Genesis Two Rewrites, Part 1
Today's entry was written by Stephen Rodeheaver. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.
This essay addresses the question of what God meant when he acknowledged that by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve would become “like God.” Here in Part 1, Dr. Rodeheaver suggests that humankind began to set up its own moral order, one which pushed God to the side. In Part 2, he goes on to say that Scripture shows that this has immediate ramifications for a Christian view of marriage.
Genesis Two Rewrites
Genesis 2 is about as well known as any Bible story ever told – the wondrous story of the creation of Adam and Eve. We know well that God formed man out of the dust of the earth, placed him in a garden, said it wasn’t good for man to be alone, decided to make a “suitable helper” for man, and eventually made woman from his rib. We know this creation story is also a marriage story from the commentary within it: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, cling to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked and felt no shame.” (Gen 2:24-25) One other thing we know all too well from the story: the LORD God told man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that was in the center of the garden, for the fruit of that tree would surely bring death.
Anyone who knows Genesis 2 cannot keep their minds from Genesis 3. The woman is deceived. The man is irresponsibly silent. They both eat of the forbidden tree, and their eyes are suddenly opened and they hide – from each other and from God. Trusting the serpent creature instead of the Creator LORD God brings great disruption to all of the relationships established in Genesis 2, from the ground to the man and woman to the LORD God. The man and the woman are expelled from the garden – the tree of life will now be off limits. Death becomes a certainty.
The LORD God’s rationale for removing humanity from the garden is surprising: “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” It is surprising because the serpent had told the woman that God knew that when they (you plural) ate their eyes would be opened and that they would be “like God, knowing good and evil.” Thus, according to God, the serpent was at least partially truthful – humanity became like God knowing good and evil.
How are we to understand this tree that produces deadly fruit? In what way does eating from this tree actually make us like God? What does it mean to know good and evil? Why, after knowing good and evil, would God banish humanity from the tree of life?
While there are various responses to these questions, only one vein will be explored here, a vein that attempts to take seriously that we have really become like God, knowing good and evil, and that such knowledge is deadly and worthy of banishment from the garden.
In this vein, the knowledge of good and evil is not simply the experience of good and evil so that one can distinguish between the two, perhaps better appreciating the good as the result of now having tasted the bad. No, the knowledge of good and evil refers to moral wisdom, but again, not in the sense of being able to discern between good and bad. True, disobeying the LORD God brought humanity into the experience of sin, but this can hardly be what it means to be like God, knowing good and evil, unless we are persuaded that God knew good and evil because God sinned. Knowing good and evil must be different than the understanding of good and evil that is attained through committing evil.
Knowing good and evil is therefore different than experiencing sin and righteousness. Rather, it has to do with the capacity of determining good and evil, the capacity of creating moral order. The LORD God knows good and evil in that the LORD God created an ordered universe. The LORD God constructed morality within the creation of the world and all its relationships. To relate within the LORD God’s ordering is good. To relate in such a way to disrupt that ordering is evil.
Having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humanity (already created in the image of God according to Genesis 1:26) becomes like God, knowing good and evil. Humanity, with this act of disobedience, has gained the ability to create moral order, the ability to re-order the LORD God’s ordered creation. Humanity is no longer bound to the subservient position of bearing God’s image to the rest of the earth. Instead, humanity now has the ability to “self-determine” good and evil, the ability to construct its own moral universe, to put forth its own image as the creator of relational order.
There is one problem with humanity’s gain of this knowledge, this power to order good and evil: eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an act of disorder. It put humanity sideways with the God-created orderliness and goodness of creation. This is why the LORD God told the man that death would surely come with the devouring of this fruit. To live “out-of-order” is to destroy one’s place and one’s self. It is to transgress one’s life-receiving place with the LORD God.
But cannot newly empowered humanity simply re-order good and evil in such a way that death is nullified? Try as we might, the answer is a resounding no. To re-order good and evil from a place of disorder is to create even greater chaos and death. Humanity can construct its own systems of moral order, but to the degree that these systems are sideways with God’s ordering of creation they will simply result in greater disorder and greater death. Sometimes we even try to sign God’s name on our own re-ordering efforts. The results are the same, and often worse. (For example, consider the damage done and the lives lost under “manifest destiny.”)
It is no wonder that the LORD God banishes humanity from the garden so that there is no longer access to the tree of life. This is the LORD God saving humanity and creation from the plight of “eternal disordering.” In other words, God is mercifully interceding to limit the amount of disordering that humanity, individually and collectively, can accomplish. We will not be allowed to disrupt and re-order in ever-increasing deathly ways forever. In the next post, we examine the ramifications.
Stephen Rodeheaver is the senior pastor of Southeast Church of the Nazarene in San Diego, California, and a visiting associate professor in the department on theology and Christian ministry at Point Loma Nazarene University. He is the author of Snapshots of the Kingdom: Glimpses of Heaven on Earth.