For ancient Hebrews, there was no way to express divine truth than historization in the fall narrative. Human thinking developed, so now we can understand it more like timeless description of human existential condition
Story of Genesis 3 is based on an ancient myth the fragment of it is preserved in verse 22. In original myth the serpent plays Promethean role. Originally, both trees are forbidden for man. Human violation of the prohibition therefore endangers God's supremacy. Hence the expulsion from paradise prevents man of completion of his theosis
1st verse, on the contrary, presents the serpent like the creature God created. Serpent is not independent daemon; he is not God's opponent.
He said to woman: „Did God say: 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?“
He represents the possibility of lie rather than any kind of person. This is also in line with classical Judaeo-Christian demonology. Evil spirit, daemon is not just negative image of God, but liar. He is not telling only sentences opposite to truth, but mixing true and false sentences. He is speaking half-truth, what is in fact full lie. This cunning mixture of truth and lie is also basic experience of Christian exorcism1. From this particular experience we can develop more general knowledge of evil: Evil is in not some kind of negative creation. Evil is only parasitizing on good God's creation. Love is turning to lust, zeal in sectarianism, harmonic life in bourgeoisie, humour in mockery, social activism in utopias and then totalitarism, patriotism in jingoism, etc.
2nd-5th verse contains model picture of temptation. Temptation is in fact only shortcut; delusion of easy direct way, ignoring sophisticated complexity of God's creation. Temptation offers quantitative growth outside of involved rules of creation. Temptation alternative of cancer cells, which grow in ignorance of complex body.
As we now from chapter 1, God created man in his own image. Therefore he created him also with some quality corresponding to God's almightyness — with the free will. Free will includes possibility of separation from God. If the way of God is way of truth — of complex rich irreducible creation, the separate way is lie — reduction of all universe to man's own ego. The question about origin of serpent is therefore absolutely unwarranted. He is the subtler than any other animal that the LORD God had made. He is just the second possible alternative to God's way — alternative of bastardising of already created universe. As we already said, he is not self-existing entity but only parasite. It's meaningless to say God created evil, because evil is only destruction of good structures, it is not structure itself.
Hence, the alternative of human as the God's creation is to amputate human's outer connections, to amputated his intimate relation to God and to turn him in the isolated, ignorant, all-devouring ego. The temptation is attacking human's trust in God, suggesting, that human is a victim of plot.
Author of this narrative was limited by the conditions of the original story, so Gods prohibition can easily be seen as a Gods act to protect human of knowledge of truth. Against this understanding we can quote, that God created man in his own image, and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. He encourages man to his own initiative (we can also quote: 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.) What he wants to prevent him from is to be his own lawgiver. Two persons can play game together only if they both agree with the same rules. If both sides have different rules, any common game is impossible.
God wants man to enjoy life like quality, not quantity. Man's life should be structure and not raw power. God gave man this world with all its problems and limitations to rear him to real God image, to make him real Son of God, God-like personality.
6th verse provokes question: Why just woman was tempted? Maybe we can solve this problem by previous woman's determination: I will make him and help meet for him. Let's ignore for a moment ancient oriental social background of fall narrative and try to look on this role of woman by eyes of Gospel and by his later development. Jesus said: Who want to be the biggest of you be the servant of all of you. And I am the one who serves among you. Christ's redemptional work radically re-values the position of servant. Besides, Jesus directly evaluates some woman in particular moment of humble of service even higher then his own disciples. Paul holds woman as the one, able to turn her husband's heart to Christ, and people, honoured by him for work in church are more often woman than man.
Calvinism brought modern view of society and also rationalistic attitude to specifics of particular sexes. New look on women as lacking sexual aggressivity and dependent pathology (children abuse, rape, militarism, etc.) moved woman to semi-angelic position. Puritan opinion was that woman is creature send on world to civilise atavistic man, to bring mercy in world ruled by masculine warmongers and predatory capitalist. This was very progressive but also quite naive view.
On other hand, we have not to be afraid of sexism if we say, that women in general are really less predatory, less promiscuite, have bigger sense for family etc. Not very often we hear about woman sexual murderer, woman war criminal. There is more to redeem from for man than for woman. That is why man is in the centre of interest of scriptures; that is why in many churches only men can be priests. Man is exemplary sinner.
Therefore temptation is attacking on most sensitive point of human society. The attack is coming from side Adam until today received help. Eve resisted to the first serpent's certain lie.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took the fruit thereof, and did eat, she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
The culmination of the fall narrative is surpassingly banal. All serpent's cunningness is finally excessive. Eve is overcame by senses, or better to say by her daily routine of looking for food for his man. This gives us eternal warning, that even in the most praise-worthy things we are not safe from pride, or better to say egoism.
For ancient orient, serpent symbolised secret wisdom, parallel to God's wisdom. Narrative is attacking this female so-called wisdom, female magic; based on idea: If I can give birth, if I can maintain family, I am true creator of universe. Narrative is overcoming primitive matriarchal order, is criticising female inclination to understand all relations in the terms of preservation of kin, to decipher all universe by secret sexual key, inaccessible to male.
