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Why Were Adam and Eve Punished for Grasping After Knowledge?

This question was posed during a christian/atheist debate. The questioner was implying that the God of the Bible was evil, and did not want His people to learn. For this reason, He barred their way to the Tree of Knowledge, and punished them severely for partaking of it. His meaning was clear: one must reject that evil god and his religion, and pursue the way of knowledge, which is science and atheism.

What was missed, however, was that this was not the “tree of knowledge,” but the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” That is quite a different thing. As parents, we always want our kids to know all the useful knowledge that they possibly can about themselves and the world around them – we would never punish them for learning! However, there is some knowledge about good and evil that we withhold from them – such as the meanings of the words, “pedophile,” “genocide,” “torture” and “rape.”

What happened in the garden was not like an eager young student going off to college, and being reprimanded by his tyrannical, ignoramus father/god when his ideas were too much for the latter to handle. Rather, it’s a lot more like a young child who sees the word “pedophile” in print. Ever curious, he pesters and pesters his father who resolutely but frustratingly tells him, “I’ll tell you when you’re older. Please stop thinking about this and asking about this. Don’t look it up or ask anyone else either. Trust me, just trust me. Don’t think about this anymore!” Rebelliously, the child looks it up online, and sees and reads far more information than any young child should ever know about this topic.

An hour later, his father finds him sitting in his room, staring wide-eyed out the window. Aware something is different, his father comes to him and asks, “What is wrong?” The child says nothing for a while then says, “Is uncle Fred a pedophile? Because uncles often are you know…” The father, broken inside, asks, “Did you look up this word, this word that I told you not to look up?” He knows that innocence has been lost, and that the young child’s mind and life will be changed forever.

There is a saying that ignorance is bliss. Well, for many of the facts of the world this is not the case. One is limited and stilted in one’s development and potential if they know a limited amount of knowledge about their world. However, this is absolutely true when it comes to knowledge of the evil, the darkness, the depravity, the absolute depths of wickedness, cruelty and twisted sensuality that humanity can plunge.

The problem with a knowledge of evil is that it becomes a part of you. You begin to think of it, to live in it. It becomes a part of your world. And the more you know of evil, the more potentials your mind has to work with.

Now, in this world which is ruled by the Evil One, with many under his power, held captive to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26), it is necessary to know something of evil. For example, we must know well enough to keep our children, especially our daughters, safe from strangers.

Also, once one has lost innocence, has come into a stage of life where they are moral agents in a new realm of right and wrong, then it is a great virtue to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong. (1 Kings 3:9). It is a sin to confuse the two (Isaiah 5:20).

However, although we are to know right from wrong, the dark things of this world are not to be our special area of expertise. We are to be mature in our thinking, but for a Christian, being mature in thinking also means being “infants” when it comes to evil (1 Cor. 14:20). In all this dark world, we must not focus our minds or attentions on the evil around us, but rather on whatever is, “true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise,” (Phil. 4:8). We must not even speak of the shameful things done in secret (Eph. 5:12). The dark mysteries of the world are not to be our delight, but rather we should, “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” (Col. 3:16), and we are to let no unclean word, filthiness or coarse jesting come out of our mouth (Eph. 5:4).

Is God unjust, mean or cruel to require His people to be ignorant of sin? Not at all! Rather, He wishes for us to be free of sin. And once it is in the mind, it begins to work its power of influence over us – and God wishes to free us from that. Since we cannot undue the losing of innocence, the power of God is at work within us to bring purity to what sin has made impure, and to overpower the power of sin in our lives by His Spirit.

Can you imagine what it was that Adam and Eve gave up? A world with no lust, no adultery, no murder, no selfishness, no cruelty, no rape, no wars. I mean, not only were these not realities, but they were not even potential realities. They were not even ideas. They did not even have a slight notion that these things could exist. They were really and truly innocent – something you and I can only long for now.

But what was their sin? They reached for it. For what? For the forbidden knowledge. Of what? Of good and evil. It was not enough to only know good – they wished to know evil. They thought it was freedom, they thought it was power, they thought it was pleasure. They thought they would gain – but all they did was loose. Infinitely loose, their innocence.

But God was right, and loving and kind to bar it from them. And He was right to send them away from the garden, and sentence them to a short-lived life. (Because once infected, a sinful mind will become more sinful over time. Eternal life in sin would be misery!) And He was good – so good! – to send His son to die for sin, and to create a way to bring new life, and purity within.

And so now, let us not be children of the darkness, but children of the light (Eph. 5:6) – walking in obedience to God, having our minds renewed day-by-day (Eph. 4:23), and always living to breathe the fresh air of the Spirit of Holiness (Rom. 1:4), and keeping one’s self unstained from the world – for this is the essence of true religion (Jas. 1:27)!


  1. That is a great clear explanation of the Tree of Knowledge. That seems like the whole meaning and nothing but the meaning from the Tree of Knowledge.

    It seems the Tree of Knowledge could be accurately called The Tree of Sinful Knowledge. It is about the need to balance between benefits of intellectual curiosity in general with the dangers of indulging in some specific forms of curiosity. Where do we draw the line or know the dangerous forms of curiosity? That seems to be left open for us to decide.

    • Shortening the name to the “tree of knowledge” was a sly trick, but it is a straw-man argument. No Christian believes that God is against knowledge, so it is unfair for an atheist to “refute” this are of our doctrine.

      God wishes for us to preserve our innocence, but not to be fools. “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.” 1 Corinthians 14:20

  2. Most atheists are straw men and their arguments are shallow, they are just too blind to notice how they repeat the same mantra in almost every argument…A true seeker must first acknowledge truth which without there is no basis to argue…it becomes a deadened debate.

    • Yes, In such debates, the invisible presuppositions and assumptions (eg that miracles do not happen, that god does not exist, that truth is relative, etc) ate rarely addressed. But that’s the whole point of the argument!
      Unfortunately, most who argue don’t want to learn – only to reinforce their own beliefs.

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