The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Genesis 3:6 CSB
Genesis chapter 3 can be read here.
Few Words, Many Questions
Eve has been on my mind a lot lately. Because she was the first to eat the forbidden fruit, she has copped a lot of flak and so have her daughters, especially those in the church. Adam also ate the forbidden fruit, yet he is never vilified in the same way or to the same extent as Eve. This strikes me as unbalanced and unfair.
The temptation scene in Genesis 3:1–6 focuses on the snake and Eve, but the author, or authors, of Genesis 3 may have intended for readers to understand that Adam was there, beside his wife, listening to the conversation. And then when Eve eats the fruit and hands some of it to her husband, he eats it. Just like that. Or so it seems.
This disobedient and disastrous action of the couple, which will have far-reaching and miserable consequences for humanity, is recorded with very few words.
The Genesis 3 account raises numerous questions, many of which the biblical text does not answer. The author of Genesis 3 apparently did not foresee the scrutiny that we would apply to this chapter and the demands we make of it. But we must stay with the text.
Why did Adam eat the Forbidden Fruit?
We know why Eve ate. She had been tricked by the clever serpent and wanted to be wise. But why did Adam eat? What was his reason? What was his excuse?
God questions each of them about what they did, and Eve responds candidly, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13).
Adam’s response is a little longer―and many have thought he was trying to shift the blame away from himself―but he also replies candidly, “The woman you gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). This is an accurate statement of what happened.
The couple disobeyed God’s command concerning the forbidden fruit, but they didn’t lie when God questioned them. Yet after the interrogation, we still don’t know why Adam accepted the fruit that Eve handed to him and why he ate it, unless Adam’s answer in Genesis 3:12 actually reveals his motivation.
What if Adam was not trying to deflect blame with his statement but was alluding to the motivation behind his act of disobedience towards God?
The Genesis 3 account of the fall follows on from the narrative in Genesis 2. In Genesis 2 we read that Adam was thrilled when God, finally, made a partner for him―a person made from a part taken out of his own body, a person to rescue him from his solitude and help him to take care of the garden which was a sacred space (Gen. 2:15, 18–23).
Adam was grateful for God’s good gift that remedied his not-good situation. And the narrator of Genesis 2 remarks on the couple’s unity and on their innocence (Gen. 2:24–25).
But in Genesis 3, Adam seems to be faced with a dilemma. God had made Eve as an ezer kenegdo, a strong helper and equal companion. God had given her to him. Surely Adam could trust her. And what would happen now if Adam did not also eat the fruit?
With this scenario in mind, Suzanne McCarthy makes this suggestion.
Adam eats the fruit in order to maintain his relationship with Eve, and ultimately his relationship with God, who gave Eve to him: “The woman you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.” It was not just the woman, but the woman that God had given him who Adam needed to remain connected to. He makes a decision based on his desire to remain in his relationships with his wife and with God—or at least, so he says.
Suzanne notes that “Eve’s disobedience was motivated by a desire for beauty and wisdom.” And Adam’s disobedience may have been motivated by a desire to “maintain harmony in his relationship with Eve” and by extension “maintain his communion with God.” Neither of them seemed to trust in God’s provision and neither of them seemed to believe that they would die (Gen. 3:4).
I don’t know if Suzanne’s suggestion about Adam’s motivation is what the author of Genesis 3 intended to convey, but it does fit reasonably well with Adam’s reply to God.
Adam and Eve’s Guilt
Rather than pinning more blame on one sex or the other, we should note that God questions both Adam and Eve and holds each of them accountable for their own actions. Both are culpable and both will experience “sorrowful toil” (itsabon) as a consequence of sin entering the world (Gen. 3:16 & 17).
In Genesis 3 there is no indication that either Adam or Eve was more responsible, more guilty, or will suffer more negative consequences even if their actions were motivated by different concerns.
Some people place more blame on Eve because she was deceived, ate the fruit first, and then got her husband involved. She initiated the act of disobedience.
Others, however, place more blame on Adam. Some suggest he failed to guard the garden (cf. Gen 2:15). Or failed to protect his wife from the serpent’s influence. Or failed to adequately teach her about the forbidden fruit (cf. Gen. 2:16–17). They see him as silent, passive, and weak. But none of these presumed failings have a firm basis in the text. God does not say, or hint at, any of these presumed failings when he questions Adam. Rather, God asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Gen. 3:11). These were God’s concerns, not Adam’s supposed passivity.
