The account of the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, how they were tempted by the serpent and their subsequent fall are recorded in Genesis 2:4b-3:24. A study of this pericope will reveal that Adam and Eve already know the difference between good and evil, that they are already divine in a specific way, that they do not complete the purpose for which they had been placed in the garden of Eden, and the nature of the sin which led to their expulsion from Eden.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil
YHWH God planted a garden in Eden and in it placed the man, Adam, whom he had formed. In the midst of the garden, YHWH God planted the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was instructed to work and keep the garden, but commanded not to eat from the tree of knowledge.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but 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.”
Genesis 2:16–17, ESV.
YHWH God said it was not good that the man should be alone, so he created the living creatures and, since there was no suitable helper for the man from amongst these, YHWH God created the woman. The serpent, which is described as “more crafty than any other beast,” sowed a seed of doubt into the woman’s mind:
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 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.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 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 3:1b–5, ESV.
The woman listened to the serpent and she ate the fruit from the tree then gave some to the man, who was with her, and he also ate. They immediately felt ashamed and realising they were naked dressed themselves in fig leaves. They hid from YHWH God and, upon being discovered, were banished from Eden so that they would not eat from the tree of life and become immortal.
The knowledge of good and evil
The Hebrew word translated as the knowledge, (hadda‘at) could mean understanding, in the sense of a moral perception of, the difference between good and evil. Crispin Fletcher-Louis notes that this is the sense of the expression in other parts of the Bible; however the Hebrew does not include the words for discernment or understanding in Genesis 2-3. Knowledge could also mean experience of, and it is this sense that is used in Genesis 4:1 as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Finally, knowledge could imply the “ability to practice, create or do good and evil,” as in the case of Esau who is a ‘knower of hunting.’
The desire to have the knowledge of good and evil is seen as commendable elsewhere in the Bible. Early Jewish interpreters believed it to be a good thing and Sirach suggested that humanity already possessed it.
17 The Lord created human beings out of earth, …
7 He filled them with knowledge and understanding,
and showed them good and evil.
Sirach 17:1, 7, NRSV.
Fletcher-Louis lists several reasons to support this suggestion. In Genesis 2:16-17, the man is permitted, i.e. it is good, to eat from certain trees, but not from the one tree, i.e. it would be evil. Further, it was not good for man to be alone, and Adam was able to distinguish that the animals would not be a good helper for him. Thirdly, the Hebrew word for ‘naked’ (‘ᵃrûmmı̂m) in Genesis 2:25 can also be translated as ‘wise.’ Lastly, being made in God’s image would suggest that human beings would already possess the knowledge of good and evil because God had this knowledge.
Adam and Eve are already divine
Fletcher-Louis draws from Genesis 1 to conclude that humanity is God’s divine image-idol and this is supported by the narrative in Genesis 2. YHWH God breathed his divine breath of life into Adam, who then continues the work of creation by naming the animals. This creativity is inherent in the role that YHWH God bestows upon Adam; to work and tend the garden.
However, Fletcher-Louis explains that Adam and Eve are divine in a specific way. They do not create in their own right, rather they must follow YHWH God’s commands and so their authority and creativity are derivative. It is YHWH God who planted the garden and created humanity. Adam and Eve continue the work, but it is YHWH God’s work of creation that they continue and not their own.
Adam and Eve are YHWH God’s image-idol, bearing his divinity and character and not that of another god. The serpent refuses to acknowledge YHWH God as the one who made humanity. In Genesis 3:1-4 the serpent refers to God rather than YHWH God and, notes Fletcher-Louis, “in doing so, the serpent distracts Eve (and Adam) from their image-idol identity and personal relationship with the one true God.”
Unlike idols made of wood and stone, Adam and Eve have life and the freedom to be independent. They can choose what names to give to the animals. They also have the ability to choose to disobey God’s commandments. Fletcher-Louis concludes that Adam and Eve were to have grown into “a more glorious, fully divine (and human) identity” had they fulfilled their purpose.
Adam and Eve have a purpose to complete in Eden
YHWH God created man and woman for a purpose. Adam was to work and till the garden and Eve would be his helper. Gregory Beale builds on the Genesis 1:28 commission for humanity:
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:28, ESV.
Beale writes that Adam and Eve were to “reflect God’s kingship by being his vice-regents on earth” and that because they “were to subdue and rule ‘over the earth’,” they were to “extend the geographical boundaries of the garden until Eden covered the whole earth.” Outside Eden was a chaotic region, a desert, which they were to transform into habitable territory by enlarging the garden.
The desert is the place of testing for Israel and is filled with unclean creatures like vultures and serpents. Numbers 21 details an account of how fiery serpents plagued Israel as they wandered through the wilderness. Serpents are therefore from the world outside the garden and are to be subdued by man according to Genesis 1:28.
Dexter Callender suggests that “the human was placed in the garden for the purpose of keeping it, for the gardens sake.” The work was not hard, but was service for God in the garden of God. This is in contrast, he continues, to “the work characterized by toil [that] takes place outside of the garden [where] the ground is cursed.” Callender explains that this theme is also in Mesopotamian thought where in one tradition humanity is created to do the work for the gods and in another where the king is regarded as a gardener.
In Genesis 2:5, the work of creation is described as unfinished because “there was no man to work the ground.” Beale adds that “Adam … and his progeny were to put ‘the finishing touches’ on the world God created in Genesis 1 by making it a liveable place for humans.” Fletcher-Louis concludes that humanity is to guard the garden, against serpents and forces of chaos, to extend the garden, and to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with image-idols of God.
In the same way that Solomon’s temple was a restored Eden, so too Eden was a place of sanctuary, where YHWH God would walk in the garden in the cool of the day. Callender calls it “a locus for divine activity.” Genesis 2:11-12 describes that gold and precious stones were outside Eden. Fletcher-Louis explains that as the garden expanded there would be a gathering of the “world’s bounty” into the garden. This bounty would produce divine and human glory. The gold and precious stones would be used to build a temple in Eden for YHWH God’s glory, and they would also be used to give Adam and Eve garments of glory and beauty.
The sin of Adam and Eve
The serpent casts doubt on God’s character to care and provide for Adam and Eve by asking, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” This is not what YHWH God had said, but the serpent suggests that God cannot be trusted; that he is not really interested in their wellbeing. The serpent then contradicts what YHWH God had said in Genesis 2:17 by saying that, “You will not die; for (the) god knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods.” The serpent does not acknowledge YHWH God as the only God, but implies that there are other gods and the one who told them not to eat the fruit only did so to prevent them becoming like him.
Fletcher-Louis describes how Adam and Eve display a failure to trust YHWH God. The serpent’s lies cause Adam and Eve to project untruths on to God as they doubt him and make them vulnerable to project their trust and their hopes and aspirations on to the forbidden tree, which it cannot fulfil.
Secondly, Adam and Eve disobey God’s commands. They eat the fruit that YHWH God had commanded them not to eat and they fail to subdue the serpent and guard the garden from it. Adam and Eve should have exercised dominion over the serpent and expelled it from the garden; instead, they submit to the serpent.
Thirdly, Fletcher-Louis identifies that Adam and Eve, tragically, in not trusting and in disobeying YHWH God forget their own divine identity. They have no need to eat from the forbidden tree because they already know the difference between good and evil. Adam and Eve are already divine, so the serpent’s claim that they will be like gods is unnecessary and not a reflection of reality. Instead, continues Fletcher-Louis, Adam and Eve have joined with the serpent in calling good what is evil, and calling what is good, YHWH God, evil.
Fourthly, Adam and Eve fail to complete the purpose for which they were placed in Eden. Fletcher-Louis explains that they do not guard the garden from the serpent and so allow some of the chaotic wildness to enter it. They also, do not expand the garden geographically as they had been called to do, and, as a consequence, do not gather the world’s bounty into the garden to build a temple for YHWH God.
Finally, Adam and Eve are guilty of false worship or idolatry. By projecting their hopes and aspirations on to the tree they have made it an idol in place of YHWH God. They are also guilty of self-idolatry because they attempt to put themselves in the place of YHWH God by listening to the serpent’s suggestion that they “will be like gods.” Fletcher-Louis draws the parallel between Adam and Eve’s idolatry and Israel’s false worship of the bronze serpent and Asherah which took place in Jerusalem before the exile.
Adam and Eve hide from YHWH God because they are ashamed when they realise they are naked. Fletcher-Louis suggests this shame reflects their realisation that they have not acted as God’s image-idol. They have not fulfilled their purpose which would have led to them being clothed in glorious garments. Fletcher-Louis identifies the similarity between Adam and Eve and the story of Israel recorded in Ezekiel 16. Both start naked but unashamed in God’s presence. Both should have ended fully clothed in God’s own splendour. But both surrender their true identity and are ashamed to be naked.
The consequences of their sin
Fletcher-Louis notes the tragic irony in Adam and Eve’s fall. They already had the knowledge of good and evil because of their identity as YHWH God’s image-idol and because of their intimate relationship with him. Tragically they now have the experience of knowing evil. They become what they worshipped when they dressed themselves with leaves from a tree. They died by forsaking their divine identity and choosing to receive their identity from the serpent and the tree.
