What was Adam’s sin?
Published: 9 February 2014 (GMT+10)
We have been really surprised at the amount of feedback on various points that we have received arising from Russell Grigg’s article Did Adam sin out of love for Eve? published on January 26, 2012. In this feedback article we present further comments, interspersed with Russell’s responses.
Illustrated by Caleb Salisbury
God placed Adam in a wonderful garden, provided for all his needs, gave him work to engage his mind and his hands, provided a life-partner for him, had personal fellowship with him, and warned him of the consequences of disobedience, yet Adam sinned.
Thomas D., Germany, 26 January 2014
“The question should be ‘What was Adam’s sin?’ Why are you so sure that Adam’s sin was eating some fruit? Would he and Eve have to leave the Garden if they admitted what they had done? I find it rather odd that Moses doesn’t use the Hebrew word ‘chata’ to describe what happened in the Garden. You have to go to the New Testament before you find somebody who called what they did, a sin.”
‘What was Adam’s sin?’ is indeed an excellent question, as it goes to the core (!) of the matter—why the death penalty for eating a piece of fruit?
The first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that He is Creator (Genesis ch. 1). The next thing we learn is that God is Lawgiver:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Sin entails law (Romans 7:7-8; 1 John 3:4), which requires a lawgiver. The divine Lawgiver is God and the law of God is the expression of His will enforced by His power. God’s moral law is written on the hearts and minds of all mankind because we have been made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26; James 3:9). It was summarized by Jesus as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). Sin is therefore anything and everything we do that is contrary to or in disobedience of the will of God.
Adam was given one specific law by God to obey, and he chose to disobey this revealed will of God. Thus the first human sin involved the choice of self-interests rather than God’s interests, the making of self the chief end rather than God, and the rejection of God as the highest authority with Adam putting his own authority above God’s. Adam was given a choice which, when exercised, would show whether he was prepared to obey God in loving trust, or go his own way. He chose to go his own way.
As to the penalty for ‘eating some fruit’, so apparently ‘small’ a command presented the best test of Adam’s and Eve’s obedience.
“Another thing that’s puzzling, what makes dying some 900+ years later, ‘Punishment’? In that length of time all the parties would have long since forgotten about the incident, and would have accepted dying as a part of Life and living. Taking over 900 years before the sentence is carried out does not sound like punishment to me. Punishment, to my way of thinking, is having to work near or around the Garden on the outside every day, and seeing those Angels standing guard at the Gate, and knowing what it was like living inside. That to me is real punishment! It would be like rubbing salt in a wound. It would bring back the memories of the pets that they had while living there. They would remember the garden and trees that they cared for. The roses that they could pick without getting stuck by a thorn.”
According to Genesis, the first consequence of Adam’s and Eve’s sin was guilt which expressed itself in two ways: shame and fear, i.e. the accusations of a newly awakened faculty—conscience (Genesis 3:7-8). When Satan promised enlightenment, he had left out a vital part of the truth: that they would be reminded of good without having the power to do it, and that they would know evil without having the power to avoid it. As they thought about God and His holiness, His glory which once had been their delight must now have seemed to them more like a fire which they could neither endure nor escape from (cf. Hebrews 12:29; Revelation 6:15-16).
Then came condemnation—Eve to sorrow and subjection, and Adam to a life of painful toil (Genesis 3:16-19). Finally there was separation of Adam and Eve from the Garden and from fellowship with God.
How do these consequences compare with the penalty that God had previously announced (Genesis 2:17)? Note that a literal translation of the Hebrew of this verse is “in the day that you eat of it dying you shall die”. In the Bible, the concept of ‘death’ in the spiritual sense has the meaning of separation from God rather than of annihilation. In the Garden of Eden, on the day that they sinned, Adam and Eve were no longer innocent and holy. They now had a sinful nature. Their former fellowship with God was broken. There was a very real separation of their souls from God, and because of this, on that day, spiritually they died. They continued to live physically, but from that day on their human bodies were under condemnation of death—a process which continued until the day that there was a separation between their souls and their bodies in physical death. Their punishment included all of these aspects.
“What do you do about Psalm 8–13; 103:8–13; Isaiah 38:17; 43:5; 44:21–22; Micah 7:18–20; John 3:16–17? I’m sorry but your conclusion creates a problem for this text: "If we say, ‘We aren’t sinful’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong." (1 John 1:8–9 God’s Word translation) Because they refused to admit that they had done anything wrong, it was necessary for our God to change His plan. For that reason they had to leave the Garden.”
God’s two questions to Adam, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) and “Have you eaten of the tree …” (Genesis 3:11) might perhaps have been for the purpose of encouraging Adam and Eve to confess their sin and repent of it, as God in His omniscience already knew the answers. In the event, this did not occur. Again, God has not told us what He would have done if …!
