The serpent said so. The gnostics said so. Many others say so. But what does Christians say? And how do they interpret the bible?

In my Swedish translation it simply states that Eve gained wisdom, but then I read the Living Bible and there it seems that Eve just thought she would become wise:

How lovely and fresh looking it was! And it would make her so wise!

  • 1
    It is worth noting, that in English "Knowledge" and "Wisdom" (understanding) are significantly different things, and English translations usually say that it was knowledge that was conferred rather than wisdom. Dec 4 '14 at 17:18
  • Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. This question is off-topic and does not fit into one of the Types of questions that are within community guidelines If possible, edit this question so that it better fits into one of those question types.
    – fгedsbend
    Dec 4 '14 at 19:28
  • Please also see: "Biblical basis" vs "what the Bible says about a subject" You should try to formulate questions that are the "biblical Basis" format.
    – fгedsbend
    Dec 4 '14 at 19:30
  • I made an edit but I don't know if that helps. I'm really curious about what (some) Christians believe so that I can distinguish that from gnostic (and other) beliefs. I'm pretty sure the serpent is not a Christian but who knows, maybe that would be offtopic to discuss.
    – offroff
    Dec 5 '14 at 13:12

Genesis 3:22 is instructive in this regard:

"Then the LORD God said, 'Behold, the man has become like on 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'" (NASB Updated).

The phrase "knowing good and evil" is a Hebraism. The technical name for it in rhetoric is merism, which can be defined in rhetoric as

". . . the combination of two contrasting words, to refer to an entirety. For example, when we mean to say that someone searched thoroughly, everywhere, we often say that someone 'searched high and low.'"

In Genesis 3:22, the merism "good and evil" serves to illustrate a continuum, so to speak, in which there are two sides, as it were, one extending in the positive (read righteous) direction and one extending in the negative (read unrighteous) direction.

God's intention from the beginning was for our first parents to live and experience life in one direction only; namely, the righteous direction. Before the fall, there was only one way in which to live life; after the fall, a second option came into being, and the sin which was introduced when Adam and Eve disobeyed God eventually became so evil at one point, that God destroyed the entire world with a flood--save for righteous Noah and his family.

The evil side of "good and evil" is summarized quite starkly in Genesis 6:5, which says,

"Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (NASB Updated).

Noah's righteousness, however, reveals that the "good direction" still existed (and still does to this day), but for the human species to live consistently in that direction would occur in fits and starts. Today we call this process sanctification: being separated by God from the "evil direction" and then empowered by him to live victoriously (see Romans 7:25 ff.).

In conclusion, the knowledge which came about with our first parents' one act of disobedience was neither intended by God nor was it in any way positive or good. Thanks be to God, however, he can wrest something good from something bad, and through the cross-death and resurrection of his Son we now know and are now assured that

"All things work together for good, for them who love God and are called according to his purposes" (Romans 8:25)

Was the added knowledge which came from an act of disobedience worth it? No, but God has the last word, and that word is good, not evil.

  • In your argument, if Adam and Eve got the same 'knowledge' as God, I now know more than God. You are going to rethink this answer. Dec 4 '14 at 18:11
  • @Gideonmarx: Let me have a little selah on that, first. Don Dec 4 '14 at 18:52
  • @gideonmarx: OK, I've meditated on it. First, God's knowledge is different from ours in several ways. Being omniscient, his knowledge misses not a beat--good, bad, or indifferent. He has an all-knowing eye. We, OTOH, ACQUIRE knowledge through LEARNING. Big difference. I, e.g., can KNOW there are atrocities being perpetrated in Sudan or massacres in Rwanda, but my K is not firsthand, but filtered. Not so with God. Second, God KNOWS about evil without participating in it. He WANTS to be a force for good in the midst of evil. He can be through us, his people, but sometimes we turn a blind I. Dec 4 '14 at 19:00
  • My point being ... the serpent lied. And so the question is answered. Dec 8 '14 at 17:37
  • @gideonmarx: I'm not sure I understand your last comment, but in rethinking the OP's question and my answer, in retrospect I should have started my answer with "No, the forbidden fruit did not make us wise; it did impart knowledge of evil, however." IOW, what the serpent promised (viz., WISDOM) was really the ol' 'bait and switch' ploy. He suggested to Eve that God was withholding something good from her and she would become more god-like by eating. She grabbed the bait, and what she got was KNOWLEDGE extending in two directions, both good AND evil, which wasn't God's intention for her. Dec 9 '14 at 21:26

They became "wise" in that they now knew (the difference of) Good and Evil. The tree is explicitly called Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, so we should assume it is right that eating the fruit conferred that knowledge. This is also confirmed by them having a different view on their nakedness after eating the fruit.

