Answer by John Mackay
Whenever I ask English speaking people around the planet what fruit Eve ate, by far the majority will say apple. But if I ask: when is the first time the Bible mentions apples, almost no one knows.
The second question is easy to find an answer for since the first time the word apple is used is in Deuteronomy 32:9-10 which states: “For the Lord ‘s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance …, he kept him as the apple of his eye.”
In its description of Gods creating plants, Genesis reveals that “… out of the ground, made the Lord God made every tree to grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:9. And we are further informed in Genesis 2:16-17 that God forbad Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the second tree, yet she did eat!
So why do so many people associate an apple with what Eve did?
Here are some helpful facts?
1. Genesis 3 uses the English word “fruit” of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Apple doesn’t get a look-in.
2. But an English translation of the Bible was a long way in the future when an apple first began to be associated with Eve.
3. Let’s revisit Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible which had been available in the UK by the 6th century.
4. The Vulgate translates Genesis 2:9 as “lignumque (the tree) scientiae (knowledge) boni (good) et (and) mali (evil),”
5. At this point, it pays to reflect on one of the habits we humans have. Many of us love to play with words, particularly in making puns where we substitute words which have different meanings, but similar sounds, usually to get a laugh…e.g. ‘The Atheist club is a non-prophet making organization’, or ‘He comes from a long line of lyers.’( Look it up.)
6. Now in Latin there are two words relevant to this question. ‘Malum’ (with a short ‘a’ sound) which means bad or evil, and ‘malum’ (with a long ‘a’ sound) which means apple. Similar things occur in English resulting from short or long vowel pronunciation when we compare ‘mat’ with ‘mate’ or ‘mill’ with ‘mile’.
7. Once it was widely known that malum (short a) and malum (long a) had different meanings, from then on the substitution of one for the other was inevitable.
8. Add to this the fact that Old French (a Latin based Romance language) was the official parlance of ‘educated’ England for around 400 years after the Normans invaded, which only reinforced the apple/evil concept, and then add the thought that what Eve did was wrong, and in old French, the word for ‘wrong’ is related to ‘mal’ as in malady, and you have it. ‘Mali’ in the Vulgate related to ‘malum’ (with the short a), which sounds like ‘malum’ (with the long a) meaning ‘apple’, takes us from a fruit of evil to a really bad apple. In fact, the tart acidy flavour of an apple is caused by malic acid.
9. One last thing: No such pun in possible from the original text when you compare the Hebrew for evil or bad used in Gen 2:9 ‘ra`, with the Hebrew word for apple ‘tappuwach’.
What can we learn from this?
1. Always check what the Bible actually says, not what people think it says.
2. It wouldn’t have mattered what type of fruit it was, it was created by God who therefore had every right to tell Adam and Eve which trees they could or could not eat from. The trees were God’s property, and so were the people, as we still are!
3. A key aspect of this account is to notice that Eve may have eaten first, but the Bible is emphatic she was tricked. Adam was never tricked. He willingly ate. As a result, God’s word never says, ‘with one woman came sin.’ It always states with one man, Adam, came sin, and with sin came death.
4. The rest of the Bible reveals God’s work in preparing the world for Jesus, who is called the last Adam, who came to deal with the sin and death problem that the first Adam caused. Make sure you don’t miss out on Jesus’ solution.
For further information, see the question: EVIL: Why does a good God allow evil? Answer here.