How could unfallen Adam have sinned?

Illustrated by Caleb Salisbury temptation

Readers of Russell Grigg s article Did Adam sin out of love for Eve? have asked how Adam in his unfallen state could have made the decision to eat the forbidden fruit and thus disobey God. We present these comments below, interspersed with Russell’s response.

Raymond R. United States, 26 January 2014

Interesting read, but I have some unanswered questions I’d like to get clarification on:

1. If the relationship between unfallen Adam with God was very good (perfect?), what possible reason/cause could there be for Adam to even begin distrusting God’s Word in the first place? It seems a sinful nature would be necessary prior to considering God a liar (which is blasphemy)?

2. How can Adam, in an unfallen state, desire and make a sinful choice? If Adam had free will and was made in God’s image, why was it not possible for Adam to be unable to sin in the same way that God has free will and is unable to sin? (Probably boils down to what the real implication/attributes of "God’s image" might be.)

Thank you for your interesting questions, Raymond. For one thing, the fact that there was a tree in the Garden of Eden with the name ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ indicates that God created Adam (and Eve too) in their unfallen state without their knowing what evil was. This knowledge would come from eating the fruit of this tree, not in any academic way, nor from any mystical property of the fruit, but experientially from disobeying an explicit command of God not to eat it. I.e. knowledge of evil would come from the experience of disobeying God.

The Bible does not indicate that Adam at any stage doubted or distrusted what God had said to him. He appears to have chosen to disobey deliberately, knowing what the consequences would be. (This may be one reason why some commentators have concluded that Adam sinned out of love for Eve, but that is another issue, see Did Adam sin out of love for Eve?)

The fact that God gave Adam this choice (to not eat=obey or to eat=disobey) indicates that God purposefully made him this way, i.e. not with an inviolable divine nature, but with both the ability to choose to obey God and the ability to choose not to obey God. Another expression for this is ‘with the power of contrary choice’. This meant there was the possibility of evil. A human inventor might make a robot that he programmed with a chip to say ‘I love you’ to its human maker, but such programming would be meaningless in a real situation. God chose to create people rather than robots. The power of contrary choice that God gave to Adam would show whether Adam was prepared to trust and obey God, and voluntarily reciprocate God’s love, or deliberately go his own way. See Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?

The extent to which God made us in His image is indeed a fascinating study. When God created Adam, initially Adam was without sin, otherwise he could not have had the intimate contact he had with God, detailed in Genesis 2. See Made in the image of God.

However, this initial state of Adam’s sinlessness was not identical with what we understand of God’s holiness. The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers the question: What is God?” with the answer: “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Of these attributes, holiness denotes the perfection of God in all that He is—separate from and exalted above all His creatures, as well as absolutely separate from all moral evil and sin. God’s will is the expression of His nature, which is holy (1 John 1:5; 1 Peter 1:15–16). These aspects of God’s unchangeable holiness were not imparted to Adam when God created him. God created Adam with the possibility that Adam could sin, if he chose to do so.

That is not the same as creating him with a sin nature, such as that we now inherit after it was imparted to Adam at the Fall. This means we are enslaved by sin (John 8:34) from the womb. However, pre-Fall Adam was not compelled or impelled by any sin nature. In principle, he could have chosen to continue to remain sin-free forever—unlike us. When we become ‘born again’, forgiven of our sin through the saving blood sacrifice of God’s Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, we are liberated from sin’s bondage (John 8:36).  However, we still do not qualify as sinless, as 1 John 1:8 points out, addressing believers: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

3. How can (or why would) sinful thoughts/desires enter the mind of someone who lacked a sinful nature? It’s implied in the Bible that Jesus, who had a human (not sinful) nature and never sinned, must’ve been able to avoid sinful thoughts as well.

The Bible says concerning Christ that though he was in the form or nature of God, He took on the form or nature or likeness of men (Philippians 2:6–7; cf. Colossians 1:19; John 1:14). So that in the one person of Christ there were two natures, human and divine, man and God. Christ could be tempted in his human nature. He did not need to have a sin nature to be tempted, He just had to be human.

Jesus was tempted by Satan (not just in the wilderness but throughout His ministry (e.g. Luke 4:13; Matthew 16:21–23; John 6:14–15; Luke 22:42). The first temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11) involved creating and eating food that was not God the Father’s will for Him at that time and in those circumstances, and so partially echoes Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit. The second and third wilderness temptations (throwing Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and obtaining all the kingdoms of the world by worshipping Satan) involved very real thought processes either of what was involved or what the results might be. These temptations involved putting God to the test and/or not submitting to the absolute authority and sovereignty of God. For them to have been meaningful they must have been real.

