Was Adam allowed to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge?

Posted on Mar.04, 2009. Filed in Genesis. Average rating: 3.6 / 10 (Rate It).

The Bible attributes mankind’s fall from grace to an act of rebellion in the garden of Eden. This is described in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and are then cast out of paradise as a punishment. The preceding chapters of Genesis, however, are inconsistent concerning whether eating the fruit of this tree was forbidden.

In Genesis 2, God explicitly forbids Adam from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge:

And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ [Genesis 2:16-17 (NRSV)]

In Genesis 1, however, God equally explicitly says to the first humans that they can eat from any fruit-bearing tree on the planet:

God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’ [Genesis 1:29 (NRSV)]

So was the fruit of the tree of knowledge forbidden or not? If it was, then Genesis 1:29 contains an error. If it wasn’t, then Genesis 2:17 contains an error, and the Fall was the biggest miscarriage of justice of all time.

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not a type of tree, but a specific tree. The one in the center of the garden. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that pop culture is right and it _was_ an apple tree. Just for fun, let’s say that it was a _Fuji_ apple tree. There were other apple trees and other _Fuji_ apple trees in the Garden of Eden.

    The only thing special about that tree that made it the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil is that God commanded them not to eat of it. The only reason you could experience both Good and Evil by eating the fruit of the tree is that it’s fruit was perfectly good, but forbidden. The good of the fruit of that particular tree could only be had by defying the will of God. Otherwise, it was a Fuji apple tree just like any other Fuji apple tree.

    So there was not one type of fruit that Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat, and Genesis 1 is satisfied. But they were not allowed to eat the fruit of a particular tree, and Genesis 2 is satisfied.

  2. 2

    But Genesis 1 doesn’t talk about types of trees, but just trees. The tension is likely due to the multiple authors of Genesis.

    Still, I don’t exactly feel in my bones that this is a very strong problem. The verse in chapter 2 can be seen as a sort of exception to the general principle established in chapter 1…

  3. 3

    First, type-token ambiguities occur all the time. So the fact that Genesis 1 doesn’t explicitly mention types doesn’t mean that it’s not about types. Note that it also doesn’t explicitly mention tokens, but it’s either about tree-types or tree-tokens. Is there some reason we should give primacy to token-language over type-language?

    Second, tree-types are implicit in Genesis 1. God gives every tree _with_seed_in_its_fruit to Man. That is, he specifies a _type_ of tree…the type with seed in its fruit.*

    On the other hand, tokens are _explicit_ in Genesis 2 and the sequel. The tree-token, the one in the middle of the garden, is specifically called out.

    *-Secondary harmonization: The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil did not have seed in it.

  4. 4

    “The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil did not have seed in it.”

    That could work. Although having seed is almost the definition of “fruit”, in the case of a plant that wasn’t meant to spread, it makes some sense that it wouldn’t.

  5. 5

    I’m not keen on the idea of seedless fruit; as Amtiskaw says, it’s almost an analytic truth that fruit contain seeds (seedless grapes and other artificial exceptions to this notwithstanding).

    Focusing on type-token ambiguity seems more promising. When God says in Genesis 1:29, “I have given you… every tree with seed in its fruit”, “every tree” could (as far as I can tell) refer either to every type of tree or to every individual tree. The latter reading makes a harmonisation possible.

    For this to work, there need to be other trees of the same type as the tree of knowledge the fruit of which could be eaten, but I don’t see anything that rules that out.

    So to show that this is a contradiction it would be necessary to either: (a) show that “every tree” in Genesis 1:29 means “every individual tree” rather than “every type of tree”, or (b) show that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the only tree of its kind.

  6. 6

    A man invites guests to his house. While he is making a cup of tea he begins to explain about the manner in which his guests may sojourn there. He begins by explaining that it is to them an ‘open house’ and they have freedom of movement and access. He explains that he has specifically furnished and equipped the rooms for their well-being and comfort. With this notion established he then mentions the singular exception to this rule. The liberty and the restriction actually emphasise each other. The proverbial exception that procves the rule.

  7. 7

    After eating from the tree they knew they were naked. This suggests that they did not have wisdom. However, when the “talking Snake” advised them that they would be like God They decided to eat from it. They therefore had wisdom before they ate from the tree. How would they know that they would be like God. They must have knew the difference. And what is it with the snake. talking? Walking upright? Come On ! Genesis makes no sense whatsoever.

  8. 8

    God did not say that we could eat from every fruit bearing tree. He said that we can only eat fruit with the seed in it; there are fruit bearing trees that produce fruit without seeds in them. Why do you assume that the fruit from the tree of good and evil had seed in it? I see no contradiction in these scriptures.

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