Some people might be thinking, “No. The serpent tempted Eve.” Not quite. Adam and Eve in Genesis represent the entire human race. They started in a perfect place, the Garden of Eden. It took both the man and the woman to forfeit that position in what we know as the fall of man.
Genesis begins with three momentous events:
- God created the heavens and the heavens and the earth, culminating with the creation of a man.
- God planted the Garden of Eden, and while it grew, he gave the man the dignity of naming the beasts and looking for a suitable helper. There being none, God created a woman. We learn in Genesis 5:2 that he called both of them Adam.
- God had issued one single prohibition, but his rival persuaded Adam to violate that one commandment. requiring God to expel Adam from the garden.
The story of the fall of man in Genesis explains all evil. And much of that evil concerns the so-called battle of the sexes. As such, it deserves a careful look.
Observations on the order of creation
In popular imagination, God planted a garden and then made the man. So let’s look more carefully. Notice especially verses 7-8 below.
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.
5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.
6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
8 The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.
9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:4-9 NASB 1995
A garden doesn’t look like much when it’s first planted. Not even if God plants it. It took a while for its true beauty to emerge. The man didn’t know it yet, but God was preparing a special surprise for him. But first, the man had to become a little dissatisfied with the garden.
The origin and resolution of the man’s dissatisfaction
Genesis 2:15-20 describes how that happened.
- God tells the man that he can eat from any tree in the garden except one. Imagine how many different fruit trees the man could sample and how long it would take to taste them all!
- God declares that the man needs a suitable helper but doesn’t make one right away. Instead, he brings all the beasts to Adam. It becomes Adam’s job to understand the nature of all those animals and birds and give each one the appropriate name.
- Only when both the man and God know that not one bird or animal is a suitable helper does God set about to create one.
- The man must have noticed that the animals were created male and female. They had the companionship of another creature that corresponded to themselves. They could reproduce their own kind. Only the man and God lacked that companionship.
God made the man and all the beasts of the field from the dust of the ground. He didn’t make the suitable helper that way. He surgically removed a woman from the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” Genesis 2:23
Note three things:
- The man went right to work, naming this new companion in the same way he had named everything else.
- His words convey his excitement. This woman corresponded to him like nothing else. Besides naming her “woman,” the man named her Eve. Traditionally, we call the man Adam. Adam and Eve encompass the entire human race.
- Eve was created as Adam’s helper. She was equal and value and dignity, but there remains a very slight difference in status. In a perfect world, this difference wouldn’t matter. But that’s not the fallen world we live in.
An interloper in Eden
Genesis 3 describes the fall of man. It opens, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” It does not say “any other beast.” I was recently appalled to find a modern mistranslation that puts it that way. It irresponsibly obscures an important point.
This serpent is none other than the devil himself. He was not one of the beasts that the man had named. Neither Adam nor Eve had ever seen him before.
The serpent went straight to Eve to tempt her to eat the forbidden fruit. And why not? The man had enjoyed close companionship with God long enough to watch the garden grow and name all the beasts. The devil had no chance to pry him away from God. Eve was no more than a few hours old and lacked that experience.
I remember reading a 19th-century writing lamenting that Adam wasn’t with Eve to protect her. The author believed that if Adam had been there, the fall of man would never have happened. Oh that poor, weak, defenseless woman!
Not a syllable of the Genesis account suggests any such thing. Adam was right there. He could have spoken up and commanded this stranger to identify himself. He didn’t.
The temptation of Adam and Eve
The serpent acted as if he wanted some clarification. Did God really say they couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden? Eve tried to correct him. The prohibition applied only to one tree. But she made some mistakes. First, she identified the tree only as the one in the middle of the garden. God had specifically pronounced the death sentence for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Second, she said they weren’t allowed even to touch it. She displayed her inexperience and weakness.
Then the serpent flatly contradicted God. He said they would surely not die. He implied that God jealously wanted to keep them from the knowledge of good and evil. Eating that fruit would make them like God himself—and his rivals.
In fact, Adam and Eve already knew as much as they needed about good and evil. They knew God, who is good. They could therefore know anything not from God as not good. The serpent, being not from God, was the only evil they had ever encountered. They had nothing to gain from knowing anything more about evil. But the serpent offered knowledge of good and evil apart from God. In other words, he offered the very evil God wanted to shield them from.
The unrecognized power of the man and woman
But here’s the most important part:
God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The devil commanded the Eve to eat it. She had the power to refuse. Once she ate and gave it to Adam, he had the power to refuse.
