Genesis 3
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 3. (J.) The Story of Paradise (cont.): 2. The Fall of Man (1–24)

1–5.  The Temptation.

6–8.  The Fall.

9–13.  The Enquiry.

14–19.  The Sentence.

20–21.  Man’s Clothing.

22–24.  The Expulsion from the Garden.

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
1. Now the serpent] The abrupt mention of the serpent is characteristic of this narrative. Vivid and picturesque as it is, the story leaves many things omitted and unexplained. The present verse is an illustration. It makes no mention of time; whether the interval between the Creation and the Fall was one of days, months, or years, is not stated. The serpent is brought upon the scene without explanation, though he is gifted with speech and is able, by means of knowledge superior to that of the woman, to tell her what will be the results of eating of the forbidden fruit; cf. Genesis 3:5 with Genesis 3:22.

Ch. 3, though one of the same group of narratives as ch. Genesis 2:4 b–25, has no appearance of being the immediate continuance of ch. 2, but rather of being a distinct and independent story. The connecting link is the mention of the tree “in the midst of the garden.”

The serpent is (1) one of “the beasts of the field” (cf. Genesis 2:19), “formed out of the ground”; (2) more “subtle” than any of them; (3) not identified with a spirit, or any personal power, of evil. For this development of the narrative, belonging to a late period of Jewish literature, cf. Wis 2:23, “by envy of the devil death entered into the world,” Revelation 20:2, “the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan.”

more subtil] i.e. more sly, clever, and mischievous. For the wisdom of the serpent, cf. the proverbial expression quoted by our Lord, “Be ye wise (φρόνιμοι) as serpents,” Matthew 10:16. Here the LXX has ὁ δὲ ὄφις ἦν φρονιμώτατος πάντων τῶν θηρίων.

Yea, hath God said] The serpent, in order to secure success, addresses the woman, who (a) was the weaker, (b) was apparently alone, and (c) had not herself received the Divine command respecting the fruit of the tree (Genesis 2:16).

Observe that in the serpent’s mouth the general name, “God” (Elohim), is used, and not the sacred name “Jehovah” (Lord), and that the woman replying takes up the serpent’s words.

The method which the serpent adopts is insidious. He knows the prohibition; he feigns ignorance, and asks to be instructed. The question suggests a doubt of Divine goodness. It takes the tone of indignant surprise at the injustice and harshness of a prohibition which had forbidden the man and the woman to eat of any tree of the garden. Such a suggestion, however easily refuted, might instill into the mind of the unsuspicious woman a grain of doubt, whether even any limitation was consonant with perfect justice and kindness. Compare the first temptation: “If thou art the Son of God,” Matthew 4, Luke 4:3.

The versions, misunderstanding the Hebrew particles, give a slightly different turn to the serpent’s question: LXX τί ὅτι, Lat. cur, making the serpent ask, not as to the fact, but as to the reason of the prohibition.

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
2. the woman, &c.] The woman is quick to correct the error into which she fancies the serpent has fallen, and to defend the generosity of the Lord.

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
3. of the fruit of the tree, &c.] The woman speaks of only one tree, and that one is in the midst of the garden. She does not mention it by name. In Genesis 2:9, where two trees are mentioned, the one which is described as “in the midst of the garden” is the tree of life. Here the woman speaks of the tree, which is “in the midst of the garden,” as the tree of knowledge.

neither shall ye touch it] This is an addition to the prohibition contained in Genesis 2:17, either an element omitted in the previous chapter, or an exaggeration expressive of the woman’s eagerness.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
4. Ye shall not surely die] The words are very emphatic, “by no means shall ye die.” The serpent directly contradicts the statement of the penalty of death, and thus craftily removes the cause for fear, before dwelling upon the advantages to be obtained from defiance of the Divine decree.

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
5. for God doth know, &c.] Having denied the fact of the penalty, the serpent proceeds to suggest that there is an unjust motive for the threat. It is not, he says, for the good of the man and the woman, but in order to exclude them from their privilege and right. No reason had been assigned: the serpent suggests one, that of jealous fear, lest men should be as God. According to the story, there is a half-truth in each utterance of the tempter; (1) “ye shall not surely die”: and it is true that the penalty of Genesis 2:17 was not literally carried out. The man did not die in the day that he ate of the fruit: (2) “in the day ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened”; the prediction is verified in Genesis 3:7 : (3) “Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil”: the prediction is confirmed by the words of Jehovah Himself, Genesis 3:22, “Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” These three assertions, the denial of penalty, the promise of knowledge, and the prospect of independence, therefore, are not lies capable of direct refutation, but half-truths requiring explanation.

your eyes shall be opened] An expression denoting the sudden acquisition of discernment to apprehend that which before had been hidden from ordinary sight. Cf. Genesis 21:19; 1 Samuel 14:29; 2 Kings 6:17.

