Did any early Church fathers ever reason that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:9) either is or symbolizes the Torah or the Law?


3 Answers 3


I have found this discussed in a couple of places. It is compared to Romans 7:5-7.

An excerpt from the third century father Methodius:

Read a compendious interpretation of some apostolic words from the same discourse. Let us see, then, what it is that we have endeavoured to say respecting the apostle. For this saying of his, “I was alive without the law once,” [Rom. vii. 9.] refers to the life which was lived in paradise before the law, not without a body, but with a body, by our first parents, as we have shown above; for we lived without concupiscence, being altogether ignorant of its assaults. For not to have a law according to which we ought to live, nor a power of establishing what manner of life we ought to adopt, so that we might justly be approved or blamed, is considered to exempt a person from accusation. Because one cannot lust after those things from which he is not restrained, and even if he lusted after them, he would not be blamed. For lust is not directed to things which are before us, and subject to our power, but to those which are before us, and not in our power. For how should one care for a thing which is neither forbidden nor necessary to him? And for this reason it is said, “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” [ Rom. vii. 7.] For when (our first parents) heard, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” [Gen. ii. 17.] then they conceived lust, and gathered it. Therefore was it said, I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet;” nor would they have desired to eat, except it had been said, “Thou shalt not eat of it.” For it was thence that sin took occasion to deceive me. For when the law was given, the devil had it in his power to work lust in me; “for without the law, sin was dead;” [Rom. vii. 8.] which means “when the law was not given, sin could not be committed.” But I was alive and blameless before the law, having no commandment in accordance with which it was necessary to live; “but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.”[Rom. vii. 9, 10.] For after God had given the law, and had commanded me what I ought to do, and what I ought not to do, the devil wrought lust in me. For the promise of God which was given to me, this was for life and incorruption, so that obeying it I might have ever-blooming life and joy unto incorruption; but to him who disobeyed it, it would issue in death. But the devil, whom he calls sin, because he is the author of sin, taking occasion by the commandment to deceive me to disobedience, deceived and slew me, thus rendering me subject to the condemnation, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”[ Gen. ii. 17.] “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just and good;” [ Rom. vii. 12.] because it was given, not for injury, but for safety; for let us not suppose that God makes anything useless or hurtful. What then? “Was then that which is good made death unto me?” [Rom. vii. 13.] namely, that which was given as a law, that it might be the cause of the greatest good? “God forbid.” For it was not the law of God that became the cause of my being brought into subjection to corruption, but the devil; that he might be made manifested who, through that which is good, wrought evil; that the inventor of evil might become and be proved the greatest of all sinners. “For we know that the law is spiritual;” [ Rom. vii. 14.] and therefore it can in no respect be injurious to any one; for spiritual things are far removed from irrational lust and sin. “But I am carnal, sold under sin;” [ Rom. vii. 14.] which means: But I being carnal, and being placed between good and evil as a voluntary agent, am so that I may have it in my power to choose what I will. For “behold I set before thee life and death;”[ Jer. xxi. 8; Ecclus. xv. 8; Deut. xxx. 15.] meaning that death would result from disobedience of the spiritual law, that is of the commandment; and from obedience to the carnal law, that is the counsel of the serpent; for by such a choice “I am sold” to the devil, fallen under sin. Hence evil, as though besieging me, cleaves to me and dwells in me, justice giving me up to be sold to the Evil One, in consequence of having violated the law. Therefore also the expressions: “That which I do, I allow not,” and “what I hate, that do I,”[ Rom. vii. 15.] are not to be understood of doing evil, but of only thinking it. For it is not in our power to think or not to think of improper things, but to act or not to act upon our thoughts. For we cannot hinder thoughts from coming into our minds, since we receive them when they are inspired into us from without; but we are able to abstain from obeying them and acting upon them. Therefore it is in our power to will not to think these things; but not to bring it about that they shall pass away, so as not to come into the mind again; for this does not lie in our power, as I said; which is the meaning of that statement, “The good that I would, I do not;” [ Rom. vii. 19.] for I do not will to think the things which injure me; for this good is altogether innocent. But “the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do;” not willing to think, and yet thinking what I do not will. And consider whether it was not for these very things that David entreated God, grieving that he thought of those things which he did not will: “O cleanse Thou me from my secret faults. Keep Thy servant also from presumptuous sins, lest they get the dominion over me; so shall I be undefiled, and innocent from the great offence.” [Ps. xix. 12, 13.] And the apostle too, in another place: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” [2 Cor. x. 5.]

Methodius, Part III. From the Discourse on the Resurrection. A Synopsis of Some Apostolic Words from the Same Discourse.

also check, The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, Chapter XII.—The importance of knowledge to true spiritual life.

The tree of life is mentioned in Proverbs:

Pro 3:18, 11:30, 13:12; 15:4

and in the Apocrypha

Sir_19:19 The knowledge of the commandments of the Lord is the doctrine of life: and they that do things that please him shall receive the fruit of the tree of immortality.


of Saint Jacob

Mimr 66

On the love of the poor

On the tree of knowledge of good and evil, on alms and on poverty [1] i.e. around the year 489 AD.

Divine books: Our Lord, you are a light through whom I go and come to you, because you are the light, the way, and life for those who walk through you. Your light shines from reading like the sun, and whoever wants to open to read enlightens himself. The divine books are the ports of life. Rise, ye distinguished ones, from the waves and rest in the ports, the world is in turmoil. His concerns are more than the sea, because sin moves in it every day like storms. Enter the ship of education and save yourself. If you do not read in books, you will be fished, and if you do not approach education, you will be stung. Behold, treasures are buried in the books of theology, and whoever wants will take unlimited riches.