Incidentally, note that the fact that Satan challenged Christ to create bread out of stones is a remarkable testimony on Satan’s part to the truth of Creation and the fact that Jesus Christ is the Creator God. It was a real temptation to Christ, but would have been no temptation at all to you and me! See A remarkable witness to creation—Satan.

The Bible says that Jesus was “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And “because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18), i.e. because he knows what it is like. For this to be true, “every respect” would need to include thoughts, words and deeds.

4. The article stated that, had we been there, we would’ve also sinned. I’m not sure I see the reason for that being true (?). It seems assumed that a sinful choice by whoever got to be Adam was inevitable in every possible "free choice" scenario. If that’s true, then it seems there’s something "fishy" about the situation Adam was in.

Thank you for this comment. I should have qualified it by saying that in our fallen state we too would have sinned.

I wonder why the Bible does not provide more details on something that seems to be so important. There’re instances in which it communicates the thoughts of some (e.g. the thoughts of the Pharisees, those of Jesus when He knew the thoughts of the Pharisees, etc.), but not those of Adam when he was about to make one of the most critical choices of our history.

The Bible gives us a true account, but not necessarily an exhaustive account. For example, the record says Adam “listened to the voice” of his wife (Genesis 3:17), so what did she say to him that had such a momentous effect? It would be hugely interesting to know (!), but God chose not to tell us (perhaps for that very reason (?). No doubt there are many things we shall have to wait until we get to Heaven to find the answers to (if indeed it will still matter then).

Terry P. Australia, 27 January 2014

If God created Adam and Eve and Satan perfect, why did they lack the perfectly good sense to obey God’s commandment not to eat of the poison fruit?

Thank you, Terry. Just to clarify one point, the word Satan means ‘adversary’ or ‘enemy’. Because it is inappropriate to suggest that God created Satan in a state of enmity against God (as God could then be considered as the author of evil), some theologians therefore say that Satan’s name originally was Lucifer (meaning ‘light-bearer’).1 And then, after he was created, he rebelled and dragged a portion of the other angels with him into apostasy.

In the Garden of Eden, there was harmony which could also be called perfectly good sense, until the arrival of temptation. This involved the activity of a tempter, referred to in Genesis 3 as the serpent, but identified in Revelation 12:9 as Satan. See Who was the serpent? His tactic, at least with respect to Eve, appears to have been to divert her attention away from what God had said and to focus her thoughts instead on the alleged benefits of eating the fruit.

All of this raises the concomitant question: If God knew that the being we now call Satan and some of the other angels and finally Adam and Eve would rebel against Himself, why then did He proceed with creation in the first place? The short answer is that we do not know. However, some observations can be made.

1. God determined to permit sin, and He did so although He knew what would be the nature of sin, what it would do to His creation, and what He would have to do to save us from it.

2. God determined to overrule sin for good. This does not mean that God permitted sin in order to bring about good, but rather that God permitted sin to occur for other reasons, and He decreed to overrule it for good.

3. God determined to make salvation from sin available. This He does on the grounds of the shed blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:18 19; 1 John 1:7).

4. God determined to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and to display His own righteousness by the judgment and punishment of the wicked (Acts 17:31; Revelation 20:10 15).

5. God determined to form that body of believing people known as the Church. This body of individuals, from both Jews and Gentiles, is called ‘the bride of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7); they will share in God’s glory as God’s children, they are called heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16 17), and they will reign with Him for ever and ever (Revelation 22:5).

Published: 8 March 2014

References and notes

  1. The two Bible passages that are usually invoked on this subject are Isaiah 14:12 15 and Ezekiel 28:13 17. Although both of these passages are in the context of prophecies about earthly kings (of Babylon and Tyrus), and no explicit reference is made to Satan in either passage, they both contain references of mystical significance to behaviour that transcends human abilities and conduct, such as, ‘You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven … I will make myself like the Most High’”’ (Isaiah 14:13 14): and ‘You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.’ (Ezekiel 28:15). For this reason some theologians say that the verses refer to Satan’s original state (wherein he was named Lucifer) and the sin which led to his downfall (a view propounded by some of the church Fathers as early as the third century). The alternative view, that these passages refer only to earthly kings, is held by some other theologians, as well as by liberal theologians who reject the concept of the existence of a personal devil. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Adam and Family
by Russell Grigg
US $15.00
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15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $4.00