The Great Fall

Man and Woman, God and Earth Ch 3


To describe how the sacred author presents the development of sin in the human heart, its effects and God’s response to it.

The Author

Kindly note that the sacred author of this chapter is a writer; he is giving us literature. In giving us this passage, the Holy Spirit worked through a most gifted writer. He writes simply but profoundly, no words are wasted in any line. It deserves attention.

Our author here is the same one who gave us the preceding passage about the second creation of Man and Woman and the Garden. Remember what was said about him above: he is a man of faith. He believes in the LORD who took his people out of Egypt, who gave them a good law to live by, and a rich land to live in. The LORD has bound himself to his people by a Covenant and has shown himself to be a forgiving God, merciful beyond understanding. He does not strike dead those who disobey him. Many who disobey him walk around as healthy as can be

Remember also that the Man and the Woman have been presented to us as surrounded with the signs of God’s goodness to them, just as the People of God had been surrounded with his blessings. The Man and the Woman have also been given a law (not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge); presumably this law, which was not explained by the writer, is as good as everything else God has done for the Man and the Woman. They are expected to trust that the law is good, just as the People of God of the writer’s day had to trust that the Law of God was good, even though they might not understand it completely.


What is the subject of this passage? Clearly, it is sin. However, Sin is not at the center of the Christian message. Why then do we need to concentrate on Sin? Is it to diminish or darken our self-image? Is it to arouse in us feelings of guilt and shame? Is it to make us feel worthless? NO!!!

It is to lead us to a genuine commitment to God. We cannot know where we are to go unless we first know where we are. Therefore we look at sin so that it will enable us to genuinely commit ourselves to God and to each other. Our author knows, just as we know that sin is disobedience against God. The sacred writer, however, is not going to be satisfied with a superficial answer. He wants to probe much more deeply into the dark mystery of sin: not sin in general, but the sin of those, who have a knowledge of God and still disobey him. What makes such people sin? What happens to them when they turn from God? What lies at the root of rebellion against God? His answers are as much psychological as they are theological.

The Man and Woman, therefore, do not stand only for our first parents who sinned, but also for the people of the author’s day, and they stand for us as well. What is described as happening to them, is what happens to us today when we sin.

In the history of the Church more has been written on these 25 verses than on probably any other passage of the Bible. And still much more could be written. It is a sign of extraordinarily fine literature when its meaning is never quite exhausted

The Christian doctrine on original sin, while it has its foundations in these chapters, is more properly the subject of theology than of exegesis. The development of the doctrine of original sin as we know it began to take concrete shape about the time of St. Augustine (4th century) and remains to this day the topic of lively discussion. We would advise individuals and groups studying this lesson to focus their attention on the content of these eleven chapters and to resist the temptation to discuss current interpretations of original sin.

Word Study – The Serpent

Often in scripture, and certainly in the description of the fall of mankind, the sacred author wants to communicate on a level deeper than mere prose can express, and so he employs images, poetry, symbols. As a symbol to introduce the fall of mankind, the sacred author chose the serpent. Is this a good symbol? Yes, for several reasons.

  • First, almost universally, people have a similar feeling about snakes and serpents. We admire the way they move; their smooth gliding gives us the impression that they are sly, cunning, ‘ ‘sneaky”. There is a certain amount of beauty in the serpent’s eyes; he even appears intelligent / crafty. Jesus himself refers to this popular belief that snakes are clever (Matt 10:16). The sacred author thus uses the serpent as the vehicle to introduce some very cunning and subtle remarks about the origin of sin.
  • The serpent is a good image for a second reason. Traditionally, from ancient times, the serpent has been admired because it sheds its skin and seems to renew itself year by year. It became a sign of life and the symbol of healing, a belief still witnessed by the emblem of the medical profession. This view is also reflected in the story of Moses and the bronze serpent (Num 21 ).
  • Finally, when the People of God ended their desert wanderings and entered the Promised Land, the first temptation facing them was to participate in Canaanite worship, which included cultic prostitution. The pagan inhabitants of the land felt they could ensure the fertility of their crops by reenacting in sacred ritual the sexual intercourse of the gods. Their ritual often employed the symbol of the serpent and associated it with women, the cult prostitutes. The People of God did, in fact, give in to the temptation to participate in the pagan ceremonies, thus breaking the Law of the LORD. The serpent became a symbol of sin.

At the time of the sacred author, then, the symbol of the serpent would have been very meaningful to his readers. The triple barrel image allows him to make some very subtle statements about the genesis of sin and is able to convey that the serpent, intelligent & crafty, is offering life, healing and posterity. Finally, the author’s fellow Israelites would recall the sin of cultic prostitution.

