Hey there,  The below is a question asked on a site that I am getting emails for.  It is Hermeneutics/Stack Exchange.  What do you think about it?    

One nuance of the meaning of the serpent’s question hinges on the translation of מִכֹּל עֵץ (Gen 3:1). Translated as “from every tree” or “from any tree” basically determines whether the serpent insinuates that God forbade some trees from consumption or he forbade all trees from consumption, respectively. Though “every” and “any” may initially seem similar they create almost opposite requirements. If I say, “Don’t eat every piece of pizza” one can eat all of them but one, but if I say “Don’t eat any piece of pizza” one cannot eat a single piece.

God’s actual command (Gen. 2:16-17) reflects the “every” translation (all trees but one, i.e., the forbidden tree) and this is perhaps why earlier translations (Douay-Rheims, KJV, Darby, English Targum Translations) tend towards “every.” But later translations almost all choose “any.” Any ideas on which translation is correct and why?

The significance of course would be whether the serpent initiates surprise at what God actually said or is it a double bluff, surprise at what God didn’t say?


I have seen this discussion/debate before.   There are actually quite a few examples in the Old Testament in which the Hebrew word has two possible meanings, with rather large implications for the interpretation.  Such examples make up a tiny minority of all passages, but the fact remains that there are a few passages in the Hebrew Bible for which the exact interpretation is uncertain.  I am afraid that Genesis 3:1 is one of those passages.  I am definitely NOT a Hebrew scholar and will happily let the experts speak on this, but if I understand correctly, both interpretations are possible.

In this case, the Bible reader is justified in interpreting the meaning based on other passages.  In other words, given two possible meanings, and given what we might call a “difficult” passage, we are justified in asking which is the more likely interpretation, given what we know about God from elsewhere in the Bible.  So, given other statements in the Bible, and given what you know about God based on theological statements about him elsewhere, which do you believe is the more likely correct translation/meaning?

From what I know of Satan, I believe that the double bluff is a more likely meaning–that Satan is not surprised, but that he is “spinning” what God said in a way to confuse Adam and Eve, tempting them to question God’s love for them.  After all, Satan is a deceiver and an accuser.  The double-bluff is an example of both deceiving and accusing.  However, we should be humble about this and admit that the other interpretation is a possible one.  The method I am proposing for interpreting the passage may amount to a kind of circular reasoning, so we should be careful and not dogmatic, but our job as Bible readers and interpreters is to ask what is the most likely meaning of the passage, and this is my conclusion, personally.

John Oakes

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