What Does “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” Mean?

In Genesis 3:5, as Satan is enticing Eve to disbelieve God and eat the forbidden fruit, he tells her if she eats the fruit she will be like God, “knowing good and evil”.  For many of us, growing up hearing this account retold and taught, we made wrong assumptions about what these words actually mean.  Tim Chester, in his book, From Creation to New Creation, dispels two of these assumptions: 1) He explains that this phrase does not mean “knowing about good and evil” because Adam and Eve “already knew that they should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”; 2) it also does not mean “experiencing good and evil”, since Genesis 3:22 has God himself saying that he possesses the knowledge of good and evil, and we know that God cannot experience evil (James 1:13).

So, my ideas have now been exhausted, what does this phrase mean, then?  Chester sets things straight:

“What it means is determining for oneself what is good and what is evil.  It means deciding what is right – creating our own morality.  Adam and Eve decided to live their lives their own way, without God.  This is what defines sin.  Sin is doubting the word of God and choosing to live our lives without God.  In effect we knock God off His throne and put ourselves in His place.  We decide to be gods for ourselves (p. 22).”

This helps us understand the nature of every sin that is committed.  It was not just that Adam and Eve wanted to have the mind of God (knowing about good and evil) nor was it just that they thought God was holding out on them and they wanted the last bit he had not yet given.  Rather, what they actually wanted was to become their own moral authorities.  Their choice and the choice we all make when we decide to sin is a choice to replace God with ourselves.  When we choose sin, we are, in effect, saying, “God, I don’t need you, I don’t trust you, and I don’t want you… I’ll take it from here”  Church, let us use this truth, today, to whet our appetites for Jesus the Savior.  Sin is worse than we think and so we need Christ more than we think.


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About Brent Osterberg

Ransomed sinner, husband to Keri, father to the kiddos three, associate pastor at Calvary Bible Church in Fort Worth, TX, and lover of most things epic. View all posts by Brent Osterberg

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