The First Adultery | Genesis 3:1-13

The event transcribed within these verses of Genesis is one of the most significant to occur within the entire Bible. In fact, the problem that arises from these words is the great conflict of all Scripture. The humans that the LORD God created to be His image-bearers choose to revolt against their Creator. This unauthorized eating of fruit is divine treason of the highest order.

As we will read, the circumstances leading up to the first sin appear to move in slow motion, as if building toward a terrible disaster. We are able to see the incoming wreckage verses before it actually happens, so it all seems surreal. In contrast, the fallout moves in a rushed pace, briskly revealing the effects of this first betrayal.

Relationships are severed here. Humans stand opposed to God. Man is pitted against his wife. This is the turning point of all humanity, the moment where it all went wrong. This is the beginning of sin and evil within humanity, the origin of all murders, rapes, wars, and genocides. This is why we are the way we are. This is why we need to be saved. This is why we need a Savior.

THE SERPENT SPEAKS // VERSE 1

The word “crafty”, or perhaps “cunning” in other translations, is a Hebrew wordplay on the word “naked” in the final verse of chapter two. Both words sound very similar in the ancient sematic language yet carry opposite meanings. Nakedness in chapter two is meant to imply a sort of child-like innocence, whereas “crafty” denotes world-wary wisdom. This similar-but-opposite wordplay is a fitting reflection of the overall scenery of chapter two and three since chapter three will unfold similarly to chapter two, except that this chapter is the dismantling of everything established in that chapter. Chapter two showed us the life of peace with the garden, followed by a close up look at the pre-fallen marriage relationship and how it reflected our unhindered relationship with God. The third chapter breaks apart the previous chapter in reverse order. First, sin causes a breach between both man and woman and man and God. Next, God pronounces judgment upon sin, making its effects upon the now fallen world known.

The meaning of this verse, if you were reading the Bible for the first time, should be rather ambiguous, which I believe is Moses’ intent. We first notice that a beast of the field comes into the forefront of the narrative. He is said to be crafty, but the Hebrew word does not carry any sort of negative connotation with the word. Instead, it simply means a level of street-smart understanding. Yet that term should still be rather off-putting since within the goodness of creation there was no worldly trouble from which to have learned. Then, to make matters worse, the serpent speaks to the woman, asking for clarification of God’s command about eat the fruit in the garden. The serpent’s understanding of God’s instruction is wrong; God only prohibited one tree of the garden. However, at this point, the question still sounds innocent enough. Could the serpent simply have misunderstood God? Was he genuinely seeking correct understanding?

The simple answer to both questions is no. As we continue reading, we will quickly see that the serpent has hideously malicious intent behind his deceptively innocent questions. I believe that this is why Moses was inspired to make this verse so ambiguous because the temptation to commit sin is rarely blatant. The book of Revelation positively identifies the serpent as Satan[1], and throughout the Bible, we are warned of the dangers that Satan poses to the followers of God.[2] Most fitting to this section of Scripture, Jesus calls Satan the father of all lies.[3] As we will see, the ultimate goal of Satan is to sow seeds of rebellion against God, and one of the greatest means of doing so is his use of subtlety. Eve should have perceived the threat before her and fled; however, like most of us, she chooses rather to flirt with temptation and entertain a conversation with the serpent.

EVE’S RESPONSE // VERSES 2-3

The first error of misquoting God’s command was from the serpent, yet now the fault is from the woman. First, she places significantly less emphasis upon God’s provision. God said, “You may surely eat”, but Eve simply says, “we may eat.” The difference is subtle but significant in that she is not valuing God’s gifts as she should. Nevertheless, she begins her answer by correctly citing God’s words, but ends by adding her own conditions of obedience. God had only prohibited the eating of one tree, while giving the rest as good and delicious food for the humans. The serpent first calls God’s words into question by asking whether God actually prohibited the eating of all the trees. Eve then follows the pattern of error by adding to God’s word, saying that they were prohibited from even touching the fruit. Finally, Eve also downplays the consequences of eating the fruit. God said, “you shall surely die”, but Eve repeats it as, “lest you die.”

The serpent’s setup in verse one was a success. His intent was to cause Eve to doubt the loving-kindness of God, making Him appear to be selfishly forbidding the fruit. The woman’s response is evidence of success on the part of the serpent. The prelude to sin is the questioning of God’s word. Eve downplayed God’s gracious provision and the consequences of disobedience, while adding in her own restrictions. Adding to the word of God is one of the great pitfalls of humanity. One aspect that makes religions like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness so heretical is that they add to the Word of God.

