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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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The traditional name for the first sin of Adam and Eve which brought judgment upon both nature and mankind.

In Genesis people are the dominion-havers created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28 ). Man and woman are placed on earth with a commandment to obey (Genesis 1:28 ). The biblical understanding of dominion suggests a serving stewardship rather than mere power (Matthew 20:25-28 ).

Sin in the Garden Genesis pictures humans as the special creation of God (Matthew 2:7 ) placed in the special garden created by God (Matthew 2:8-15 ). Three features are crucial for understanding the human role in the garden: (1) Adam was put in the garden to “dress it and to keep it” (Matthew 2:15 ). God provided this vocation for man's fulfillment. (2) The first people were granted great freedom and discretion in the garden. This freedom permitted them to take from the goodness of God's creation (Matthew 2:16 ). (3) Yet their freedom and discretion were limited. God prohibited the taking of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Matthew 2:17 ). Scholars have pointed out that these three features belong uniquely to humans. Each person faces (1) vocation, (2) freedom, and yet (3) prohibition. Full humanity is experienced only when all three of these are maintained. God also met man's only apparent need—the need for community (Genesis 2:18 ). No partner could be found for him from the parade of animals. This prompted the special creation of woman from man (Genesis 2:19-22 ). Man immediately saw that she was made of human stuff, unlike the animals. Together they made a one-flesh union with perfect intimacy (Genesis 2:23-25 ).

The “knowledge of good and evil” would make humans godlike in some way (Genesis 3:5 ,Genesis 3:5,3:22 ). Some Bible students understand the tree to hold (1) all knowledge—that is the complete range of experience. Others claim the tree provides (2) knowledge of a moral nature. Some claim the acquired knowledge was simply (3) sexual experience.

The tree's purpose within the narrative provides a clue toward a more satisfactory explanation. The tree was the object and symbol of God's authority. The tree reminded Adam and Eve that their freedom was not absolute but had to be exercised in dependence upon God. In prideful rebellion the couple grasped for the capacity to be completely self-legislating—establishing an absolute self-directing independence. Such absolute dominion belongs only to God. Their ambition affected every dimension of human experience; for example, they claimed the right to decide what is good and evil.

The Serpent. The serpent made a sudden intrusion into the story. The serpent is identified in Genesis only as a creature. Theological reflection has identified him as an instrument of Satan and, thus, legitimately cursed and pictured as the enemy of woman's seed (Genesis 3:14-15 ). Later Scripture also declares that Satan is the ultimate tempter (1 John 3:8; Revelation 12:9 ). His presence, however, does not diminish mankind's responsibility. Scripture stipulates that man cannot blame his sin on demonic temptation (James 1:12-15 ).

The serpent began the conversation with a question that obviously distorted or at least extended God's order not to eat of the tree (Genesis 3:1 ). The questioner invited the woman to enter into a conversation about God and to treat Him and His word as objects to be considered and evaluated. Moreover, the serpent painted God as one who sadistically and arbitrarily placed a prohibition before the couple to stifle their enjoyment of the garden.

The woman apparently felt inclined to defend God's instruction. In her response to the serpent she included a citation of God's command. The text does not tell us how she or the snake came to know God's command. Adam may have passed on this information that he initially received prior to woman's creation (Genesis 2:17-18 ). She may thus represent all who receive the word of God through “human” instrumentality but who are nevertheless called to believe (compare John 20:29 ). She responded with a restatement of God's permission to eat freely of the garden provision (Genesis 3:2 ). She then told of God's prohibition of that one tree in the middle of the garden. Perhaps anxiety over doubting God's character moved her then to add to God's own words; she extended the instruction to include touching the tree, thereby making her own law. It is interesting that the first challenge to God's word did not involve deletion, but addition by both the serpent and the woman. Mankind's first surrender to temptation began with doubting God's instruction and His loving character. Today sinners still ask if God for “no good reason” keeps us from enjoying something He made.

The woman's willingness to judge and her addition to God's instruction, though seemingly harmless, permitted the serpent boldly to continue with a direct attack on God's character. He declared that the couple would not really die. Instead, he argued that God's motive was to keep the couple from being like God. The serpent claimed that the phrases “your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ) are God's reasons for giving the prohibitive command; in reality, these phrases express the human reasons for breaking the command. The couple was unhappy with their freedom as long as they thought more could be had. They sought unrestricted freedom—to be responsible to no one, not even God. The serpent seemed sure that eating would produce equality not death.

The woman stood before the tree. Crudely, she saw the fruit was good for food. In a more refined manner she judged it to be pleasant to the eye. More appealing to her vanity still was the newfound faith that it would bring knowledge (Genesis 3:6; compare 1 John 2:16 ). She ate of the fruit and gave it to Adam who ate as well. The story of sin is simply told without hearing from the couple. They would now know experientially the results of their broken trust.

