It is often said that Adam and Eve did not know the difference between good and evil prior to eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (TKGE).  This does seem to be the straightforward meaning of Genesis 3:22a: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’” (ESV)  There are a couple of problems I see with this interpretation, however:

  1. The text does not say Adam and Eve only gained knowledge of evil after the Fall, but knowledge of “good and evil.”  If we understand “knowledge” in a cognitive sense, this would mean God originally created human beings as amoral beings, having no knowledge of moral concepts or moral categories.  If we were created as amoral beings, then our moral intuitions and our capacity for moral reasoning are not part of the imago Dei (image of God) in which we were created, but rather a consequence of the Fall.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for two reasons: (1) Moral reasoning is one of the unique characteristics of God that among God creatures, humans alone exhibit.  Since humans alone were created in the imago Dei, it stands to reason that moral reasoning was part of that original imago Dei; (2) How is it possible for an act of disobedience to produce in us the knowledge of good?  Evil, yes, but good?
  2. If Adam and Eve could not think in moral categories before the Fall — i.e. they did not have the cognitive awareness of what good was, what evil was, and the difference between the two — then how could they have understood God’s command not to eat of the TKGE?  Minimally they would need to understand that it was wrong to eat of the TKGE, and that disobeying God is evil.

So in what sense could it be said that Adam and Eve came to know good and evil after the Fall?  If they were created with an understanding of moral categories and had the ability to engage in moral reasoning, what did eating from the TKGE give them that they did not already have?  Perhaps the solution is to look more closely at the Hebrew word for “know,” yada.  It has a range of meanings.  It can refer to both cognitive knowledge, as well as experiential knowledge (which is why yada is used as a euphemism for sexual relations).  To illustrate the distinction, consider sight.  A blind person can have knowledge of the biochemistry involved in sight, and thus be said to know about sight (cognitive knowledge), but they do not know what it is like to experience sight (experiential knowledge).  While Adam and Eve had cognitive knowledge of good and evil before the Fall, they came to know evil in a new way after the Fall because they experienced it personally.

While I am inclined toward this explanation, it is not without its own significant problems:

  1. Genesis 3:22 doesn’t say humans came to know evil, but rather “good and evil.”  If we understand yada as referring to experience, then we have to conclude that Adam and Eve not only lacked experience of evil prior to the Fall, but experience of the good as well.  That seems counterintuitive.  Surely they experienced good when they walked with God in the cool of the day and in their interactions with each other.  Surely they experienced goodness in their observations of God’s good creation.
  2. God said “man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.”  Since man’s knowledge is like God’s knowledge, if man’s knowledge was an experiential knowledge of evil, then God must also have an experiential knowledge of evil.  This is absurd, since it would mean God has committed evil.

Both views have significant theological problems, and I don’t want to be forced into picking my poison.  Is there another explanation?  What are your thoughts?

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