And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:…
"The knowledge of good and evil." Now to understand this expression thoroughly, we must distinguish it very clearly, in the first place, from other kinds of knowledge which were not forbidden: and in the second place, from such a knowledge, even of good and evil, as could manifestly be possessed without sin.
1. As to the first of these points, we might at first be disposed to wonder how knowledge could be, in any form, the one gift which God denied; how the special test of man's obedience could be placed in his abstinence from what would bring him knowledge, and so open his eyes more fully, as it seemed, to the true nature of the path that lay before him. To this difficulty the obvious answer would be, that when man was forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the injunction certainly did not imply that every kind of knowledge was withheld.
2. It is also clear that there is a knowledge of good and evil, which can be possessed, if it cannot be directly sought for, without sin. From these two considerations we establish, first, that the precept of this earliest covenant would debar man from some kind of knowledge, without excluding him from all knowledge; and secondly, that even when it withheld the knowledge of good and evil, there was still some knowledge which might be described by those same words, yet which could not have been forbidden by them, because its presence was implied in the mere form of the command. The first of these remarks suggests, that we may confine our present inquiry entirely to what is specially called moral knowledge: i.e., the knowledge of moral acts or habits, so far as they are permitted or condemned: knowledge of the right, whether regarded as law, or precept, or command: in combination with knowledge of that transgression of the right, which may be diversely regarded as crime, or vice, or sin. Further, the second remark suggests, that this moral knowledge was not so much forbidden in itself, which would have been impossible in the ease of a being endowed with both a moral and an intellectual nature; but forbidden under certain circumstances, and at a certain time.By the help of these two positions we may gain, I think, a more close and accurate conception of that acquirement which the fruit of the tree of knowledge would convey.
1. First it would have been barren knowledge. It would have given man a theory, when he needed a rule: it would have lighted up his mind to debate about his duty, when at present his sole work was, to do his duty as the will of God. Precisely so our moral sciences teaches, that in morality, bare theory can never be safely carried far in advance of practice; and that the safe road to moral wisdom lies, not through a familiarity with intellectual systems, but through the ready obedience of the heart.
2. That this knowledge would have been barren, then, is enough to establish the mercy and wisdom of God's first injunction. But we can go further: we can show that it would have been not less dangerous than useless. Such a knowledge of good and evil would reveal to Adam the grounds of sin, the sources of temptation, etc. Hence, shame was the immediate result of that knowledge. The instant appearance of that feeling showed, that man now for the first time knew his capacities, tendencies, and opportunities for sin.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: