As I write, I am thinking of Eccl 1:9, there is nothing new under the sun. As I think about theological/scriptural/Christian ideas, I believe that others have considered and discussed the same ideas sometime and someplace in the past. I am just ignorant. I was watching TV a few weeks ago—a scene where a man came into a bar and hooked up with a strange woman. It was well played; you could see mutual attraction immediately, from their body language, with no words said. You could also see from their body language that they started out as strangers. The scene ended with them leaving together, mutually consenting to spend the night together. I was thinking to myself how “right” wrong sometimes seems. Sex, drugs, profanity, debauchery, pretty much any sin; there are times and places in our lives when they feel right, natural, normal, appropriate, maybe sometimes even necessary. Our ability to determine right from wrong seems very poor. And yet, presumably, in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we, humanity, gained the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. Verse 7 says the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked. But doesn’t it seem much more like the effect of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to cloud our vision of what is right and what is wrong? Does the Bible provide any clarification on this question? Is it clear that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil gave Adam and Eve knowledge of right and wrong instead of clouding their vision of what is right and wrong?


A perceptive question, I would say. I believe that both of your points are correct, and that the two points do not contradict one another, although the result is paradoxical, for sure.

The part which is not as clearly laid out by Genesis 2-3 is in what sense and to what extent the eating of the tree gave Adam and Eve knowledge. Was this some sort of Pandora’s Box (the Greek myth of Pandora who, when she opened a jar she was warned against, released all evil into the world)? Were the first couple completely innocent of evil or were they relative innocent of evil before eating the fruit? Did they immediately have all knowledge of good and evil upon eating form the tree, or did it begin a gradual process of learning these things? How much of the story is literal and how much is metaphorical? I cannot answer these questions with any precision or reliability, but let me give a reflection, for what it is worth.

I believe that at least in some sense, Adam and Eve came to understand the true nature of evil itself and of evil choices when they ate the fruit. This seems to be implied by their embarrassment over their nudity, which had not bothered them in the least before eating from the tree. It seems that they realized the possible evil which lay behind the good of sexual relationships and beauty. In this sense, their eyes were cleared. They had a deeper understanding of reality. They were less innocent and innocence implies both a lack of evil behavior and a lack of understanding of evil (and perhaps even good) possibilities. Yes, I agree with you that in a sense, Adam and Eve saw more clearly after they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is like a mouse who is let into the cage with a snake. The “innocent” mouse crawls around the snake, smelling its body, checking out the head and face, until the snake pounces and the mouse dies. The “innocent” mouse is less knowledgeable of the nature of snakes, which, in this case, is not a good thing. Adam and Even gained knowledge of good and evil when they ate of the fruit, which gave them a kind of street wisdom they certainly did not have beforehand. Reality was more stark. Shades from white to grey to black emerged to them, which they knew nothing of before eating from the tree.

What is more clearly laid out in Genesis 2-3 is that their vision was made less clear when they ate the fruit. I also agree with you that in another sense, their judgment was not only clarified, it was also made more cloudy when they ate of the fruit. It is not so much that they knew less, but that life became more confusing. All of a sudden many more possibilities opened up. Many of the new possibilities were bad, but perhaps some of them were also good. Either way, the path must have seemed so much less clear when they gained all this confusing knowledge. I am sure that they felt much less secure in their decisions after eating the fruit. I am sure that decisions became much harder and, because of their sinful nature, their ability to make good choices was damaged permanently. Adults understand more of the world than children, but the making of decisions is harder for us, even if we are wiser. This was even more true for Adam and Eve because they acquired a sinful nature which, in a way not clearly delineated in the scripture, stole from them the ability to choose to do good. They were like the person described by Paul in Romans 7. This is not a clear-minded person!

So, I think that Adam and Eve both gained knowledge and lost clarity of focus when eating the fruit. In one sense, they gained ability to choose but in another they lost ability to choose. Sorry for this both clear and cloudy answer to your clear and cloudy question.

John Oakes

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