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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Fall of Man

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In addition to what is stated on this subject under the article Adam, it may be necessary to establish the literal sense of the account given of man's fall in the book of Genesis. This account is, that a garden having been planted by the Creator, for the use of man, he was placed in it, "to dress it, and to keep it;"—that in this garden two trees were specially distinguished, one as "the tree of life," the other as: "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil;"—that from eating of the latter Adam was restrained by positive interdict, and by the penalty, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die;"—that the serpent, who was more subtle that any beast of the field, tempted the woman to eat, by denying that death would be the consequence, and by assuring her, that her eyes and her husband's eyes "would be opened," and that they would "be as gods, knowing good and evil;"—that the woman took of the fruit, gave of it to her husband, who also ate;—that for this act of disobedience they were expelled from the garden, made subject to death, and laid under other maledictions.

2. That this history should be the subject of much criticism, not only by infidels, but by those who told false and perverted views of the Christian system, was to be expected. Taken in its natural and obvious sense, along with the comments of the subsequent Scriptures, it teaches the doctrines of the existence of an evil, tempting, invisible spirit, going about seeking whom he may deceive and devour; of the introduction of moral corruptness into human nature, which has been transmitted to all men; and is connected also with the doctrine of a vicarious atonement for sin; and wherever the fundamental truths of the Christian system are denied, attempts will be made so to interpret this part of the Mosaic history as to obscure the testimony which it gives to them, either explicitly, or by just induction. Interpreters have adopted various and often strange theories; but those whose opinions it seems necessary to notice may be divided into such as deny the literal sense of the relation entirely; such as take the account to be in part literal and in part allegorical; and those who, while they contend earnestly for the literal interpretation of every part of the history, consider some of the terms used, and some of the persons introduced, as conveying a meaning more extensive than the letter, and as constituting several symbols of spiritual things and of spiritual beings.

3. Those who have denied the literal sense entirely, and regarded the whole relation as an instructive mythos, or fable, have, as might be expected, when all restraint of authority was thus thrown off from the imagination, themselves adopted very different theories. Thus we have been taught, that this account was intended to teach the evil of yielding to the violence of appetite and to its control over reason; or the introduction of vice in conjunction with knowledge and the artificial refinements of society; or the necessity of keeping the great mass of mankind from acquiring too great a degree of knowledge, as being hurtful to society; or to consider it as another version of the story of the golden age, and its being succeeded by times more vicious and miserable; or as designed, enigmatically, to account for the origin of evil, or of mankind. This catalogue of opinions might be much enlarged: some of them have been held by mere visionaries; others by men of learning, especially by several of the semi-infidel theologians and Biblical critics of Germany; nor has our own country been exempt from this class of bold expositors. How to fix upon the moral of "the fable" is, however, the difficulty; and the great variety of opinion is a sufficient refutation of the general notion assumed by the whole class, since scarcely can two of them be found who adopt the same views, after they have discarded the literal acceptation.

4. But that the account of Moses is to be taken as a matter of real history, and according to its literal import, is established by two considerations, against which, as being facts, nothing can successfully be urged. The first is, that the account of the fall of the first pair is a part of a continuous history. The creation of the world, of man, of woman; the planting of the garden of Eden, and the placing of man there; the duties and prohibitions laid upon him; his disobedience; his expulsion from the garden; the subsequent birth of his children, their lives, and actions, and those of their posterity, down to the flood; and, from that event, to the life of Abraham, are given in the same plain and unadorned narrative; brief, but yet simple; and with no intimation at all, either from the elevation of the style or otherwise, that a fable or allegory is in any part introduced. As this, then, is the case, and the evidence of it lies upon the very face of the history, it is, clear, that if the account of the fall be excerpted from the whole narrative as allegorical, any subsequent part, from Abel to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, may be excerpted for the same reason, which reason is merely this, that it does not agree with the theological opinions of the interpreter; and thus the whole of the Pentateuch may be rejected history, and converted into fable. Either then the account of the fall must be taken as history, or the historical character of the whole five books of Moses must be unsettled; and if none but infidels will go to the latter consequence, then no one who admits the Pentateuch to be a true history generally, can consistently refuse to admit the story of the fall of the first pair to be a narrative of real events, because it is written in the same style, and presents the same character of a continuous record of events. So conclusive has this argument been felt, that the anti-literal interpreters have endeavoured to evade it, by asserting that the part of the history of Moses in question bears marks of being a separate fragment, more ancient than the Pentateuch itself, and transcribed into it by Moses, the author and compiler of the whole. This point is examined and satisfactorily refuted in Holden's learned and excellent work, entitled, "Dissertation on the Fall of Man;" but it is easy to show, that it would amount to nothing, if granted, in the mind of any who is satisfied on the previous question of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. For let it be admitted that Moses, in writing the pentateuchal history, availed himself of the traditions of the patriarchal ages, a supposition not in the least inconsistent with his inspiration or with the absolute truth of his history, since the traditions so introduced have been authenticated by the Holy Spirit; or let it be supposed, which is wholly gratuitous, that he made use of previously existing documents; and that some differences of style in his books may be traced which serve to point out his quotations, which in a position that some of the best Hebraists have denied; yet two things are to be noted: first, that the inspired character of the books of Moses is authenticated by our Lord and his Apostles, so that they must necessarily be wholly true, and free from real contradictions; and, secondly, that to make it any thing to their purpose who contend that the account of the fall in an older document, introduced by Moses, it ought to be shown that it is not written as truly in the narrative style, even if it could be proved to be, in some respects, a different style, as that which precedes and follows it. Now the very literal character of our translation will enable even the unlearned reader to discover this. Whether it be an embodied tradition, or the insertion of a more ancient document, (though there is no foundation at all for the latter supposition,) it is obviously a narrative, and a narrative as simple as any which precedes or follows it.

