In this recording, Archimandrite Athanasios Mytilinaios (1927-2006), answers the question: “When we say ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ [Genesis 2:17], is there a deeper meaning in these words?” “Pay attention at this point! God did not set a trap ‘to catch’ Adam and Eve. It would be stupid! But He warns them that their time has not come yet. It will arrive.”
Audio source: “Catechism”, no. 907 (in Greek), February 2, 1996
[Question]: “When we say ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ [Genesis 2:17], is there a deeper meaning in these words?”
Not just deeper! A most deep one! A most deep one! Of course, it would be better if there was more time but let’s try to answer in this short time, because I am left with more and more questions and I am not sure when I will be able to answer all of them.
Among the trees of Paradise, it says that there were two trees. One, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the other one, the tree of life.
The story goes as following. God said [to Adam and Eve], you may not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. “For in whatever day you eat from it, you shall die by death. [Genesis 2:17]. You will experience first the spiritual death, that is your separation from Me, God.” And then, the so-called biological death, that is the separation between body and soul. The other one was the tree of life.
The devil tempted Adam and Eve and convinced them to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. They disobeyed a commandment. The whole story and the consequent punishment came as a result of man’s effort to become a God, that is the sin of “autonomy.” Man asks “to be emancipated” from God, his life not to be god-centric but anthropo-centric [man-centric]. This is what the original sin truly constitutes. There was not anything [inherently] wrong with the fruit, itself, or the tree. The whole story revolved around the obedience or not of Adam and Eve [to God], the heteronomia [«ετερονομία»] or autonomy [«αυτονομία»] of man.
St. Theophilus of Antioch of the 3rd century says that man was destined to eat from the tree of knowledge when God would want so. Subsequently, he would also eat from the fruit of the tree of life in order to stay immortal, to never die. Here, we are dealing with knowledge. This knowledge, whatever it was/is, would not be practical, but theoretical. We ask, “God knows what sin is?” Of course, and He does. It’s lawlessness, the violation of God’s law. But God has knowledge of sin, theoretical. Meaning, He, Himself has not experienced sin as we would say you have to experience something to know it, to acquire knowledge over it. He [only] has theoretical knowledge of the sin. Man with the choice he made, now has experiential knowledge of sin. Man was destined to acquire knowledge of good and evil without [the cost] of sin, without [the cost of] damage. When? St. Theophilus says, “When man would grow in virtue.” Then, he would be allowed to taste it. It’s not a temptation somehow, but it is something that would happen when the time was right. Pay attention at this point! God did not set a trap “to catch” Adam and Eve. It would be stupid! But He warns them that your time has not come yet. It will arrive. Example.
Is it useful having fire? Without doubt! How do we have fire now? With a matchbook, a lighter. In case you give matches to a small child, what will it do? Since fire is impressive, it would burn down your house. It’s easy to understand this. Do medicines cure us? Yes. All medicines write on their box, “Keep the medicines away from the children.” Why? Because they will get poisoned [if they taste them]. This is the knowledge. If one matures, he learns [acquires the knowledge on] how to live.
But [it does not act] as a test-trap [by God for men]. This was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thank you for listening me!