Adam and Eve and the beginning of conscience
Story Found In: Genesis chapters 2 and 3
Summary: The First Man and Woman, Adam (Red) and Eve (Mother) get the gift of conscience but at a great price. The story of Adam and Eve is the first to show us that Humanity does not
trust God. We also learn from this story that people trust “what seems good in one’s eyes” no matter what God says. The story tells us that humanity is not alone; a Tempter exists who also
brings about humanity’s troubles.
The story of Adam and Eve is told in Genesis Chapter 2 and 3. Let's examine the story together. According to Moses, there was region in the East called Eden. In Eden, God made a special garden. A river flowed through Eden and made its way into the garden. This river divided into 4 smaller rivers. Moses gives us the names of the rivers, their location and geological traits, including the natural gems and metals that are found there. It is in this fertile valley that God puts Adam and Eve and the garden.
The garden has beautiful fruit trees. Among these trees were two trees that had unique qualities. One tree's had the power to give immortal life and was called the Tree of Life. The fruit of the other tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, had the power to make Adam and Eve know what was right and what was wrong. These two trees showed Adam and Eve what they lacked. The Tree of Life showed them that did not live forever. The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil showed them that they did not have a Conscience and did know understand the difference between right and wrong. God did not hide their imperfection from them. In fact, he gave them the power to decide what kind of creatures they could be.
We get only a few glimpses of what Adam and Eve were like before they ate the fruit. We know, for instance, that they had a purpose: caring for the earth and the animals. As caretakers of the earth, they might have understood zoology and agriculture. They might have even invented various tools. They lived in communication with all living things. They had food and --mostimportantly-- they had an open and honest relationship with God.
We don't know how long Adam and Eve lived in the garden before the Fall. The Bible doesn't say. We are later told that Adam had Seth when he was 130. Working backward, that might tell us something, but not too much. They might have lived in the garden for two weeks, five years, fifty years. We don't know if Adam and Eve had sexual intercourse while they were in the garden but since the command to replenish the earth was given before Adam and Eve ate the fruit, we might assume that they did. We don't know if Adam and Eve sinned or not. The
important point is this: if they sinned, they did not know it. At that time, they had no knowledge of good or evil, If they shirked their duty, they wouldn't have felt any compunction about it because they did not know right from wrong. We are told that Adam and his wife were both naked and they were not ashamed.
After God created Man --and before he created Eve-- God gave Adam an unusual command. He told Adam, "You must not eat of it. If you eat of this tree, you will surely die." The ten commandments did not exist yet. This was the first and only thing humans were prohibited from doing. As you read the Bible, more and more laws will be added-- laws such as the Ten Commandments and laws against murder. But in the beginning there was only one forbidden act for mankind: they should not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
It's important to remember that Adam and Eve knew they were neither immortal nor immortal at this time. They were not beings who lived forever but neither were they capable of dying. They were given the power to choose immortality or to choose death. The animals were given instincts; the seeds of plants were commanded to reproduce after their own kind. But Adam and Eve were given the gift of deciding what kinds of beings they could become.
These were their choices:
They could choose to
(A) EAT OF THE TREE OF LIFE ONLY.
If they chose this fruit, they would presumably live forever. Whether or not they would have gotten an understanding of good and evil after sometime is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the tree of life would've given them some kind of conscience, but not the kind that would lead to death. But we do not know. In this scenario, shame might never have entered the picture, nor
moral self-judgment, nor the Law.
Adam and Eve could choose B) To not eat of either tree. Interestingly, during their stay in the garden, Adam and Eve seemed to have had no inclination to touch the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Perhaps, their respect for God kept them away from it. But neither did they seem inclined to eat of the tree of life, either. Perhaps they would not have eaten either fruit of their own volition. Perhaps, one day, they would've gotten around to eating one of the fruits.
But a third agency pops into the story. The third agency is the Snake. You might already know that the Serpent is considered a symbol of Satan. Many modernist Christians have said that Satan is simply a symbol of human sinfulness. Others believe Satan to be an entity separate from humanity. At this point, let us assume that the evil comes from outside of the human circle.
It is interesting to note that the Tempter doesn't tempt Eve to eat of the tree of Life. Reread the temptations and let us examine them. First the snake asks Eve several questions
before he tempts her. His first question is: "Did God tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?"
Why does he ask this question? Does he already know God told them this question? Or has he simply guessed that God has told them this? Or is he hinting that Adam didn’t hear God’s commands correctly? It is almost as if the Snake is a spy searching out the enemy. He is exploring how God relates to these beings. Eve's reply is: "God said we can eat from any tree. But we shouldn't eat or touch the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or we will surely die." (Note, Eve includes the word "Touch." God did not forbid touching the fruit, only eating it.) Perhaps, Eve's fear of doing the wrong thing made her extend the prohibition. One Bible writer, Paul, has written "the woman was deceived but Adam sinned." (You will read about Paul when you move further into the Bible). We don't know if Adam was the one who told Eve not to "touch" the fruit or if she added this little legal addition herself. But we DO know that the Serpent moved in for the kill.
The Serpent's temptation is a tricky strategy. He begins by making Eve doubt her own knowledge of the law. At the same time, he causes her to doubt God's goodness and God's good
intentions toward her. The serpent knows that distrust is a poison that ruins relationships. This is the first time where we see that humans have trouble believing that God means them well.
Adam and Eve begin by distrusting God’s knowledge of the consequence of eating the fruit, then move on to distrusting His intentions, then --at last-- assume that God is a jealous liar who is out to cheat them of something that is good for them. Moses is showing us that this is the basic
human attitude towards the Biblical God.
The Serpent says quite bluntly and explicitly that God is jealous and unwilling to share of
his power and his glory. The CEV (Contemporary English Version) translates the temptation as "You will see what you have done and you will know the difference between right and wrong, just as God does." This kind of temptation should really have fallen with a thud to the earth. After all, God had shared so much of himself already. But Eve is already staring at the fruit.
The Serpent also challenges God's knowledge of how things work. He implies that God is lying (or ignorant) about the consequences. Eve will not “surely” die. But the Serpent's biggest temptation is "You will be as God is." He appeals to her physical and spiritual appetites. The fruit tastes good, it makes her be as wise as God and she will not "surely die."
So Eve eats the fruit and gives some to her husband. Later, she would tell God that the Devil "tricked" her. But she is being a bit easy on herself. The truth is the temptation had worked quite well. This is not a mere victim of a terrible trick. This was a being who had taken it upon herself to judge God’s goodness and His motives. Eve had decided that God was not "doing good" by her and Adam. She had "judged" God as being incapable of handling the lives of humanity. He was therefore incapable of telling her what to do. He was not to be trusted to
speak the truth or to rule her life. Eve felt God was not to be obeyed. God didn't want to share of His creation or Himself. His ideas about the world were at odds with hers (and the serpent's.)
Adam and Eve’s trust in God was now tattered it never occurred to them to go to God and say, "I want to be wise and yet not die. Is there something you can do about this?" The only way they could see out of their predicament was all-out disobedient to God’s command. Her human judgment of the world was better than God's divine decree. Therefore, God was in the wrong.
No, Eve was not merely tricked; Eve rebelled. I’m stressing this point --and perhaps overstressing it— because this is a point the Bible writers make over and over again.
After they ate the fruit, Shame appeared. Their eyes were opened and they knew the difference between good and evil. Unfortunately, along with self-knowledge, came the knowledge of how imperfect they really are. Either they can handle the truth or they can’t. As you will see in the story of Adam and Eve --and also with the story of Cain and Abel-- the more a
person understands the rules of the game, the more he or she realizes how badly they’re playing.
The knowledge of God’s goodness and of their own imperfection lead people to Shame came self-rationalizations and the need to appear blameless. In the case of Adam and Eve, the knew knowledge made them see that they were physically naked and unequal to God. They were created beings and nothing more.
They took fig leaves in order to hide their nakedness. And they hid from the God they had formerly spoken to quite freely. But as He walked in the garden in the cool of the evening, God called out to them and asked them a question. I’d like to take a moment to comment on this divine trait of asking questions.
