R Evans, Genesis in Context - 4

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Index of Genesis in Context by Bro Roger Evans, 2021

4. Sin enters the Temple

NB: not integrated into wiki

The situation in Eden after the creation of the woman was one of idyllic perfection. God had made the man as His representative, had delegated him authority over the garden, given him a companion of equal intellect, and had provided free and easy access to all fruits save one. There was no hardship, and no hunger; and no pressure of unfulfilled natural needs tending toward sin. The woman was the man’s derivative identity, part of his singularity, and thus part of him. As a couple, they were one — as Jesus and His saints will be one (John 17:21). Both were keepers of the garden, under the love of God. Both were naked, and entirely without shame.

‘But the serpent was cunning’. There is a sharp note of contrast here introduced in the Hebrew words used. The culmination of the perfect state was the shameless state of nakedness (arumim); the serpent is introduced as being cunning (arum). The man and his wife are together in the garden, naked; the serpent approaches with cunning. But it does not approach them both; it picks on the woman.

Let there be no misunderstanding about the young couple in the garden. They were not naïve. They knew the import of God’s one rule about the tree, and they were not ignorant of the consequences of disobedience. Before the woman was created, God had given the man specific instructions (2v17): “you must not eat of the tree of knowledge, or you will surely die”. Eve’s first words to the serpent are (3v3): “God did say, You must not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die”.

The man had clearly transmitted to the woman the Divine imperative, adding the prohibition of “not touching” as an extra safety barrier; Eve cites Adam’s added words (or were they her own?) as equal with and as part of the Divine instruction. This “isolation” of the mortal danger indicates that they both understood the severity of the offence and the gravity of the punitive consequence. Death was not some incomprehensible, theoretical consequence of little real impact. They well knew from the life around them what death was; it was an integral facet of the mortal creation, to which all animals and all living things were subject. Yet in engaging with the serpent, those psychological defences were breached.

There is also an implied order of delegation and responsibility, the overturning of which runs as a theme through the narrative.

God did not first make Eve then instruct the couple together. God instructed Adam, then formed Eve. Adam, by implication, instructs her in turn in terms of their mutual obligation. In this sequence of events there is an implied order of responsibility.

When asked, she affirms the same to the snake. However when the serpent questions this instruction, she should have consulted with Adam, who in turn should have taken the matter to God for authoritative clarification. Instead Eve assumes authority to directly answer the serpent’s query by her own reasoning. Adam remains silent and takes his lead from Eve; while God, the originator of the command and the ultimate authority on the matter, is not consulted at all.

The poison of envy

If the man and his wife were united in their commitment to obedience, why did the serpent approach the woman? What was its motive? What did it have to gain from causing them to disobey God?

The Bible story is silent on the serpent’s motive, other than to imply that its act was deliberate and malicious (3v15). There is perhaps a clue in the punishment accorded to the serpent, when considered in the context of the preceding events. The sentence imposed is one of enmity—personal hostility, or hatred—between the woman and the serpent, between its descendants and hers. On the principle of punishment matching the crime, was enmity perhaps the cause of the serpent’s actions?

Before the woman was created, God had brought all the animals before the man, to see if any would be a suitable companion. Perhaps the snake thought it was in with a chance to be the man’s companion, with a commensurate upgrade in status. Perhaps, seeing the woman take that role, and seeing the happiness of the couple, it was seething with personal hatred and resentment at coming off second best. Perhaps it picked on her in the hope of picking her off, as she was the usurper of its hope and the frustration of its desire; tempting her with the lure of promotion, thereby opening the way to a second chance at being Adam’s companion. This hypothetical scenario presumes, of course (in the literary context of the narrative) that the serpent had the power of reason as an inherent aspect of its created character.

