The Fatal Conversation: In Adam’s Fall, We Fell


Genesis 3

In this simple, but riveting text, God shows how the world became a place of deceit, corruption, bloodshed, idolatry, disbelief, and betrayal. Why is terror, murder, and systemic hatred justified in the minds of some? Why does the execution of true justice sometimes involve death? Why do people find evil humorous and holiness an object of ridicule? Why do we so easily embrace a system that has disdain for the worldview of Scripture and readily find the standard of righteousness set forth in Scripture tiresome and unappealing? Why do we exalt human consciousness and immediate desires as the sole adjudicator of public morality? The foundation for this inside-out, upside-down, self-centered, God-hating world rests on the narrative before us.

I. The progressive nature of the temptation.

A. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”

We are not told how the serpent came to be given this degree of personhood, but Satan’s habitation of this particular beast for this purpose is attested in other places in Scripture. In Revelation 20:2 he is called “the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan” (See also Revelation 12:9). The language could be translated, “Now that serpent was become more crafty,” indicating that the ability of language, rationality, subtlety was an expression of Satan overtaking that particular serpent on this occasion for this critical engagement with the creature made in the image of God. Before the fear of reptiles became intuitive, perhaps the form of the serpent was one of the more fascinating, intriguing, artistic, and lovely forms of all the creatures and so could readily gain the interest of Eve. Since the “Seraphim” in other places in Scripture actually are flying snakes, it could be that Eve had conversed with angels in the garden that had a lovely serpent form and was not surprised or frightened at all by the serpent beginning such a conversation. The word crafty includes an attractive demeanor and an artistic approach. There is a façade of wisdom bolstered by intellect and critical thinking. These good gifts and pleasant qualities are put to use by this fallen angel in a grand scheme to deceive. He is a thief who has come to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10).

B. Verse 1b – He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

Satan used an abrupt, but subtly indefinite, approach to engaging Eve in this fatal conversation. Did God actually forbid something to you? You, the highest of his creatures, clearly superior in form and spirit to any other creature, given responsibility to tend this garden, have something under your care of which you may not partake? It would seem, so Satan reasoned, that if all things are under your feet (Genesis 1:26, 29; Psalm 8:6), there would be nothing outside your personal authority.

C. Verses 2 and 3 – And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Eve responded with a clear perception of what God had commanded.

    1. First, she recognized that God had given permission for them to eat of the fruit of the trees. She emphasized the positive goodness of God toward them in giving them from his own creation the sustenance they needed. She did not fall into a questioning of the goodness of God by first pointing to the prohibition but recognized the exuberant permission.
    2. She does not exaggerate the prohibition, the circumstances involved in it, or the consequences.
      • The prohibition of eating was clear (Genesis 2:17).
      • She knew the location of the tree, alongside the tree of life in the midst of the garden (Genesis 2:9). Scripture describes these in the same way that Eve perceived it at the consummation of the temptation: “pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9).
      • Certainly, in God’s goodness, the implication of not touching was present, for to pick and eat the first step would have to be touching it. Their not eating that fruit meant that they were not to pick it or disturb the tree in any way. We are not to interpret God’s goodness to us and the freedom that he grants us as license for absolute personal autonomy and the impossibility of doing evil (Galatians 5:13-15); we are to make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14), nor give the devil any opportunity (Ephesians 4:27).
      • The promise of death also was clear. They could not perceive all that such a threatened punishment meant, but that it was the opposite of the life they had was clear. Eve’s grasp of the divine command in this case was accurate and did not indicate any sort of dissatisfaction with God’s restriction..

D. Verses 4 and 5 – But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

    1. Satan challenged the result of eating the fruit and instead of death, substituted a likeness to God as the result. Surely, God would not exact such a price for such a trivial experiment. His care for you is too great to exact a sentence of death when he has but recently made you living beings. He sets before Eve the possibility of a deeper sharing of the life of God and a likeness to God in their discernment of good and evil.
    2. He seems to appeal to a desire intrinsic to our being made in the image of God, by saying that we will be like him. Already made in his image, and without any propensity to evil, but not yet perfected in righteousness or immutable in holiness, the likeness to God would be a goal towards which Adam and Eve knew they were to pursue. Satan proposed a quicker path toward their ultimate goal. Even the name of the tree (2:9) seemed to indicate an advance in the knowledge of good and a deeper discernment of what is evil, so as to avoid it.

