Genesis 3 Study Notes


3:1 Though we know the serpent was an instrument of Satan (Rm 16:20; Rv 12:9; 20:2), it was just a created being. Its description as cunning suggests it offered a wisdom not based on the fear of God. It tried to take Eve’s focus off the abundance of God’s provision.

3:2-3 The woman’s claim that God said, You must not . . . touch the tree, or you will die, goes beyond anything recorded in God’s instructions to Adam. Therefore it seems that Adam had given his wife an additional command beyond what God said, or else Eve herself exaggerated the command as Satan tempted her to view God as selfish and overly restrictive. If Adam added to God’s command, he almost certainly had a good motive—after all, if Eve never touched the tree, she certainly would not eat its fruit. However, the sad truth is that when people add to the word of God, they create confusion and trouble.

3:4-5 The serpent, recognizing the woman’s confusion, found a point of attack. Knowing that the woman would not die by merely touching the fruit, he boldly contradicted what she had reported to be God’s command. He then skillfully lied (Jn 8:44) by distorting God’s word (Mt 4:6), implying that God had prohibited people from eating the fruit only to keep them from becoming as knowledgeable as he. The woman was now fully deceived (1Tm 2:14).

3:6 Since the woman did not die when she touched the fruit—in contradiction to what she had thought God said (v. 3.)—she ate it. Though Adam was with her at the time, he did nothing to stop her. Perhaps he wanted to eat of it as much as the woman did, but fearing the consequences, used his wife as a “guinea pig” to make sure it would not cause instant death.


Hebrew pronunciation [nah KHASH]
CSB translation serpent, snake
Uses in Genesis 6
Uses in the OT 31
Focus passage Genesis 3:1-2,4,13-14

Although nachash is the most prevalent of eight OT terms for snake (Nm 21:6), the usage is broader than that. The nachash in Gn 3:1,14 was the shrewdest animal and did not crawl on its belly before the curse. The nachash Leviathan was a sea monster (Is 27:1), and there were other sea serpents (Am 9:3). Associated with nachash are slithering motion (Pr 30:19), flying (Is 14:29), sudden attack (Gn 49:17), poisonous venom (Ps 58:4), sharp bite (Ps 140:3), hissing (Jr 46:22), eggs (Is 14:29), and licking of dust (Gn 3:14; Mc 7:17). Five times nachash occurs with words meaning “viper.” The Middle East has large desert areas that are habitats for serpents. The serpent of Genesis 3, an enemy of man linked with evil, is particularly identified with Satan in Rv 12:9, where he is also called a “dragon,” based on the Greek drakon, which can mean “serpent.”

3:7-8 As the serpent had indicated, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew, but instead of producing godlike power, the knowledge brought only a sense of human inadequacy, fear, and shame.

3:9 God took the initiative in reaching out to sinful humanity. This pattern—humanity sinning, then God seeking out sinners—becomes the primary theme of the rest of the Bible. Its ultimate expression is found in Jesus Christ, who came to seek and to save people alienated from God because of their sin (Lk 19:10); in him God once again walked on the earth in search of sinners. The all-knowing God asked Adam, Where are you? for Adam’s benefit, to encourage Adam to face his sin.

3:10 When Adam heard God, he was afraid. Rather than walking with God as righteous men of later generations would do (Enoch, 5:22; Noah, 6:9), Adam hid from him.

3:11 Through the use of two direct questions God brought Adam to accountability for his sin. God does not overlook sin, but he can be gently firm in confronting it.

3:12 Adam answered neither of God’s questions; instead, he sought to shift the blame for his sin first to the woman, and then to God.

3:13 The woman passed the blame to the serpent and admitted that prior to eating, she was deceived (1Tm 2:14).

3:14 Though accountability began with God’s confrontation of Adam, judgment began with the serpent. Because of the serpent’s key role (being used of Satan) in bringing sin into the human experience, it would be permanently consigned to the position of ultimate shame, under the foot. Just as conquered kings were made to lie on the ground under the foot of their conquerors (Jos 10:24), so now the serpent would live under the feet of humanity.

