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CRUCIAL QUESTION #1: Why did God command Adam to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

In many ways this is the most important question; our answer here will, in fact, shape our entire view of the fall, sin, punishment, guilt, forgiveness and redemption. We must be certain to ponder this very carefully. As a result, we will spend a good deal of time on this issue.


The answer given in the common understanding of the Gospel (CUG#5) is that God forbid this one Tree in order to test man's obedience. God's loving nature had created the "very good" universe; God's righteous nature needed obedience.

Let me quote an author who's identity will remain hidden: "Eve ate of the Tree which God, to test man's obedience, had told him not to eat...By transgressing this one positive and express commandment, which God had given to our first parents to test and to try their obedience, Adam and Eve virtually transgressed the whole law, because thereby they broke through the restraint of the entire moral law, within which God wanted them to live."

This is the heart of the matter. The CUG says that the Tree was a test. God demands obedience. Adam failed the test by disobeying. This incited God's wrath, offending his perfect justice. The original sin, then, was disobedience. Sin=evil=disobedience. From this comes guilt, and guilt necessitates punishment. From this one act of disobedience man lost all fellowship with God and was deserving of eternal punishment. The purpose of the law is to show us how truly guilty we all are.

Please notice that the entire theology of sin and redemption, as it is commonly understood, is based upon the interpretation that the forbidden fruit was a test, and that Adam's sin was that he failed the test, otherwise known as disobedience.

We had better be absolutely certain we have that right!

In the above quoted book, and in fact in all references I've ever personally heard or read, the forbidden fruit is treated like any other fruit on any other Tree. The only thing "special" about it was that God said "don't eat it." Again from our mystery guest: "To eat the fruit of a Tree seems to us a rather innocent matter, but since God had forbidden it, it was a sin to Adam and Eve...the eating of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve does not seem to us to have been such a great crime; yet it was the disobedience against God, manifested in this apparently innocent act, that made it a damnable sin."

So, as it's commonly understood, the question of the nature and identity of the Tree that held the forbidden fruit is simply immaterial. God said don't touch it, and that settles it.


Several factors come quickly into play here:

I) parenting

II) punishment

III) love

IV) justice

They are all related. How we view them shapes our perceptions of much of the world.

Let's say a parent has a rule. A parental law, if you will. Little Adam must not touch the x!@. X!@ Can be anything at all. Why shouldn't Adam touch it? There are three possible answers. The first is parent centered, the other is child centered.

Answer #1: parent centered (selfish): Adam shouldn't touch the x!@ Because it could hurt the parent. Perhaps it's a priceless piece of crystal that parent fears will be broken, or a shirt that no one else wears because "it's mine." Whatever the object, the parent's concern is for him/herself, his/her own interests, which could be hurt if little Adam touches the x!@. The parent is in actuality the object of the parent's love, in this case. In my household, our teenage daughter is not allowed to use one certain type of hairspray because it contains something (who knows what?) That permeates the house and irritates my mild bronchitis, making it actually difficult for me to breathe. There is nothing wrong or sinful about using the hairspray; but its use hurts me. There is no known or imagined harm to come to our daughter from this hairspray. This rule (law) has me as its ultimate beneficiary. Obedience to this rule is necessary for my well being.

Answer #2: child centered (selfless): Adam shouldn't touch the x!@ Because it could hurt Adam. Whether it is a pan on the stove, a knife in the drawer, a bottle under the sink, a crawly thing on the ground, it represents a danger to little Adam. And this danger is unknown to him, because if he knew the dangers he would not willingly touch it. Most adults do not deliberately burn, cut, poison or otherwise hurt themselves. The parent then commands Adam to not touch the x!@ Because the parent is concerned for Adam's well­being. Here, Adam is the object of parent's love. In my household we have another rule that our daughter must have all her homework complete before watching tv at night. This is for her benefit, to help her concentrate on her work when her mind is freshest. Work before play, as the saying goes. My life is not affected one way or the other, regardless of when (or if) she does her homework. In this case, our daughter is the ultimate beneficiary. Obedience to this rule is necessary for her well being.

