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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

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Don Stewart
We now come to the first, and only, negative commandment that God gave to Adam. It concerns the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that was in the midst of the Garden of Eden.

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).

Moral Test

God had made humanity in His image and after His likeness. Humankind was like God in the sense that he could love, think, and communicate. There was now a test that was going to be made. Human beings would not be truly human unless there was some test to determine their faithfulness to God. God, therefore, set apart one tree from all the other trees and forbade humankind to eat of that tree.

Actual Tree

As was true with the tree of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an actual tree. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil would have had to have been unique-there would have been no chance the fruit would have been eaten by mistake.

Nature Of The Tree

There was nothing intrinsically evil about the tree that God forbade humanity to eat. It is not necessary to assume, as some have done, that God created a special type of tree. He may have designated one specific tree as the forbidden one. Furthermore, we do not know what type of fruit it was that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat. Western tradition has suggested it was an apple, but rabbinical literature suggest either the grape or the apricot. Others believe it was a vine rather than a tree. The only fruit mentioned in the passage is the fig tree (verse 7). The idea that it was an apple may have originated from the common sound in Latin for apple malum and evil malus.

It has been suggested that some type of poison was introduced into humankind's system from the eating of the tree. However, it is not necessary to assume that the tree contained some poison that would eventually result in their death.

Nature Of God

The point of the test is that God told them not to eat of a certain tree. The sin was disobeying God, there was no magical power in the fruit. God Himself is the ultimate source of what is right and what is wrong. If He said it was wrong to eat of that tree, then it was wrong. The Bible makes it clear that God is responsible to no one.

Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has taught Him (Isaiah 40:13).

God's Testing Of Humanity

The Bible says that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was placed within the reach of Adam. Why do such a thing? This introduces us to one of the consistent themes of Scripture - God tests His people. God wishes to see how we react to Him and His commandments. God's testing is to bring out the best in us, not the worst.

Did Evil Already Exist?

This brings us to another issue. Some commentators feel that evil would already have had to exist for God to make this commandment. They argue that the idea of evil would have made no sense to Adam unless he had somehow previously observed it.

Others disagree. They do not feel that Adam had to completely comprehend the concept of evil when God made him aware of its possible entrance into the world.

Scripture Does Not Clearly Say

Scripture does not clearly tell us either way whether Adam had any concept of evil when God gave him the commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree. Consequently, there is no way to be certain as to Adam's understanding of sin before the Fall.

No Evil Tree In Future

Though there will be a tree of life in the world to come, there will not be a counterpart of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the future world, there will be no moral test necessary. The victory over evil has been won, not by Adam, but by Christ.


The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was placed by God in the midst of the garden to provide a test for man. We can make the following conclusions.

1. For humans to be fully human there had to be a legitimate test to see which way they would choose.

2.It was the only negative commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve.

3.There was nothing intrinsically sinful about the tree or the fruit. The sin was in disobeying God.

4.The idea that God tests His creation is found consistently throughout Scripture.

5.There will be no similar tree in the future because evil will no longer exist.

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