6 Reasons Why Adam and Eve’s Eating of the Forbidden Fruit Was a Terrible Transgression against God

 Photo by  Kari Shea  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

The theologian Herman Bavinck writes: “Why did God create the world? the answer is: Because he so willed.”[1] God didn’t have to tell us why he made the universe, but he wanted us to have specific knowledge about him (special revelation) that we could never acquire from observing and studying the physical world (general revelation).

The Bible begins and ends in a beautiful garden with a life-giving tree located in each one. There is a good reason for this: God created the world for his glory—so that his creation would live unto him, giving him praise in all things. Genesis describes how everything God created was good (Gen. 1). God created humans as his royal image bearers to rule over creation, tend his garden, and care for his creatures—honoring their creator in all. Adam and Eve were righteous and upright, with the full ability to obey God and keep all his commands. After breathing life into the first human,

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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.” (Gen. 2:16– 17)

Adam and Eve were responsible to serve God and care for all the creation under their dominion. To prove their faithfulness to their Creator, God gave Adam a test: Adam must obey God’s command to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to eat from the other mentioned tree in the garden—the tree of life (Gen. 2:9)—and live forever in God’s presence.

The Covenant between God and Adam

The relationship that existed between God and Adam had a condition placed upon it, which was Adam’s obedience, as well as a reward for obedience (life) and a consequence for disobedience (death), and Adam represented all of humanity in this covenant. The seventeenth-century theologian Herman Witsius states,

If Adam therefore had persevered in obedience, the law would have brought him to that same inheritance [eternal life], which now in Christ is allotted not to him that worketh, but to him that believeth.[2]

This conditional covenantal relationship Adam had with God is also known as the covenant of works.

Jesus Teaches Us How the World’s Problems Began

There was an enemy in God’s garden—one who had rebelled against God and now sought to bring humanity under his dominion. The serpent, a fallen angel called the devil, wanted the glory for himself (Isa. 14:12–15; Matt. 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8). He enticed Adam and his wife Eve to disobey God by eating the only forbidden fruit in the entire garden, falsely claiming that the fruit would make them “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4–5).

The moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit, their eyes were opened—but not in the way Satan led them to believe. They painfully saw the shame of their sin and rebellion against God and attempted in vain to hide from him. Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves, but their own efforts could do nothing to remove their guilt and punishment (Gen. 3:7).

Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, Eve would now bring forth children in increased pain, and her husband would rule over her (Gen. 3:16). God cursed the ground from which Adam must now toil to produce food (Gen. 3:17–18). Then God replaced the man-made fig leaves Adam and Eve wore: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). Finally, God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden and placed an angel to guard the tree of life. Instead of communing daily with God, the sin of the first man and woman made them unworthy to stand in their creator’s holy presence.

Why God’s Punishment Was Just

You might be wondering right now: Did God overreact to Adam and Eve’s sin? The punishment might seem not to fit the offense: a cursed world and humanity estranged from God, and pain, suffering, and death to boot—all for eating some forbidden fruit. Why was Adam and Eve’s disobedience such a terrible transgression against God?

A man named Zacharias Ursinus addressed this very issue back in the sixteenth century. In his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus lists six terrible offenses connected to Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience:

  1. Pride, ambition, and an admiration of self: Man, not satisfied with his own dignity, and in the condition he was placed, desired to be equal with God.
  2. Unbelief: Adam believed the devil rather than God, and ate the forbidden fruit; nor did he believe any punishment would overtake him.
  3. Contempt and disobedience to God: This appears in the fact that he ate the fruit contrary to the command of God.
  4. Ingratitude for benefits received: Even though Adam was made in the image of God—and for the enjoyment of eternal life—his return for this benefit received was to obey the devil rather than God.
  5. Unnaturalness, and the want of love to posterity: Adam did not consider that the gifts God had bestowed upon him and his posterity would be lost not only to himself but also to all his descendants.
  6. Apostasy: By believing and obeying the devil rather than God, Adam wished to obtain equality with God. He set up the devil in the place of God, separating himself from God.[3]

Ursinus rightly concludes, “The fall of man was no trifling, nor singular offense; but it was a sin manifold and horrible in its nature, on account of which God justly rejected him, and all of his posterity.”[4]

Because of Adam’s disobedience and fall, all people bear Adam’s guilt, because Adam represented all humanity. Furthermore, Adam’s sin caused the corruption of his nature, and all his posterity—including you and me—would now bear that same sinful nature. The apostle Paul described the far-reaching consequences of Adam’s rebellion:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. (Rom. 5:12)

