Studies in Genesis I-XI: And Then Came Sin (9); Man in God’s Tribunal (10)


Scripture: Genesis 3:1–8

Why those who seem to be willing to accept the facts of a good creation and of salvation through the crucified and risen Christ find difficulty with the facts of Genesis 3 simply boggles the believing mind.

Sooner or later every man faces the inescapable reality of evil. Sorrow, pain and loss touch his life, and as man he finds himself compelled to ask questions and look for answers. Even the most consistent existentialist with his “will unto death” can’t avoid sensing the incongruities of human life.

The times are out of joint, one will exclaim. But hoping for a better world has failed to produce one. The circumstances are to blame for our sad condition, so another urges. But all attempts to improve the world by ameliorating man’s situation in life have only served to uncover deeper problems. Not even in the United States—long the spawning ground of a personal and cultural optimism—can man, like Adam, try to run away and hide himself. The accusing finger is levelled at him, at his own nature and inner condition.

In a few succinct sentences J. S. Whale summaries this radical change in approach to man’s most persistent and perplexing problem.

“The Americans are not as sure as they were that sin is only an ‘evolutionary overhang.’ They are no longer confident that what has been called the sin-obsession of Christianity is just so much ‘crepe-hanging.’

“The fact is that our generation is rediscovering the abysmal depths of evil in the heart of man, and realizing that Public Enemy Number One is neither ignorance, nor stupidity nor the defective social environment, but sin, which is the deep mysterious root of all these evils.”

Here then, we are on the level of personal, moral responsibility. But whence comes sin? Can we say something about its origin as well as its nature? Is it somehow structural in the universe, so that we can shift the blame for it to God? And if not to God, is there then an evil, a demonic spirit present equally ultimate with God? Or should we simply shrug our shoulders and say: I don’t know? This, at bottom, all those who refuse to accept as facts what Genesis 3 records, including the neo-orthodox and neo-evangelical of various stripe, will have to do. Why those who seem to be willing to accept the facts of a good creation and of salvation through the crucified and risen Christ find difficulty with the facts of Genesis 3 simply boggles the believing mind. God doesn’t provide us with “meaning” apart from “being,” the reality or facts which are dependent upon and revealed by him.

With all the discussion going on about “literary forms,” we may as well state the question as straightforwardly as possible. Does Genesis 3 “intend to say” what it actually says, or not? If not, what then? And here those who have such great difficulties with the classic Christian understanding of this chapter provide little more than poverty-stricken answers clothed in ambiguity.

Let’s, then, examine just what the sacred writer has written.

The tempter – The story of man’s fall into sin is told so artlessly. Yet upon closer reflection we find here some of the most profound statements.

In contrast to all the heathen mythologies and philosophical speculations concerning what has gone wrong with man and the world in which he lives we find here a clear and concise account. Is, perhaps, its simplicity the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense?

Apparently what transpired in this connection took place not long after the creation of Adam and Eve. We need indulge in no speculation, however, since the Bible is not pleased to provide us with exhaustive information. It tells us only that which we need to know concerning God in his relationship to man and the world.

Now a “new” character is introduced—the serpent.

Of this creature we read that he was more subtle than any beast of the field. The text plainly indicates that we are to think of a snake. It is included among the beasts made by the Lord. The comparison is stated—more subtle. The term has occasioned discussion. Is it to be construed favorably or unfavorably? Is the emphasis on some creational endowment from God which puts this beast higher than others? Or should we find some indication already in this description of perversion, of incipient wickedness and therefore of threat to man? All commentators agree that the term subtle (clever, wily) may be used in either sense. Skinner argues that in view of the consequences the author intended to stress “the bad sense.” Aalders takes the opposite view, while the implications of threat become at once apparent when the serpent begins to speak.

The story is much more complicated and profound than appears at the outset. All are agreed that the implication of someone “behind” the serpent and his activities is clearly indicated. After all, serpents were not endowed with the gift of communication by means of intelligible speech. Clearly the earlier chapters spoke of man as exalted to a position far above that of any and all other creatures of earth. Also the sentence pronounced in vs. 15 contains an unmistakable allusion to some evil and hostile force or being concealed behind the serpent. For all those who accept the unity and integrity of Scripture there is little problem. We are informed repeatedly in later writings that the tempter was Satan, the devil, a fallen angel. Irenaeus in the second century so interpreted this passage.

But we are left with certain questions.