The basis on which God can and does justly forgive our sins is the fact that the penalty has been paid by the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3–4), and our confession of sin arising out of repentance, which means changing one’s mind (1 John 1:9, Acts 17:30–31; John 1:12).
The reason why they had to leave the Garden is given in Genesis 3:22–23, “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live for ever—’ 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.”
Halettes M., Australia, 26 January 2014
“This is not complicated: the sin was idolatry. Adam loved Eve more than God. For that he and she would reap death.”
It was indeed idolatry, with idolatry meaning giving something or someone (including ourselves or some other person) more honour than we give to God.
Wayne S., Australia, 26 January 2014
“What a lot of blah, blah, blah … you seem to appear to take everything quite literally … as though the English language is what they speak in heaven. I’m sure the original text was written in Hebrew … after being translated from God. Then translated into English. Any possibility that things could have been lost in translation? Unfortunately the Bible is very vague on the issues surrounding the first original sin (who did what and when? and who said what and why?), so maybe, just maybe, God wants the focus to be on the sin … the disobedience to God and the consequences it has bought upon His creation.”
Yes, we take Genesis literally. This is because the key to understanding any book of the Bible is to ascertain the intention of the author in writing that book. In the case of Genesis, the Fall is related as history in the context of historical facts, the language style of the early chapters is similar to that of the later ones, i.e. not Hebrew poetry, and the details were regarded by other writers as historical (e.g. Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 36:35; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9). So it is quite clear that the intention of Moses, under God’s direction, was to produce a straightforward, authentic, literal, historical record of events that actually took place. See Should Genesis be taken literally? However, we don’t claim that English (or Hebrew either) is necessarily the language used in Heaven, any more than rugby is the sport played there!
Richard W., United States, 28 January 2014
“I do not think that we have every statement that God ever made to Adam and Eve recorded for us. 2. Eve’s claim about what God said does not contradict what we do have recorded. 3. Thus, it is entirely possible that God did say to Adam and/or Eve precisely what Eve recounted to the serpent. 4. This makes no difference at all regarding their disobedience.”
There are many interesting details about Adam and Eve that God in His wisdom has seen not to tell us, including Adam’s thoughts and the reason why he chose to sin. However, Genesis 2:16 17 tells us exactly what God said to Adam.
Roger T., Australia, 26 January 2014
“Greetings. By coincidence I was rereading Lita Cosner’s article on The Image of God. [See Broken images.] It occurred to me that when Adam was created in the image of God that one of his attributes would have been God’s agape love. This self-sacrificing love was intrinsic to Adam’s nature at the time. Therefore I think that Vincenso R, Stephen G., and Stephen C. all have valid points. [See Did Adam sin out of love for Eve?] The blame game only began after Adam had shared the forbidden fruit, indicating that already his nature had changed and he had begun to die spiritually. What think you? Blessings, Roger.”
Agape is one of the Koine Greek words used in the New Testament and translated into English as love’, or as ‘unconditional love’; it describes the love of God or Christ for humankind as in John 3:16. One of the many interesting things we are not told in Genesis is a list of those attributes which Adam’s clay received from God when God made him in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). If Adam received agape love, he did not show it when he blamed Eve for his own transgression and said to God: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12).
Paul, R., New Zealand, 26 January 2014
“If Adam had loved and obeyed God and loved his wife as he ought, he would have offered to die as a substitute ‘kinsman redeemer’ for his wife, as Christ did for us; not partaking in sin himself. But in sinning he no longer qualified to make payment for another’s sin for he had his own sin debt, in the same way no other man could pay my sin debt for all other men have sinned (Romans 3:23), except the Son of God, who in His humanity lived a sinless life, then offered Himself to die on the cross for my sin (and everyone else who believes in Him, Romans 5:19).”
We do not know whether God would have accepted Adam as a sinless substitute for his wife’s sin, as the situation did not arise, and this is another of the many things concerning which we do not know ‘what God would have done if …’! The reason why Jesus Christ can take my sin punishment is not only because He was sinless, but also because he was and is the divine Son of God.
Peter D., New Zealand, 26 January 2014
“Something to consider? Eve didn’t deliberately or arrogantly sin, Lucifer did & then he deceived Eve (who was innocent until the time of the deception).”
The Bible does indeed say that Eve was deceived (2 Timothy 2:14). According to Genesis 3:6, this deception involved her thinking that the tree was good for food and a delight to the eyes, and her believing that it was desirable for her to obtain whatever benefit might accrue from being ‘like God, knowing good and evil’. Nevertheless, a moment or two before eating, she gave voice to her understanding of God’s command not to eat, so her action was in direct and deliberate disobedience on her part to what she believed God’s command to be.
