Why put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden?

Why put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden? The most commonly heard answer to this question is because only with the real ability to choose (free will), love are made possible. Tree of the knowledge of good and evil is there to allow us a choice (free will).

My question is this. If the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is there to allow us to have free will, why risk so much, as failing which would allow human to know good and evil? God could have just put a tree of the knowledge of sweet and sour and command human not to eat from the tree. Then we would be given the ability to choose (free will) and at the same time if we fail to abide by God’s command, we will only know the taste sweet and sour, rather than the knowledge of good and evil. Bad example, I know.


@geoffyong That is a good question. One approach is to understand that Adam and Eve were meant to learn the knowledge of good and evil - to become like God - by obeying His prohibition not to eat from the tree. It is possible the tree itself had no magic properties - even if it was the tree of ‘sweet and sour’ - it would have made no difference. When Adam and Eve chose disobedience - they chose to define good and evil for themselves and were then enslaved to sin. Our truest freedom is in obedience to God - that is the highest knowledge of good and evil - but when we disobey we are enslaved to death and sin. The tree may have had some special properties, but in my opinion that is unnecessary - it was the choice to disobey God that ultimately was destructive - not the fruit itself.

Here are two articles that I felt were helpful and some quotes I thought were particularly useful. Does that explanation ring true to you? Do you have any further points you would like to discuss? May the Spirit of Christ grant us wisdom as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Him!

“Concretely, the tree represented for Adam the choice between submitting to God’s law or pursuing moral autonomy : Fearing the Lord (the beginning of wisdom), or judging for himself what good and evil are. Learning obedience would result in greater wisdom, maturity, and freedom. That is what the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with: “You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). That is, you shall judge for yourselves. You will no be in the position of children, having good and evil dictated to you. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the prerogatives of autonomous, mature adulthood, before they had learned submission to God—and he tempted them to achieve this by way of disobedience . But it is important to understand that it could have been achieved with obedience as well , without the consequences of sin—and that is the tragedy. Adam and Eve were indeed destined to rule creation. Becoming like gods was not a bad thing or a bad desire. But this was to be achieved in the same way the rule of Jesus was achieved—by submission to God (Philippians 2:8-9).”

“The tree of knowledge was to lead man to the knowledge of good and evil; and, according to the divine intention, this was to be attained through his not eating of its fruit. This end was to be accomplished, not only by his discerning in the limit imposed by the prohibition the difference between that which accorded with the will of God and that which opposed it, but also by his coming eventually, through obedience to the prohibition, to recognize the fact that all that is opposed to the will of God is an evil to be avoided, and through voluntary resistance to such evil, to the full development of the freedom of choice originally imparted to him into the actual freedom of a deliberate and self-conscious choice of good. By obedience to the divine will he would have attained to a godlike knowledge of good and evil, i.e. to one in accordance with his own likeness to God. He would have detected the evil in the approaching tempter; but instead of yielding to it, he would have resisted it, and thus have made good his own property acquired with consciousness and of his won free-will, and in this way by proper self-determination would gradually have advanced to the possession of the truest liberty.” - Franz Delitch


@SeanO, thanks for the reply. Took me a while to sink everything in. Thanks again.


@geoffyong Hope it was helpful :slight_smile: If you have any follow up questions, feel free to ask. Christ be with you.

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In Beyond Opinion Ravi Zacharias says “True love is the freedom to love”. By giving Adam & Eve the choice to obey Him was giving them freedom to love him back.

What would have happened if Adam had chopped the tree down?


@David_Cieszynski I now have this image in my mind of the snake approaching Eve and Adam walking up with an axe, chopping the snake’s head off and then chopping the tree down. Then the two of them riding off into the sunset happily ever after eating fruit from the tree of life.

In a way, isn’t that what Jesus did when He crushed the serpent’s head via the cross and now His Bride, the Church, will dwell with Him forever in paradise? Jesus was called the second Adam (I Cor 15:45).

“The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”


It says in scripture that God knew before he created us he would have to sacrifice His only Son (paraphrased). Now that to me implies if Adam or Eve didn’t eat the apple someone else would have. But if you take the tree out of the equation (chopped down) would sin still have entered Creation?


