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How Might the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil Frame our Understanding of Freedom and God’s Government Style?


The existence of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden is generally understood to indicate that humans have a basic right to free will in some form or other. It also demonstrates that our choices have consequences. We can frame the concept of choices having consequences to be a subset of the deeper principle of cause/effect which exists in the universe.

In Genesis 2:16-17, in whichever translation one chooses to read, God explained that humankind was free to eat of any tree in the garden. God’s first intention for humanity was freedom, and Jesus emphasised the centrality of freedom when discussing discipleship with the Jews (John 8:32-36). 

There is a simple question we need to ask when we explore what God meant when He added the statement that Adam and Eve were not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because death would be the certain result. But was God saying that He would destroy humankind the moment they ate the fruit, or sometime later? Or, was God simply saying that the end result of eating the fruit would lead to the inevitable — death?

Then we need to decide: Was this an arbitrary decision; or was it the inevitable consequences from ignoring that the universe functions in response to the principle of cause/effect.

How we choose to interpret this passage informs the way we interpret the rest of Scripture. Either God operates a dictator government — benevolent or otherwise; or He operates a government of freedom within the boundaries and meaning of cause/effect. Because God does not change (Psalm 33:11, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) He can only operate in one of these two forms of government, not both.

Because a dictatorship, of any form, is arbitrary and denies any form of real freedom, it appears that God operates a government functioning through the principle of cause/effect explicitly for our freedom.

So how does acknowledging this interpretation of God’s government style then inform the way we read the rest of the Bible?

In Genesis 3, God explained the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall to the serpent, Eve, and Adam. He began His explanation to the serpent with a ‘because’ (Genesis 3:14). The use of the word ‘because’ indicates that God’s explanation was set in terms of cause/effect.

God also used the word ‘because’ when He told Adam that the consequences of his eating the fruit would mean that humankind would have to work hard to earn a livelihood from the land (Genesis 3:17). Because God is consistent and does not change, God’s statement to Eve about experiencing sorrow in childbirth and being subject to her husband needs to be interpreted as a prediction of consequences rather than as an arbitrary dictum of what God determined should happen.

Down through history, the interpretation of this passage by various groups has often meant that men find in this passage an arbitrary dictum for their power over women. Does God change from being a God who gives freedom to all His creation to an arbitrary dictator in the space of one chapter of the Bible — does He? Is it possible for us to understand the words and completely misinterpret the meaning?

The prelude to the Ten Commandments explains that God explicitly rescued Israel out of slavery so they could be free and then gave the Ten Commandments as an explanation of how to best live that life of freedom (Exodus 20:1-2, Deuteronomy 5:6). Jesus’ own brother, James, understood that the law was about giving freedom (James 1:25).

Is it important for us, as Christians to understand how God governs? Then, how might understanding the implications of these two diametrically opposed types of government inform how we as Christians develop governing styles, policies, and procedures?


Glenda Jackson is an educator currently working with disadvantaged young people in lower socioeconomic areas of Melbourne, Victoria Australia. While completing a PhD in Education at Monash University, she became keenly aware of the need to better understand her Christian world view in a way that explained the existence and operation of free will. Her book ‘Origin of the Centred Self?’ was written to explain to secular academics and others the results of that search.

Photo by Victoria Chen on Unsplash


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