Did Adam mention “the women you gave me” as a way of expressing his trust and affection for his beloved Eve? Was he referring to their relationship which was threatened when Eve ate the forbidden fruit? Maybe, maybe not. We cannot know for sure, but it’s one of the better suggestions I’ve heard. Ultimately, however, Adam and Eve are without a valid excuse for their disobedience of God’s command.
All quotations, apart from quotations of Bible verses, are taken from chapter 4 of Suzanne McCarthy’s book, Valiant or Virtuous?: Gender Bias in Bible Translation (Wipf & Stock, 2019). More about Suzanne’s book here.
 The snake is described as arum (“intelligent/ prudent”) in the Hebrew of Genesis 3:1. This word is translated as “crafty” or “cunning” in many English translations of Genesis 3:1, which gives a sinister sense, but the Hebrew word can be used in a positive sense. In the Greek Septuagint, the adjective is phronimos. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus uses the same adjective in the phrase “wise/ shrewd as serpents” in a positive sense. It seems Eve saw the snake’s intelligence in a positive sense.
 I hold to the unpopular view that Adam and Eve didn’t pass the buck when God questioned each of them. When I read Genesis 3:12–13 I see that both Adam and Eve answer God honestly. They tell the truth and admit to their own actions: “… and I ate.” These admissions are preceded by a short statement of truthful extra detail which has the effect of reminding hearers and readers of important elements in the story: God did give Adam a woman to be with him, and she did give him some fruit from the tree; the snake did trick Eve. Several plot points are repeated once in Genesis 2–3 (e.g., the position of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Gen. 2:9 and 3:3). Other biblical narratives also use repetition, often in dialogues, as reminders of important plot points.
 Paul uses Adam and he uses Eve as examples to make certain points in his letters. But we must be careful to read Genesis 2-3 on its own terms. While Genesis helps us to understand some of Paul’s points, it does not follow that Paul’s use of Adam and Eve necessarily helps us to understand Genesis 2–3.
 Tragically, the disobedience of Adam and Eve spoiled their relationship. The harmony, unity and mutuality they experienced in Genesis 2 will be marred by male rule and “sorrowful toil” (Gen. 3:16ff).
 On the other hand, it is just as easy to imagine Adam’s confusion in being handed the forbidden fruit from his ezer kenegdo, the woman who God gave to be with Adam. If we are going to speculate, we can include the idea that perhaps confusion clouded Adam’s judgement. Eve trusted the serpent more than God; Adam trusted Eve more than God.
© Margaret Mowczko 2020
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A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Women, Eve, and Deception
What Eve’s Reply to the Serpent Tells Us
Is Adam Solely Responsible for the First Sin? (Paul’s use of Adam in Rom. 5)
Is a Gender Hierarchy Implicit in the Creation Narrative of Genesis 2?
Teshuqah: The Woman’s “Desire” in Genesis 3:16
All my articles on Gender in Genesis 1–3 are here.
Valiant or Virtuous? by Suzanne McCarthy
44 thoughts on “What was Adam’s excuse?”
This is a really interesting thought! It has long seemed to me that discernment, what’s best to do in this case, is an issue in this text. (The serpent’s announcement sets up a conflict about which set of claims to trust; Eve then has to decide … ) This suggestion would reinforce that: which values to affirm?
In the story, it seems that Adam doesn’t even have time to use discernment and think things through. It really sounds like he just takes the fruit from Eve’s hand, as soon as it is offered, and eats it without thinking. At least, that’s how I’ve previously read the story.
But now I do think there might be something more behind Adam’s first phrase than I have previously thought. “The woman you gave to be with me” may not be a cop-out, but an expression of trust, devotion, or allegiance.
This is an area of study that is currently my preoccupation. What jumps out at me in Adam’s response is his shifting blame to God. The woman you gave me … he says, as if that gift of companionship was a command from God to obey her as if she was a direct representative of God. Adam seems to take no responsibility for his decision.
Adam might be shifting blame, but he is also making an accurate statement.
It’s reasonable for Adam to have trusted Eve; God had made her as the perfect partner for him. But Adam should have trusted God more. There is no excuse for his disobedience.
This reminds me of Abraham. Abraham trusted God instead of his own flesh, his entire future when he was willing to sacrifice his son Issac. Adam trusted his own flesh and not God. Tough choice but very different outcomes. Can we today give up our desires/loves of this world and live to God in obedience?
Thanks for this comment, Alison. 🙂
Yes, Abraham’s faith and obedience, in the face of a difficult life-or-death dilemma, is the opposite of Adam’s failure when faced with a difficult life-or-death dilemma.
Dear Marg, I m glad you brought up a very different perspective that is worth thinking.
