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Adam’s sin

Are we punished for it?

Published: 5 September 2015 (GMT+10)
freeimages.com knowledge-good-and-evil

Many people are confused about why people today are punished for sin, and how this affects each of us personally. J.B. from Indonesia asks:


I have a question about one specific part of the Bible. I was a Catholic until I was 9 and then I reread the Bible and thought, "Why would God not allow Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge?". This must mean that God is restricting free will and Adam and Eve were punished for gaining knowledge and learning something new.

As a curious 15 year old who questions everything that seems illogical and incorrect to my beliefs that one should be allowed to think and challenge beliefs when they see fit this seems fundamentally incorrect.

In this website you provide evidence provided by scientist that are learning something new. How do justify the fact that in the literal sense, God disallowed the gaining of knowledge but yet you are using knowledge that you apparently found out and inferred from ideas you created.

Does this mean you are moving away from the words of god by learning new things?

Please respond. I would like to debate about the morals and beliefs of the bible

Lita Cosner from CMI-US responds:

Your question assumes that knowledge in and of itself is always a good thing. But a little bit of reflection will reveal that this is not so. For instance, it is not good to know what a broken leg feels like, because even though you have gained knowledge, it comes at the cost of intense pain and damage to your own body. It is not good to know what it feels like to hurt another person for the same reason. We know all sorts of things that we wish we didn't, because of the pain, embarrassment, and the moral guilt attached to it.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were morally faultless; they were in a perfect environment where all of their needs were met. They had pleasant work to do and best of all, they were in a perfect relationship with their Creator. They had no reason to question His goodness or truthfulness. He told them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because it would be fatal for them. The Serpent spun it a different way—he claimed God wanted to keep something good from them (which, by the way, is the way you're reading it, too).

The sort of knowledge gained in science or academic study is fundamentally different: God wanted Adam and his descendants to have dominion over creation—that likely included learning about creation and harnessing it for human good. That means that science is well within what God intended us to do.

One of the fundamental assumptions that the Bible makes about God is that He is good, and He displays this goodness in His relationship with His creatures. And the Bible shows that this is true over and over again. So when God forbids something, that means that the thing He forbids is bad for us. And when God commands something, that means that the thing He commands is good for us. And while these commands might seem "illogical and fundamentally incorrect" to some people, we are called to trust God based on what we know of His goodness and holiness.

I want to challenge you a little bit though: you're 15 years old, and you claim the right to challenge what you perceive as "illogical and fundamentally incorrect". But at your level of education and life experience, you're very ill-equipped to judge these things. You need to spend more time in serious study before challenging anyone to a debate.

But most of all, do not read the Bible as if what the serpent was saying was true. God was not trying to withhold something good from them—and even when they disobeyed, God mercifully clothed them and promised that the offspring of the woman would defeat the serpent. And the fulfillment of that is Jesus’ sacrificial death to pay the price of our sins in our place. See our Good News article.

Stephen C from the US writes,

I have a question that's been bothering me for a while.

If the curse imposed by God was a punishment for the rebellion of Adam and Eve, then why must we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, suffer the punishment from what only Adam and Eve did? Why must we have an inborn tendency to sin for what Adam and Eve did? Why must we suffer death for what Adam and Eve did? Why must we be subjected to diseases for what Adam and Eve did?

If "each one shall bear his own load" (Gal 6:5), and God "will render to each one according to his deeds." (Rom. 2:6), then why are we suffering a curse for what someone else did? Why not just limit the curse to just Adam and Eve? Am I missing something?

Lita Cosner from CMI-US responds:

Thanks for writing in. There are really two elements to understanding why we are affected by Adam's sin, and why we are judged for sin.

First, when Adam sinned, he was acting as the federal head of all humanity. We are an individualistic society, but we still have the concept of federal headship. For instance, when the leaders of a nation declare war on another nation, all the citizens of that nation are now ‘at war’, even if they did not agree with the declaration. They are all affected by that decision. When Adam sinned, he 'declared war' on God not just by himself, but on behalf of all people.

Second, we participate with this ‘declaration of war’. None of us is sitting around saying, "Oh, I wish I didn't have to sin, but because Adam did I have to … Rather, we like and seek out sin, at least certain sins, which differ from person to person. All of us fail to live up to whatever moral system we endorse, and all of us try to justify ourselves. We are justly judged for our individual sin.