The deceitful words of the serpent imply a motive deeper than anything merely superficial or casual. They speak of a seething resentment, culminating in a malicious and deliberate deception. Knowing for itself that Divine displeasure was the consequence of opposing God, the serpent had little to gain, apart from a sense of satisfaction come what may. Yet the words of the serpent to the woman are deliberate, reasoned and calculated. Denied self-advancement, it wields the same desire to destroy Eve. All of these elements—jealous enmity, calculation, deceit and execution—are later strikingly paralleled in the subsequent account of Cain.

The process of temptation

Sometimes we presume that the serpent addressed Eve on her own, and that Adam was not present. However the account explicitly states that Adam was present as a mute party to the exchange, complicit by his silence, and quietly receptive to the serpent’s argument. It is the woman who steps forward and takes the lead in the conversation.

The serpent’s opening pitch is a rhetorical question, a twist on God’s words into the negative, calculated to get the woman to doubt the Divine command. “Has God said, you may not eat of any tree of the garden?”

She lays her cards on the table, and passes the test of doubt with alacrity. “We may eat of the trees of the garden, but God did say, you must not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, nor even touch it, or you will certainly die.”

The serpent, having failed to incite her to doubt God’s command, then responds with an outright denial of God’s words, coupled with a direct appeal to her natural desires. It paints the consequences of disobedience as fictitious, traduces God as a selfish deceiver, and represents the advantages of disobedience as great personal gain. It takes the fact that the tree is pleasing to the eye and good for food, adds to it the concept of being like God, and throws her the curve ball.

Having made a bold denial of consequence, the serpent gives three assurances of reward. Eve considers all three, then she—and her husband who was with her—act on all three. Adam was there all along: she does not have to go and find him.

The temptations of the fall—eating, seeing, and knowledge—are poetically reiterated in triplicate, the first two stanzas being individual, the third collective. It is only after both have eaten, that the fruit takes effect:

You will not surely die:
For God knows when you eat of it
Your eyes will be opened,
And you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
When she considered that the fruit was good for food,
And saw that it was pleasing to the eye,
And perceived that it was desirable to give wisdom
She took of the fruit and ate it, and gave to her husband who was with her, and he ate also.
Then the eyes of both were opened
And they knew that they were naked.
And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

So they covered themselves. As man and wife, it was not nakedness before each other that was shameful, but nakedness in the sight of their Maker; not an awareness of sexuality, as much as an awareness of guilt (Heb. 4:13). And they hid from the Lord.

The tragedy of the act is that the prize of knowledge was not glory, as perceived in the persuasion; but shame and guilt in the sight of God, as realized in the commission.

Sin is a moral failing. It is an act of free will; a choice to disobey rather than obey, based upon perceived personal advantage. Adam and Eve had this nature before they fell; indeed this was the very essence of their temptation, and had it been otherwise they could not have been tempted. After the Fall they retained the same nature and constitution common to all humanity; only added to it was a personal sense of guilt. We too bear that same created nature, with its inherent desires and free will; each of us born without guilt, then learning it through our own misdeeds.

In like manner Christ, the “second Adam” was to suffer three temptations, each initiated by the sowing of doubt (“if you are the son of God”), each based on perceived personal advantage, and each accompanied by misrepresentation of God’s commands. In anguish upon the Cross, He suffered the ultimate challenge: “If you are the son of God, save yourself, and come down from the Cross” (Mark 15:39). Yet instead of entertaining the temptation, Christ resisted it, and so He overcame; avoiding guilt altogether, and overturning the failure of Adam.


The first to sin by opposing Divine will was the serpent. It was the snake, as the father of lies, which sinned first, as the traducer and moral adversary of God. In tempting Eve, the serpent broke no law; as a beast it was not under obligation to any command, nor was it under legal penalty. Nevertheless the serpent was deemed guilty for its actions.

The clear implication is that, quite apart from law, there is an implicit moral code of right and wrong written into creation. (The man and his wife recognised this principle when, to God’s explicit prohibition of consumption, they added the voluntary constraint of tactile distancing: “nor shall you touch it”). It was not until the time of Moses that the serpent’s breach of moral principle was codified as law, in the ninth Commandment: ‘thou shalt not bear false witness’.

