Tree of Knowledge

TREE OF KNOWLEDGE. A special tree in the Garden of Eden, set apart by the Lord as an instrument to test the obedience of Adam and Eve (Gen.2.9, Gen.2.17). It must have been a real tree since the test was real, by real people, with real results. Its fruit probably was not much different from that of other trees from which they ate. The sin in eating its fruit did not lie in the tree but in the disobedience of the persons who ate.

The phrase “to know good and evil” is used in other places: Infants do not know good and evil (Deut.1.39), nor does an old man of failing mind (2Sam.19.35); but a king does know good and evil (1Kgs.3.9), as do angels (2Sam.14.17) and God himself (Gen.3.5, Gen.3.22).

TREE OF KNOWLEDGE (עֵ֕ץ הַדַּ֖עַת; LXX τό ξύλον του̂ εἰδέναι). The full phrase is “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9), and designates one of two unusual trees which God placed in the Garden of Eden. God commanded Adam not to eat of this tree on penalty of death (2:17). The serpent’s temptation of Eve centered about this command and when he had convinced her that she would not die but become “like God” she ate of it to her sorrow. The phrase “good and evil,” which indicates the extremes of knowledge, denotes completeness, i.e. omniscience and power. It is equivalent to being divine (3:5). In partaking of its fruit, man reached for divinity but obtained guilt, shame, condemnation and expulsion instead.

Lack of knowing good and evil may be a mark of immaturity (Deut 1:39; Isa 7:14-17) and in 2 Samuel 19:35 the senility of old age. Its possession by the king makes him like an angel of God, and, according to 1 Kings 3:9, it was Solomon’s highly desired gift from God (cf. Gen 24:50; Num 24:13; Eccl 12:14; Jer 42:6). The tree of knowledge symbolized God’s omniscience.