(34) Why the serpent tells the woman lies, saying, “God has said, Ye shall not eat of every tree in the Paradise,” when, on the contrary, what God really had said was, “Ye shall eat of every tree in the Paradise, except one?” (#Ge 3:4). It is the custom for contending arguers to speak falsely in an artful manner, in order to produce ignorance of the real facts, as was done in this case, since the man and woman had been commanded to eat of all the trees but one. But this insidious prompter of wickedness coming in, says that the order which they had received was that they should not eat of them all. He brought forward an ambiguous statement as a slippery stumbling-block to cause the soul to trip. For this expression, “Ye shall not eat of every tree,” means in the first place either, not even of one, which is false; or, secondly, not of every one, as if he intended to say, there are some of which you may not eat, which is true. Therefore he asserts such a falsehood more explicitly.
(35) Why, when it was commanded them to avoid eating of one plant alone, the woman made also a further addition to this injunction, saying, “He said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it?” (#Ge 3:3). In the first place she says this, because taste and every other sense after its kind consists in the touch appropriate to it. In the second place she says it that it may seem to condemn them themselves, who did what they had been forbidden. For if even the mere act of touching it was prohibited, how could they who, besides touching the tree, presumed to eat of the fruit, and so added a greater transgression to the lesser one, be anything but condemners and punishers of themselves?
(36) What is the meaning of the expression, “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil?” (#Ge 3:5). Whence was it that the serpent found the plural word “gods,” when there is only one true God, and when this is the first time that he names him? But perhaps this arises from there having been in him a certain prescient wisdom, by which he now declared the notion of the multitude of gods which was at a future time to prevail amongst men; and, perhaps, history now relates this correctly at its first being advanced not by any rational being, nor by any creature of the higher class, but as having derived its origin from the most virulent and vile of beasts and serpents, since other similar creatures lie hid under the earth, and their lurking places are in the holes and fissures of the earth. Moreover, it is the inseparable sign of a being endowed with reason to look upon God as essentially one being, but it is the mark of a beast to imagine that there are many gods, and these too devoid of reason, and who can scarcely be said with propriety to have any existence at all. Moreover, the devil proceeds with great art, speaking by the mouth of the serpent. For not only is there in the Divinity the knowledge of good and evil, but there is also an approval of what is good and a repudiation of what is evil; but he does not speak of either of these feelings because they were useful, but only suggested the mere knowledge of the two contrary things, namely, of good and evil. In the second place, the expression, “as gods,” in the plural number, is in this place not used inconsiderately, but in order to give the idea of there being both a bad and a good God. And these are of a twofold quality. Therefore it is suitable to the notion of particular gods to have a knowledge of contrary things; but the Supreme Cause is above all others.