But to me it seems there are good reasons to believe that they shifting of blame on Eve and Satan.
1. God did not ask, who gave you the fruit to eat? The question is have you eaten the fruit…? The answer could have been ” Yes Lord, I have eaten.”
2. The reason both of them included other agents in the process seems to suggest that they are trying make excuses.
Hello Thiumia. I believe the extra, truthful, details in their responses to God’s questions are part of the narrator’s story-telling technique.
Several important plot points are repeated once in Genesis 2-3, often in spoken dialogue. And plot points of the story are repeated in Adam and Eve’s replies to God (Gen. 3:12 & 13). This repetition keeps important points of the story in the mind of readers and hearers. (See also footnote 2 above.)
I mention several repeated elements in the Genesis 2-3 story here: https://margmowczko.com/eves-statement-to-the-serpent/
Thank you for these thoughts. We are great at rationalizing! There are so many reasons we think our situation is unique and surely God would understand. But the results are the same when we wander from His commands: separation from Him and from each other. So thankful for the cross!
I agree. I am not so much rationalizing as simply analyzing the text as best I can. The woman and the man were both disobedient to their relationship with God, but my reading is that it was unintentional. Unfortunately the woman allowed her own judgement regarding the fruit in conjunction with the shrewd and intentional influence of the deceiver to guide her rather than relying on God. And here we are.
It is only by God’s compassion and promise that we have hope for the new Eden through Christ.
Beverly, That is a helpful way to understand Adam’s situation and the results. I like it.
Seems like we can look through the incident through the lens of the roles/responsibilities God assigned to Adam and Eve up to that point. As one being called Adam or Humanity, in the body of one, they were given the responsibilities of working in the garden, taking care of it, and freely eating from any tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this singular bodily state of humanity (if one follows the text chronologically) they were also given the jobs of naming beasts of the field and birds of the air- naming is a convention of giving identity to something. So- we were identity makers, care-givers/takers/grounds-keepers.
Then, when woman was extracted from or made from or taken out of man- God’s stated purpose in doing so was to create an ‘Ezer’ for humanity. The term is vastly under-translated as ‘helper’ but it is more adequately understood as a provider, protector, one who surrounds, comes to one’s aide.
In concordance with his given responsibility, Adam names her ‘woman’. According to God’s design, woman’s identity based on His intention is to be the Ezer of humanity.
Through this filter, it is easier to understand woman’s attempt to discern the value of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad (tov and rah). She saw that “the fruit of the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” While, yes, she is in the process of being deceived, woman appears to be trying to be the Ezer she was made to be. It also explains why man would take the fruit without question. She was doing her appointed work: being the provider, protecter, etc.
However- her first attempt at Ezer fails with the deception of the serpent and woman’s failure to trust God’s words over her own neophyte conclusions.
By considering the roles and responsibilities given by God up to this point in the story line, Iand considering the way they both reply candidly to God’s questions, I have been better able to justify Adam’s passivity as trust; and Eve’s perceived disobedience as Immaturity.
I like this Terese, but there are couple of things I see a little differently.
“Woman” (ishshah) is not a name. A formulaic combination of qara, a Hebrew verb that means “call,” and shem, a noun that means “name,” is used frequently in Genesis when naming a person, place, or thing. This formula doesn’t appear in Genesis 2 but it does when Adam names Eve in Genesis 3.
I think Eve was Adam’s ezer just by being made and showing up and rescuing him from being alone. And I don’t think we’re meant to think that the serpent turned up the very next day after Eve was made in order to deceive her, so that she only had one shot at being an ezer. But the understanding of Eve as ezer explains Adam’s trust in her. Boy, did she fail!
Yes you are absolutely right to point out the difference between ‘name’ and ‘called’. In Gen 2:19 when Adam “called her ‘woman’ …” the context is a descriptive label he assigns to the woman- much like names can denote origin. For example the name Dumas literally means “of the south”. Adam calls her Woman because, from his perspective and according to his account, she came out of man.
But we the readers know the actual idea of her and the creation of her came from God. This is not exactly the subject of the article you posted but since we landed on the topic together, it’s worth raising the question: is this moment the actual beginning of the fall? Adam taking credit for the emergence of Woman rather than thanking God for the Ezer who God created through Adam?
There is much scholarship on the relationship between the two ways in which Eve comments on the births of Cain and later, Seth; and how these comments reflect back on Gen 2:19 when Adam calls her Woman and Gen 3:20 when he names her Eve.
There is a parallel between Adam taking credit for the emergence of Woman and Eve taking credit for bringing forth a man. Likewise a parallel exists between Adam naming the Woman ‘Eve’ (clearly not taking credit for her identity), and Eve’s comment upon the birth of Seth; where she gives God the credit of granting her the child.