as God] or as gods. Both translations are possible, as in the Hebrew the word for God, Elohim, is plural; and consequently it is sometimes impossible to say whether “a god,” or “gods,” is the right translation: e.g. 1 Samuel 28:13, “and the woman said unto Saul, I see a god (or ‘gods’) coming up out of the earth.” In favour of the plural “gods” is the expression in Genesis 3:22, “the man is become as one of us.” The word “Elohim” may be used of the Heavenly Beings, “Sons of God,” who living in the presence of God are spoken of as sharers in His Divinity; see note on Genesis 1:26. But as the purpose of the serpent is to implant distrust of, and disaffection towards, the Lord who had made the man and woman, the singular, “as God,” is to be preferred.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
6. And when the woman] The woman’s attention has been drawn to the tree. She finds that the serpent’s suggestion, based on the mysterious properties of the fruit and on the supposition of Jehovah’s jealousy and unkindness, is reinforced by the attractive appearance of the fruit. Probably good to taste, evidently fair to look on, and alleged to contain the secret of wisdom, the sight of the fruit stimulates desire, and this being no longer resisted by a loyal love of God obtains the mastery; cf. James 1:14-15, “Each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death.”

to be desired to make one wise] or rather, “to be desired, in order to be wise.” The same word in the Hebrew as in Psalm 2:10, “now therefore be wise, O ye kings.” The R.V. marg., “desirable to look upon,” gives a rendering of the Hebrew word which is not supported by its use elsewhere in the Bible, though found with this sense in late Hebrew, and in this verse supported by the versions, LXX ὡραῖον τοῦ κατανοῆσαι, Vulg. aspectu delectabile, and the Syriac Peshitto.

and she gave also] The story is so condensed that we are left in ignorance, whether the man yielded as easily to the woman as she had to the serpent. The fact that the woman “fell” first, before the man, was presumably a point upon which stress was laid in the Rabbinic teaching, to which St Paul alludes in 1 Timothy 2:14, “and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression.”

6–8. The Fall

The serpent here disappears from the story, except for the mention of him in the woman’s words of excuse (Genesis 3:13), and in the Divine sentence upon him (Genesis 3:14-15). He did not tell the woman to eat the fruit. The temptation which is most dangerous is rarely the most direct. The soul, which has once yielded to the temptation to distrust the goodness of God, may be left to itself to disobey Him, and, in the conflict between pleasure and the service of God, will prefer its own way. Disobedience to God is the assertion of self-will, and “sin is lawlessness” (ἀνομία), 1 John 3:4.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
7. And the eyes, &c.] The serpent’s promise is fulfilled; their eyes having been opened, they have forfeited the state of innocence of which nakedness was symbolical, cf. Genesis 2:25. The knowledge to which they have attained is neither that of happiness, wisdom, nor power, but that of the consciousness of sin and of its conflict with the Will of God.

fig leaves] These leaves would be chosen because of their size. The fig tree is said to be indigenous in Palestine, but not in Babylonia. If so, it is an indirect proof that our version of the story is genuinely Israelite. “Fig leaves are thick, palmately lobed, and often a span or more across” (Hastings’ D.B., s.v.).

aprons] Better, as R.V. marg., girdles: LXX περιζώματα, Lat. perizomata.

The rendering “breeches,” which appeared in the Genevan Bible (1560), caused that version to be popularly known as “the breeches Bible.”

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
8. the voice] Better, as R.V. marg., sound. The man and woman are represented as hearing the sound of God’s footsteps in the garden.

in the cool of the day] Lit. “in the wind of the day”; that is, at the time of day when, in the East, a cool wind springs up, and people leave their houses. LXX τὸ δειλινόν, Vulg. ad auram post meridiem.

hid themselves] Evidently it had hitherto been their custom to go with Jehovah when He “walked in the garden.” Now conscience makes cowards of them; and, like children who had done wrong, they hide themselves “in medio ligni Paradisi” (Vulg.).

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
9. Where art thou?] The Lord does not abandon, He seeks, the guilty. The question is one which the voice of conscience puts to every man who thinks that he can hide his sin from God’s sight.

9–13. The Enquiry

The certainty of tone with which the following questions are put indicates either perfect knowledge or accurate perception, and reduces the guilty man to a speedy confession. The questions are put, not to obtain information, but to give opportunity for self-examination and acknowledgment of guilt. The endeavour of the man and woman to put the blame on others is a lifelike trait.

And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
10. heard … afraid … hid] The man has not courage to tell the whole truth. Fear suppresses that part of the truth which love should have avowed. To hide from God’s presence is the instinct of guilt; it is the converse of “to seek His face.”

And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
11. Who told thee, &c.?] To this question no answer is expected. The knowledge could only come in one way. The sense of shame implies contact with sin.

Hast thou eaten, &c.?] An opportunity is given for a full confession of disobedience and for the expression of contrition.

And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
12. The woman, &c.] The man, unable to deny the charge, seeks to excuse himself by laying the blame primarily on the woman, and secondarily on Jehovah Himself, for having given him the woman as his companion. Guilt makes the man first a coward, and then insolent.

And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
13. The serpent beguiled me] The woman, in answer to the direct and piercing question, lays the blame upon the serpent. For the word “beguiled,” cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3. See St Paul’s use of the passage in 1 Timothy 2:14.

The serpent is not interrogated. Perhaps, as some suggest, because “being an animal it is not morally responsible: but it is punished here as the representative of evil thoughts and suggestions” (Driver). Others have surmised that, as some features of the story have disappeared in the condensed version that has come down to us, the question put to the serpent and his answers may have seemed less suitable for preservation.

The interrogation is over: it has been admitted, (1) that the man and the woman had eaten the fruit: (2) that the woman had given it the man: (3) that the serpent had beguiled her. The evil has been traced back from the man to the woman, from the woman to the serpent: there is no enquiry into the origin of the evil. Judgement is now delivered in the reverse order, beginning with the serpent, and concluding with the man on whom the chief responsibility rests; for he had enjoyed direct converse with the Lord, and had received the charge of the garden.

And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
14–19. The Sentence

14. cursed art thou] The word “cursed” is only used in addressing the serpent, as the originator of the temptation, and in reference to “the ground” as the sphere of man’s penalty (Genesis 3:17). Jehovah does not pronounce a curse either upon the man or upon the woman.

above] Better, as R.V. marg., from among. Taken from among the other animals, the domestic cattle and the wild beasts, the serpent alone receives the curse. So LXX ἀπό, Vulg. “inter.” An objection to the rendering “above” is, that it would imply a curse of some sort upon all animals, and a special one upon the serpent.

upon thy belly, &c.] It appears from this sentence that the story considered the serpent to have been originally different in appearance and mode of progression. Its crawling movement on the ground and the apparent necessity for its swallowing dust are regarded as the results of the curse pronounced in the garden.

Prostrate, no longer erect, and feeding on the dust which man shakes off from his foot, the serpent-race typified the insidious character of the power of evil, to which the upright walk of man was the typical contrast.

all the days of thy life] Not the individual serpent, but the whole serpent-race. These words, together with the details of the curse, conclusively shew that Jehovah is addressing an animal, and not the spirit of evil.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
15. and I will put enmity] The first meaning of this sentence refers to the instinctive antipathy of mankind towards the serpent, and the frequently deadly character of the wounds inflicted by serpents upon human beings.

But this explanation does not exhaust the full meaning of the verse. The narrator tells the story, not in the spirit of a compiler of folk-lore, but with the purpose of embodying in it the truths of religion. The hostility between the serpent and the woman, between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed, typifies the unending conflict between all that represents the forces of evil on the one hand, and all that represents the true and high destiny of mankind on the other. Upon this antagonism Jehovah has, as it were, set His seal from the very beginning. He has ordained it. There must be war between every form of evil and the children of man. This verse has been called the Protevangelium. There is no prediction of a personal victor, or even of an ultimate victory. Commentators used to see in the words, “thou shalt bruise his heel,” a prediction of the sufferings and crucifixion of our Lord, as “the seed” of the woman; and in the words, “it shall bruise thy head,” the victory of the Crucified and Risen Son of Man over the forces of sin and death. We are not justified in going to the full length of this interpretation. The victory of the Cross contains, in its fullest expression, the fulfilment of the conflict, which God here proclaims between Mankind and the symbol of Evil, and in which He Himself espouses the cause of man. The Conflict and the Victory are oracularly announced. But there is no prediction of the Personal Messiah.

enmity] An unusual word in the Hebrew, occurring elsewhere in O.T. only in Numbers 35:21-22, Ezekiel 25:15; Ezekiel 35:5. LXX ἔχθραν, Lat. inimicitias. It denotes the “blood-feud” between the man and the serpent-race.

bruise] The Hebrew word rendered “bruise” is the same in both clauses. Suitable as it is in its application to the “crushing” of a serpent’s head beneath a man’s foot, it is unsuitable as applied to the serpent’s attack upon the man’s heel. Accordingly some scholars prefer the rendering “aim at,” from a word of a similar root meaning to “pant” or “pant after.” So the R.V. marg. lie in wait for (which, however, the root can hardly mean). The LXX has watch, τήρησει and τήρησεις, probably with the same idea. Vulg. has conteret = “shall bruise,” in the first clause; insidiaberis = “shalt lie in wait for,” in the second clause. It has been conjectured that the root shûph = “bruise,” may have had some special secondary meaning in which it was used of the serpent’s bite.

The Vulgate ipsa conteret caput tuum is noticeable. By an error, it rendered the Heb. masc. pronoun (“he” = LXX αὐτός) by the feminine pronoun “ipsa,” ascribing to the woman herself, not to her seed, the crushing of the serpent’s head. The feminine pronoun has given rise to some singular instances of exegesis in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
16. I will greatly multiply] The sentence upon the woman deals with the two aspects of the married woman’s life, as wife and as mother. The story explains the pains of child-bearing as the penalty for the Fall. The possession of children is the Eastern woman’s strongest passion. The sentence upon the woman gratifies her desire, but crosses it with sorrow. The penalty brings also its blessing; and the blessing its discipline.

thy sorrow] Better, a Driver, “thy pain,” as the word, elsewhere used only in vv. 17, 29, is evidently not restricted to mental distress.

thy conception] Lat. conceptus tuos. But LXX τὸν στεναγμόν σου = “thy groaning,” according to a reading which differs by a very slight change in two Hebrew letters. This is preferred by some commentators, who represent that in the Israelite world a numerous family was regarded as a sign of God’s blessing, and not in the light of a penalty. But the change is needless. The sentence both upon the man and upon the woman is not so much punitive as disciplinary. The woman’s vocation to motherhood was her highest privilege and most intense happiness. The pains and disabilities of child-bearing, which darken the mystery of many a woman’s life, are declared to be the reminder that pain is part of God’s ordinance in the world, and that, in the human race, suffering enters largely into the shadow of sin.

in sorrow] viz. “in pain” as above.

thy desire, &c.] LXX ἡ ἀποστροφή σου, i.e. “thy turning or inclination,” with a very slight change of one letter in the Hebrew. But, again, there is no need to alter the reading. The two clauses present the antithesis of woman’s love and man’s lordship. Doubtless, there is a reference to the never ending romance of daily life, presented by the passionate attachment of a wife to her husband, however domineering, unsympathetic, or selfish he may be. But the primary reference will be to the condition of subservience which woman occupied, and still occupies, in the East; and to the position of man, as head of the family, and carrying the responsibility, as well as the authority, of “rule.”

This is emphasized in the Latin sub viri potestate eris.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
17. cursed is the ground] The man is addressed as one who in the future is to be dependent upon the soil for the means of subsistence. Not man, but the ground for man’s sake, is accursed. Its fruitfulness is withheld, in order that man may realize the penalties of sin through the pains of laborious toil. The sentence, which, reverses the blessing of Genesis 2:15, befalls the whole earth.

in toil] R.V. marg. “sorrow.” But see note on Genesis 3:16.

Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
18. thorns also, &c.] These are not new products of the soil because of sin, but are typical of that which the earth brings forth of itself, and of ground neglected or rendered fallow by man’s indolence. Left to itself, the soil produces weeds which must be removed. Man is to live upon that which he laboriously sows and plants and cultivates.

thistles] Elsewhere only in Hosea 10:8.

the herb of the field] It is here ordained that man shall eat “the herb of the field,” requiring laborious cultivation. This is a change from the diet of fruit assigned to him in Genesis 2:16 (J). The passage assumes that agriculture was man’s first industry. Anthropology tells a different story; but the Hebrew belief is a recognition of the fact that agriculture was essential to the life of dwellers in Palestine.

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
19. in the sweat of thy face] As in the sentence upon the woman, so here, in the sentence upon the man, suffering is not punitive, but disciplinary, being associated with his highest vocation. The necessity of labour has proved man’s greatest blessing; it has evoked the qualities which are distinctively most noble, and has been the cause of all progress and improvement.

till thou return, &c.] Man’s work is to continue to the end. Old age has its own scope for activities. Physical robustness is not the only measure of responsibility or efficiency.

dust thou art, &c.] See note on Genesis 3:7. Jehovah does not slay man at once; He is merciful, and relaxes His first decree. Man is not to enjoy earthly immortality: but he shall live until “the breath of God” is taken from him, and he becomes dust again.

And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
20. Eve] Heb. Ḥavvah, that is, Living, or Life. The man is represented as calling his wife by this name, because she was the mother of the whole human race. The word is evidently of great antiquity; for it is not found with this spelling in Biblical Hebrew, but in the form of ḥayyah. The sound of the name “Ḥavvah” (Eve) was sufficiently close to that of the root meaning “Life” (ḥay) to suggest connexion. Whether ḥavvah was an old form, or a name taken over from the primitive people of Palestine, we have no means of deciding.

20–21. These two verses are a parenthesis interrupting the thread of the narrative. Probably they contain materials current in some other thread of tradition, and inserted here at the close of the judicial sentence.

Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
21. coats of skins] in reference to Genesis 3:7. The sense of shame is the result of the knowledge of evil.

The present verse gives the traditional explanation of the origin of clothes. The word “coats” hardly represents the Hebrew so well as LXX χιτῶνας, and Lat. “tunicas,” cf. 2 Kings 1:8, Hebrews 11:37. The Heb. k’thôneth (= χιτῶν) was a kind of shirt without sleeves, reaching down to the knees.

The first mention of death among animals is implied in this provision for man’s clothing. Does it contain an allusion to the otherwise unrecorded institution of sacrifice?

The Divine sentence of punishment is thus followed at once by a Divine act of pity, as if to certify that chastisement is inflicted not in anger, but in affection.

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
22–24. The Expulsion from the Garden

22. as one of us] It is not stated to whom Jehovah addresses these words. Two explanations are possible. Either (1) He speaks to the Heavenly Beings by whom the throne of God was believed to be surrounded. See notes on Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 3:5, Genesis 6:1, Genesis 11:7. “As one of us” will then mean, not “like unto Jehovah personally,” but “like to the dwellers in Heaven,” who are in the possession of “the knowledge of the distinction between good and evil.” Or (2) the words are used in the language of deliberation, and represent the Lord moved, as it were, by apprehension or displeasure, because the eating of the Tree of Knowledge had conferred upon man an attribute to which he was not entitled.

According to either line of explanation, the sentence is one which is most easily understood as one of the few survivals of the earlier myth form of narrative.

The Targum of Onkelos, to avoid the phrase “as one of us,” renders “is become one from himself.”

and now, lest, &c.] Man must be prevented from eating of the Tree of Life, and so obtaining another prerogative of Divinity, that of immortality. Man is created mortal. Immortality, obtained by disobedience and lived in sin, is not according to Jehovah’s will.

The verse contains a survival of the naïve trait in the primitive story, which represented Jehovah as jealous of the possible encroachment by man upon the prerogatives of Divinity. The serpent had referred to this (Genesis 3:5); and it appears again in Genesis 11:5.

Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
23. sent him forth, &c.] Man is dismissed from the garden with the duty imposed upon him to till the ground. Agriculture is here treated as the earliest human industry. See note on Genesis 3:18.

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
24. So he drove out] The expulsion from the garden is repeated in this verse in stronger terms. In Genesis 3:23, it was “sent him forth” (LXX ἐξαπέστειλεν, Lat. emisit): here, it is “drove out” (LXX ἐξέβαλε, Lat. ejecit). Though there is a repetition which may possibly imply different narratives combined together, the milder tone of Genesis 3:23 is connected with, the description of man’s vocation to work, the sterner tone of Genesis 3:24 expresses the exclusion of sinful beings from the privileges of the Divine presence.

at the east] Implying that the entrance was on the east side. Man is driven out eastward, in accordance with the prevalent belief that the cradle of human civilization was to be sought for in the east.