However, if "each one shall bear his own load" and God only rendered "to each one according to his deeds" in the way that you understand those verses, salvation would be impossible because it involves Jesus bearing the penalty for our sins as a perfect, willing sacrifice. We deserve judgment, but through Christ we receive forgiveness and adoption. So, since God has opened a free way of salvation, no one can object that God is unjust, because He is absolutely just, but even better than that, He is exceedingly merciful to those of us who don't deserve it. Read our Good News article.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Adrian C.
Regarding the tree of knowledge question (1st question): "knowing" in the Bible means more than just something intellectual but something more intimate, like experiencing something (for example God knowing his people, people knowing God, Adam "knowing" Eve and then conceiving, etc.). The tree of knowledge may have not have held some special inherent knowledge attained by eating its fruit. Instead it may have been the tree of knowledge by simply the fact of being assigned to be the forbidden tree - the tree on which Adam and Eve will experience temptation and thus come to *know* evil and the difference between good and evil (obeying an disobeying).
Before being tempted they didn't know evil and didn't know good in contrast to evil. When tempted they found out there was another option on the table: to say NO to God. And through their choice they experienced evil. They would have also *known* the difference between good and evil by choosing to still chose good after they found out about evil and tempted about it - in this case they would have known/experienced "good" in a way that they didn't know before (whey they chose "good" just because it was the default, one and only option they were aware of). So, it may very well be the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:9) just because that's where they then experienced "true" knowledge of good and evil; by temptation, the contrast between good and evil (and they took the evil side).
Dave J.
God said that eating of the tree of knowledge of GOOD and EVIL (not just 'knowledge') would result in death. He spoke truly as he always does and it was for our good, as it always is with God's actions, for He is good. Paul expands upon that when he said that he would not know what covetousness was unless the law said 'do not covet' - but once he knew the law, he was a slave to that sin. And sin always results in death. I personally cannot wait until the new earth when the knowledge of good and evil is not mine any more!!
Bill P.
Seems to me Romans 7 gives an excellent explanation of sin and it's relationship to the law "which is good" and how that law condemns us so that we cannot bear our own load as it were...I would even suppose daily, in many cases, if one reads further in Galaltions about the gifts of the Spirit vs works of the flesh and we are really honest with ourselves. For me it is also about daily prayer and what God reveals to me abut myself. Humbling, but gives even more meaning to the blood of Christ and how much God loves us to have wanted to walk with us and die for us.
Kirk H.
Hi Lita, thank you for writing so thoughtfully and courageously. Relating to Adam's sin, the first Adam, and then Christ's redemption and resurrection, the last Adam; seeing it all as elements of God's overall creation plan really speaks to me. So that in the end, there is no sin, and there is no law. Christ, the firstborn from the dead, our kinsman redeemer, lowered himself to be God/man for our behalf, and remains God/man in resurrected form. And we will follow, remaining human in resurrected form, a new creation which we have the down payment within ourselves now as "Christ in you, the hope of glory". It all speaks of "creation" to me, the whole salvation plan.
With that in mind, as the Messiah's role is a two-step process, death then rule, likewise our Christian lives, down payment then fullness; so also is creation, fallen then restored.
Thank you so much for writing, and thank you CMI for your courageous ministry. Kirk
remik B.
God did not need to create that tree. However, I feel it was required for His design of a free people to live with Him. He knew what would happen. If we did not go through these trying times, many of us would have sinned against Him in heaven thus being cast out for eternity. Earth gives us the opportunity to see the good and evil and seek Him, ultimately giving permission to make us whole. Adam and Eve sinning was a necessary step towards eternal life with God. Like this article claims, none of us are free from sin of our own doing.
Lita Cosner
Yes, but although the Fall put into motion God's plan of salvation, we must resist the 'glorious necessity' doctrine that Mormons believe: see The Fall: A glorious necessity?
Thomas J.
The knowledge of good and evil would have come to Adam whether he ate from the forbidden tree or he refrained. Withholding the tree's fruit was a test of faithful obedience that would, had Adam resisted, begin the process of growing in the discernment and contrast of good and evil from the perspective of goodness. Adam would have the knowledge of good and evil, but with a pure conscience. After failing the test Adam still began the process of growing in such discernment, but from the perspective of evil. God Himself declared before expelling the first couple from Eden that they had "become like Us knowing good and evil". This is to say that knowing good and evil cannot of itself be an evil for God Himself knows evil yet is not evil, nor are good and evil somehow reconciled within Him. By failing the test Adam did not simply discern evil, but became an evil being corrupted in desire, intention, action, and conscience. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil did not bear fruit invested with properties that would impart knowledge when ingested. Rather, upon eating the fruit, the knowledge of sin awakened conscience (co-knowledge) and death began its reign. However this knowledge of sin could no longer be that objective apprehension of sin as evil, but the subjective experience of the cascading evil effects of personal transgression: guilt, alienation, and regret. The fruit may have had properties that irreversibly changed Adam's body to begin spiraling toward death, due to the intimate relationship between human flesh and spirit. In any case, the objective of testing Adam with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was never to deny him knowledge, but to confirm him in a wholesome knowledge rooted in godliness and goodness.
SaraCecilia G.
Blessed Lita, I fear that the biggest sin (when it comes to missing the mark) is that we as humans are no longer reliable/truthful witnesses. It is a enormous problem, that too many overlook - even children and tweenies - until the day we realize no one cares to trust us.
Terry W.
The link on the front page says "How would you respond?" which seems to be an invitation to read the green text and post a comment before reading the black text.
Dear J.B.,
In a nutshell, we cheated. It is something that I've thought about, prayed about, and even got some answers from God about
The "tree of knowledge" is not just about knowledge, but the "knowledge of good and evil", that is moral knowledge. That is something that God wanted to teach us, his children, directly like a father to his children, eventually to fulfill with the fruit from this particular tree to finish our knowledge. This fruit gave us conscience, the innate knowledge of good and evil and the ability to sin (before which, eating from the tree was the only sin we could commit.) The first thing this new conscience did was convict us that we were sinners just for having it! Adam and Eve were suddenly uncomfortable in the pure light of God in Eden, covered themselves in fig leaves and hid from His face (Gen. 3: 7-10). That is a different kind of knowledge from science. Today, we have even some atheists affirming this by saying science and religion speak to different forms of knowledge. Back then, science was Genesis 2:19-20, and our 18th century founder of the Genus-species Latin naming system Carolus Linnaeus got the nickname "second Adam" (not to be confused with the *last* Adam, Jesus.)
I. F.
"It I s not good to know what it feels like to hurt another person for the same reason. We know all sorts of things that we wish we didn't, because of the pain, embarrassment, and the moral guilt attached to it."
Why is it not good to know what it feels like to hurt another person? This is a very weird way of thinking. Sociopaths do not feel those things. Is that what we are meant to be aspiring to? Sociopathic tendencies? Conversely, by feeling those things you suggest are not good to feel, it helps those with a conscience from hurting others. Moreover, the pain of grief is an extension, part of the love felt for someone who has died. They cannot be separated, the two feelings. The price of love. I would not have it any other way, though, all the love in my life will helps me endure the grief until the time reach the Father's House, and am fully healed. So the pain of grief, that also is a good thing, because it means you are capable of feeling and expressing love. Your supposition about knowledge, i.e. is it always a good thing, is fundamentally flawed, a category mistake. Knowledge is not good or bad. It is a truth that has emerged, or been discerned. What one does with knowledge can be put to good or bad uses.
Lita Cosner
It is not good to know what it feels like to hurt another person, because that experiential knowledge comes at the cost of hurting someone. Sociopaths know what it is like to hurt someone, they just feel no remorse about it.

