Did Adam Already Know Good from Evil Before Eating from the Tree?
June 2, 2014
...And A Whole Rabbit Trail of Related Questions. It’s good to ask questions when you read and I am currently reading a stimulating book that has me asking a bunch. My major award came in the mail the other day, weighing in at 545 pages of awesomeness: Divine Covenants and Moral Order, A Biblical Theology of Natural Law, by David VanDrunen. This morning I was doing a little bit of front porch reading (one of the best kinds there is) through the first chapter on Natural Law Under the Covenant of Creation. I’m not giving a synopsis of the whole chapter here, as that would be a different kind of article, but rather zoning in on one small section. And so I want to make a little disclaimer that there is much context surrounding it in the book. As I share this excerpt, know that VanDrunen has done thorough work in qualifying his statements about imaging and judicial authority and all that jazz. He poses a question:
In light of the immediate context---particularly God’s exercise of judicial authority as a king seated in the midst of his heavenly court and the human commission to exercise dominion---it is compelling to understand the references to “knowing good and evil” in Genesis 2-3 in line with this common OT meaning of the phrase. This still leaves some difficult interpretive questions. If Adam was to image God through the exercise of dominion, then the knowing of good and evil (that is making just judicial decisions) would seem to be a good thing for him to do. Yet eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was prohibited (2:17), knowing good and evil was promoted by the serpent (3:5), and Adam’s becoming “like one of us knowing good and evil” is the cause of his expulsion from Eden (3:22-24)---all of which suggests that knowing good and evil was a bad thing for Adam. (64)So what’s the deal? VanDrunen answers his question affirming that Adam already knew good and evil, but this was a concrete test of his obedience in exercising judicial authority. Therefore, it “concerns how well Adam would know good and evil rather than whether Adam would know good and evil” (64). And he points out the “precise character of his unrighteous exercise of judicial authority”:
Adam completely reversed the authority structure of the original creation. God was to be the supreme king, human beings under him, and the other creatures under human authority. By his actions in Genesis 3, Adam elevated himself over God (by rejecting his commandment in favor of his own desire) and elevated the serpent over himself, thereby making the serpent the supreme king, humanity under him, and God beneath them all. (65)So Adam pretty much completely failed in imaging God by exercising judicial authority. And now for a little bit of context. There is the natural law, which VanDrunen defines (and I feel kind of bad about just dropping a definition in a blog post that he painstakingly takes 86 pages to work up to) based on the teaching of the image of God and in the context of the covenant of creation (it takes on a different form that is not contradictory in the various covenants):
God, through nature itself, imposed moral obligation on human beings that are rightly characterized as natural law, and that this natural law directed them toward a creative and loving fruitfulness and the exercise of justice, holding out the penalty of death upon disobedience and the promise of life upon obedience. (86)And while he makes a great defense for this definition, VanDrunen also acknowledges that “the commands of [Gen.] 2:15-17 did reveal something that Adam could not have known simply by his image-bearing nature” (86). Adam received a special revelation for this specific command, but VanDrunen sees this “not as supplementing Adam’s natural moral obligation but as focusing it” (85). And now, seriously, back to my question. One way that I’ve always looked at this whole “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” thing is that Adam needed to know, and I mean really know in an intimate way, that God is good. Let me break that down with emphasis: God is good. God is good. God is good. There is no good apart from God. All good comes from God. He is the source of good. And he is indeed 100% good. Therefore, to look to anything else for good is evil. So, my first question is really, “Did Adam know that God is good through natural law?” Secondly, God spoke a specific command to Adam. It seems kind of arbitrary, although we know that it isn't. But this command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is what God shares in his special revelation to Adam. This leads to my next question: “Did Adam believe God?” Did he believe that he would surely die? Did he believe that this command was for his good? And would this kind of ascent of belief in God's Word and action based upon it be considered faith? Of course, I get the whole part about how Adam was able to obey before the fall, able to do good, and that without Jesus Christ’s work applied to us we are not. We need to be given new life that comes with faith in Christ and his work on our behalf, and our obedience is a response to that faith. In Christ, we are able to do good. In Heb. 11:1 faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Adam had communion with God, but did he believe his Word? Did he intimately know that God is the source of all good and that his dependence on the God’s Word was imperative to knowing good from evil? Did he hope for that eschatological goal that he was working towards in his probation? I think this distinction before the fall between special revelation and natural law is important. But I'm left wondering that maybe Adam knew good in the sense that natural law can convey, but he in fact didn't know good very well because he didn't trust and hold fast to God's Word. The rabbit trail continues, but you may just want to turn away here. Seriously, if you thought I was all over the place before: This got me thinking about something Mark Jones wrote in his book Antinomianism about the relationship between Jesus’s life of faith on earth and our own both being dependent on the Holy Spirit. He said, "Because Christ is the holiest man ever to have lived, he is the greatest believer ever to have lived (Heb. 12:2). There has never been, nor will there ever be, a more perfect example of living by faith than Jesus" (22). Jesus lived a life of faith in God’s Word through his Holy Spirit. And then there’s the whole, Jesus is the Word aspect (John 1:1). Add to that K. Scott Oliphint’s teaching that God assumes covenantal attributes to condescend in a covenantal relationship with man and that he does this in Christ, and you’ve got Jesus, the Word, who has spoken to us in these last days, and “whom he [God] appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world” (Heb. 1:1-3), giving this command to Adam. Have I utterly confused you yet with my housewife theologian brain? In this covenant of creation there was going to be a judgement of whether Adam fulfilled the command given by God and earned his eschatological hope for him and his posterity. Adam was capable of obeying the law (both the natural and special revelation), and he was able to do good without sin. And yet, he did not have the Holy Spirit and he could only do good by looking to God’s law and God’s spoken word. Adam did not need saving before the fall, but is there still a sense that he had to look to Christ in this probation period if Christ is the Word and he was to obey this special revelation? Or had he obeyed God, would it be because wisdom alone would inform him when he was faced with a temptation to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Of course there is the whole Jesus is the wisdom of God issue. Obviously, Adam does not exercise proper judicial authority with the serpent and disobeys God. He does not do good. He sinned and plunged us all into the effects of the fall, and we need a Savior to redeem us. Because of God’s great love and mercy (which we see in the other covenants) we do have that eschatological hope to reign with him on the new heavens and the new earth. Believers have it better than Adam because we have the gift of the Spirit. We have Christ's righteousness. And I have to say, whatever the answers to my questions, I am grateful to have the supernatural gift of faith.