The “knowledge of evil” versus “actual evil”
Where does the knowledge of evil come from?
A long time ago,
in a galaxy far, far away,
God said – “Let there be light“.
Or did He?
Actually, if we look at the NIV for English and the corresponding Hebrew from which the English words came, we see –
My goal here is not to say that what you’re about to read is absolutely, for sure, the way things happened. I sincerely hope I’m not so arrogant as to say I know exactly what God did, is doing, or will do. I also don’t want to put God in a tiny little box and make you think He can only do things that any of us might think up. I am, however, trying to show that –
- there are options other than the way many people interpret the Bible. The original Hebrew was far less restrictive than the current English translations indicate.
- there is no reason to put ourselves into positions where something we hold dear – like the 24 hour day for creation – puts us into positions that are impossible to defend, because two different beliefs are totally incompatible – like the thing in Kentucky that has people walking around with dinosaurs in the way too recent past.
- if we look at the Hebrew scriptures the way a Jewish person with understanding of the culture at that time would look at them – we find that the issues above are not only unnecessary – but quite improbable. For instance, the original Hebrew never said God created earth and the heavens in six days, So why do we keep insisting that He did? Answer – because we don’t know how meaning of a “creation day” in the Hebrew writings
I’ve written a few times before about the difference between “Let there be light“ and “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.”
The first (let there be light) is from Genesis 1:3.
The second is from Genesis 1:14.
The second is about the sun and the moon.
The first is about something very different.
It’s so unfortunate that we don’t seem to talk about that difference. Too many people just wonder why there’s light before the sun is created. But they either just continue to wonder why – or they figure that somehow, God made it happen. But that’s not what these verses say.
What is “light” from Genesis 1:3?
As I said, I first wrote about this several years ago, after noticing the Hebrew words for “light” in these two verses were different. After looking into that – one can begin to see the reason why. One of those is a piece I wrote in October 2012, with an update a few days ago. It’s is called – Is evolution a concept from Satan? I did the update as preparation for what you’re now reading. However, research continued, and I found something from Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words that has an even better explanation of the “light” in Genesis 1:3.
God said, “Let there be light אֹור (ʾor)!” And so there was light. But equally important, God saw that the light was טָבַב (tob), “good” (Gen. 1:3–4), an evaluative statement. Even in the area of science, light is special, serving as an amazing constant in a universe of flux. Einstein’s famous formula E = MC2 depends upon the constant speed of “physical” light. The light that was pronounced “good” in Genesis 1:4 was physical light, but it was also much more. God also created the moral realms of light and darkness.
In science, light is also the purest form of energy. From that, and looking at the scientific theory of “The Big Bang”, we can start to see that – as so often happens – science and The Bible are very much in agreement, except for one thing – who gets the credit. For science – no one gets the credit for The Big Bang. In The Bible, God gets the credit for “Let there be light”.
For more on that topic, please see Why are scientists running away from The Big Bang?
It is from February 2015, with an update in January 2017.
In Hebrew, the verb אֹור (ʾor) means “to be light” or “to become light.” The high priestly prayer (Num. 6:25) implores, “May the Lord make His face shine upon you.” The noun ʾor comes from this same root as the Hebrew word for “shine.” The “light” (ʾor) is always considered good. There is the light of day; the light of the sun, moon, stars, lightning, a lamp; the light of the moral law of God to guide (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23). The Lord is the light (ʾor) of His people, Israel (Ps. 27:1; Mic. 7:8). The Messiah, the Savior of mankind, is a light (ʾor) for the nations (Isa. 42:6). The light of the Lord will one day eclipse the physical light of the universe among His people from all nations (Isa. 60:19–20).
The book of Job uses this word at least twenty-one times. Always, light is good and attached to life and hope. Even physical light is seen representing life or the joy of life—the opposite of darkness and night. Light (ʾor) takes on a decidedly moral flavor with Job. Light as the opposite of darkness is good. Darkness is evil. God speaks and challenges Job, or anyone, to command and control the light (ʾor) as He does.
Again, we see the word moral attached to the “light” of Genesis 1:3. But now, we also see the possibility of darkness – evil – as the opposite of light – good. This thought really takes hold in Genesis 1:4.
In a figurative sense, the wicked who haunt the night are dispersed by the coming of light at dawn (Job 38:15). Light brings moral and ethical order to a world that falls into debauchery, sin, and carousing during the “night” (Job 38:15). Death is associated with a lack of light and the reign of darkness (Job 10:22). Light is used in literary parallelism with life itself; without light there is no life, and a person in constant misery is said to be better off without light or life (Job 3:20). Light signifies the insight and wisdom needed by kings to rule well. Without it, they are hopelessly confused (Job 12:25). A king who rules in righteousness, however, is like the light (ʾor) of sunrise (2 Sam. 23:4) upon his people. Only God Himself knows where the abode of light is (Job 38:19).
It is no wonder that the moral, ethical, and salvific understanding of light continued into the New Testament. Jesus, the light of every person (John 1:4), is the light (John 8:12, phos) of life, the true light. Those who put their trust in Him also become sons of light (phos) and walk in the light. Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained (p. 116). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
light: goodness and daytime. dark: evil and night
We begin to see something else here – a linking of light, goodness and day – as well as darkness, evil and night.
The distinction between assuming “light” is the daytime sun and arriving at the linkage of light, goodness and day is huge. The same is true for darkness, evil and night. The first one says they are the same. The second one says there are activities that tend to be done in either the light of day or the dark of night. You may remember this from Jesus –
Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
And also this from Paul –
1Th 5:4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Where we see more of this linkage between good and evil – light and darkness – day and night.
why all this talk of darkness – when the topic is light?
It’s because of the very next verse –
Ge 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
God created the heavens and the earth after saying let there be light.
God saw that the light was good.
And then He separated the light from the dark.
Keep in mind that we’ve already seen this isn’t about sunlight or the absence of sunlight. So we’re not talking about day versus night. Therefore, separating the light from the dark totally looks like God just created evil.
However – this is,where the title comes in.
Did God really create evil – or did He create the knowledge of evil?
There’s a huge difference between the two.
So again, we see the same scenario, where the English words don’t really get into the complexities of what’s going on. The English translations don’t get across the same perspective that someone familiar with the Hebrew words and culture of the time would have understood.
Can we know good unless we also know evil?
Please note – I’m not asking whether we can do something good or evil – only if we can truly know what’s good and what’s evil. Without some frame of reference, how can we possibly know, for ourselves, whether something is good or evil? I submit – the answer is no, we couldn’t tell the difference. If we look at people who have lived their entire lives under what we would consider horrible circumstances – we may very well find them expressing joy, even under those circumstances. Unlike us, who have experienced something allegedly “better” – the life they have is all they know.
Yes – from this verse, we could claim that God created evil. But I think that’s wrong – not an accurate interpretation. Because verse 4 says
and he separated the light from the darkness.
That could mean separating good from evil – or it could mean separating the knowledge of good from the knowledge of evil. From the verses we’ve looked at so far – either is possible.
However – we learn more. In Psalm 100, we read –
Ps 100:1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Ps 100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Ps 100:3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Ps 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
Ps 100:5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
The LORD is good
Keep that in mind, as we continue.
Ge 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
We’ll get deeper into this verse in future installments of this series on Satan, but the bottom line here is that God actually told Adam he could eat from any tree in the garden. Not that he couldn’t eat from all but one – but that he could eat from any tree. But – if Adam was to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – then Adam would die. Again we’ll get into this later, but for a detailed look at that warning, see Protected from the Bible – The Problem of Free Will. The thing about that warning – “die” wasn’t just die. The original Hebrew had a much deeper meaning, which is discussed in The problem of Free Will.
What that means then, is that Adam could actually, essentially, undo the separation of light and dark that God did in Genesis 1:4. As we know – first Eve and then Adam ate from that tree, and ended up doing exactly that.
BTW – I’m not saying that Adam could undo the separation of good and evil using his own power. That would put us equal to, or even greater than, God. What I am proposing is to look at this to be God giving Adam the power to do so. Remember, God wanted us to love Him. Our choice – made of our own free will – was of the utmost importance.
One more verse
There’s one more verse to look at in this sequence of light and dark –
Ge 1:5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
So let’s look at “day” and “night”, in terms of what “light” and “dark” really meant.
By the way – that verse above is directly from the NIV translation – including the “” around the words day and night.
Let’s take a look at the Dictionary of Bible Themes, to see what it says about these things:
A period of 24 hours or, as distinct from night, the period of daylight. The term may also be used more generally to refer to a point in time. Daylight is used figuratively to describe the illumination afforded to believers, who are urged to use the opportunities it presents and to avoid the evil usually associated with darkness. Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.
We see that “day” can mean much more than the way we use the word today. It talks of the same themes of day & night lining up with good and evil.
In the Old Testament. Light is a many-sided concept in the OT. The term is often used of ordinary, sensible light, but also as a way of communicating spiritual truth. Light was the first thing God created after the heavens and earth (Gn 1:3). God also made individual lights such as the sun, moon, and stars (Gn 1:16). Sometimes light is personified, as when its inaccessibility is indicated by saying that it is impossible to reach the place where it lives (Jb 38:19; cf. Jb 38:24). There are also manufactured light sources such as those used in the tabernacle (Ex 25:37).
Light is a natural symbol for what is pleasant, good, or uplifting, or what is associated with important people and more especially with God. “Light is pleasant,” says the preacher (Eccl 11:7). During one of the plagues in Egypt the Egyptians were in thick darkness while the Israelites had light (Ex 10:23). When the Israelites left Egypt, they were led in the wilderness by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night (Ex 13:21). The pillar gave them light when their enemies were in darkness (Ex 14:20). In later days Israel remembered that God did not abandon his people even when they sinned; the pillar of fire was always there to show them the right way (Neh 9:19; cf. Neh 9:12; Pss 78:14; 105:39).
Light symbolizes the blessing of the Lord. Job said, “He uncovers the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light” (Jb 12:22). In his time of trouble Job recalled the days when God’s “lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness” (Jb 29:3). Similarly Eliphaz pictured the happiness that would befall Job if he would take Eliphaz’s advice: “You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you, and light will shine on your ways” (Jb 22:28). Eliphaz’s use of that expression shows what it commonly conveyed in his day. The psalmist counted it a blessing when God himself lighted his lamp (Pss 18:28; 118:27; cf. 97:11; 112:4). In Proverbs, “The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out” (13:9).
Light is closely linked with God; indeed, God can be said to be light: “The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (Is 60:19). The psalmist exulted, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” and proceeded to ask, “whom shall I fear?” (27:1). God is said to be robed with light (Ps 104:2) and light dwells with him (Dn 2:22). Darkness is no problem to God; darkness and light are alike to him (Ps 139:12). The prophet Micah expressed his confidence in terms of light: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.… He will bring me forth to the light; I shall behold his deliverance” (Mi 7:8, 9). Micah saw God as light and also as bringing his servants into the light. Both are ways of affirming that there is blessing and victory with God, so that a servant of God need never be dismayed. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Light. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1342). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
The thought continues, going so far as to associate light with God – and the absence of light as the absence of God. The latter case would be pure evil – with nothing of God / goodness.
To verify these, we should see the exact opposite if we look at night and darkness.
Along with this literal usage of the word “night,” there is also a figurative or metaphorical usage. In some references it refers to divine judgment (Mi 3:6; Am 5:8, 9). Jesus uses “night” to refer to death (Jn 9:4). Once the night and death comes, time for working is over.
Paul compares this present age, soon to be over, with the night that is almost gone (Rom 13:12). Therefore, he exhorts, “Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of the light.” Again, Paul speaks of himself and his readers as sons belonging to the light and to the day, not the night and darkness (1 Thes 5:5). In this context he links night with separation from God, sin, intemperance, careless living, and with blindness and ignorance, especially regarding the Lord’s return. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Night. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1549). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
This is as expected.
Absence of light or brightness. Although the Bible seldom refers to literal darkness, a number of words translated “darkness” are used in a figurative or metaphorical sense.
Darkness frequently stands for distress and anxiety, or for the confusion and destruction experienced by the wicked (Gn 15:12; Jb 5:14; 12:25; 15:22, 30; 19:8; 22:11; Pss 35:6; 107:10, 14; Eccl 5:17; Is 5:30). Moral depravity is sometimes described as darkness (Prv 2:13; 4:19; Is 5:20; 60:2). In the NT darkness is generally a metaphor of moral depravity and spiritual ignorance (Mt 4:16; 6:23; Lk 1:79; 11:35; 22:53; Rom 2:19; Col 1:13). Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Darkness. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 580). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Again – as expected.
So where are we with the knowledge of evil versus actual evil?
By now, we have more than enough evidence to show that day / light refers to good – and night / darkness refers to evil.
The remaining question then, does this passage in Genesis say that God actually created evil? Or is it saying that what we have in that passage is the knowledge of the difference between good and evil?
There are two key verses, at the end of creation, that answers this question –
Ge 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Ge 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
One more time – this will be covered in another article, but “”evening” and “morning” refers to a related period of time, and it’s completeness – not the evening and morning that we think of today.
The key concept in these verses though, is that the heavens and the earth were now complete – and they were very good. There is no room for evil in “very good”. The way the original Hebrew is worded says that light and dark were separated / removed / divided from each other. Not that darkness was eliminated / destroyed, or anything like that. Just that light and dark were isolated from each other.
One would maybe like to say actual good isolated from actual evil. But that won’t work – because darkness / evil was not removed. Whatever “darkness” represented – it was still present within the heavens and the earth when creation was completed. If actual evil was merely separated into an isolated part of what God had just created, then God would not say everything was very good.
However – if we are talking about the knowledge of the difference between good and evil – that’s a whole different thing.
A good God can – even must – know the difference between good and evil. Otherwise – whatever exists – well, it just exists – without any concept by anyone, including God, of whether it’s good or not. From the passage in Psalms, we know that’s not true – as well as from God’s own words of everything was very good.
Also – when Adam was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he didn’t yet know the difference between good and evil. That knowledge didn’t come until after Eve and Adam ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As above – the existence of the knowledge of good and evil is not, in itself, evil.
Remember that God put the Tree of Life in the Garden. They could have eaten from either one. But they chose to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, rather than the Tree of Life.
Ge 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Since Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were banished from the Garden.
And so, rather than having eternal life, we have knowledge of good and evil.
And it was the act of choosing to know about good and evil that was the first instance of evil perpetrated by man. In a very real sense – murder. A spiritual suicide. Ad so God’s warning that they would “die die” came to pass.
So we see evil was first introduced into the Garden of Eden by the serpent. Satan. And that will be the topic of the next installment of this series.
|↑1||Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained (p. 116). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.|
|↑2||Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.|
|↑3||Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Light. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1342). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.|
|↑4||Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Night. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1549). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.|
|↑5||Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Darkness. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 580). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.|