God sows good and Satan sows evil: two trees are placed here in front of freedom, Lord one of these in your soul and become its possession, behold, the thought of the soul is like the earth, so choose a seedling that gives life to yourself. When the soul is torn in its mind, it becomes a paradise and bears living fruits for those who eat it.

Can a single tree be called the tree of good and evil except God metaphorically? There is no chance and this cannot

happen, if they are one, how can two trees become divided into good and evil while they are one? If it is evil, for what reason was it called good, and if it is good, why did they call it evil? I think that the lust of our world is this (tree), and whoever loves it has become a stranger from God. Grapes are not harvested from thorns.

God does not sever evil: it is not the just who planted that tree there, because if he had planted it, death would not have stemmed from it. The book testifies that God did not make death, so it is clear that he did not sever that tree.

The human thought spurs the tree of evil: that tree that gave death grew from the thought set up by evil from a young age.

Adam is free when he transgresses the law: Try what I say with these things that are yours, so that the solution to your doubt becomes from your thinking, you are empowered to sap or not to sap a seedling, and the possibility of doing either of the two things is in your hands, if you want, it becomes a generosity and it becomes generosity, and if you do not want, you will not sever it. And it will not happen. Thus, the just gave freedom to Adam, who formed him and was empowered to protect herself from harm. He formed Adam and gave him to live above death, but his acceptance of the advice of the wicked was from his will.

Satan is equal with the angels, but he fell freely: The just man had set a rebuke by Ezekiel to despise the enemy because of his wickedness, I anointed you on the holy mountain in holiness, and you became a shaded and anointed cherub, bearing glory, I did not forsake you until deception was found in your heart, and you went down to the pit to be slain with the slain. , the Creator acquitted the enemy with the angels, as for the presence of sin in his heart, that was his concern.

Annunciation and commandments an ax to root out the tree of evil. The pledge of allegiance has become a paradise, so do not leave it, lest you receive death outside it. The soul is the pure floor of Paradise, in which sins are not planted.

Alms: Behold, the poor - the land of righteous righteousness, cast your seed (in them) to bring a mule of a hundred bushels, the soul has no place where the righteousness is sown unless the poor become her land until you sow (in them). As written.

Manuscript: Rome 118 folios 105

At the beginning, the name of Saint Jacob appears. The Mimar is a wonderful piece of poetry, with an attractive style that one does not tire of reading. It contains philosophy and teaching style, for example: Try what I say for yourself to remove your doubts.. He is one of his early rulers, and perhaps he wrote it in the same period as his leadership over the six days immediately after the closure of the School of Edessa,

epistle to Diognetous 2nd century Chapter 12. The importance of knowledge to true spiritual life

When you have read and carefully listened to these things, you shall know what God bestows on such as rightly love Him, being made [as you are] a paradise of delight, presenting in yourselves a tree bearing all kinds of produce and flourishing well, being adorned with various fruits. For in this place the tree of knowledge and the tree of life have been planted; but it is not the tree of knowledge that destroys — it is disobedience that proves destructive. Nor truly are those words without significance which are written, how God from the beginning planted the tree of life in the midst of paradise, revealing through knowledge the way to life, and when those who were first formed did not use this [knowledge] properly, they were, through the fraud of the Serpent, stripped naked. For neither can life exist without knowledge, nor is knowledge secure without life. Wherefore both were planted close together. The Apostle, perceiving the force [of this conjunction], and blaming that knowledge which, without true doctrine, is admitted to influence life, declares, Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. For he who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge, and such as is witnessed to by life, knows nothing, but is deceived by the Serpent, as not loving life. But he who combines knowledge with fear, and seeks after life, plants in hope, looking for fruit. Let your heart be your wisdom; and let your life be true knowledge inwardly received. Bearing this tree and displaying its fruit, you shall always gather in those things which are desired by God, which the Serpent cannot reach, and to which deception does not approach; nor is Eve then corrupted, but is trusted as a virgin; and salvation is manifested, and the Apostles are filled with understanding, and the Passover of the Lord advances, and the choirs are gathered together, and are arranged in proper order, and the Word rejoices in teaching the saints — by whom the Father is

glorified: to whom be glory forever. Amen.

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    – agarza
    Dec 17, 2021 at 18:43

I doubt they argued if the tree of knowledge was the law given by Moses since that law was still thousands of years in the future.

If you were to ask what the tree of knowledge of both good and evil is, the simple answer is they did not know evil until they had disobeyed God, and once they disobeyed God they knew both good and evil, whereas before they only knew good.

The Hebrew word translated knowledge in that passage is "experiential knowledge." It is knowing something by experiencing it. Its used in passages like where so & so "knew" his wife and she begat a son. That "knowing" is experiencing intercourse with her. He knew her in that experience.

God had commanded them not to eat of that tree. And once they disobeyed God they experienced sin, and it was at that point that they knew both good and evil. This was the Fall, and their relationship with God was now in need of reparation.

In some scriptures clothed is symbolized with being saved, and naked with being lost. Their sudden discovery they are naked is representing their lost state.

  • "The Hebrew word translated knowledge in that passage is 'experiential knowledge.'" - Can you provide a source for this? I ask because BDB defines daath (1d) as "especially knowledge with moral quality"
    – agarza
    Dec 28, 2021 at 4:12
  • "דעת (da’at),“to know.” . . . in Ancient Hebrew thought is similar to our understanding of knowing but is more personal and intimate. We may say that we “know” someone but simply mean we “know” of his or her existence but, in Hebrew thought one can only “know” someone if they have a personal and intimate relationship." ancient-hebrew.org/studies-words/… With the tree of Knowledge they it wasn't just knowing of sin, they had an intimate knowledge, experiencing sin.
    – DDover
    Dec 28, 2021 at 5:25
  • This question is asking about the church fathers, not your personal thoughts.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 31, 2021 at 15:31

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