The Dangers of Almost Knowing God’s Word

by Nov 2, 20160 comments

In the story of the temptation and the Fall in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1–7), Eve misquotes God’s word in four significant (albeit small) ways in response to the serpent’s question, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1b). By only almost knowing what God has said, her skewed understanding of God’s word leads directly to the Fall.


While Yahweh God had said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…” (Gen. 2:16), the woman understates her Creator’s generosity, saying only, “We may eat of the fruit…” (Gen. 3:2). This is the first act of ingratitude, since the woman fails to acknowledge the abundant generosity of God in commanding that they may surely eat from every tree of the garden. In contrast, the woman’s words make Yahweh God’s provision seem meager.


Second, the woman exaggerates the strictness of Yahweh God’s law. She correctly repeats Yahweh God’s prohibition that they cannot eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but then she adds a prohibition, “…neither shall you touch it…” (Gen. 3:3), even though Yahweh God had said nothing about touching it. Here we see the first example of legalism in the Bible, where the woman adds an additional layer to the law beyond what Yahweh God has spoken.

Failure to Fear

Third, the woman relaxes the punishment for eating from the tree, stating “lest you die” (Gen. 3:3) rather than what Yahweh God had said: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This statement reflects the first failure to fear Yahweh God, mitigating the sentence of death that Yahweh God had pronounced to be the punishment for such an action into a hypothetical, conditional possibility.

Depersonalization of Yahweh God

Fourth, and most insidiously, the woman follows the lead of the serpent in referring to Yahweh God (as he is called throughout Gen. 2:4–25) simply “God.” By using only the more impersonal title “God” and leaving off the personal name “Yahweh,” she unwittingly distances herself from her covenant Lord. This is the first time that human beings depersonalize Yahweh God—that is, the first time humans create a caricature of Yahweh God, rather than dealing with the blazing reality of the God whose name is “I Am What I Am” (Ex. 3:14).

(For these insights, credit goes to Allen Ross, Creation and Blessing, 130–38, and Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 72–76. Listen to my sermon on Genesis 3:1–7 here.)

The Dangers of Almost Knowing God’s Word

Taken together, these errors present a frightening warning—when we almost know God’s word, we are easily led astray into temptation. Satan knows God’s word extremely well for the purpose of deceiving us. In fact, Satan even deceptively quoted Scripture when he tempted Jesus (Matt. 4:6). This means that there is a danger not only in almost knowing God’s word, but also in almost understanding God’s word.

Are there gaps in your knowledge and understanding of God’s word?

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