On the Convoluted nature of Good and Evil
Genesis chapters 2 and 3 are traditionally interpreted as a narrative expressing the fall of man from paradise into sin. While this may be the case, there is much more to the story than the literal text. To analyze these two chapters requires not only acknowledging the information within the text, but also what is left out of the text. The story of Adam and Eve and the temptation of the serpent explain the complex nature of evil and its confusing and deceitful nature.
To begin, I will quote Genesis 2:16-17:
“ The Lord God gave man this order: ‘You are free to eat from and of the trees in the garden: Except the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.”
At this point in the text, the world, as well as Adam, had been created by the Lord. Eve, however, had not yet been created. This command was handed down directly from God to Adam. It was not until God decided that man should have a partner in the Garden of Eden that Eve was created from Adam’s rib.
After the creation of Eve, she is approached by the serpent (the Enemy). The text reads:
Genesis 3:1-3 “Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made. The serpent asked the woman ‘Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the Garden?’ The woman answered the serpent: ‘ We may eat the fruit of the trees in the Garden, it is only the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden that God said “You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.”’
This is a crucial moment for several reasons. The text illustrates Eve in the Garden with the serpent, and the serpent does not ask “Did God really forbid you to eat from the Tree of Knowledge?” No, he asks whether she had been forbidden to eat from any of the trees. This omission on the part of the serpent as to which particular tree Adam and Eve were forbidden from serves to confuse Eve. The text also implies that because Eve was created after Adam, that the command not to eat from that particular tree came through Adam, rather than God himself. Adam seems to conveyed to Eve that eating from the tree would cause them to perish, but not that it would give them the knowledge of Good and Evil.
Genesis 3:4 “But the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die. No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.’ The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom; so she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
It seems that from the text, it can be inferred that there was a lapse in communication between Adam and Eve. Adam, having his command come directly from God, knew the significance as well as the consequence of eating from the tree, yet he only relayed the consequence to Eve. Eve, only knowing the consequence initially, learned of the significance and the value of the tree through the serpent, not Adam and not God himself. To put ourselves in Eve’s position, we would be confused by this new information and therefore vulnerable. Here the serpent, a creation of God, is providing insight that neither God nor her husband Adam provided. In her mind, the serpent is a harmless messenger, created by God, and therefore inherently good. One can picture Eve’s thought process: God created all things good, so there should be no reason to suspect that the serpent was trying to deceive her. This displays not only the power of the temptation of the Enemy, but also the convoluted nature of evil. The serpent, aware of Eve’s inherent naiveté, uses this against her. Again, since the serpent was a creation of God, she had no reason to suspect he was deceiving her.
The story of the Fall of Man shows how cautious we must be in our discernment between good and evil. While it can be reasoned that Eve was not to blame for her folly, she and Adam (especially Adam) can be held responsible for disobeying the one commandment that God had given them. The serpent, in effect was the first false prophet.
Now we, being the proverbial descendants of Adam and Eve possess that knowledge that was forbidden. However, clearly our knowledge is limited. The serpent lied to Eve when he said the tree would not kill her, but would give her the wisdom of gods because eventually, Eve does die and prior to that, after consuming the fruit, she and Adam believe that they can hide their sin from God as evidenced by them covering themselves and hiding in the bushes later in the chapter. If the serpent were telling the truth and they truly had attained the infinite wisdom of God, they would have realized instantaneously after eating the fruit that God would find out, and that the serpent had deceived them. Instead, they hide from God with the hope that he would not find out, and further, attempt to place the blame on one another. The wisdom they attained was not the wisdom of God, rather the limited wisdom of man.
The message within the literary analysis of this text shows that we as humans possess only a limited wisdom, and a limited knowledge of good and evil. The text displays that the Enemy, (Satan) is a master of disguise, exemplified in his seemingly harmless incarnation through the serpent, and may disguise himself as something that seems good.