Adam and Eve become defensive and do not take responsibility for their actions, blaming each other instead. YHWH God drove Adam and Eve out of Eden and pain enters into their lives; pain in childbirth for Eve, and pain in working the cursed land for Adam, which now becomes toil. Instead of glorious garments, they are clothed in garments of skin.
God had created humanity to be in the right place, Eden, i.e. a right cosmology. He gave them the right identity as his image-idol, i.e. ontology. God also gave them the knowledge of who they are, what they were called to do and knowing what is good and what is evil, i.e. epistemology. As a result of Adam and Eve’s fall, humanity is outside Eden, having lost the cosmology; they no longer fully reflect God’s image-idol, having lost the ontology; and they have lost the proper understanding of self, the epistemology.
Tragically Adam and Eve give up their divine identity and are driven out of Eden. They are no longer in a position to complete the purpose for which they had been created. Adam and Eve failed to trust YHWH God and instead placed their trust in an inanimate tree, projecting on to it their hopes and aspirations. In disobeying YHWH God they lost their place in creation, their identity and their purpose.
Baker, J., ‘The Myth of Man’s ‘Fall’ – A Reappraisal,’ The Expository Times 92 (1980), pp. 235-37.
Beale, G. K., The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Bird, P. A., ‘Genesis 3 in Modern Biblical Scholarship,’ in Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities: Women and Gender in Ancient Israel (Fortress: Minneapolis, 1997), pp. 174-193.
Callender, D. E., Adam in Myth and History: Ancient Israelite Perspectives on the Primal Human (HSS 48; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2000).
LaCocque, A., The Trial of Innocence: Adam, Eve, and the Yahwist (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2006).
Mettinger, T. N. D., The Eden Narrative: A Literary and Religio-historical Study of Genesis 2-3 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007).
Otzen, B., Gottlieb, H. and Jeppesen, K., ‘The Use of Myth in Genesis’ in Myths in the Old Testament (London: SCM, 1980), pp. 22-53.
Stordalen, T., Echoes of Eden: Genesis 2-3 and Symbolism of the Eden Garden in Biblical Hebrew Literature (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 25; Leuven: Peeters, 2000).
Schüle, A., ‘Made in the ‘Image of God’: The Concepts of Divine Images in Gen 1-3,’ Zeitschrift für Altestamentliche Wissenschaft 117 (2005), pp. 1-20.
Wyatt, N., ‘Interpreting the Creation and Fall story in Genesis 2-3,’ Zeitschrift für Altestamentliche Wissenschaft 93 (1981), pp. 10-21.
 C.H.T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘A Fresh Reading of Genesis 2-3,’ OT: Creation & Worship, slide 2.
 The name for God in this pericope, ‘YHWH Elohim,’ usually translated as ‘the Lord God,’ led to the hypothesis that it was written by the J or Yahwist source.
 The Hebrew word ’adam (אָדָם) can mean the generic term man as well as the proper name Adam.
 Genesis 2:9b.
 Genesis 2:18.
 Genesis 3:1, ESV.
 See Leviticus 27:12; 2 Samuel 14:17; 1 Kings 3:9; Isaiah 5:20-23; Amos 5:14.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘Genesis 2-3: Orientation towards a New Reading,’ slide 6.
 Ibid., slide 7.
 Ibid., slide 8.
 Genesis 25:27.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘Orientation to Genesis 2-3. Problems and Questions,’ slide 13.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘A Fresh Reading of Genesis 2-3,’ slide 4.
 Ibid., slide 5.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘A Fresh Reading of Genesis 2-3,’ slide 8.
 Ibid., slide 10.
 Ibid., slide 12.
 Ibid., slide 15.
 Ibid., slide 17.
 G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), pp. 81-82.
 D. E. Callender, Adam in Myth and History: Ancient Israelite Perspectives on the Primal Human (HSS 48; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2000), p.55.
 Ibid., p. 55.
 Ibid., p. 55.
 Beale, p. 82.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘Reviewing our Fresh Reading of Genesis 2-3,’ slide 11.
 Callender, p. 46.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘A Fresh Reading of Genesis 2-3,’ slide 27.
 Ibid., slide 28.
 Genesis 3:1b, ESV.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘A Fresh Reading of Genesis 2-3,’ slide 30.
 Ibid., slide 31.
 Ibid., slide 34.
 Ibid., slide 40.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘A Fresh Reading of Genesis 2-3,’ slide 42.
 Ibid., slide 44.
 Ibid., slide 46.
 Ibid., slide 49.
 Ibid., slide 51.
 Ibid., slide 54.
 Ibid., slide 57.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘Reviewing our Fresh Reading of Genesis 2-3,’ slide 27.