This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.
1. The fall refers to the rebellion of God’s image-bearers in the garden of Eden.
Genesis 3 is a threshold in the Bible’s storyline. While dwelling in a sacred space and surrounded by the blessings of God, Adam and Eve did what God had forbidden. God had made them in his image, but they defied his word and sought a kind of knowledge in an unsanctioned way. Made for communion with God, they experienced alienation. Made for trust and hope and life abundant, they descended into sin and shame. They fell.
2. The fall is a nonnegotiable piece of the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation paradigm.
One of the most popular schemas for the Bible’s “big story” is the fourfold chain of words: creation, fall, redemption, consummation. Creation tells us what God made, the fall tells us what happened to it, redemption tells us what God has done to address what happened, and consummation tells us where everything is headed. If the notion of the fall were removed, the implications would be disastrous. Let’s engage in a thought experiment. If there is creation but no fall, then what explains all that has gone wrong in the world? If there is redemption but no fall, why would redemption be necessary? If there is consummation but no fall, why would the Christian’s hope be oriented toward a new heavens and new earth and resurrection life?
3. The serpent in Genesis 3 was Satan, the archnemesis of God and God’s people.
The tempter in Genesis 3 does not have the best interests of Adam and Eve in mind. The serpent counters and twists God’s words. But throughout the account, the tempter is never called by name. If interpreters suspect that this is Satan himself tempting Eve, they would be correct, because he is certainly the archenemy of God’s people and the purposes of God. The New Testament confirms this identification. God told the serpent that it would be crushed (Gen. 3:15), and Paul told the Romans that “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). John says in Revelation, “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).
4. The fall is treated as a historical event by later Scripture.
Because the Holy Spirit has inspired the writings of Genesis through Revelation, and because God does not err, we can trust the biblical accounts in what they reveal about God and God’s dealings with the world he’s made. Later Scripture does not contradict earlier Scripture, but we continually see how earlier Scripture is clarified and confirmed by the progressive revelation across the writings of the biblical authors. In Romans 5:12–21, the obedience of Christ contrasts the disobedience of Adam. In 1 Corinthians 15:21, Paul says that “by a man came death.” And in 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:14, he mentions the deception of Eve. The New Testament treats the Old Testament account of the fall as a historical rebellion of a real Adam and a real Eve.
We see the sorrowful things of the world around us, and we know that injustice cries out for justice, that fractured lives long for wholeness . . .
5. Adam acted not just for himself but as the representative—or federal head—of humanity.
God made Adam and placed him in a garden to work it and to keep it (Gen. 2:7, 15). Adam was the first image-bearer, he was the first to hear a command of God (Gen. 2:16–17), and he had dominion over the animals (Gen. 1:26–28; Gen. 2:19–20). He was the head, the representative, of mankind. Paul rightly recognizes the crucial role Adam occupied. He told the Romans that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12). Human beings come into this world spiritually dead “in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22).
6. The fall has explanatory power for what we see around us.
You and I know that things aren’t the way they should be. In Ecclesiastes, the author meditates on the reality of sorrow and death under the sun. In Romans 8, Paul says that creation is groaning for liberation because it has been subjected to futility (Rom. 8:20–22). Disease and destruction mark a Genesis 3 world. While God’s creation is good, the corruption of sin and death has wreaked havoc. We see the sorrowful things of the world around us and we know that injustice cries out for justice, that fractured lives long for wholeness, and that the moral guilt weighing upon the consciences of God’s image-bearers needs a remedy. Genesis 3 is a useful apologetic for Christians as we help others around us see why things are the way they are.
7. The account of the fall included actions of shame-covering and blame-shifting.
A characteristic of this Genesis 3 world is people responding wrongly to shameful acts. When Adam and Eve had sinned against the Lord, they felt shame about their nakedness and sewed fig leaves for themselves. Their instinct was to cover their own shame. Then, when they discerned the approach of the Lord, they hid among the trees of the garden (Gen. 3:8). Their response was to withdraw, to conceal themselves. They were afraid. God questioned Adam, and Adam pointed to Eve. Then God questioned Eve, and she pointed to the serpent. The notion of blame-shifting is as old as the garden of Eden. The practice of trying to cover our shame with our own efforts is as old as Eden too. Neither fig leaves nor finger-pointing helped their situation, but that didn’t stop them from trying—and it doesn’t stop us from trying.
8. The divine pronouncements of judgment included a promise of victory.
God pronounced consequences to the serpent, to the woman, and to the man (Gen. 3:14–19). These pronouncements included a promise: the serpent would be defeated by a future son from Eve. This good news meant that the vile creature who had twisted God’s words and tempted God’s people would be subdued himself. God told the serpent, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This promise is the seedbed of messianic prophecy. Jesus would be the seed of the woman crushing the serpent. But this victory would come at a cost. The serpent would strike the heel of the promised son, which implies the son’s suffering. When we look at Genesis 3:15 in the fullness of canonical revelation, we can rightly see that messianic hope begins with a promise of victory through suffering.
9. Adam named Eve as an act of faith.
Adam and Eve did not experience an immediate physical death in Genesis 3. They were exiled from Eden (Gen. 3:22–24). But before leaving the garden, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” This naming was an act of faith. Adam and Eve had received pronouncements of judgment in Genesis 3:16–19, yet they heard about a future son who would come from Eve (Gen. 3:15). Because the woman would be the mother of the living—her descendants—she was named “Eve,” which sounds like the Hebrew word for “living.” Her name showed faith in God’s promise. God promised future offspring, and Adam believed him.
10. The failure in the garden anticipated faithfulness in a garden.
The garden of Eden isn’t the only garden in Scripture where testing took place. In the New Testament Gospels, the Lord Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane when he is arrested and taken to a series of Jewish and Roman trials. He was moving ever closer toward the cross, and in Gethsemane, he had resolved to do the will of God—which would mean taking the cup of divine judgment in our stead (Matt. 26:36–42). Gethsemane was not a garden of failure for Christ. He was not like the first Adam who failed to trust the Lord and who defied God’s will. The Son of God, the seed of the woman, faced the agonies of Gethsemane with resolve and perseverance. He did not turn. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). In the first garden, the first Adam had failed. In a future garden, the last Adam was faithful.
Mitchell L. Chase is the author of Short of Glory: A Biblical and Theological Exploration of the Fall.
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