Saturday, June 23, 2012

Christians, can you help me answer this?

This is not a new question, but I have been unable to find a good answer for it. I wonder if you can help me find it. You don't have to answer in your own words if you don't want to, but perhaps you can point me in the right direction.

If Adam and Even did not know good and evil before eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, how could God hold them morally responsible for their evil? 

Imagine Adam and Eve having no concept of right and wrong. Imagine them not even comprehending the idea that disobeying God was "wrong" but obeying him was "right." Do we hold or pets morally responsible for the "wrongs" they commit, even though they don't have a clue that what they do is considered wrong?

God said to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because they would die if they did so. (Gen 2:17)

The serpent later questions them about what God said would happen if they ate of it, and said that they "will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:1-5)

They later eat the fruit and their "eyes were opened." (Gen 3:7) They realized they were naked and they felt shame and hid from God.

After all this, God is recorded as saying, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (Gen 3:22)

From the biblical account, it seems clear to me that before they ate, only God knew good and evil. So Adam and Eve did not know good and evil until they disobeyed God and ate. That means they did not know that to disobey God was morally wrong. How could God justify this permanent, world-changing, eternal punishment for a crime that the perpetrators didn't even know they were committing?

This is not a post that is meant to be sarcastic or mocking in any way. This is a genuine challenge I am seriously curious about. Thank you.
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Gary Hill said...

A very fair question. I can't wait to hear some of the convoluted reasoning you'll probably get in reply, including God's the man, he can do whatever he wants!

Anonymous said...

That's a great observation. I never noticed that before. I was too busy with the fact that God is lying in this passage and the devil is the one telling the truth.

The Vicar said...

@capnjammer: from what I was told back before I became an atheist, in Christian theology god isn't lying, he just isn't telling the whole truth. (That is, according to Christian theology, if Adam and Eve had not eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would have been immortal, and so when god told them that they would die if they ate it, he was being truthful -- just not telling them what else would happen.) Strictly speaking, the serpent isn't telling the whole truth either, although in that interpretation the bit it left out is the bit god already told them, about how they would die (eventually) if they ate the fruit.

This, of course, raises all kinds of questions. If there was no death until The Fall, then how could any animal eat anything? I mean, leave aside the usual Christian tripe about how carnivorous animals were herbivores until The Fall; when you eat plants, they die. For that matter, when you digest anything at all, untold millions of bacteria in your gut reproduce like mad and then die. If they didn't, you'd be in serious trouble.

And for that matter, if the entire transformation of the world from perfect harmonious immortality into death and suffering and carnivorous animals was immediately triggered by eating the fruit, then HOW DID THE SERPENT GET EVIL BEFORE ADAM AND EVE?

Eric Burton said...

Thanks for your comments! I have read a little more about this, but I am unable to find an answer other than someone just repeating that "they disobeyed god and that's wrong!"

Of course this completely misses the point of the question itself.

Jeff Thomas said...

@The Vicar - Great comments!

Daniel Choi said...
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Daniel Choi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Choi said...

sorry for deleting again and again, but I just wanted to edit words to clarify.

The no-death-before-the-fall belief is scripturally unsound, because many sea animals eat diatoms and microscopic plants - ingesting and killing entire organisms. So, unless God changed the way these herbivores eat, plants surely died during the 5th and 6th days of creation (

The fact that God punished Adam and Eve can be analogized to the way the government punishes people for accidental murder―even though the person did not intend evil, the person is held accountable.

The biblical God looks at the heart of a person to accurately judge a person (1 Sam. 16:7). Jesus taught that one who looks lustfully is equivalent to an actual adulterer (Matt. 5:28). One who hates one's fellowman is equivalent to a murderer (1 John 3:15).

Therefore, God regards the heart/motive of a deed as most important, when deciding judgement. God views repentant individuals-as
"new creations," without the former priorities and lifestyles completely gone (2 Cor. 5:17). This is the reason sinful people can go to heaven:
even though they sinned, they are reckoned as righteous in God's eyes because their hearts no longer harbor evil and desire righteousness.
I mean, what's the point of punishing a person for a sin if that person now rejects sin and has adopted a sinless lifestyle? He/she is essentially a different person!

