Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 9th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Encyclopedias
Fall of Man

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Falkner, Thomas
Next Entry
Falling Away or From Grace
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

a phrase which "does not occur in Scripture, but is probably taken from the book of Wisdom, chapter 10:1. It is a convenient term to express the fact of the revolt of our first parents from God, and the consequent sin and misery in which they and their posterity were involved."

1. Scriptural Account of the Fall.

(1.) The Mosaic account is (Genesis 2:3), 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 knowledge of good and evil; that Adam was put under the following probation by his Maker (Genesis 2:16-17): "And the Lord God commanded the man, saving, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die;" that the serpent, who was more subtil than 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 those of her husband should be opened, and that thev should be "as gods, knowing good and evil;" that the woman took of the fruit, gave of it to her husband, who also ate; and that for this act of disobedience they were expelled from the garden, made subject to death, and laid under various maledictions.

(2.) Whether this account be a literal history or not, has been matter of great discussion, not merely between Christians and unbelievers, but also among: Christian interpreters. One theory is that the passage is an. allegory, signifying the origin of sin in the abuse of free-will, under which the appetites of man were allowed to obtain supremacy over his higherpowers. Another (later) view makes the narration mythical. The general current of Christian interpretation has held the passage to be historical, and has interpreted it literally. Philo Judaeus (t c. 40), speaking of the account of Paradise, says: "These accounts seem to me to be symbolical; not mere fabulous isventions like those of the poets and sophists. but rather types shadowing forth allegorical truth according tosome mystical explanation." So he makes the serpent the symbol of pleasure, etc. (On the Creation of the World, Bohn's translation, London, 1854, page 46 sq.).

Among the early Church writers, Clement considers the narrative of the Fall partly as fact and partly as allegory (Strom. 5:11, pages 689, 90), and, following Philo, makes the serpent the image of voluptuousness. Origen regards the account as allegorical (De princ. 4:16; contra Cels. 4:40; comp. also Origen, Fragm. in Gen. ad loc.). Irenaeus held the passage to be historical; so also Tertullian, adv. Judaeos, 2:184; De virg. verse 11; adv. Macc. 2:2. "He insists upon the literal interpretation of the particulars of the narrative, as they succeeded each other in order of time (De resurr. carn. 61. Adam ante nomina animalibus enunciavit, quam de arbore decerpsit; ante etiam prophetavit, quam voravit). The Gnostics made it allegorical or mythicas. On the Gnostic (Basilidian) doctrine of the Fall (σύγχυσις ἀρχική ), compare Clem. Strom. 2:20, page 488; Gieseler, Stud. u. Kritiken (1830), page 396. The author of the Clementine Homilies goes so far in idealizing Adam, as to convert the historical person into a purely mythical being (like the Adam-Cadmon of the Cabbalists), while he represents Eve as far inferior to him. Hence Adam could not trespass, but sin makes its first appearance in Cain; Baur, Gnosis, page 339" (Hagenbach, History of Doctrines, § 61). Among the later fathers, and in the scholastic period, the account was generally held to be historical. Augustine (De Civitate Dei, 13:21) asserts the historical verity of the narration, but adds that true spiritual and typical meanings are contained in it; e.g. Paradise is the Church, the true of knowledge is the type of free- will, etc. The theologians of the Reformation followed the Scholastics in adhering to the literal interpretation, but differ in the exposition of several parts of thee narrative; e.g. the serpent is held by some to be a natural serpent; by others, Satan in the guise of a serpent, etc. Calvin (Commentary on Genesis 3) speaks as follows: "It appears, perhaps, scarcely consonant with reason that the serpent only should be here brought forward, all mention of Satan being suppressed. I acknowledge, indeed, that from this place alone nothing more can be collected than that men were deceived by the serpent. But the testimonies of Scripture are sufficiently numerous in which it is plainly asserted that the serpent was only the mouth of the devil; for not the serpent, but the devil, is declared to be 'the father of lies,' the fabricator of imposture, and the author of death.