Perhaps first of all we would ask: Why didn’t Moses state the fact of temptation as proceeding from the evil spirit clearly at this point? The question itself need not be regarded as illegitimate, so long as we seek to find an answer—if one can be found—within Scripture itself. On that basis many like Calvin, Keil, Leupold, Aalders, and others urge a “pedagogical” purpose. Not only was the author committed to writing precisely what took place in so far as God was pleased to have this communicated to his people; also, the presentation of the facts in this form would disallow any notion that the temptation resulting in man’s fall could not be resisted.

But, then, was the serpent simply a passive instrument of the devil? On this the Bible gives no answer. Indeed, there can be no imputation of moral-spiritual responsibility to the beast, not having been created in God’s image. But of the animal world, especially as it existed in the days of Paradise, we know little or nothing. Even all the modern studies of “animal psychology” supply us with no clues. All that seems to be indicated is that the serpent was the most suitable among all the beasts for the devil’s nefarious purpose. As spirit the evil one apparently needed some visible form in which to approach the woman and through her the man at this time. Interesting and instructive comparisons are to be made between the approach of the devil to Christ in the wilderness and to our first parents at the beginning of human history.

The temptation – The serpent approaches the woman and addresses her in audible and intelligible speech.

That this should have alerted her at once to danger should be affirmed. After all, man was given dominion over all the beasts of the field, including the serpent. His calling was not only to dress the garden but to keel) (guard) it as well. Adam and undoubtedly Eve recognized a radical difference between themselves and the other creatures. Her dallying with what was a strange, abnormal phenomenon became the first stepping-stone to the fall of herself and her husband.

Initially the serpent comes with a question expressing surprise. He asks a seemingly innocuous question which at once betrays insidious and evil intent, “Is it really a fact that God has said . . . ?” The aim is clearly that of suggesting that the Creator has put a very unwelcome restraint upon man. Thus his goodness is called into question. More pertinently, the temptation directed itself against the Word of God, by which man was to live.

Instead of rebuking the serpent for not keeping his place and for misrepresenting God and His word, the woman enters into discussion. She does defend God’s truth and goodness to a degree. Yet there is exaggeration of the prohibition given by God in what she says, neither shall ye touch it. Thus her confidence in the Word and purposes of the God who created and blessed her with his fellowship begins to waver. Suspicion enters her soul that possibly God is not as good and gracious as she and her husband supposed. Here the fall into sin already begins; it is clearly more than the act of partaking of the forbidden fruit. Misquoting the command is evidence of a mistrust which she had allowed to take root within her.

Now the way is open for a frontal attack by the serpent.

He openly contradicts God, and for this there has been made room in Eve’s heart by her mistrust. She is likewise ready for listening to a positive charge against God. The tempter imputes jealousy to God in issuing the prohibition. He tempts Eve with the “promise”—your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God. There is a double meaning here. In a sense the devil spoke true, as is evident from God’s acknowledgement of the consequence of the fall (cf. vs. 22). In a sense, he spoke the lie which slays, for man involved himself in death, which the devil urged would not happen, and he obtained a knowledge of good and evil which was both like and unlike the knowledge which belongs to God.

The passage now pictures the full development and outward expression of sin. Here Eve stands in open defiance of God. She looks more closely at the tree and its fruit. It appeals to her appetite, then to her sight and finally to her already sinful desire to become wise in the way strictly forbidden her by God. Here something of the complexity of sin as it works in and upon man is clearly taught. As Leupold says: “Every function of body and of soul is wrested from its original purpose and becomes embroiled in one vast confusion of its divine purpose. Nowhere is a more drastic picture offered of the horrible disturbance wrought by sin.” Having consented from within, the woman now evidences by means of the outward act of taking and eating what had transpired in her heart.

In far less detail we are told of Adam’s sin.

Here the devil approaches indirectly. It is the woman having fallen away from God, who serves as the temptress. The process, however, must have been much the same. It was clever of the evil one not to approach both at the same time; then the presence of the one might well have served to deter the other from dallying with temptation. But with sin having entered and taken possession of a human heart, the tempter finds an even more suitable agent than the serpent. But this in no wise provides Adam with an excuse. Here is no notion of man with a sense of chivalry sacrificing himself for the sake of his affection for the woman. What he did, he did deliberately the more so since he was created first and had first received from the lips of God the rule by which he was to live.

The tragedy – Immediately the consequences of this disobedience manifest themselves.

The first noticeable effect is shame.

Indeed, the eyes of t hem both were opened. But how vastly different than their sinful expectation were the realities. They now knew that they were naked. The half-truth of the devil they discover to be the lie which slays their true and pure humanity as created by God. They cannot appear before each other; each knows of the other that a barrier has sprung up between them. No longer are they good; they experience and in this sense know evil which fills them with shame. Hence the reference to being naked, uncovered. Nowhere in this chapter, however, is there any reference to sexual differentiation as being involved in their sense of shame.