Before issuing punishment, God asked them whether they ate from the Tree (Gen. 3:11). The question is later revealed to be a RHETORICAL one because He knew the truth.

“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?

Why would God ask this question if He already knew the correct answer? It seems that God wanted to give them a second chance to answer truthfully and repent.

However, Adam's first reaction is a quick blame to Eve than an answer. Eve ALSO BLAMES another party-the serpent

God relents from punishing when sinners repent (Jonah 3:10, Exod. 32:14).

From Gen. 18:16-33, we can deduce that God would not punish nations if there is even 1 righteous individual in it (and when He does strike sinful nations, He NEVER forgets to deliver all the righteous out first -
e.g. Noah, Lot, Rahab, etc).

Had they repented, things might have been different. If they had truthfully admitted their fault rather than try to hide it (therefore appearing as faultless as possible), God would have gladly relented from punishing this sin-relinquishing couple!
God always relented from punishing even when He had already announced punishment:

"If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will RELENT and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will RECONSIDER the good I had intended to do for it." Jer. 18:7-10

Thus, there is little doubt that God would actually have reckoned Adam and Eve's repentant hearts as worthy of withdrawing their punishment.

The problem wasn't that Adam and Eve didn't know about good and evil, but that EVEN AFTER they knew, they did not agree with God that they should be held accountable for their sin, and evaded responsibility. There is no "sorry for betraying your hope in us," but only projection of blame and ratting out on each other.

A careful reading of Genesis reveals that previously, Adam and Eve have often walked with God in the Garden (Gen. 3:8). They would rather love secretly spending time with sin than with God. Also since they have witnessed death, and knew what it was, they have knowingly chosen to receive death over God.

Eric Burton said...


Thank you for your well-written response. But I think I see a flaw in your reading of Genesis.

You say the pivotal act was not necessarily the eating of the fruit, but the lack of repentance they displayed after they were caught. You say perhaps things would have been different if they repented immediately--perhaps no one would have been punished at all.

I don't think there is anything in the Bible that indicates it was their unwillingness to repent that did them in. In fact, I think these 3 verses shed light on what they were actually punished for.

Genesis 3:17

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life."

Clearly, the reason the ground is cursed and we have to toil in it to eat is because he ate the fruit.

Genesis 3:22

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.

The Father is speaking to (presumably) the other members of the trinity, explaining why the humans must be kicked out of the garden.

Romans 5:19

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Paul seems to understand the cause of original sin to be the disobeying of God's command, not the lack of repentance for doing so.

Other parts of the Bible stress the importance of repentance as the way to salvation, but none of those are talking about what happened in the garden. I am unaware of any place in the Bible where it mentions that Adam's sin was a lack of repentance. The only sin that is talked about is the actual eating of the fruit.

You said,

"The fact that God punished Adam and Eve can be analogized to the way the government punishes people for accidental murder―even though the person did not intend evil, the person is held accountable."

I think this analogy fails, and upon further thought, actually supports my argument that Adam and Eve should not be held responsible.

First, there is no such thing as accidental murder. Murder itself requires forethought and intent. Accidental homicide is called manslaughter and is still punished, but less severely than murder. Further, manslaughter caused by negligence or an unlawful act (like running a red light) is typically punished more severely than a death that is completely accidental and not caused by another's negligence or illegal activity (a true accident that could not reasonably be avoided might be a good way to describe this). This tends to reflect most people's moral intuitions.

I am claiming that Adam and Eve had no idea that disobedience was "wrong." They had no idea what "wrong" even meant. There was no concept of "should" and "shouldn't," as those are moral ideas and are considered knowledge of good and evil. If they really didn't know what good and evil were, or more importantly, that there are things one "should" do (like obey God) and there are things one "shouldn't" do (like disobey God), it seems wrong to hold them responsible for any sort of immoral or wrong action.

Furthermore, if they didn't have this knowledge of good and evil, they would have no idea that someone could lie to them. They would have no reason to distrust the serpent when he told them that they would not die if they ate it (Genesis 3:1-6). The poor fools never stood a chance, with the deck stacked against them like that.

Withholding the tools necessary for making good moral decisions then punishing them for not making a good moral decision goes against every sort of idea of justice and fairness.

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