“Meanwhile Adam walked & talked with God every day, surely he would have known his Father’s desire better than us in our fallen state. Even in our fallen state we recognise our Father’s desire is to have a family & a bride for His Son who He knows will love Him throughout eternity. This has to be a free choice & unchanging, otherwise it has no value. Perhaps Adam was aware of God’s plan & so chose to support Eve because he knew God would need them both to start the process of sifting the wheat from the chaff. Also it’s not God that is finding out who loves him or not, He already knows, it’s each of us that has to find out for ourselves. Perhaps Adam knew this but also knew more than we fallen people do, just how much his Father loved him & that both he & Eve could be forgiven. After all Adam & Eve were never cursed by God, only the serpent (& the ground, perhaps for Adam’s sake!) It wasn’t until Cain that we know God showed his displeasure further & even then not with Adam & Eve.”
Because we live after the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and have the benefit of the New Testament, including the book of Revelation, we are aware of the fact of the Trinity, and of God the Father’s eternal purposes concerning believers’ future relationship to His Son. However, there is no indication in the Bible that God revealed any of this to Adam.
It is now apparent that from all eternity it has been God’s purpose to provide an eternal companion for His Son, to reign with Him in His eternal kingdom. This eternal companion is comprised of the redeemed—repentant and believing mankind from every age. It follows that it was for the sake of forming this group, now called the Church, that God created the universe and everything in it, including mankind.
All of this means that romance is at the heart of the universe! We have all been invited to a wedding—not just to be spectators, but to make up the bridal party!
Among the closing verses of the New Testament there is an invitation to be part of this immense throng of redeemed believers. It reads: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
A wedding invitation usually requires an RSVP, and this is no exception. Those who wish to attend the wedding, to be united with Jesus Christ and share His kingdom, and to escape the judgment of the great white throne in the life to come, must respond in this life in repentance and faith. Jesus said: “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). He also said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
It struck me reading the articles and comments over the last couple of weeks that there is a very practical lesson for God's people today.
What does a wife or husband do when their spouse ceases to follow or believe Christ? Do they reject Christ too, with all its consequences or do they hold onto God?
The New Testament encourages us to continue in Christ and in the marriage relationship when one has an unbelieving spouse.
Adam's action shows us the result of not doing so. His actions affected not just him and Eve but their children.
I have found this topic thought provoking and helpful.
I am reminded of a sermon I heard many years ago, in which the Minister stated that God had to teach Humanity what love actually is. I certainly agree with this. Our understanding of love is totally different to what Adam and Eves would have been, as they had none of the reference points that we do.
Hopefully, a child first learns about love from loving parents and people around them and as they grow up, they see love acted out in the security and committment provided by their family, Adam and Eve had no such experiences. As a child grows into an adolescent and begins to push parental boundaries, they should see love demonstrated by consistent, patient and unconditional love. As they later form intimate relationships, they experience a new type of love and relationship with a peer and later, hopefully experience what it is to be a loving parent themselves. We learn what love really is, because we see all around us, what love is not.
Adam and Eve would not have really understood the concept of Gods love as we do. We see all through the old testament, Got trying to show Israel how much he loves them. They rebel, he takes them back. They fall into idolatry, he takes them back. Finally, we see Gods love ultimately revealed in the Person of Jesus.
I think the punishment of death and separation for eating just a piece of fruit seems harsh to us, even though you said that God is the lawgiver and can obviously choose to do what He wants. He made us He can choose to punish us how He decides, we can't criticise this. But the Bible tells us that God knows the end from the begining. If we look at the evil on the earth today, the punishment of death was a punishment containing wonderful mercy. Imagine what this world would be like if people didn't die. Many dictatorial leaders commit and have committed awful atrocities. They are often people who strive for power and are ruthless in obtaining it. Imagine if we didn't die, the world would be ruled by these type of people. I praise God for His mercy to us all in bringing in death. We are all evil not one of us is fit to live for ever. God through Jesus Christ has given us the way to obtain eternal life though and I praise Him for giving it to a sinner like me, and look forward to living free from sin in the future.
Thanks for your wonderful ministry it is such a blessing to believe the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation and your work is such a help with this.
In the comments from and your response to Thomas D, the possibility of repentance is made. Both seem to overlook that forgiveness can only be extended because Christ's blood was shed. God's justice could not allow Adam to repent and for creation to continue as if the sin did not occur.
I find it interesting that my Sunday School kids can easily answer this question: "What did Adam do?" "He disobeyed God." A child can understand clearly that there was a rule given, the rule was disobeyed and there were naturally well-deserved consequences. Sometimes analysis becomes over-analysis.
Just wanted to say how much I appreciated this discussion/reasoning. Your explanations are always carefully thought out and even where a comment needs correction your way is always gracious, serious and informative, so that growth in understanding is available to all who want it. Many thanks.
I know that it's probably not a valid comparison, but I have been intrigued by the difference between Adam and Abraham when it came to the question of obedience to God. Adam was only told not to eat a piece of fruit; Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son. Noah, Abraham, Moses and others were far better at obeying God than was Adam.