The word "fall" is widely used to refer to what is recorded in Genesis 3, particularly to what is written of the temptation of Adam and Eve, their being overcome by it, and their immediate reactions after they became aware of the consequences ( 3:1-8 ).
Since the account includes the role of a speaking serpent in an environment of perfect peace, beauty, and well-being for Adam and Eve, critical scholars have proposed that the account is a myth. For them it does not portray a scene that really existed or an event that actually happened in the earliest history of humanity. The New Testament does not give any credence to that view. Passages such as Romans 5:12-19, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, and 1 Timothy 2:12-13 definitely refer to the fall as having actually happened as recorded. Many biblical scholars have correctly pointed out that the entire biblical teaching of Jesus Christ's redeeming and restoring work is based on the veracity of the historical account. Christ came and actually undid what Adam and Eve had done.
Adam and Eve had been created as image-bearers of God. They were placed in the cosmic kingdom created by God in intimate relationship with him. They were to mirror and represent their Creator as they carried out the spiritual, social, and cultural mandates. They were called to serve as mediators of the creation covenant specifically as royal representatives and as priests representing creation before God and God before creation. To so serve they were created as unblemished persons, having intellect, volition, emotions, physical potentialities, drives, and abilities. They were created as the crown of creation and given Eden, the garden palace, as their home in which they were to carry out their roles and mandates. This they could do for they were in a trusting, obeying, honoring relationship with God who, as the sovereignly present, good, truly reliable One, communicated with them daily.
In communicating with them God had given his command not to eat of one specific tree ( 2:17 ). He did not explain why they should not. He warned them of the consequences if they did: they would die. Adam and Eve did not question God; they accepted the prohibition.
Satan and evil were also present in the cosmos but neither had influence in it. Satan, having been a powerful and influential administrative archangel, had rebelled against God. He was cast out but not destroyed by God. Satan, undoubtedly very envious of Adam and Eve whom God had given the role of vicegerents in the cosmic kingdom, sought to become the sovereign ruler. To do this, he had to gain the submission and service of Adam and Eve.
Satan, with his wisdom and abilities, confronted Eve using a serpent whose cunning ways Satan was able to use to his advantage. Satan led Eve to doubt God's goodness, truthfulness, reliability, and honor. He had but to ask the question: Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden? The question, as framed, led Eve to respond in such a way that she began to doubt God's goodness and reliability; she added, "you must not touch it." The added comment revealed Eve's uncertainty about herself what would she do if she came near it and touched it?
Satan attacked God directly by contradicting him, saying Adam and Eve would not die and that God knew they would become as he was ( 3:4-5 ). Satan transformed human honor, desire, and dignity, all God-given qualities, into dishonor, greed, and pride. Eve led Adam to join her, acting with hearts deviated from God's stipulated way of life, service, and peace. It was a willfully chosen path. Sin, evil, and death became influential forces and realities throughout the cosmic kingdom.
The effects of Adam and Eve's unbelief, disobedience, and rejection of God's command not to eat is stated in a seeming euphemistic manner: "Their eyes were opened" and "they realized they were naked." The first phrase indicates that they were still persons who could know, understand, and evaluate themselves in relation to God. This is not to say they were perfect in exercising these human capacities. They were still image-bearers but their attitudes and dispositions were radically affected. They were no longer in fellowship with God; when he came to commune with them they hid. They turned from seeking him; they rejected his fellowship. The love-life bond was broken from their side. They had become and realized they were covenant breakers. The phrase regarding their nakedness revealed that they realized they stood guilty before God. They could not appear before him as they were; they were exposed as persons who needed covering, protection, and defense. They were now no longer at peace in a wholesome, well-functioning relationship with God, nor with each other, for they were quick to shift blame. The relationship of harmony and trust between God and them, between man and woman, between them and the cosmos, as represented by the serpent, was ruptured. Self-defense and accusation of others, motivated by pride arising from their perverted hearts, became a tragic reality, adding to the deepening and widening gulf separating them from God, intimate relationship with others, and the natural world. Shame and fear gripped them; they realized that a tragic separation had suddenly taken place. They experienced the horrible reality of death, which basically means to have torn apart what belongs together for the exercise and enjoyment of love, peace, goodness, contentment, and joy. With opened eyes they saw themselves dead to God, to each other, and to the created natural order. They saw and understood they were immobilized, incapable to stand and serve, ready, able productive, and blessed before their covenant God.
