There’s nothing in Scripture that indicates the forbidden fruit, as described in the book of Genesis, to be an apple. It is more of a tradition to portray it as such.
So let’s dig in to this claim.
We first see mention of this fruit as Genesis talks to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:9). It is coupled with God’s promise of condemnation upon the day that it was eaten of.
For that verse and those following, we can easily derive 4 things about the tree and fruit
- This described tree in fact bears fruit.
- The fruit is edible
- The fruit is forbidden with a death penalty upon it.
- There appears to be only 1 of these trees. That tree existed in Eden, not elsewhere.
That is mostly it. We have no idea from that what color the tree’s fruit is, how the tree looks overall, the size of the fruit, etc.
It is in Genesis 3 that we see the interaction between man and the tree, then the subsequent fall of man.
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate.Genesis 3:6
Now we know a few more things about the fruit.
- It was confirmed as not only edible but “good for food.” In other words, the fruit would provide sustenance–calories, nutrition, etc.
- The fruit had a pleasing appearance. It wasn’t rotten looking or off-putting to Adam and Eve.
- The fruit was confirmed to have qualities unlike other fruits–knowledge of good and evil.
While it is clear that the fruit was appealing and good for eating, there is no description as to its specific appearance. This fruit, therefore, could have easily been similar to any known fruit of today or it could have been something quite different. Perhaps the forbidden fruit was as small as a cherry or, perhaps, it was as large as a jack fruit. We simply do not know. We are not told what it actually looked like nor did Eve or Adam go on record describing its taste or texture.
We also do not know whether this tree even had seeds within it. Fruit typically do–despite the fact that man have cultivated seedless and sterile plants today–have seed so one could easily assume that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil did have seeds. If it did, we see no record here of Adam or Eve keeping seeds to plant later generations of the tree. It would appear God does not give them the time to and shortly thereafter, they are banned from Eden.
I point these things out because if the forbidden fruit were an apple, the first humans would have had to have grown more of the forbidden tree outside the Garden of Eden so that those of us today would know the fruit. There is simply no Scriptural evidence to support the idea.
How did the apple become the stand-in for the forbidden fruit?
Apples originated from Central Asia. This is where you find many of the “stan” countries today:
- NW China
Today, they are grown across the world.
This puts the apple quite a ways away from the Middle East and especially far from Africa–the two common places said to be where the Garden of Eden had once existed.
In Greek culture, the word “apple” came to be used for all fruit–in particular, foreign fruits. This is significant as it was Greek culture that was adopted by the Romans as they built and spread their empire. It also became a symbol of love connected to Greek mythology.
Neither of these meanings explain the apple’s association to the tree in question but they could have potentially added to Christian tendency to view the apple as related to a tree that bears evil (i.e. the common use of the term and then its association to pagan belief).
This evil becomes particularly obvious when looking at Latin for this fruit.
The apple today bears the scientific genus of malus. These classifications are straight out of Latin. Malum, the original word, could mean “an apple” but easily could mean “an evil” as well. The only difference between the two being in how the “a” vowel was handled. Writing simply “malum” without any other indicators meant the reader had to figure out what was meant by context. This leads to easy confusion of evil and the apple.
Mal continues to this day to be used as a word root/component that carries the idea of bad or evil. Is it truly any coincidence that Disney named their key character in their Descendants series and movies Mal?
(For those who do not know, Mal is the daughter of Malificent–the dark fairy who cursed Sleeping Beauty. Yes, even she has “mal” in her name too. Not a coincidence.)
So with that, it should be clear that such words have not lost their dark meaning even to this day.
Even though I know the difference between an apple and evil, I see the Latin and I immediately think otherwise. I was original taught the word to be associated to evil long before I ever knew of its association to the apple. Even so, I also recognize that this is the only connection I find to be made between the forbidden fruit and the apple (forbidden fruit being treated as equal with evil).
In one sense, the apple was a casualty of linguistic history becoming associated with that infamous tree from the Garden of Eden.
In the end . . .
No one truly knows what the forbidden fruit truly looked like or tasted like beyond Adam and Eve.
There is no legitimate reason to believe the apple had been that fruit of that one tree from Eden.
We may never know what that fruit was like but we do know that it existed in Eden and that it was the instrument of man’s fall.