1. Meaning of Genesis 3
2. Genesis 3 in the Old and New Testaments
3. The Fall and the Theory of Evolution
4. The Character of the Fall
The question concerning the origin, the age and the written record of the history of the Fall in Gen 3 need not be discussed here. For in the first place, science can never reach to the oldest origins and the ultimate destinies of humanity, and historical and critical inquiry will never be able to prove either the veracity or the unveracity of this history. And in the second place, exactly as it now lies before us, this history has already formed for centuries a portion of holy Scripture, an indispensable element in the organism of the revelation of salvation, and as such has been accepted in faith by the Hebrew congregation (Jewish people), by Christ, by the apostles, and by the whole Christian church.
1. Meaning of Genesis 3
That Gen 3 gives us an account of the fall of man, of the loss of his primitive innocence and of the misery, particularly death, to which he has since been subjected, cannot reasonably be denied. The opinion of the Ophites, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, etc., that Gen 3 relates the awakening of man to self-consciousness and personality (see ADAM IN THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE APOCRYPHA), and therefore does not tell us of a fall, but a marked progression, is disputed by the name which the forbidden tree bears, as indicating to man not merely a tree of knowledge in the ordinary way, but quite specially a tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Gen 3 is not in the least meant to relate to us how man obtained the idea of his nakedness and sexual passions, and from a state of childlike innocence changed in this respect to manlike maturity (Eerdman's De Beteekenis van het Paradijsverhaal, Theologisch Tijdschrift, 1905, 485-511). For according to Genesis, man was created full-grown, received a wife immediately as helpmeet, and at the same time saw himself allotted the task of multiplying and replenishing the earth. Moreover, the idea that sexual desire is something sinful and deserves punishment was entirely foreign to ancient Israel.
Finally, the interpretation of Wellhausen (Geschichte Israels, 1878, 344) cannot be accepted, that man in Gen 3 should obtain “die intellektuelle Welterkenntniss, die metaphysische Erkenntniss der Dinge in ihrem Zusammenhange, ihrem Werth oder Unwerth, ihrem Nutzen oder Schaden” (“the intellectual knowledge of the world, the metaphysical knowledge of things in their connection, their worth or unworth, their utility or hurtfulness”). For in the first place, according to Gen, this was man's peculiar province from the beginning; he received indeed the vocation to subdue the earth, to keep and till the ground, to give the animals their names. And in the second place, the acquiring of this knowledge among the Israelites, who esteemed practical wisdom so highly, is difficult to represent as a fall, or as a punishment deserved for disobedience.
There is no other explanation possible of Gen 3 than that it is the narration of a fall, which consists in the transgression of an explicit command of God, thus bearing a moral significance, and therefore followed by repentance, shame, fear and punishment. The context of the chapter places this interpretation beyond all doubt, for before his fall man is represented as a creature made after God's image and receiving paradise as a dwelling-place, and after the fall he is sent into a rough world, is condemned to a life of labor and sorrow, and increases more and more in sin until the judgment of the Flood.
2. Genesis 3 in the Old and the New Testaments
It is indeed remarkable how very seldom the Old Testament refers to this history of the Fall. This is not a sufficient reason for pronouncing it of later origin, for the same peculiarity presents itself at the time when, according to all criticism, it was recorded in literature. Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs never quote it; at the most, allusions may be found to it inHos 6:7 and Ecc 7:29; and even Jesus and His apostles in the New Testament very seldom appeal to Gen 3 (Joh 8:44; Rom 5:12; 1Co 15:22; 2Co 11:3; 1Ti 2:14). But it may be considered that the Prophets, Psalms and Proverbs only mention special facts of the past by way of exception, that the apostles even hardly ever quote the words and deeds of Jesus, and that all lived at a time when revelation itself was still proceeding and did not lie before them as a complete whole. With us it is quite a different matter; we are in a certain sense outside revelation, make it a subject of our study and meditation, try to discover the unity which holds all its parts together, and devote our special interest to Adam as a figure and counterpart of Christ. The creation and fall of man occupy therefore a much broader place in the province of our thoughts than they did among the writers of the books of the Old and New Testaments.
