Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©1996, 2006, 2010, 2016
Man’s Fall Into Sin
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter VI.
Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment thereof
I. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.
II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.
III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.
IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
V. This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.
VI. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.
Man was holy at creation but became corrupted
As we have already established in our study of creation that man was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The biblical definition of God summarized in Shorter Catechism question 4 is: “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Therefore a good working definition of man, made in the image of God, is: “Man is body and spirit, finite, temporal and changeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”
Man was created in true righteousness and holiness. He was able to have true knowledge unimpeded by the distortions of sin. As one children’s catechism question puts it, man in his original condition was “holy and happy.”
Adam knew God and understood creation in a direct manner. He was in immediate communion with God, not separated by the offenses of sin. He enjoyed perfect fellowship with his Creator and Lord. He faithfully exercised his dominion over the rest of creation as God had commissioned him.
In Eden God was already revealing himself to man. He revealed himself generally in the display of his attributes and glory through creation and conscience. Adam was able to perceive it all in non-corrupted clarity. God also revealed himself specially as he spoke with Adam. God explained man’s work duties in the garden, his necessary submission to the one Creator, his duties in marriage as a man united with a woman to be “one flesh,” and his obligation to remember the work of creation in the weekly Sabbath.
God had also specially forbidden the humans from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What’s more, Adam and Eve had the moral power to obey all these expectations of their Sovereign God. They did not have a fallen mind that would obscure and suppress what was right and true.
In such a perfect condition, the great mystery is; “How could they have sinned? How could persons with no sin nature rebel against a good God?”
In contrast with the modern secular view of evil and crime, Scripture does not relegate sin to some lesser animalistic part of man that takes over and drives him to do wrong. Each person is responsible for his tendency toward lying, violence, disrespect, and other such immoral behaviors so evident in every human society. We did not get these harmful behaviors from some evolutionary past.
The Genesis Account of Man’s Fall into Sin (Genesis 2-3)
The Trees of the Garden
God had placed many trees in the garden (2:9). They were created to show God’s glory and to provide food: Genesis 2:16 states, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;’ ”
The intensive verbal form is used regarding the trees of Eden. From them man “eating may eat.” This freedom was granted to all but one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That tree was also in the midst of the garden (3:3).
An old tradition views it as an apple tree. The reason for that is found in the Latin versions which were common in times past. The Latin word for “apple” is “mallum”, and the word for “evil” is “mallus.” Both words have the same genitive form “mali” which is what appears here in those Latin versions. Some took the word “evil” for the word “apple.” We do not know what kind of fruit it was, nor is it important. There have been all sorts of fanciful ideas about the nature of the fruit itself. But they are based on speculations not drawn from the inspired text of God’s word.
It is clear from the text that Adam was forbidden to eat of it (2:17). Eating of it was morally wrong because God said it was. The penalty attached was that in the day he ate of it he would certainly die. He was not told that the fruit was poison, nor that it would in itself kill him. Death was God’s penalty for disobedience, not a natural result of the physical substance of the fruit.
It was also not forbidden that man should know good and evil. Both were already implied in the several obligations and mandates given by God by which humans should live in Eden. Good would be obeying all God told him to do and not to do. Evil would be neglecting his duties, or eating the forbidden fruit.
The uniqueness is that God had ordained this tree to be the instrument by which the fall of mankind would occur. He intended that by it man would know good and evil in a way he did not know these qualities in his innocence. In the redemption that followed he would learn the merciful and gracious character of God.
There was also the tree of life in the garden. It was also in the midst of it (2:9). There is no indication here that by eating of it physically Adam would be given life. There is no mention of powers inherent in the fruit of it that would impart anything physically to Adam other than the normal nourishment the other trees offered.
Calvin viewed this tree as a sacramental symbol of life in fellowship with and in dependence upon God (Institutes 4.14.18). The tree is much like the elements of the Lord’s Table. Only those confessing the true God and embracing his covenant promises were to partake of it. By partaking of it there would be spiritual blessings granted to the soul of man. It’s not that the physical elements themselves had a supernatural physical quality. When Adam disobeyed and became separated from God morally, he and Eve were expelled from the garden lest they eat of this tree (3:22-23). This appears to be similar to the removal of non-repentant or rebellious communicant members of the church from the Lord’s Table to keep them from partaking of the sacramental elements unworthily.
There was a Serpent in the Garden (3:1)
The snake was a creature of God. Though he acted as the instrument of Satan, he never was able to operate independently from God’s decree. God’s sovereign power and immutable word cannot be left out here.
Something happened that made this snake not like those we know today. He spoke. Did he speak literally and physically to Eve? It appears that he did (2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:14). We do not need to invent biological explanations to make the pre-fall snake able to vocalize any more than we need to imagine an amazing biological change in Balaam’s donkey which spoke in Numbers 22. This was a supernatural act permitted by God in the process of setting the conditions by which the plan of redemption would be advanced.
This snake was subtle. The Hebrew word here is arum, meaning “sly, cunning, crafty.” Except for the vowel pointing, it is also the word used for “naked, bare” as in 2:25 of Adam and Eve before the fall. Related words in Hebrew mean “shame, nakedness, foulness.” They differ because of their grammatical forms. Perhaps the relationship is an apparent shyness. Often when a person stands naked it produces a quiet, reserved mannerism that makes him appear vulnerable which would cause someone to let down his guard. The snake appeared open and honest and therefore craftily deceived the woman.
