KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
T. PIERCE BROWN
What does the knowledge of good and evil involve? Every teacher, and every student needs to know some principles involved here that are seldom taught. Since the tree of which Adam and Eve ate was a tree of knowledge of good and evil, did Adam have that knowledge before he ate? If one answers, “Yes,” then the question must be faced, “How then, did the tree provide the means by which he knew it?” If one answers, “No, Adam did not know the difference between good and evil before he ate the fruit,” then the question must be faced, “Why did he not, since God told him that it was good to eat of every other tree, but bad to eat of that one?” If he did not know the difference between right and wrong, how could he be held responsible for doing the wrong? If he did know the difference in right and wrong, did he not know what was good and what was evil?
Probably most of us have assumed that knowledge of good and evil means an intellectual awareness of right and wrong. This is not true, but rather than trying to write a comprehensive article on it, let me simply point you toward the path of truth and let those of you who care to, walk through the gallery of God’s glorious revelation savoring the flavor of the bread, or seeing the beauty of the pearls first hand.
First, consider the word, “knowledge.” It does not merely mean an intellectual comprehension of a fact. Note Genesis 4:1. Adam had been aware of his wife before, but he had not experienced the intimate personal relationship the word “know” suggests. So with the knowledge of good and evil, knowing intellectually what is good and bad, and experiencing them are two different things. Adam had the first kind of knowledge, an intellectual awareness that it would be good to eat of some trees and bad to eat of this particular one, and thus could become guilty when he obtained the second kind, the experiential kind.
Second, “good and evil” do not necessarily stand for “right and wrong.” Without any scholarly ability or great insight, one can take Young’s Concordance and discover that many times the words are almost equivalent to “pleasant or unpleasant” or “happy and unhappy.” Genesis 37:20, 47:9; Lev. 26:6; Josh. 23:15 and Job 2:10 are a sampling of many that show that the words are about as broad as our words “good” and “bad.” A cake may be “good” or an apple or dog “bad” or an experience good or bad without having any connection whatever with moral attributes of righteousness or wickedness.
So Adam and Eve, who already knew that it was right to obey God and wrong to disobey him (without which knowledge they could not have been morally responsible) came to know good and bad things, experiences, and sensations as a result of the disobedience. They had heretofore never been subjected to an unpleasant experience (toilsome labor or anguish in childbirth), but they would now know that. Pain is bad (“evil,” the Bible might say), and we now know experimentally or existentially both joys and sorrows (good and evil) as a result of sin.
Seldom does one learn what might be called “a whole new truth,” but he learns to look at one more facet of God’s glorious diamond of truth and to each former facet added brilliance comes. If you determine to study the Bible more in depth as a result of this article, our purpose has been accomplished.
There is nothing in the story that indicates that the fruit had some magical qualities that would enable them to know the difference in right and wrong. If God had said, “Do not jump over this ditch, for it is a ditch of knowledge of good and evil,” had they jumped over the ditch, they would have had the same kind of knowledge they had when they ate the fruit. They would have experienced what they had not heretofore experienced, and would have a kind of knowledge they did not have before.
We need to be sure that we understand, and are able to teach our children and others, there are some kinds of knowledge you should have that should not be first hand or experimental. The old expression, “If you have not tried it, do not knock it” is invalid and dangerous. I have never been drunk, smoked pot or committed adultery, but I know they are bad things to do. I do not have to put my hand on a red-hot stove to be able to warn against it. It is wise to learn what is good and evil from Him who knows all things, rather than learn it as did Adam and Eve.