This post is part of a series walking through the first volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
Whatever the physical effects of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the moral impact on Adam and Eve was neither intoxication nor poison, but rather judgment based on the Word of God.
And because the Word is the cause, we need to think about words and language in this context. One of the major limitations we have is that our modern languages are defective, limited, and imperfectly learned even in the best of circumstances. We must not read these limitations back into the language of the Garden of Eden. Because they were perfect, Adam and Eve were fully capable of communication and hence fully understood what God meant when He spoke.
We can safely assume that the language of Eden (whatever it was–the Hebrew in Genesis was probably just a translation) was created in man not just as a potential capacity the like of which we are born with, but rather was a fully-developed part of the image of God. In other words, language was a part of our original perfect wisdom.
Of course, there’s a lot we don’t know. How did images and concepts work in the minds of unfallen people? We don’t know, and we don’t necessarily need to know that. We just need to know that Adam understood enough to be accountable to what Kuyper calls the “probationary command.”
Which leads from a discussion of how speech worked in paradise into a discussion of what was spoken. Specifically, what was the law and its consequence?
Whatever it was, we know that Adam understood both the law and its consequences as an adult, not as an immature child. We see this understanding demonstrated in Adam’s interactions with the animals and with Eve. He did not have to learn or study or calculate in order to interact with them, but rather lived by an internal ‘light from God’ (220). Even concepts like “death” and “die” had meaning, since Adam (unlike us) knew his own creation. Because he knew this, he could understand its counter.
This helps us understand something of what is going on with the command given to Adam and the nature of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Moral knowledge was not the result of disobedience–Adam and Eve knew morality before they fell. Sin clouds this knowledge, rather than creating it.
Which raises the question of just what the probationary command is. When God commands them not to eat, what is going on?
The command not to eat the fruit of the tree is not tied to an inherent aspect of the created order. Rather, it is an arbitrary command established by God’s sovereign will.
“What does the probationary command do? Does it place before Adam the choice of keeping or not keeping one of the commandments of God’s law imposed on him? Certainly not. The probatinoary command did not embody a demand that flowed from the moral world order, but was rather an entirely arbitrary ordinance based on nothing but the sovereign determination of God’s will.” (222)
This is a key point in Kuyper (so far, anyway), so it’s worth working out. The point of the command being arbitrary is that the only reason for Adam and Eve to obey it was for the sake of obeying God, rather than because it’s the right thing to do. The religious life must subsume the moral life in order for God’s image to triumph. The “problem” (well, “problem”) is that Adam and Eve were basically good. And so any command that was clearly a part of the moral order and connected to “the good” would have been automatically obeyed. In order to provide a real test, a division had to be made between “God” and the “good.” This division had to be arbitrary, so as not to be inherently appealing to Adam’s virtuous nature.
As with children, when we explain why they often want to obey, and so it’s not for us that they obey but rather because their own desires are telling them to do so. Kuyper makes an aside about how always explaining “why” undermines good parenting because they’re not really learning how to obey.
The broader point is that in order for the test to be one with real options that could be failed, it had to be arbitrary and unconnected from morality. Even the small nature of the command (“don’t eat”) reveals the nature of the test:
“If… the law is binding solely because God gave it to us, and if our inner sympathy for that law is solely the inward fruit of the Holy Spirit, then it wouldn’t matter what wascommanded in the probationary command. The more insignificant the matter, the more decisively and certainly it would be clear whether obedience was because of God’s will.”
We must choose God because he’s God, and not because our inner desiress tell us to do so.
The nature of the test then tells us something about the nature of the Fall, which we’ll get to in the next post.