Sin is not just a breach of command. It is equally a breach of God’s moral code. Any thought, act or mind-set contrary to God’s will is sin, and merits the consequence of Divine punishment.

The second to sin was Eve, but the principal liability fell upon Adam. In allowing the serpent to speak instead of driving it out, and by sharing the fruit with Eve instead of preventing her from taking it, Adam had failed in his duty to guard and to keep Paradise. The buck stopped at his desk. As principal under Divine command, he was deemed first to sin by an act of disobedience. The declared penalty for disobedience was summary execution: “in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.”[1]

The parties are questioned in order of responsibility to God, then sentenced in order of blame.[2]

First, God asks Adam if he has sinned, giving him an opportunity to admit his guilt. While admitting his error, he blames God for giving him the woman. God then turns to the woman and asks her why she has sinned. Although she concedes wrongdoing, she passes the blame down to the serpent. In the divine inquisition, the buck stops at the serpent.

The serpent was punished first. Before ever pronouncing sentence on Adam or his wife, God first tells the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed above all livestock, and above all beasts of the field; you will eat dust all the days of your life”. The Hebrew for above (mik kal, and in the second occurrence, u mik kol) carries the grammatical sense of from, or out of, affirming the personal and exclusive nature of the curse as applying to the serpent alone.

The expression “all the days of your life” suggests an already limited duration of existence. The serpent was not under the command to Adam, and therefore not under the threatened penalty of death. Nor was it condemned to immediate execution for its folly. Its punishment was to writhe in dust and to eat dust, until it died in the course of its already mortal nature.

Indeed, the same phrasing is used in conferring sentence upon Adam. “In toil you will eat all the days of your life . . .  until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken: for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” Adam was not cursed (nor was Eve); but was justly punished through a curse on his labours; and like the serpent, was to work the dust for his sustenance.

Adam’s inherent mortality is spoken of in his sentencing as a pre-existing condition. He was already dust, from the day of his creation; upon ultimate cessation of breath, he would return to dust.[3] As to the curse, it should be noted that it was not the whole of creation that was cursed for Adam’s sake, only the productivity of the ground as it affected his own efforts (and those of his descendants: Gen.5:29), resulting in a life sentence of hard labour.

Eve’s punishment, likewise, was to be a life sentence: of toil, of increased childbirth with pain, and of subservience to her husband.[4] Her ultimate demise, as an inherent aspect of her created nature, was already a given.


The phrase “thou shalt surely die” (in Hebrew, muth tamuth, an expressive repetition of muth, death) signifies death as punishment. Wherever this emphatic plural (translated as “surely die”) or the related plural (muth yamuth, “surely be put to death”) is used in the Old Testament, it is almost always expressive of a death sentence, as opposed to the ‘sleep’ of natural death (e.g. Genesis 20:7, 1 Sam 14:4, 22:16; 1 Kings 2:37). The express penalty for disobedience is execution.

However, there is no mention of immediate death in the sentencing at Eden. Adam and Eve should rightly have been executed for disobedience: with consequent defeat of God’s plan for a relationship with humankind. Instead, God graciously suspends the sentence of execution, and transmutes their sentence to a trial period of “Life with hard labour,” ending in a natural expiry.

This unmerited grace in judgment coupled with punitive consequence, paralleled in Numbers 14 (where God revokes his intent to slaughter Israel, forgives their sin, yet substitutes a life sentence of hardship ending in death) is expressively explained in Ezekiel chapter 18. Here God declares His principles of justice and mercy:

The man who lives in wickedness, says the Lord, will surely die (muth tamuth); but the man who repents to obedience will surely live (hayoh yihyeh; an expressive repetition of chayah, life). Indeed, He avows in v27, if a sinner turns to him in repentance and commits to doing right, he will save his life, he will surely live and will not die. As God says in v23: ‘I have no pleasure in seeing an evil man die; I would rather see him repent and live’.