That a sense of guilt was directly involved becomes apparent from the attempts which they make to cover themselves. They take fig leaves to make skirts or girdles. Being inadequate because of their small size, they sew them together. By this they hope to be able to face each other and God to whom they were responsible in their sinning. To be sure, there is as Calvin comments a confused sense of evil combined with dullness. But the human has not by sin become nonhuman. There is still a sense of shame coupled with fear and guilt.

God does not let man go, however. He comes to the sinful pair—his voice (or “sound”) . . . walking in the garden. Now their vulnerability becomes still more evident. Such skirts of leaves cannot hide them from the one to whom they must render account. Hence they hid themselves. They cannot face him with whom on other occasions (cf . ch. 2) they could enjoy such close and comforting fellowship.


1. Much more attention than is ordinarily found among evangelicals should be given 10 the Biblical teaching concerning Satan and the evil spirits associated with him. It is hardly necessary to discuss at this time just when this teaching was made known in the days of the Old Testament. Those with modernistic leanings usually insist that it was borrowed from the Persians, or some other nation, and hence appears only in those Biblical writings penned after the from from Exile. This involves late dating of some passages, with which conservatives will not agree, The connection between serpent and Satan is clearly affirmed in the New Testament, both directly and indirectly with reference also to our first parents. Cf. John 8:44; II Cor. 11:3, 14; Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:9; 20:2.

2. For those interested in knowing how liberal scholars in times pa~”t have sought to discover the origin of the Biblical account of the fa ll in heathen myths, we refer to John Skinner: Intern Critical Commentary, Genesis, pp. 90–97, “The Origin and Significance of the Paradise Legend” (Chas. Scribners, 1910). He comments:

“Out of such crude and seemingly unpromising material the religion of revelation has fashioned the immortal allegory before us. We have now to inquire what are the religious and moral truths under the influence of which the narrative assumed its present form, distinguishing as far as possible the ideas which it originally conveyed from those which it suggested to more advanced theological speculation . . .” (pp. 94, 95).

This approach, in far more subtle fashion, seems to be winning a degree of popularity in our day. Now the emphasis falls on the radical difference in ideas between the Hebrew and other religions, even while using the same terms and symbols. Thus the “true religion” did not evolve out of the others; was not dependent on them for its essential message. But it does remain the result of Hebrew understanding and evaluation of “the mighty works of God.” It was not the product of a direct, supernatural revelation on God’s part to men who received and recorded the words He wanted them to write. Hence the constant tension among them between the “form” and the “message,” the words, phrases and sentences in which Scripture was written and the message which the language “intends” to convey. Here we are far removed from the hermencutical rules (rules for interpretation) which the Christian church, except for the allegorizers who have had their day, has championed.

3. Calvin, who has so frequently been accused of fatalism, directs himself in much detail to the question, “Why God permitted Adam to be tempted, seeing that the sad result was by no means hidden from him?” Both the sovereignty of God and the freedom of our first parents are stoutly maintained. The material in Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, pp. 143–145 (Eerdmans, 1948) should be carefully read, as well as the sections to which Calvin himself refers in his includes, Book III, c, 1, and his Treatise on Divine Predestination. Especially his discussion of what he means by “permission” in this connection is illuminating.

4. The comment of Keil, Pentateuch, vol. I, p. 92 (Eerdmans, 1949) on why the devil is not specifically mentioned may be helpful to some:

“This fact (i.e., the devil taking possession of the serpent) indeed, is not distinctly stated in the canonical books of the Old Testament; but that is simply for the same educational reason which led Moses to transcribe the account exactly as it had been handed down, in the pure objective form of an outward and visible occurrence, and without any allusion to the causality which underlay the external phenomenon, viz. not so much to oppose the tendency of contemporaries to heathen superstitions and habits of intercourse with the kingdom of demons, as to avoid encouraging the disposition to transfer the blame to the evil spirit which tempted man, and thus reduce sin to a mere act of weakness.”

5. No one should speculate long on why the tempter approached the woman instead of the man. Scripture gives no answer to this. To discover it in woman as a “weaker vessel” or as more susceptible to being tempted by appetite and the lust of the eyes than man or as not so directly acquainted with God’s prohibition is devoid of evidence. Leupold is correct, when he states: “Eve had It very clear word from God, simple and unencumhered by many details as to what her moral duty was. Whether this word was heard immediately from God or mediately from her husband matters little and cannot impair the power of that word upon her heart.” Exposition of Genesis, vol. I, p. 146 (Baker, 1950).

