According to Scripture, it is knowledge, knowledge of good and evil that is gained through understanding of (the) law that separates man from the rest of the animal creation, though both emanate from the earth (Gen. 2:7, 19). Physically, both are dust and, following the pattern of the physical creation as a whole, they have a beginning and an end which in the latter’s case involves return to dust (note Psalm 49 and Eccles. 3:18-21). Man’s rationality or intelligent consciousness which includes his ability to communicate verbally proves that he is made in the image of God and is potentially like God. But just as he grows from immaturity as seed physically, so he grows from divine seed spiritually, for God is both the God of spirits (Num. 16:22; 27:16) and Father of the new birth (Heb. 12:9, cf. John 1:13; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9).
Man’s Moral Infancy
Man’s spiritual growth begins with understanding of the commandment, initially a response to the word ‘no’ (Gen. 2:16f.). That babies recapitulate the experience of Adam and Eve is evident from what Paul says in Romans 7:9f. (cf. 9:11; Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14). Initially, like animals, unaware of (the) law, they know neither good nor evil. But once the commandment dawns on their developing consciousness it produces a reaction – invariably a negative one. Why? Because human beings are flesh and prove to be slaves (John 8:34) to their animal passions (Rom. 7:14, cf. Eccl. 3:18). When they listen to the voice of the devil and rationalize the situation, they characteristically give way to the evil desires of the flesh (Gen. 3:6f.; James 1:14f.). It should be noted, however, that not all fleshly desires are evil. They are in the main purely natural. Only those that are forbidden by the commandments are evil (Gen. 2:16, cf. Gal. 5:23).
Knowledge or rationality is basic to human as opposed to animal (fleshly) life. It immediately gives man an advantage and charge over the rest of the animal world over which he is called to exercise dominion (Gen. 1:26-28, cf. 2:19) as a rider does a horse (James 3:3). From the start it enables him gradually to impose his will on his environment (Gen. 2:15). But man’s divine vocation to exercise dominion is as we have seen marred by his failure to control his own flesh. Thus armed with knowledge of good and evil Adam is cast out of the Garden to fend for himself in a hostile environment (Gen. 3:16-19). While he is physically adult, all his offspring enter this world as unselfconscious babies knowing neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39, etc.). They recapitulate Adam and Eve’s experience but in a somewhat different way, as Paul indicates in Romans 7:9f. Though Adam was physically adult, he was nonetheless spiritually a baby. His rationality was subject to initial emergence, development and maturation just as ours is. As Paul says, he was flesh before he was spirit (1 Cor. 15:46). So it is with the second Adam who recapitulates his forebear’s experience (Eph. 4:9, cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-49). On the other hand, as he gains maturity he is faced with exactly the same challenge as the first Adam when it comes to exercising dominion (Ps. 8:5-8) in this recalcitrant and futile world (Rom. 8:18-25) on his way to glory (Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:7).
Knowledge and Faith
So man begins his spiritual pilgrimage armed with knowledge of (the) law and hence as a rational creature. In order to make progress he must seek life by keeping the commandment or inevitably earn its wages in death. As both history and experience demonstrate, as flesh we all fail to keep the commandment but by the grace of God that commandment contains a promise (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 7:10) which makes faith a possibility. This is hinted at in Genesis 3:15, though nothing is said at that stage about justification. Note, however, Hebrews 11:6.
Clearly, as man gains self-consciousness he also gains moral awareness and hence knowledge of sin (Gen. 3:10; Rom. 3:20; 7:7), for where there is no law there is no sin (Rom. 4:15). But this is not the only thing that happens. While in the Garden of Eden, that is paradise or the womb of the race, Adam and Eve initially have no consciousness of either sin or pain. However, as Genesis 3:16 makes clear, with increasing knowledge comes increasing awareness of pain. Traditionally it has been assumed that sin is the cause of pain, but this is hardly the case. Just as sin does not exist apart from knowledge or law (Rom. 1:20; 2:1; 3:19f.; 4:15; 7:7; John 9:41; 15:22,24; pace all who believe in original and birth sin), so neither does pain. In reality knowledge and pain occur concurrently or co-incidentally. Just as Adam and Eve in paradise knowing neither good nor evil were unaware of pain, so babies and animals in general are equally unaware of them. In the womb since they do not know (the) law (commandment) neither do they know good and evil (cf. Rom. 9:11) and later like Job (3:1-26) and Jeremiah (20:14-18) wish they had remained there.* Only as they develop like Eve does pain impinge on their rational consciousness. Prior to that time she must have done things instinctively like the animal (flesh) she really was. It is not until Eve develops understanding that she is able on the one hand to sin and on the other to feel pain. Bluntly, knowledge is intrinsic to both sin and pain. Since the process is gradual, Eve’s pain increases which is precisely what Genesis 3:16 strongly insists on.
