Genesis 3 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. Without it, we can’t even begin to understand the darkness that blankets the earth. With it, we can catch a glimpse of the light, which shines in the darkness. Have you seen the light?

This morning I spent time with a friend who will die of cancer any day now. She is a loving wife and mother, but her body has been reduced by disease to about sixty pounds. Life isn’t fair. Around the country we continue to hear talk about the economic recession and job losses; from the international news, we hear the ravages of the latest terrorist attack or the most recent flare-up in the Middle East. What in the world has gone wrong?

You could argue that good results come from bad circumstances, such as the case of a man who eventually became my friend and a Christian after I ran into his car. But frankly, it’s hard to see a good purpose behind the sheer quantity of natural and moral evil.

These questions are troubling but should cause less dissonance for those who believe the Bible. Scripture is clear that this world is not the world that came from the Creator’s hand originally. Something happened.

God’s Account of the Fall in Genesis 3

God’s Word Distorted (vv. 1–3)

God’s creation was originally “very good” (1:31). He created man and woman in His image and gave them dominion over the physical world (1:26)—all creatures were subject to them. Then one creature, “the serpent,” beguiled the woman (later named “Eve,” 3:20) with a trick question: Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?

In Genesis 3 man doubts, distorts, and defies God’s Word—reducing it to an alternative viewpoint.

Eve conceded that God had prohibited eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We do not know if God directly stated His prohibition to Eve or if Adam passed it along to her. Regardless, she distorted God’s Word. First, she added a prohibition that they were not even to touch the forbidden tree; second, she subtracted from the penalty (“you will die” in 3:3 is less forceful in Hebrew than God’s statement in 2:17 that “you shall surely die”).

God’s Word Denied (vv. 4–5)

The serpent’s response was to flatly deny God’s Word, quoting God’s statement verbatim (2:17, in the Hebrew text) and then negating it—which exposes the intent of the serpent’s initial question (3:1). His question was a ploy rather than mere curiosity.

Then the serpent offered an alternative interpretation of God’s motives. If they would partake, he claimed, then they would possess God-like ethical awareness. The serpent implied first that God is less than He is and that man is more than he is. (In other words, he implied that God felt threatened by the wonderful beings that they would become, so He restricted their full humanity.) The serpent was calling into question God’s character and trustworthiness.

Although Adam and Eve had depended on God to explain reality for them, the serpent suggested that they could now become autonomous and decide what is true for themselves. In other words, the serpent reduced God’s Word to the level of a mere viewpoint, while man became the measure of what is “true for me.”

God’s Word Defied (vv. 6–7)

Eve’s decision was deliberate, not impulsive. When the text says Eve “saw” the fruit, the same verbal form is used to describe Rachel and Leah when they “saw” that they bore no children. Those women deliberately weighed their circumstances and then took action (Genesis 30:1, 9).

What Eve saw was appealing at the sensory level (“good for food”), the aesthetic level (“delight to the eyes”), and the cognitive level (“make one wise”). To her, self-determination was more desirable than continued trust in and obedience to God.

Adam may have been present for at least part of this interview, but in any case he chose to disobey God’s Word. He knew exactly what God had said and was entirely culpable. Both the Hebrew term “with her” (3:6) and the subsequent judgment (3:17) suggest that, at the point of his sin, Adam compromised both his headship over his wife and his dominion over the serpent.

The immediate result of their sin was far different from their fantasy. They realized what they had done, and their sense of shame caused them to cover themselves. They would not know the full consequences of their choice, however, until they heard from their Creator, whose Word they had defied.

God’s Will Decreed (vv. 8–19)

Invitation to confess (vv. 8–13)

When God approached Adam and Eve, His question “Where are you?” was a rhetorical invitation for them to confess and repent (see 4:9–10). The novice sinners responded to God in ways that are all too familiar to us.

First, they felt shame, resulting in concealment. (Verse 8 indicates that they tried to go unnoticed by an omnipresent Creator by blending with vegetation!)

Second, they felt fear, which resulted in an attempt to escape God’s presence (vv. 9–10).

Third, they felt guilt, but then compounded their offense by shifting blame (vv. 12–13). Adam blamed both Eve and God (“the woman . . . you gave me”). Eve blamed the serpent (“the serpent deceived me”).

In contrast to Adam and Eve, God did not invite the serpent to repent. Instead, God decreed a series of three judgments—first upon the serpent, then the woman, and finally the man.

Judgment upon the serpent (vv. 14–15)

Because the serpent had “destroyed” (or ruined) the human race, the serpent would be destroyed by a member of the human race.

The enmity between the woman and the serpent and their “seed” (or offspring) involves more than future hatred between women and snakes. The Hebrew term translated “enmity” applies not to animals but to moral agents. Here we see a clear indication that Satan is behind the serpent, especially in light of Revelation 12:9. Though Satan will cause suffering to the “seed of the woman,” he will be dealt a mortal blow by that seed (see sidebar on Genesis 3:15).

The Gospel in Genesis 3:15?

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” —Genesis 3:15

Genesis 3:15 is known by the term Protevangelium, or “first gospel”—a prophetic picture of the time when Satan would be defeated by the woman’s triumphant “Seed.”

The text itself invites us to find an interpretation that goes beyond mere biology. Satan, a spirit being, cannot produce seed; and clearly a woman does not produce seed. So, even at the simplest reading of this pronouncement, the seed apparently refers to a spiritual being who has the serpent’s same attitude.