@David_Cieszynski That is a good question. I’ll reiterate what I said before - “The tree may have had some special properties, but in my opinion that is unnecessary - it was the choice to disobey God that ultimately was destructive - not the fruit itself”. Now we get into some pretty deep questions that I certainly cannot answer definitively. Would be curious on everyone’s thoughts.

Could Adam and Eve sin in ways other than eating from the tree before the fall - were they even capable of it? God had only given them one commandment. Were they capable of rejecting God in other ways? If so, the tree was not necessary for sin.

What would have happened if one of Adam and Eve’s children sinned but they did not? Would the human race have been split in two - those who had not fallen and the fallen? And at that point could the fallen tempt the not fallen to disobey God or would God simply take the righteous away like Enoch? (this would make a good book…)

Was Adam and Eve’s sin inevitable? I am not implying that they had no choice, but rather that God realized that ultimately it would require the fall and redemption for humanity to learn true obedience/love and He realized they would fall.


Morning Sean, I’m of the opinion it was the act and not the apple in that they turned from God.

Thanks for your input very thought provoking.


This is a very thought provoking topic. It opens up all sorts of questions that probably can’t be answered, at least this side of heaven.

To sort of piggyback on what @SeanO was saying in his last post, I have often thought about the possibilities of what could have happened. One thing that has really intrigued me was what Paul had commented on in one of his letters. (I apologize for not having the scripture reference, but I’m in a place where I don’t have access to a Bible.). Anyway, Paul had said that Eve was deceived, not Adam. So, I can’t help but think that when Adam ate the fruit, he knew what he was doing. Paul said Adam wasn’t deceived, so why did he eat the fruit? Why didn’t he refuse and let Eve face punishment by herself? And then, of course, I wondered how that would have affected the rest of humanity. There are other questions that run along this line of thinking, but for the sake of berevity I’ll forgo listing them.

Ok, there is one more thing I want to throw out there. If Adam was not deceived when he decided to eat the fruit, could his motivation for disobeying God’s command come from a strong sense of loyalty, or maybe I should say love, for Eve? Was this some chivalrous act on Adam’s part? Maybe he didn’t want Eve to be cut off from God by herself. Maybe he saw that it was too late to stop Eve from eating and so in some grand and noble act, he decided to fall with her. Anyway, all this really amounts to is good fodder for a storyline.


@Melvin_Greene I am not sure about Adam’s exact motives, but I think Lewis has a great point about obedience in The Silver Chair. There is a scene where the two children and Puddleglum, who Aslan has sent on a mission to rescue a lost prince, encounter a man under enchantment. They do not know who the man is and it is said that every night he must be bound in a silver chair or he would kill them. While this man is bound in the silver chair, the man ask them to do something in Aslan’s name. Aslan had given them four signs - one of them was that whoever asked them to do something in his name, they must obey. Here is the ensuing discussion.

“Oh, what are we to do?” Said Jill.

It was a dreadful question. What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about? On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them? Could Aslan really have meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? Could it be a mere accident? But then, supposing this was the real sign? They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.

“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.

“I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.

“Do you mean you think everything will come right if we untie him?” said Scrubb.

“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”

As it turned out, the supposed lunatic was Prince Rilian, the one they had been sent to save. He had been put under an evil enchantment. What would have happened if they had chosen not to obey in the face of great difficulty or emotional confusion?

I think it is a great illustration. True obedience is like that of Christ - who obeyed even unto death (Phil 2:5-11). True obedience understands that God always has our highest good in mind no matter how dire or difficult obedience seems.

I realize that this was not exactly the direction you were going with your question, but I think true obedience is helpful to ponder in the context of sin. In our culture, we simply do not understand that what God says is good is better than anything else you could possibly get by going against that good. God is the greatest good and His commands are never without purpose that stretches beyond the gates of this life and into the land of our King and God where His glory is our light.


I think you’re right, @SeanO. We are to obey what we know the Lord has commanded us to do; even though it may not seem logical, or even (gasp!) right. God’s ways are always the best ways.
I liked the excerpt from “The Silver Chair”. That is a good analogy. I have never read the Narnia series. That’s on my list of “must read”. Thanks for posting that, Sean. Oh, and incidentally, my previous post shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It was more of an exercise in critical thinking. :wink:

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@Melvin_Greene Yes - critical thinking is fun and part of what I love about Connect :slight_smile: One thing I really enjoy about Narnia is the relational aspect of the main character’s walk with Aslan. Their obedience is rooted in a kind of knowledge of Aslan’s character. And as Christians we do not obey blindly, but rather we obey when we do not understand because we know Jesus through His Spirit and His goodness is evident to all who know Him.

