“has become like one of us.” God is speaking to His divine council of spirit beings, pointing out that Adam, like them, now has full knowledge of good and evil. The council would have become very aware of evil when the Devil sinned and rebelled. [For more information on God’s divine council, see commentary on Genesis 1:26].
“knowing.” The Hebrew word translated “know” is the common Hebrew word for “know,” yada (#03045 ידע), and it means to know something intellectually, but it is also used of knowing something experientially, and it is also used idiomatically.
Here in Genesis 3:22, “knowing” does not refer to intellectual knowledge, that is, mentally comprehending what good and evil are. Adam and Eve intellectually knew the difference between good and evil when they were created, because they knew it was wrong (and thus “evil”) to eat from the tree that God had commanded them not to eat from. So before they sinned they “intellectually knew” good from evil, but now that they sinned they both intellectually knew and experientially knew good from evil.
Genesis 3:22 also lets us know that someone can experientially know good from evil by experiencing it through the words and actions of someone else. Before they sinned, Adam and Eve were innocent. They had never experienced evil in any form. But how could God say to His divine council that the humans had now “become like one of us, knowing good and evil”? How could God and His top angels experience evil? They had experienced it in the Devil and the angels that rebelled against God (cp. Isa. 14:12-16; Ezek. 28:12-19).
Besides intellectual and experiential knowledge, “know” is often used idiomatically. For example, it can mean “to care about,” “to act lovingly toward.” Thus, Psalm 144:3 (YLT 1862/87/98) says, “what is man that Thou knowest him,” while the NIV(2011) translates that in a way that recognizes the idiom: “what are human beings that you care for them?” Similarly, Proverbs 12:10 (YLT) says, “The righteous man knoweth the life of his beast,” while the NIV(2011) has, “The righteous care for the needs of their animals.” When a word like “know” is used with a more expansive meaning than just its dictionary definition, scholars sometimes say it has a “pregnant sense.”
The word “know” is also used idiomatically for sexual intercourse. For a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman was to “know” her experientially, and often deeply intellectually as well (see commentary on Matt. 1:25). Many words in the Bible are occasionally used with an idiomatic or pregnant sense, for example, “remember,” “look” and “watch” (see commentary on Luke 23:42).
“knowing good and evil.” The fact that humans have an inherent knowledge of good and evil is very important in understanding the responsibility that humans have towards God. God holds people responsible for finding Him and then showing love and honor to Him by serving Him.
The knowledge of good and evil can move from the inherent to the intellectual via some very basic things: for example, we know that it hurts if people steal from us so we know not to steal from others. We know that it hurts when people lie about us, so we know not to lie to others. The basic understanding of good and evil is why law codes from all ages and all cultures have a deep similarity—although it happens that people and leaders can become so hard and selfish that their conscience becomes cauterized and they follow a path of hurt and pain (1 Tim. 4:2). The inherent knowledge of good and evil is why even children know quickly if a person is good and kind or selfish and hurtful. The inherent and internal basic knowledge of good and evil is why God says that people can do “by nature” the things in the Law that He gave from heaven: “indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are a law to themselves” (Rom. 2:14).
As a person is honest about life and follows their natural knowing of good and evil, they will become more aware of the world around them, how small and weak they are and how big the world and universe are around them, and there is an instinctive knowing that a power bigger than themselves created the world. God says this plainly in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—are clearly seen, being understood through the things he has made, so that they are without excuse.” The fact that people have a natural, internal knowledge of good and evil, and a natural knowledge that there is a Creator is why God can righteously judge every human on the Day of Judgment. People instinctively know there is a power that is not human and that is bigger and wiser than themselves. That is why throughout the ages people have defied or ignored the direction of other humans but sought direction and guidance from a star, stone, stick, statue, crystal, or otherworldly apparition. Even atheistic cultures that supposedly deny God have hundreds of different superstitions in which invisible forces somehow affect what happens in life, so although they deny God intellectually, their actions testify that they bow to “invisible forces” that influence the world.
So although many proud and intellectual people deny it, human beings instinctively know good from evil at a basic level, and also know there is a creator. From that basic understanding, God expects people to use the wisdom He gave them and grow in their understanding and knowledge of Him. God said, “Wisdom is the principal thing, so get Wisdom” (Prov. 4:7), and He expects us to follow His direction and get wisdom. As we do, Wisdom says, “I will die.” Honest Curiosity asks, “What will happen when I die?” Then Logic suggests, “The Creator who created me in the first place likely has a plan for me after I die—another life. Otherwise, what was the point of my life in the first place?” At that point, often in many seemingly unlikely and impossible ways, the words of Jesus Christ come true: “Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and it will be opened to you! For everyone who keeps asking receives, and the one who keeps seeking finds, and to the one who keeps knocking it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). God is powerful, imaginative, creative, and ingenious, and if a person truly and honestly seeks answers and seeks their Creator, and so keeps asking, keeps seeking, and keeps knocking, then the God of Truth will find them, and they will gain everlasting life.
“and eat, and live forever–.” God stops in mid-sentence, which is referred to as the figure of speech anacoluthon. The sentence and the thought are never completed. The consequences of living forever in a fallen state are too horrific to try to express.