Could Adam have appealed the verdict?


stockxpert Adam gavel

Usually, in countries not run by a dictator, a person who has been found guilty of any offence has the right to appeal to a higher court against his or her conviction.

Genesis chapters 1–3 record that God created Adam, gave him the Garden of Eden to live in, told him he could freely eat the fruit from any tree there except from one called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and warned him that if he did eat from that tree the penalty would be death. This was not advice, but a command. The tree was not poisonous; it was disobedience that had death in it. Adam (and his wife, Eve) ate the forbidden fruit. God summoned them, interrogated them, and pronounced the sentence of death. So could Adam have appealed this verdict?

The offence

The tree was not poisonous; it was disobedience that had death in it.

What Adam and Eve did was not a minor matter, like for example our incurring a parking fine. Adam had been clearly given one law to obey, ‘Don’t eat that particular fruit.’ Equally clearly he had been told the penalty, ‘If you do, you will die.’ He could not claim that the law was unjust or that his situation was unreasonable.

The prohibition was a simple and fair test of his (and Eve’s) obedience to and love for God,1 and a means by which they might acknowledge that God ruled over them. Clearly they were being tested.2

The Judge

Was it appropriate for God to exercise the role of judge with respect to Adam and Eve?

Answer: Yes. From a human point of view, the creator of a game, say like Monopoly, has the absolute right to decide the rules and plays of the game. As Adam and Eve’s Creator and Lawgiver, God also had the absolute right to be their Judge. However, regardless of any human rationalization we may envisage, Almighty God, for no other reason than that He is Almighty God, had the absolute right to be Adam’s Lawgiver and to set any rules He chose (consistent with His holy, righteous and just character) for Adam and Eve to obey.

Note that God had not sought their downfall. On the contrary, He had made obedience both easy and pleasant. He had ‘created man without a sinful nature, placed him in an ideal environment, provided for all his temporal needs, endowed him with strong mental powers’; He had given him ‘work to engage his hands and his mind, provided a life-partner for him, warned him of the consequences of disobedience, and entered into personal fellowship with him.’3

Christ (‘the last Adam’, as He is called in 1 Corinthians 15:45) too was tempted by Satan,4 but He overcame the tempter, thereby wresting from the devil ‘that dominion over the whole race which he had secured by his victory over the first human pair.’5

The interrogation

In most human courts, by far the most time is spent in establishing what the facts were of past events, and sometimes errors occur in evaluating the evidence given. However, God did not need the divine equivalent of a human trial, either to establish the facts, or to evaluate them, or to pronounce the penalty. Being omniscient, He knew what Adam and Eve had done the moment they did it. Not only so, but God knew what the facts would be even before they happened. Before He created them, God had known that Adam and Eve would disobey Him and fall into sin.

When God next appeared in the Garden, the consequences of sin were already in operation in Adam and Eve—shame, guilt, and fear, shown in their hiding from God, with whom they previously had had perfect fellowship. He began by calling Adam, the authority figure in the family. God’s questions, ‘Where are you?’ etc. were not to obtain information, but were rhetorical, possibly in order to encourage Adam (and then Eve) to confess their sin.

The defence

Was there any evidence that Adam could have put forward but didn’t?

Answer: No. Adam did not deny the facts. His only defence was both frivolous and blasphemous, namely that Eve had given him the fruit, and that God was the one who had given him Eve. So, if anyone was to blame, it was one or both of them! Eve, in turn, blamed the serpent.6 The record shows that these were invalid excuses.

God had not allowed Satan to tempt Eve in the disguise of ‘an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14), whom she might have mistaken for a divine emissary with new instructions, but rather in the form of a serpent, ‘a creature, not only far inferior to God, but far below themselves.’ Thus ‘they could have no excuse for allowing a mere animal to persuade them to break the commandment of God. For they had been made to have dominion over the beasts, and not to take their own law from them.’7

Illustrated by Caitlin Smartt Bible

God had given His law to Adam, before Eve had been created. This suggests that Adam had later passed it on to Eve, as she quoted the prohibition about eating the fruit to Satan (Genesis 3:3), albeit with the addition about not touching it. Adam might have said to her, ‘So don’t you even touch it.’ Be that as it may, they were both required to be subject to God’s authority.

The verdict and sentence

With the pair finally acknowledging their guilt (Genesis 3:12–13), God pronounced sentence, sometimes called ‘the curse’ (Genesis 3:14–19). This was to have consequences, not only for Adam and Eve, but also for their descendants, that is, for all mankind. The original warning had been, ‘Dying you shall die.’8

From that moment, their human bodies began to decay, and would eventually ‘return to the dust’ (Genesis 3:19). Adam ‘received into his nature the germ of death, the maturity of which produced its eventual dissolution into dust.’9

Eve was told that child-bearing would involve ‘pain’ and that her husband would ‘rule over’ her. The ground was cursed, so that Adam’s work from then on would involve ‘painful toil’. Originally they had been given dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28), but now all mankind would be in subjection to the ground. ‘Everything injurious to man in the organic, vegetable and animal creation, is the effect of the curse pronounced upon the earth for Adam’s sin … consequently many things in the world and nature, which in themselves and without sin would have been good for him, or at all events harmless, have become poisonous and destructive since his fall.’9 Finally, Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Was the penalty too harsh for such a ‘small’ offence?

Answer: No. The seriousness of an offence depends on the one offended. Offence against a fly (for example) is much less serious than one against a man. How much more then, offence against Almighty God! The motive for Adam and Eve’s disobedience was not appetite, but pride—the ambition to be like God (Genesis 3:5). All sin is essentially rebellion against God’s authority and His revealed will. The measure of God’s wrath against sin is the measure of His holiness. And the measure of the penalty—death—was, and is, the measure of the enormity of the offence of rebellion against God.

Was there a court of higher authority to which Adam could have appealed against this sentence?

Answer: No. Almighty God,10 omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, is also the Most High God.11 He is also ‘the only true God’ (John 17:3). There is no higher authority than He.

What of God’s mercy?

God’s mercy can be seen in several aspects of this judgment:

  1. Knowing what would happen, God chose His Son, Jesus Christ, ‘before the foundation of the world’ to be the means by which we could be redeemed from the results of Adam’s and our own sin, and restored to Himself. (1 Peter 1:18–20; Revelation 13:8; Ephesians 1:4).
  2. God promised Adam and Eve, and us, that the seed of the woman (the virginally-conceived Jesus Christ) would ‘bruise the head’ of the serpent, i.e. cause the ultimate downfall of Satan (Genesis 3:15).
  3. This was accomplished by Christ through His death on the cross for our sins, and His Resurrection. Now, those who repent of their sins and have faith towards God will, after death, be united with God and attain that state of holiness and fellowship with God which Adam and Eve lost for us in the Garden of Eden.

Relevance for us

The Bible tells us that we too must all one day appear before God to be judged.

The Bible tells us that we too must all one day appear before God to be judged. ‘For it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment’ (Hebrews 9:27). God has told us that He will perform this work of judgment through the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead’ (Acts 17:31).

Christians are those who, in this life, have already pleaded ‘Guilty’ to the charge of rebellion against God’s authority. However, they are able to say, ‘My case has already been heard. On the cross, Jesus Christ was my substitute (Isaiah 53:6). He accepted my guilt as well as the responsibility for all my sins, and He paid in full the penalty that I deserve.’ He is now our ‘advocate’ or defence lawyer (1 John 2:1). Believers have been pardoned eternally, and will face no retrial.12 For them to be judged for sin again (their own or any ancestor’s) would be double jeopardy.13 Instead of a judgment of condemnation, Christians will face an assessment of reward.14,15

The unsaved will be judged by God’s record of their lives and their relationship to Him (Revelation 20:12, 15). The opportunity to obtain mercy will be over, and there will be no higher authority to whom anyone can appeal. For this reason unbelievers would do well to heed the words of 2 Corinthians 6:2, ‘Now is the day of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.’


Many thanks to Clarrie Briese, B.A., Diploma of Criminology (Cantab.), A.O., former Chief Magistrate of NSW, Australia (see creation.com/briese), and also to Christopher Wiltshire, LL.M., Th.C. (Moore College), for help with this article.

First published: 14 April 2008
Re-featured on homepage: 11 April 2012

References and notes

  1. Cf. ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’ (John 14:15). Return to text.
  2. Cf. Genesis 22:1–18, where God tested the faith of Abraham; and Exodus 16:4–5, where, concerning the instructions to the Israelites about gathering manna in the wilderness, God says: ‘I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.’ Return to text.
  3. Thiessen, H.C, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, USA, revised edition, p. 181, 1979. Return to text.
  4. ‘in every way’ just as we are—yet was ‘without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15). Return to text.
  5. Keil, C. and Delitzsch, D., Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1, The Pentateuch, trans. from the German by James Martin, Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, USA, p. 93, 1968. Return to text.
  6. By means of a supernatural miracle Satan used the serpent to tempt Eve to eat the fruit (Genesis 3:1–6; Revelation 12:9,20:2). Return to text.
  7. Ref. 5, pp. 93–94. Return to text.
  8. Translated in KJV, NIV, NASB, etc. as ‘surely die’ (Genesis 2:17). Return to text.
  9. Ref. 5, p. 105. Return to text.
  10. Hebrew: El-Shaddai, e.g. Genesis 17:1 ‘I am the Almighty God … ’. Return to text.
  11. Hebrew: El-Elyon, e.g. Psalm 78:35 ‘God Most High …’. Return to text.
  12. Drawing from Isaiah 53:10; John 5:24; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 10:10–14; 1 Peter 2:24 . Return to text.
  13. A legal term meaning that a person is immune from being judged twice for the same offence. Return to text.
  14. Matthew 6:3–4, 20; 10:42; 25:34–40; Luke 19:11–27 cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11–15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 9:6. Return to text.
  15. Matthew 5:11–12; Luke 6:22–23; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
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