January 25, 2021

Exile from Eden (Gen 3)

By Chaplain Mike

As we near the end of “Creation Week” here at IM, we come to our final study in the early chapters of Genesis. Today we look at the account of Adam and Eve’s sin and their expulsion from the Garden in Genesis chapter 3.

This is the second act of a three-act account that tells “what came forth from the skies and the land” (2:4). Chapter 2 set the stage with the description of God’s Garden in Eden, the creation of Adam and his priestly calling, and the provision of a helper, the woman, who corresponded perfectly to him and made the perfect partner to join him in the work of “serving and keeping” before God in the Garden. The epilogue to the story concluded with the words, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

A Crafty New Character
As chapter 3 opens, we are introduced to a new character via a play on words. In Hebrew, the word “naked” in 2:24 sounds like the word “crafty” in 3:1—“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.” “Crafty” is a wisdom term in the Bible that can carry positive or negative connotations. Adam and Eve’s nakedness not only reflects their moral innocence but also their intellectual and spiritual simplicity, whereas the serpent is portrayed as one who is shrewd and insightful. His “wisdom” however, has evil designs.

C. John Collins argues that the serpent here is not simply an animal acting and speaking of its own accord, but the mouthpiece of a “Dark Power” that the original audience may have recognized (it is called “the” serpent in the text). Non-human creatures in the Bible are not portrayed as speaking of their own accord unless being taken over by a spiritual personage.

His conversation with the woman is intriguing.

And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;

but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” [lit. “lest you die”]

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!

“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Note the following: (1) the serpent does not use the covenant name of God (Lord God) that is prominent throughout the story; (2) the serpent questions what God said and perverts the command that had been spoken into a statement of complete restriction, ostensibly to cause the woman to doubt the goodness of the One who spoke it; (3) the woman repeats the original command, but alters it slightly in two ways—she adds an additional restriction (“or touch it”) and she downplays the consequences (“lest you die” rather than “you shall surely die”); (4) the serpent boldly denies God’s threatened judgment and casts aspersions on his motives, suggesting that God gave this command because he does not want anyone else to rival him.

Notice: nowhere does the serpent say that Eve and Adam should eat the forbidden fruit. He never even suggests it! He focuses solely on getting them to doubt the Word and character of God in restricting their access to the tree’s fruit. Crafty indeed!

Who Provides What Is Good?
At that point, the onus is entirely on the first couple. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”

The word “see” is significant in this context. In chapter 1, as God prepared the land for his creatures, over and over again we read, “And God saw that it was good.” In Genesis, as in our own language, the word “see” can go beyond the idea of merely apprehending something through the sense of sight. When someone asks us to provide something to meet a need, we may say, “I will see to it”; that is, “I will provide it.” God is the One who provides the “good” for his world and his creatures. He sees to it that Adam and Eve have all they need. Yet here, we see Eve—“the woman saw that the tree was good…” This suggests more than mere evaluation. She is being tempted to provide the “good” for herself rather than trusting God for it.

This theme is prominent in Genesis.

  • In chapter 6, verse 2, we read: the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful [lit. “good”]; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.”
  • In the story of Abraham and Lot deciding where they will settle, we read: “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere–this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah–like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.  So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward” (13:10).
  • On the other hand, Abraham’s faith is confirmed in Genesis 22, when he ascends the mountain to sacrifice Isaac: “”God will provide [lit. “see”] for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (22:8). After God does indeed provide, the name of that place becomes, “Yahweh-Yireh,” the Lord will see (provide), and we are then given a glimpse of God’s ultimate provision of a Lamb: “as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the LORD it will be provided'” (22:14).

So then, the first temptation and sin is portrayed as human beings seeking wisdom for themselves, apart from the Word of God. The question that arises from this account for us is: Will we seek to provide the good for ourselves, or will we be content to let God provide it for us? In other words, will we be wise? or fools?

The foolishness of their choice (and it was BOTH of them, not just Eve—see 3:6) became apparent immediately. Their eyes were indeed opened, but rather than becoming like God, with a wise grasp of good and evil and a commitment always to the good, they became aware only of their sin and its effects. They knew that they were “naked.” Only this time the author uses a word that is found in places like Deut. 28:48, where it does not merely mean unclothed, but shamed by one’s enemies and taken captive.

