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What Sunday School Didn’t Teach You about the Tree of Knowledge

What Sunday School Didn’t Teach You about the Tree of Knowledge

Many of us learned about the tree of knowledge of good and evil from an early age. Even if we didn’t have a church background, our pop culture seems full of references of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit and dooming the world to plunge into a sinful state. As a refresher, we’ll include a passage below from Genesis about this tree found smack dab in the middle of the Garden of Eden.

Genesis 2:15-17: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

As the story goes, the devil, shaped like a serpent tempts Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, to have knowledge like God. They do and earn eternal separation because of their sin.

What all do we know about this tree? Why in the world would God create a conifer doomsday device in the middle of paradise? And what didn’t Sunday school teach us about this tree? 

What Is the Tree of Knowledge?

God planted many trees in the Garden of Eden. The world’s climate and atmosphere would’ve felt very different pre-Flood, so we don’t know the precise nature of these trees. But we do know they likely were of a Middle Eastern type, as that is where most theologians have placed the location of the Garden of Eden. We don’t know the precise spot but can hazard many educated guesses.

Although God allows for Adam and Eve to partake in the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden, he forbids them from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He gives this with a warning that they will die if they do so. Supposedly, the tree could give them the knowledge of good and evil, but doing so would come at a cost. Another tree in the Garden was the tree of life (Genesis 2). Adam and Eve, as long as they lived in the Garden, had access to its life-giving fruit. But once they ate of the forbidden tree, they had to leave this place of paradise.

What Does This Tree Represent?

What does the tree of knowledge symbolize in the Garden of Eden? As pointed out in this article, perhaps the tree of knowledge represented the law (which brings death, 2 Corinthians 3:6) and the tree of life represented a right relationship with God. Adam and Eve, when they disobeyed and ate the fruit, decided they’d rather abide by the rules than by a relationship, according to the article.

Other theologians have posited it had knowledge that only God was meant to possess. Christians have also devised many erroneous conclusions as to the types of knowledge that Adam and Eve received in the Garden.

Suffice to say, we don’t know the precise nature of the knowledge they received. But we do know that this tree also later represents the fall of man. The tree itself wasn’t evil. But because God had given explicit instructions not to eat of its fruit, and Adam and Eve disobeyed, sin polluted both them and the tree. The ground, human nature, everything ends up cursed because of what happens in Genesis 3.

Why Did God Create the Tree of Knowledge?

We may then wonder, “Why in the world would God create such a tree? If he didn’t want them to get tempted in the first place, he should’ve removed all chances of temptation.” But we have to understand the necessity of the tree and why he had to place it in the Garden.

God is a God of love. It comprises his entire being. And if he wanted to give humans free will, something a loving God would do, he had to allow for the possibility for them to choose something over him, and therefore, sin.

Think about it in this way. If someone creates a robot and programs the machine to do a certain number of functions, we wouldn’t say the robot is capable of free will or love. Free will and love come with a cost. We learn the cost in Scripture. Because mankind chose to use free will incorrectly, Jesus had to die on the cross.

For a more in-depth explanation of the tree of knowledge, check out this commentary found on Bible Study Tools.

What Happened to This Tree?

What happened to the tree of knowledge? After all, the tree of life does make another appearance in Revelation 2 and Revelation 22:2. Does the tree of knowledge show up anywhere else in the Bible or in history?

After the fall (Genesis 3), Adam and Eve are disbanded from the Garden of Eden, never to enter again. Considering the tree of knowledge was in the middle of the Garden, and since trees don’t have a tendency to walk apart from Tolkien stories, we can assume it stayed put.

Symbolically the tree of knowledge lives on in the hearts of every man. We choose, every one of us, to place something else in the throne of our lives instead of Jesus. Thankfully, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can come back to the relationship with God and experience the tree of life.

3 Interesting Facts about the Tree of Knowledge

Apart from the information above, what else do we know about the tree of knowledge?

Firstly, it likely had figs for the fruit (although some theologians have surmised it was wheat). This makes sense given the Garden of Eden existed in the Middle East. Perhaps this also plays into the reason as to why Jesus curses a fig tree in Mark 11. Because of the tree’s ties to the infamous tree from back in the Garden. This also explains why Adam and Eve sewed together fig leaves to hide their nakedness after they sinned. Although others have suggested that perhaps they ate an apricot or grape. Most likely, it wasn’t an apple.

Secondly, the tree was more likely a test of faithfulness, and Adam and Eve could’ve acquired the knowledge of good and evil without it.

As mentioned in the Crosswalk article linked in the former paragraph, God likely wanted Adam and Eve to exercise faith and obedience. Through their relationship with him, they could’ve learned about good and evil. Rather than acquire that knowledge from a third party. 

Thirdly, as mentioned above the tree of life represents a rightful relationship with God and the tree of knowledge symbolizes the death that comes through the law. Every human being, ever since the Garden of Eden, intuitively knows about God (Romans 1:20). Many of us have also received specific revelation through Scripture or other means. Because of this knowledge, we have no excuse when we stand in the presence of God and have to explain our deeds on Earth.

Praise the Lord, however, that we have a Savior who sacrificed himself for us so that we may live. Even though we all, as humanity, partook of the tree of knowledge, we have an opportunity to return to a relationship with the Lord and experience the tree of life.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/KarenHBlack

Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.

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