God suspends immediate execution for our sins in the hope that we will repent; nevertheless righteousness demands that the suspended sentence remains in force, unless it is overturned by our repentance. Thus the ultimate outcome of our response to Him, despite the fulfilment of our mortality, forms the ultimate basis of eternal judgment.

Adam and Eve’s repentance is not stated, but is implied in their quiet life of obedience after their exile, and forgiveness is implied by their inclusion in the genealogy of the sons of God. Instead of executing the couple, God covers their guilt with skins. By suspending the sentence of execution and transmuting it to one of ‘life with hard labour’ for the term of their natural mortal duration, God provides opportunity for a continuing trial of their character. In his provision for their procreation, He also makes provision for the ultimate birth of a future descendant of Adam, who will ‘crush the head’ of sin, and redeem His human creation.

Nevertheless, the consequence of their sin remains. Because of their guilt, they can no longer access the Tree of Life. Nor, if the tree was removed, could they remain in the intimate presence of God as His perfect priests. To enforce the sentence of ‘life with hard labour’ ending in natural expiry, God evicts them from the garden, “lest they take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

The way to the tree of life and to the garden is barred by cherubim and a flaming sword. Death by execution was the penalty for eating of the Tree of Knowledge; summary execution now becomes the visible and instant penalty of entering the Garden, or attempting to access the Tree of Life.

By our sins we know good and evil, and our conscience is irrevocably altered. Forgiveness may wipe the blame and waive the sentence, but it cannot erase the experience of guilt; nor can it ever restore an innocence lost.

The Tree of Life

While the Divine narrative tells us that God created two special trees, which he placed at the centre of the garden, Adam is only actually told of the one. God gives him explicit instruction not to eat of the tree of knowledge. This singularity is reinforced in Eve’s response to the serpent: “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it”. To her as to Adam, there were only two categories of tree: one special, forbidden tree at the centre of the garden, and all the rest without distinction. The implication of the text is that, prior to their eviction from Eden, Adam and Eve had no knowledge whatever of the tree of life or of its particular qualities; to them it was just another tree.

Was it a tree of instant immortality, or a tree of sustained healing? Had it yet borne fruit in season, or was its season subsequent to that of the tree of knowledge, introducing a designed order of choice? We are not told. The identity of the tree of life, and its qualities, are only made evident to the couple after their transgression.

Some Scriptural parallels suggest that it was a tree of sustained natural life. In Ezekiel and Revelation, the Tree of Life is defined as a tree of food and healing; a tree of sustenance and of bodily renewal, not a tree conferring immortality.[5]

Conversely there is an implication of immortality, in Christ’s promise of eternal life to the churches in Revelation: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God”.

The couple in Eden, while living in a state of obedience, had free and unhindered access to this tree, which was at the centre of the garden.

If it was a tree of sustained life, and had they then continued to eat of the fruit of the renewal of life, the Divine edict would have been effectively nullified.

If it was a tree of immortality, and the result of eating once was to live forever, then they cannot have eaten the fruit before their eviction from the Garden: and the prize only became evident once access to it was withdrawn, on the same premise that to eat was to nullify Divine sentence.

Death was an innate aspect of Adam and Eve’s already mortal nature, and is spoken of in the Divine sentencing as an existing inevitability, not a novel imposition. The sentence handed down at the Arraignment involved removal of the privilege of access to the Tree of Life: leading either to unhindered natural ageing and its inevitable outcome: or to a premature loss of the prospective prize of immortality. Either way, the hope of sustained or eternal life was withdrawn, and natural process continued unabated. Created from dust before his disobedience, and therefore mortal, it was to dust that Adam would return, when he breathed his last.

