Getting the Garden Right: The Fall

            Throughout Genesis chapters 1 and 2, the reader understands that it is God alone who gets to determine and pronounce what is good (each of His created days - 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) as well as what is not good (that man should be alone - 2:18). It is for this reason that God put a reminder, a sacrament, which would continually preach to Adam and Eve that their relationship to God was one of reliance upon Him; trusting His word as to what was good and evil. “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:17).

            Life, then, consisted in continued obedience to following God’s word, and from that posture alone discerning what was good and what was not good. And so in this way God’s vice-regent rulers would always acknowledge that even though they were to have dominion over all of creation, ultimately they were not King. God the Creator was King and His words held ultimate authority.

            And thus it was God’s word and God’s authority that Satan subtly sieged. He took the form a creature, a serpent, and sought his slithering subterfuge. Can you hear his hissing?

            Let’s think first about God’s ordered authority. There is preeminent in the order of beings Being Himself, the Creator who has brought everything else into being by His creative word. And preeminent under God is man, created to rule with all the authority of God’s image stamped upon his very nature. Of course equal to man is his counterpart, the woman, also made in the image of God. But even here there is order; Eve submitting to Adam her head, she his helper. And then, as the text tells us, God charged both man and woman to rule authoritatively over the rest of creation, “subduing it and having dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (1:28).

            But notice how Satan immediately seeks to undermine this order. He enters the scene as a serpent, one of the creatures Adam and Eve were meant to have dominion over. And to whom does this serpent approach first? That’s right, Eve, the helper. And so Satan seeks (and succeeds!) at getting an animal to lead the woman to lead the man to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). God’s good ordering of creation has been totally reversed; The anti-Christ has introduced an anti-order! And thus God’s authority has been undermined.

            But we need to see now how Satan did this: undermining God’s authority by undermining God’s word! Throughout Scripture the intricate connection between God’s word and God’s authority is inseparable, and so it is in Genesis 3. Notice Satan’s first move of attack in verse 1. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” He immediately brings what God said into question, taking Eve out of the posture of faithful reliance upon God’s word, and putting her now as judge over God’s word. “Eve, have you ever thought about putting God in the dock?”

            If God’s word is the line of His authority, then it behoove’s his image-bearers to “stay on the line!”[1] Of course the serpent wants Eve off the line of what God’s word requires, and that’s exactly what Eve does in her first response. She goes above the line; she adds to God’s word. “And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

            Almost right. Only and except that Eve has become a bit legalistic and has added to what God has commanded with the idea that they were not to “touch it.” Many might argue that Eve hasn’t quite disobeyed God’s word just yet, but by adding to it - by going above the line - she has certainly made the line of God’s word null and void. This is, in fact, what Jesus accuses the Pharisee’s of doing who also went above the line by requiring ceremonial washings which God never commanded (see Mark 7:1-13, especially the punch-line in verse 13).

            Once Satan had gotten Eve to go above the line, it was only a quick move to get her to go below the line. “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (3:4-6).

            Take special notice though of how Eve responded. She saw that the tree was good for food. Up until this moment, it was only God who was seeing and declaring things to be good. In fact, it was God who clearly commanded, spoke words, saying that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not good! Eve’s judgment went against God’s judgment. And I think it was here where the sin began. Taking and eating of the fruit was only the full flowering of the sin (see James 1:14-15).

            Of course, Adam was there with Eve.[2] Where was Adam’s God-derived authority to confront this liar of a serpent and exercise his dominion over the beast? In sin, he abdicated. He allowed the animal to lead his wife, and he was allowing his wife to lead him. In other words, once God’s word ceased to have authoritative rule over their lives, disorder became the rule. An abdication of the supreme authority meant an abdicating and perverting of all other authorities.[3]

             Ironically, by eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam, Eve, and the sons of Adam began to “know good and evil” but only in a subjective and relativistic sense. They pursued what was good only in so far as their sinful hearts deemed it be good. But objective morality, a true knowledge of good and evil, became suppressed, as ungodliness and unrighteousness reigned (Romans 1:18).  “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-23).

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

[1] This analogy is “copyrighted” to Dave Helm and the The Charles Simeon Trust  - see and click on “Staying On The Line”

[2] When Satan is addressing Eve he uses the plural “you” intimating that Adam is there with Eve.

[3] This truth, I believe, has profound implications for how we think about today’s society in relationship to authority and authorities, i.e., police and police brutality, government officials, parenting, media-coverage of politics, etc. The idea of authority is a good thing that comes from God. Satan, though, hates authority and has, since Genesis 3, been working to undermine, pervert, and lead mankind to distrust any and all authority.


Stephen Unthank