The question, however, is not yet solved why Moses has kept back the name of Satan. I willingly subscribe to the opinion of those who maintain that the Holy Spirit then purposely used obscure figures, because it was fitting that full and clear light should be reserved for the kingdom of Christ. In the mean time the prophets prove that they were well acquainted with the meaning of Moses when, in different places, they cast the blame of our ruin upon the devil. We have elsewhere said that Moses; by a homely and uncultivated style, accommodates what he delivers to the capacity of the people, and for the best reason; for not only had he to instruct an untaught race of men, but the existing age of the Church was so puerile that it was unable to receive any higher instruction. There is, therefore, nothing absurd in the supposition that they whom, for the time, we know and confess to have been but as infants, were fed with milk. Or (if another comparison be more acceptable) Moses is by no means to be blamed if he, considering the office of schoolmaster as imposed upon him, insists on the rudiments suitable to children. They who have an aversion to this simplicity must of necessity condemn the whole economy of God in governing the Church." A similar view is given by Kurtz, Bible and Astronomy (Phila. 1861), page 174 sq. The modern extreme Rationalists generally interpret the narrative as mythical. Eichhorn (Urgeschichte) finds truth in it in the form of poetry, that is, he makes it a myth; so Gabler, Paulus, and others. Kant, Schelling, and other recent German philosophers and interpreters make it a "speculative myth." Von Bohlen (On Genesis 3) follows Rosenmuller in supposing that the narrator had the Zendavesta in view. Julius Muller gives up the historical character of the narrative. " If now," he says, "we turn to the narrative in the book of Genesis, we shall find that not sin, but physical suffering and death, are there connected with Adam's fall. This fact, and the lesson that man's ruin originated in himself, are the great truths which are to be gathered from the story, which must be regarded as fundamentally true, although the story is in the form of a fable. That it is not to be taken literally is plain from Scripture, for the story in Genesis speaks of the serpent as the agent in the temptation of Eve. St. Paul speaks of the same temptation as coming from Satan. It is usual to assume that the serpent was the mere instrument of Satan, but there is nothing to lead us to this view in the words of the narrative. St. Paul, by interpolating this into the narrative, shows us that it is not to be taken as literally true. We find in John 8:44, 'the devil was a murderer from the beginning,' an allusion to the ruin of man by the temptation. If this be so, it is a plain reference to Satan as the cause of man's bodily death. To bring in the idea of spiritual death seems less appropriate, for our Lord was rebuking the murderous intentions of the Jews. It was through conduct like that of the devil that they showed themselves his children" (Doctrine of Sin, Edinb. 1868, pages 78, 79).

The more recent German interpreters of the better class (e.g. Havernick, Delitzsch, Keil, etc.) admit the historical character of the account, but there are, of course, various theories among them as to its interpretation. Martensen (Christian Dogmatics, § 79) interprets the Mosaic account as a combination of history and sacred symbolism, a figurative representation of an actual event. Lange (On Genesis, Amst. edit. page 243), speaking of the narrative, says: "Like the Biblical histories everywhere, and especially the primitive traditions of Genesis, it is a historical fact, to be taken in a religious ideal, that is, a symbolical form. It is just as little a mere allegory. It is just as little a pure, naked fact, as the speaking of the serpent is a literal speaking, or as the tree of life, in itself regarded, is a plant whose eating imparted imperishable life. That sin began with the beginning of the race, that the first sin had its origin in a forbidden enjoyment of nature, and not in the Cainitic fratricidor similar crimes, that the origin of human sin points back to the beginning of the human race, that the woman was ever more seducible than the man, that along with sin came in the tendency to sin, consciousness of guilt, alienation from God, and evil in general all these are affirmations of the religious historical consciousness which demand the historicalness of our tradition, and would point back to some such fact, even though it were not written in Genesis."

The interpretations of the serpent have been very variant. Eusebius (Praep. Evang. 1:10) says that Moses calls the evil spirit (πονηρὸς δαίμων ) by the name of "serpent," as he is "full of poison and malice." Adam Clarke (Commentary on Genesis, chapter 3) interprets the word nachash (rendered "serpent") to mean "a creature of the ape or ourangatang kind." His notes on the whole passage afford a very curious specimen of exegesis. We cite Lange (Genesis, Amer. edit. page 228) as follows: "True it is that the serpent appears as the probable author of this temptation, but such probability is weakened by what is said in 1:25 and 2:20. The serpent was a good creation of God, though different, as originally created, from what it afterwards became' (Delitzsch). As a type, the serpent is just as well the figure of health and renovation as of death, since every year it changes its skin, and ejects, moreover, its venom. This double peculiarity and double character, as ἀγαθοδαίμων and κακοδαιμων, is indicated not only in language, but also in myths, in sculpture, and in modes of worship. In this relation, however, we must distinguish two diverging views of the ancient peoples. To the Egyptian reverence for the serpent stands in opposition the abhorrence for it among the Israelites, (See SERPENT), Greeks, Persians, and Germans." "'That Satan made use of the serpent, and that a serpent was somehow employed, is likely; the language of Jehovah subsequently, while it was literally true of the instrument, being in a higher sense true of the agent, the one being made the emblem of the other (Genesis 3:14). Was the language here entirely symbolical and figurative, having nothing in it literal whatever? This does not seem likely. Why should such an allusion have been employed at all to describe the outcast and degraded condition of a fallen angel, had there been nothing whatever giving the serpent any connection with the temptation and the fall? Is it not more reasonable to consider both as blended, the literal and the symbolical? (Genesis 3:4; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2; Genesis 3:15; Colossians 2:15; Romans 16:20; 1 John 3:8; John 8:44). Conjectures, too, have arisen out of the terms in which the serpent was addressed: 'Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.' 'The serpent, perhaps,' says Gill, 'formerly moved in a more erect posture, but was doomed to lick the dust.' 'Probably his original residence and food,' guesses another, 'were in the trees, but now he is degraded to the earth.' That sentence evidently, whatever might be its literal application to the serpent, was emblematically meant of Satan himself. 'Plainly figurative,' says Dwight, 'to express a state of peculiar degradation and suffering' " (Wardlaw, Systematic Theology, page 85-7). Watson defends the historical character of the narrative (Institutes, part. 2, chapter 18), as also does Holden, Dissertation on the Fall (Lond. 1823, 8vo). Conyers Iliddleton (Essay on the Allegorical and Literal Interpretation of the Fall, Works, 1775, 2:437) maintains the allegorical view. Comp. Pye Smith, First Lines of Theoloqgy, book 4, chapter 2.

A writer in the Journal of Sacred Literature (1:351 sq.) seeks to show that the common opinion that the serpent was the instrument of the tempter is untenable, on the ground that the Scripture does not state that the serpent was an instrument; and that the literal application of the words of the narrative to a ser pent as the instrument of Satan appears to be inconsistent with the present relation of the serpent to other animals, and also with the testimony of geology as to fossil remains, etc. He maintains that under the name serpent Satan is meant, as there are "probable grounds for the conclusion that the serpent was, during the earliest ages, the name of the Evil One, reflecting the conception of him that then prevailed." Bishop Newton (Dissert. on Creation and Fall, 1st edit.) takes a similar view, viz. that Satan is spoken of in the passage under the "well-known" symbol or hieroglyphic of the serpent, which was a proper emblem, he holds, of the deceiver of mankind, as in popular estimation it was held to be the most cunning and insidious of animals. Sherlock (Use and Intent of Prophecy, diss. 3) refers to the "common usage of Eastern countries, which was, to clothe history in parables and similitudes;" and remarks that "it seems not improbable that for this reason the history of the fall was put into the dress in which we now find it. The serpent was remarkable for an insidious cunning, and therefore stood as a proper emblem of a deceiver; and yet, being one of the lowest of God's creatures, the emblem gave no suspicion of any power concerned that might pretend to rival the Creator." What was the particular nature of the sin of our first parents it is not an easy matter to determine. Bishop Newton remarks (1.c.) that "eating forbidden fruit is nothing more than a continuation of the same hieroglyphic characters wherein the history of the fall was recorded before the use of letters. It was plainly the violation of a divine prohibition; it was indulging an unlawful appetite; it was aspiring after forbidden knowledge, and pretending to be wise above their condition. So much may be safely asserted in general; we bewilder and lose ourselves in search of more particulars." In a later edition of this dissertation (Works, 1:91), bishop Newton modified the statement above given, and gave his adherence to the view that a real serpent was concerned in the fall (see Quarry, On Genesis 9). Martensen (Christian Dogmatics, § 103) passes by the question whether the "serpent was led by an evil spirit, or whether an evil spirit assumed the form of the serpent;" but he adds, "if we abide by the original narration, we may say that the serpent is ithe allegorical designation for the criminal principle which opposed itself to man in temptation." Dirtenbach (in Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 15:209, art. Sunde) maintains that the serpent was a real serpent, the tree a real tree, etc. Quarry gives a copious dissertation on Paradise and the Fall in his Genesis and its Authorship (London, 1866, 8vo).

