Genesis 2:16-17

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;

17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

One of the essential questions of faith is, “Why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden and thereby introduce sin into His creation?” My commentaries take several views:

Morris says that it’s because there couldn’t be a relationship of true love between God and man if man had no choice.

God then called Adam’s attention to the abundance of His provision for his every need. He was free to eat of any tree of the garden (a better word, in context, than “every”), as much as he wanted. There was only a single minor restraint; but it would be this restraint that would test man’s love for God, giving him an opportunity to reject God’s word if he wished. True love is based on trust, of course; and it would have been altogether natural and appropriate for man to have been so grateful to God for all He had done for him—giving him life, a beautiful home, an abundance of good food in profuse variety, and everything he would need or want—that his own love for God would cause him gladly to follow His will in all things. 

Thus the one restriction placed by God on Adam (and, a bit later, on Eve) was singularly appropriate for its purpose. There was every reason (based on love, not fear) for man to conform to God’s command, and no reason to disobey. If he did disobey, he would be without excuse. Yet he did have a choice, and so was truly a “free moral agent” before God. This was the simplest imaginable test of man’s attitude toward his Creator. Would he “trust and obey” because he loved the one who had shown such love for him; or would he doubt God’s goodness and resent His control, rejecting and disobeying His word on even such an apparently trivial restriction as one forbidden fruit in a whole paradise of abundant provision? — Morris, page 93.

I think Morris’s view makes sense, except that it’s possible to obey an authority without loving it.

Pember seems to be saying that a choice was necessary in order for man to be able to worship.

There was but one commandment; and, therefore, sin was circumscribed, and but one transgression possible. Of all the numerous trees of the garden man might freely eat, even the tree of life was open to him: but he was commanded to do homage to the great God Who had given him all things, to pay a tithe in acknowledgment of the exhaustless bounty bestowed upon him, by abstaining from one tree, that of the knowledge of good and evil. Of this he was not to eat, or he would prove himself a rebel, and lose his kingdom and his life. — Pember, page 111.

Pember is right in saying that obedience for Adam would have been part of his worship. But we will worship God throughout eternity without the option of rebelling, so that doesn’t seem to me to be the whole story.

Taylor takes the legalistic view.

Man is made in the image of God, but man is not God. It follows that man is to obey God, because the creature must obey the Creator. In a perfect world, how is man to obey God? In order for man to obey God, God must give a law for man to obey. Logic alone demands that we accept this. If we have no law, we have no yardstick against which to measure our obedience.

Paul makes it clear that the law was given to prove to us that we couldn’t obey God on our own. Taylor takes Paul’s words about the law as our schoolmaster (Galatians 3:24) and twists it to say that the law is necessary to beat us when we fail.

My personal opinion—the answer I came up with as I was building my own faith—is this: God created man in His image. God has free will. Therefore, man must have free will. In order to exercise free will, there has to be a choice. The tree presented Adam with a choice. Adam and Eve could have willingly avoided the forbidden fruit as a way of showing their love and worship of God, but the basic necessity of free will seems like the foundational purpose to me.

God’s command is not, as commonly thought, that man was not to eat from the tree of knowledge of  good and evil—this statement in v.17 represents the latter (and lesser) part of God’s command, which in fact begins in v.16. Reflective of God’s character as loving and generous Father who desires what is “good” for His children, He begins His command with the emphatic and positive statement, “From any tree of the garden you shall certainly eat!” It is important to note that the verbal expression God employs here is not that of a suggestion, as it is often translated: “you may freely eat”; rather, He employs the most emphatic expression of command that one can use in Hebrew, which is grammatically identical to the equally emphatic expression at the end of v.17—”you shall certainly die!” The tendency to view and so translate the first part of the command in v.16 as a mere suggestion—and hence our unfortunate failure to view it as part (indeed the greater part) of God’s command—is no doubt due to the perception that man would hardly need to be commanded to eat from all the good fruit trees that were permitted to him. Yet it is precisely this point that God is seeking to make here—to wit, that obeying His command, as ideally intended, should not be difficult—indeed, it should be “second” nature, absolutely consistent with man’s sinless (pre-Fall) created nature— as it will one day be when those who believe in Him are perfected (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:10; 15:50). This is absolutely the same point that Jesus makes when He tells the Jewish people of His day who were weighed down by the unbearably heavy burden of the Mosaic law and rabbinic law combined: “Take My yoke upon you”—the expression “yoke” being a rabbinic metaphor for law (in this case the Law of Christ, per Matthew 22:37-40)—”… for My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). When we think of God’s command here in Genesis 2 exclusively in light of the restriction, we are succumbing to the perversion of God’s Word—and hence of His character—as promoted by Satan in the very next chapter. —Wechsler, pages 84-85. 

Knowing well the single prohibition of his God, he [Adam] could at once detect a foe in any being who should tempt him to disobey it. — Pember, page 111.

you shall surely die (v. 17) = “dying, you will die.” Adam’s sin didn’t bring about immediate physical death, but it did bring about immediate spiritual death and the beginning of physical death. Physical death became inevitable.

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