Traditionally, the serpent here has been seen as a symbol of Satan. While this is acceptable, it should not be exaggerated too much. We must be careful not to read into the text our own idea of Satan, something which developed later.

Verse Study Ch 3:1-19

It is interesting to note that no word for “sin” occurs in the chapter. The chapter focuses instead on what humans see and know, hear and do.

Transgression – Serpent, Woman and Man (3:1-7)

Text 3:1-7. Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So 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 to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves apron

The aforesaid text does not focus on the serpent per se, but on the human response to the possibilities the serpent presents. As such the serpent presents a metaphor, representing anything in God’s good creation that could present options to human beings, the choice of which can seduce them away from God. The tree itself becomes the temptation, while the serpent facilitates the options the tree presents.

The serpent raises a question about the amount of freedom that God has given human beings (Gen 3:1)

In her response, the woman makes the prohibition more severe than God made it (Gen 2:17), where there is no mention that they must not “TOUCH” the tree and this reveals a key vulnerability – namely anxiety about death. She exaggerates because she wants to avoid death at all costs (Genesis 3:2).

The serpent responds precisely at the point of exaggeration and vulnerability, and with a promise that: The humans will not die. This response is a contradiction of what God has said. The serpent speaks a key phrase – “God knows”. It claims that God has not told them the whole truth about the matter, that God keeps something back. In this the serpent acts not as a deceiver but as a truth-teller. But what was God’s motivation for not telling them the whole story? The serpent makes it sound as if God’s motivation is self-serving; the humans will become like God. Has God, in keeping the full truth from them, divine interests more at heart than human interests? The issue of knowledge becomes at its deepest level an issue of trust. Is the giver of the prohibition one who can be trusted with their best interests? Can the man and woman trust God even if God has not told them everything, indeed not given them every possible “benefit”? The writer leaves the woman to draw her own conclusions. The serpent has only presented some possibilities. The serpent engages in no coercion here, no arm-twisting, and no enticement through presentation of fruit from the tree; everything happens through words. The word of the serpent ends up putting the word of God in question. (Genesis 3:4-5).

The woman does not speak (the lack of communication reinforces the element of mistrust); she only looks, contemplates, and eats. She considers explicitly neither God nor the prohibition, in terms of either complaint or rejection; she focuses only on the potential the tree offers. By using their freedom to acquire Wisdom in this way, human beings have determined that the creational command no longer applies to them. The woman gives some to her husband. As a silent partner “with her” throughout this exchange, the man puts up no resistance, raises no questions, and considers no theological issues; he simply and silently takes his turn. The woman does not act as a temptress in this scene; they have both succumbed to the same source of temptation. They stand together as “one flesh” at this point as well. (Gen 3:6).

Ignoring God’s superabundant generosity, the woman concentrates on the one thing forbidden. Her vision becomes more and more distorted. The forbidden fruit appears progressively more attractive — tasty to eat, beautiful to behold, beneficial for knowledge

Almost as an anticlimax, she plucks and eats the fruit. By this time the sin has become inevitable.

She is not alone in her sin. Her husband is “with her” (vs 6) as the Hebrew text clearly states, although some translations omit this phrase. He eats of the fruit too.

The command they have disobeyed is broader than not eating from a particular tree. Rather, they have refused to be what God meant them to be, that is, creatures, which means not having a knowledge of all. By attempting to be more than creatures, they have refused to accept creaturehood and the Creator. This is at the root of all sin. The result is fourfold: Their eyes are opened; they know that they are naked; they make loincloths for themselves and they hide from God’s presence.

With eyes opened they see the world differently, from a theological perspective. They realize that, now having to decide for them what is in their own best interests, everything looks somewhat different. Having decided to be on their own, they see the world entirely through their own eyes. They now operate totally out of their own resources.

The humans first see each other’s nakedness. It becomes clear that nakedness has more than a bodily reference. It reverses the lack of shame between them in 2:25

They respond initially by providing garments for themselves, which involves more than a physical act; they attempt to cover up their shame. This response addresses only the symptoms of the problem.

Their human resources prove inadequate, as they recognize in seeking to hide their nakedness from God. (Gen 3:7).

Inquest – Man, Woman & Serpent (3:8-13)

Text Gen 3:8-13 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate

In the Inquest, God conducts a judicial enquiry. Here, the man not the woman functions as the dialogue partner. Hence, the author creates a certain balance between them in the story as a whole.