3:15 Hostility between the first woman and the serpent would be passed on to future generations. This verse is known in Christendom as the protoevangelium, or “first good news,” because it is the first foretelling of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Using an emphatic Hebrew construction, God announced here that a male descendant—He—would someday deal the serpent (meaning Satan) a fatal blow. The NT writers understood Jesus Christ to have fulfilled this prophecy (Heb 2:14; 1Jn 3:8). In an extended sense, the NT also indicates that God would work through the church—those indwelt by the Spirit of Christ—to destroy the works of the devil (Rm 16:20). The assertion that the snake would only strike his opponent’s heel (as opposed to head) suggests that the devil will be defeated in the ensuing struggle (Rv 2:2,7-10).

3:16 Even though the woman had been deceived into eating the forbidden fruit, she was still held accountable for her act. Notably, however, the word cursed is not contained in God’s words to her (vv. 14,16). Two penalties were imposed; both struck at the heart of a woman’s roles in life. More than would have been the case had sin not entered creation, bearing children would add to the sum of painful effort in the universe (God said he would intensify, not originate, woman’s labor pains). Marriage would also be marred; though the woman’s desire would be for her husband, sin would mar God’s plan for marriage and create tormenting inequality and subjugation. The latter is a description of the ravaging effect of sin on a husband-wife relationship, not a prescription for abusing one’s wife. The NT teaches that marriage should reflect the relationship of Christ with the church (Eph 5:24-25) and be characterized by a husband’s understanding of and respect for his wife (1Pt 3:7).

3:17 Because Adam listened to and obeyed his wife in preference to what God commanded (2:17), a curse would strike at the heart of a fundamental relationship in his life as well. Adam’s relationship with the ground would now be damaged by sin. All the days of his life he would experience painful labor (cp. the woman’s labor pains, v. 16) as he worked to bring forth the fruit of the earth. Because of sin, all creation is cursed and longs for its day of deliverance (Rm 8:19-22).

3:18 Prior to the first couple’s sins God is only recorded as having put trees in the garden (2:8-9); now there would also be thorns and thistles. Prior to sin, humanity had only to reach up to get food; now they would have to bend their backs to gather plants of the field.

3:19 The simple plucking of fruit in order to eat food (lit “bread”) would now be replaced by backbreaking labor and the sweat of the brow. Working daily in the soil, Adam would be continually reminded that he was dust and that he would return to dust.

3:20 The new name Adam gave his wife emphasizes the woman’s life-giving role that counteracts the curse of sin, which is death. Yet the divine order calls for a reciprocity exhibited in male servant leadership and female submission, both of which are modeled in Jesus himself.

3:21 By making clothing from skins, the Lord God graciously provided for humanity’s need in a way superior to what Adam and Eve had done with fig leaves. The use of animal skins anticipates the OT system of animal sacrifices (Lv 1; 3-7; Nm 15:1-31). In the NT, the apostle Paul spoke of a day when God would clothe his people with immortality (1Co 15:53-54; 2Co 5:4), thus providing the complete undoing of the curse of humanity’s sin.

3:22 Because of sin, people now knew good and evil experientially. Since the gift of life was directly tied to obedience, man’s sin meant that the penalty of death must be enforced. Expulsion was at the same time an act of mercy. Banning the humans from the tree of life allowed for their redemption rather than for them to live a life of perpetual sin in an unredeemed condition.

3:23 As the Hebrew text ironically expresses it, the Lord God sent Adam from the garden so that he would not send forth (“reach out”; v. 22) his hand for the garden’s fruit.

3:24 Following their sin, the first couple went east, a direction associated with departure from God in numerous biblical examples. Other instances of eastward movement in Genesis include Cain’s journeys after judgment (4:16), humanity’s migration toward Babylon (11:2), and the migration of Keturah’s sons (25:6). Cherubim are used as an artistic motif in the tabernacle (Ex 25:18-22; 26:1) and are also mentioned in Ezk 10 and 11. The ironies continue as the man who was once commanded to “watch over” the garden (Gn 2:15) is now banned from the garden.