What Does the Bible Say about the Tree of Knowledge?

Genesis' early chapters mention an important feature in the Garden of Eden: the tree of knowledge. Here's why this tree is so important to the story of Adam and Eve.

Contributing Writer
Updated Mar 12, 2024
What Does the Bible Say about the Tree of Knowledge?

The tree of knowledge, described in Genesis, is situated in the idyllic Garden of Eden, and it marks the very heart of the foundational story of humanity's origins and the fall of man. God told Adam and Eve they could eat from any tree except this one. But, they didn't listen, and that decision changed everything. This tree represents the moment people first understood right from wrong and faced the consequences of their choices. Learn about how the tree of knowledge, what it symbolizes, and answers to common questions about the Creation story.

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9 NIV).

Tree of Knowledge in the Bible

The Old Testament book of Genesis shares the relationship between God and His creations. The “tree of knowledge” is first mentioned in Genesis. From Genesis, we learn of the detail God put into every creation.

God provided nourishment for the ground through streams from the earth. A river flowed from Eden and was divided into four sections: the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and the Euphrates. The garden had all kinds of trees that were pleasing to view and good for food. In the garden’s center stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God formed the man from the dust and breathed life into his nostrils. God placed the man in the garden. The man, Adam, was called to work the land and care for God’s creations. Specific instructions were given. God told Adam he could eat from any tree in the garden except the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16-17 NIV). In fact, God told Adam that he would die if he ate from that tree.

God created a woman to be a helper for the man. The woman was formed from the rib of Adam. “The man and woman were both naked and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25 NIV). Notice that God created the man out of the dust, yet he formed Eve through a part of Adam. Scripture shares that Adam is the one who named his wife Eve, for she would be the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20).

God made man and woman in His image. Does that mean we look exactly like God? We know the Father uniquely created each person. Therefore, we cannot all be exact physical copies of God. Besides, the New Testament tells us that God the Father is invisible—he is spirit (1 Timothy 1:17). Therefore, we are made in His image in a more fundamental way.

Tree of Knowledge Symbol

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolizes several core themes and concepts:

The distinction between good and evil: Eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge imparts to Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil. This act symbolizes the awakening of moral awareness and the complexity of human consciousness, which includes the capacity for making moral judgments.

The Fall of Man and loss of innocence: The act of disobeying God and eating from the tree leads to the fall of man, marking a transition from a state of innocence and purity to one of guilt, shame, and sinfulness. This loss of innocence is a pivotal moment that defines the human condition in the Bible. The consequences of eating from the tree explain the origin of human suffering and mortality, portraying the act as the original sin that leads to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and the hardships that follow for humanity.

The concept of free will and the nature of temptation: The Tree of Knowledge also symbolizes the presence of free will and the reality of temptation. The choice to obey or disobey God's command represents the human ability to choose between different paths and the inherent challenges and responsibilities that come with that freedom.

Why Was the Tree of Knowledge Forbidden?

God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” God set specific rules for the two. God explained that if they ate from that tree, they would die. That fact should have been a strong deterrent for the man and woman. However, the desire to eat from the tree was too strong.

The evil serpent asked the woman if God really told them not to eat from any tree in the garden (Genesis 3:1). Sin was about to enter the life of the man and the woman. The temptation was strong. Instead of turning from the serpent, Eve engaged in conversation.

The woman told the serpent that they could eat fruit from all the trees except the one in the garden’s center. She shared that even touching the tree would cause death.

How often are we convinced to break the rules in life? We follow our own desires over God’s law. Sinfulness and failing to obey God have consequences.

How Did the Serpent Tempt Adam and Eve to Eat from the Tree of Knowledge?

Genesis 3:1 shares that the serpent was more crafty than any of the animals God had made. This statement shows that God created the serpent, too. The serpent convinced the woman to eat the forbidden fruit, telling her that she would obtain wisdom from the tree.

The woman fell into the trap of dishonesty by listening to evil and not following the instructions from God. 

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4 NIV). She proceeded to disobey God. Giving her husband some of the fruit was another sinful mistake. The husband and wife both ate the fruit, and their eyes were opened. They realized their nakedness and sewed fig leaves together to cover their bodies (Genesis 3:7). They could not hide their disobedience, just as we can’t hide our sins from God.

The man and woman hid when the Lord called for them. The man finally answered and told God they were afraid because of what they had done. The man laid blame on the woman. “The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12 NIV).

Was It Just Eve’s Fault that Humanity Ate from the Tree of Knowledge?

Was Adam there with his wife while the serpent tempted her to eat from the tree? “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6 NIV).

Biblical scholars have debated whether this passage means Adam was standing next to Eve while the serpent spoke, or perhaps he was close by. Either way, both man and woman ate from the tree God specifically told them not to eat.

As judgment will come to everyone, God placed judgment on both the serpent and the two people who had disobeyed. God spoke to the serpent. Because of fooling the man and woman, there would be consequences. The serpent would crawl on its belly and eat dust all its living days. The woman would have great pain in childbirth due to her disobedience. The man would have land that produced thorns and thistles, cursed and difficult for harvesting.

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken: for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19 NIV).

Both the man and woman had a choice to make. Follow God or give in to temptation. They made the wrong choice.

Why Did God Command Adam and Eve to Leave the Garden of Eden?

After God made garments of skin for Adam and Even, He commanded the two to leave the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:21). Notice that God still cared for His creations even after they sinned: he provided clothing for them.

God stated that the man knew good and evil because of eating from the tree of knowledge. He would not be allowed to eat from the other tree, the tree of life, for in doing so, he would live forever (Genesis 3:22). God banished Adam from the Garden of Eden. After Adam was made to leave the garden, God placed cherubim (a kind of angel) and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24).

God has provided His law for our benefit. We must choose to follow His law or be ready for the consequences. Yes, we are sinful. Every time we sin, there is an opportunity to seek His forgiveness and mercy.


Melissa Henderson

Further Reading:

Where Is the Garden of Eden?

What Is the Tree of Life?

What Do We Know about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

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

Why Did God Create the Forbidden Fruit in the First Place?

Photo Credit: Getty/Nelson Cena

Melissa HendersonAward-winning author Melissa Henderson writes inspirational messages sometimes laced with a bit of humor. With stories in books, magazines, devotionals, and more, Melissa hopes to encourage readers. 

Melissa is the author of Licky the Lizard and Grumpy the Gator. Her passions are helping in the community and church. Melissa is an Elder, Deacon, and Stephen Minister. 

Follow Melissa on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and at http://www.melissaghenderson.com

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