Author Greg Koukl
Published on 10/17/2022

Why Did God Create the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Greg and Amy consider how and why God tested man with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.


Question: Why would God put the tree in the garden to start with?

Greg: This is a good question. It’s a fair question. Certain things are explained rather clearly. Other things are just there, and we kind of scratch our heads, and we wonder.

I think what was meaningful was the act towards God regarding a prohibition. Up until that time, there was moral innocence. There wasn’t an immutable moral goodness—that would be what God has and that he, in my view at least, delivers to us at the resurrection. Immutable moral goodness is a communicable attribute, and we become holy by nature at the resurrection. Adam and Eve weren’t holy by nature. They were holy by practice. In other words, it was possible for them to sin, and it was possible for them not to sin. What happened, though, is when they ate from the tree, they disobeyed God.

This was an opportunity—a way that they could express fidelity to God. It’s hard to express fidelity and faithfulness to someone when you are not tested in that. I was thinking about this notion the other day. We have friends that we love, and we may have friends that love us, but that love has never been tested, because it never cost anything. So, for someone who loves their spouse, how many times has the spouse injured them? “Oh, they’ve never done anything wrong. They’ve always been great.” Well, see, then your love hasn’t cost you that much. I’m not saying it’s not real love. It just doesn’t cost you. But the spouse who continues to love when they’ve been injured, that love costs something. That is a greater love. So, the testing of the love, or the opportunity for testing, is what, in a certain sense, secures the meaningfulness of it, and it may be that something like that was going on in the garden. This is a test of fidelity of faithfulness to the king, to the sovereign, and of course, they failed the test, and that made a mess of things. They got themselves into a heap of trouble, and us as well. That would be my response.

My suspicion is, the tree of life had some inherent quality that God gave it to give life, but I don’t think the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had an inherent quality of being destructive. I think the thing that was destructive was the disobedience, not the nature of the fruit that was eaten.

Amy: God often reveals hearts through people’s actions. I think about when James talks about our actions revealing the truth about our hearts. We see Abraham, and we see that he gave the actions of faith, which was following God, doing what God told him to do. These actions revealed his trust in God. So, if they had not eaten from the tree, that would have revealed and shown that they trusted God and that God was worthy of trust. That’s what they should have done. Especially in the face of temptation.

There is some speculation in this, but one thing we have to keep in mind as we’re thinking about it is the fact that God knew they would fall, and we know this because he talks about Jesus—his plan to die for us on the cross being before the foundation of the world. That was not a surprise. So, whatever the tree was meant to do, it is in light of God’s overall plan that he had laid out where Jesus would die for us on the cross.