Both answers are a healthy and normal part of day­to­day human parent­child relationships, when properly balanced. Most parents look out for the needs of their children, trying to protect them from harm. But human parents have needs and desires, too, and it is not "wrong" to try to keep little Adam from destroying a precious family heirloom. Unfortunately, all too many people grow up in an environment where the parent's first and only priority is the parent, and not the child. Absolute obedience is expected simply because that's the way it is. You could say that many of us grow up in an environment overbalanced by too many "answer #1" types of parental commands.

This is a very significant factor in the misunderstanding of the Gospel that has developed over the years. We have interpreted God's actions and commands as those of the autocratic self­serving parent who is determined to have his own way. Obedience is mandatory for God's sake, because he is holy and righteous and simply cannot abide sin. Our disobedience is the hairspray in his divine nostrils, irritating and inflaming the holy lungs. God punishes us for inconveniencing him.


Now it's time to ask Crucial Question #1 again: why did God command Adam to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Did God have His interests in mind, or Adam's? Was the creator of the universe being self­centered or child centered? Selfish or selfless? Was this command arbitrary or purposeful? Was God trying to test Adam or protect him? Who stood to be hurt if Adam ate from the Tree, God or Adam?

The common understanding is consistently based in the "answer #1 (selfish)" scenario. The answer has already been given: the Tree was a test. This was based on God's own interests, in that his perfect righteousness required obedience, and it was therefore necessary for Adam to demonstrate his obedience by keeping this command. This reasoning is based on a human relationship with a self­centered parent who cares not for his/her child's interests so much as his/her own.

This is wrong. It is a misinterpretation of God's motive for forbidding Adam to eat this fruit. It is not that God couldn't have been testing Adam. Certainly the creator of the entire universe has the power, ability and right to do whatever he chooses. This is called Divine Providence. It is His game, so He makes the rules.

Let us assume for the moment that the forbidden fruit represented nothing more than a test of obedience. What was it going to accomplish? What was its purpose? Even if God was being selfish in the purpose of this command, what did he stand to gain? "Well, this test would have been able to establish Adam's obedience." And then? "God would know that he was being given proper respect, being obeyed by his children." So what? Do we really think that the sovereign Lord of the spiraling galaxies was not going to be happy until he had proven to himself that Adam did what he was told?

Let's put this another way. What did God stand to loose, how would He be hurt, if Adam disobeyed? "Adam would not be honoring God or worshipping him. Adam would not be properly acknowledging God as the righteous Lord of his life. Adam's disobedience ignores God's command, making Adam the ruler of his life instead of God."

This reasoning is centered in the notion that Adam's obedience was an end in itself, its own purpose and meaning. It was a test of obedience for obedience's sake only, without any dependent value. It was a test of obedience for the sole purpose of being obedient. The limitless all­powerful universe builder could not have been actually hurt in any way except in the area of pride. He wanted to be obeyed, and that's all there is too it.

Let's go back to my illustration of the hairspray that irritates my bronchitis. What if:

1) the hairspray didn't irritate my lungs;

2) it couldn't harm my daughter in any way;

3) it had no odor of any kind;

4) and was completely benign in all aspects, cosmetically, economically, politically, environmentally, etc.,

And yet I still absolutely and uncompromisingly demanded that this hairspray never be used, under any conditions whatsoever? What would you think of me as a parent? Despotic, fickle, arbitrary, selfish, ridiculous. "My house, my family, I said so and that settles it. No questions to be asked or answered."

What if I further told you the she used this once, and that I had locked her in a prison for the rest of her entire life, and had vowed never to speak to her ever again? Furthermore, I saw to it through my influence that she was put to death in the gas chamber.

Would you want me to help parent your child?

