Theology

The Impatient Accuser (Part III)

June 8, 2011

This is Part III of a couple of posts on how sin and Satan tempt us (sorry for the long delay, DTS finals monopolized my time for a bit there). We’ve already looked at where Jesus calls Peter “Satan” (Part I) and where Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness (Part II), but now I want to look back at the beginning. The first instance of Satan tempting anyone is obviously in the garden in Genesis 3. And I should warn that what I am proposing may perhaps be a bit different from what you have traditionally been told. You are welcome to disagree with the interpretation presented.

We are all familiar with the story from the Sunday School felt board: God says Adam & Eve can eat from every tree in the garden, but the one “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” they are not to eat from. Satan comes and tempts Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit (which I take to be tomatoes, with good biblical and rational evidence to back this theory) – she is deceived and eats, then she gives some to her husband who likewise eats. Thus comes about the fall of mankind.

In the story, we tend to focus on the prohibition against eating from the one tree in Genesis 2:16-17, but my good friend Robbie Crouse (to whom I owe the majority of the insights in the post) pointed out to me that we often pass over the earlier statement in Genesis 1:29, where God says, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (emphasis added). His point is that we need to see the later prohibition (Gen 2:16-17) in light of the earlier pronouncement (Gen 1:29). In Genesis 1:29 you see that God gives every tree to Adam & Eve, and that they shall (future tense) have them all for food. In other words, the prohibition in Genesis 2:16-17 is a temporary prohibition for Adam & Eve – it was not meant to be a prohibition forever. Thus the serpent’s temptation in the garden was not necessarily to do something inherently evil (in and of itself), but rather a temptation to impatience in taking something now that God has said to wait for.

Let’s look closer at some of the verses in this familiar passage. The first thing to note is that most (perhaps, all) of what the serpent says will happen in Genesis 3:4-5, actually happens.


“You will not surely die” (3:4) 

Technically, they don’t die immediately. Although eventually they do, so this is perhaps a twisting of the truth.

“your eyes will be opened” (3:5)

We find in 3:7 – “Then the eyes of both were opened…”

“you will be like God…knowing good and evil” (3:5)

We find in 3:22 that God says, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.”

So most of what the serpent tempts them with actually comes true when they eat of the forbidden fruit. 

We must also look closer at what exactly it means to have “the knowledge of good and evil” – what does that phrase mean? It is used a couple of other times in Scripture, most prominently in 1 Kings 3:9 (c.f also 2 Sam 14:17), where Solomon asks God for the ability to “discern between good and evil” so that he can rule his people better. Surprisingly, this request “pleased” God enough that he gave not only that to him, but also “riches and honor.” So in this context, God sees having “the knowledge of good and evil” as a good thing, that he willing gives to Solomon. Other references show us that “the knowledge of good and evil” is something that children lack but the mature obtain/have (Deut 1:39, Isa 7:15-16; Heb 5:14). So it seems that “the knowledge of good and evil” is a sort of discernment and ability to make independent decisions (or as some have called it, an ability to rule). This is not necessarily in and of itself a bad thing – but it has to come in the proper context and in the proper time.


So from the context, the argument can be made that eating of the fruit and gaining “the knowledge of good and evil” was not a bad thing itself, but it was wrong because it was not done in God’s timing. The issue was impatience and not trusting God enough to wait for him to give them “every” tree to eat of (like he says he will in Gen 1:29). The case can be made that God’s plan was for man to eventually eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In fact, apparently all the Eastern Church Fathers believed that the prohibition against eating from the tree was just temporary (such as: Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ephrem the Syrian, Basil of Caesaria, Evagrius of Pontus). 


I still need to study up more on this and read the early Church Fathers myself, but it is an interesting insight. I do see that there is Scriptural merit for it too, and it fits in with themes I’ve seen in Scripture as well. But maybe it’s just heresy…  I’d be interested in anyone else’s thoughts if you’d like to comment. 

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