As God had warned, “death” takes hold as soon as Adam and Eve transgress God’s command and eat the forbidden fruit. Not the cessation of physical life. But spiritual estrangement. The beginning of their exile happens not when they are cast from the Garden, but when they become alienated from themselves, each other, and God.

However, God loves us too much to leave us unconfronted in our sin. So he comes to address Adam and Eve, his “voice” resounding “in the wind of the day.” This is probably not the serene stroll we sometimes imagine from certain English translations. This is God appearing in the whirlwind, coming to uncover the secrets of human hearts and pronounce judgment.

As he does, they respond in verses 8-13 with a veritable litany of sin’s effects in human life—fear of facing God, attempting to hide from him, excuse-making, blame-shifting, refusing to take responsibility for their actions.

God the Judge calls them before the bar and addresses them one by one: the serpent, the woman, the man.

  • To the serpent: Hit the ground! Eat dust! I’m sending a person born of woman that you will wound, but he will crush your head!
  • To the woman: Your calling to participate in “multiplying and filling the earth” will become more difficult and painful. Your perfect partnership with your husband will become a relationship of competition and conflict.
  • To the man: Your vocation of working the ground will become more difficult and frustrating. And then you will return to that same ground in physical death.

The ending succinctly summarizes the new situation:

  • Though their task will become more difficult, Adam expresses faith that Eve will bear children and have a multitude of descendants. Life will go on.
  • God clothes them with “tunics” made from animal skins. Later, under the Law, priests would likewise wear “tunics” to cover their “nakedness” so that they might serve in the Tabernacle. Thus, Adam and Eve are allowed to continue their calling of representing God in the world, covered by God’s grace.
  • Access to the Tree of Life is blocked, Adam and Eve are “driven out” of the Garden, and cherubim are stationed with flaming swords at the Garden’s entrance to make it impossible for them to re-enter (until the way back is revealed). On future occasions, those who enter the Promised Land will be reminded of the guard God set at its entrance (see Gen 32:1-2, 24-32).

Concluding Thoughts
In closing, I refer here to the work of C. John Collins in his book, Genesis 1-4. His careful theological reflection on what this passage teaches and does not teach is helpful to prompt our thinking about the significance of this text.

  • “Many have read these verses as implying that these curses describe changes in the way the natural world works—in other words, a fallen creation. Is this what the verses actually say? If we study them carefully, we will conclude that the answer is yes and no.” (p. 163)
  • “The text, however, does not imply that the pain (of childbirth/working the ground) results from changes in the inner workings of creation. To begin with, consider the specific expression, ‘cursed is the ground.’ It only speaks of the ground, not of the whole creation; that makes sense, because the ground is what the man will ‘work’ (Gen 3:23)….The same verb occurs in Deuteronomy 28:17-18, where curses fall upon the basket, kneading bowl, the fruit of the womb, the increase of the herds, and the young of the flock….Nowhere does it imply that somehow human sin has distorted the workings of the natural elements: rather, agriculture is the arena in which God brings his chastisement upon human beings.” (p. 164)
  • “In the same way, it is a mistake to read Genesis 2:17 as implying that physical death did not affect the creation before the fall….the focus of this death is spiritual death…” (p. 165)
  • “From all of this we may conclude that Genesis does say that changes have come into human nature as a result of the fall—pain in childbearing, other afflictions of body and soul, death, frustration in ruling the creation—but it does not follow that nonhuman nature is affected in the same way. If one wants to speak of fallen nature, he should mean by that a world fallen in man—namely a world that is ruled by sinful human beings and which is the means by which those humans find toil and frustration.” (p. 166)


  1. I’m wondering, honestly and not asked passive aggresively, if Mr. Collins does not see Creation as fallen then how does he reconcile that with Paul’s words that all of creation groaneth to be set free from the curse of sin?

    • Read my post this evening, Austin.

      • Dana Ames says

        Thanks, CM. This has been a great series I have an Orthodox friend who is a Sailhamer fan, and has made me wish I had the tools for uncovering the structure of biblical texts.

