The first two chapters of Genesis are two accounts of God creating the heavens and the earth. In the first, he formed the creation and then populated it, calling it very good. And, at the end of the creative week, he made humans in his image and commissioned them to rule over the other living creatures as his vice-regent. In the second account, God formed a man and placed him in a garden as its caretaker. In the center of the garden were two trees, one of which was forbidden to the man. God formed a woman out of the man as his helper. And all was good in the world. Alas, it was not to last. Chapter 3 looks at the fall of man and his exile from the garden.
In brief, this chapter opens with an introduction to another character in the story; the serpent. This serpent challenged the woman concerning God’s directive about the forbidden tree and claimed that God was lying to them. They would not die when they eat from it. God was just trying to hold them back from reaching their potential. He knew that when they ate from that tree, they would be like God.
The woman was convinced, took from the tree, and ate. Then she gave it to the man, and he also ate. When they did, suddenly, they realized they were naked and made fig coverings for themselves. Soon, God came walking in the garden to meet with them, and they hid. They were not like God now. Instead, they were ashamed to be with him.
After God asked them if they had eaten from the forbidden tree, they confessed they had, although they did not accept responsibility for their action. As a result, each of the three participants in this drama was notified of the consequences of their actions. The man and woman are driven from the garden. And a guard was then placed at the entrance to the garden to prevent access to the Tree of Life.
So who is this serpent that is introduced at the beginning of this chapter? The only description of it given here is that it is very crafty, and it can talk. It was also clearly seeking to cause a division between God and humanity. This serpent is typically associated with Satan. But many also see it as an actual snake. A snake that could talk. And, based on its curse, a snake that could walk.
I think it is a mistake to identify the Serpent in this story with an actual snake. Revelation 12:9, in describing the dragon, calls him “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. It seems highly probable then that Satan was able to as well (Ezek. 28:13). And what is described could be his moment of rebellion. And the curse inflicted on him is his expulsion from heaven as described in Revelation 12:7-9, and possibly in Isaiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 28:17.
Regardless of who, or what, you understand the serpent to be, it is clearly seeking to disrupt life in the garden and the harmony between God and the humans he has charged with caring for the garden and ruling over the earth. The serpent, however, did not force Eve, and then Adam, to eat from the forbidden tree. That was a choice they made for themselves. What the serpent did was sow doubt in their minds. And then watch that seed germinate and sprout into disobedience.
The Nature of the Temptation
The serpent’s words to Eve seem designed to cause Eve to doubt that God was acting in her best interest. That God’s forbidding her from eating that fruit was intended to stifle her potential, keeping her under God’s rule. Eating that fruit would make her God’s equal. And that appealed to Eve.
Eve looked at the fruit and saw that it “was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). So she took some, ate it, and passed it on to Adam, who also ate the fruit. The appeal was to her physical appetite, to her desire to possess, and to her ambition. The same temptations that we find in our world today. Eve was really no different than we are now in that respect.
But at the heart of this was the desire to take charge of her own life. To define right and wrong for herself, rather than accepting what God told her. She rejected God’s definition of what was wrong, eating the fruit, and decided it was wrong not to eat it. And this defines the history of humanity. We reject the authority of the creator in our lives, And become our own authority, defining right and wrong for ourselves. Doing what we find pleasing and appealing.
Aware of Their Nakedness
In this account, nakedness, with no shame, equates to innocence. This was the initial condition of Adam and Eve in the garden. We use clothes today for several reasons. The first is to protect us from the climate we live in, especially the cold. And we often use clothes as fashion accessories.
But the more important reason is for protection. What I look like naked is probably no secret to any adult human. You would think that marching around in public without clothes on would be no big deal. Yet I would be ashamed to do it. And those I encounter would mostly either laugh at me or avert their faces to avoid looking at me. And for a woman to do it would be even worse. She would risk physical and sexual assault.
You might argue that this is simply a social taboo brought on by our repressive religious culture. Yet nearly every culture, with the exception of a few isolated tribal communities, has this prohibition against public nakedness. And, given this story in Genesis 3, we can understand the shame of nakedness to be a consequence of the fall. And a very real reminder that we are not currently what God created us to be.
Passing the Buck
When Adam, and then Eve, were confronted by God with their disobedience, they did what we commonly do today. They attempted to blame someone else. Adam blamed God and the woman he had given to Adam. And Eve blamed the serpent. There is no record of the serpent trying to blame anyone. But I could easily see him blaming God for creating such easily manipulated creatures.
I suspect the consequences of their disobedience would have been the same if they had owned up to what they did. But their natural inclination, after the fall, was to try and avoid responsibility. The story does not tell us, but I believe that this failure to accept responsibility was just as much a result of the fall as was their shame over their nakedness.
When we attempt to put ourselves in the place of God, replacing his standards with our own, we should be willing to accept the responsibility for it. But that seldom seems to be the case. There are some who do accept that responsibility. But as a whole, humanity wants to be its own god. But without facing up to our failures.
Suffering the Consequences
Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” And this is very true here as well. Adam, Eve, and the serpent all rebelled against God’s authority, essentially mocking God. And they ended up reaping the consequences of their rebellion.
The serpent was cursed by God because of the part he played in this drama. The picture here is of a creature that was once a respected member of the animal kingdom but is now cursed to be the lowest of all animals. But if the serpent is to be understood as Satan in this account, then the picture here is even more dramatic. Ezekiel 28:11-19 would seem to address this ‘curse’ from the perspective of it being the entity we have come to know as Satan.