Nevertheless, the Fall is the silent hypothesis of the whole Biblical doctrine of sin and redemption; it does not rest only on a few vague passages, but forms an indispensable element in the revelation of salvation. The whole contemplation of man and humanity, of Nature and history, of ethical and physical evil, of redemption and the way in which to obtain it, is connected in Scripture with a Fall, such as Gen 3 relates to us. Sin, for example, is common to all men (1Ki 8:46; Psa 14:3; Psa 130:3; Psa 143:2), and to every man from his conception (Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Job 14:4; Psa 51:7). It arouses God's anger and deserves all kinds of punishment, not only of an ethical but of a physical nature (Gen 3:14-19; Gen 4:14; Gen 6:7, Gen 6:13; Gen 11:8; Lev 26:14 f; Deu 28:15; Psa 90:7, etc.); the whole of Scripture proceeds from the thought that sin and death are connected in the closest degree, as are also obedience and life. In the new heaven and new earth all suffering ceases with sin (Rev 21:4). Therefore redemption is possible only in the way of forgiveness (Psa 32:1; Isa 43:25, etc.), and circumcision of the heart (Deu 10:16; Deu 30:16; Jer 4:4), and this includes, further, life, joy, peace, salvation. When Paul in Rom 5:12; 1Co 15:22 indicates Adam as the origin of sin and death, and Christ as the source of righteousness and life, he develops no ideas which are contrary to the organism of revelation or which might be neglected without loss; he merely combines and formulates the data which are explicitly or silently contained in it.
3. The Fall and the Theory of Evolution
Tradition does little toward the confirmation and elucidation of the Biblical narrative of the Fall. The study of mythology is still too little advanced to determine the ideal or historical value which may be contained in the legend of a Golden Age, in many people's obsequious honoring of the serpent, in the equally widespread belief in a tree of life. The Babylonian representation also (a seal on which a man and woman, seated, are figured as plucking fruit from a tree, while a serpent curls up behind the woman as if whispering in her ear), which G. Smith, Lenormant and Friedrich Delitzsch compare with the Paradise narrative, shows no similarity on nearer view (A. Jeremias, Das Altes Testament im Lichte des alten Orients2, Leipzig, 1906, 203). Indirectly, however, a very powerful witness for the fall of man is furnished by the whole empirical condition of the world and humanity. For a world, such as we know it, full of unrighteousness and sorrow, cannot be explained without the acceptance of such a fact. He who holds fast to the witness of Scripture and conscience to sin as sin (asἀνομία, anomía) cannot deduce it from creation, but must accept the conclusion that it began with a transgression of God's command and thus with a deed of the will. Pythagoras, Plato, Kant, Schelling, Baader have all understood and acknowledged this with more or less clearness. He who denies the Fall must explain sin as a necessity which has its origin in the Creation, in the nature of things, and therefore in God Himself; he justifies man but accuses God, misrepresents the character of sin and makes it everlasting and indefeasible. For if there has not been a fall into sin, there is no redemption of sin possible; sin then loses its merely ethical significance, becomes a trait of the nature of man, and is inexterminable.