Assyrian Winged Bull.

the Cherubim] Mentioned here without explanation, as if their character must be well known to the readers. The O.T. contains two representations of the Cherubim: (1) they are beings who uphold the throne of God, cf. 1 Samuel 4:4, 2 Samuel 6:2, 2 Kings 19:15, Psalm 80:2; Psalm 99:1; possibly, in this aspect, they were originally the personification of the thunder clouds, cf. Psalm 18:10. “And he (Jehovah), rode upon a cherub, and did fly,” where the passage is describing the Majesty of Jehovah in the thunderstorm: (2) they are symbols of the Divine Presence, e.g. two small golden cherubim upon the Ark of the Covenant, Exodus 25:18 ff.; two large-winged creatures made of olive wood, sheltering the Ark in the Holy of Holies, 1 Kings 6:23. They were represented in the works of sacred art in the Tabernacle, Exodus 25:18 ff.: and on the walls and furniture of the Temple, 1 Kings 6:29; 1 Kings 6:35; 1 Kings 7:29; 1 Kings 7:36, cf. Ezekiel 41:18 ff.

The description of the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1:5 ff; Ezekiel 10:20 ff., gives us the Prophet’s conception of the Cherubim, each one with four faces (of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle), and each one with four wings. But in Ezekiel 41:18-19 the Cherubim have two faces, one of a man, and one of a lion. It is natural to compare the Assyrian composite figures, winged bulls, and lions with men’s heads, and the Greek γρύψ, or “gryphon.” In the present passage, the Cherubim are placed as sentinels at the approach to the Tree of Life, and, therefore, we are probably intended to understand that they stood, one on either side of the entrance to the garden, like the two winged figures at the entrance of an Assyrian temple. They are emblematical of the presence of the Almighty: they are the guardians of His abode.

the flame of a sword] It is not usually noticed that we have in these words a protection for the Tree of Life quite distinct from the Cherubim. The hasty reader supposes that the “sword” is a weapon carried by the Cherubim. In pictures, the sword with the flame turning every way is put into the hand of a watching Angel. But this misrepresents the language of the original Hebrew, which states that God placed, at the east of the garden, not only the Cherubim, but also “the flame of a sword which turned every way.” What the writer intended to convey we can only conjecture. Very probably it was a representation of the lightnings which went forth from the Divine Presence, and were symbolical of unapproachable purity and might.

The student should refer to the description of the Cherub, in Ezekiel 28:11-19, and note particularly the words, Genesis 3:13, “thou wast in Eden, the garden of God,” Genesis 3:14, “thou wast the anointed Cherub that covereth: and I set thee, so that thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.” (See Davidson’s Notes, in loc. in Cambridge Bible.)

The LXX τὴν φλογίνην ῥομφαίαν τὴν στρεφομένην, and Lat. flammeum gladium atque versatilem, give a good rendering of the original.

to keep the way of the tree of life] That is to “keep,” or “protect,” “the way that led to the tree of life,” so that man should not set foot upon it.

In the N.T. “the tree of life” is mentioned Revelation 2:7, “to him that overcometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God,” cf. Genesis 22:2.


I. The following illustrations of the Story of the Fall are from Jeremias (O.T. in the Light of the Ancient East, E.T.).

(a) In Mexican mythology the first woman is called “the woman with the serpent,” or “the woman of our flesh,” and she has twin sons.… In the same way the Indians have a divine first mother of the race of man, who dwells in Paradise (the Indian Meru). Also in the beginning the evil demon Mahishasura fought with the serpent, trod upon and cut off his head; a victory to be repeated at the end of the world, when Brahma will give back to Indra the rulership over all.… The Chinese have a myth according to which Fo-hi, the first man, discovered the wisdom of Yang and Yin, masculine and feminine principle (heaven and earth).… A dragon rose from the deep and taught him. “The woman,” it is said in an explanatory gloss, “is the first source and the root of all evil” (p. 231).

(b) Legend of Eabani. The [Babylonian] epic of Gilgamesh tells about a friend of the hero, reminiscent of Pan and Priapus, Eabani, whose whole body was covered with hair. He is the creation of Aruru when she “broke off clay” and “made an image of Anu.” He is a being of a gigantic strength. “With the gazelles he eats green plants, with the cattle he satisfies himself (?) with drink, with the fish (properly crowd) he is happy in the water. He spoils the hunting of the ‘hunter.’ Out of love to the animals he destroys snares and nets (?), so that the wild beasts escape. Then by the craft of the hunter, who feared him, a woman is brought to him, who seduces him, and keeps him from his companions the beasts, for six days and seven nights. When he came back, all beasts of the field fled from him. Then Eabani followed the woman, and let himself be led into the city of Erech. In the following passages of the epic the woman appears as the cause of his troubles and sorrows. A later passage records that Eabani cursed her. The First Man is not in question here, but a certain relationship of idea in this description to the story of the happy primeval state of Adam must be granted” (p. 232 f.).