It is a reality in this sinful world that we will all hurt people emotionally, at the verse least; that does not mean it is good.
Lenny L.
I immediately noticed the questioners seem to misunderstand the concept of "sin." Both seem to "assume" that God's Law is an arbitrary limit on human activity just because "He said so and He's a meanie!" Children and the immature often know everything . . . or so they think; it's the human condition and a remnant of that first rebellious act in the Garden. If I--as a parent and "little God" in a sense--tell my child NOT to do something like touch a hot stove full well knowing the possible consequences apart from my disciplinary action, am I being "restrictive" for a "random" reason or for a "knowledgeable" reason that I KNOW what the result could possibly be? Serious injury or death could be the result of that disobedience and as a parent (or God!) it would be irresponsible if I (He) refused to "educate" you against yourself and your ignorance as that child to prevent damage to yourself temporally. If you look at the Law as "just because I said so" you miss the point of the "why" behind it.
Mitch C.
Excellent answers! One more point regarding redemption--not only is God wonderfully merciful in providing a way of salvation, but He did it at a horrific cost to Himself. He does not simply sit in heavenly comfort, untouched by the evils and suffering we experience, to just snap His finger and forgive our sins. Rather, God Himself (i.e. Jesus, the Second Person of the godhead, the eternal Son of God) freely took on human flesh and freely submitted to the brutal cruelty of crucifixion, to bear the punishment for our sins and purchase our forgiveness. Heb 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Isa 53:11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. John 10:17-18 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father."

