Genesis 3 and the Fall


I want to begin tonight by giving you the words of a Christian scholar. He is writing on these opening chapters of Genesis that you are studying this term. Let me quote:

Natural scientists and philosophers have attempted to explain nature or the world; but not one of their theories or suggestions has remained firm or unshaken; each has been over thrown by its successor ... Those for whom the concept of "God" is meaningless are unwilling to admit that a rational being was in control at the inception of the Universe ... Take the "materialists" - those who say matter is all there is, matter is ultimate, or put more technically, atoms, molecules etc (invisible entities) coalescing make up the visible world. It is because they don't know how to say, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen 1.1). An atheistic philosophy of the world has misled them; and it appears then that nothing governs or rules the Universe, but all is given up to mere chance.

To guard us from such an error the writer of the creation narrative in Genesis, with his very first words, flashes into our minds the name of God. "In the beginning God created". What a glorious order. He first establishes a beginning. Then he adds "created" to show that what was made was a very small part of the power of the creator.

This is not from someone in the 19th or 20th centuries writing against Darwin or modern views of Genesis. This was written in the 4th century (AD) by Basil of Cappadocia.

It is all too easy to think that we are the first people to have difficulties regarding the bible and the origins of things; and that we are the first people to see the issues. Of course, some things change; but the fundamental problems remain exactly the same throughout all the generations. Christians down the centuries have realised you have to respect the language of Genesis. And Genesis 1-3 is clearly not like the Acts of the Apostles.

James Orr and the Pope

Here is the great Scottish theologian, Professor James Orr (one of the original "fundamentalists" - that is to say a contributor to the scholarly series of essays called The Fundamentals that were published earlier this century - and from which the word "fundamentalism" has come). He writes:

The creation of the world was certainly not a myth, but a fact ... The language used was not that of modern science, but, under divine guidance, the sacred writer gives a broad, general picture which conveys a true idea of the order of the divine working in creation. Man's fall was likewise a tremendous fact, with universal consequences in sin and death to the race. Man's origin can only be explained through an exercise of direct creative activity, whatever subordinate factors evolution may have contributed.

And he says, chapter 3 of Genesis (our chapter for tonight) is ...

... very probably an old tradition clothed with an oriental allegory.

But he said:

The truth incorporated in the narrative, the fall of man from an original state of purity, I consider vital for the Christian vision.

Then half way through this century and from an altogether different tradition, Pope Pius XII spoke of the early chapters of Genesis in Humani Generis:

Although it is not right to judge them by modern standards of historical composition, such as would be applied to the great classical authors, or to the learned of our own day, they do nevertheless come under the heading of history ... These chapters have a naïve, symbolical way of talking, well suited to the understanding of a primitive people. But they do disclose to us certain important truths.

So much by way of introduction.

A philosophy of history

Our subject tonight is Sin and the Fall.

And we shall look at chapter 2 verses 15-17 where God told the man what he may eat and may not eat; and chapter 3, where the woman and then the man disobeyed; and where we read of the sad consequences. This is all about Adam and Eve and what they did.

As many of you know, the word "man" is "Adam" in the original. Adam means simply "man". So it is right to see "Adam" as not only the first man, but also, as he became after the fall, the "typical" man. Each of us as we study this account can learn something about "everyman" and "everywoman", and so about ourselves. Many people feel satisfied when they have done that. And we shall do that tonight. But we must not forget that the narrative in Genesis is clearly talking about the first man (and woman). There may be figurative and symbolic elements in the text, as Christians down the centuries have realised. But as Henri Blocher in his excellent IVP book In the Beginning argues:

the presence of symbolic elements in the text in no way contradicts the historicity of its central meaning ... the real problem is not to know if we have a historical account of the fall, but an account of a historical fall.

So we can't just treat these chapters as an existential account of how the world always is. No! they are talking about what happened in the past. And this is absolutely vital. Let me explain.

What you have in the bible is nothing if it is not a "philosophy of history". It tells you the real story of what has been going on in the world. It tells you a lot else as well. But fundamentally this is a philosophy of history. It provides a panorama from Genesis to Revelation - from the beginning to the end of history. And the stage is set by Genesis for the whole bible. And it is vital we get the message Genesis is giving.

Four essentials

Let me outline four essentials of that message - (I apologize if this is to recap from previous weeks; but some of you may not have been to earlier studies). These four essentials are all implied in these early chapters of Genesis.

First, history is linear, not cyclical.

Some of the Eastern religions and some of the Greeks believed that time or history is like a great wheel that keeps returning on itself. But the bible makes it clear that history had a beginning and it will have an end. It is linear. And there is a purpose to history.

The Old Testament gives you the introduction and Jesus is the climax. The first part of that climax was with his first coming, death, resurrection, ascension and giving of the Holy Spirit 2000 years ago. The finale will be his second coming at the end of history. So how do you talk about the beginning and the end? Take the end.

The bible establishes the fact of the end and then uses symbolism - trumpets, shouts, imperial visitations - for the second coming of Jesus; and it uses amazing picture language to talk of heaven and indeed hell. For things outside history (after its end) that is all that is open to you. In one sense it is beyond our imagination. But those symbols and pictures are God's way of communicating with us so that we sufficiently understand what will happen. Heaven is going to be wonderful. Hell is going to awful. Christ is coming; there will be a judgment. When it happens we will see how appropriate all the bible language has been. We ought therefore to expect the same symbolism with accounts of the beginning of time and history. And that is what you have got.

We are not talking about "myths" that do not refer to what happened. These chapters in Genesis are referring to what happened; in the same way as Jesus teaching about the end and the book of Revelation are referring to what will happen one day. So time and history is linear.

Secondly, Genesis tells you that nature is not ultimate. God is.

What is ultimate, that is to say, is not an "it" but a "he". One who is personal gave rise to what is impersonal. It is not the other way round.

Thirdly, - the third essential - man or the creation of the human male and female, is the high point of creation (as you saw in chapter 1, and as you saw in chapter 2 as well).

And fourthly, (and this brings us back to our passage for tonight), Genesis teaches that the fundamental problem facing the world is moral; it is rebelling against our great and good Creator. And obedience to God results in human well-being; disobedience in human disaster.

Every religion and every philosophy and even irreligious and unsophisticated people recognize the difference between "is" and "ought". The world as it "is", is clearly different from the world as it "ought" to be. Now there are different visions of the good life - what "ought" to be. But that gap between "is" and "ought" is there in every religion and every philosophy.

But how do you account for it and get over it? Pagan religion thinks that it is a matter of appeasing malign spirits. Eastern religions tend to think it is a question of eliminating desire or escaping from this physical existence into a spiritual state. Marx thought it was a matter of overcoming social alienation by revolution resulting in a classless society. Freud thought it was in overcoming the frustration of human appetite for sex, nutrition or power. Herbert Spencer, and many in the last century and even this century, thought it was simply a matter of evolution. They believed history or time is itself redemptive; the better, they said, is the more evolved. And so you can go on.

But Genesis is crystal clear. The problem is due to human rebellion against God. It is as simple and profound as that. The problem is due to sin. It is not due to the environment. That would be to say it is due to the creation itself. But Genesis teaches the creation is good.

The Fall

All this is why the doctrine of a historic Fall is so vital. If there is no fall "in time", the fallen state of the world must be due to the creation - what is external to men and women. And that is just the view of millions today. The problems, they say, are all located in the world outside the human will and outside the human soul. The problems are all external - in terms of poverty, or poor education, or poor employment opportunities, or in "the stuff" of human bodies - our genetic make-up. True, all these things are important and create greater temptations.

But the root problem, as we shall see, is not outside but inside - in the human heart. That is where all is wrong. So Jesus says (Mark 7:21-23):

For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'"

And sin disrupts the relationship between man and God. Get that wrong and you've got everything else wrong. If there is no sin, why need a Saviour? As so many have now lost the doctrine of sin, don't be surprised when they do not think that the cross is totally necessary; or that Jesus is the only way to God. But if sin is the problem, as Genesis teaches so clearly, then the world's need is fundamentally the need of salvation from sin and of a Saviour. And Jesus is the one person who has set foot on this planet who can deal with sin. That is why you have to evangelize. There is no other way; there is no other name given under heaven by which you must and can be saved.

So Genesis is setting the scene for the whole Bible. It is essential you get these messages. It is giving you this philosophy of history. And its importance is seen in the apostles' preaching.

When they preached to the Jews, they could assume people had this fundamental philosophy of history and they just talked about Jesus as the answer. When they preached to the Gentiles, (for example, Paul in Athens), they had to teach as well this philosophy of history by giving an out line - look at Acts 17.

