God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.Genesis 1:31
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude;1 Timothy 4:4
In Genesis 1:31, God says that everything is good. Paul says something similar in 1 Timothy 4:4 after the supposed “fall” of all creation in Genesis 3. The Greek word Paul employs to say that “everything created by God is good” is the word pan which is a conjugate of pas. This word means “all; the whole; every” (LSJ; EDNT*). In the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint or LXX), Genesis 1:31 also says that “God saw panta (pas) that He made…” The physical creation is inherently good, and it is still good to this day.
Even human mortality is a good thing, not bad. Physical death is in no way an enemy to the child of God because she dies with the full confidence that her relationship with God is not severed. In Genesis 2:9, there are two arguments one could make about the mortality of all humanity.
Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.Genesis 2:9
First, their need to eat implies that they were not immortal. It also shows that immortality was not the default state of all creation. Eating fruit implies a natural cycle of life, death, and more life. Trees grow, fruit is produced, humans grow hungry, and so they begin to eat. The seeds from the food they consume go on to produce more trees which produces more food, etc. This argument assumes a lot of course: 1) it assumes that Genesis 2 is not allegorical, 2) it assumes that Adam and Eve were the first humans, and 3) it assumes that human cells were mortal and, therefore, the human was mortal in its entirety. This last point would seem to make sense from our perspective because of our understanding of life that the original writers (or, more importantly, the original listeners or readers) would have not known, but there are views of Genesis 1-3 which state that the world was under different scientific “rules,” so I have to allow for that given that the bulk of my audience operates under those presuppositions.
Second, the tree of life gave humans the possibility of immortality. Now, I believe this is speaking of immortality from a covenant perspective. In other words, it was symbolic of their continued relationship with God; however, let’s say that this tree was given to maintain physical life for the sake of argument. The JPS Torah Commentary takes this position.
It is clear from 3:22 that the fruit of this tree was understood to bestow immortality upon the eater. What is uncertain is whether a single bite was thought to suffice or whether steady ingestion was needed to sustain a process of continuous rejuvenation. Either way, the text presupposes a belief that man, created from perishable matter, was mortal from the outset but that he had within his grasp the possibility of immortality. The “tree of life” is not included in the prohibition in verse 17. [emphasis added]Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989. Print. The JPS Torah Commentary.
So, regardless of what stance you take on the nature of the life that was produced or maintained by the tree of life, the bottom line is that humans were created inherently mortal, and this was considered good by God.
Next, we turn to the meaning of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. One thing that has always puzzled me about this tree is the fact that Adam and Eve obviously knew that it was evil to eat from the tree, but it was good for them to eat of any other tree in the garden. So, taken at face value, they had a knowledge of good and evil. What, then, does this expression mean? Let’s turn back to Sarna’s comments.
It is more satisfactory, however, to understand “good and bad” as undifferentiated parts of a totality, a merism meaning “everything.” True, man and woman do not become endowed with omniscience after partaking of the fruit, but the text does seem to imply that their intellectual horizons are immeasurably expanded. Passages like 2 Samuel 14:17, 20 lend support to this interpretation. It should also be noted that “good and bad,” exactly in the Hebrew form used here (tov varaʿ), occurs again only in Deuteronomy 1:39: “Moreover, your little ones who you said would be carried off, your children who do not yet know good from bad …” There the context leaves no doubt that not to know good and bad means to be innocent, not to have attained the age of responsibility. In the present passage, then, it is best to understand “knowledge of good and bad” as the capacity to make independent judgments concerning human welfare. [emphasis added]Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989. Print. The JPS Torah Commentary.
This explanation makes sense to us because while we know someone who is less than twenty (see my article on the age of accountability) technically knows what is good and what is bad, they mainly rely on instruction from their parents or authority figures on these matters. Looking back on our teenage years, we realize just how much of the world we didn’t know. Now, the “age of accountability” is subjective, but I agree with Numbers and Deuteronomy that it is closer to twenty than to ten with the added restriction that it pertains only to children raised within the covenant community.
So, if we agree with Sarna on what the knowledge of good and evil is, then we can begin to understand the type of death that this sort of knowledge produces. Returning to the discussion of the narrative in the previous article/ episode, I believe this entire story is about imputed righteousness versus our own righteousness.
The serpent told Eve, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4–5). In effect, what he is telling her is that even though she was made in the image of God, it wasn’t enough; there was something else she could have. Instead of living in innocence and trusting in the righteousness that was imputed based upon her faith in God, if she would just reach out and take that fruit, she would unlock a whole new level of being and this would not result in death as God had promised.
Upon eating the fruit (trying to attain to the image of God through her own righteousness), her and Adam were expelled from the garden (God’s presence). This expulsion was to the east of the garden. A cherubim was placed to guard “the way” (hodos – LXX) to the tree of life (God’s presence/ imputed righteousness). As the story progresses, they travel further and further east in an attempt to “make a name for themselves” (Genesis 11:4). This results in even more division because once you begin to seek after your own righteousness to make your name great, you realize you are naked. That is, you realize that there is no way that you can possibly maintain God’s image through your own abilities. As you try to cover up yourself, you find that you are inefficient in that as well. This is called religion (haha). So, the only way you can prove to yourself that you are righteous is to demean everyone else through pointing out their differences.
“They don’t talk like us, act like us, or look like us.”
So, in Genesis 12, God calls Abraham, and God tells Abraham something that it still way ahead of our time. First, he tells Abraham that He will make his name great (Genesis 12:2). He also says that through Abraham every family of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Then, the Bible makes a statement that we still don’t understand, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
Jesus is the fulfillment of all this. He reconciles people regardless of their race, language, or culture. He gives us His name. He clothes us in Himself. And He is “the way” (hodos – John 14:6) to the presence of God by offering us His righteousness through His death and resurrection. He reveals what has been true the whole time: God knows we are naked. In this way, we can say once more, “It’s all good.”
*LDJ: Liddell, Henry George et al. A Greek-English lexicon 1996 : n. pag. Print.
EDNT: Balz, Horst Robert, and Gerhard Schneider. Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament 1990– : n. pag. Print.
Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989. Print. The JPS Torah Commentary.