The aim of this writer is to withdraw the scriptural statements "altogether from the range of physical interpretation." He cites a remark of Hengstenberg's (Christologie, th. 1, abt 1, page 26, ed. 1829), to the effect that if the serpent be symbolical, the whole history is symbolical, as, in a connected passage like this, unity of interpretation must prevail; and it is not allowable to follow at one moment the symbolical, and at the next moment the literal interpretation. Admitting the truth of this Quarry states that, nevertheless, the narrative may be, as a whole, not simply an apologue illustrating true principles, but a true history of great facts represented symbolically. He interprets the tree of life (compare Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14), and the eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as mystical; the former denoting the promise of eternal life conditioned on man's obedience, the latter denoting the act of disobedience and its moral consequences, consciousness of guilt and shame. He maintains that the supposition of a real serpent is untenable, as there is no ground tor the belief that Satan can possess at will any living creature, or work such a miracle as to make a serpent speak. 'A natural serpent is literally spoken of, but this natural serpent is only the symbol of the real tempter; otherwise the innocent animal receives all the punishment, while the really guilty tempter escapes." The real sin itself must have arisen at some point at which "natural appetite passed into that stage of its progress when, as St. James says, lust has conceived, and at which the sin thus conceived has quickened into mental transgression. This point, lost in the mystery which envelopes every beginning of existence, mental or material, of thought, act, or substance, was the real fall, and is better represented by the mystical symbol of the participation of forbidden fruit than by a historical narrative that should only specify the overt act in words to be taken in their literal acceptation." After answering Hengstenberg's objections to the symbolical interpretation (especially the objections drawn from those passages of the N.T. in which the history of the fall is taken as actual history, 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:13-14; Romans 5:12), he concludes with the general statement that "enough of the historical facts are patent to suffice for all the moral and religious uses of such a narrative, the creation and the fall being unquestionable verities;" but "nothing is told merely to gratify curiosity; the details that could only serve this end are withdrawn behind the veil of a mystical mode of representation" (page 155). See also Knapp, Christian Theology, § 75.

Heathens Traditions. There are many heathen traditions concerning the creation and the fall, some of which have marked points of resemblance to the Bible account. In some mythologies the serpent is an object of worship, while in others "mythology represents that reptile as trampled under the feet of a mighty deliverer. In a coin of Antoninus Pius Hercules is represented as plucking apples from a tree round the trunk of which a serpent is entwined." Among the Goths, the Persians, and the Hindoos, traditions of a serpent of various kinds are found. Stillingfleet ingeniously observes that from this origin has come the use of serpents to so great an extent in divination, Satan appearing ambitious to have the world think that the knowledge of good and evil was to come by the serpent still.' The Hebrew word for serpent signifies at the same time to divine, and the Greek word οἰωνίζεσθαι has the same derivation from οἰωνός , a serpent; 'thus we see how careful the devil was to advance his honor in the world under that form wherein he had deceived mankind into so much folly and misery'" (Wardlaw, Systematic Theology, 2:85 sq.). It has been the fashion to deny that the traditions of the various peoples, analogous to the Mosaic account, are at all confirmations of that account. But the harmony of these traditions has never been rationally explained apart from the theory that regards them as springing from common reminiscences of an actual occurrence. Auberlen remarks that "these oldest traditions of the human race confirm the historical credibility of the Mosaic narrative, down to its details, just as much as they do the inner purity and elevation of them, compared with the myths of heathenism. In regard to this latter view, it is especially seen how Israel alone, along with the fact, retains the deep, divine idea of it. The heathen, while they preserve with great fidelity the outward circumstances, clothe them in fantastic and national vesture. The difference is the same in kind as that between the canonical and apocryphal gospels." He cites also Herder, concerning the narration in Genesis, as follows: "Its sound has gone out into all the earth, and its very words into all lands! Whence is it that the remotest nations have their knowledge of it? How comes it that they built on it religions and mythologies; that it is, in fact, the sinplest foundation of all their arts, institutions, and sciences? If firm it things may be made plain and clear as sunlight that are as chaos and dark as night when it is denied, or when men prate of their hypotheses; if from this a whole antiquity may be reduced to order, and a line of light be drawn through the most confused events of the early history of nations light which, like that in Correggio's picture, shines from the cradle of the race what then have ye to say, ye manufacturers of myths, ye who would profane the revelation of God?" (Herder, aelt. Urkunde der Menschengeschlechts; Werke, Carlsruhe, 1827, 5:187; 6:4).

II. Doctrinal Import of the Narrative. Whatever views are held as to the nature of the narrative in Genesis 2, 3, all who believe it to be a record of divine revelation find in it the following points of doctrine:

1. That God, after creating man, placed him in a state of probation;

2. that the test of his probation was obedience to the divine law;

3. that the temptation to disobedience came from an evil power outside of man;

4. that the temptation appealed both to the intellect and to the senses, leading first to unbelief in God, secondly to putting "self" in place of God, and thereby to the beginning of evil lust;

5. that in the exercise of free will man yielded and sinned;

6. that the consequences of the sin were knowledge of good and evil, separation from: God, and death, the curse lighting upon man and upon nature also. Auberlen, referring to the three constituents of the first sin named above, viz, unbelief; self-love, and lust, remuarks as follows: "That these three parts of the idea of sin are not accidental, but substantially express it and exhaust it, is shown not only in the fact that all sin that comes before us in life may be referred to them, but also in the fact that they correspond to the three fundamental elements of man's being and consciousness spirit, soul, body the God-consciousness, self- consciousness, and world-consciousness. These have all become corrupted and perverted. They have become, respectively, alienation from God, selfishness, love of the world. The first and highest element of human nature the spiritual is negatived, obscured, made powerless; the two others the lower are pushed into extreme but unhealthy prominence and activity. Man has become physical and fleshly. Unbelief is the negative, the union of self-seeking and the lust of the senses is the positive element in the idea of sin. Man no longer wishes for God; he is bent on having the creature in both ways, the mental and natural, the subjective and objective; he will heave his own Ego and the world too. According to Genesis 3:5-6, the selfishness is, as it were, the soul; sensuousness, the body of sin: the first is the deep, invisible root; the second, the external manifestation. The Ego, separated from God, seeks in the world the elements on which it lives. Genesis thus comprehends the various opposing theories of men on the nature of sin, the theory of selfishness, which in recent times is represented by Julius Muller, and that of the senses by Schleiermacher and Rothe. It leads both ethical theories back to a religious basis, and in that matter modern thought has a great deal to learn" (Divine Revelation, Edinb. 1867, page 184).

The theological question of the connection between the sin of Adam and that of the whole human race will be treated under the articles IMPUTATION (See IMPUTATION); SIN (See SIN). For the specific loss of man by the fall, in the theological sense, involving the difference between the RomamCatholic anthropology and the Protestant, (See IMAGE OF GOD); (See JUSTIFICATION); (See SIN). In this place we give the views of various writers as to the general doctrinal significance of the narrative.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Fall of Man'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​f/fall-of-man.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile