Commentary on Genesis 3 (The Fall)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Genesis 3 describes the rebellion of Adam and Eve against God and the immediate consequences of that rebellion.  In verses 1-7, we see Eve being tempted by a serpent, which the author describes as crafty.  Later in the Bible, in the book of Revelation, this serpent is identified as Satan.  The serpent tells Eve that she can become like God, knowing good from evil, if she will only eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree that God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from.  The serpent also denies that Eve will die, as God warned.

In essence, Eve wants to gain wisdom that she thinks God is withholding from her.  She takes the fruit from the tree and then gives some to Adam, who also eats the fruit.  Instead of becoming like God in wisdom, disaster occurred.  Before eating the fruit, they were unashamed of their naked bodies, but after eating the fruit, they became ashamed and hid themselves from each other and God.

God had already given them every good thing they would ever need, but they instead desired to know good and evil apart from God.  They thought they could improve themselves by eating from the tree that God had forbidden.  They doubted God’s promise of the consequences of their disobedience, and they believed the serpent’s lies.

In verses 8-13, God confronts Adam and Eve with their disobedience.  Notice what has changed.  Before, Adam and Eve conversed with God openly in the garden, and now they are hiding from him, out of shame.  Their newly gained knowledge of good and evil has not made them more like God, it has distanced them from God.  Not only are they distanced from God, but Adam now blames Eve for giving him the fruit, and he even blames God for creating Eve in the first place.  What a difference!

In verses 14-19, God explains to Adam and Eve the consequences of their disobedience.  The serpent is cursed, but in this curse God promises that Eve’s offspring will battle with the serpent’s offspring, and one day Eve’s descendant will crush the serpent – a foreshadowing of Jesus’s victory over Satan on the cross.

There were also consequences for Eve and all women after her.  First, the joy of childbirth would now be mixed with extreme pain.  Second, the perfect marital relationship that Adam and Eve possessed would be corrupted.  As Eugene Peterson paraphrases God’s message to Eve, “You’ll want to please your husband, but he’ll lord it over you.”

There were also consequences for Adam.  Because of his disobedience, the ground would be cursed, which meant that he would have to work extremely hard to get any food out of the ground.  In the garden, food was provided by God, but now man would have to “sweat in the fields from dawn to dusk.”

Finally, in verses 20-24 God banishes Adam and Eve from the garden so that they cannot eat of the tree of life, and live forever.  In addition, they would also be cut off from God’s immediate presence they had enjoyed in the garden.  The one silver lining is that God did not destroy the garden, so we are left with hope that some day we will be able to re-enter it.

  • sean

    This is a part of the Bible that has always perplexed me to no end. Perhaps you can answer some questions I have.

    Firstly, how can God condemn an action we take when we don’t know how to understand that it’s bad. Certainly intent matters. If a three year old finds a gun and accidentially shoots someone, we blame the person who left the gun on the table and not the three year old (I think, I would anyways). Isn’t God like the adult who left the gun on the table, since Adam and Eve didn’t know it was wrong to eat the apple since they didn’t understand the concept of bad?

    Second, why am I punished for something Adam and Eve did? Couldn’t God punish them, and save their children from this knowledge? How is it that all woman should suffer for the wrongs of a singular woman? I don’t think we as people tend to identify that with justice. Certianly I could see how Eve after having eaten the apple knew it was wrong to tempt Adam, but then, I still don’t understand why any person other than Eve gets punished.

    Third, why is it that an all knowing God only realized these two had knowledge of good and evil when he came down to the garden and saw them hiding. Does this not mean he has allowed Satan to ruin the lives of the rest of mankind? If he knew Satan was tempting Eve, and he allowed these people who couldn’t know this action to be wrong to commit it, and then he punished them, that’s like locking up that 3 year old for shooting the gun you knew he had, instead of taking the gun from him, and protecting an individual who cannot understand the wrongness of these actions.

    I am very curious to see what information you can give me on this matter.

  • Response to first question:

    Adam and Eve knew that God forbade them to eat the fruit. They believed that God was holding out on them, so to speak. When they ate the fruit, they knowingly disobeyed their Creator. Therefore, they are nothing like the three-year-old who picks up a gun.

    Response to second question:

    There are many theories as to why God punished all mankind for Adam and Eve’s sin. The one I subscribe to is the federal theory, which says that Adam and Eve acted as mankind’s representatives. In effect, they chose for all mankind to be alienated from God. Any other two people who God gave the same test would have done the same thing, or worse. In fact, we see evidence of this throughout biblical and human history. Every single person sins and rejects God.

    Response to third question:

    Again, your analogy of the three-year-old is wrong. As to why God allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve, it is all about free will. Satan is free to choose evil and humans are also free to choose evil. God did not create a world of robots. He wants his creatures (angels and humans) to freely love him, to freely choose him. God evidently considers this world to be better than a world where he never bestowed the power of free will on any creatures.

  • sean

    To the first point, I think we are talking on different levels here. I understand that they disobeyed, but they didn’t know that action to be wrong. For them to be punished for something they couldn’t understand to be wrong (which they couldn’t do because God made them that way) is, to me, not okay. Do you have a different understanding of the actions that took place, or do you just think that is an acceptable way to go about punishing people?

    To your second point, from your perspective I can see why this works. Thank you for clarifying. Obviously it requires the position that God is necessarily infallible, which is an idea we differ on, but as far as understanding goes, I see your point here. Thanks!

    To the third question, I sort of understand, but I still have some hang ups. Obviously God doesn’t believe in complete free will. I can see where given that the tree was in the garden the answer to why he didn’t stop it applies, so thanks for the question explanation, but I still don’t understand why God puts the tree there to begin with. Certainly we don’t have completely free will. I cannot will other people to death, actual actions must be taken, and physical actions of physical entities have limitations. The Jews for example didn’t have the free will to explore space. So while we humans were given free will, it is a free will with limits. It seems to me that if God didn’t want them to do this thing, he could have not provided Adam and Eve with this tree, just as he doesn’t provide us on this Earth with a tree that when we eat its fruit we gain the ability to know how to build airplanes and submarines and semiconductors. We have to learn, and some people are in a position where this learning isn’t possible. (Like the Jews were, or Adam and Eve) They were not free to build semiconductors, a freedom we have today. So, given that God can restrict free will to some degree, by virtue of the physical nature of our reality, why is it that he chose to allow this particular act of free will that damned every person to Hell by default? Not putting tree there, I think we could still have free will. It wouldn’t have been violated by not having that option just as my inability to be in California two seconds from now doesn’t mean I don’t have free will.

  • Question 1:

    I’m not sure why you keep saying Adam and Eve didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong. All the evidence points in the opposite direction.

    Gen 3:2-3 says, “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,’ 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

    Clearly Eve knew that she was disobeying God and she also knew that he promised that there would be horrible consequences for her action, yet she still did it!!

    Question 3: I think you are misunderstanding the meaning of “free will.” Luckily I have written a blog post on that:

  • sean

    Right, but conceptually, by definition of not understanding right and wrong (having knowledge of good and evil), she did not understand that disobeying God was a wrong thing to do.

    I understand this free will of the mind and not of the body idea. It’s what I was trying to say, though it may not have been clear. What I’m saying is that God could have not made a garden tree of that fruit, and thus the Devil would have been unable to tempt Eve into eating it, not as a matter of free will, but as a matter of physical impossibility. My entire point was that we are not guaranteed a free will to reach the apple physically, only the will to want to eat it. Thus it doesn’t seem as though God not putting the tree there where it was reachable was a good thing to do, if he didn’t want man to sin.

  • Adam and Eve were aware of at least one distinction between right and wrong before they ate the fruit. That distinction was to obey God or disobey God, or put another way, to trust God or not trust God. The had to have the innate capacity to know right and wrong, good and evil, before the Fall.

    When they disobeyed God, their finite capacity to know good and evil was expanded (perverted) beyond the single category of obedience to God. The problem with their choice was that they now are in a position, as we are today, where we think we can have true knowledge of good and evil apart from God. We think we can make moral judgments without God. The message of Gen 3 is that this is impossible. True knowledge of good and evil only comes from God.

    With regard to the tree in the garden, the method of testing Adam and Eve is not what is important. As soon as God commanded them to do one thing and not another, there would have to be a way for them to make their choice. If not a tree in a garden, then something else. The point is that a choice needed to be made – trust God and obey him, or don’t trust God and disobey him.

  • sean

    So the fall for you is more important as a symbolic story, rather than a real one. It represents the choice all men will make to think of knowing good apart from god, a path that allows us to inevitably deviate from what is actually good according to god. Not that you don’t think of it as factual, but just that the more important meaning being conveyed is symbolic, irrespective of the factual nature of the story.