There is something more to this naming convention, this giving of labels and defining of identities than meets the eye. On the one hand, where humanity takes credit for the creation or emergence of something, things go terribly wrong as in the story of Woman and the fall and the story of Cain and Abel (where murder is first introduced). And on the other hand where humanity doesn’t take credit we have a redemptive storyline which follows. Rather than Adam and Eve dying (which is what was stated would happen if they ate from the tree), God allows them to live in exile with the promise of redemption through Eve’s offspring. And in the case of Seth, after Eve gives God credit for granting her the child, the reader is told that through Seth people began to call on the name of the Lord (Gen 4:26).
The theme emerges: When humanity takes credit for God’s doing- things go bad; when we don’t and when we give God credit things go well.
Sorry to bring you down this rabbit hole with me. Any rhetorical analyses of Gen 1-3 are rich with them. I am grateful for your article and its thought provoking effect on us readers.
Hmmm…, a little thin I think. There is a strong parallellity in the text. And to me, that parallelity suggests that if Eve was blame-shifting, then so was Adam.
And Adam didn’t just blame Eve, he actually blamed God, too. It was Eve’s fault, because she gave him the fruit. And God was at fault, too, since God gave Adam a partner that would do such things.
So Adam blamed Eve and God, Eve blamed the snake, and the snake had noone to blame.
And personally, I don’t think this story ever literally happened.
But I think there is some basis for seeing it as the story of human transition from childhood to adulthood. There are the remarks about how they were not ashamed to be naked. But then they woke up to a new consciousness, consisting in an adult way of thinking, something not available to children. And in the process they acquired the shame of being naked that adults have. This threw them out of the «paradise» of childhood, to which there is no return.
It is a little thin. I hope I have made that clear in the article. Though, I still think there may be something significant in Adam’s opening phrase when he explains his disobedience to God. God had made Eve as Adam’s ezer and as his wonderful, much-needed counterpart. He should have been able to trust her.
Eve: “The serpent deceived me (reason) … and I ate (action).” (We are previously told Eve’s motivation in Genesis 3:6a.)
Adam: “The woman you gave to be with me (underlying motivation) … she gave me some fruit from the tree (reason) … and I ate (action).”
Perhaps blame and reason are almost the same here.
Whether the story happened or not is not the issue here. The issue, to me, is how to understand it. It could be a tragic coming-of-age story.
I thought I made a post earlier but I do not see it, so trying again. If the first one shows up, just delete it.
There are some other things that can lead one to think the man was with the woman with the serpent. The serpent speaks using you plural, so it could be translated y’all. This is not evident in many English translations.
Also God says later “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and …” when speaking to the man. Normally, listening to one’s wife would be considered a good thing, so one should investigate what this might mean. Some theologians (and I independently agree with them) point out there are only 2 times in the story that the woman speaks before this statement by God is when talking to the serpent. One is to answer a direct question from God, the other is when she talks to the serpent. Assuming the man was there means he was listening to the woman’s response to the serpent but ONLY listened to it without responding with any concerns after being given a charge by God to guard the garden.
I looked in the spam and trash folders, but it isn’t there. Sorry. Sometimes these glitches happen.
Yes, the language is plural in the serpent’s speech and in Eve’s speech. This is evident in the King James translation with its use of the plural “ye” (= y’all). And it is significant.
1b And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 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.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat there of, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
The Bible doesn’t record Eve as saying anything to her husband. But I can’t see that any of her recorded words are problematic. I think the problem is that Adam heeded Eve in preference to God.
Probably we need to understand it more maturely, i agree with your point.. but there is a mixed messages… communication skill…. stealing.. blaming.. etc..
One thing seems reasonably clear. Adam put his wife first, over obedience and faithfulness to God. And that’s never a good thing.
Is there any reason not to think that Adam might have eaten the fruit because he, too, wanted to be like God with the knowledge of good and evil? Just because he wasn’t deceived, does it follow that he wasn’t tempted?
The focus is on Eve in Genesis 3:6, but maybe Adam wanted those things too. The only thing is, if Adam believed what the serpent was saying, as Eve did, then he was deceived too.
Adam wasn’t deceived about God’s command because God gave him the command directly. The command that Eve received was altered and the serpent used this to his advantage. But after Adam watched Eve eat the fruit and saw that she didn’t “die” right away, then he wanted some too. Why else would God only banish the man, and not also the woman? (Genesis 3:22-24) I guess I’m confused by this post, because the idea that Adam was motivated by a desire to maintain his relationship with Eve is a claim that comps usually make.