According to Genesis 5:2, God’s name for the two of them is Adam, the generic Hebrew word for human. All New Testament references to Adam encompass both the man and the woman. For the rest of this post, then, I will use Adam in that way. Adam includes Eve.
God gave Adam one commandment. The devil commanded Adam to break God’s commandment. Adam chose to obey the devil and eat the forbidden fruit. Adam committed high treason against his creator and benefactor.
The fall of man: rebellion and treason
According to Genesis 1:28, Adam was supposed to rule the world according to God’s instructions. Instead, the fall of man means that Adam chose to obey a different god.
In eating the forbidden fruit, Adam did indeed receive a knowledge of good and evil apart from God. It created a new and inferior way for people to look at each other.
Now, instead of seeing only each other, we see other people looking at us. We care about what they see but can’t quite discern what it is. And so we both want relationships and fear them. We hide from each other and try to hide from God.
Somehow, we’ve gotten a view of God as some perpetually angry being eager to punish any slightest disobedience.
If that were the case, why didn’t he destroy the man, the woman, and the serpent and start over?
He didn’t, you know.
According to Genesis 3:7-13, God came to the garden looking for companionship with the crown of his creation. Instead, Adam hid from him, ashamed of what he had done.
God asked, “Where are you?”—not because he didn’t know but as an invitation for them to come out of hiding and experience fellowship. God then asked the man, “have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” And the man said, “this woman whom you gave to be with me” made me do it.
In other words, having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the man knew good and evil and chose evil. He did not confess his disobedience. Instead he blamed the woman—and blamed God for providing the woman he had been so excited to see.
So God asked the woman what she had done. She, too, chose evil. She, too, denied responsibility and blamed the serpent for deceiving her.
God did not destroy them. His response shows no sign of wrath.
He also did not relieve them of their responsibility to rule the world. By choosing to obey the serpent instead of God, and by choosing evil (deflecting blame) over good (accepting responsibility), Adam decided to rule the world according to the serpent’s instructions.
It amounted to a demotion. The fall meant man had descended from a position of steward for a loving master to one of bond slave to a master who hated him.
God gets us the victory anyway
But God immediately cursed the serpent. And, by the way, this is not some folk tale about how the snake lost its legs. God appeared in the garden looking like an ordinary human. Only the devil tries to impress by displays of power. Revelation 12 describes him as a dragon. If Satan appeared in Eden as a dragon, then he was trying to impress with as much splendor as he could manage.
God had created the entire universe by speaking. At the time the serpent thought he had won a victory, God spoke his defeat. In Genesis 3:15, he ordained how that defeat would happen:
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.
The Bible frequently uses the word “seed” to refer to a man’s posterity. Only here does it refer to the seed of woman. It can only mean a virgin birth, a birth unconnected to the seed of a man.
Instead of destroying the human race, God promised to redeem it at great cost to himself.
Let’s not forget that Jesus called the devil the “ruler of this world” in John 12:31 and John 16:11. Both verses refer to Jesus’ impending death. He is about to bruise the devil’s head. The devil will kill him, but he will rise again. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul called the devil the “god of this world,” who continues to deceive.
The devil became the ruler of this world as the result of the fall of man. He has no authority in the spiritual world God still rules.
The promise of redemption
By Adam’s choice, the devil took over ownership of the earth and set about to remodel his new domain to fit his purposes. He became Adam’s ruler and god. God’s next words, therefore, reveal to the man and the woman how their new god would treat them.
He told the woman that she would suffer pain in childbirth and that the man would lord it over her.
He told the man the ground was cursed because of his sin—or in some translations, for his sake. His work would become more difficult and frustration would hinder it.
God did not decide that he would punish Adam in these ways. He described consequences of Adam’s choice. God drove the man and woman out of the garden so they would not eat from the tree of life and live forever in a state of sin under the devil’s rule.
The redemption from the fall of man that God promised in cursing the serpent has taken a long time. After thousands of years, God became the man Jesus Christ. The serpent “bruised his heel” by subjecting him to judicial murder to get rid of him. Jesus rose from the dead and fatally bruised the serpent’s head.
During the last two thousand years, the gospel has been taken to nearly every ethnic group on earth. Despite the devil both persecuting and corrupting the church.
The world rushes on toward final judgment, which will finally reveal God’s wrath. God will destroy the devil and any of Adam’s seed that refuse the offer of redemption. Then the redeemed will enter the New Jerusalem and enjoy the free and unhindered fellowship with God that Adam spurned in Eden.