Every Human Being Is Inherently Sinful

In the book of Psalms, King David recognized his inherent sinfulness that was present even before he was born:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Ps. 51:5)

Some people take the above verse to mean that sex is a sinful act, but that was not at all the point David was making. David understood that he was sinful before he was even born. Because of Adam’s fall, no mere human child has ever been born without sin. There was no way for humans to be right with God again on their own merits, because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

All our best efforts are tainted by our sinful state. Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant believed happiness could be found in human reason, but this quest is doomed to failure before even starting, because the sinful mind is incapable of reasoning in an uncorrupted fashion since the fall in the garden of Eden.

The term original sin describes this present state of humanity’s guilt because of Adam’s sin. The corrupt nature we inherited from Adam also causes us to heap even more condemnation on ourselves due to the sins we each commit from birth until death. The total depravity of humanity, as Michael Horton explains in his book Core Christianity, means that everything we are and do is tainted by sin:

It says that there is nothing within us that is left unfallen from which we might begin to bargain or to restore our condition. It does not mean that every person will indulge in every form of sin or that we cannot admire virtuous character. Humans still possess a conscience and can discriminate between good and evil. We are free to will and choose what our mind and hear desire, but our mind has been darkened and our heart is selfish. Everyone has a natural ability to render God faithful obedience, but after the fall our moral ability is held captive to our own selfishness and idolatry. The fault lies not in that we cannot but that we will not turn from our sin to the living God.[5]

Since God is holy, no one can enter his presence unless they are holy as well (Lev. 20:26; 1 Pet. 1:16). If God had done nothing to help humanity in its fallen state, we would all be under his just punishment, forever cut off from the beauty of God’s perfection, unable to attain—or experience—goodness, truth, and purity. No matter how much we try to cover up or clean up the darkness of our hearts, we remain in bondage to sin and guilty before God—a state of ugliness—the opposite of beauty.

Jesus, the Second Adam, Is Our Only Hope

Thankfully, there is more to the story. Let’s return to what God said in Genesis 2:17 about the consequences that would come from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why didn’t Adam and Eve die on the day they sinned, as God said they would? 

There is one key verse in the entire Bible that points us to the only way for people to be returned to a right relationship with God: In Genesis 3:15, a verse known as the protoevangelium (the first announcement in the Bible of the gospel), God pronounces his curse on the serpent, and with the curse is the great promise that summarizes the Bible:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden was actually a divine mercy. If Adam and Eve were now to eat from the tree of life, they would be condemned to live forever in their sinful state. Yet, God had a plan all along. Because God is all-knowing, he knew from eternity that Adam would disobey him and that Adam’s only hope—and that of his descendants—could only come from God himself. A second Adam must pass the test Adam failed to pass.

This second Adam—both fully God and fully man, would keep God’s law perfectly and bear the full punishment for sin as the perfect once-for-all sacrifice, so that people could once again be in full communion with their Creator. Adam and Eve would not die right away, because they must bring forth children from whom the Savior would come. Adam showed his faith in God’s promise to save him by naming his wife Eve, which means the mother of all living.

A Divine Mercy

Understanding the conditional aspect of God’s relationship with Adam helps us make sense of why Jesus had to come and fulfill what Adam failed to do. In Jesus, God would finally have a perfectly obedient Son. Jesus’ reward for his obedience would be a kingdom and a people who would reign with him forever.

One reason Jesus spoke in parables is because he didn’t want to reveal everything about what he was going to do (Luke 8:10). His followers might try to make him an earthly king, and that is not why Jesus came. Jesus was indeed a king, but his kingdom was not of this world. As he approached the cross, Jesus spoke more plainly about his mission to redeem the world:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matt. 16:21)

Without Jesus’ finished work on their behalf, people face more than physical death—they also face God’s righteous wrath and punishment. Jesus came to be far more than a good example: he came to destroy sin, death, and the devil. Jesus came to save us from hell and bring us into the kingdom of God.

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Recommended Book:

Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel by Michael Horton; foreword by J. I. Packer

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 234.
[2] Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 74.
[3] Adapted from Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharius Ursinus, on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Willard, 3rd American ed. (Cincinnati: T. P. Bucher, 1851), exposition on Q. 7: pp. 33-34.
[4] Ursinus, 34.
[5] Michael Horton, Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 95.

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