Regarding why Adam ate the fruit, that is a very intriguing question. I had never thought of chivalry as an answer. It’s interesting because I’ve heard preachers say that Adam must have been sitting right next to Eve when the serpent was deceiving her because she (in this interpretation) turns around and hands the fruit to him. And it would not be very chivalrous to let a serpent deceive your wife when you’re sitting right there. But perhaps we misunderstand that part of the text? I suppose there could have been a lapse of time.

Or, perhaps, ‘he was not deceived’ is not referring to Adam’s motives for sinning but rather to the fact that he knew full well what God said, whereas Eve was tricked into doubting God’s words? So they both could have eaten for similar reasons, but Adam knew.

Also, did Adam tell Eve God’s Words or did God give them to both people? It’s interesting that Eve added ‘or touch it’ to God’s command when he only said don’t eat of it. Perhaps Adam was the one who God spoke directly with and therefore more accountable???


Geoffrey, you’ve already been given a number of well thought out responses to consider. I think Sean was on to something when he said, It is possible the tree itself had no magic properties - even if it was the tree of ‘sweet and sour’ - it would have made no difference. When Adam and Eve chose disobedience - they chose to define good and evil for themselves and were then enslaved to sin. And I think Sean’s thoughts here tie in to some of what I’ll share below as a few thoughts and questions.

I’m not as certain about the premise that the freedom to choose evil is a necessary presupposition of genuine choice and genuine love. A few related questions that might be worth considering are:

  • Does God express genuine love? Does God make genuine choices? Can God choose evil?

  • Will we as our glorified selves express genuine love? Will we as our glorified selves make genuine choices? Will we as our glorified selves be able to choose evil?

Regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, one of the most helpful resources I’ve come across is John Piper’s sermon titled The Ultimate Essence of Evil that he delivered at the Passion conference in Atlanta last January.

The most illumining thought I came away with was, the essence of evil isn’t disobedience, it’s desiring anything more than God. After all, why do we disobey? Because we desire something that the disobedience can give us more than we desire God, which manifests in obedience. But, it’s the desire that comes first, then action.

Another point Piper made was, God’s commands aren’t grounded in an arbitrary set of rules God came up with. Rather, God’s commands are grounded in his supremacy in all things. They all exist to preserve God as our greatest treasure. Therefore, the Christian life isn’t merely decisionistic. There’s a preference behind every decision we make. So, the essence of evil, it would seem, isn’t deciding to disobey God’s commands. Rather, deciding to disobey God’s commands is the fruit of the essence of evil, which is preferring anything else more than God.

And so, the first sin ever committed wasn’t the eating of the fruit, it was the desiring of what eating the fruit could give them. Interestingly, I’ve read the Genesis account who knows how many times, and I never saw this until Piper pointed it out:

Genesis 3:6 - So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate …

So, we see that Eve’s delight in and desire of what eating the fruit could give her preceded her taking and eating of the fruit. And it was her desire of what eating the fruit could give her that was the first sin.

I’d be interested to hear if you have any thoughts.


@Brian_Weeks, a quick question… if the essence of evil isn’t disobedience but desiring anything more than God, aren’t we then looping back the original question, why the tree? Without the tree, Adam/Eve could also still desire anything more than God, couldn’t they? Then they could, then what is the purpose of three?

3 posts were split to a new topic: How are Trusting God and Desiring God Related? 2

Geoffrey, thanks for bringing this full circle. Your question seems to me to have a lot in common with the problem of evil. If we consider the possibility that it could have been something else that was the catalyst for the first sin, then I think we’d find ourselves asking the same question of that thing. What do you think? So, it seems if there were going to be a locus around which the first sin was involved, the question might become, Why did God create with the possibility for evil?

Do you think that’s a reasonable foundational question with this subject? Do you see any similarity between your question and the problem of evil?