Well so much for the broad sweep.

God's word and mankind

I now want to look in the rest of the time, fairly briefly, at some of the details of the text here - the details of God's word to Adam [and Eve] and their disobedience; and then the consequences. So, first, look back to chapter 2 15 - 17:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.

" What marks a man off from the rest of created beings? Here is the clue. And this, of course, is getting more and more to be an important question.

Our old cat had to be put to sleep earlier this year: it was very sickly. But the vet seemed to be treating the cat as though it were a human and spoke about us wanting "euthanasia". My wife, who is a doctor herself, was made to feel quite guilty because we were unwilling to use the whole panoply of modern veterinary medicine to extend its miserable life. The borderline between the human and the animal was being obscured. I found that quite sinister.

So what marks off a human being from an animal? Answer: it is with "the man" alone that God speaks. God does not speak to the other animals. God did not speak to our cat. Here is a fundamental truth of human existence - echoed throughout the Old Testament and repeated by Jesus himself - Matthew 4.4:

"It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

And notice that God's word to the man is eminently practical. It's not telling him all he might want to know about life and the world. Rather, it is telling him what is necessary for his well-being. And notice too that God's word is not first a prohibition - it is not first a negative. Before God says, "you must not eat" in verse 17, he says in verse 16, "you are free to eat from any tree".

There is permission and encouragement. And it appears that in the area of God's permission, the man was free to choose which of the permitted trees he fancied. God allowed him his own tastes and preferences. Let me digress for a moment.


There are big decisions that you have to make - many of you will have to make some big decisions very soon. There are decisions about jobs and housing and marriage and so forth. How do you decide? God wants you to be guided. Rom 8.14:

Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

One of the marks of the true Christian is to be led by the Holy Spirit." And that is why God's word is so important. The bible has key principles that you apply to your particular situations. Last time you were studying Genesis you were studying sexual relationships. Well, the bible makes it clear that sex is only for heterosexual monogamous marriage and you should only marry another believer.

There are many other principles to guide you as well. But how do you apply those in specific situations? What happens when there are three nice Christian girls or three nice Christian men you have to choose between, for example? How do you decide then? Well, you can trust that great promise in James 1.5-7:

If any of you lacks wisdom [practical wisdom], he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;

There has to be a level of integrity in your praying for guidance. You've got to be willing to be open to God's answer; you mustn't have your mind made up already. And God knows your make up. He will guide you. And of course he can use circumstances.

But, and this is to get back to Genesis, some Christians can get so neurotic about guidance. You can meet some people who seem to need guidance as to which shoes to wear or which one to put on first! But this verse 16 suggests that there are areas in life where you can exercise personal choice and taste and still be in God's will. And your choice and taste will not necessarily be the same as your fellow Christians'. Some of them may support Sunderland while you support Newcastle - and there is nothing wrong in that (supporting Newcastle). So there is permission and freedom - verse 16: "you are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but (v17) ..." and it is a big "but". And that is because when you are outside God's will - when you exercise your own choice and taste in areas where God has said "no" - there is then disaster. Verse 17:but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.That is God's word to the man.

Disobedience and misrepresentation

Let's move on to the result. The result (in chapter 3) was disobedience and rejection. I want you to note 3 factors that led (and still lead) to disobedience and the rejection of God's word - which of course is sin - sin is basically rejecting or disobeying God and his word or law; and going your own way. 1 John 3.4:

Everyone who sins breaks the law [or God's word and will]; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

But if God's word is good and perfect - and it leads to the good life, which it does -, why do people not choose it? There is now research in the United States that shows that Christians do better on a host of indicators - from health, to education, to wealth, in terms of general happiness and, yes, in terms of their sex lives. If this is so, why don't people obey God? The basic reason is that Adam's sin introduced a new factor of sin into the world. We are all now born as sinful. This is what is called "original sin". We are now by nature spiritually dead "in trespasses and sins". We need new life, spiritually. That is the underlying cause. But that disposition we all have goes hand in hand with three strategies for rejecting God's word. This can be seen here in the Garden of Eden. And it can be seen today.

