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
All Rights Reserved
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