The Forbidden Fruit

May 13 2017 | by

WHAT FRUIT did Adam and Eve eat in the Garden of Eden? An apple, right? An apple, maybe. Genesis doesn’t say what type of fruit was forbidden. The text reads: “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’” (Genesis 2:16-18)

A few lines later the narrative continues:“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not 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.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” (Genesis 3:1-7)


New Adam & Eve


The text of the temptation in the Garden of Eden is rich with meaning. First, the garden was full of fruit bearing trees, all of which Adam and Eve could eat. Saint Anthony sees these trees as representing “honesty of conversation… which is beautiful and sweet, having nothing disgraceful in its action, nothing out of place in its words, nothing unbecoming in gesture or movement” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals IV, p. 230; Edizioni Messaggero Padova). Before they sinned, Adam and Eve walked and talked honestly with God.

Jesus is called the new Adam and the Blessed Virgin Mary the new Eve. All four were sinless. All four could choose. None of them were robots programmed to always choose God’s Will. All four were tempted. Adam and Eve were tempted in a luxurious garden from which they were expelled when they sinned, thereby losing for themselves, and for all of their descendants, eternal closeness with God. At the beginning of his Passion, Jesus was tempted in a garden, overcame the temptation, and went on to give his life so that we might be readmitted into eternal closeness with God.


The infection


In Genesis, God gave Adam the commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then God made Eve. Eve heard about God’s commandment from Adam, not from God directly. When a fallen angel, in the guise of a serpent, assured Eve that she and Adam would not die if they ate the fruit, Satan planted doubt in Eve’s mind. Did Adam hear God correctly? Was God telling the truth? Maybe Adam misunderstood.

At the Annunciation, an angel, not God Himself, approached Mary about becoming the Mother of Jesus. Unlike Eve, Mary did not wonder if the angel had heard correctly or if God were telling the truth. She had an ‘honest conversation’ with the angel. “‘How shall this be done, because I know not man’ (Lk 1.34). Although she believed what was to be done, she enquired how it was to come about. ‘She asked how it might be, because she had vowed in her heart not to know a man unless God should dispose otherwise.’” (Sermons IV, p. 165)

Adam was nearby when Eve was dialoging with Satan. Instead of protesting that Satan was lying, Adam allowed Satan to continue. When Eve stretched out her hand to pluck the fruit, Adam didn’t try to stop her. He allowed the doubt planted by Satan to infect his own mind. Maybe God was lying, he surmised that maybe God wanted all the power for himself. Maybe God was holding something back.


True knowledge


A cartoon about this incident shows Eve munching on an apple while Adam hesitates as the serpent enthusiastically entices, “Every single person in the world has tried it but you.”  Although Adam wanted to sample the fruit, his cowardice and lukewarm love for his wife became apparent when he allowed Eve to eat first. When nothing bad happened to her, Adam deduced that either he misunderstood God’s command or else God was wrong or was lying. The fruit was safe, so Adam ate, too.

Anthony observes, “discretion is the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ This is the true knowledge, the only knowledge worthy of its name… to know how to discern between clean and unclean… the vile and the precious… virtue and vice” (Sermons IV, p. 230). Having eaten of this tree, Adam and Eve, who had only known good before, now knew evil. They knew that they had disobeyed God. They were assaulted by lustful temptations. They envied the animals and birds which had luxuriant fur and feathers. They took pride in their fig leaves which made them look more like the other creatures, but which also camouflaged them in their attempt to hide from God who, they feared, would punish them. However, instead of honestly acknowledging their guilt, each of them blamed someone else. “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’” (Genesis 3:12-13)




Was God unmerciful to banish Adam and Eve from the Garden? Not at all. How could God trust them to resist eating from the ‘tree of life?’ Banishment was merciful. Adam and Eve were now in a fallen state, subject to sickness and death. Had they eaten of the ‘tree of life,’ they would age and suffer, but never die. Greek mythology tells the tale of Tithonus, a mortal to whom Zeus granted immortality, but not eternal youth. To this day, Tithonus, who aged but could not die, lies feebly in a room where he suffers and babbles endlessly.

Humanity lost heaven through eating a fruit. Because the same Latin word, malum, means both apple and evil, people have equated an apple with the forbidden fruit. Some medieval paintings of the Blessed Mother show the Infant Christ holding an apple to remind the viewer of the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. Unlike Adam and Eve who brought death into the world through their disobedience, the Blessed Mother said “yes” to God and became the Mother of Christ who, in obedience to his Heavenly Father, brought eternal life after death to those who believe in him.

Updated on May 13 2017