6. On the way in which sin enters into the heart to take hold of man’s life in its totality, Scripture has some exceedingly pertinent things to say, Note, e.g., James 1:13–15 on the “progress” in temptation from desire to deed to death: also I John 2:16 which contains striking parallels to Genesis 3:6. Throughout, the Bible disallows the superficial Pelagian notion of sin, championed by so many also in our day, that it consists basically in deeds.

7. On the essential nature of sin philosopher.; and theologians have written much. Herc we must take our stance on Scripture, which teaches that basically it is disobedience or “lawlessness,” the refusal to submit as creature to the Creator God. Involved therein arc doubt and unbelief and a measure of pride, as this account clearly indicates. To be rejected, therefore, are such notions which regard sin as:

1) an eternal principle of evil, chaos, or revolt found in the universe;

2) mere negation of being, a kind of “nothing”; a position defended by Spinoza, Leihnitz, and many today, each using different lines of argumentation;

3) a being in bondage to matter, as the root of man’s inability to live and act as “pure spirit”;

4) a limitation inherent in man’s creaturelincss, so that finitude and sin become co-extensive.

Many of these notions arc being propagated today, even within the churches. This demonstrates how far the “thinking man” in the street and in the school has removed himself from the Biblical teaching. For more on this cf. A. Kuyper, Dictaten Dogmatiek, III, “Locus de Peccato” pp. 28f.; also other Reformed dogmaticians.

8. On the consequences of the act of our first parents even Skinner admits that “a connection between sexual shame and sin is not suggested by the passage, and besides is not true to experience. But to infer from this single effect that the forbidden fruit had aphrodisiac properties (see Barton; Gressmann) is a still greater perversion of the author’s meaning.” Skinner, however, adopts the position of Driver which is transparent in its amazing superficiality. Both sec it Simply as the transition “from the innocence of childhood, into the knowledge which belongs t0 adult age,” p. 76.


1 – Look up and explain the several Scripture passages which speak of the devil as serpent. Why do you think John in Revelation makes use of the term “dragon”?

2 – How would you re~pond to the person who claims that whether or not there was an actual serpent is immaterial, since man’s salvation doesn’t depend on such a detail?

3 – Can you show how this passage demonstrates far-reaching implications for all of life caused by man’s transgression? Note the relation between man and the animals; man and woman; man and God,

4 – Is there any reason why the devil had to come to man in some kind of visible form? Why didn’t he so approach Christ? Why doesn’t he approach us in this way today? Or does he, e.g., through others?

5 – What does the Bible say about the fallen angels in II Peter 2:4 and Jude, vs. 6? Does the Bible speak anywhere about when and why the devils fell from their original estate?

6 – Which are some modern forms of serpent-worship? of devil-worship? How would you explain such phenomena in a seemingly well-educated and sophisticated age?

7 – Why do you suppose the devil first came with a question to Eve? May we ever question about God and His ways? Is all questioning wrong?

8 – What do our confessional standards have to say about these happenings in Paradise? Cf. both Belgic Confession and Catechism. Which details are confessed by the church as facts not to be controverted?

9 – What is the connection between a sense of shame and clothes? How would you explain that nakedness almost universally is associated with a display of the reproductive organs? Does the Bible allow for the judgment that sexual sins are among the worst which can be committed?

10 – How did God approach man in the garden? Was this also in visible form? Is it legitimate to draw parallels between this coming and His later revelations in the “theophanics” of the Old Testament and in the incarnation of our Lord?


Scripture: Genesis 3:9–24

Here an attempt is made to ridicule simple, childlike faith; to push it into a corner by reducing it to what is absurd. No one who takes the power and kindness of God taught in Scripture seriously will have to feel threatened by such unlawful attacks.

Every day we are confronted with a lawless world.

Wars, often undeclared, break out in various parts of the earth. Revolutions arc the order of the day in many places. Crime stalks through our streets and invades our homes. Meanwhile the police cannot control the violence, and many people refuse to report crimes which they see. Man has lost much of his sense of responsibility to and for others, because he has denied his responsibility to God.

Those who talk about “the godless Communists” would do well to reflect on trends within their own lands. Outwardly we may appear less ruthless; on the spiritual-moral level our humanism holds out no hope. Berdyaev, that incisive Russian theologian philosopher, has rightly called this a “self-destructive dialectic” resulting from putting man in the center of the universe.

Commenting on this in his Cambridge lectures Christianity, Past and Present, Basil Willey distinguishes three stages in the development of humanism as it has engulfed the Western world. First there is a kind of God-centered humanism, like that of Erasmus or Locke; then the man-centered humanism of Hume and the French encyclopedists, when morality loses all divine sanctions; finally the positivistic humanism of Comte, Mill, and Marx in which humanity itself becomes a religion. Willey closes with its consequences for today’s world:

“The outcome of all this is what we see around us in the world today—the moral and spiritual nihilism of the modern world . . . You cannot continue for ever to stand upon a branch which you are sawing away from the parent tree. Without a religious basis, humanism can find no grounds for the very values it proclaims.”

Not unless man returns to the God of the Scriptures, recognizing him as Creator and Judge and the Bringer of salvation, will any personal or social, cultural or political problems find a satisfactory solution. Man’s conduct springs from his convictions. Without awareness of responsibility to the living God, his shallow-rooted responsibility to himself and others will wither away. It is for his own good, that God calls man to account. This teaching, so consistently taught in Scripture, is emphasized in Genesis 3.

The arraignment – Adam and Eve may attempt to hide from God, but this the Almighty will not allow. In spite of man’s sin, God insists on dealing with man as man, that is, as a responsible spiritual-moral creature. To do anything less or else would on God’s part have been a denial of humanity of the being who had been fashioned in God’s image.

Here again, as in vs. 1, the double name of the Creator is used, Jehovah God. The first stresses both His faithfulness or unchangeability and His personal, covenantal relationship to man. The second emphasizes His greatness. Was it perhaps to obscure the fact of God having entered into personal fellowship with man, that both the serpent and Eve consistently speak of him only as God?

That God calls to man and asks, Where art thou? in no way implies a lack of knowledge on His part. Rather, all God’s questions are pedagogical. He calls man to account, so that man may realize more fully how serious are the consequences of his disobedience. Not only is the relationship between himself and the woman disturbed; he must come to understand that the true and blessed relationship between himself and his God is ruptured. All the fig leaves in the world cannot cover his shame; all the trees of the garden cannot hide him from the Creator. Man cannot escape his sin. However, his admission is that of a half-truth, an evasion. He speaks of being afraid because of his nakedness.

Now the trial begins in earnest.

God directs a straightforward question to man, even though man had unwittingly acknowledged part of the truth. This, however, is insufficient. Man must face up to his crime against God. Yet in cowardly fashion he refuses to confess his guilt. Instead, he shows his lovelessness by blaming the woman and indirectly finding fault with God for having given her to him.

Eve responds similarly to God’s inquiry. In His question God stresses the word this, indicating the enormity of her deed of first sinning against Him and then misleading her husband. But truth no longer dwells within her. She dares not, will not, and cannot really face up to the consequences of her sin. Hence she blames the serpent.

Nothing in the way of evidence is now lacking. The serpent as a beast of the field cannot be challenged, being without a sense of spiritual-moral responsibility; the devil who worked in and through the serpent knows all too well the holy and righteous judgment which God inflicts upon those who sin. The time is ripe to render the verdict.

The verdict – All three parties to the awful corruption of the race which God had ordained with such high privileges and holy responsibilities are addressed.

The Creator who now manifests Himself as Judge begins with the serpent.

Here the curse is pronounced, the retribution by which the Almighty takes away the blessing and privilege which this animal had once enjoyed, “subtlety” above the other beasts. It is a direct pronouncement of penalty by God, one in which the other animals are not involved even though they will suffer in consequence of man’s fall into sin as God’s representative and ruler over the earth. Mention is made of a degraded form of locomotion to which the serpent is bound as well as the habit of eating dust. From the passage it seems clear that before this judgment the beast could move in an erect form. This does not necessarily require a change in its body in the form of removing any legs. in fact, even now most snakes have the ability of erecting a considerable part of their bodies. The emphasis in this part of the passage falls especially on the humiliation to be endured both because of the part it played—no matter how unwittingly—in its attack upon man as image-bearer, and as a perpetual reminder to man of his own corruption on account of sin.

Now God, however, directs attention more specifically to the evil spirit who employed the serpent as his instrument. That much more is intended and included than a judgment upon the beast has been almost universally recognized by Christian commentators. Only in more recent times, under the influence of an approach to Scripture which denies its divine authorship and unity, has this been repudiated.

We are not to suppose, however, that vs. 15 has no reference at all to the serpent. The language plainly belies this. Mention is made of the seed of the woman, not necessarily a single individual although later Scriptures clearly teach that the fulfilment of this prophecy is found in our Lord Jesus Christ. What is clear is the announcement of victory (at least, implied with a clarity that seems obvious in a struggle among creatures which cannot last forever) not so much over the seed of the serpent but over the serpent himself. This is evident from the pronouns thy and thou. Here God is unfolding, on a level which can provide a measure of hope and comfort for our parents, the pattern of the future. Immediately God, who is infinitely holy and righteous and just, also shows Himself to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exod. 34:6). He delights in showing His grace to the sons of men. He proclaims it, be it only in its most basic and elementary form, before He pronounces His verdict upon the woman and the man.