Obviously there is something more here than appears to the eye. This was no mere snake, not even just one with enhanced biological abilities. This snake didn’t just speak. It outwitted and deceived a human who was not yet lost in the bondage and blindness of sin. Subtlety is only a meaningful act when attributed to a rational being. Satan was the real tempter, not the snake.
The serpent spoke first to the woman. There has been some speculation as to why he chose her to be his first victim rather than Adam. It is not stated.
Some suggest that by nature the woman is more easily deceived or persuaded than Adam. Reference is often made to the comment that the wife is to be treated as one would a weaker vessel in 1 Peter 3:7.
1 Peter 3:7 “You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
That text does not say she is a weaker vessel, but speaks about the way she is to be treated. Treat her gently, in an understanding way, like the careful manner in which one would handle a delicate and valuable piece of pottery. Since the woman is placed under the care of the man, it is his duty to treat her with the utmost of understanding and consideration. The caution is descriptive of the manner of care. It is not predicating a condition of weakness or inferiority to her. We should not attempt to use our psychological or sociological theories to impose limits upon how Scripture is to be interpreted: The headship of males over the home and church is not due to any stated superiority either of a physical, mental, or psychological nature. It was to represent the headship of Christ over his people, the church (Ephesians 5:23).
So why did Satan approach her first? Could it be that she was less well acquainted with the ways of God and of the garden since she had been more recently created? Or was she easier to approach since Adam was the representative head of the human race and bore a greater awareness of the implications his lapse would bring? The Scriptures do not explain the choice of Eve by Satan.
The Nature of the Temptation
There’s a shift here from Creator-centered thinking to creature-centered thinking. Satan, by the snake, injected doubt by asking a very crafty question. He asked, “Has God said…?” (3:1) Lies are made to resemble truth by incorporating vocabulary that speaks about God and sounds very careful and analytical, but they are designed to introduce doubt and to undermine the external absolute authority by which truth can be judged. Satan appeals to our weak human desire for self-determination. In the guise of being “fair, neutral, and thorough” he sets out questions to explore reality. But this, in a subtle way, attacks the statements of God’s revealed word.
Satan gave the impression that he only had Eve’s best interests in mind in “helping” her to test this statement of God. By saying that God told her she could not eat from every tree of the garden he implied that God was not very open and liberal enough with his creatures. That he was too strict.
Eve’s reply (3:2-3) indicates a willingness to examine God’s word with a very free interpretation of it, and with her own personal interests at the center. When she restated his permission (3:2), she weakened it by eliminating the intensive “eating you may eat” from 2:16. In re-phrasing the prohibition (3:3) she weakened it by eliminating the intensive “dying you shall die” (2:17). She also added the phrase “or touch it.” But this addition may not be a distortion. The word for “touching” here implies more than physical contact. It means “to take possession” of something. Today we might say “to obtain.”
Satan appears to have succeeded in getting her to willingly think ‘critically’ about what God had said. She had interpreted the Creator’s remarks and had re-worded them. She seems willing to introduce moral ideas modified from those God had spoken. This independency shows a questioning of the intentions of God in his revelation.
Once the mind was turned to operate independently from God’s clear revelation it was time for an absolute denial of revealed truth. Once an imaginary “neutral ground” was established, upon which God’s truth could be judged and evaluated by creaturely standards, error could be promoted. So Satan said (3:4) “you shall not die!” The negative is placed first in the original for emphasis. E. J. Young translates it, “No, it is not true that you shall surely die.” By this direct denial of God’s truth Eve faced a clear choice. She will either believe God or Satan.
Satan also attacked the character of God, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5).
The implication in Satan’s question seems to be that God is jealous of his knowledge. That he doesn’t want them to know what he knows. God is presented as fearing what may happen if man, acting independently of divine control, discovers certain things. There is also an implied magical power in the fruit over which God has no power. Such humanistic and occult concepts deny the sovereign power of God.
Satan also baits the issue with the implication that there is something very precious to be gained, something God wants to keep for himself. The appeal to greed is another common temptation we have always faced as a human race. That which is forbidden is made to seem intriguing, exotic.
Notice how the desire to sin grows in Eve as her inner perceptions are revealed to us; “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 from its fruit and ate…” (3:6)
Satan never actually told her to sin. He never invited her to partake of the fruit. He just raised questions and implied that she was poorly informed, that God is not to be trusted to provide her what is really in her best interests. He led her to desire what was forbidden.
Compare the principle of lust in these two verses:
1 John 2:16 “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and boastful pride of life, is not of the Father, but is from the world.” Then of Eve in Genesis 3:6, “… the woman saw that it was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise…”
Satan appealed to the normal desires God gave us for satisfying our basic needs and recognizing values in life. But the heart of sin is to seek the blessings in ways that subvert the glorifying of the Sovereign Creator-God. The desires for good food, knowledge, even for moral knowledge, are all good things. But it is open rebellion against the Creator to seek them in ways God has not commanded, or in ways he has forbidden.
The sin of Eve does not appear to begin in her actual consumption of the fruit. She did not sin in that she ate something that was poisonous or unfit for eating. It was in that she chose and did what God had forbidden.
We read that Eve ate the forbidden fruit and then gave it to Adam and he also ate of it. Sin entered the human race when he, the designated head of the human race, sinned.
Interesting questions can be raised based on what is not said in the text. We are not interested in adding any information that is not given here. But we often have presumed things about these more familiar stories without realizing it. For example: Where was Adam during Eve’s temptation and sin?
