What does the forbidden fruit in the Bible really mean?
The phrase forbidden fruit has come to mean “something desirable but off limits.” The idea of forbidden fruit originated with the biblical account of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, committing the first sin on earth. Genesis 3 gives the details of mankind’s first temptation. Satan, in the form of a serpent, convinced Eve that she had misunderstood God’s clearly stated command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:4–5). Satan first challenged her understanding of God’s words, then suggested that she should make her own decision based on her personal assessment that the forbidden fruit was “good,” “pleasing,” and “desirable” (verse 6). So, being deceived and acting contrary to God’s command (Genesis 2:16–17), Eve took the fruit and ate it. She gave the fruit to Adam, who ate some, too. At that moment, sin, death, and destruction entered into the world (Romans 5:12).
For centuries, people have wondered about the identity of this enticing fruit that caused so much trouble. The Hebrew word for “fruit” in this passage is peri, which is a generic term used for “produce,” “results,” or “reward.” Nowhere is the identity of the forbidden fruit given in Scripture. Some speculate that the idea of its being an apple may have begun when the Bible was translated into Latin. The Latin word for “apple” is mālum, which is very similar to another Latin word, mălum, which means “evil.” When the Latin Vulgate came into being, the similarity in words could have spawned the idea that apples represent evil.
Legend and art have also added to the common assumption that the forbidden fruit was an apple. We idiomatically refer to the larynx as the Adam’s apple, a term that originated from a folk tale wherein the bulge in a person’s neck was caused by the apple sticking in Adam’s throat. (Helping the legend along is the fact that the cartilaginous protrusion is more pronounced in men than in women.) Renaissance painters helped affix the identification of the forbidden fruit as an apple through their depictions of biblical stories mixed with mythology. Folklore tends to create a life of its own when people repeat as truth what began as suggestion.
What’s likely is that the fruit mentioned in Genesis 3 is no longer available on the earth. Even though the fruit itself was not evil—only the disobedience was—(Genesis 2:9; 3:24; Revelation 22:2).