As for the woman, that which was intended to be the most glorious manifestation of her womanhood will be a continual reminder of the false and fearful role which she played. Indeed, the will of God that she should bring forth children and thus replenish the earth remains stedfast. Yet in consequence of her sin this will occasion sorrow and pain. Also the relationship to her husband, originally one of love-in-partnership, is affected by God’s displeasure with her. She had not only wickedly perverted that relationship by emancipating herself from the man and going her own way; she had led him into sin by serving as an instrument of the devil. Now the man will rule over her.

Man’s glory – the work which he was called to perform in joyful and loving obedience—is turned into shame. He sinned grievously by listening to his wife rather than to God. On this account the ground which he will till is cursed, so that it produces thorns and thistles, yielding its fruits only stubbornly in response to man’s toil and sweat. And that God has not for a moment forgotten the threat which He pronounced at the time of putting man to the test is evident in the way in which He speaks of the inevitability of death.

The aftermath – The rest of the chapter sketches with an amazing and yet adequate brevity how the trial of our first parents was concluded. Throughout we find the manifestation of God’s judgment tempered with mercy which man in no wise deserved. Here the Almighty reveals Himself to us such as He truly is.

Mention is made of the response of Adam to the words which the Lord had spoken.

Often it has been argued that this verse is somehow misplaced. Yet remembering and drawing a parallel from what takes place also within man’s tribunals, we need find no discrepancy at all. Here the “prisoner” of the holy and merciful God is given opportunity to respond to the words which have been so solemnly spoken. Has he something to say for himself, especially after the accusation which he has levelled against his wife and even more so against God who gave her to him? The response indicates on Adam’s part a faith in the promise implied in Cod’s verdict pronounced on the serpent. He realizes now that the Creator will not forsake the work of his own hands. There will be seed. of the woman and that in the hope of providing a way of escape from the awful consequences of man’s misdeed against God. Thus he calls his wife Eve, a term signifying “life” or the one from whom life springs. The writer, penning these words centuries later, explains the reason for this changing of the name.

For man’s well-being God also makes adequate provision in the form of coots of skin. The fig leaves were totally unsuitable. Whether the slaying of the animals, which was necessarily involved here, points in any way to the idea of sacrifice is uncertain. The text simply wants to assert that God demonstrated a deep and gracious concern for man.

Thereupon God sent him from from the garden of Eden. No longer can and may man enjoy that blessed and unbroken communion with the Creator which had been his. Here again is judgment tempered with lovingkindness. This act of God was of deliberate purpose. Man had achieved a kind of parody of godlikeness, one which would endanger him were he to take also of the tree of lite, and eat, and live for ever in a sin-stained and toil-worn body. Indeed, there is something shameful in being expelled from the garden. God aims at making man feel deeply his altered state and relationship. Thus a barrier is set up by God in the form of the Cherubim, and the flame of a sword which turned every way. This sign of God’s holiness proclaimed “No admittance.” The way to restored fellowship with the Lord will have to be opened by God Himself.


1. Often the question is asked, “Why should an unmoral and therefore irresponsible agent he singled out for punishment?” This is an honest question. The answer, however, should be drawn from the Bible, Strictly speaking, for the serpent this was not so much a penalty as a humiliation. Thus it serves as a perpetual sign to man. Also, we know next to nothing about the relationship between Adam and the rest of creation before the Fall, except that it was a blessed one. Even today, however, we find “closeness” between man and certain animals, e.g., dogs, horses, etc. All that we read here must be interpreted as for man’s sake. No longer can he function as lord of creation over a good creation. Also there is “groaning” in creation in consequence of man’s sin to which the serpent contributed (cf. Rom. 8:19f.). God in later revelations shows that He aims to preserve can from attach by the animals. Thus a beast which kills a man must be destroyed (cf. Gen. 9:5; Exod. 21:28). Chrysostom, the early church father. comments that God who created the beasts may and does destroy the one which caused man to fall, “just as a loving father, when punishing the murderer of his son, might snap in two the sword or dagger with which the murder had been committed.”

2. So much has been written about the meaning of Genesis 3:15, that a lengthy note here seems unnecessary. Although we who take seriously the unity of Scripture recognize this as “the first proclamation of the gospel” (protevangeilum, to use the technical term), we must beware of reading more into the text than is warranted. We can hardly conclude that our first parents “clearly saw and embraced” our Lord Jesus Christ in His person and work. Just how much they could and did grasp (not by the powers of their minds but by the Spirit’s enlightenment, of course) is not revealed, nor is this necessary. The Bible does uot aim :It supplying us with “conversion experiences,” and faith-histories of our forefathers. Rather, He reveals Himself in His grace and justice. This the Heidelberg Catechism stresses when calling attention to the historic:ll dimension of God’s special revelation (cf. L.D. VI, 19).

