Just the phrase ‘forbidden fruit’ makes our mouths water. And that fact tells us everything we need to know about the kind of humanity we have inherited.
“Forbidden fruit” is not a phrase directly from the bible but it has become a shorthand to refer to “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:17) This was the one tree from which humanity was not to eat.
The LORD had said:
Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat (Genesis 2:16)
But there is one exception. One tree.
There weren’t any maps with “out of bounds” areas marked in red. There were no commandments nailed to trees. No lengthy orientation presentations from human resources, no health and safety videos to watch. Just one tree off limits.
It’s very common to re-imagine the God of the garden as a petty Law-maker. But the atmosphere of the garden was not law, but freedom, fruitfulness and fellowship.
You might ask, Why have even one boundary? Well imagine if there was nothing forbidden at all. There would be no opportunity for humanity to express either trust or mistrust of the LORD. With the tree there is such an opportunity. But only one.
So, what did this forbidden fruit represent?
This was the issue: would humanity leave knowledge of good and evil to God, or would they grasp it for themselves?
But perhaps you’re thinking, what’s so wrong about grasping this knowledge?
Well, think for a second about “knowledge” in the biblical sense.
We will soon consider that evocative phrase from Genesis 4, “Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived.” “Knowing” is a deeply relational term. Adam took Eve to himself in a profound union. That’s the sense of “know” in the bible.
So what does it mean for Adam and Eve to “know” good and evil? It means taking the terms “good and evil” to themselves – being in a profound relationship with “good and evil” as possessors of those concepts. Essentially it means playing God, making the ultimate declarations of right and wrong.
So actually Adam and Eve weren’t brave rebels fighting a petty Law-maker. They weren’t overturning legalism with their sin – they were buying into it. They were grasping at law-making themselves.
To put it in the kinds of terms the Apostle Paul would speak in, they bought into self-justification (“justification” is the declaration that someone is good/righteous/just).
The LORD in His kindness wanted to keep declarations of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in His hands. But, insanely, we wanted such declarations in our own power.
From this point onwards, the children of Adam have borne a heavy burden. Adam’s race carries goodness and evilness on our own shoulders, as our own doing.
And we see its dreaded results in Genesis 3. All that hiding, all that shame, all that fear and self-justifying and blame-shifting – it’s all the natural outcome of a humanity that takes ‘good’ and ‘evil’ into its own possession.
There were very good reasons why this fruit should be forbidden. Such a burden is not for man. Or at least, not this man. But when Christ was “born of a woman, born under law” (Galatians 4:4), He did take this burden onto Himself.
As true Man and true God He could ‘know good and evil’. The yoke fit. And He carried it to His own tree. There the Righteous Man took the Evil verdict. And He tasted that long-threatened death. But He rose again to give us His Good verdict.
Good and Evil is known by Man, but it’s safe in the hands of Christ.
Therefore, humanity is divided into two. Some continue to follow Adam and the forbidden tree. They take heaven’s verdict into their own hands. And shame and curse and death is the result.
But there’s another way. There’s another Man with another tree. And He’s the One we need to ‘know’. Then we can leave our verdict, our shame, our curse and our death entirely with Him.