The consequences of Adam and Eve's disobedience, rejection, deviation, and transgression had far-reaching effects. God had ordained and placed them as progenitors of the human race and as mediatorial vicegerents in the cosmos. By God's ordinance human offspring would inherit a deceitful heart, inclined to all manner of evil and incurably corrupt ( Jer 17:9 ). All would be conceived in sin and be born with the guilt of sin ( Psalm 51:5 ). No one would come into life with a pure heart and conscience. All would be, have been, and will be born with inherited sin and guilt. This sin has been properly referred to as original sin and it is the root, source, and motivating factor for all the actual sins committed in thought, word, and deed. Scripture teaches us that the human race increased in disobedience and wickedness since the initial fateful deviation. Cain, with envy and hatred in his heart, murdered his brother ( Gen 4:1-8 ). The wickedness of humanity became great and violence filled the earth; polygamy became a way of life ( Gen 4:19 ; Genesis 6:2 Genesis 6:5 ). Paul, under the Spirit's inspiration, wrote that through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners ( Rom 5:19 ) and therefore all suffer the consequence of sin: all died in Adam ( 1 Cor 15:22 ).
The natural world also was deeply affected. The harmony among forces in the cosmos was disturbed and disrupted. God informed Adam that creation would not respond to his efforts as before. Adam would labor and sweat; thorns would grow. The biblical references to droughts, famines, floods, earthquakes, and destructive burning are well known. These are all reasons for the frustrations and groanings of all creation which, by the ordinance of God and as a result of humanity's sin, will continue until the end of time ( Rom 8:18-22 ).
Adam, Eve, and all their posterity's disobedience, rejection, and deviation had a direct consequence on God also. His relation to humanity was altered. No longer did Adam and Eve hear only words of love and encouragement; they heard reproof, condemnation, and retribution. God himself did not change; humanity broke the covenant relationship and true to himself and his Word, God in righteousness and justice, dealt accordingly. By his decree death entered the world, and God had to deal with the cosmos in the throes of despair and death. But he demonstrated his love also.
God made six pronouncements, all of which revealed his mercy and grace. Mercy is love extended to those experiencing brokenness, pain, misery, and grief because of human depravity, corruption, sin, and guilt. Grace is love extended to those who do not deserve love; grace is love for the guilty.
First, God declared that enmity was to exist between Satan and the seed of the woman. This enmity would divide humanity into disobedient despisers and rejectors of God and his covenant and submitting, believing, and obedient recipients of mercy and love. This enmity would be expressed in an abiding antithesis between Satan's dominion and the cosmic kingdom of God.
Second, God pronounced victory, redemption, and restoration. The satanic dominion and its participants would be crushed. A mortal blow would be struck by the seed of the woman, who would suffer in delivering it. This was the first promise of what later became clearly enunciated as salvation wrought by Jesus Christ.
Third, while an absolute curse was pronounced upon Satan and his dominion, a mitigated curse was pronounced on Eve. She would have greatly increased pain in childbearing; pain would accompany her as she experienced motherhood; undoubtedly she had greatly increased pain when she lost Abel at her son Cain's hand.
Fourth, a mitigated curse was pronounced on Adam and the ground. Adam would experience painful toil and sweat as food was cultivated in a thorn- and thistle-infested ground.
Fifth, Adam and Eve were also informed that although they could be spiritually restored (delivered from spiritual death), they would experience physical death. They would be returned to the dust of the earth.
Sixth, while the mitigated curse was surely executed, an absolute curse on Adam and Eve and on the natural world would not be. God's covenant with creation would continue. Adam and Eve would continue as covenantal vicegerents although in a weakened condition.
God revealed that although his wisdom, love, goodness, integrity, sovereignty, and majesty had been assaulted by Satan and violated by Adam and Eve, in his infinite compassion and with his unsurpassing power and authority he would destroy Satan and his dominion. He would undo the fall by providing full redemption and restoration through the mediatorial work of the seed of the woman, his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, who would serve as the second Adam.
Gerard Van Groningen
Bibliography. H. Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith; W. Broomall, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, 4:170-74; A. A. Hoekema, Created in God's Image; P. E. Hughes, The True Image; J. Murray, ZPEB, 2:492-94; N. Shepherd, BEB, 2:765-67; G. Vos, Biblical Theology.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Fall, the'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".