good thing! In contrast, the Tree of Life represents a way of living in which the meaning of good and evil already exists, and eternal life involves submitting through the Holy Spirit to that definition and the Sovereign who is its source.
Likewise, the Gnostics are those who know—who pursue mystical knowledge that they believe holds the key to eternal life through advancing beyond the physical and into the spiritual realm. Gnostics believed the key to eternal life was contained in right interpretation—knowledge—of those esoteric sayings.
The book of Revelation expounds on the Tree of Life in two places:
· To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
· Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into [New Jerusalem]. (Revelation 22:14)
The Tree of Life, then, is associated with a way of life—one that requires overcoming (growth against a standard of righteousness) and keeping (doing) God's commandments. The only ones who are allowed to partake of the Tree of Life are those who have changed themselves (with God's help, by His Spirit) to begin living in the same manner as He does. To those who submit to His standard of righteousness, then, He grants life that is both endless and of the same quality that He enjoys.
Satan, though, in addition to casting doubt on what God plainly says, and implying that God is unfair by withholding good things, offers a shortcut. He says, "You do not need to follow God's way, for it is obviously unfair and far too stringent. You can follow your own way. You can take knowledge to yourself of what is good and what is evil. You can be just like God in determining what is right and wrong." Adam and Eve took the bait, and ever since, man has rejected God's standard of righteousness in favor of his own.
This heresy is easily seen in the antinomianism (literally, "against law") of the Gnostics, who may not have been against every law, but were certainly against any law that impinged upon their standard of conduct. Thus the ascetic Gnostics who grieved the Christians in Colossae held to manmade regulations of "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" (Colossians 2:20-21), while rejecting the command to "rejoice" with food and drink during the God-ordained festivals. Similarly, mainstream Christianity will (rightly) use portions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to point out God's abhorrence of abortion and homosexuality, but will claim that the same law is "done away" when it comes to the Sabbath and holy days. They have taken to themselves the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, establishing their own standard of righteousness.
A core issue of the Bible is whether we submit to God's governance or try to form a government based on our own perception of what is good or what works. God's way results in eternal life, but it comes with the obligation to submit ourselves to God. It requires keeping all of His commandments and overcoming our human weaknesses that do not rise to that standard. Satan, conversely, seeks to persuade us to do our own thing and to usurp God's prerogative in defining right living. He encourages us to be enlightened, to have our eyes opened, by doubting God and rejecting His way.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
2 Samuel 12:9-14
Regardless of how successful a person might consider himself in getting away with his adventure into sin, he could learn a few things from David. First, however, we must note Numbers 32:23: "But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out." Interestingly, the context of this verse is a warning to those who may not be faithful to their words of promise.
Overall, this story is a quick study into cause and effect. First, it teaches that, regardless of one's status, adultery cannot be committed without damaging relationships anymore than murder can be committed without damaging relationships. It does not matter whether the perpetrator is a prince or pauper. The only variable is the speed with which the effect takes place. We should never forget the warning given in Genesis 2:17: "In the day you eat of [the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] you shall surely die." The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) no matter which commandment is broken.
Second, besides death, sin produces two effects that may also manifest slowly:
1. A damaged relationship with God. Isaiah 59:1-2 shows that sin creates division between God and us because of the breach of trust. Sin is a breaking of the terms of the covenant agreed on by both God and us. After committing a sin like adultery, can the individual be trusted any longer? This effect is not easily seen, but God's Word nonetheless reveals it does occur. As this episode shows, with repentance and God's merciful forgiveness, the division can be healed.
2. Evil results in our lives in this world. Even with God's forgiveness, this second effect remains and must be borne by the sinner—and tragically, by those sinned against. For example, the evil effects of David's sin brought death—either directly or indirectly—to five people. It directly caused the deaths of Uriah and the newborn son of David and Bathsheba. In addition, it greatly intensified the ultimately deadly competition between Absalom, Amnon, and Adonijah, all of whom died violently. With the dishonorable example of their father before their eyes, it could only teach disrespect, even for those closest to them.
Thus, the throne fell to Solomon. He never had to live through the kind of family life that David's older children did. When he committed similar sins, he could never say that he saw his father do the same things.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment
Here, the difference between God's Holy Spirit and our spirit is noted. God's Spirit (His Word, His thoughts, His way) always produces life—eternal life—the way God lives. Jesus was made a life-giving Spirit, and He is the High Priest. As High Priest, He is in charge of the administration of life (see II Corinthians 3). The difference between the two covenants is that the priesthood under the Old Covenant could not administer life, but the Priesthood under the New Covenant administers life by providing the Spirit of God to the mind of man. Demons and men cannot truthfully claim what Jesus claimed here, that His Spirit is life. Man's spirit, like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, produces death, because it produces sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 1)
English writer G.K. Chesterton, known for his wit as well as his insight, once wrote, “The word 'good' has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”
His words strike at the heart of a question theologians, philosophers, artists, and many others have debated for millennia: Are people good or evil? Is man's nature on the side of the angels or the demons? Are we beings of light or darkness? Why do otherwise good people do evil things?
People are split on the subject. A few years ago, Debate.org, a website devoted to arguing such questions and polling the public on them, asked, “Is human nature good or evil?” Their results, which are not scientific, show 49% of respondents answering that it is good and 51% saying that it is evil.
Some Christian churches teach a doctrine of total depravity. Theopedia defines this doctrine in this way: “. . . as a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is morally corrupt, enslaved to sin and is, apart from the grace of God, utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation.”
This belief does not mean that humankind is utterly evil, that is, that people are totally incapable of good. It means that, while not all of human nature is depraved, all human nature is totally affected by depravity. Even the goodness that we do, then, is tainted by our sinful nature. This agrees with God's description of the tree from which Adam and Eve partook in Genesis 3: It was a tree that allowed them to know good and evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:22). Human goodness is insufficient to satisfy the righteous requirements of God.
It is somewhat surprising that more people, especially Christians, do not know the basic nature of mankind. It should be evident from the lives of men and women throughout history. For Christians, who should know their Bibles, a cursory survey of Scripture brings out many plain statements that show what God thinks of human nature. No philosophizing or critical thinking, even by the greatest of human minds, will change God's view into something else.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are Humans Good or Evil?
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