To the woman, she is told that her pain would be increased during childbirth. And that her relationship with her husband would be changed. No longer, it seems, would they stand together on equal footing. Instead, she would now be under his rule. It seems common to see this as God mandating the adjustment in their relationship. But it seems possible that rather than a mandated change, it was simply an observation of the change that would occur. Nevertheless, even during the New Testament time, Paul looks back at this as his rationale for women to be in a submissive position to men.
Adam’s punishment was to have the ground cursed. No longer would the ground produce abundantly for him. Now he would have to work hard to reap its bounty. Adam had been living in Eden, the garden of God. A garden that had abundant fruit always available for him. But Adam was removed from the garden, and his work became much more of a burden to him.
A Messianic Prophecy
As a part of the serpent’s curse, there is what many have understood to be a look ahead at the coming struggle between humanity and the serpent. There will be enmity between the two throughout history. The seed of the woman is the rest of humanity. The seed of the serpent is a bit more challenging. But likely, it refers to those who are following his ways. In John 8:44, Jesus accused the Jewish religious leaders of being of the father, the Devil.
But this is about more than just an ongoing struggle between the people of God and those who follow Satan. In the end, God says that the serpent will strike the heel of the woman’s seed. And the woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head. Here, the woman’s seed is not all of those descending from her. Paul, in Galatians 3:16, helps us to understand who this seed is. That passage is referring to the seed of Abraham rather than Eve. But he makes the case that the singular ‘seed’ is a reference to Christ.
So what we see, at the beginning of this struggle, is how it will end. The serpent will strike at Christ, putting him to death. But in doing so, he seals his own doom. In his death and resurrection, Christ defeated Satan and redeemed those who have been under his sway throughout human history.
Exiled from the Garden
In the second chapter of Genesis, we were told that there were two special trees planted in the center of the garden. This chapter has mostly been about the consequences of eating from the one that was forbidden to them, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They are told that when they eat from this tree, they will die.
The second tree in the garden is the Tree of Life. The account does not tell us if they had previously eaten from this tree. But they were banished from the garden to prevent them from eating from it in the future. Eating from that tree would allow them to live forever. It is unclear to me if one meal from the tree would give immortality. Or if it required a steady diet. But regardless, God drove Adam and Eve from the garden to prevent their access to the tree. And placed a guard on the entrance to the garden.
And that is the condition humanity finds itself in now. Exiled from the garden and the presence of God. Access to the Tree of Life denied. Living in a fallen world, and yearning for a return to Eden. That is the world that Jesus, the seed of the woman, was born into. He defeated the serpent and opened a way to return to Eden. He is the door, and all who enter through him find life eternal, and the promise of being a part of a new creation.
Adam was told that when he ate from the fruit of the forbidden tree that he would die. And Paul, in Romans 5:12, tells us that death entered into the world through sin. Because of this, it is common to believe that if not for the fall, there would be no death. But is that really the case?
Paul’s discussion in Romans 5 contrasts the death that came with Adam’s sin with the life that came through Christ’s obedience. The life that Christ brings is spiritual life. A life connected to our creator. So it would really make more sense, at least to me, to see the death that came through sin as also being of a spiritual nature. Separation from the life of our creator.
And that is what Adam experienced as he was driven from the garden. The life he had in the presence of God was gone. In that sense, he had died. Adam eventually also died physically. But the greater death, and I believed the death that came from his disobedience, had to do with his relationship with God.
Would physical death have occurred without the fall? I believe that death was a part of God’s good creation. It is a natural part of life. But the question is really unanswerable and not important now. We have fallen, and death is a part of the world we live in.
The Rest of the Story
The bulk of the Bible tells the story of Adam’s progeny and their continued rebellion against God. As well as God’s ongoing efforts to restore fallen humanity. First through the descendants of Abraham. And then through one of Abraham’s descendants, Jesus, who was also God’s only begotten Son.
But the significance of this chapter cannot be overlooked. Whenever you question why the world is the way it is today, you need to look no further than this passage. Everything between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21 is the result of this fall. It is only at the very end of the Bible that Eden returns.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
I have long been convinced that the story of Adam’s fall in the garden is the story of every one of us today. That is not to deny the historicity of this event. Rather it is the acknowledgment that what happened in Genesis 3 also happened in my own life. And I can’t help but see this drama played out in my own life every day.
Will I submit to the authority and Lordship of my creator? Or will I choose to usurp his place and take control of my own life? All too often, I follow Eve’s example and do what I think is best for me, rather than follow God’s direction. And I suffer the consequences of my hubris.
Praise God, though, that he has not banished me from his presence. But he has redeemed me for himself, making life in the garden, and the Tree of Life, a reality in my life.
- The Theology of Genesis: An Introduction
- The Theology of Genesis: In the Beginning – Genesis 1:1-2:4
- The Theology of Genesis: The Garden of Eden – Genesis 2
- The Theology of Genesis: Fall and Exile – Genesis 3
- The Theology of Genesis: A Downward Spiral – Genesis 4 & 5
- The Theology of Genesis: The Great Flood – Genesis 6-9
- The Theology of Genesis: Scattering of the Nations – Gen. 9-11