Kathryn C.
<< ... you're 15 years old, and you claim the right to challenge what you perceive as "illogical and fundamentally incorrect". But at your level of education and life experience, you're very ill-equipped to judge these things. You need to spend more time in serious study before challenging anyone to a debate. >> And for talking down to that 15-year-old in such terms, holding over his head such things as "education," "life experience," "study," etc., I need to rebuke you with everything Jesus and the Apostles said about such pride of the flesh. "Let the little children come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." "Truly, unless you turn and become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." "See that you do not despise one of these little ones ... their angels behold the face of my father in heaven." "You search the scriptures because in them you think you have life ... but you will not come to me ..." "When he was 12 years old ... they found him in the temple ... asking questions ... all were amazed at his understanding and his answers."
1 Cor. 1:18 - 2:16, Php. 3:3-11 on humanly/fleshly acquired wisdom and attainment, vs. the Cross of all true worth. That young man has every right and good reason to challenge you, and you ill answered his challenge, instead pulling the "puffer-fish" maneuver. You owe him an apology, and you owe God a change of heart.
Lita Cosner
Kathryn, please read the comments thread where I answered another person with a similar comment.

This correspondent thought that he was competent, as a 15-year-old high school student, to question God and the entire history of Christian interpretation. Sometimes such youthful pride has to be brought down a little bit in order to make someone teachable. I gave him an answer before challenging him, and immediately followed with a Gospel presentation.

I know about youthful pride; I fell prey to that sinful tendency when I was a teenager. I needed someone to let me know how much I didn't know to humble me and bring me in subjection to the Scriptures. That is all I was trying to do here. Respectfully, I don't think the Bible verses you cited here were that applicable, and youthful hubris is never called a virtue.

I stand by what I wrote, and believe it is consistent with Scripture.
Randolph H.
The key element in the passage is not the fruit itself, but the prohibition against eating it. God gave Adam and Eve only one prohibition in His instructions. Whether there was some spiritual property within the fruit is really irrelevant. The sin was in disobeying God's command. By eating the fruit (an act of disobedience), Adam and Eve gained personal knowledge of evil. They already knew good, but now they had the contrasting experience of the evil of disobedience and the guilt and shame that came with it. Satan's lie was that knowing good and evil would make them like gods (Genesis 3:5). In reality, they were already made in the image of God and had the blessing of His good pleasure.
Eric W.
The comment:
"I want to challenge you a little bit though: you're 15 years old, and you claim the right to challenge what you perceive as "illogical and fundamentally incorrect". But at your level of education and life experience, you're very ill-equipped to judge these things. You need to spend more time in serious study before challenging anyone to a debate. " is astonishingly and almost cruelly high handed and completely out of place in the communication of a Christian organisation. We don't judge or criticise people because they enquire, we exercise kindness and patience with those who are younger and less informed. Here's a kid who want to know. He asks you politely, and you do a garbage dump 'challenge'. If you have an explanation (and your explanation is shallow and theologically uniformed and unimaginative, I must say) give it; if you don't, don't. Now apologise to the kid and the church for misrepresenting the grace and love of God.
Lita Cosner
Eric, my goal was certainly not to be cruel, but to force this correspondent to reflect on his comparative lack of education and life experience. He needed to have a realistic view of his own resources and capabilities to assess this topic.

That challenge was the set-up for the real takeaway point, which was that he shouldn't read the Bible as if the serpent were telling the truth.

I re-read my response to the correspondent, and feel no apology is necessary. You will find much stronger challenges in Scripture to unbiblical thinking. And I ended with a call to the Gospel, which is hardly a misrepresentation of the grace and love of God.

So I stand by what I've written, but I want to thank you for raising your concern, because it's useful to see things from a different point of view.
Paul S.
Re: inheriting the curse for sin. It is the only way any of us would be saved. If there was no inheritance of the curse, there would be no inheritance of salvation. That means we'd be born sinless, but if we sinned That's It, no redemption. How long would any of us last in a world of sinners & sin? Salvation is about God showing His grace, not us showing ours.

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