Throughout the Bible, in confrontation after confrontation, the Bible writers portray God as asking questions of guilty parties. From His question to Eve, (“What is this that you’ve done?”) to his questioning of Cain (“Where is your brother?”) to his questioning of Jonah (“Do you do well to be angry?”) God’s curious trait shows up in Bible book after Bible book. God rarely accuses. Only The Accuser of the Brethren and judgemental Christians accuse. I’ll take a moment at this God said, "Adam, where are you?" To Eve, after the Fall, he said, "What is this that you have done?" In fact, God asked
questions of all guilty parties except the Deceiver.
Adam and Eve blame each other and the Serpent. In turn, God tells them the consequences of their actions. Many people believe that God is putting a curse on Adam and Eve. But this is a misconception. God is not telling them what He will do to them. He is telling them what consequences their own actions have brought upon them. The Bible often uses the symbol of a seed to describe an act that has future consequences. There are good seeds and bad seeds, each bring forth its own kind of fruit. The word “seed” is also used to describe descendants or sperm. In this situation, God also promises Adam and Eve a savior through the "seed of the woman" The Deliverer would come from the female line. Moses gives us a small description of The Deliverer who would be mankind's hope of crushing the serpent. This deliverer would be wounded and bruised in the heel by the serpent. Yet the deliverer/savior would crush the serpent's head.
After Adam and Eve are told about the consequences of their actions, God sends them out of the garden. He also does something else. He places a guard around the Tree of Life so that Adam and Eve might not eat from it. Moses gives us His reasons: Remember that other tree? God is preventing Adam and Eve from eating from both trees. One wonders why. Is He being selfish as the Serpent so subtly hinted? Or is something else going on? Is God trying to protect humanity from even greater harm? It’s important to remember something: God didn't say
that death came to those who ate of the tree of conscience and failed to live up to the definition of good. Adam and Eve's ability to be good (to obey all the laws they had knowledge of) wouldn't have mattered! If they had eaten of the tree of conscience/moral law and been good all their lives, the pronouncement, "thou shalt surely die" would still be in place!
We don't know what an immortal mankind would be like but as you read the Bible, you will get a few glimpses of what might have been. You will learn about the fallen angels. These angels are evil and immortal.
Here are a few thoughts that come to mind:
1. You will not "surely die."
Some people believe that "death is a part of the large cycle of life." Others believe in reincarnation and consider death to be one of the paths to spiritual evolution or balance (karma).
But the Bible says that death is not a wonderful divine plan. In fact, the Bible believes that Death is not meant to be part of the picture at all. Death, Scripture says, is a horrible, cruel, nasty curse. It is something to be hated, not something to be loved and praised.
2. Has God said?
Disbelief in God’s words is a major Bible theme. In the Bible, people often believe that God exists. Their problem is that they do not trust anything He says. This disbelief of God's
words is a common Biblical theme. The Prophets are always calling God’s people to believe God’s word or to trust God’s love and good intentions. It is quite common for people to accuse God of something they would not accuse their worst enemy of. For instance, although the Bible says God is a good God who wants His people to be healthy, I have heard people say that God
gave them cancer so that they would appreciate life better. I have even heard theologians say that the fall was a good thing God used to raise humanity into consciousness of good and evil. But God said it was a bad thing that happened.
3. The third lie is this: You will become like God knowing good and evil. Many people nowadays believe that given enough time and knowledge, humans will evolve into something wonderful. Whatever the means --the study of science, philosophy, psychology, esoteric wisdom-- humans aim to be like God. Many science stories and science facts promise us that humans have a better and brighter future awaiting us. But the twentieth century has proven that newfound wisdom often leads to more trouble. The study of genetics led to Hitler’s idea of the ideal race and to entrenched American racism. The discovery of atomic power led to Hiroshima. The discovery of the powers of flight led to fighter planes and air-borne missiles. The Bible is quite cynical about the human ability to use knowledge.
Some people believe that if they were to live long enough, they would become quite good at the end of their lives. In the chapter on the flood, you will learn about the people who lived
long lives. But they were mortal and died at last. Moses shows us that although they were long-lived, their longevity merely deepened their evil behavior.
Here are a few more thoughts for you to ponder:
1. Many Christians speak about Original Sin and the Fall of Man. There are varying ideas of what Original Sin actually means. The typical westerner is not likely to understand the concept of generational or family curses. However we do understand the idea of dysfunctional families. An alcoholic mother, for instance, can cause trouble for generations to come. Original Sin is a lot like that. The basic idea of Original Sin are these: (A) no human being is perfect and (B) humans cannot understand God’s ways.
2. St. Augustine writes in City of God that eating of the forbidden fruit implies sexual intercourse. Other interpreters have even gone so far as to say that Eve had sex with a snake.
3. Some people might find the idea of a snake/human conversation slightly odd. They might tell themselves that this is a mere "fairy-story." Many talking animals pop up in Scripture. We hear that at the end of time, “the lion will lie down with the lamb while a little child will lead them.” Perfect communication between man and animal (and plant life for that matter) is a human hope.
In the case of this particular story, it's unclear if (A) this snake is Satan in disguise. Or (B) the serpent allowed Satan to use his body for a while. Or (C) Satan came as an angel of light and the Serpent is merely the holy writers' nickname for Satan.
4. Moses tells us that God was walking in the cool of the evening. This is the first of many old testament references to God walking among men. Other references include God's visit to
Abraham on the road to Sodom. Others will say that Moses has made God into man’s image. Christians have no problem with the idea of God “walking” in a garden. God is a being who is
not bound by time and space.
5. Many religions share the same ideas about a sin committed by the world’s first parents in that was so atrocious that it changed man’s status in the universe forever. Many religions and myths also believe in a Great Tempter/Trickster/Bringer of Truth
Many of the world's religions also speak about a Deliverer or a coming World Savior. There is for instance the idea of the wounded healer, the savior who comes from a higher place who saves those below him. This Deliverer type is found in religions: Buddha, for instance was a prince who condescended to help the poor. Jesus is God who becomes man in order to lift humanity up to God again.
The Bible’s description of the coming savior begins with Genesis with a description of a wounded deliverer. This continues throughout the Bible, where more and more clues are added to Who this Deliverer will be. The Deliverer is found in the religion of other cultures. This hope would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
As you analyzed the Adam and Eve story, you probably remembered sermons in which ministers said that the snake is a symbol of Satan. Ministers might also have said that this very snake was Satan, the Tempter himself. Who is this snake? And who is Satan?
Many cultures have stories of Beings who bring knowledge to mankind. In our modern culture, we also have it. Let us call these “bringers of knowledge” “LIGHT-BRINGERS” after the Greek myth in which Prometheus brought fire to mankind. Some cultures have Light-bringers who are living or dead humans, godlike beings, semi-divine. In our age, we have seen many self-styled human light-bringers. The British writer, Kipling, told his fellow Englishmen to “take up the white man’s burden” and civilize the darker nations. Modern Westernized feminists now “take up the white woman’s burden” and go to different countries to enlighten men and women of foreign countries on women’s rights. Their ideas of women rights are seen as more enlightened than the cultural ideas prevalent in those “backward” foreign countries.
In many cultures, semi-divine light-bringers bring Truth, Light, Wisdom and Power to man. We will discuss these light-bringers only in so far as they compare or contrast with the Christian concept. In the Judeo-Christian religion, this creature is the snake. Christian tradition and later Christian Scripture will refer to this being as Lucifer.
But creation myths often speak of other entities who involve themselves in man's welfare. These other entities are man's adversary. They come to cause trouble to humanity. Sometimes
the Adversaries are mere Tricksters: they have a little fun at man’s expense but they do not mean any harm. They are unpredictable, but they do not hate mankind and have no intense desire to destroy man. Such Trickster adversaries are the Native American Coyote and the African Anansi. But there are times when the Adversary is evil, pure and simple with a major aim: the destruction of mankind. These myths are common.