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This made me think of someone stating that there are only 3 temptations: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1John 2:16) In verse 17 it says the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil pretty much seemed to provide that test. We have so many “trip wires” in this world today…thank God for giving us Jesus.

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I have heard this theory before - that Adam knowingly ate the fruit in order to not be separated from Eve. But it seems to me, if that were the case, that would have been part of his explanation when God came looking for them. And I can’t help but think that if his intention had been chivalry, which is an honorable thing, God would have known his heart and addressed his mistaken, but well-meaning and tragic decision in a more sympathetic way?Instead, Adam denied any responsibility at all and blamed both Eve and God - and God held him more accountable.


So, this is a question I have long puzzled over. It was one of the first things that pushed me toward apologetics, because I was asked it in college and I didn’t have an answer. And neither did anyone at the church I was attending at the time. They told me to tell my friend that “those things don’t matter. All that matters is that Jesus loves you, and died for your sins.” Not really helpful in discussing theology with a skeptic…

I find the discussion on the fact that Adam and Eve would have still learned knowledge of good and evil through obedience to be interesting, and I’ll have to explore the shared articles, but I eventually came up with my own answer to this question. It is purely my own speculation - there is nothing in Scripture that I can point to and say “This is why” but - I think it’s a plausible thought.

As Michael Ramsden said in one of his lectures on value, God knew from before he began the creation process that our fall and redemption would cost him everything, and he still chose to create us. Also, one of the lectures by Vince Vitale said something along the lines of “What if this type of world, where sin and evil is possible, is the only type of world that would create the people and character the God intended us to be/have?”

These discussions, combined with the fact that I was babysitting my tiny nephew on a daily basis for a while, watching the many bumps and bruises he experienced, led me to form the following theory. God created us with the ability to feel pain, and while that would seem cruel, it is a feature necessary for protection and survival. We learn almost everything in life from pain of some sort. So what if, by setting this world up in the way that He did, God is creating a group of people who will still have free will into eternity, but who, once freed from the bondage of sin and the flesh, will fully appreciate what they have in God’s goodness and protection and will never, ever desire to go against his will again?

Essentially, Adam and Eve were like naive toddlers. They had never experienced pain, evil, or death. And God, like the parent who says “Don’t touch that! It’s hot and it will burn you,” or “Don’t go out in the street. You will hit by a car and die,” was saying to Adam and Eve quite clearly that if they disobeyed him, the consequences would bring agony and pain. But as complete innocents without the true understanding of either the full goodness of God or the full pain evil, they were not capable of understanding the enormity of the consequences. Like the child, if they had simply obeyed and trusted God, they would have been spared enormous pain and death, but the truth is that we learn best through pain, and we become wiser because of it. The child who burns her hands on the stove will run in the other direction the next time someone says “Don’t touch that!” She will hopefully also learn to trust the adults around her in other ways too, so that the most devastating consequences - like being hit by a car - can be avoided. It is interesting that even as adults, we still learn the most thoroughly; we mature the most spiritually, through pain and trials.

So, in summary, because of Adam and Eve’s decision not to trust God, humankind cannot not sin. It is part of who we are no matter how hard we try, and every day, we feel the sting and consequences of living in a world in these conditions. Those who love and desire God, and the peace and righteousness and holiness that he offers, look forward to that day when they will be released from our sinful flesh and be raised perfect and without sin. Being free of our sin nature and being reunited with God will be glorious beyond belief. And having once lived in a world where sin and evil are the order of the day, where being righteous is a daily battle; having experienced the consequences of separation from God, and having done our best to stay faithful and fight the good fight, we would never, for any reason or purpose, want to come back to this. If, in the world to come, God tells us that a certain choice would result in “death” - we will grasp the true horror of going against him and know exactly what that means. We will trust him implicitly, and we will be trustworthy, though we will still have free will.

What if God created a world and the beings in it in such a way to ultimately create the children, friends, bride, etc. who would be fit to rule and reign with him freely and of their own sincere desire? Once free of the sinful flesh, we would never choose disobedience again. Does that make sense?

I think this was alluded to in some of the earlier conversations, and I’m looking forward to reading more on how this same thing could have been accomplished through obedience, because I’ve never thought about what that would have looked like.