It is because ‘Yahweh Elohim’ expresses so strongly the basic OT convictions about God’s being both creator and Israel’s covenant partner that the serpent and the woman avoid the term in their discussion. The god they are talking about is malevolent, secretive, and concerned to restrict man: his character is so different from that of Yahweh Elohim that the narrative pointedly avoids the name in the dialogue of 3:1-5.[4]

THE SERPENT’S RESPONSE // VERSES 4-5

Where the serpent began with subtle questioning of God’s precise wording, he now goes into complete denial of God’s command. Interestingly, the serpent adheres to a more accurate wording of God’s declaration of the consequences than the woman does. This shows that the serpent’s original feigned ignorance was truly nothing more than a ploy to sow seeds of doubt. By directly stating that the eating of the fruit will not result in death, Satan has unequivocally placed himself in direct opposition to God. There is no longer middle, ambiguous ground. Furthermore, the serpent calls into question the goodness of God, claiming that He is selfishly withholding the fruit so that the humans do not become like Him. The irony of this temptation is that the woman was already like God. She was created in the image of God; therefore, she reflected greater aspects of God’s character than anything else in creation, even this seemingly wise serpent. Also, since the serpent is declared to be a beast of the field, Eve had dominion over the serpent. By God’s grace, Eve was already more like God than any other creation, yet in order to become greater, she subjected herself to the influence of a creature that should have been under her rule.

THE FALL // VERSE 6

The tragic irony only continues. Following her dialogue with Satan, Eve sees that the tree is “good for fruit” and a “delight to the eyes.” This directly harkens back to God’s planting of the trees in the garden of Eden. There God declared the trees “pleasant to the sight” and “good for food.”[5] Thus, Eve has begun to see the one prohibited tree, as she should view all the others. Instead of finding delight in the wealth of God’s provision, the woman desires the single restriction.

Moreover, her longing for the fruit is to use it as a means of making herself wise. The serpent had successfully implanted within Eve’s mind the notion that God was withholding knowledge from her. Her belief that this knowledge would make her like God shows that this first sin is so much more than merely eating a piece of fruit. The core of the matter is pride. Eve was not content with being an image-bearer of God; she longed to become a god herself. Thus, with the simple act of eating a piece of fruit, the woman marked herself as an attempted usurper of the throne of God. The consumption of this produce was high treason against God, their creator.

The remaining part of the verse moves rapidly, almost surreally, through the act of rebellion. Eve takes and eats the fruit. She then gives it to her husband, and he eats as well. Perhaps what is most striking about this verse is the nonchalant mention of Eve’s husband being there with her.

The phrase “who was with her” seems to imply that Adam was standing beside Eve the entire time. If so, this gives an entire new depth to the events that we have seen. As far as we know, God only gave the command against eating the fruit to Adam, and since Eve knew it, we can assume that it was Adam’s responsibility to communicate the guidelines of the garden to his wife. Thus, on some level, one could begin to understand why Eve might have been confused about a commandment that she heard second-handedly. However, Adam was told the decree directly by God, and he was standing right beside Eve as the serpent called into question the truthfulness of God’s word. The man, therefore, had a prime responsibility to defend the word of God and to defend his wife from the serpent’s deception. However, throughout the entirety of his wife’s dialogue with Satan, he merely stood by, watching.

This is the first example of many throughout the Bible and human history of a husband shirking his authoritative role of protecting his family. Adam cowardly stood silent while his wife was being deceived and then partakes in the act of sin without any hint of a complaint. How many of evils around us today are still caused by this same lack of responsible manhood from husbands and fathers?

OPENED EYES // VERSES 7-8

The opening of their eyes indicates that what the serpent claimed was at least partially true. He promised the knowledge of good and evil; however, what Adam and Eve now saw was the evil. They had already known the goodness that God provided for them, but by His grace, God spared them from knowing anything of evil. By their own lust for greatness, the man and woman began to feel shame for the first time as they realized that they were naked. Where they were once in perfect union with one another and God, there was now separation. Their physical nakedness reflected the innocent and open state of their souls before one another, but with the advent of sin, they felt presently felt the need to cover themselves.

Their new knowledge that the serpent promised would make them as God actually taught them that they were no longer even like each other. They were ashamed of their nakedness and sewed fig leaves together to hide their differences from each other.[6]

Yet the horrendous effects of sin continue in verse 8. The LORD God comes into the garden. When they hear God coming, they hide from His presence. In the beginning of this chapter, we are reminded that this is the creator God. The author is making doubly sure that we remember that the God in chapter three is still the same God of chapters one and two. We also repeatedly see God called the LORD God, emphasizing His glorious and covenantal nature. This God is powerful enough to speak stars into creation and loving enough to breathe life into the first man. Throughout the creation narrative, He has repeatedly shown Himself to be both great and good, but now the man and woman find themselves hiding from His presence. Where they used to converse freely and innocently with their Creator, they were now cowering in fear from Him. The primary effect of sin is the broken relationship between God and us.