Was he with her during her conversation with the serpent? Was he there when she reasoned over what was said and then lusted to satisfy her desires in ways God had forbidden? Was he there when she actually ate of the fruit? Certainly he was there when she offered it to him.
The only information we have is what is summarized in just one sentence. It says, “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 from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”
The context would allow that he was there during the whole process. It is only an assumption that he was off somewhere else. We cannot say one way or the other as a matter of fact. But we need be careful not to engage in those moralizing sermons about how Adam was a bad husband, off somewhere else when his wife was being tempted. That is speculative and therefore dangerous.
When did Adam and Eve’s sin occur? Was it when they actually ate of the fruit? or did it include their choosing to do so contrary to God’s command? or in the actual desire that preceded the choice, a desire to find satisfaction in ways God had forbidden? The radical moral change took place inwardly before there was any outward act of rebellion.
In this act of defiance many things were going on in the mind of Adam and Eve:
1) They changed their value base.
They started to think that there may be absolute value standards other than what God commands. They assumed they were able to be “neutral” and able to judge God. They were not. They reasoned based on a value system that came from the creature, not from the Creator. They overestimated their own limited wisdom and rational ability.
2) Reasoning from that false value base lead to unexpected consequences.
There were unseen future results: Sin and death were passed on to all of humanity. This was not something they likely expected. There were also unexpected immediate results: They began to base their decisions and judgments upon a false perception of reality. It did not fit the way things really were, the way God had made them. The finite creature cannot adequately perceive things that are eternal, perfect, and infinite.
3) This reasoning lead to sinful choices.
A wrong value system yields wrong choices. They might seem right because the criteria for judgment are part of the same distorted set of values. This is why the revealing of the Creator’s law is a gracious thing. God gives us a fixed standard that does not evolve into something else.
This entering of truth into our system of thought from without means we have an “open” system of truth. In a “closed” system the rules are made up by the user of them. They themselves examine what they accept. It’s by definition untestable and circular in its reasoning.
The eating of the forbidden fruit by our first parents was in itself evidence of an already corrupt nature. The fruit did not cause the corruption. The corruption caused the act of eating.
At what point did the nature of man become bound to sin? This result appears to be a penal act associated with the actual act of defiance.
The important teaching is that in sinning, the nature of Adam and all his posterity became fallen, spiritually dead, separated from God’s fellowship, bound to the mastery of sin, and condemned for all eternity.
The Results of the Fall Genesis 3:7-24
There’s a dramatic contrast between the life of humans before and after their fall into sin. Before the fall they were walking in fellowship with God, and seeing his glory displayed all around them. After the fall they were fearful, confused, and looked for a hiding place in God’s garden.
Their eyes were opened
In his temptation Satan had promised that in the day they ate from the forbidden tree their eyes would be opened, that they would be like God knowing good and evil (3:5).
Something was terribly wrong.
Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”
Hidden in Satan’s words was something the humans did not count on, something not explained by the serpent. The substance of the truth was different than what was implied in what Satan said.
Satan is a deceiver. In battle one should not presume that the enemy’s words are open and honest. Satan is called the “Father of lies” by Jesus in John 8:44. Paul warns thousands of years after the fall, that we must not be “ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11).
What did they see now they had not seen before?
It is obvious, from the ordinary rules of literature (the literal interpretation of the passage) that the seeing with the eyes spoken of here is the common symbol for perception of something in the mind. They perceived something now they had not perceived before.
It points out that now they knew that they were naked. There was certainly nothing new in their nudity. They had been unclothed from the beginning. But now, their nakedness caused them to be afraid when God approached (3:10).
Their perception of things had changed. Before the fall they saw creation as it really was. They perceived it as the work of God. They knew that all was his and was made for his glory. Their naked bodies were not seen then as something shameful or a cause for fear as God approached.
After the fall they began to see creation from a “false standpoint” (as E.J. Young put it). Sin had corrupted them so that they were now an offense to a perfectly holy God and could no longer stand in union with him spiritually. Therefore their perception of everything changed. They had become confused about the real nature of creation. They began to exalt the creature over the Creator. It began when they, mere creatures, started to judge the warnings and commandments of God. Now their natural bodies were no longer perceived as declaring the glory of God. They had become, as they now saw them, mere physical objects. They suppressed the revelatory message in them.
They sewed fig leaves together to make coverings (literally: loin coverings, girdles). Man’s first recorded act after the fall was to try to cover up the evidence of what he had done. To attempt to hide things from God is obviously a foolish effort, yet it was their choice course of action. Fallen man always tries to cover up his sin. Paul writes about fallen hearts, “… their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending themselves.” (Romans 2:15).
Fallen man attempts to settle his guilt feelings by either accusing others (shifting the blame), or else defending himself (making excuses for his sin). He develops a plan to deal with guilt on his own. He comes up with a religion of his own efforts. He made something he thought would work in hiding his offense from God. There is no religion of grace alone other than Christianity.
They tried to hide from God
Genesis 3:8, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
The fallen humans heard God walking in the garden. But God is Spirit. How can a spirit walk in a garden and make noise? God often appeared in physical manifestations in Scripture. The term we use for such appearances is “Theophany.” It is a combination of the Greek words theos (God) and phanerosis (disclosure, manifestation).
Such manifestations were accommodations to man, so that the Creator could speak and make things known with his creatures by the senses he had given them. It was a gracious appearance. There was no necessity for God to speak to these fallen, morally offensive creatures, other than the necessity brought about by his own eternal desires and decree.
Before the fall the sound of God manifesting himself in the garden was exciting and full of joy. It meant that God had come to speak with them, to fellowship with them, to provide for and to bless them.