We don’t know how Eve learnt about God’s command about the fruit, the Bible doesn’t give us this information, but she did know it. Neither Adam or Eve were deceived about God’s command; Eve was deceived by the serpent not the command.
The woman’s quotation of God’s command in Genesis 3:2-3 is slightly different, in several ways, from the quotation of the command given to the human recorded in Genesis 2:16-17. But these differences may indicate that we are meant to understand that God also gave her the command directly. And her quotation may not mean she misunderstood God’s command or received it incorrectly. I’ve written about Eve’s reply to the serpent here.
When the Bible repeats a saying or it repeats an account of an event, it often adds information or presents some information slightly differently.
About the banishment: Adam and Eve were a unit. Eve had come from a part or a side of the first human, ha’adam. By banishing Adam, God is also banishing Eve. She was his partner. The Genesis 2-3 narrative focuses more on ha’adam than Eve, so it makes sense that he is also the focus of the banishment.
In this article, I’ve put forward the idea that Adam may have been trying to maintain the relationships with the woman God had given to him, but I can’t say that this is actually what happened. It’s not something I believe; it’s something I think about. Having said that, I believe many things complementarian Christians believe and I have fellowship with many complementarian Christians.
Thanks Marg! I always get excited when your new article appears in my e-mail!
I’m not arguing with your article, but I want to elaborate on it…something that I’ve been thinking about lately. The serpent questioned Eve’s identity. She was already “like God” because she was created in the image of God. She started doubting who she was.
It’s parallel to Jesus’ temptation when the evil one said, “if you are the Son of God…” and Jesus quoted the words of His identity, what the Father had spoken 40 days prior. Jesus’ identity was questioned.
Just with Eve, she wasn’t just trying to be wise. She doubted her identity.
Thanks, Jamie. 🙂
Eve certainly thought she was missing out on something, but I think it was prudence. The text bears this out: she didn’t discern the serpent’s evil intentions and trickery.
Eve was God’s image-bearer but she wasn’t like God who knows good and evil (Gen. 3:5f).
Scripturally, I think it is Adam who is vilified more. Romans 5:12 squarely places the blame for sin entering the world through one ‘man’. Genesis 3:7 says their eyes were not opened until after they both ate in 3:6. So, perhaps if Adam refused the fruit, but pled for mercy on Eve, much like Moses interceding for Israel, God may have had a solution.
In fact, I think taking Romans 5:12 together with 1 Timothy 2:12, makes it even worse for Adam. Eve sinned after being deceived, but apparently Paul thought Adam knew exactly what he was doing as he sinned.
One thing that seems very clear is that motivation has no bearing on whether or not something is sinful. Combined with genuine repentance, motivation may influence the punishment for sin, per many examples in scripture. But it could quickly become dangerous to guess motivation, and then try to build a dogma of sorts on a conjecture of ‘feeling’. This especially, if ‘modern sensibilities’ or romantic notions are read into the situation.
One thing extreme complementarianists say that always irks me, is that Adam was not with Eve when she took the fruit, but basically that she found him some time later and tricked him into eating. They twist Genesis 3:6, “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it”, into something like “who was with her, but somewhere else in the garden, and she went and found him”. Talk about eisegesis!
Finally, back in the early ’70s, I read a Franciscan newsletter that said much the same as Footnote , making the (somewhat humorous) conclusion that the serpent was the first Theologian.
I don’t think either Adam or Eve are vilified in the scriptures. It is outside of the scriptures where Eve is denounced with derogatory language (see here for just a few examples), while Adam remains relatively unscathed.
Furthermore, I’ve seen some Christians use Eve’s failure/sin in Genesis 3 with 1 Timothy 2:11-15 to say women can’t be church leaders, but these same Christians also use Adam’s failure/sin in Genesis 3 with Romans 5 to “prove” that Adam and, by extension, men were designed to be. The term “federal headship” has even been applied to the role of Adam in Romans 5.
I don’t think Paul maligns Adam in Romans 5 (or 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Rather, the apostle uses Adam as a foil to focus on what Jesus has done.
“In Romans 5:12-21, the disobedience and trespass of the anthrōpos who brought condemnation and death is contrasted with the obedience and righteousness of the anthrōpos who brings the gift of justification and life.” More here.
But, yes, Adam seems to have been deliberate when he took the fruit and ate it, but Eve was tricked into it. And we still don’t really know why Adam sinned.
