How Could Adam and Eve Sin Before ‘Knowing Good and Evil’?
by Mike Johnson
Genesis 3 says that Adam and Eve didn’t know good and evil before they sinned. How could they be held morally responsible for sin without the knowledge of good and evil?
The text in question is from Genesis 3:22, where, following Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, “the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of Us, knowing good and evil.’” (NIV)
The Hebrew term for “knowing” in this verse (also in verse 5) is not unique to this passage or chapter; it’s the same word “yada” used elsewhere, some 960 times in the Hebrew scriptures. “Yada” can mean to learn, to perceive, to discern, to distinguish, to know by experience, to recognize, to consider, to be acquainted with, and other fairly ordinary definitions of the word listed in Hebrew lexicons (Strong’s #3045). But, there is no particular sense of “knowing” indicated in Genesis 3.
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So what meaning of “knowing” is intended? I think the definition “to know by experience” best fits this usage of “knowing”. Imagine what life would have been like for Adam and Eve. At the end of the description for each day of creation, God’s calls His creation “good” or “very good.” (Gen. 1:4,10,12,18,25,31) Adam and Eve knew the “good” that God had made for them, but they would probably not have had the mindset to identify it as good. God knew good and evil; Adam and Eve knew only good, because they had experienced only good. For Adam and Eve to say “all that God has made is good” might mean they would have to understand a distinction between good and evil. They had witnessed or practiced nothing with which to contrast good. Before their own sin, no evil had been known to them in the experiential sense.
Does this mean they didn’t know right from wrong before they sinned? I don’t think so…
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