From a physical point of view the nervous systems and senses of both animals and human beings are the same and they both react instinctively to external stimuli. The difference lies in the fact that as humans develop beyond the purely animal or baby stage, their perceptions are no longer confined to the merely sensory but become consciously intelligent. During the baby stage, while there may be physical sensation there is no rationality or moral awareness and therefore no appreciation of pain. (It might be added at this point that the story of Eve’s springing from Adam’s side suggests and illustrates growing understanding or mental awareness. Prior to this time animal instinct accomplished its purpose as it still does today. Only with rationality comes conscious recognition of partnership and kinship.)
The Sting of Death
In 1 Corinthians 15:56 Paul succinctly suggests that the sting of death is sin and that the power of sin is the law. What is he implying? Surely that while physical death is natural in animals which are the product of a world given over to futility (Rom. 8:18-25), it is complicated by sin in human beings who break the law and is paid wages (Rom. 6:23). To us it is appointed once to die and after death the judgement (Heb. 9:27). Since in contrast with animals we are judged on the basis of the works done in the body, we are in urgent need of a Saviour. So while animals and babies that do not know the law cannot be judged by it, all rational men and women come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23; 5:12) and can only attain to it by means of his grace in Christ. In other words, Christ is a dire necessity for all God’s rational creation. It is by him that we must be saved (Acts 4:12). (It perhaps needs to be added by way of clarification that since death is the wages of sin, Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12; 6:23, it applies only to rational human beings who alone are capable of breaking the law that they know, Rom. 3:19f.; 7:1,7. Animals and babies cannot break a commandment they do not know, Rom. 4:15, and so they cannot in the nature of the case earn wages, cf. Rom. 9:11. They nonetheless die because they are part of a mortal (destructible) and corruptible creation, Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12.)
So, to sum up, knowledge or law and rationality (or alternatively creation in the image of God) brings with it in rational man as opposed to irrational animal the possibility of sin, promise, faith, pain, hope and salvation.
He who simply feeds his flesh like an animal in contrast with the believer who also feeds on the word of God (Mt. 4:4) will get his reward in death (John 6:22-63) and corruption (1 Cor. 15:35-57; Rom. 8:6,13; Gal. 6:7f.) Flesh and blood cannot by nature inherit the kingdom of God. Thus all who pander to the flesh like animals (2 Pet. 2:12-22; Jude 10) in rebellion against the law will be excluded (1 Cor 6:9f.; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 12:14; Rev. 21:8; 22:11,15).
* Over the years, as I have read the Bible I have become increasingly convinced that ‘good and evil’ do not have an exclusively moral or legal connotation but are sometimes to be understood more comprehensively as would appear to be the case in Deuteronomy 32:39, 1 Samuel 2:6, Lamentations 3:37f., Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6, Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Galatians 1:4 and Ephesians 5:16, for example. This world, far from being originally perfect like heaven as Augustine contended, was subjected to futility from the start and intended to be a place/time of testing (Gen. 2:16f.; Ex. 20:20, etc.). Not for nothing was Adam’s vocation to exercise dominion (Gen. 1:26-28) and to be glorified on the basis of his works (Ps. 8; Rom. 2:7,10, cf. 1 Pet. 1:7). While Jesus uniquely proved true under trial and succeeded in overcoming the world (John 16:33; Rev. 5:5), he did not divest it of its natural corruption (Heb. 2:8f.). That was the way that it was created (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12) and he himself as its derivative (Heb. 10:5). In light of this, restoration is out of the question. The much vaunted schema (or worldview) of creation/Fall/ restoration is as false to the Bible as it is to science.
See further my Nature Red in Tooth and Claw.