But after the fall it was a cause for fear. Man now faced his Creator, the Sovereign Holy God, as a guilty fallen creature separated spiritually from him by moral corruption. He was now at enmity with God.
How did they try to solve this crisis? First they made aprons, now they attempted to hide from God among the trees God had made and given them charge to oversee.
Fallen man’s own religion, his attempt to approach God, is always synthetic, put together from his own creative mind. It is designed to replace the lost approach to God which requires perfect holiness. Adam and Eve were obviously aware that God would not be pleased with what had taken place, with their new condition.
Fallen man runs from God in a futile effort to escape his notice and lordship. Jonah ran from God. Men in all ages live with secrets as if their sin can be hidden, kept unnoticed.
The futility of their efforts makes the scene absurd. They were hiding in God’s own garden, behind the very trees God made and planted! How foolish.
Psalm 139:7 “Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?”
Psalm 139:12 “Even the darkness is not dark to Thee…”
These words are a comfort to the child of God’s Covenant, but a terror to those who dare to stand on their own merits. E. J. Young observes, “Man was to have been the protector of the garden: now he desires the garden to protect him.”
“Where ever we go, we are in God’s land.
What ever we hold, is also in his hand.
What ever we shape to make for our use,
with all that we grow, and with every abuse,
we partake of creation, the work of His hand.
May God, for his glory, make us understand.”
(Bob Burridge 1988)
God Called to Adam
Genesis 3:9, Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
God, the Creator did not abandon the creature he made in his image. That was not his purpose in creating man and in the decree of the fall. Displaying his mercy, he sought out the one who had sinned against him. There was no obligation external to God that would compel him to seek out fallen man. It was his own plan, his own decree, that moved him.
God came to Adam, the one He made to be the head of the human race. It was time for him to give account of his failed duty before the Lord of lords.
When God asked, “Where are you?” it certainly did not reflect ignorance of Adam’s location. God knows all things perfectly. It was a call to fallen man to come to the God to whom he is answerable, and to show himself.
Man Admitted his Fear
Genesis 3:10, He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
Adam admitted that he attempted to hide himself when he heard God in the garden. He admitted his fear. He now saw God as a threat instead of as a blessing, they way he had seen Him before the sin. He cited his nakedness as the cause of his fear. Yet he had been naked before the fall. The difference again appears in man’s new perception of himself as offensive to God due to the obscuring of the pouring forth of the Creator’s glory from his body as a part of natural revelation (Psalm 19:1-4). Now he saw his body as a mere physical object and suppressed the information it spoke concerning its Maker’s power and nature (Rom 1:20).
Satan seemed to promise that by eating of the fruit man would gain a degree of freedom from God, that man would be like god, to be more of his own lord. But instead, his sin enslaved him to fear and shame. Nature took on a starkness that no longer was seen in conjunction with the revelation God had put in it. His body was now perceived as something to be hidden.
But man still had much more to learn. So God continued with still another question to Adam.
God Asked a Second Question
Genesis 3:11a, And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? …”
There were not that many persons to consider at the time. Where did Adam get this idea that his nakedness needed to be hidden? Why did he now perceive that his unclothed body was something to be considered shameful? That was the question God wanted Adam to consider. Looking to the source of knowledge is always important.
NOTE: Remember from our earlier study that the Hebrew root words for “nakedness” and “shame” are related. The root is aram (ערם). The various uses of this root word are differentiated in this passage by vowel and ending inflections only.
|“sly, cunning, crafty.”
|“nakedness, a shameful thing”
A different word was used in 2:25 (“but they were not ashamed”)
|“ashamed, disappointed, deceived, confounded”
God’s Third Question
Genesis 3:11b, “… Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Again, God asked a question not for information, but to confront Adam with the situation. He asked him if he had eaten from the forbidden tree. The proper answer would have been a simple, honest confession of the truth. But that’s not how the fallen couple answered. Blame was passed around.
Adam blamed Eve
Genesis 3:12, The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”
There was no repentance or true confession shown. The common response of the fallen heart when confronted with his guilt and sin is to shift the blame elsewhere accusing others, or to make up a defense for the sinful act itself.
Romans 2:15 “in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them”
His excuse was not even a good defense. Entrapment is difficult to defend as a reason for an immoral act. Just because Eve gave the fruit to him in no way excuses his choice to eat it. In letting her lead him into rebellion against God, Adam had abdicated his headship over Eve. He failed to exercise responsible and loving leadership in his home. The woman was made to be a helper suitable for him. She too had abandoned her creation mandate.
Sin almost always has domestic consequences. When we sin it affects our home, our marriage. The abandonment of the proper duties of husband and wife made way for sin. That sin turned Adam against his wife to blame her for his transgression of God’s law.
The first step in healing any marital problem is to restore each party individually to a proper walk with the Lord. Sin drives a wedge between husband and wife. If that sin is not properly admitted and dealt with individually, the counseling session becomes a time of either finding blame in others or in circumstances, or finding excuses for the sin as if it was not really bad in the particular situation.
Implied in Adam’s response was something even more offensive. He seemed to say that God was partly at fault for having given the woman to him in the first place. This is another principle we commonly see active in the fallen heart. Man takes the blessing God gives and perverts his relationship with it so that it no longer reveals God’s goodness. Instead it reveals God’s justice. In some cases God uses this perversion as a means of revealing his mercy and grace when he forgives and restores such undeserving people. But even though evil is always used for the greater good of revealing some part of God’s nature, it is not excused.