ANSWERING TO GOD // VERSES 9-13

The first humans desperately hoped that trees would hide them from their omniscient Father, but this is not the case. God inquires about their location in effort to give the man time to confess his sins. Because of the man’s quick response, he must have realized the futility of their effort to conceal themselves. Adam’s answer is also truthful without revealing too much information. He accurately states that he and the woman were ashamed of their nakedness, so they hid themselves from God. Yet he does not disclose any details regarding how they came to realize their nakedness, so God will need to press further in interrogation.

Most notable about these verses seems to be God’s initial reaction: He calls to the man. This can be tricky in English because we have already seen times when “man” meant humanity in general as well as an individual male. So which is it? The answer is found in God’s question. The “you” being used is singular in Hebrew; thus, God is asking Adam alone where he is. This is incredibly significant. Throughout the temptation, Adam was standing passively and silently by while Satan was tempting his wife. By his cowardice, she was permitted to sin. Then by his lack of faith in God’s word, he joined in the sin. So was woman’s first bite Adam’s fault? No, it wasn’t directly Adam’s fault, but God does still hold him primarily responsible. This is true of every man and his family. The sins of our wives and children may not be our fault, but with the position of headship comes the responsibility. God holds Adam accountable for sins of both him and his wife. Of course, as we will see in the next section, God does still punish the woman for her sin, but prime responsibility is upon the husband.

In response to Adam’s intentionally vague answer, God addresses the incoherency of Adam’s statement by asking who informed them of their nakedness. When they are apparently not willing to answer this question, God probes deeper, asking the million-dollar question: did you eat the forbidden fruit? Notice God’s precise wording: “the tree of which I commanded you not to eat”. God is emphasizing the clarity of His initial decree. During the conversation with the serpent, the clarity of God’s word was called into question; however, God presents His command before them once more, almost as if challenging them to find ambiguity within it.

Not surprisingly, the man is forced to confess before the LORD, yet the confession does not unfold as it should have. Adam should have manned up and taken responsibility for disobeying God. Instead, he shifts the blame to his God-given helper, effectively throwing her under the bus. This is a stark contrast the final verse of chapter two. There, the husband and wife were innocent and open with one another. Nothing stood between them. No sin lurked within their hearts to cause rivalry and bitterness. How things have changed within a few short verses! Rather than lovingly leading his wife, Adam is casting all blame upon her. This is the exact opposite of the man’s intended role within marriage. Moreover, take note of whom Adam is not so subtly placing upon the primary fault: God. The phrase “whom you gave to be with me” places indirect responsibility on God. Adam implies that if God never gave the woman to him, this situation would never have happened. How horrific is it to see the same man who wrote love poetry upon seeing his wife for the first time now regret even having her! Truly, this is a breaking of fidelity between man and woman. This is the first adultery.

Mercifully overlooking Adam’s backhanded accusation against God, the LORD then speaks to the woman, pleading: “What is this that you have done?” I imagine God saying these words with great sorrow instead of anger. Despite His omniscience, God is still profoundly heartbroken by the betrayal of His image-bearers because instead of reflecting Him, they chose to display the image of Satan. The name Satan means slanderer. First, Adam slandered woman and God, and now Eve continues the trend by accusing the Accuser. The woman’s answer is simply to say that the devil made her do it. Such excuses did not justify Adam and Eve here, and they will not justify us today either. Yes, Satan is a deceiver, but we are still ultimately responsible for our own decisions.

Sadly, we know this type of interaction all too well. We have all shifted the blame and shirked responsibility numerous times. Yet standing in sharp contrast to Adam’s particular failure is the glory of the second Adam. We don’t know how the events of Genesis 3 might have played out different, and such speculation bears little fruit anyway. We do know, however, that Jesus came to His bride after she eaten the forbidden fruit and sinned against the living God. But instead of sharing in her sin Himself and even instead of letting her absorb the full weight of God’s wrath, Jesus took her place. On the cross, Christ died as a substitute for His people, His church, His bride. Where the first Adam failed, Jesus as the second Adam succeeded. Praise be to God!


[1] Rev. 12:9; 20:2

[2] 1 Pet. 5:8

[3] John 8:44

[4] Wenham. p. 57

[5] Gen. 2:9

[6] Constable. p. 57

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