  1. see Maxwell, 1997 (References) for a concise summary of the Hebrew phrase muth temuth (death by execution)
  2. Note the interesting pattern. The order of temptation is: snake, Eve, Adam. The parties are called to account in reverse order (Adam, Eve, snake) then sentenced in original order (snake, Eve, Adam). Note also the play on words in Adam’s sentence: it is the adamah (ground) from which he was taken, that is cursed for the sake of the man (adam).
  3. The commentary of Josephus (37-c.100AD) in regard to Adam’s mortality and sentence, and the nature of the curse, is interesting , giving insight into a Jewish understanding of the Genesis text before Christianity embraced the dogma of a universal Fall. Josephus clearly infers Adam’s created mortality, and observes that the curse on the soil is limited to human interaction with it by cultivation (Italics mine for emphasis): “God said, ‘I had before determined about you both, how you might lead an happy life, without any affliction, and care, and vexation of soul; and that all things which might contribute to your enjoyment and pleasure should grow up by my providence, of their own accord, without your own labour and pains-taking: which state of labour and pains-taking would soon bring on old age, and death would not be at any remote distance’. . . .  But God allotted him punishment, because he weakly submitted to the counsel of his wife; and said, the ground should not henceforth yield its fruits of its own accord, but that when it should be harassed by their labour, it should bring forth some of its fruits, and refuse to bring forth others”. –Antiquities, book 1, ch. 1.
  4. Patriarchy, or male dominance, is presented to us in Genesis as part of the punishment for sin. In the first Creation account man and woman are made concurrently and commanded equally to multiply and rule. In the context of the second account, although the man is created first and the woman afterward, the primacy of the man does not confer authoritarian status; the woman is made as a help (ezer), an assistant in his presence and a partner in equal. The authoritarian role of the man is subsequently imposed on their relationship, as a part of Eve’s sentencing, and as a punitive consequence of her sin.
    Given that that the punishments were individual and personal, and that only consequences are inherited, the heirs are at liberty to ameliorate. Just as agriculturalists legitimately challenge and improve on Adam’s lot. we are likewise free to improve upon Eve’s, to modify patriarchy to a state of mutual love and respect, or better still, to set it aside altogether in emulation of the Edenic state of mutual and equal partnership.
    While we as Christians live under the consequences of sin and exclusion from Eden, the apostle Paul calls on husbands and wives to live as if they were in Eden. In the Christian marriage, therefore, the patriarchal role is represented not as one of authoritarian rule, but as one of self-sacrificial care (Ephesians 5): After all, says Paul the two are one flesh: and what man can hate his own flesh?
    The Kingdom state to which we aspire is one of gender equality: surely we should aspire to that ideal now as future citizens of that same Kingdom.
  5. The tree of Life was placed at the centre of the garden, deliberately accessible at the hub of an attractive orchard, and was openly included in the fruits of which the man and his wife could freely eat (Genesis 2:9, 16). Taking this context into consideration, we have to decide which is most logical: a tree which, upon consumption, grants a complete physical change from mortality to immortality (an “eat once and live forever” tree); or a tree which grants continued renewal of natural life (a “keep eating and keep living” tree).
    In the New Testament, immortality is a gift granted by Divine act at the Resurrection to the tried, responsible and faithful. It is not something we can reach out and take for ourselves. I do find it difficult to conceive that God would make immortality something freely attainable by an untried innocent, through the simple act of taking and eating of a physically attractive natural fruit.
    However if a designed seasonality meant that trial by the tree of knowledge would precede access to the tree of life, a certain order is introduced, whereby access to the one is merited by abstinence from the other. Notably in later prophecies the Tree of Life consists not of one tree with a seasonal crop, but of multiple trees yielding in successive seasons, suggesting a seasonal aspect to fruition in Eden, while ensuring uninterrupted availability in the Kingdom age. Nevertheless, in terms of context, the precise nature of the Tree of Life remains speculative.