Absurd as it seems, this is exactly the behavior the commonly understood Gospel ascribes to God! The CUG would have us believe that this was just a Tree. Any Tree. The Tree didn't matter. It doesn't enter into the equation. What was essential is that God said "Don't touch it." It's not that the Tree was harmful to God or man, or that eating from it would alter anything. The Tree was no threat to anything or anyone. It was fragrant, benign hairspray that was off limits just because. "Because I said so, that's why!"


But hold on one moment! It's not just any Tree. It's fruit was/is not just any fruit. This is a very significant Tree, folks! The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was good for food, a delight to the eyes, could make one wise, and altered consciousness! This was no simple "apple Tree" that God chose just because it was handy. This was The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Not just any Tree. THE Tree.

Not just any knowledge. THE knowledge.

Not just any subject. But good and evil.

And it was in the absolute center of paradise.

Maybe, just maybe, God actually had a reason for forbidding Adam and Eve to eat from this Tree. Maybe, just maybe, his command wasn't a test but a warning! Maybe, just maybe, eating from this Tree could really seriously hurt Adam, and with him the whole of creation. Maybe, just maybe, Adam's sin wasn't a matter of his disobedience, but was a result of what eating from the Tree did to him.

Think about this. Really think about it.

Get a hold of the power of this idea.

It changes everything. This shifts God's motives from Himself to Adam.

Let's say that God had an answer #2 as to why Adam shouldn't touch the Tree. We then can see that:

  1. The Tree was not a test.
  2. It represented a very real danger to Adam, which God was trying to keep him from.
  3. God was not testing Adam's obedience. He was selflessly trying to warn Adam about something that could hurt him.
  4. He was not being arbitrary, but purposeful.
  5. This was not fickle, it was loving. God is love.

(At this point many people ask that, assuming the above is true, why did God ever put the Tree there in the first place? If the Tree was harmful, why did God grant Adam access to it? This is a perfectly reasonable question, which I will deal with, but the answer is dependent on understanding a bit more about the Tree. So the answer will be presented a little further on.)


How are we to decide? Between these two views of God's forbidding of the fruit, which should we adopt as our interpretation? In some respects this is a personal decision that each person must make for him/herself. However, there are two considerations here that overwhelmingly support the second view.

1) The Tree was not harmless. The old saying "No harm, no foul" does not apply here. After eating from the Tree Adam was changed. "...The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked..." (Gen 3:7) God was trying to avoid this change. This change was not desirable. So we see that God was actually trying to accomplish something in this command, which had nothing to do with testing obedience to a meaningless despotism. We will soon be examining the exact nature of this change, and why it was so harmful and undesirable. But for the present issue at hand, as to why God forbid this Tree, it suffices to note that a harmful change came upon Adam, a change that the loving and purposeful creator of life sought to warn against: "...For in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Gen 2:17)

  1. Justice apart from love has no meaning. To say that God is righteous is significant only in that it means he is at all times perfectly loving. What is the purpose of a law? Hopefully we've established that a law for its own sake is selfish, capricious and despotic, without any value for those subject to the law. Law must serve a purpose in order to be just. A law serving no purpose other than itself is unjust, and absolutely contrary to the nature of God. So to say that (CUG#3) God has two attributes (love and righteousness) is itself an extension of the very misunderstanding we are dealing with. God's true nature is love; this is good and right. God is righteous in that he is always operating in perfect accordance with his true nature. Thus, there is no divine attribute of "justice" that operates autonomously from the divine essence, which is love. This justice didn't need to be established or demonstrated in any way. So testing Adam's obedience, simply for its own sake, was to try to satisfy a need that didn't exist.


To summarize, then. Why did God command Adam to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

1) God had a purpose.

2) That purpose was to try to keep Adam from harm.

3) Harm could come because the Tree was a great danger to Adam.

4) So, in love, the Heavenly Father was trying to protect and guide his children. But, alas, it was in vain. Adam did not heed his Father's warning. As so often happens, we had to learn the hard way.


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