This comes out, in later years, in the many endeavors to unite the Fall with the doctrine of evolution (compare Tennant, The Origin and Propagation of Sin2, 1905; A. S. Peake, Christianity: Its Nature and Its Truth, 1908; W. E. Orchard, Modern Theories of Sin, 1909; Francis J. Hall, Evolution and the Fall, 1910). All these endeavors lead to setting on one side the objective standard of sin, which is the law of God, and determining the nature and importance of sin subjectively by the feeling of guilt, which in its turn again depends on the knowledge of and the love for the moral ideal, and itself forms an important factor in moral progress. It is true that the strength of all these endeavors is drawn from theory of the descent of man from the animal. But as to this theory, it is worthy of notice: (1) that it is up to the present day a hypothesis, and is proved by no single observation, whether direct or indirect; (2) that the fossils of prehistoric men, found in Germany, Belgium, France and elsewhere have demonstrated the low degree of culture in which these men have lived, but in no sense their dissimilarity with mankind of today (W. Branca, Der Stand unserer Kenntnisse vom fossilen Menschen, Leipzig, 1910); (3) that the uncivilized and prehistoric man may be as little identified with the first man as the unjustly so-called nature-people and children under age; (4) that the oldest history of the human race, which has become known through the discoveries at Babylon in the last century, was not that of a state of barbarism, but of high and rich culture (D. Gath Whitley, “What was the Primitive Condition of Man?” Princeton Theol. Review, October, 1906; J. Orr, God's Image in Man, 1906); (5) that the acceptance of theory of descent as a universal and unlimited rule leads to the denial of the unity of the human race, in a physical and also in an intellectual, moral and religious sense. For it may be possible, even in the school of Darwin, to maintain the unity of the human race so long a time as tradition exercises its influence on the habit of mind; but theory itself undermines its foundation and marks it as an arbitrary opinion. From the standpoint of evolution, there is not only no reason to hold to the “of one blood” ofAct 17:26 the King James Version, but there has never even been a first man; the transition from animal to man was so slow and successive, that the essential distinction fails to be seen. And with the effacing of this boundary, the unity of the moral ideal, of religion, of the laws of thought and of truth, fails also; theory of evolution expels the absolute everywhere and leads necessarily to psychologism, relativism, pragmatism and even to pluralism, which is literally polytheism in a religious sense. The unity of the human race, on the other hand, as it is taught in holy Scripture, is not an indifferent physical question, but an important intellectual, moral and religious one; it is a “postulate” of the whole history of civilization, and expressly or silently accepted by nearly all historians. And conscience bears witness to it, in so far as all men show the work of the moral law written in their hearts, and their thoughts accuse or excuse one another (Rom 2:15); it shows back to the Fall as an “Urthatsache der Geschichte.”
4. The Character of the Fall
What the condition and history of the human race could hardly lead us to imagine, holy Scripture relates to us as a tragic fact in its first pages. The first man was created by God after His own image, not therefore in brutish unconsciousness or childlike naïveté, but in a state of bodily and spiritual maturity, with understanding and reason, with knowledge and speech, with knowledge especially of God and His law. Then was given to him moreover a command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This command was not contained in the moral law as such; it was not a natural but a positive commandment; it rested entirely and only on God's will and must be obeyed exclusively for this reason. It placed before man the choice, whether he would be faithful and obedient to God's word and would leave to Him alone the decision as to what is good or evil, or whether he would reserve to himself the right arbitrarily to decide what is good or evil. Thus the question was: Shall theonomy or autonomy be the way to happiness? On this account also the tree was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It did not bear this name in the sense that man might obtain from it the empirical knowledge of good and evil, for by his transgression he in truth lost the empirical knowledge of good. But the tree was so named, because man, by eating of it and so transgressing God's commandment, arrogated to himself “die Fähigkeit zur selbständigen Wahl der Mittel, durch die man sein Glück schaffen will”: “the capacity of independent choice of the means by which he would attain his happiness” (Köberle, Sünde und Gnade im relig. Leben des Volkes Israel bis auf Christenrum, 1905, 64). Theonomy, as obedience to God from free love, includes as such the idea and the possibility of autonomy, therefore that of antinomy also.
But it is the free act and therefore the guilt of man that has changed the possibility into reality. For the mind, there remains here an insoluble problem, as much in the question, why God allowed this Fall to take place, as in the other, how man, created in the likeness of God, could and did fall. There is a great deal of truth in the often-expressed thought, that we can give no account of the origin of sin, because it is not logical, and does not result as a conclusion drawn from two premises. But facts are brutal. What seems logically impossible often exists in reality. The laws of moral life are different from those of thought and from those also of mechanical nature. The narrative in Gen 3, in any case, is psychologically faithful in the highest degree. For the same way as it appears there in the first man, it repeatedly takes place among ourselves (Jam 1:14, Jam 1:15). Furthermore we ought to allow God to justify Himself. The course of revelation discovers to faith how, through all the ages, He holds sin in its entire development in His own almighty hands, and works through grace for a consummation in which, in the dispensation of the fullness of times, He will gather together in one all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). (J. Orr, Sin as a Problem of Today, London, 1910.)
Taken from: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor