by Ed Gallagher
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.”Genesis 3:4–5
Read Genesis 3:1–7
Does the woman correctly recall God’s command about the tree in the middle of the garden? Compare 3:2–3 with 2:16–17. According to the story in Gen 2, was the woman around when the command was given? How would she have heard about the command?
Why would God forbid knowledge of good and evil? See 1 Kings 3:9; Heb 5:14; Deut 1:39. It seems that knowledge of good and evil is characteristic of the mature, not of children. What does this lack of knowledge of good and evil imply about Adam and the woman? They are in some ways like children; they are not mature (though they do have mature bodies). Note also that they are naked and not ashamed (2:25; sounds like children). There are certain topics that children do not need to know about (like sex, or retirement accounts), that more mature people definitely need to know about. It may be that God prohibited the couple from this knowledge of good and evil because they were not ready for that knowledge, but later on they would be ready.
Where is Adam while the woman is having this conversation with the snake? Some readers think Adam is standing beside the woman, because at the end of v. 6, they are together. However, there is no reason to think that the woman and the snake are talking near the tree; in fact, since the woman describes the tree as ‘in the middle of the garden’ (v. 3), probably she is not right beside the tree. In that case, it may be that the snake approaches the woman while she’s alone, and later the man and the woman go together to the tree. In other words, there may be a change of scene between v. 5 and v. 6, time for the woman think about her next move. (Most works of art, like the above carving in Paris, represent the snake crawling on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but Genesis 3 represents the snake as not near that tree.)
According to the snake, what result will come from eating the forbidden fruit? See 3:4–5.
Do the eyes of the couple come open as a result of eating the fruit? See v. 7
Does the couple become ‘like God’ as a result of eating the fruit? See v. 22.
Does the couple die as a result of eating the fruit? This is a difficult question to answer. If we did not have Genesis 3, and we only had the command of Genesis 2:17, we would probably guess that eating the forbidden fruit would result in immediate, physical death, something like Snow White eating the poisoned apple.
But the man and the woman eat the fruit and they do not die in this way (against our expectations). So it looks like the snake was right on all three counts: he correctly predicted that the couple would become like God, that their eyes would be opened, and that they would not die.
But we also know that Jesus describes Satan as “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and there is a way of lying by telling the truth. It’s a very crafty thing to do (note Gen 3:1), and it’s why we make witnesses swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Did the snake lie when he said the couple would become like God? Well, yes, sort of. In fact, the couple was already like God, because God made them in his image. They don’t need to be like God in every way. Did the snake lie when he said that their eyes would be open? Well, yes, sort of, because he failed to mention that they were not ready for their eyes to be opened, that this would not be a good thing for them? Did the snake lie when he said the couple would not die? Well, yes, sort of. Because even though they did not immediately die physically, they did suffer punishment as a result of their sin.
So, did the couple die? First of all, we should note that Paul connects death to the sin in the garden (Rom 5:12, and the whole passage up through v. 21 is relevant). In fact, it seems that Paul connects physical death to Adam’s sin (see 1 Cor 15:21–22). The couple are subject to physical death in Genesis 3 because their sin results in their expulsion from the garden so that they have no access to the tree of life. Because of their sin, they do die physically (eventually).
But according to Genesis 2:17, the death was supposed to happen on the very day of the transgression. Some have suggested that actually Adam and Eve become physically mortal (subject to death). Others believe the death is spiritual, separation from God. It is also possible that God decided not to carry out the punishment due to Adam and Eve because of his great mercy (see Jeremiah 18; Jonah 3:10).
Another negative result of eating the forbidden fruit is the series of curses that God pronounces. Read Genesis 3:14–19.
What things does God curse? Note that he actually curses only the snake and the ground. But he also increases the pain both of the man and of the woman. There is a great deal that we could unpack regarding these curses, especially (1) what they say about the relationship between men and women, (2) the significance of the earth itself being cursed (see Rom 8:20–23), and (3) the prediction about the woman’s seed.
Should Adam or Eve take the blame for this sin? Paul blames them both: Adam (Rom 5:12–21) and Eve (1 Tim 2:14).
Genesis 3 has a great deal to teach us about our inclination to sin, about the tactics of Satan in getting us to sin, and about the relationship between sin and death. Unfortunately, this chapter marks only the beginning of humanity’s struggle with sin, and the subsequent chapters in Genesis narrate the depressing narrative of the escalation of sin across the globe and the curse that sin inevitably brings with it.
Additional Questions for Discussion
Did the serpent lie to the woman in Genesis 3, and if so, how were his words false?
Did the man and woman die as a result of eating the forbidden fruit? Compare Genesis 2:17; 3:3, 4.
When Paul talks about the connection between death and Adam’s sin (Rom 5:12–21; 1 Cor 15:21–22), what sort of death is he talking about?
Why did God forbid the man and woman from obtaining a knowledge of good and evil?
Do Paul’s words in Romans 8:20–24 echo Genesis 3:17? What is Paul saying about the earth?
This video from The Bible Project explores Gen 1–11, with a focus on the spread of sin over God’s good creation. The video is not specifically on Gen 3, but the main point of studying this particular chapter is to see how the Bible narrates the introduction of sin into the human realm.