The Creator of the world and all creatures, chooses not to relate to the world at a distance, but takes on human form, goes for a walk among creatures, and personally engages them regarding recent events. This is no naïve theology, but a deeply profound understanding of how God chooses to enter into the life of the world to relate to the creatures. Even more, this God comes to the man and woman subsequent to their sin; God does not leave them or walk elsewhere (This is Yahwistic literature).

While the nakedness in 3:7 focuses on their relationship to each other, in 3:10 it shifts to their relationship with God. God’s response centres on their nakedness, not on their fear. How would the man have known that he was naked? Something must have happened so that nakedness has become a problem to someone, who told him so (namely the woman).

The man appears fearful, insecure, ashamed, seeking to justify himself and deflecting blame, both to God for giving him the woman and to the woman for giving the fruit to eat, which had been guaranteed to alienate them from each other. Yet he does admit having eaten. This situation attests to a breakdown in inter-human relationships as well as in the relationship with God, whom he does not engage in a straightforward manner.

The woman deflects responsibility as well (though she does not blame God as the man does) this time laying the blame on the trickery of the serpent (blaming it on the source of temptation) yet admitting that she too has eaten.

That there is no enquiry of the serpent may show that the purpose in the interrogation of the humans was to elicit confession.

Sentence – SERPENT, WOMAN, MAN (3:14-19)

Text Gen 3:14-19. The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

God acts as judge calling each of the participants before the bench in the order of the transgression i.e. Serpent, Woman, and Man.

However, even in the sentencing, God remains in relationship with the creatures involved, connected and concerned enough to identify further what has just happened.

Every conceivable relationship has been disrupted: among the animals, between an animal and humans, between ground and humans, between human beings and God; between an animal and God; within the individual self. One could also speak in terms of humiliation, domination and subordination, conflict, suffering and struggle.

The sentences touch every aspect of human life: marriage and sexuality, birth and death; work and food; human and nonhuman. In all of these areas one could speak of death encroaching on life. Disharmony reigns supreme.

Sin is not only something personal between you and God but also involves the whole of creation

Sin causes alienation when the man transfers the guilt of the sin to God (vs 1 2). By betraying his wife the man shows that sin also separates him from his fellow human beings. Far from being joined in solidarity against God, sinners are also alienated from others. This verse, along with those which follow (3:12-20), says a lot.

Man is created for relationships; he is truly fulfilled when properly related to God as creature to Creator, to his fellow (wo)man as a partner, and to the rest of creation — the earth as steward.

Sin attacks these orderly relationships. By refusing to accept his proper relationship to God — that of a creature — man also destroys the order in his relationships with his fellow men and the earth.

The ‘curses’ which follow, then, are not so much punishment meted out by God for sin as they are the inspired author’s description of the disorder, which inevitably flows from sin.

Man’s relationship with his fellow man is disordered by sin. He betrays his partner (woman) and even rebukes God for creating her (vs 12). What a contrast to his exclamation of delight at her creation (2:23)! He dominates the woman (vs 16) and gives her a name as he did for the animals (compare vs 20 with 2:19). Even the beautiful event of bringing forth new life is marred for the woman; she suffers not only physical pain but, what is worse, also the humiliation of being dominated by a man who treats her as inferior (vs 16).

Man’s relationship with the earth is disordered too (vss 17-18). The land is God’s gift to man and working it is man’s task; yet the disorder of sin makes this task a bitter struggle. The harmony of God, man and earth has been seriously damaged.

God’s Reaction to Sin

In the midst of sin, the Lord remains full of loving mercy. God does not strike the sinner dead. Far from appearing as a stern judge, he peacefully walks in the garden as a gentle father, a kind friend; he gently calls out to the man (vss 8-9). He gives the man and the woman a chance to defend themselves (vss 1 1-13), a privilege denied to the serpent, however. As an act of mercy he fashions leather garments for them (vs 21). Even the expulsion from Eden is motivated, not by wrath, but by love. Realizing that man has sinned, has rejected his creaturehood, has — ironically — become like God who knows good and evil (vs 22), God does not want to leave him in his misery forever. Lest, man eat of the tree of life and thus face an eternity of torture, the merciful Lord bars him from the garden. The ‘trial’ scene thus ends with God taking pity on his sinful creatures.

The chapter, then, has a message of hope in the midst of the chaos of sin. The harmony of man with God, his fellowmen, and the earth, is damaged but not completely annihilated. There will be a constant struggle, but order will prevail. In this connection, re-read verse 15. Christian tradition has interpreted this verse as a reference to the struggle between man and sin, a struggle which Christ finally wins.

Kindly keep me in your prayers.

In Christ,

Steven Pais