For :In informative and instructive exposition of the text, including references to many different interpretations. cf. M. H. Woudstra, “Recent Translations of Genesis 3:15” in Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, November 1971, pp. 194–203.

3. At the very le:lst a slim volume would be necessary to discuss in detail God’s judgment pronounced upon the woman, indicating its significance for the relationship between man and woman since the Fall. This is necessary, really, in view of the many misrepresentations of the text and false conclusions drawn from it. Its relevance becomes the more obvious, when regarding the “women’s liberation movements” of the past and the present.

God nowhere commands or approves of tyranny by man over woman; He does indicate that in the present world man shall rule over her as an aspect of His just judgment -and that also for her good, whether she believe it or not. Nor, in the light of the constitutional unity of the race and many Biblical givens, is this restricted to Eve as an individual. In Christ this basic relationship of life is again restored and sanctified, as the believing husband learns to love and cherish his wife as Christ does the church (cf. Eph. 5:20f.). We had better slop listening to and learning from the “romantic illusions” which humanists so long have palmed off on us, as well as from those who with naturalistic or positivistic bias want to wipe out all distinction and differentation here.

A discussion of the precise meaning of “multiplying” thy pain and thy conception is also in order, especially in view of widespread use of “the pill,” the arguments appealing to “overpopulation crisis,” etc.

On the term desire involved in God’s judgment, Keil comments: “For that (i.e., her sin in tempting man), she was punished with a desire bordering upon disease (from ‘to run,’ to have a violent craving for a thing . . .”) Pentateuch, vol. I, p. 103 (Eerdmans, 1949). Leupold in his Commentary on Genesis, p. 172 (Baker, 1950), adds the following:

Teshuqah might be rendered “desire” or even better “yearning.” This yearning is morbid. It is not merely sexual yearning. It includes the attraction that woman experiences for man which she cannot root from her nature. Independent feminists m:ly seek to banish it, but it persists in cropping out. It may be normal. It often is not but takes a perverted form, even to the point of nymphomania. It is a just penalty. She who sought to strive apart from man and to act independently of him in the temptation finds a continual attraction for him to be her unavoidable lot.

And this, too—let it be remembered—can and is restored to its proper proportions in the lives of those who seek and find the Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation.

4. Work is intended by God to be a source of joy and self-fufillment for man. It is intimately bound lip with his creation in the divine image. In one day with its insistence an higher wages and shorter working hours, accompanied by long periods of leisure, we do well to remember what the Bible says about both the dignity and the pain of our labors (cf. the fourth commandment, Exod. 20; Deut. 5). Without meaningful work—and God alone can put meaning into it through the person and work of Christ—man’s life deteriorates. To be sure, our work problems h:lve multiplied, not the least since the inception of the Industrial Revolution. and more recently the Managerial Revolution. These must be faced especially by believers. For helpful discussions, cf. E. L. Helxlen Taylor, “The Degradation of Work in Modern Society” in Reformation or Revolution? pp. 100–143 (Craig Press, 1970) and Ir. H. Van Riessen: Mens en Werk (Buijten en Schipperheijn, 1962).

5. Let’s also look at the “ecological revolution” so much in the news in recent years. This is still God’s world. But in contrast to those who expect to make it into a Utopia, we should remember the the ground is cursed for man’s sake. Calvin in his Commentary on Genesis, vol. I, pp. 173–177 (Eerdmans, 1948), has some pertinent things to say to us:

Now as the blessing of the earth means. in the language of Scripture, that fertility which God infuses by his secret power, so the curse is nothing else than the opposite privation, when God withdraws His favour . . .

. . . so the ruin of man drives headlong all those creatures which were formed for his sake, and had been made subject to him. And we see how constantly the condition of the world itself varies with respect to men, according as God is angry with them, or shows them His favour . . .

Yet it is not our part to expostulate with the earth for not answering to our wishes, and to the labours of its cultivators, as if it were maliciously frustrating our purpose; but in its sterility let us mark the anger of God, and mourn over our own sins. It has been falsely maintained by some, that the earth is exhausted by the long succession of time, as if constant bringing forth had wearied it. They think more correctly who acknowledge that, by the increasing wickedness of men, the remaining blessing of God is gradually diminished and impaired; and certainly there is danger, unless the world repent, that a great part of men should shortly perish through hunger and other dreadful miseries . . .

