The knowledge of good & evil

by David Clayton

It is a universally accepted fact that knowledge is good. Most of us would conclude that knowledge is good because it enables us to respond to our environment in an appropriate way. It enables us to deal with the circumstances that arise in life. As children we went to school to learn, and the whole purpose of this was to gain knowledge so that when we became adults and went out to face life we were able to relate to our circumstances in an appropriate way.

Critical Knowledge

One of the most necessary kinds of knowledge is a knowledge of our enemy. In fact, in times of war the person that is most hated of all enemies is a spy! An enemy soldier who is captured is usually locked up, but often when a spy is found he is executed. A spy is hated and despised because he has more power to do harm than an open enemy. The worst kind of enemy is the enemy who is in our midst and unknown! That is the enemy that we need to know. Ignorance of this kind of enemy can be very dangerous.

Many of us have probably heard of a bird called the cuckoo. The cuckoo is a very strange bird as it never builds a nest of its own. During the mating season, when it's ready to lay an egg, the cuckoo goes and deposits its egg in the nest of another bird and then leaves it, and goes about it's business! It finds a nest with maybe two eggs and it puts it's egg right with the others. The owner of the nest comes back home and finds three eggs but of course, birds can't count. She knows she left eggs in the nest and she comes back and finds eggs in the nest so she thinks everything is alright. So she starts to sit on these eggs with this strange bird growing under her. Finally all the eggs hatch and the cuckoo chick is bigger than the others so when the parent birds start feeding these chicks he pushes his head above the others and he gets most of the food. Soon the other chicks begin to starve. As soon as he grows a little bigger the cuckoo chick kicks out the other baby birds and finally he is left alone in the nest. The parent birds continue to feed this cuckoo chick until it grows big enough to fly away, and later, to find another cuckoo bird and to carry on the cycle of deception and destruction.

Now this baby bird that they feed and nurture and care for, destroys their own children. It is an enemy sitting in the nest but they feed and nurture it because they're totally ignorant of the truth. This illustrates the point that it is important to know who the enemy really is.

Perhaps some of us might have heard of Ignaz Semmelweis. He was a Hungarian doctor who was born in 1818. During that era, approximately 10 percent of all the women who gave birth in a hospital died of later complications. This was not considered strange and it was taken for granted that it was just one of the hazards of child bearing. But Ignaz Semmelweis noticed something strange. Some women were being delivered by midwives, while those in the hospitals were being delivered by doctors, he noticed that about two percent of those who were delivered by midwives died while 10 percent of those who were delivered by doctors in the hospitals died and he thought this was very strange.

One day while Ignaz Semmelweis was with a group of doctors doing an autopsy on a dead body, one of the doctors pricked his finger with the scalpel, and he became sick and eventually died. Semmelweis noticed that this doctor manifested the same symptoms as the women who had died after giving birth in the hospitals. It occurred to him that perhaps what was happening was that these doctors were doing these autopsies on these dead bodies, then moving straight to these women who had just had babies and examining the birth passage with their dirty hands! Were the doctors in fact, killing the women?

Semmelweis set up a carbolic solution and made it a rule in his department that anybody who was going to examine a patient would have to wash his hands in this solution first. The death rate in his department dropped dramatically! It went down to almost zero! The astounding thing was that when this became known, the doctors in the hospital resented it and refused to comply because they thought it was too inconvenient to be always having to wash their hands. It was many years before this simple life-saving measure was implemented, and it was not before Semmelweis himself was dead.

Everybody thought that childbirth was killing these women, but actually, it was a different enemy. Those who were considered the greatest friends were actually the carriers of death, but ignorance kept the death rate high, because that's the way ignorance is. Knowledge is important.

Undesirable knowledge

But let us now look at a perspective on knowledge that may give us a different understanding of its value. The Bible tells us that right at the beginning of the history of this world, Eve was promised a certain kind of knowledge. In Genesis 3:5 we find Satan speaking to Eve and he said to her:

…. God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen 3:5)

God had set a tree in the midst of the Garden which was called “The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” We understand that this tree had to do with a certain kind of knowledge, and we have seen that knowledge is a good thing, it is something that people seek after. God told Adam and Eve, “if you eat of this tree you will die!” But now, Satan says to Eve, “What God told you is not true. God knows that in the day you eat from this tree you will be as God, knowing good and evil.”