Today our legal system preserves and formalizes this principle of the fallen heart. Trivial lawsuits are often filed against people and organizations as a result of the tragic consequences of a person’s own irresponsibility. The system is blamed or the manufacturer of the things man sinfully or carelessly abuses.
Adam made a sadly qualified confession. The word “confess” (1 John 1:9 Greek = homologeo “ὁμολογέω”) simply means to “say along with”. That is, to agree with the truth of something, particularly the moral guilt of some act or condition. Adam admitted he ate of the forbidden fruit, but made no admission of any guilt.
Eve blamed the serpent
Genesis 3:15, Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
It is true that Satan, by the serpent, deceived her (1 Corinthians 11:3). But God had already given her sufficient revelation that should have been obeyed. It was her decision that led her to sin. She alone lusted for things God had forbidden. It was Eve who had presumed to stand in judgment over what God had commanded. Satan never directly told her to sin. He did not force her to do anything against what she freely chose to do. Eve was not coerced by anything outside of herself, therefore in that sense she acted freely. This does not mean that she was free to change or violate God’s eternal and comprehensive decree of what would happen. No being can ever do that. It would be a contradiction of the nature of reality if such a thing would be possible.
Sin is never as rewarding as we expect it to be.
This principle was shown in the wisdom of Moses when he chose to trust the promises and character of God above the rich enticements offered to him by the pagan life-style of Egypt: Hebrews 11:25 “choosing rather to endure the ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”
Adam and Eve learned this principle in the results of their sinful act. There eyes were opened, but they didn’t like what they saw. With opened eyes they now saw a perverted world. The glory of the Creator, which they formerly enjoyed constantly, had become distorted in all things. Instead of seeing all things as they relate to God’s sovereign glory, they saw things as they assumed they could be used to satisfy man in ways independent of what pleases God.
God’s Law had been broken. The holiness of God is an eternal and unchangeable attribute which demands a particular penalty for sin. That is the principle of all justice. God therefore must respond to sin in a just manner if he is to be self-consistent.
Nahum 1:3 “the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished”
Habakkuk 1:13 “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil…”
Deuteronomy 27:26 “Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them”
The wrath of God is his necessary response to sin. Sadly a modern heresy has arisen which implies that when God forgives us for sin he simply sets it aside and forgets about it. They define justification in simplistic terms saying that it’s “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned. While the words have a similar sound they do not define justification. Our sins are not simply set aside as if God experiences a sanctified amnesia. Our sins are paid for with an awesome price, the death of our Savior in place of the sinner.
Isaiah 53:4-6 “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried…The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.”
The curse that is the result of sin must be pronounced by the Holy Judge. Justice must be done now that the covenant the Creator bestowed upon man had been violated.
The curse upon the Serpent :14-15
Genesis 3:14-15, The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
One might well ask, “Why curse a snake?” The animal was only a pawn in this transaction, not the actual tempter. We have seen that it was Satan who embodied and moved this animal in the temptation.
But there is Scriptural justification for holding the instrument responsible for the moral actions produced by it. In the law of God, which is a revelation of moral principles, animals involved in crimes were to be put to death.
Exodus 21:28-29 “if an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring, and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.”
In this case, the serpent was instrumental in the spiritual death of mankind. His curse also represented the eternal humiliation of Satan which is yet to come in its final state. The real tempter will be eternally condemned at the final judgment at the time of Christ’s return. He will be humbled and cursed forever. The nature of the curse upon the serpent demonstrates this humiliation
The snake is cursed from the other beasts. The term “beasts” is general so that it includes many biological kinds. This curse is not common to all animals but to this particular “kind” of animal.
His crawling on his belly was to depict the humiliation of God’s judgment. Does this mean that snakes got around some other way before the curse? There is no indication that this is what the text means. For example circumcision was a procedure practiced long before it became a covenant sign in the time of Abraham. Rainbows likely existed before the flood but were not given their covenantal meaning until the promise of God was revealed to Noah. There are many such examples in Scripture that show how wrong it is to presume that when a covenantal meaning is attached to something that the thing itself didn’t exist prior to the pronouncement. This curse on his way of locomotion remains symbolic of that which is cursed of God. Leviticus 11:42 “Whatever crawls on its belly … they are detestable.”
The snake was cursed in that it shall eat dust. This is not necessarily a reference to its food or means of nourishment. This was a common literary expression of deep humiliation. We see God’s word employ it that way in several places when speaking of enemies conquered by God’s power.
Psalm 72:9 “Let the nomads of the desert bow before him; and his enemies lick the dust.”
Isaiah 49:23 speaks of the exalting of the People of God over her enemies who, “… will bow down to you with their faces to the earth, and lick the dust of your feet…”
Micah 7:17 speaks of the heathen nations saying, “they shall lick the dust like a serpent”
The Promise of Conquest 3:15
The consequences of the fall of man in Eden tell us about God’s Justice, Mercy, and Grace. In this next part of the curse the symbolism falls away and we see a curse that can only refer to the evil person who moved the snake in the temptation, Satan. He struck out against God and, now in defeat, he is cursed.
There will be “enmity” between Satan and his seed and the woman and her seed. The seed includes all those who in their nature and kind take after both Satan and the woman. The descendants of the woman will be at odds with the sons of Satan, his followers, and disciples. It is not a commanded hatred as if he said “these shall be at enmity.” But it is a recognition of a relationship that will be present. Satan is out to destroy mankind and mankind hates to be destroyed. But in his perversion of all things true and good, the fallen heart misconstrues the cause of that hostility. He doesn’t like the law of God because it condemns him. He loves the ways of Satan because they appeal to his corrupted nature.