5. The other indisputable fact to which I just now adverted, as establishing the literal sense of the history, is that, as such, it is referred to and reasoned upon in various parts of Scripture: "Knowest thou not this of old, since man (Adam) was placed upon earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment?" Job 20:4-5 . There is no reason to doubt but that this passage refers to the fall and the first sin of man. The date agrees; for the knowledge here taught is said to arise from facts as old as the first placing of man upon earth, and the sudden punishment of the iniquity corresponds to the Mosaic account: "The triumphing of the wicked is short, his joy but for a moment." "If I

covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom,"

Job 31:33 . Magee renders the verse,

"Did I cover, like Adam, my transgression, By hiding in a lurking place mine iniquity?"

and adds, "I agree with Peters, that this contains a reference to the history of the first man and his endeavours to hide himself after his transgression." Our margin reads, "after the manner of men;" and also the old versions; but the Chaldee paraphrase agrees with our translation, which is also satisfactorily defended by numerous critics. "What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?"

Job 15:14 . Why not clean? Did God make woman or man unclean at the beginning? If he did, the expostulation would have been more apposite, and much stronger, had the true cause been assigned, and Job had said, "How canst thou expect cleanness in man, whom thou createdst unclean?" But, as the case now stands, the expostulation has a plain reference to the introduction of vanity and corruption by the sin of the woman, and is an evidence that this ancient writer was sensible of the evil consequences of the fall upon the whole race of man. "Eden" and "the garden of the Lord" are also frequently referred to in the prophets. We have the "tree of life" mentioned several times in the Proverbs and in the Revelation. "God," says Solomon, "made man upright." The enemies of Christ and his church are spoken of, both in the Old and New Testaments, under the names of "the serpent," and "the dragon;" and the habit of the serpent to lick the dust is also referred to by Isaiah.

6. If the history of the fall, as recorded by Moses, were an allegory, or any thing but a literal history, several of the above allusions would have no meaning; but the matter is put beyond all possible doubt in the New Testament, unless the same culpable liberties be taken with the interpretation of the words of our Lord and of St. Paul as with those of the Jewish lawgiver. Our Lord says, "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female; and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh?" Matthew 19:4-5 . This is an argument on the subject of divorces, and its foundation rests upon two of the facts recorded by Moses:

(1.) That God made at first but two human beings, from whom all the rest have sprung.

(2.) That the intimacy and indissolubility of the marriage relation rests upon the formation of the woman from the man; for our Lord quotes the words in Genesis, where the obligation of man to cleave to his wife is immediately connected with that circumstance: "And Adam 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. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh." This is sufficiently in proof that both our Lord and the Pharisees considered this early part of the history of Moses as a narrative; for, otherwise, it would neither have been a reason, on his part, for the doctrine which he was inculcating, nor have had any force of conviction as to them. "In Adam," says the Apostle Paul, "all die;" "by one man sin entered into the world." "But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." In the last passage, the instrument of the temptation is said to be a serpent, οφις , which is a sufficient answer to those who would make it any other animal; and Eve is represented as being first seduced, according to the account in Genesis. This St. Paul repeats in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 : "Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived," first or immediately, "but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." And he offers this as the reason of an injunction, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection." When, therefore, it is considered, that these passages are introduced, not for rhetorical illustration, or in the way of classical quotation, but are made the basis of grave and important reasonings, which embody some of the most important doctrines of the Christian revelation, and of important social duties and points of Christian order and decorum; it would be to charge the writers of the New Testament with the grossest absurdity, nay, with even culpable and unworthy trifling, to suppose them to argue from the history of the fall as a narrative, when they knew it to be an allegory. And if we are, therefore, compelled to allow that it was understood as a real history by our Lord and his inspired Apostles, those speculations of modern critics, which convert it into a parable, stand branded with their true character of infidel and semi- infidel temerity.

7. The effect of the sin or lapse of Adam was to bring him under the wrath of God; to render him liable to pain, disease, and death; to deprive him of primeval holiness; to separate him from communion with God, and that spiritual life which was before imparted by God, and on which his holiness alone depended, from the loss of which a total moral disorder and depravation of his soul resulted; and finally to render him liable to everlasting misery. See ORIGINAL SIN . For the effect of the fall of Adam upon his posterity, See JUSTIFICATION .


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Fall of Man'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/f/fall-of-man.html. 1831-2.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
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