E. Verse 7— “So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

    • Drawing her motivation from the intrinsic attractiveness of the tree, the name by which it was called, and the direction in which Satan had turned the consideration, she both touched and ate the fruit and drew her husband into the act.
      • As God had made it, and as it appeared in light of the character of the other fruit on other trees, it was good for food.
      • It was pleasing to the eyes; color and contour made it lovely to behold and increased the anticipation of its taste.
      • From its name, and from the light in which Satan had put the outcome, she believed that she would see more clearly the true nature of wisdom and have such a knowledge of good and evil that she could discern personally what should be done and what should not be done. In this, she would be like God. What she had been deceived into thinking was this: God wanted her, like him, to be able autonomously to perceive what was good and bad and have the final standard of conduct in her own perceptions.
      • We should note that Jesus resisted each of these temptations in his confrontation with Satan in the wilderness. He tempted Jesus to satisfy his appetite prior to the end of the testing; he showed him the spectacular beauty of the world empires and promised him dominance over them; he reinterpreted a promise of God and turned it into an enticement to dishonor God by performing an unwarranted and presumptuous attempt to show that he had divine favor prior to his living a course of perfect obedience out of unalloyed love for the Father and his revealed will (Matthew 4:1–11; See also 1 John 2:15).
      • These three elements of Eve’s contemplation, under Satan’s instigation, are defined by John as “all that is in the world:” The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). As a result of the fall, these three areas of human perception have become motivated by “lust.” This is manifested as an inordinate, self-centered quest for physical pleasure, worldly approval and recognition, and execution of challenges that satisfy the autonomous ego.
      • Eve fell into sin, not through a corrupted heart: the disobedience that would result in that corruption had not yet occurred. For her and Adam, deceit led to disobedience to the positive command. Corruption of soul was one of the consequences of such disobedience and now constitutes an accompanying element of the course of sin constantly flowing from the human soul. James reminds us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14), or as Paul stated “you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness,” and “when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” (Romans 6:19, 20).


II. Verses 7 and 8 – The immediate effect of gaining the knowledge of good and evil.

A. Exactly as Satan had said, but with radically destructive implication, “the eyes of both of them were opened.”

No longer were they “naked and unashamed” but they were ashamed and intent on covering their sense of being exposed. The absolute transparency of both body and spirit toward each other immediately was destroyed. The element of deceit, the sense of self-protection as a first instinct entered their souls and began to operate as a first principle of action.

B. Instead of becoming like God, they desired to hide from him. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

This is the first appearance of the traits that adhere to man in his fallen state: “though they knew God, they did not honor him as God; . . . Professing to be wise, they became fools; . . . They exchanged the truth of God for a lie; . . . They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer.” And, like Satan, they ignore the verdict of death that justly adheres to disobedience and sin while encouraging others to do the same: “And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:21–32).


III. The curse of death descends on them, their posterity, and the earth from which they were formed.

A. Verses 8–13 – Their conversation with God is filled with fear, shame, accusation, and a defensive unrepentant spirit.

    1. “Walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (8) indicates that their daily assignment of subduing the earth and their manifestation of dominion (1:28) was accomplished by evening and a relaxed and joyful time of the personal presence of their Creator had come. That the man and woman found a place to hide indicates that normally God appeared to them in an open place in the garden.
    2. The initial question, “Where are you,” does not reflect ignorance on the part of God. It was a query designed to convict Adam that his condition of joyful anticipation and eager presence before the glorious God had been altered. Normally in the condition of positive innocence, nothing need be hidden from God; now he hid his very self.
    3. He confesses that his self-perception has changed. His awareness of himself in relation to everything else has changed. Shame has entered his consciousness, and conscience now harbors an area of true guilt. Hide! Don’t let anyone or anything see that you have worshipped and served the creature over the Creator!
    4. How did you come about this shadow of shame and attempted denial? Who told you that no longer could you be natural, open, and transparent before the good creation and its infinitely good Creator? Or is your knowledge of the need for shame and hiding arising from your own soul, a sense of evil that you formerly did not have?
    5. Introducing a pattern that will grow and intensify in days, years decades, centuries, and millennia to come, Adam blames another creature and insinuates that God himself is at fault: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” This was supposed to be the creature fit for me; You made her from my own body and she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. How could I not receive her offer as a good thing to do?
    6. To the woman, God inquired, “What is this that you have done? Surrounded by beauty and broad permission of enjoyment, you have done the one thing prohibited.” “I meant no harm nor disrespect for your authority, but the beautiful talking creature deceived me about the purpose of the command and the outcome of disobeying it. His argument seemed so plausible. I ate.”
    7. Though seeking to shift blame, the woman is telling the truth about the event. Though the disobedience arose from her being the victim of deceit, she, nevertheless, was charged with transgression. This event became a paradigm to Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:2–4: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Paul is warning against false teachers and the danger of being led away from their pure devotion to Christ, and their true knowledge of who Christ is, by such teachers. He is contrasting the authority and purity of his teaching as an apostle, as that which they had believed (a wholesome, inspired, and wholly sound doctrine), with the false speculative teachings of these self-appointed apostles. By deceit, they could be led from a state of purity and sincere, or unalloyed, devotion to Christ, to a different and, thus, corrupted and destructive position. So the case is that Eve, even as she stated, was deceived.