In this curse a transformation is announced. All isn’t lost. In redemption, the enmity, hostility, which sin brought between man and God is going to be turned around to exist between humans and the source of evil.
There is a veiled hint here of what God would one day reveal more specifically. The seed of a woman would eventually deliver a mortal blow to the seed of Satan. That seed of the woman is, in the most direct sense, all those who would descend from Eve. More specifically it is the kingdom of God representing his chosen seed from among the human race. Their crushing of the head of the serpent is only possible by the victory of one particular seed of a woman, Jesus who is the Christ, the promised Messiah. Those redeemed by him are engaged in the crushing of Satan.
Romans 16:20 “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
In this verse the Apostle Paul uses the plural form of the word “your” meaning the believers who were reading his letter. We are conquerors of Satan together with Christ in his victory over sin. The Messiah paid the penalty of sin in full for his people and, by the regenerating power seen in their restoration, they become his seed and army.
Why does it say that Christ through his people will destroy Satan’s seed rather than destroy Satan himself? The battle is not waged against just an invisible spiritual enemy. It is fought against all who are of his illusionary and deceptive kingdom, all of fallen mankind. Jesus identified the corrupted Pharisees as sons of their father, Satan. They are among his seed (John 8:44).
The most complete fulfillment of this principle is seen in the final judgment and condemnation of Satan himself at the cross and, by application, in the final judgment at the return of Christ. It is because of his victory over sin and death that the church is enabled to be the tool of God in battling sin and crushing Satan’s forces in their daily work.
The curse upon the Woman
Genesis 3:16, To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”
God directs his judicial curse upon the woman who was the one who first sinned. Her curse has two parts.
First God announces the sorrow and pain that accompanies childbirth. The text uses an intensive form by repeating the verb. Literally it says, “making great I will make great” which is often translated “surely I will make great.” That which is made great is her pain in “childbirth”. The word there means “conception, or pregnancy” (הרה “harah”), and the painful bringing forth of children.
Its not a part of the curse that the woman would bring forth children. That was announced as a part of the original creation order before the fall into sin took place (Genesis 1:28). Childbirth is also implied in Genesis 2:24 when it mentions leaving “father and mother” when two are united in marriage.
The curse has to do with the great pain the woman would endure in the process of carrying out the creation duty of bearing children. This is to be a judicial reminder of the horrors of the first woman’s sin. Some suggest that “bringing forth” children is more than just giving birth, but may include the whole process of raising them until they pass into adulthood.
The second part of the curse is domestic. Her desire will be toward her husband. The Hebrew word translated “her desire” is teshuqah (תּשׁוּקה). It is a feminine substantive constructed from the root shuq (שׁוּק). This ancient expression is not easy to understand. The root verb relates to something being abundant, or overflowing with supply. This feminine noun made out of it seems to relate to a “longing” or “desire”. We can only understand this ancient expression by how was used at that time. The root verb relates to something being “abundant”, or “overflowing” with supply. This feminine noun derived from it seems to relate to a “longing” or “desire”.
It is found in three places in Scripture:
Genesis 3:16 where the woman’s “desire” will be to her husband.
Genesis 4:7 where temptation is presented in the figure of sin crouching at the door waiting with “desire” to devour a person.
Song of Solomon 7:10 where the woman speaks of her man’s “desire” for her.
In these two other occurrences it appears that “a strong craving” best fits the context.
There are different ways commentators interpreting this phrase. Some take it as simply stating how a woman’s desires are to be in subjection to her husband. Others understand it to mean the she will have a strong desire for, or a yearning toward him. These are not conflicting or mutually exclusive ideas. It’s not a matter of choosing between the two ideas but as to which is the dominant meaning here.
As part of the curse it fits best to see this as a recurring struggle. A tension arises because God’s created and decreed order is violated or diminished in importance. There are several ways in which that order is violated.
- Men often abuse their headship. They turn it into domination over their wife for personal advantage, instead of out of love for her and for God whose loving care and authority he is to represent.
- Men sometimes abdicate their headship. They fail to take up the responsibilities of protecting, teaching, and providing for their families.
- Woman often abdicate their subjection, and crave or usurp her husband’s headship. They refuse to be supportive and respectful of the responsibilities God has given to him.
- Women sometimes abuse their subjection leaving her husband and others to carry out her God-given responsibilities in the home.
In the fall itself the male/female role was disrupted when Adam failed to lead Eve in God’s ways when she offered him the forbidden fruit. If he was present when she was tempted, then Adam failed in loving leadership by not preventing her from sinning. Eve took the headship over Adam in leading him into sin. Therefore it is understandable that the curse should reflect the struggle of their damaged relationship. It would continue to influence the posterity of the first parents. In our era it continues to produce tension between the sexes. This is addressed often in Scripture, and is the root of many problems that touch families and churches today.
Perfect domestic tranquility ended in the fall. This has yielded conflicts of desires which can only be resolved rightly under responsible and loving male headship for those redeemed by the restorative work of Christ, and who are growing spiritually by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
The curse upon the Man & the Earth
Genesis 3:17-19, Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”
The Hebrew word a-dam (אדם) has been used already in this first part of Genesis for “man.” Here it is used without the definite article as a proper name, Adam.