6. Often vs. 21 is used to ridicule those who urge a literal interpretation of details recorded in this chapter. Did God really by His own arm slay an animal or two? they ask. Must we believe that He skinned them, prepared the hides, and then perhaps stitched them with a needle held by his fingers? Here an attempt is made to ridicule Simple, childlike faith; to push it into a corner by reducing it to what seems absurd. No one who takes the power and kindness of God taught in Scripture seriously will have to feel threatened by such unlawful attacks. It would not diminish the majesty, much less the sovereign goodness of our God, were He to take a needle in His fingers! He has done “stranger” things than that to show Himself. But hiking chapter 3 at face value docs not demand such a degree of literalism. Don’t believing parents say with joy at childbirth, God put this little one in our hands! Don’t believing children (and adults, for that matter) thank God for putting food in their mouths and warm clothes on their backs! No one should apologize, much less feel ashamed of a faith which tales God at His word and testifies to His nearness in all life’s circumstances.

7. According to Keil, vol. I, p. 107, the term cherubim derives from the Greek, it having no suitable etymology in any Semitic speech. He suggests that it was so handed down by the forefathers of our race, long before Moses, $0 that its primary meaning can no longer be determined. He consider.; cherubim creatures of the higher and heavenly world, a class like angels, according to the visions of Ezekiel (1:22f; 10:1) and the apostle John (Rev. 4:6). He regards thcm not as “throne-bearers” but rather that they occupy “the highest place as living beings in the realm of spirits, standing by the side of God as the heavenly King when He comes to judgment, and proclaiming the majesty of the Judge of the world.”

Berkhof in Reformed Dogmatics, p. 146 (Eerdmans, 1941), speaks of cherubim as one of the angelic orders. He Inentions their ga7jng upon the mercy-sent, Ex. 25:18; Ps. 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16; Heb. 9:5; And constituting the chariot on which God descends to earth, II Sam. 22:11 ; Ps. 18:10, to which he adds:

These symbolical representations simply serve to bring out their extraordinary power and majesty. More than other creatures they were destined to reveal the power, the majesty, and the glory or God, and to guard His holiness in the garden of Eden, in the tabernacle and temple, and in the descent of God to earth.

K. Schilder in Wat is de Hemel? p. 134f. (J. H. Kok, 1935) discusses in an informative way the ministry of angels to find among men, the first indication of which is furnished by this passage. Here Adam meets beings other than himself, perfectly engaged in God’s service to remind him of the way to God and heaven which now is “temporarily” barred in consequence of his sin.

8. All speculation on how long the garden of Eden continued upon earth after man’s expulsion will prove hopeless, futile and frustrating. We need not suppose that it was continued until the time of the Flood. It had served its purpose while Adam and Eve lived in the state of rectitude. Nor was there now anyone to dress and keep it after man’s sin. What is important to remember is man’s loss of that perfect home which had been fashioned for him by God. Yet he is not entirely an alien wanderer, since God has come to him with promise. So long as he and his descendants embrace this in faith they may experience deep pence even in the struggles and sorrows of life. For them, now, Paradise lies in the future.


1 – Which are some Biblical prophecies of the restoration of a happy relationship between man and animals in the world to come?

2 – How may and should believers treat the animal creation? What do you think of Albert Schweitzer’s views of “reverence for life?” Should we swat flies? What about killing animals for fun?

3 – Discuss in some detail the meaning of seed in Scripture. What about the terms bruise and crush in vs. 15? Do you think only enmity is predicted here, or also an indication of victory?

4 – How does Christ take the sting out of the judgment upon the woman for the believing husband and wife? How would you evaluate the feminist movements of our day?

5 – Why do you suppose so many Christian families seem to want only one or two children? On what basis do you think believers may deliberately seek to curtail the number of their children?

6 – Is it wrong for man to seek an amelioration of the consequences of the Fall, e.g., by medicines used at the time of childbirth, by making work easier, etc.? Can you give Biblical evidence for your view?

7 – What is the place of work in the Christian’s life? How do you relate it to your life as an exercise in faith-fellowship with God in Christ? Why do you suppose keeping house seems to be esteemed so low today?

8 – How can we show ourselves to be stewards of the earth and its fulness? What about all the roads which gobble up rich farmlands; the suburbs which destroy the contours of the bad ; the amounts of paper used in advertising even by churches, etc.?

9 – When did God permit man to use animal flesh for food?

10 – Discuss in some detail the place and purpose of angels, including the cherubim, in God’s work of redemption. Why do you think so little attention is given to the angels in the churches today?