To give some everyday examples, we can say, narrative is attacking dotage, is criticising this kind of young parents, does not matter if male of female, who see all world only in terms of their sweet little baby. The original sin is connected more with parenthood than with sexuality. According to Augustine, the original sin is transferred to every human just in the time of conception by the filthy semen. This very carnal and eccentric theory is trying to express this: To concept children is attempt to create without God's participation, it is attempt to preserve life on the base of quantity and not quality, on material rather than spiritual base. Not accidentally majority of atheists and agnostics describe their belief as belief in preservation of human kin. In this sense, God did not create us but by our parents, we were concepted mechanically, we were born in the world of mechanical reproduction without God. So we are not children of God but only children of our parents and we shall be only adopted to God by redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Consequently, woman as a mother symbolises the general human sin and condemnation of humankind: To preserve life without God.
7th verse is what God tried to avoid by forbidding eating from the tree. Man is now his own lawgiver. But by the laws of man, in the world defined by man's rules, man is in desperate situation. He is unable to reach his achievements, to satisfy his lust, his megalomania is bigger than his possibilities. His possibility to be like God is lost for his rebellion. Every human being has the same experience of deep incoherence like Adam and Eve. One face for the world he himself created by his sin — world of success, predatory world — and other inner face, which knows the truth — man is puny. Adam and Eve didn't lost sexual innocence but the sense of intimacy. Now they are both isolated in their own bodies. They are panicle defending them by fig leafs. In ancient oriental thinking, fig tree is residence of daemons. Man isolated from God and his neighbours is easy target for demoniac powers. Man was created to communicate, he needs communication, but when he lost the intimacy with God and other people, only possibility to talk for him is to talk with „his“ inner voices.
8th verse demonstrates God's inviolability to sin. His habit is still the same. He is walking in the garden in the cool of the day as usually. His relation to his own creation is still pure joy and sympathy, still the pure enthusiasm of creator.
9th-13th verses are bitter grotesque of human weak excuses. Else when Adam in verse 12 says: The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, an I ate, he is right that the attack was cunning, because it was coming from side he to this time received help. But au fond this sentence is the same tautology as the famous Oscar Wilde quotation: I can resist everything except temptation, as the commentary of The Interpreter's Bible says. Longer quotation follows:
Many people act as though no one could reasonably be supposed to resist temptation. But stop the sentence in the middle. The woman tempted me, and …And what? There is the crux of human character. Temptation is an element in every life and comes to everybody. But it is always possible to end the sentence another way. This and that tempted me, but I was not persuaded. … The fact that evil is possible is no alibi for choosing it.
Contemporary society can proudly use Adam's sentence as its motto. If God don't wanted us to sin, why he created us as we are? More and more we are suggested that our deeds are not products of our will but of the nature and more of the society. But God created us to grow up in the image of God; resisting temptation is parturition of true humanity. This world is our classroom to godhood. Who consider himself to be essentially unable to resist the temptation, consider himself to be dead foetus and not human.
14th verse proves that it is not God's enjoyment to tempt people as many pagan myths presume. As we have already said, possibility of evil is necessary part of free will. But God hates this choice. As Isaiah says, God created good and evil. Nothing exists but trough God (John 1). But God hates evil and actively supports man against evil.
15th-20th verses are God's judgement, which is however only the pure consequence of the human choice. The different doom of man and woman shows more different aspects of sin (as the role of man and woman do in all narrative) than determination of sexes.
As we have said, original sin is mechanical preservation of life. Every human is faced with what pure carnality means when he experiences pain. Pain is pure carnality. And the worst pain is pain of childbearing. Childbearing, crucial in female magic, is itself the response to this fallacy. Best response to lie is truth.
Woman distrusted God so destructed the intimacy between man and God because she trusted more to her social instincts. She tried to establish human relation without God. Now she will face interpersonal relation without God's blessing — unsatisfied desire for closeness of somebody other, relation based on exploitation. Our LORD is the God of relation, Holy Trinity is relation. How you can build relation without relation? Woman was spellbound by her own goodness so she forgets where is this goodness originated, who created her to be help for man.
The conclusion of man's choice of quantity instead of quality is work. This in no sense means that necessity of solving problems in our life is punishment. We were created to solve problems. Solving problems, creativity is what the life is all about. The real punishment for choosing mechanical instead of spiritual preservation of life is again mechanical preservation of life itself. Man is forced to work to have food. Not to create but to make money. Work is conclusion of sin! This point of view instead of modernist idolatry of work should be the base of Christian social teaching. Since industrial evolution, the main social problem is that people are forced to work more than it is necessary. Why should twenty employees waste eight hours of their life on night shift in hypermarket only ten people visit trough night? Why should people waste so much time in work, if they can spend it by religion, culture, observation of God's creation, entertainment with other people etc? Likewise the only fair wage is wage constructed like compensation of harm caused by work.
20th verse on the one hand underlines the universal implication of sin for all humanity: This Eve, condemned to face the conclusions of her choice is mother of all living.
21st verse is on the other hand proto-evangelium. Garments of skins symbolise sacrificial death, redeeming man from the power of daemons which fig tree is possessed by.
22nd-24th verses bring to us paradoxically good news. Through man rised against God he can never overthrow him. He can not establish his rule of terror over all creation and forever. Every bully, every criminal, every dictator, every lofty artist, philosopher or VIP will die one day.
May God preserve us for his kingdom coming.
Driver, S. R. The Book of Genesis : with introduction and notes; London 1926
Skinner, J. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis; Edinburgh 1910
The Interpreter's Bible, New York 1952
1 In popular culture masterly depicted in the film „The Exorcist“.