(c) Legend of Adapa. Adapa, the son of Êa, was one day fishing when “the south wind suddenly overturned his boat and he fell into the sea. Adapa in revenge broke the wings of the south wind (the bird Zu), so that he could not fly for seven days. Anu, God of Heaven, called him to account, saying, ‘No mercy!’ but at the prayer of Tammuz and Gishzida, Watchers of the Gate, Anu softened his anger, and commanded that a banquet should be prepared, and a festival garment presented to him, and oil for his anointing: garment and oil he accepted, but food and drink he refused. Êa had warned him: ‘When thou appearest before Anu, they will offer thee food of Death: eat not thereof! Water of Death will they offer thee: drink not thereof! They will present thee with a garment: put it on! They will offer thee oil: anoint thyself with it!’ But, behold, it was Bread of Life and Water of Life! Anu breaks forth in wonder. Upon the man who has been permitted by his creator to gaze into the secrets of heaven and earth …, he (Anu) has desired to bestow also immortality. And by the envy of the God the man has been deceived” (p. 183 f.).

Jastrow remarks upon this legend: “Adam, it will be recalled, after eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, makes a garment for himself. There can be no doubt that there is a close connection between this tradition and the feature in the Adapa legend, where Adapa, who has been shown the ‘secrets of heaven and earth,’—that is, has acquired knowledge—is commanded by Êa to put on the garment that is offered him. The anointing oneself with oil, though an essential part of the toilet in the ancient and modern Orient, was discarded in the Hebrew tale as a superfluous feature. The idea conveyed by the use of oil was the same as the one indicated in clothing one’s nakedness. Both are symbols of civilization which man is permitted to attain, but his development stops there. He cannot secure eternal life” (Religion of B. and A., p. 552 f.).

In this legend, the man Adapa who has acquired “knowledge,” is prevented by the deceit of Êa, the creator of man, from acquiring immortality. There is therefore a striking parallelism of idea with the narrative of Genesis 3, but there is no resemblance in its general features.

Hitherto there has not been discovered any Babylonian story of the Fall. But, when we observe the occurrence of such features as “the garden,” “the tree of life,” “the serpent,” “the Cherubim,” it is clear that the symbolism employed is that which is quite common in the records and representations of Assyrian and Babylonian myths.

II. The Story of the Fall does not offer an explanation for the origin of sin. But (1) it gives a description of the first sin; and (2) it presents an explanation of (a) the sense of shame (Genesis 3:7), (b) the toil of man (Genesis 3:17-19), (c) the birth-pangs of woman (Genesis 3:16), (d) the use of clothing (Genesis 3:21). Whether it offers an explanation of the origin of death, is doubtful. The penalty of death, threatened in Genesis 2:17, was not carried out. In Genesis 3:19 it is assumed that man will die, if he does not eat of the tree of life. He is not, therefore, created immortal; yet immortality is not impossible for him.

The story turns upon man’s eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. What is this “knowledge of good and evil”? Four answers have been given. (1) Initiation into the mysteries of magical knowledge. (2) Transition to the physical maturity of which the sense of shame is the natural symptom (Genesis 3:7). (3) Acquisition of the knowledge of the secrets of nature and the gifts of civilization, e.g. clothing (Genesis 3:21), arts, industries, &c. (Genesis 4:17 ff.). (4) Arrival at the moral sense of discernment between right and wrong.

Of these, (1) the first may at once be dismissed as quite alien to the general tenour of the story.

(2) The second emphasizes one feature in the story (Genesis 3:7; Genesis 3:10; Genesis 3:21), the sense of shame on account of nakedness. But this new consciousness of sex is only one symptom of the results of disobedience. As an explanation, though possibly adequate for some earlier version of the story, it fails to satisfy the requirements of its present religious character.

(3) The third explanation goes further. It supposes that the knowledge is of that type which afterwards characterizes the descendants of Cain (Genesis 4:17 ff.). It implies the expansion of culture with deliberate defiance of God’s will. It means, then, simply the intellectual knowledge of “everything,” or, in the Babylonian phrase, of the “secrets of heaven and earth.” Cf. Jastrow, p. 553 n.

(4) The fourth explanation has been objected to on the ground that God could not originally have wished to exclude man from the power of discerning between good and evil. Notwithstanding, it seems to be the one most in harmony with the general religious character of the story, which turns upon the act of disobedience to God’s command, and upon the assertion of man’s will against the Divine. It may, of course, fairly be asked whether the fact of prohibition did not assume the existence of a consciousness of the difference between right and wrong. We need not expect the story to be psychologically scientific. But the prohibition was laid down in man’s condition of existence previous to temptation. It was possible to receive a Divine command without realizing the moral effect of disobedience. The idea of violating that command had not presented itself before the Serpent suggested it. Conscience was not created, but its faculties were instantaneously aroused into activity, by disobedience. “It is not the thought of the opposition and difference between good and evil …, but it is the experience of evil, that knowledge of good and evil which arises from man having taken evil into his very being, which brings death with it. Man, therefore, ought to know evil only as a possibility that he has overcome; he ought only to see the forbidden fruit; but if he eats it, his death is in the act.” (Martensen, Christian Dogmatics, p. 156.)

III. (a) It does not appear that the Story of the Fall is elsewhere alluded to in the Old Testament. The passages in Job 31:33, “If like Adam I covered my transgressions,” Hosea 6:7, “But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant,” are doubtful exceptions. But, in all probability, in both cases the rendering of adam, not as a proper name, but as “man” or “men,” is to be preferred. There is, indeed, a reference to the “garden of Eden” tradition in Ezekiel 28:1[8] But there is no instance, either in the prophetical or sapiential writings, in which the Story of the Fall is made the basis for instruction upon the subject of sin and its consequences. “The Old Testament,” as Mr Tennant says2[9], “supplies no trace of the existence, among the sacred writers, of any interpretation of the Fall-story comparable to the later doctrine of the Fall.” At the same time, there is no ancient literature comparable to the writings of the O.T. for the deep consciousness of the sinfulness of man in God’s sight.

[8] Micah 7:17, “to lick the dust like a serpent,” is an illustration of Genesis 3:14 rather than an allusion to the story.

[9] The Fall and Original Sin, p. 93.

The later Jewish literature shews how prominently the subject of the first sin and of man’s depravity entered into the thought and discussions of the Jews in the last century b.c. and in the first century a.d.

(b) The most notable of the passages referring to the Fall, which illustrate the theology of St Paul, are as follows:

Romans 5:12-14, “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned:—for until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come.” Genesis 3:18, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.” 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 2 Corinthians 11:3, “The serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness.” 1 Timothy 2:14, “Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression.”

In Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 St Paul compares the consequences of the Fall of Adam with the consequences of the redemptive work of Christ. Adam’s Fall brought with it sin and death: Christ’s justifying Act brought righteousness and life. The effects of Adam’s sin were transmitted to his descendants. Sin, the tendency to sin, and death, became in consequence universal. But the effect of Adam’s Fall has been cancelled by the work of Grace, by the Death and Resurrection of Christ.

For a full discussion of St Paul’s treatment of the Fall, see Sanday and Headlam’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (chap. v.), Bishop Gore’s Lectures on the Romans (vol. i. pp. 185 ff.), Thackeray’s St Paul and Jewish Thought (chap. ii.), Tennant’s The Fall and Original Sin (chap. xi.), Bernard’s article Fall in Hastings’ D.B. (vol. i.).

(c) The following passages, quoted from Charles’ Apocrypha, will illustrate Jewish religious thought upon the subject of the Fall and its consequences:

Wis 2:23-24, “Because God created man for incorruption, and made him an image of his own proper being; But by the envy of the devil death entered into the world, and they that belong to his realm; experience it.”

Sir 25:24, “From a woman did sin originate, and because of her we must all die.”

4 Ezra 3:21, “And to him [Adam] thou commandedst only one observance of thine, but he transgressed it. Forthwith thou appointedst death for him and for his generations.”

4 Ezra 3:21, “For the first Adam, clothing himself with the evil heart, transgressed and was overcome; and likewise also all who were born of him. Thus the infirmity became inveterate; the Law indeed was in the heart of the people, but (in conjunction) with the evil germ; so what was good departed.” Cf. 4:30, 31.

4 Ezra 7:118, “O thou Adam, what hast thou done! For though it was thou that sinned, the fall was not thine alone, but ours also who are thy descendants!”

2 Baruch xvii. 2, 3, “For what did it profit Adam that he lived nine hundred and thirty years, and transgressed that which he was commanded? Therefore the multitude of time that he lived did not profit him, but brought death, and cut off the years of those who were born from him.”

2 Baruch xxiii. 4, “When Adam sinned and death was decreed against those who should be born.”

2 Baruch xlviii. 42, “O Adam, what hast thou done to all those who are born from thee? And what will be said to the first Eve who hearkened to the Serpent?”

2 Baruch liv. 15, 19, “Though Adam first sinned and brought untimely death upon all, yet of those who were born from him each one of them has prepared for his own soul torment to come.… Adam is therefore not the cause, save only of his own soul, But each of us has been the Adam of his own soul.”

2 Baruch lvi. 6, “For when he [Adam] transgressed, untimely death came into being.”

It will be observed that in some of these passages, e.g. 2 Baruch liv. 15, 19, the spiritual consequences of Adam’s Fall are in the main limited to Adam himself. Jewish thought was not agreed upon the question whether all men inherited from Adam a tendency to sin, or whether each man enjoyed freedom of choice and responsibility. Both views could be supported from St Paul’s words, “Through the disobedience of the one the many were made sinners,” “And so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned.”

(d) The teaching of the Talmud is summed up by Weber: “Free will remained to man after the Fall. There is such a thing as transmission of guilt, but not a transmission of sin (es gibt eine Erbschuld, aber keine Erbsünde); the fall of Adam occasioned death to the whole race, but not sinfulness in the sense of a necessity to sin. Sin is the result of the decision of each individual; as experience shows it is universal, but in itself even after the Fall it was not absolutely necessary” (quoted by Thackeray, ut supra, p. 38). Compare the Midrash Bemidbar Rabba, chap. xiii.; “When Adam transgressed the command of the Holy One, and ate of the tree, the Holy One demanded of him penitence, thereby revealing to him the means of freedom (i.e. from the result of his sin), but Adam would not show penitence.”

(e) Christian doctrine has been much influenced by the teaching of the Fall. But it is not too much to say that speculation upon Original Sin and the effects of the Fall of Adam has too often been carried into subtleties that have no warrant either in Holy Scripture or in reason. “Speaking broadly, the Greek view was simply that ‘the original righteousness’ of the race was lost; the effect of Adam’s sin was a privatio, an impoverishment of human nature which left the power of the will unimpaired. But the Latin writers who followed Augustine took a darker view of the consequences of the Fall. It is for them a depravatio naturae; the human will is disabled; there is left a bias towards evil which can be conquered only by grace.” (Bernard, art. Fall, D.B.)

According to St Augustine, Adam’s sin was the abandonment of God, and his punishment was abandonment by God. Adam forfeited the adjutorium of grace. His will was no longer capable of good. In virtue of the “corporate personality” of Adam, all in Adam sinned voluntarily in him. All shared his guilt. This idea of the whole race being tainted with Adam’s act of sin, rests partly upon the exaggerated emphasis laid upon the Roman legal phrase of “imputation,” partly upon the mistranslation, “in quo,” of St Paul’s words ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον, as if it were “in whom all sinned,” instead of “in that all sinned.”

The Fathers very generally held that original righteousness, which combined natural innocence and the grace of God granted to Adam, was lost at the Fall: and that man, therefore, lost primaeval innocence and the Divine Spirit simultaneously.

(f) Thomas Aquinas went still further in the systematization of the doctrine. Mr Wheeler Robinson gives the following summary: “The immediate result of the Fall was the loss of man’s original righteousness, that is, of the harmonious inter-relation of his nature, through the complete withdrawal of the gift of grace and the decrease of his inclination to virtue (I. b, Q. lxxxv. 1). The disorder of his nature, when uncontrolled by grace, shews itself materially in concupiscentia and formally in the want of original righteousness (I. b, Q. lxxxii. 3), these two elements constituting the ‘original sin’ which passed to Adam’s descendants with the accompanying ‘guilt’ (I. b, lxxxi. 3).… all men are one, through the common nature they receive from Adam. As in the individual the will moves the several members, so in the race the will of Adam moves those sprung from him” (I. b, lxxxi. 1). (The Christian Doctrine of Man, p. 206 f.)

The Council of Trent, Sessio Quinta §§ 2, 3, June 17, 1546, in the “Decree concerning Original Sin,” laid down the following dogma: “If any one asserts that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death and pains of the body into the human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema: whereas he contradicts the apostle who says: By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom (in quo) all have sinned” … “this sin of Adam,—which in its origin is one, and being transfused into all by propagation, not by imitation, is in each one as his own.…” (Schaff’s Creeds of the Gr. and Lat. Churches, p. 85.)

(g) XXXIX Articles. “Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption (vitium et depravatio) of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone (quam longissime distet) from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to do evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit, and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection (depravatio) of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated (in renatis).…” (Art. ix. Of original or Birth Sin.)

“The condition of man after the fall of Adam (post lapsum Adae) is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God.…” (Art. x. Free Will.)

For a valuable series of discussions, in which traditional Christian doctrine respecting “Original Sin” and the “Fall of Adam” is criticized, see The Origin and Propagation of Sin (1909), The Sources of the Doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin (1903), The Concept of Sin (1912) by the Rev. F. R. Tennant, D.D., B.Sc., Cambridge University Press.

The problem has very largely been modified by modern enquiry, both as regards the origin of the race and the character of the Scripture narrative. Christian doctrine is no longer fettered by the methods of the Schoolmen. Modern philosophy of religion, assisted by the newer studies of sociology, anthropology, and comparative religion, is beginning to revise our conceptions both of personality and of sin. It is inevitable, that, in the larger horizon which has opened up, the attempt should be made to restate Christian thought in reference to the nature of “sin,” of “guilt,” and of “personal freedom.”

In conclusion, the following extract from Sanday and Headlam’s Note on Romans 5:12-21 (p. 146 f.) will repay the student’s careful consideration:

“The tendency to sin is present in every man who is born into the world. But the tendency does not become actual sin until it takes effect in defiance of an express command, in deliberate disregard of a known distinction between right and wrong. How men came to be possessed of such a command, by what process they arrived at the conscious distinction of right and wrong, we can but vaguely speculate. Whatever it was, we may be sure that it could not have been presented to the imagination of primitive peoples otherwise than in such simple forms as the narrative assumes in the Book of Genesis. The really essential truths all come out in that narrative—the recognition of the Divine Will, the act of disobedience to the Will so recognised, the perpetuation of the tendency to such disobedience; and we may add perhaps, though here we get into a region of surmises, the connexion between moral evil and physical decay, for the surest pledge of immortality is the relation of the highest part of us, the soul, through righteousness to God. These salient principles, which may have been due in fact to a process of gradual accretion through long periods, are naturally and inevitably summed up as a group of single incidents. Their essential character is not altered, and in the interpretation of primitive beliefs we may safely remember that ‘a thousand years in the sight of God are but as one day.’ We who believe in Providence and who believe in the active influence of the Spirit of God upon man, may well also believe that the tentative gropings of the primaeval savage were assisted and guided and so led up to definite issues, to which he himself perhaps at the time could hardly give a name but which he learnt to call ‘sin’ and ‘disobedience,’ and the tendency to which later ages also saw to have been handed on from generation to generation in a way which we now describe as ‘heredity.’ It would be absurd to expect the language of modern science in the prophet who first incorporated the traditions of his race in the Sacred Books of the Hebrews. He uses the only kind of language available to his own intelligence and that of his contemporaries. But if the language which he does use is from that point of view abundantly justified, then the application which St Paul makes of it is equally justified. He, too, expresses truth through symbols, and in the days when men can dispense with symbols his teaching may be obsolete, but not before.”

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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