A common accusation made by critics against orthodox Christians is that Christians equate knowledge with sin. For example, in The Gnostic Bible, the editor Marvin Meyer writes of “the fundamental biblical notion that knowledge is sin.” But is this notion as biblical as Gnostics assert? No, if fact such proclamations represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible in general and the book of Genesis in particular.
For example, in Exodus 31 the filling of Bezalel with the Spirit of God is said to occasion wisdom, understanding, knowledge and skill. In Job 36 resistance to knowledge is associated with an untimely death. In Proverbs 1 the despising of knowledge is labelled foolish. In fact, the whole book of proverbs is a treatise on the desirability of knowledge and wisdom. No, the Bible is not anti-knowledge. If we seek understanding of the Bible, if we seek knowledge of God, we need to look closer.
What does Genesis actually say? This is something that critics of Christianity rarely quote in full: “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It is important to observe that God does not call the second tree the “tree of knowledge” in an unqualified Gnostic fashion. God called the second tree, very specifically, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. And since humanity was already “very good” according to God, what of good and evil was being kept from them? Why, only the knowledge of evil! This tree then, was Pandora’s Box.
To know the Bible is to know that knowledge is not sinful in an of itself. What is sinful is deciding that you know the difference between good and evil better than God. For this is arrogance, this is unrestrained ego. This is where Gnostic sympathisers misunderstand Genesis. What the book of Genesis seeks to awaken in us is knowledge of the consequences of choosing self-centricity over Spirit-centricity.