What was Adam thinking in Eden when Eve handed him a forbidden fruit? It came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that God told him to avoid. But he ate it anyway. And here the mystery lies. How did he, a man without any prior moral fault, dismiss God’s words in favor of the serpent’s words? What made him reject his creation-based trust in God—his faith?
Earlier Adam was instructed by God not to eat fruit from this one tree: “in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” [Gen. 2:17]. Just after this God formed Eve as Adam’s partner and completion. Adam then shared God’s warning with her and she clearly felt the weight of Adam’s words when, later, the serpent invited her to eat from the tree. God, she answered, warned them not to eat from it, lest they “surely die.”
Yet Eve was soon turned by the serpent to see benefits in eating the forbidden fruit. So she took one and ate it, as did Adam. And this seemingly innocuous event opened the door to evil in the world. All the moral and physical disruptions that now haunt the earth were unleashed as they dismissed God’s words in favor of the serpent’s words. This while God was out of sight.
A set of disasters followed. The couple died as God had promised—but in two stages. First, they lost God’s eternal life and were left with physical life. And, as Jesus shared in a later era, the Spirit alone gives enduring life. But the Spirit’s ministry was quenched, and he left the first couple to their remaining physical life. This life was brief after the fall as God cursed the earth—which included Adam’s material being—with decay. As one sage put it, “There would be no grace in God to wrap an immoral soul with an immortal body!”
Let’s keep our focus on Adam. His disobedience came by way of his wife’s words. She had been “deceived” by the serpent’s words [in 3:13] but God refused to let Adam off the hook for her failure. She, after all, hadn’t heard directly from God as Adam had: “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you…’” [3:17]. So physical death forced a spiritual crisis: their need for the life Adam lost when he ignored God’s words.
Let me add here that I know how silly my summary will sound to the many theologians and academics—now informed by science, critical reasoning, massive scholarship, and more—who will see this sort of summary as naïve nonsense. An educated writer—like me—should know better than to treat early and “ahistorical” mythologies with such literal devotion.
The answer I offer—with many others—is that a debate about God’s ability to communicate is still at stake. The serpent’s deception—what Jesus called “the Lie” in the underlying Greek of John 8:43—still reigns among those who share Adam’s dismissal of God’ s words. Adam, by rejecting God’s words, became bonded to Satan’s words and ways.
This bondage is traced throughout the Bible yet the Lie only comes to the forefront in Satan’s second effort to overturn God’s rule: in tempting Jesus. With Eve Satan used skepticism, his favorite entry point—“Did God really say…?”—to draw her away from God’s words. Jesus was also offered distorted but seemingly true reasons for turning away from his Father’s words. But in each case Jesus answered, “It is written…” He was unflinching. Only God’s words are trustworthy and Jesus remained faithful.
In Matthew’s account of the temptation Satan is portrayed as gloating. His first effort—with Adam—had captured all of humanity. Adam’s autonomy—represented by the Spirit’s absence—was an embedded reality from Eden onward. God was now outside every soul rather than within. So Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth in exchange for a moment of worship by Jesus. The serpent’s insatiable appetite to “be like God”—though not at all like the true God—was offered as an apparent “good” that matched his earlier ploy with Eve.
God’s solution to Adam’s fall is breathtaking. He sent his own “Word”—the eternal Son—to confront the serpent’s Lie. And now we have his Truth—as in “the way, and the truth, and the life”—to conquer the serpent’s enslaving lies.
So now the restoration of humanity comes about as some of us are drawn away from false words to the true Word. Faith comes by hearing the words concerning Christ. And Jesus blessed his Father by repeating this truth in John 17:15-17, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Let’s just say that Adam seems not to have known better. But now we do. Or at least some of us. And this while God is out of sight. But he’s certain to be back, perhaps very soon.