The curse is founded upon two acts of the man. First it mentions his listening to his wife. No sin is implied in the physical act of listening. The listening here includes the idea of heeding what she unwisely said. In doing that he abdicated his spiritual responsibility of godly leadership over her. His second act was in following the rebellious lead of his wife. He ate the fruit. Though Adam blamed her for giving him the fruit, God made it clear that it was he who had followed her suggestion and had actually eaten the fruit.
The curse is directed against the ground which brings forth man’s provisions. Adam had already been given the mandate of dominion over God’s creation. He was to till the earth and to bring forth food and all his provisions (2:15). Labor was to be a blessed employment in the service of God. Therefore the curse was not the imposition of work, but of the struggle to exercise responsible dominion in the fallen estate.
That which was made to be dominated by man now will be perceived as something to struggle with and to fight against as if it now resisted man’s dominion even as man had resisted the supreme dominion of his Creator. In their desire to be “like god” they found out something of the rebellion they themselves had directed against the one they were to serve.
Man will now have to sense the frustrations of thorns and thistles in his work of bringing forth daily provisions from the earth. His bread (lechem “לחם”, a word used generally for “food”) will come only by the “sweat of nostrils” (aph “אף” – “nostril, nose, face, anger”).
He will work hard through frustrations to get his food. Then he will then die and return to the earth from which he had been created. It is interesting to note that Jesus in making atonement for man’s sins, providing redemption from the curse, providentially wore a crown of thorns – the very symbol of the curse itself.
Our labor is a reminder to us of our creation purpose.
We were created in the image of God. An image represents something greater than itself. This form we exist in is part of God’s natural revelation to us. It is our duty and privilege as humans to display the attributes of God’s character (though imperfectly) in a way beyond what has been designed for the rest of creation. We are called upon to strive for perfection in our being, wisdom, holiness, goodness, and truth.
As custodians of creation, we display God’s own sovereign dominion over all things. Our dominion duty is to bring all things into subjection to the Creator’s revealed principles. Each person, in his own area of daily work, is to bring that part of creation over which he has custodianship into conformity with what pleases God.
Our labor also reminds us of the curse upon our sin as we struggle, and as we experience frustrations in our daily work. The thorns and thistles of daily labor keep our need for redemption before us.
Labor also reminds us of the Covenant of Grace. Though cursed, man is still enabled to work as overseer of the natural world. It is God in his mercy who calls us to our field of service, enables us to work, and provides the increase. To God alone is to be given all praise and glory.
God did not leave mankind to struggle under the curse forever. Beyond his general mercies God also reached out in grace to redeem a people for himself. We live in a special age where we know the means of that redemption in the atoning work of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Life in exile from Eden
Genesis 3:20-24, Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
Adam called the woman Khav-VAH (חוּה) which appears related to the root word khai (חי) which means “life”. So it is rendered “Eve” in most English translations. The form of the root is one which customarily indicates a person’s occupation. (“one who gives life”). So while the word that identifies her as “woman” is Ish-shah (אשּׁה), her proper name is Khav-VAH.
She is given this name because she “was the mother of all living.” This is possibly a Mosaic comment rather than a continuing of the quote of God in pronouncing the curse. In either case it is the inspired word of God explaining the name given to the first woman.
In spite of the rebellion in sin and the guilt of the fallen soul of mankind, God, in his mercy and to exercise his grace toward his chosen ones, would allow humans not only to continue their work of dominion, but also to proceed in multiplying and filling the earth.
Man had attempted to provide his own covering over his nakedness. It appears to have been rejected for its inadequacy. In place of the works of man to cover his own shame, God provided a covering of animal skins (3:21). The significance of this is not directly explained at this point in redemptive history. Adam and Eve would not have been able to appreciate all the implications of what God was revealing at that moment. But they may have been told more than what was recorded here in Moses’ account. There are some things which appear to be understood by them in the next few chapters of Scripture which are much later explicitly recorded for us as God’s truth was progressively revealed and inscripturated.
First, it is obvious that God intends to provide a covering for sin and shame. Man’s own attempt to cover his offense failed and was of no value beyond obscuring the outward evidences visible to human eyes.
Second, it appears that an animal died to provide the skins. On the one hand this shows that man still has dominion over all the rest of creation and is to continue to use natural resources for his own provisions. But there seems to be much more here. We are later told that without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin (Hebrews 9:22). Since the blood of animals itself can not remove sin (Hebrews 10:4) the principle of representation of one for another appears to be present by way of incipient revelation.
The word “atonement” basically means “to cover.” In this case the covering over the evident shame produced by sin is provided though the death of an animal. Animals were sacrificed and their blood shed to depict the coming provision of the Messiah who would actually make atonement for the sins of God’s people.
The great deception of modern religion is more than its denial that there is actual sin, and more that its denial that some kind of god exists. Its error is that forgiveness can take place by man’s efforts, intentions, or choices without the necessity of atonement by a perfect substitute, Jesus Christ.
God also recognized a change in man’s knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 3:22, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil …”
The use of the plural of self-reference by God that the man has become “like one of us” does not fit the Hebrew idiom of the “majestic plural.” Therefore it does appear to be an illusion to the later revealed concept of the Trinity.
How is it that by sin man came to know good and evil in a way analogous to God’s knowledge of the same? Every analogy has its areas of similarity and of difference. Otherwise the thing represented would not be distinct from that depicting it. It would cease to be an analogy. It would become an “identity”.