When we then look on into Gen 3, we see God respond to the Serpent, the Woman and the Man. God plainly curses the serpent. He doesn’t curse the Woman, He curses the earth because of the Man. Although people often refer to the idea of giving birth in pain is a curse to the Woman, the test doesn’t really support the idea at all. However, I find it strange that God makes the Man the reason for the curse on the ground. We don’t know why, but somehow the Man’s “punishment” is rather severe. Why is this?
Could it be that the Man willingly and knowingly ate the fruit even though he knew it was against God’s law? Whereas the Woman was deceived, thinking that the fruit looked good, and the Serpent leading her to think it was OK after all, ate being convinced that it was a good thing despite God’s words. She had added the words “or even touch it,” so that when she did touch the fruit and didn’t die, she may have also assumed that she could safely eat it. (Two questions arise from this – who told her about the fruit being deadly? I think she also heard it as part of ho adamah before the separation, but where did she get the “don’t touch” idea? Also, many say that there was no death before the Fall, Did either of them have any idea of what death was?)
We are given no such insight into the Man’s thinking. I believe that he willingly ate the fruit because he was willing to disobey God. Even didn’t tempt him. She held it out, he took it and ate it. No one says that he was deceived, so we can guess at why forever. Because of the way God responded in Gen 3, I have to believe that the Man’s motives were known to God and that they were not good. Being a loving God, He didn’t strike them dead on the spot or curse either of them. He does seem to make the results rather miserable when he talks to the Man.
God had commanded the Man to name the animals. The Man took it on himself to name the Woman “Eve.” In doing so, he appropriated the name that God had given them both as his very own. Even after the good scolding from God, the Man, now Adam, continued to live by making his own choices with no regard of God or the Woman.
Whatever the motivation, the Man ate of his own free will. That is very important.
I think both the man and the woman ate the fruit of their own free will. If there was any reluctance from either of them, the text doesn’t reveal it.
I still don’t think we know what Adam was thinking, but it might have something to do with his relationship with Eve as Suzanne suggests. And, yes, there’s no evidence of coercion from Eve.
It seems to me that both the man and the woman will suffer equally. The same word itsabon (“sorrowful toil”) is used to describe their difficulties. If anything, I think women have suffered the most because of the added dynamic of male rule.
Women have suffered because of the “sorrowful toil” associated with childbirth, as well as patriarchy, and men (and women) have suffered because of the “sorrowful toil” associated with farming the ground which was cursed. However, God lifts this curse in Genesis 8.
After the flood, Noah offers God a sacrifice, and God says to himself,
“I will never again curse the ground because of human beings, even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth onward. And I will never again strike down every living thing as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.” Genesis 8:21-22 CSB
I see nothing wrong with Adam giving Eve her name. More here.
I’ve written about Eve’s reply to the serpent and the different (i.e. plural) words and added words here.
I really do think all of us are making the Genesis 2-3 creation account work much harder than the author ever intended, and by doing this, we might miss his message which I don’t think was to put more blame on either Adam or Eve.
Thanks for the article. I’m not convinced by McCarthy’s view, because I don’t know that the text tells us Adam and Eve’s motivations. (Aside from the snake suggesting why it would be profitable to eat the fruit). But I appreciate you exploring this alternative view.
One thing I do take away is seeing how much of our modern thinking about gender, and then for some reason gender roles, (as one part of creation!) comes from these few chapters which have been analysed so much.
As you said:
‘The Genesis 3 account raises numerous questions, many that cannot be answered from the text. The author of Genesis 3 could never have foreseen the scrutiny that we apply to this chapter and the demands we make of it.’
I think I prefer to step back again and see it as ‘mythology’ for understanding God’s character for creation.
However, because these verses are so crucial for many debates about women, I know that we have to be thorough in our responses to others.
Hi Lenny, I’m not convinced by Suzanne McCarthy’s suggestion either. But I do think it’s worth thinking about. I enjoy exploring interpretations that have at least some credence and some basis in the text. And I’ve enjoyed the discussion this post has generated here and in other places online.
Eve’s motivation is given in Genesis 3:6: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it . . .”
I seems pretty clear that Genesis 2-3 is a creation myth, but it takes the same effort to interpret these chapters regardless of its genre.
Modern readers, scholars, theologians, and lay people have a tendency to impose their beliefs and opinions onto ancient middle-eastern literature.
The over-arching storyline of the 66 books in the anthology we call the Bible points to Jesus. But there are many genres and styles used by 40 authors written over a period of 1600 years – all ancient middle-eastern.
By listening to The Naked Bible podcast and the Bible Project podcast your readers might benefit from better understanding how to approach the text and discover not only the richness to be found, but also how western editors (as thoughtful and scholarly as they were) messed up translations or under translated much of the text— leading to generations of misunderstanding.
It is really hard separate oneself from personal bias when reading the Bible. But starting by reminding oneself that you are entering ancient forms of literary style and imagery, which these podcasts help to do, is a good start.
For whatever reason, I thought of Uzzah as I read this. That poor, unfortunate man who was ignorant of the rules given for handling the Ark who reached out to steady it so that it would not fall from the cart. He was immediately struck dead, and we are saddened for him and a little scared of God when we read that story.
Here we have this evil serpent (who let him into Paradise, anyway?) who lies to the woman, and tragedy ensues. Neither Adam nor Eve got up that morning with any wish to defy God, but it happened and here we are. No take-backs. No do-overs.
Ignorance of the Law wasn’t an excuse that could save Uzzah. Intentions aren’t enough. Obedience is necessary, and only bad stuff happens when we disobey. Whatever Genesis 3 frustrates us by not mentioning, the clear message is that sin makes us unholy and unholy things cannot be in God’s presence and live, no matter how pure our intentions or accidental our defilement.
Jesus covered us, and through that cover, we are able to be with God again, which is a benefit that neither Uzzah nor Adam and Eve had. We have a savior who gave us take-backs and do-overs. I know it’s not really topical, but I figured I’d inject my thoughts into the comment section. Thanks for sharing this view of what was going on in the Garden. I’ve never seen it before.
Hi Amy, Was Uzzah ignorant? He had lived with the Covenant Chest for a while, and prospered because of it. I think he and David did know better but were too casual; both broke regulations in its transportation. The Covenant Chest represented God’s holy presence. I don’t think I would have touched it.
In the Life of Adam and Eve, also known as the Apocalypse of Moses, Eve admits she let the snake into the garden (section 19). Apparently, she couldn’t be trusted to be left alone. The temptation happened when the angels who were guarding her went off to worship God, and Adam makes the point that he was far from her (section 7.2).
It’s a horrible story. It was written during the first century CE, originally in a Semitic language, probably Aramaic, but I read it in Greek a couple of years ago. Thank God this story, with its pathetic depiction of Eve, superstitions, and torturous content, is not in the Bible!
I am sooo grateful we have a Saviour who gives us take-backs and do-overs!
Hi Marg, Thanks so much as always for your perspective. I am fascinated by the connection of Genesis with Torah. Torah makes distinctions in Leviticus between sins (unintentional, unaware…). Jesus on the cross says forgive them for they know not what they do. Paul says in 1 Tim. 1:13 that God had mercy on him because he had persecuted the church in ignorance and unbelief. Paul also may be making a distinction in Romans 7 for ignorant sins (I don’t understand what I do) and unwilling sins (I do what I don’t want, and don’t do what I want).
So my question is, “Do you think Eve’s sin (disobeying God because she was deceived) and Adams’ sin (disobeying God without being deceived) could illustrate these two categories of sin?
Here’s the way I see it. (I appreciate that others see it differently.)
Eve didn’t sin from ignorance. She knew the command about the forbidden fruit. She knew what she was doing even though she was tricked into it by the snake.
Her actions were also deliberate and intentional: she thought about it; she wanted to be wise. Her action of eating the fruit and then giving it to Adam wasn’t an accident or caused by her hand slipping (cf. Deut 19:5).
The Genesis 3 account tells us why Eve sinned. Unfortunately, it does not clearly give similar information about Adam. However, both were culpable.
Thank you for your reply.
‘Her actions were also deliberate and intentional: she thought about it; she wanted to be wise. Her action of eating the fruit and then giving it to Adam wasn’t an accident or caused by her hand slipping (cf. Deut 19:5).’
Yet couldn’t you say the same about Paul persecuting the church? It was certainly intentional, zealously so. Yet Paul claims he did it ignorantly and in unbelief. And he says that because of that, he received mercy. Could it be we do not have the right understanding of what Torah meant by ‘unintentional.’?
Paul ignorantly and incorrectly believed that the church was bad and was blaspheming God. He was wrong.
Eve knew eating the forbidden fruit was bad. She had correct information about the fruit, but listened to the snake and ate the fruit anyway.
The Hebrew words translated “unintentionally” in some English translations of Deuteronomy 19:4 mean “without knowledge” or “not having knowledge.” There is an adverb of negation that means “not” plus the common Hebrew word for “knowledge” da’ath דַּעַת (See here and here.)
The word used six times in Leviticus and nine times in Numbers for an unintentional sin or an unwitting error is shegagah שְׁגָגָה. (See here.)