First, God's word was, and is, misrepresented by opponents - the enemies of God's word. Chapter 3 verse 1:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

Do you see, there is a total exaggeration here. The serpent is suggesting that there was a blanket prohibition on everything. The man and the woman were not to eat of any tree. But God hadn't said that. He had only forbidden one tree. Isn't that a favourite device that people still use to avoid God's word. They so state God's word that it is obviously ridiculous and false.

This happened to the Christians in the early centuries. Their enemies said that God's word allowed cannibalism and incest. They had heard the words "This is my body ... Take and eat" and also that everybody was called "brother and sister" and they "loved one another." So they built up this ridiculous Aunt Sally, and rejected the gospel accordingly. They said Christianity promoted cannibalism and incest. And it happens with your friends, I'm sure. Like the serpent, they make God out to be a mean ogre and a kill-joy. They exaggerate and misrepresent God's word, and so they reject it.

Exaggeration and doubting God's goodness

The second factor in disobeying God's word was, and is, exaggeration by "believers" themselves. This happens here with Adam and certainly by Eve. Look at verses 2 and 3 of chapter 3:

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"

Do you see what Eve is doing? She is adding to the commandment. God did not say they were not to "touch it". This is a man-made, or woman-made, "don't". Eve, so to speak, compensates by being over-strict. But that is dangerous. But it is so true to life.

Today sexual licence and permissiveness has to be resisted. But you can trace some of that permissiveness as a reaction to an over strict taboo on sex in the last century that went "beyond" God's law. The Pharisees in New Testament times were being over strict. They knew that God's law was not to be broken. So they set a "fence" around it. That is, they allowed a margin of safety by insisting at every point on a little more than the law required. For example, the Rabbis taught that certain acts should be avoided not just at 6.0 o'clock on Friday evening - the beginning of the Sabbath - but on Friday afternoons as well. That was in case you forgot and before you knew where you were, you were still doing them on Friday evening. There are other examples like that. But it is dangerous, because men and women are not intended to live more strictly than God ordained. Jesus said: (Luke 11:46):

"And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry."

God never said to Eve, "you must not touch it".

The third factor in disobedience is to deny outright what God says. Gen 3.4:

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.

That is the idea that disobedience to God will lead to fulfilment, while obedience leads to frustration.

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."(Gen 3:5)

Isn't this true to life? We think that if we obey God's word, we'll never enjoy ourselves. That is a lie of the devil.

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psa 37:4)

That has been my experience. When I decided at the University to go into full time Christian work, I had visions of the most boring and depressing life. Was it like that? Not at all. I have done so many exciting things. At the same time, some of my friends in business and other professions have been earning large sums of money but they are just looking forward to a pension. The tragedy is that we are all tempted to doubt God's goodness, and assume he wants to make our lives miserable. Eve thought that and disobeyed, and so did Adam.

The consequences

So first the Serpent had misrepresented what God had said; and Eve was then unhealthily strict about what God had said. It was then a short step for the serpent to misrepresent God altogether and deny his goodness. The man and the women fell for that and disobeyed. The consequences were disastrous - verse 8:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

The wages of sin is death. And this new existence for Adam and Eve was a living death. There is shame and disorder in terms of the sexual instinct, verse 7:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

There is also a disorder in their own relationship, verse 16:

To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." (Gen 3:16)

There is disorder in terms of their relationship with God - verse 10 tells us the man is afraid of God now and has to hide. There are excuses and a denial of reality, a sure sign of sin (Gen 3:12-13):

The man said, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

The natural world is also affected - verses 17-18:

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

And Adam and Eve are banished from Eden - they have to go "East of Eden".

The wages of sin is death!

What a contrast with the second Adam, Jesus Christ, when he was tempted by the Devil. And why? Fundamentally he has a balanced grasp of God's written word - the Bible. He was rooted in its obvious and central teaching - in his case the Old Testament. And he used it against the devil. Look at Matthew 4 when you get home.


Is there hope? Of course, that is the gospel.

There is forgiveness of sins at Calvary. Who tonight has never reversed that fundamental folly of Adam? You do that by admitting that you too are just like Adam, and need forgiveness, and then receiving new life from Christ. How do you do that? You simply pray. Prayer is talking to God. And you can do that as you sit there, quite silently.

And remember these are important things. Genesis teaches that there was a beginning. The bible also teaches that one day there will be an end and each one of us will then have to give an account of ourselves to Almighty God. Are you ready for that day?

Back to top