B. Satan is given no opportunity to speak, but the judgment begins immediately with a pronouncement of a curse that shows his status of ultimate shame and defeat (14).

    1. Though the words are addressed to the serpent, they are to be understood as directed to Satan. The humiliation of the serpent is parabolic of the ultimate demise and embodiment of hatred that will finally be the eternal state of the angelic adversary. Though a glorious figure in his creation, Satan will be the lowest of all in esteem and the greatest of curses falls on him. His initial exaltation and his rebellion against the glory of God and the right of absolute and eternal rule intrinsic to God’s self-existence and infinite excellence, not a derived excellence like that of this fallen angel, makes him more culpable and more to be despised than any other thing in all of creation.
    2. Genesis 3:15 is called the protevangelium, the first announcement of the gospel. Satan’s attempt at overthrow and dominance, his plan to foil God’s purpose in giving glory to his Son, will be to no avail. Instead, from the seed of the woman will arise one that, through the evil attempted even on the Son, all the devices and plans and intentions of Satan will come to nothing (Hebrews 2:14). Satan’s apparent advantage derived from God’s promise of death upon disobedience will be turned into a glorious display of God’s wisdom, grace, lovingkindness, and faithfulness. In Genesis 3:21, we are introduced to the manner in which our sin will be covered from the action of God in covering Adam’s and Eve’s nakedness through his taking the life of other creatures he had made. (1 Corinthians 1:18–23; Romans 3:21–26)

C. Because she was first in the transgression (1 Timothy 2:13, 14), God addresses her immediately after his words to the serpent. For the woman, her two most important relationships will cause pain and sorrow.

    1. Childbirth will be a painful experience. From conception through delivery, most women experience a variety of challenges connected with the changes in their bodies, then climaxed by the experience of birth itself.
    2. From what might have been, in the pre-fall days a virtually egalitarian relationship and certainly free from conflict, God now subjects the wife to the husband in two ways.
      • “Your desire shall be for your husband” indicates that, in some way, the focus a woman gives to her husband tends toward a cycle of lack of fulfillment—emotionally and physically. She desires his attention in numerous ways but finds that full contentment and confidence in the degree to which he understands her needs regularly falls short.
      • Secondly, God establishes the husband as the authority in the home and calls on wives to be subject to their husbands. Both of these conditions call for the wife to “hope in God” and not to expect their longings and desires to be met in their fullness by their husbands. See 1 Peter 3:1–6

D. Because Adam listened to the voice of his wife and thus disobeyed the command of God, the ground was cursed, bore thorns and thistles (was “subjected to futility” in “slavery to corruption” in the words of Romans 8:20, 21).

In very suggestive images in Romans 8:22, Paul refers to the curse on man and woman, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” The ground that was to yield the sustenance of life that eventually would become eternal life, sustains Adam’s life with reluctance. Eventually it will swallow the man and all his posterity back into its substance.

E. This transgression brought corruption and division into the four major relationships of the creature made in God’s image: his relation with God was broken, his relation with others, his relation with himself, and his relation to the world.

The first broken relation unremedied in a just and holy manner will result in eternal death. The second relationship unrestored by alteration of character will result in unrelenting conflict. The third relation left unsanctified will result in fragmentation of personhood and a solipsistic isolation. The fourth relation submitted to groaning, sweat, pain, and constant challenges to productivity will last until there is complete renovation of the planet (2 Peter 3). “Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14). That is not the condition in which God found Adam and Eve on the day of disobedience.

F. Verse 24 – In both judgment and mercy, God drove them out of Eden; he set a guard at its entrance with Cherubim and a flaming sword to keep them from the tree of life.

They would not experience the pleasures of Eden, were exiled to a fallen world, but were kept from living forever in the state of corruption and decay. For the believer, rescued from his death in trespasses and sins, physical death is a welcome reality. As Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”


Both the woman and the man in God found full delight.
They reveled in his gracious plan; his goodness filled their sight.

Fellowship at day’s end after joyful work at day,
Every joy would now commend and prove the fashioned clay.

First in evil, prone to lie, a fallen angel came;
Eve was told she would not die, to eat and feel no blame.

Reach for knowledge like your God, sense beauty, taste, be wise;
Give to Adam, made from sod, exult in open eyes.

God is true; all others lie. The serpent breathes deceit.
Man’s transgression brings their death, the devil’s plot complete.

Pleasant, happy, sinless task now altered by the curse.
Still the Lord may ask them, “Are you better now, or worse?”

The joy of bearing children will surely come with pain.
Briars and weeds pollute the soil, with sweat the man makes grain.

“Eat the dust that fathered man and fear the woman’s seed.
Your lying spirit fools your mind when you see him bleed.”

The serpent’s evil fit Jehovah’s plan to conquer death.
Matchless wisdom, bloody grace sustained in God’s own breath.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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