Results of Sin Sin had immediate results in the couple's relationship; the self-first and self-only attitude displayed toward God affected the way they looked at one another. The mutual trust and intimacy of the one-flesh bond (Genesis 2:24 ) was ravaged by distrust. This does not suggest that the knowledge of good and evil was sexual awareness. Intercourse was the command and blessing of God prior to the fall (Genesis 1:28 ). In the absence of mutual trust, complete intimacy implies complete vulnerability (Genesis 3:7 ).

The couple also felt compelled to hide from God when they heard Him walking in the garden. When loving trust characterized the couple's attitude, they were apparently comfortable in God's presence. After their sin, shame appropriately marked their relationships—both human and divine (Genesis 3:8 ). The sinners could not remain hidden. God pursued, asking, “where art thou” (Genesis 3:9 ). This may be a normal question, but some see it as God's sorrowful anticipation of what follows. Sinners finally must speak to God. Adam admitted that God's presence now provoked fear, and human shame provoked hiding (Genesis 3:10 ).

God's next question drew the man's attention away from his plight to his sin (Genesis 3:11 ). The couple had to face their maker. The man admitted his sin, but only after emphatically reminding God that the woman was instrumental in his partaking. Woman shared equally in the deed, but she quickly blamed the deceiving serpent (Genesis 3:12-13 ). Along with shame, blame comes quite naturally to humankind.

God moved immediately to punish. The serpent was not interviewed because he was not an image-bearer in whom God sought a representation and relationship. The snake's behavior foreshadowed the reversal of created order and mankind's dominion. Once appealing and crafty, the cursed snake became lower than other animals. The judgment included the strife between snakes and humans. Some believe a fuller meaning of the verse promises Christ's ultimate victory over Satan (Genesis 3:14-15 ).

The woman's punishment was linked to her distinctive role in the fulfillment of God's command (Genesis 1:28 ). Her privilege to share in God's creative work was frustrated by intense pain. Despite this pain she would nevertheless desire intimacy with her husband, but her desire would be frustrated by sin. Their mutuality and oneness were displaced by male domination (Genesis 3:16 ). Even today the mark of sin is seen in the degrading domination of women—for example, rape, polygamy, and pornography.

Adam's punishment also involved the frustration of his service. He was guilty of following the woman's sinful advice and eating of the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:17 ). The fruitful efficiency known prior to the Fall was lost. Now even his extreme toil would be frustrated by the cursed earth. The

earth was apparently cursed because it was within Adam's domain. This corporate mentality is strange to us, but biblical writers recognize nature's need for redemption (Isaiah 24:1; Romans 8:19-23; Colossians 1:15-20 ). Contemporary environmental crises remind us today of human dependence upon sin-injured nature.

Results—Epilogue Man's prerogative to name woman (Genesis 3:20 ) was a sign of the fallen order, but hope persists. Mankind can carry on because the woman has the capacity to bear children. Hope ultimately emerged from divine determination to preserve His creation. Some may expect God to retreat and leave the sinful people alone to taste the misery that would follow, but grace-giving Yahweh provided clothing for fallen mankind (Genesis 3:20-21 ).

Yahweh acknowledged the partial truth of the serpent's claim: Adam's and Eve's autonomy had made them like the divine (Genesis 3:5 ,Genesis 3:5,3:22 ). In these circumstances, access to the tree of life is inappropriate. Numerous questions regarding the conditional nature of the tree of life are left unanswered here (Ezekiel 47:12; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2 ,Revelation 22:2,22:14 ,Revelation 22:14,22:19 ). As a tragic judgment, the sinful pair was driven out of the garden, intended by God as His dwelling place. Guardian cherubim protected the garden and the tree (Genesis 3:22-24 ) and, thus, graciously protected people from entering into an infinite period of struggle. The serpent's lie concerning death (Genesis 3:4 ) became visible. Human sin brought death (Genesis 3:19 ,Genesis 3:19,3:22 ). Some readers question why death did not come “on that day” as God had apparently promised (Genesis 2:17 ), but the Hebrew expression may mean simply “when” (NIV; compare REB). One should also be reminded of God's grace to allow life to continue and the Hebrew understanding that death involves separation from God as much as physical death (Job 7:21; Psalm 88:5 ,Psalms 88:5,88:10-12; Isaiah 38:18-19 ).

New Testament The New Testament writers assumed the fallen state of both humans and nature. Both groan for redemption (Romans 8:19-23 ). When comparing Adam and Christ, Paul declared that sin and death gained entrance into the world through Adam and that sin and death are now common to all people (Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23 ). Adam may be pictured as a representative of mankind, all of whom share in his penalty (Romans 5:19 ).

Randy Hatchett

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Fall'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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