        The explanations and conclusions are very close to those of the Eastern Fathers, who were highly educated and gifted thinkers. They were extremely intimate with the biblical texts, and did not read them as a “newspaper”. They believed God was trying to convey to us deeper meaning- not “secret” Gnostic sorts of things, but things that would enable us to apprehend the reality of what Jesus means for humanity. They didn’t always agree with one another, but a consensus of interpretation did emerge.

        And among the Fathers, the term “Word of God” always -yes, always!- refers to the Second Person of the Trinity.


    • austin,

      I was going to refer you to the end of the comment thread for the last post in this series, but it looks like one more is coming :). I’m looking forward to it!
      I hadn’t thought about most of these ideas before, but I have wondered why the text says Eve’s pain in childbirth will be “increased”, not that she would suddenly have pain where no pain was present before. It makes sense in this (the post above’s) context.
      Also, if childbirth was at least a possibility before the Fall – childbirth implies a normal process of development of the said child, which requires some sort of pain if the child is going to learn anything at all about the world.

      • Human childbirth is more painful because the human brain is larger, thus the head must be larger at birth. So I would agree that the quest for knowledge made human childbirth more painful.

        • Dana Ames says

          The head is bigger, yes, but I don’t think that’s the point; the mother’s body compensates for this, all other things being “normal”.

          My understanding is that the Hebrew for Gen 3.16a means something like:

          the number of your conceptions will increase, and it will be painful to bring forth children, most especially inwardly.

          So we will need to have more children than God originally planned for us to have in order to “be fruitful and multiply”. And we’re in for heartache, even with the best of kids.


        • Good point. I had not thought about that.

          I have always looked upon the passage as simply the Hebrews trying to explain why something so necessary as childbirth should be so painful. The explanation also plays into their patriarchal view of the world.

  2. One person, whom I can’t remember, said that “Cursed is the ground” is a biblical complaint for having to go to work on a nice spring day. (jn).

  3. I first humbly ask for patience as I am about to bring my skepticism to the table.

    The fall and sin are taken as literal events and factual matters among the majority of Christians, but Genesis 3 continues a narrative not meant to be taken literally and as such factual answers concerning our world are not likely to be found in such narratives. It assumes the increase in pain in childbearing and difficulty in agricultural labor are somehow undesirable or the result of a “Dark Power.” In reality it can be said that the pain in childbearing can promote a strong bond between mother and child and the challenges of manual labor is often held as important to building character and responsibility.

    Also, it seems childish to label as suffering when the “discomforts” that are very important parts of human life. Pain in childbearing and difficulty in labor are parts of life, and it seems as if people are actually taking a cynical view of life and believing that it needs some sort of change (redemption, etc). Rather, it would be better to focus on the potential good that comes from the realities of childbirth and labor instead of adhering to religious ideas like sin and the fall, which paint life in a hopeless sort of drama and can actually prevent people from coping with life. Instead of boldly and joyfuy enjoying life, belief in things like sin and the fall provide an emotional crutch with which to hide from life and not deal with reality.

    And I would say that the idea that “God provides” is another crutch on which some religious people hobble when they have not been adequately prepared to handle the challenges of life. Instead of actively engaging in the world around them in an effort to handle life, people seem to give up and say “God provides.” That sounds cynical and defeatest to me. Instead of waiting for God to provide, people would do well to take responsibility for their own life and not look towards the mystical for an answer.

  4. I had a valued spiritual friend show me years ago a relevant set of points in these sentences. Genesis tells us that God looked on everything He had made as good. Then, three times, Genesis reinforces this by telling us that God made human beings in His image. (The words he used to describe God–not present here–and thus us, are good, holy and lovable.) Then, here, the serpent tells the woman that if she eats of the fruit, she will be like God.

    This is the great lie. God made us in His image, yet the woman (and the man) did not believe it. They did not believe they were good, holy and lovable, just as they were. They did not trust the covenant they had with God. They listened to the serpent. After listening, they thought they had to BECOME rather than just BE. That’s why they ate of the fruit of the tree, to BECOME good. And the consequence was the loss of seeing everything–every thing, including themselves–as good. Evil had entered the world.

    The point here is the same for us. God made each of us in His image–good, holy and lovable, just as we are. However, instead of accepting that gift, we try to BECOME good, holy and lovable, relying on our own efforts to attain that goal. We strive to become what we already are, and we strive in vain. We cannot make ourselves “good”. God already did that. We just have to accept it.

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