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Have you ever returned to a familiar passage of Scripture and discovered that the words speak to you in a new, refreshing, dramatically impactful way?
Recently, while teaching The Epistle to the Hebrews in a small Bible study, Hebrews 5:14 suddenly jumped off the page and caused my spirit to soar with its encouragement and profound theological implications :
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. HEBREWS 5:14
Pondering that phrase”distinguish good from evil” made me curious as to how this Hebrews verse might correspond to the words of the serpent in Genesis 3:5 :
…the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” GENESIS 3:4, 5
On first glance, these two verses may seem related. However, the profound difference is unearthed by contrasting the word “knowing” in Genesis against the word “distinguish” in Hebrews.
The Greek word “distinguish” in Hebrews 5:14 is Strong’s G1253. It means “judicial estimation.” It carries legal implications, and it describes the process by which an impartial jury reaches a verdict. G1253 is derived from its neighbor G1252, which means “to separate thoroughly, to withdraw from, to discriminate, to oppose, to decide, hesitate, or judge.”
A jury need not commit murder in order to know that murder is wrong and to find a defendant guilty of the crime. There is a strong indication here that the author intends for his readers to reach a firm decision based on solid evidence; to embrace goodness as revealed in the Godly counsel of Scripture and to eschew evil. The Apostle John counsels us:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 1 JOHN 2:15-17
By contrast, the Hebrew word “knowing” found in Genesis 3:5 is Strong’s number H3045. It is a primitive root with a broad wealth of interpretations. H3045 occurs 871 times in the Old Testament. Among the English words used to translate H3045 are: “to know, to be familiar with, to be a friend of, to be a kinsman of.”
The implication in Genesis 3:5 is that the devil is urging Adam and Eve to exercise the gift of free will given them by God to indulge in and experience every possible option offered by life in this world. Like the old commercial says: “’Try it…you’ll like it!’ So I tried it…thought I was going to die!” Or, as the 1970’s pop song claims, “You can have it all!” 100% experience…Zero dreaded consequence. Try it…you’ll feel like a dead man walking.
Satan’s worst lie (you know he is the “father of lies”) is subtler and harder to spot. I didn’t detect it until now. In Genesis 3:5, the devil doesn’t just tell Eve that her “eyes will be opened” by sampling all the evil offered by a life of sin. He tells a far more sinister lie. He implies that God likewise had His Eyes opened by indulging in sin. This is patently false on the face of it and is contradicted by Scripture verses far too numerous to list here.
But here is a profound question; Since we know that God does not indulge in sin, why do the Members of the Trinity confer with one another using this phrase? :
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.
Why would God reiterate the words of the devil? Wouldn’t that tend to infer that the LORD learned about evil by personally practicing sin? Far from it! What does God communicate in this perplexing statement?
We know that three-year-olds often touch the hot stove, even when told it will hurt. And sadly, far too many of us must hit rock bottom before we realize the cold, hard truth that sin brings misery to ourselves and others. God has no such need of experiential lessons. In His infinite wisdom, God is able to look down from heaven with a “bird’s eye view” over all creation. He can readily predict with perfect certainty the outcome of each choice we make.
Perhaps The Pulpit Commentary best unpacks the ambiguity of Genesis 3:22 :
The language seems to hint that a one-sided acquaintance with good and evil, such as that possessed by the unfallen angels in heaven and by Adam and Eve before Genesis 3, is not so complete a knowledge of the inherent beauty of goodness and the essential turpitude of sin as is acquired by beings who pass through the experience of a fall. Without personal contact, God can see sin as it lies everlastingly spread out before His infinite mind. By contrast, there’s only one way a finite being can approximate such a comprehensive knowledge of evil as the Deity possesses. And that is by going down into it and learning what it is through personal experience. (my paraphrase, emphasis added)
Jesus NEVER indulged in sin, although He was sorely tempted by the devil during His 40-day fast in the desert. He lived a perfect life, just as His Father in heaven is perfect and sinless. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) He doesn’t just KNOW the truth; He IS the truth! His very essence is The Truth!
Though some feel they must descend into sin and learn about it through personal experience before deciding to follow Jesus, I agree with that great theologian, Brian Dennehy: “I’d rather take the butcher’s word for it!”