We are told that the first humans became “as God” with respect to knowing good and evil. This does not mean they came to know these things in the same way that God knows them. The Creator sees their mutual purpose perfectly and knowing all about them infinitely. Yet there is obviously some greater extent to which, after the fall, man’s awareness of good and evil became more analogous to God’s knowledge of the same.
God defines good. It’s what promotes his holiness and flows from the divine nature enabling secondary agents to purpose and to act in ways that please God morally.
Evil is a negation of good. God knows the horror and offense of evil. Evil is that which reveals the wrath and justice of God to creation, a part of ethical reality man did not understand well until after the fall.
Mercy is that display of goodness which was not appreciated until man was promised undeserved deliverance from his fallen estate. In the fall, man became more aware of the ethical realities displaying the character of God. Therefore he came to know good and evil in a manner that was more closely analogous to the way God knows them.
It must also be born in mind that until regeneration of the fallen soul, every human individual will pervert that newly acquired knowledge so that he loves evil and hates the good. The display of God’s attributes which is there to glorify the Creator is misinterpreted into a display of man’s works that glorify the creature over the Creator.
Barring from tree of life
Genesis 3:22-23, 22. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.
The concept of the Tree of Life’s sacramental significance gains support in the excluding of man from partaking of the tree after the fall. It is always considered sinful to wrongly partake of that which God sets aside to represent our union with him. Life is primarily viewed as a union in Scripture and death as a separation. Being separated from God by spiritual death, man must no longer partake of that former symbol of his unspoiled union which he knew before the fall.
A sacrament is defined under the new administration of the covenant in this way in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 92 which reads, “A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”
In preserving the elements of that definition and extending the principle to apply more broadly to all administrations of God’s grace to his people, even in Eden, we might modify that to read, “A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by God; wherein, by sensible signs, the benefits of God’s covenant are represented, sealed and applied to believers.”
In each period of redemptive history this would be dispensed differently as both the covenant, and the degree to which it is fulfilled, are represented, sealed and applied.
In Eden prior to the fall, before the need for a Redeemer became evident, and under the Creation Covenant commonly called the “Covenant of Works”, those in union with God by trusting in him wholly (having true faith) showed their union by partaking of the Tree of Life.
During the period after the fall until the death of the Messiah those in union with God in the older administration of the Covenant of Grace by trusting in God’s provision wholly (having true faith), showed their union by animal sacrifices which depicted the coming Christ. Most particularly that is seen in the Passover.
After the completion of the work of Christ, in this present administration of the Covenant of Grace, those trusting wholly in God’s provision in Christ (having true faith) show their union by partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
In Glory, after the final judgment and glorification, those in union with God will again display that union by a restored access to the Tree of Life. They will again be fully purged of sin and once more qualified for this most pure of all sacraments. Revelation 2:7 “…to him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”
People are always forbidden to partake of the sacramental elements wrongly. Under the old administration of the Covenant of Grace the prophet warned, echoing the early warnings of Moses,
Isaiah 1:11-13 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats … Bring your worthless offerings no longer, their incense is an abomination to Me…”
In our era of redemptive history the Apostle Paul warns the church in a similar manner, 1 Corinthians 11:29 “he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.”
Given this model for the Tree of Life, it is clear that Adam and Eve ought to no longer partake of the sacramental fruit. They no longer belonged in the garden which itself represented that original holy union and fellowship of man with the Creator.
Cherubim guard the entry
Genesis 3:24, So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
The identity of these creatures has been debated among scholars of Scripture. Some take them as purely symbolic literary devices, while others see them as real beings. Since they are spoken of as agents of God it is unsafe to consider them as mere literary symbols without compelling evidence to do so.
The term used here is Ha Ke-ru-VIM (הכרבים) “the cherubim”. This is the plural form of Ke-ruv (כּרוּב), often rendered as “cherub” in English. They are presented as created life forms alien to our world. It is likely that they, like the angels of which they are often considered a sub-class, usually exist above the dimensions in which we move. At times they are manifested in forms which communicate their divine duties to man by the ordinary senses.
Their employment here is as part of the manifest presence of God in keeping fallen mankind out of Eden. They, along with a flaming sword which appeared to turn with constant motion in every direction, represented God’s vigilant presence to prevent any violation of the ban on their entrance.
These Cherubim were stationed on the East of Eden. This seems to indicate that the humans were expelled and sent away in that direction.
How long did the Cherubim and the sword remain at the entrance to Eden? How long did Eden remain as a physical location on earth? These are unknown. Is Eden still around? and if so where is it? These are more the concerns of fiction than of any importance to us. God obviously intended for Eden to become but a memory and a lesson to us, not for it to become a legendary land to be searched for and visited.
All we know of the location of Eden is what is given in Genesis 2:10-14. It was at the source of four rivers: The Pishon which flowed around the land of Havilah, a land of gold, bdellium, and onyx stone. This has caused some to associate this with India.
The next is the Gihon which flowed around the land of Cush. Some associate this with the Nile, since after the time of Noah Egypt was known as the land of Cush.
Then there was the Hiddekel which flowed East of Assyria (Ashshur). It is often associated with the Tigris River. Finally it mentions the Euphrates (the Perat).
The problem with all these conjectures is that we have no idea of the geography of the earth prior to the great flood of the time of Noah. The surface features which determine rivers may have been very different, and we have no idea that Noah’s ark settled down after the flood any where near the place where civilization had grown up prior to that time.
Old names would have been carried with Noah and his family. As rivers and mountains were named, they would likely have use names they had been familiar with before the flood.
Eden is lost. Its message lives on in God’s Word. Its events and lessons effect us all.
(Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.)