Did Satan tell the truth?

The question I want us to consider is, did he tell the truth? Did they receive that day the knowledge of good and evil? The answer is yes! When Satan told them that they would “know” good and evil, he told them the truth. But sometimes we tell the truth in such a way that it becomes an untruth because we only tell a half of it. We don't give the full understanding of what we are saying, and so our truth becomes a half truth which is as dangerous as a straight lie or even more dangerous, Too often, when we operate on the basis of only a half truth, we don't really understand what we are involved in until we get caught up in it, too far to back out.

What it means to know

What was the full truth involved in knowing good and evil? What was it concerning this truth which Satan did not fully explain to Adam and Eve? In Genesis 2:25 it says,

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Gen 2:25)

The Bible does not say they were ignorant of the fact that they were naked, but it explains that in spite of this, they were not ashamed. The suggestion is that they were aware that they did not have on any clothes but this fact did not bother them at all. My frien dan co-worker, Howard has a little girl, Kay Kay, who is two and a-half years old. The other day I visited the home and she greeted me with, “Uncle David, I'm a girl and Lukie is a boy. let me show you!” and she was getting ready to show me! I told her, “No, no baby, you don't need to do that.”She knows what nakedness is but she is not aware of the implications of nakedness.

It was a similar case with Adam and Eve. The Bible says that they were both naked but they were not ashamed. Nakedness meant nothing to them. The fact that they wore no clothes did not bother them at all. In Genesis 3:7, it says,

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Gen 3:7)

Now when we read this superficially it seems to be saying that, at this time they suddenly gained knowledge that they were naked but it doesn't make sense to suggest that before this they never know that they did not have on any clothes. The Bible says that they KNEW! What it suggests is that the word “knew,” carries a different idea than simply, the acquiring of information. This knowledge that came to them was on a deeper level than simply information coming to their heads. It was an awareness that changed their perspective, an awareness that changed their view of themselves on a deeper level than simply a realization of a physical lack. In fact in verse 11 God says to them,

Who told thee that thou wast naked? (Gen. 3:11)

Now if you were wearing no clothes would somebody have to tell you this? The problem was not that they suddenly realized that they had no clothes on, the problem was that suddenly, the fact that they had no clothes on became a reason for them to hide from God when it had never mattered before. Their nakedness took on different implications. Suddenly they became aware of the meaning of nakedness. In their minds what had been perfectly good, what had been perfectly innocent suddenly became shameful. Suddenly they recognized that God was coming and they could not appear before him like this. Nakedness became not just a theory in the head, not just the awareness of facts but it became something that in their experience meant something.

In a few more years Kay Kay (Howard's little daughter) wont want me to see her naked. It's going to mean something different to her. In a few years time nakedness is going to mean “… time to look for a place to hide. I can't let anybody see me like this!” Probably she will not want even her own parents to see her naked then. At that time she will know nakedness, she will understand in her personal experience the implications of nakedness instead of simply knowing how to define nakedness. Knowing something means more than simply being able to define it. This is the point. Adam and Eve did not know nakedness until they experienced nakedness.

Now let us apply this idea as we consider the name of the forbidden tree. The Bible says it was called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” and Satan said, “in the day that you take of this tree you shall be as God knowing good and evil.”

Now consider this question: Did Adam and Eve know about evil? I believe they must have. God had told them that in the day they ate of the tree they would die. So they were aware of right and wrong and they were aware of death. The knew that there was something called “evil,” and they probably could have given a definition for it. They understood that certain actions would have made them enemies of God, but they had no personal appreciation of what this meant.

When they partook of that fruit an awareness came upon them that had not been known on this planet before. It was brand new and it was very strange because in that moment the person who had been their best friend became their worst enemy in their eyes. As soon as God appeared, who had never meant them harm, who had never promised them harm, who had never threatened them, who meant them nothing but good, they ran to hide! It was not because of what had happened to Him but because of what had happened to them. Now they knew evil and this is the effect that the knowledge of evil has upon us.

This useage of the word “know,” as meaning more than simply being able to define something, is very popular in the Bible. For example, in Genesis 4:1 we read,

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. (Gen 4:1)

Notice how the word is used here. Adam “knew” Eve, but this does not mean that he was simply acquainted with her or had some idea of the kind of person she was. This is referring to the close, intimate union between Adam and his wife which the Bible describes as them becoming “one flesh.” When he knew his wife in this way the result was that she conceived and bare a son. We see the word being used by Mary, the mother of Jesus in the same way. When the angel came to her and said, “you shall have a son and you will call his name Jesus”, Mary's answer was, “how can this be seeing that I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34).

So when the Bible says that Adam and Eve came to know evil, it means that evil had become a part of their experience. Satan had not told them the full truth, they did become as God because God was the only Person who had this awareness of sin, apart from Satan and his angels. But God was the only person who could know sin without coming under its power because He is God. He knew what it would mean to know sin. But the only way they could come to know evil was by coming under its power and pulling it into their bosom. They had to became joined to it like a man to his wife. So when they came to this knowledge of evil, Adam and Eve recognized that they had been tricked, Satan had not told them the full truth, but by then it was too late!

An opportunity provided

It is interesting to consider that there was nothing actually wrong with the tree itself, or its fruit. It was just another tree sitting in the garden. The real difference was that God had made a law prohibiting them from eating of this particular tree. Normally when we ask somebody not to take what belongs to us, it is because we have need of the thing. But when God put the tree there and said, “don't eat of this tree,” was it because God needed the tree? I mean He could have created a thousand more! Why put a tree there and say, “don't touch this tree,” if He didn't need it? You could almost say that this was an unnecessary rule. Why put a restriction there if you don't need the thing that you're prohibiting me from?

This should tell us very clearly that the tree was not the issue. God gave them the rule simply to provide them with the option to sin. Some might prefer if I say that God gave them the opportunity to choose between good and evil, but the reality is, God did not give man the option to choose good. When Adam was created, he was created perfect! He was made in the image of God, he didn't choose it. It was his without choice. God made him that way. What God did was to give them any opportunity to choose evil because they already had good, what they didn't have was evil and God gave them an opportunity to choose it.

Why would God do this? It comes back to the root of the controversy. Satan in heaven said to God, “You are not giving your creatures a fair chance, why do You always assume that your way is the best way? I have set up another system and if they choose my way it will be better, they will be happier and if You are fair, You have to allow people the freedom to choose.”

So God set up an opportunity for them to sin. That is all that the tree was, an opportunity to sin. But God gave them clear warning, “Don't go near that tree because there is nothing at that tree except sin. The moment you encounter that tree you are going to sin, but remember, it's the only place where there is this danger!” Of course, it didn't have to be a tree. God could have taken a stone and put it there and called it “the stone of good and evil,” with the instruction that they should not touch this stone. So let's not give the tree too much blame because the tree was nothing. The thing which really gave them an opportunity for sin was God's commandment. If God had not made that rule they could have eaten from that tree for a thousand years and nothing would have happened. It was the rule that gave them an opportunity to know sin!

But did God want them to know evil? No! In their case they should never have known evil and things would have continued in this perfect state forever. But it was necessary that they should have been given a choice, it was necessary that they should be given an opportunity to choose Satan's way, because God is a God who believes in freedom.

The knowledge of sin

Romans 3:20 tells us:

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 7:7 says basically the same thing:

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid! Nay, I had not know sin but by the law: for I had not known lust , except the law had said thou shalt not covet.

All my life I had the understanding that what these verses are saying is that, through the law we obtain a definition of sin. I know that this is the popular understanding of these verses. But is this what Paul is really saying?

Paul says, “I would not have known sin but by the law.” Now there are two possible meanings to his statement. As I pointed out, there are two ways in which this word “ know” is used in the Bible. One use of the word is to describe a theoretical knowledge, (such as a definition, an intellectual understanding). The other one is to describe a personal relationship, where there is personal intimacy, where something becomes a part of one's experience. There are these two usages of the word “know” and the second one is used in the Bible more often than we recognize. Many times the Bible talks about knowing something and we think it is giving us a definition, when that is not what it is saying at all.

Now Paul says, “I would not have known sin but by the law” and as we continue to read in that very passage in Romans 7, we discover that what he is saying is that he came to know something personally and intimately which was an integral part of his experience. What did he come to know? What was it that he came to have intimate experience with? It was something which he calls sin !

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (19) For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (20) Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Rom 7:18-20)

The work of the law

How did he know that sin dwelt in him? How did he know that there was a power in him that he could not fight and which he could not resist, that was greater than him? He says, “ I had not known sin, but by the law … .” (Rom 7:7), “ I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died .” (Rom 7:9).

What Paul was saying was, “I like the law of God with my mind but I find another power existing in me which fights against the desires of my mind and makes me a slave to this sinful power which is in my body.” It is the law of God that makes him aware that there is sin at work inside of him. He would not have known sin but by the law because he says without the commandment sin was dead!

So according to Paul, the main purpose of the law is to make us know sin! That is, the law makes us aware of this power inside of us, this enemy on the inside who is stronger than we are and whom we cannot resist by any power which we possess of ourselves.

Can we see that this is the very same thing that happened to Adam. God gave him a law so he could have the opportunity of knowing sin. Adam might have said, “without the tree I would not have known sin.” Paul says, “I had not known sin but by the law,” (Rom. 7:7). The law given to Adam and the law given to us serves the same purpose. Both laws are intended to provide an opportunity for man to know sin.

A popular misconception

The popular understanding is that the role of the law is to define sin and these statements of Paul are usually used to support this idea. Paul says, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” What Paul means is that through the law I become aware of sin, I become aware of the presence of this enemy inside.

The way of the law

Why is it that we cannot know sin without the law? It is because, although sin is our constant friend and companion, although sin is integrated into our very being, without the law we will always walk in perfect harmony with sin. We will never try to oppose it, we walk hand in hand as friends! Because we are in harmony, there is a side to sin's nature which we have not discovered.

I am sure that most of us at some time or the other have tried to persuade someone to give his life to Christ. We are familiar with the answer: “I'm going to come, but I'm not ready yet!” Such people think that any time they choose they can stand up against sin and decide to live righteously! You have seen this illusion, this false idea. They believe that the power of change lies in their hands and it is just a matter that they haven't made up their minds yet but someday they will and when they do then they will just turn around, and live a better Christian life than all you Christians! You have heard it! We have all met people like that. They think that they have the ability to just turn themselves around, they don't know the truth because they have never yet met the law. They are walking hand in hand with sin, they are good friends and they think, “anytime I want I can turn and go the other direction.”

But the day comes when they encounter the law. They come to recognize that the requirements of the law apply to them, then they try to turn in the other direction, away from sin, and they try to move in a different direction from their life-long companion. This is when they find out who sin really is! Now they find out that they can't get away that easily. They come to know sin like they did not know sin before! Let the whoremonger, the thief, the liar, the deceitful, malicious person try to put away these traits and he is going to discover who sin is! Paul tried it and he tells us what he discovered.

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. (Rom 7:21)

He expresses his desperate position with the words,

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom 7:24)

That is what he discovered when the law came into his experience, he came to know sin. There was a deadly parasite hidden inside, eating out his life, destroying him but for many years he did not know it. In ignorance he walked hand in hand with this deadly enemy.

So what did God do? God introduced a probe into his life, something meticulous that could search into all the corners and expose this deadly thing and bring it to light. Suddenly Paul recognized the truth, “there is a destroyer lurking inside of me, there is an enemy that I thought was my friend and I did not know it!” It was the law that brought him to this knowledge.

Hebrews 4:12 says,

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

That's how the law of God works. It gets into the joints, into the marrow of the bones, into the thoughts of the mind, it divides and it splits and it sorts and when we come face to face with the law of God, suddenly we recognize how deadly is this disease that is in us eating out our lives! But if we stop with the law our condition is most woeful because we end up beaten, condemned and hopeless, for this is where the law can take us and no further. It can introduce us to sin, but it cannot deliver us from it. That was the purpose of the law, that is exactly what the law's purpose is, the law is our school master to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24).

The person who does not know the law is better off than the person who stops with the law because the person who does not know the law is a happy sinner, but the person who stops with the law is a miserable sinner!! Both are still the slaves of sin, but it is better to be an ignorant happy sinner than to be a knowledgeable miserable sinner if that's where you're going to stop!

The difference with Adam

Interestingly we can notice that there is a difference between how the law works for us and how it should have worked for Adam. In Adam's case did God want him to know sin? No! But in the case of Adam's fallen descendants God wants us to know sin! In Adam's case sin was outside of him. When the enemy is outside the gate you have no right to know him. In fact, if you get to know the enemy outside you are considered a traitor, you must keep him at a distance, let the enemy stay outside. Sin was outside and God wanted Adam to remain a stranger to sin. But when the enemy is inside, it becomes imperative that you know him. You need to know his power, to know his influence and most critically, you need to be able to recognize that he is an enemy. You need to know the enemy otherwise you'll never be able to protect yourself against him.

A different Option

There are some Christians who believe that we come into this world in an in-between position, free to go left or right, free to choose to sin or not to sin. But this is not the truth. Adam was not created in that position, he was created good, and had the choice to choose evil if he so desired. Was the rest of humanity placed in the same position? No! We were not born with the choice that Adam had. All Adam's descendants are born separated from God, corrupt, and in need of being born again! Adam chose to turn to Satan's way, the way of self and he put all humanity there. In Adam's case he had one option, the option to turn away from God and the righteous life which he possessed. In our case we also have one option (not two). We have the option to escape from Satan's way by choosing Christ. In the condition in which we are born, we don't have the option to choose evil. Adam already chose on behalf of all of us and we are born in that sinful, corrupt state, separated from God and incapable of doing righteousne ss.

Now, in Adam's case, he did not sin because he was separated from God, it was not because he had a carnal mind. Adam made a free personal choice. Adam was not separated from God. He was created in union with God. But in the case of all other men, the situation is different. We committed sin long before we were able to make an intelligent choice. We sinned before we were even aware of what we were doing. Is it because everyone of us made the same choice that Adam made? No, the descendants of Adam did not have that option.

So God's ways are wonderful. He used the law to try to protect Adam from knowing the enemy who was on the outside, but now that Adam has opened the door and let the enemy in, God uses the law to help us to identify the enemy so that we can get rid of him.

Don't stop with the law

But although the law is a critical part of God's plan it must find its rightful place in that plan. We must not stop with the law, we must not believe that in finding the law we have come to the place where God wants us to be! The law is the investigator, the examiner and it says, “you have a problem, you're sick, you're diseased!” But the law cannot go any further. It condemns and beats me down, but nothing else, and so Paul says,

For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. (Rom 7:9)

The Greatest Knowledge

Adam's problem was that he let sin in. Our problem is that we cannot get it out. So the law makes me know sin, but when I come to know sin, I must go a step further. John 17:3 says,

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

Brothers and sisters we need to understand that the Bible is not talking about the theoretical knowledge like the foolish virgins have. It is talking about a dynamic experience where our lives become integrated into the life of God in a way similar to how a man “knows” his wife. I was acquainted with my wife but I never knew her in this sense until I had the intimate union where our two bodies became one. That is what the Bible means! When there is this kind of relationship usually it produces fruit - a child is born. When you know God, when you know Christ, fruit will be born, this will be the natural product of the union.

So the law takes you to the place where you know sin, but I beg you, don't stop there! Go on to the next kind of knowledge, know God and know his son Jesus Christ, that's where God wants you to be ultimately because that is what eternal life means. Christ came in and destroyed the enemy. The law found the enemy but Christ destroyed him.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Rom 8:3)

Christ found the enemy lurking within and condemned and destroyed him. Thank God for Jesus!

Restoration Ministries

Restoration Ministries is dedicated to the promotion of the truths contained in the word of God. In particular to the restoration of those truths which have been cast down to the ground and trampled underfoot by the papacy, and adopted by her daughters.

Our purpose is to motivate men and women to commit themselves wholly to the task of personal preparation for the coming of the Lord, and to the taking of the final warning message to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.



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