Why did God punish Adam and Eve if he knew they would sin?
This is a question we ask from our perspective. We don’t fully understand how God works, how he does things. So we ask questions based on our limited perspective and knowledge of who he is and what he has done.
Scripture talks about God’s foreknowledge, that he knows things before they happen, and he knows us in and out. He made us, so he knows who we are and how we react in situations. Some people argue God’s foreknowledge doesn’t mean he directs every molecule in the universe. Others suggest that God directs everything.
No matter what end of the spectrum of these theological views you prescribe to, or if you’re in the middle somewhere, it’s hard for us to understand everything that God does. With that said, I will do my best with my limited understanding to answer why God punished Adam and Eve.
The emphasis we place with this question is on God knowing beforehand Adam and Eve would fall and sin against him in rebellion. However, this is because we have already read what happened. When I read Scripture, I try to put my mindset at the point of time that that part of Scripture is written.
What I mean by this is that we know what the rest of Scripture says about an event in the past. For instance, when Genesis 1:1 says that God created the heavens and the earth, Hebrews 11:3 tells us that it was out of nothing God created. We wouldn’t be able to infer that just from Genesis 1:1.
We do this a lot as we read Scripture. We know more than the people at the time we’re reading in the Bible knew. So we infer from what we know the rest of Scripture upon the events we read. It’s only natural for us to do this.
At the time Adam and Eve were in the garden, the suspense builds toward the event when they ate the fruit and disobeyed God. God told them that they can do anything they want except for one thing.
He said they must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He gave them one rule, and expected them with their many freedoms in the garden to obey him. He told them what would happen, even if they didn’t understand it.
He said that in the day they eat of the fruit from that one tree in the garden full of trees, they would die. They had no idea what death was. But they knew it was the consequence of disobeying him. So even though they didn’t fully comprehend death, the consequence of their disobedience, they still knew it was not a good thing.
Anyone might ask as they are reading, “Why didn’t Adam and Eve die when they ate the fruit?” We might think it was poisonous and would kill them physically, but that kind of death is not what God was referring to.
The minute they ate fruit, they were separated from God, spiritually dead. We know this because they ran from God’s presence that came in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Why did they run? Because they were separated from him. This is the death God was referring to.
The fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil made Adam and Eve, and all humans from then on, responsible for moral choices. Before this, they had no moral choices to make. The serpent presented them with the very first moral choice, to obey or disobey God.
Choosing to disobey God and sin against him opened humanity to responsibility for moral choices. They were open to the consequences of those choices from then on. So God punished Adam and Eve because they disobeyed him.
Despite not fully understanding the consequences of their disobedience, they knew God would punish them if they disobeyed him. So the point isn’t that God knew beforehand they would disobey him. The point is that he gave them one command and they broke it. When we disobey God, the consequences and punishments of that disobedience come our way.
That’s the best part about Jesus coming and dying on the cross. Instead of punishing us for our sin, Jesus made a way to restore relationship with God. He suffered in our place so we didn’t have to experience the pain and death of separation from God for eternity.
God’s grace came on the cross. He forgives those who turn from their sin to Jesus. Because he knew beforehand that humans would sin against him, God made a way for us to be redeemed, saved, and set free.