So, yes, that fruit did confer knowledge of Good and Evil on them.

  • Is knowledge of Good and Evil limited to moral abilities and moral knowledge or may it also include some other kind of knowledge?
    – offroff
    Dec 4 '14 at 16:05
  • @offroff I don't understand, what do you mean by that? It doesn't seem like they suddenly learned how to make clothes, or something...
    – kutschkem
    Dec 4 '14 at 16:18
  • @kutschkem. Poor answer. You must supply some facts to your assertions. Disprove what I say. The term 'good and evil' means 'all things' as for example in II Samuel 14: 17. The negative of the idiom occurs in Genesis 24: 50 "bad or good" meaning 'nothing at all'. Adam and Eve, having been made in the image of God could tell good from evil before the serpent. They got nothing from eating. Eve created her own 'sin' even before eating (she exaggerated God's command) and then carried on inventing sins - as did Adam. Because she believed she had 'magical' powers of 'knowledge'. Dec 4 '14 at 18:07
  • @kutschkem I agree it doesn't seem like mankind gained any scientific knowledge or metaphysical knowledge (as the gnostics claim) and that's why I ask. I don't really care about opinions though, I was hoping there's a really obvious answer here that all Christians can agree on, but it doesn't seem to be that easy.
    – offroff
    Dec 4 '14 at 20:00

The answer to your question is not an easy answer; Since the original word used here was:

שׂכל Pronounced śâkal

For myself I do believe that choosing our current state as opposed to remaining in God’s pristine state was either wise nor desirable.

Brown Driver Biggs Definition:

1) to be prudent, be circumspect, wisely understand, prosper

1a) (Qal) to be prudent, be circumspect

1b) (Hiphil)

1b1) to look at or upon, have insight

1b2) to give attention to, consider, ponder, be prudent

1b3) to have insight, have comprehension

1b3a) insight, comprehension (substantive)

1b4) to cause to consider, give insight, teach

1b4a) the teachers, the wise

1b5) to act circumspectly, act prudently, act wisely

1b6) to prosper, have success

1b7) to cause to prosper

2) (Piel) to lay crosswise, cross (hands)

Part of Speech: verb

A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root same Word by TWOT Number: 2263, 2264

As defined by Merriam Webster

WISE, a. s as z. [G., to know., L.]

  1. Properly, having knowledge; hence, having the power of discerning and judging correctly, or of discriminating between what is true and what is false; between what is fit and proper, and what is improper; as a wise prince; a wise magistrate. Solomon was deemed the wisest man. But a man may be speculatively and not practically wise. Hence,

  2. Discrete and judicious in the use or applications of knowledge; choosing laudable ends, and the best means to accomplish them. This is to be practically wise. Gen 41.

According to Easton.

Wise Or wisdom, a moral rather than an intellectual quality. To be “foolish” is to be godless (Psalms 14:1; compare Judges 19:23; 2nd. Samuel 13:13). True wisdom is a gift from God to those who ask it (Job 28:12-28; Proverbs 3:13-18; Romans 1:22; Romans 16:27; 1st. Corinthians 1:17-21; 1st. Corinthians 2:6-8; James 1:5). “Wisdom” in Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 8:1; Proverbs 9:1-5 may be regarded not as a mere personification of the attribute of wisdom, but as a divine person, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1st. Corinthians 1:24).

In Matthew 11:19 it is the personified principle of wisdom that is meant.