Eve had received correct knowledge about the forbidden fruit which she chose to ignore. Paul didn’t have correct knowledge about the church in the first place.
This has been interesting! I have my own ideas of what happened, and it is nice to know that others do as well, and not the usual idea that the Woman was bad for listening to the Serpent and enticed the Man to eat through trickery. The thing is that we just do not know and don’t have a lot of clues.
One of the big things that I take from the story is that God is a God of grace and love. Here were the crowning jewels of His creation, the ones He had made in His own image, and they had failed His one rule in the garden. God did not kill them outright, He didn’t even curse them. He didn’t take away their calling to care for the earth and to have children. He cursed the serpent who certainly deserved it. Instead of cursing the Man, he cursed the ground. This would affect the type of work the the Humans would need to do to get what they needed to survive from the earth. He changed what would happen as far as bringing more children into the world, but it would still happen. He could have taken those tasks away from them, but He didn’t.
God’s justice required punishment for their acts, but I believe that God was good and gracious as well as just in His response to their sin. Neither one of them was singled out as being responsible in Genesis, but they both shared the blame and would both suffer from the curse to the earth. They both would be affected by the increase in “conceptions.” I often think about how God said that things were “good” during creation, under He made the Humans, then He said it was “very good,” and about how Satan attacked that very good creation. We still live with the results of that as the world has become so much male vs female and not as much male and female.
It’s good to think about all these ideas, but since we don’t really know those things, it is not good to judge each other by our opinions or doubt each other’s faith. It’s even better to talk about them and learn from each other!
I feel like the consequence came to the degree it did and to both genders because neither answered the question as I think God I tended. Yes, they both stated that they are the forbidden fruit. That is already known. Eve blamed the n
Snake for the deception and Adam si.pky started that the woman God gave him give him the fruit. That di ant not answer for their heart. It is truth in the factual circumstances but I think God is ask what what were their thoughts and feelings on making the decision to eat. The things we tend to hide about ourselves and the true natural why we do the things that we do and when we can finally get down to that we are finally in a place of “self” and has nothing to do with anyone else or their influence. It’s the relationship that God wants with us and by deflecting our true desires we are hiding ourselves from the relationship that we should seek to have with God.
Hi Denise, I hold to a different view about Adam’s and Eve’s responses to God. I’ve written about it above in footnote 2.
I doubt the person who wrote the account in Genesis 2-3 ever intended for the story to be scrutinised so deeply. I especially doubt that he meant us to psychologically analyze Adam and Eve.
Please forgive me if this has already been addressed. My question regards the curse(s) and it’s relation to Eve. The serpent and the ground are specifically cursed, Adam and Eve are not (although I can find lots of hits of ‘the curse on Eve’ on the Internet). It is easy to see how the curse on the ground results in hard toil, itsabon, for Adam. The same word is used for Eve’s ‘pangs’ in childbirth. It is hard to see how the ground curse could translate into childbirth ‘pangs’ (same word itsabon) for Eve.
Is it possible that the consequence of the serpent curse results in ‘heel-striking’ which is specifically aimed against human fertility and that this consequence manifests in itsabon for Eve regarding child bearing?
It also struck me that I and others have perhaps had too narrow an idea of these ‘pangs.’ There are many anxieties regarding child-bearing. Even with all the modern medical advances, inability to even conceive remains a source of suffering for millions of women. Once conception occurs, the last statistic I read was that 30% would result in miscarriage. And, of course, most mothers would attest to the fact that ‘anxious toil’ over their children does not end with labor pains. ‘Rachel weeping for her children’ in Jer. 31:15 and it’s allusions elsewhere describes suffering regarding the bearing of children beyond labor pains.
So I guess my question is two-fold: the distinguishing between curse and consequences of curse and the scope of Adam’s and Eve’s respective ‘itsabon.’
Hi Abby, Lots has been written about Eve’s curse, however, the Bible doesn’t explicitly say she was cursed. Moreover, God continues to help her, in particular, in her role as becoming pregnant and delivering a child (Gen. 4:1).
I agree that Genesis 3:16 may refer to more than just labour; it can refer more broadly to sorrow, difficulties, and pain involved in having children and being a mother overall, not just in giving birth.
It’s possible that the head-crushing and heal-striking may refer to continued hostilities between Israel (of which Adam and Eve are the progenitors) and her enemy. (I discuss this idea here.) The woman (and not Adam) may be mentioned in Genesis 3:15 because nations (and cities) are metaphorically female in the Bible (cf. Revelation 12).
But your idea about heal-striking and fertility is worth thinking about.