Based on other scripture, it appears that the serpent’s “seed” refers to those who willfully set themselves against the seed of the woman (John 8:44; Ephesians 2:2–3). The age-long conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan (Matthew 13:37–40:1; John 3:8–12) will continue until the end (Revelation 12:17). “He” that crushes the serpent’s head refers to a future descendent of the woman and is a singular noun—which many Bible scholars believe is a reference to Jesus Christ.

Judgment upon the woman (v. 16)

Because Eve manipulated her husband, she will struggle in domestic life. Difficulty will plague her role as a mother (multiplied pain in childbirth) and as a wife (marital conflict with her husband).

The phrase “Your desire shall be for your husband” refers not to sweet marital communion but to ongoing struggle (the identical Hebrew phrase appears in Cain’s struggle with sin in Genesis 4:7). The battle of the sexes had begun.

Judgment upon the man (vv. 17–19)

By eating the forbidden food, Adam abandoned his headship over his wife and his dominion over the creation. Besides domestic struggle (v. 16b), Adam will now struggle to eat, and his labor will include toil. The domain of man is cursed and will no longer yield its fruit easily.

Finally, in contrast to the serpent’s promise that “you will be like God,” Adam is told he was made from dirt and to dirt he will return in death. He was initially to have dominion over the ground, but now the ground will resist and finally devour him. God’s promise that “you shall surely die” (2:17) was tragically true. He died instantly in terms of his spiritual relationship with God, and he began to die physically.

Four Lessons From the Fall

In Genesis 3 man distorts, denies, and defies God’s Word—reducing it to an alternative viewpoint, while man is the judge of what is “true for me.”

This rebellion against God’s Word is responsible for all our woes—our alienation from God, our self-deception, our broken relationships with each other, the failure of animals to respond to our dominion, our toil to raise food from the ground, the “groaning” creation, and our own physical death.

Unbelief is not just stark atheism but any stubborn, willful disregard of God’s Word, even by “believers.” Do we accept that His Word is true, and yet sometimes stubbornly, willfully disobey what He says? Genesis 3 is with us still. This passage of Scripture is full of personal applications.

1. The Standard Is God’s Word

First, we know that God’s Word is still the standard by which we are to live our lives and to resist temptation. Jesus (the “Last Adam,” 1 Corinthians 15:45) fended off temptation by affirming God’s Word. “It is written,” He told Satan three times (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). The first Adam compromised God’s Word; the Last Adam elevated its authority. When facing temptation, Jesus used scripture available to us, rather than generate “new” scripture.

2. Sin Is Our Problem

Second, in contrast to the claims of modern social engineering, we should not blame sin on our childhood or environment.

Adam and Eve experienced no childhood trauma; their “Father” (God) was gracious and provided all that they needed to live fulfilling and joyous lives. Yet they rebelled against God. Like Adam and Eve, we would choose to sin, even in a perfect environment.

3. Suffering Is Because of Our Sin

Third, sin ultimately led to the ravages we see around us daily—particularly physical pain due to disease (natural evil) and emotional pain due to sinful choices (moral evil).

Philosophers make much of “innocent” suffering. But biblically, there are no true cases of innocent suffering, save one, which is the very purpose of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The death of Christ is the only case of a genuinely innocent person suffering, and He did so to reconcile us to God.

4. Our Solution Is Christ

Fourth, and most important, is God’s promise to provide a way for us to escape the tragic consequence of sin.

While the choice to “take and eat” ultimately plunged mankind into the darkness of death, by offering Himself as a sacrifice on the cross the Son of God freely provided new life for us, if we will but “take and eat” (John 6:47–51; Matthew 26:26–29).

As one writer stated, “Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that some day he can end evil and suffering without ending us.”

From eternity past, God ordained a plan, knowing full well that He would become the chief victim of that plan to purchase our redemption and our eternal good. To God be the glory!

Who Picked Adam to Represent Us?

As we see in Genesis 3, all of Adam’s descendants are born with sin natures. Romans 5:12 affirms that we all sinned “in Adam.” The doctrinal term to describe this condition is “representative headship.” But is it fair that we suffer for Adam’s sin?

Consider four points. First, would we have acted any differently than Adam, as the representative head of our race, if we had been there?

Second, God chose Adam as our head, which means, unless God is malevolent, that choice was made for ultimate good. If we had been there, or if we had chosen another representative, would anything have turned out differently? The answer is no. So questions of fairness are actually speculations, not substantive objections.

Third, consider how representative headship is to our benefit. Apparently angels “fell” without a representative head, and there is no hope of restoration for them. They sinned individually and are beyond recovery. In contrast, we sinned representatively as well as individually, and our sin can be forgiven and overcome. Just as we have a representative head in sin, we have a representative head in salvation, Jesus Christ.

Apart from Christ we’d be on our own, and would remain forever lost in our sins. However, “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Fourth, in eternity our final state will be more exalted than the original state of the first Adam. We will have more than innocence—we will fully possess the righteousness of the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and be incapable of sin.

Dr. W. Gary Phillips holds a masters of theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in systematic theology from Grace Theological Seminary. Formerly a professor of Bible and philosophy at Bryan College, he now serves as pastor at Signal Mountain Bible Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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