To my estimation Easton really has the most Biblically accurate definition and actually the word wise was not the most accurate translation in:

Genesis 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

As becomes apparent in the next verse:

Genesis 3:7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

Perhaps a better translation would be:

Genesis 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to give one knowledge, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

In my way of understanding; the wise choice would be to have never sinned in the first place. While it is true that after eating from the tree they now were faced with a choice to choose either good or evil, it does not seem that they were any wiser in that it has been the underlying desire of mankind to be back in the state of being amicable and acceptable to God.

It appears that the reason God did not want them to gain the knowledge of good and evil is that:

Genesis 8:21 And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.

So to wind up in the current state of mankind as opposed to how it was in the Garden of Eden does not seem to my Southern Baptist mind to be a wise choice.

All scripture is quoted from the New King James translation.

  • +1 nice that you provided the definition of the hebrew word
    – kutschkem
    Dec 4 '14 at 15:38

Did the forbidden fruit make us wise?

Two trees are specifically identified as being created by God.

Genesis 2:9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Adam was given specific instruction not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

When they did eat of the tree, they were able to apprehend immodesty.

Genesis 3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Since Adam and Eve still walk around and talk after eating from the tree, we may surmise that the death they experienced was spiritual and may point to the new life that would be made available to those who trusted in Jesus.

What we can understand about the tree was that it would impart knowledge that included the perception of good and evil.

Genesis 3:22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

Wisdom appears to be distinct from knowledge and appears to come to us from God.

James 1:5 and if any of you do lack wisdom, let him ask from God, who is giving to all liberally, and not reproaching, and it shall be given to him;


My own personal interpretation as a Christian would suggest that the ultimate effect of the Fruit will be to impart the same sort of "wisdom" as the Prodigal Son received from his wayward lifestyle (Luke 15:11-32). Paradise 1.0 (Eden) was the farm prior to the son's departure; Paradise 2.0 (Heaven) will be the farm after his return.

Prior to his departure, the younger son was discontent, and thought the only path to happiness lay beyond the farm's boundaries. He discovered, much to his dismay, that the world outside the farm did not offer the happiness he sought. That does not mean, however, that his original belief was entirely wrong: had he never left the farm, me might have been perpetually discontented, and never have gained the wisdom necessary to find true happiness there.

Returning to the original question, my personal interpretation wouldn't be that the Fruit itself imparted wisdom, but rather that it set in motion a very long and painful chain of events through which wisdom might eventually be acquired. I can't cite any particular basis for such a notion beyond my personal belief, but I think the analogy between the farm, Eden, and Heaven works well to answer a lot of questions to which I'd not seen answers elsewhere (e.g. why create the tree and allow for the possibility of sin? Because giving Adam and Eve free will created the possibility that discontent might grow in them, and the only way to cure such discontent without revoking free will was to set mankind on its arduous journey).


Paul wrote,

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become "fools" so that ou may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "he catches the wise in their craftiness.

and again, The Lord knows that the thoughts oof the wise are futile.

1 Corinthians 3:18-20

In one sense, you could say that men gained a sort of wisdom, but they lost their "persepective" in the process. Wisdom is not what inherits life, righteousness is. Solomon, for one example, had tremendous wisdom, but he still couldn't keep it together. Despite his great wisdom, his many wives still led him into great sin.

But, even if at some point, wisdom came to the Couple. So what? If you are "like God" in one area, and not like Him in another, you are wholly corrupt. This is why the cross is, indeed, foolishness. God intentionally used the weak things to redeem man, where satan used a corrupted version of what appeared true to deceive.

  • I think that ultimately mankind will receive a form of genuinely good wisdom which would not have been obtained but for the Fruit. God wants that people should be happy refraining from sin of their own free will, but Adam and Eve--like the Prodigal Son before his departure--lacked the wisdom necessary for that. Original Sin, like the Son's departure, was not so much foolish, as it was made necessary by foolishness. I don't think there's anything "bad" about the wisdom mankind will ultimately receive as a consequence of the Fruit; the cost was painful, but could not be avoided without...
    – supercat
    Dec 5 '14 at 18:10
  • ...revoking free will. Stephen Schwartz, in Children of Eden, states that "Of all the gifts we have received, one is most precious and most terrible: the will in each of us is free". Free will is the source of much ugliness, but without it there could be no true beauty. If you would, read my answer and let me know what you think.
    – supercat
    Dec 5 '14 at 18:15

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