Some scholars of myth would say that perhaps the frequency of the Adversary myth shows an open secret: mankind “knows” it has a
powerful spiritual enemy. Other cultural scholars will simply say that man cannot explain why life is so complicated for him and so he invents a devil. The Christian believes in the concept of the spiritual enemy. Christianity calls this spiritual enemy “Satan.” The word Satan means “the adversary.” Satan is also called the tempter, the devil, and The Accuser of the Brethren.
In the Greek myths, Prometheus, the Bringer of Light to mankind, means mankind well. He has no problem with mankind. His act is an act of kindness. Unllike, the Greek Gods who are a willful spiteful selfish lot who continually manage and mess up mankind’s affairs, Prometheus has good will towards humanity. In Norse mythology, the adversary Loki attacks humanity as a way of getting back at the gods in Valhalla, whom he hates. He is adversarial toward mankind and he doesn’t bring any light to man whatsoever. In Greek mythology, there is Nemesis who is one of the minor gods who continually brings humanity before the court of justice.
These types are in many cultures. But in the Judeo-Christianity, we have an interesting concept. Lucifer, the star of the morning IS the Accuser of the Brethren before God. The Tempter/snake, the one who opens mankind to wisdom and Light is also Satan, the Adversary. The Adversary, the Tempter, the Light-Bringer and the Accuser are all the same being.
One is tempted to ask: “Why does the Bible do such a strange thing? Moreover, why does it declare so insistently that the “Good gift” which the serpent brought to mankind --Conscience--is really not so good at all?
One of the important truths of the Adam and Eve story, and indeed all of Scripture is this: man is quite unable to be good without God’s help. In the Adam and Eve story, Satan tempted man to take on the responsibility of a moral conscience. By tempting mankind to acquire knowledge of morality and conscience, he opened a trap for them. Humanity is now tempted to believe in its ability to “handle the truth.” Humanity believes it is capable of complete holiness.
The temptation is simple. Adam and Even know what goodness and evil is. They can know aim for Godhood. Someone might say, But why is the Light Bringer also the “Accuser? What does the
Accuser accuse humankind of? This is the catch: The Accuser/Satan accuses humans of an inability to be good. And at the same time, the Accuser tempts humanity to judge good and evil
by its own human appetites, rationalizations and emotional and spiritual needs.
What does this lead to? Scripture says that for humans, this spiritual trap, leads to shame or self-deception or pride. Even worse, it leads to spiritual death. In the Garden of Eden, the
entry of truth created self-knowledge which led to Shame. Adam and Eve realized that they were naked. This is more than physical nakedness, although that too is implied. They develop a
realization of their spiritual nakedness. They are not as good as God is. They are not as good as they can be. The requirements of goodness is hard to follow. And the complexities of Evil is like a slippery slope beneath their feet. In Hinduism, the idea of the Karmic wheel describes this situation best. Karma is not a ladder as Americans like to believe. The Hindus believe it to be a wheel from which few can escape. In short, the American idea of karma as an upward evolution toward goodness is more American progressivism than Hinduism.
Many years ago, the Hindu culture invented the game of Snakes & Ladder to teach the spiritual truth of the wheel. One virtue (a ladder) can move one up along the wheel of Karma but at the same time, another snake-like vice is pulling one down. As you can see, the symbol of the snake is potent in many religions. Today the American version of the game has been made spiritually benign and meaningless. The snakes have become “chutes.” Someone might say, “But doesn’t God also show us the evil of our ways? Isn’t God also an Adversary? Doesn’t he thwart our way sometimes?” Good question. True, the Biblical God often thwarts humanity. Yet the difference is quite simple: God wants to help mankind to be good. God wants humanity to be like Him. God helps the good, but Satan tempts and condemns those who truly want to be good. In the story of Job, the Adversary/Tempter didn't believe in Job's goodness.
In addition, the Biblical God does not leave mankind helpless. The Adversary (Satan) shows mankind the light but leads us to reach it by ourselves. Or even worse, he leads people toward the darkness. The Biblical God works stands “alongside” each human and helps lead people to holiness. As you read the Bible, you will come across some of St Paul’s letters. In one of them, he writes, “Who will save us from knowledge of the law? Who will save us from our own inability to do what is right? Is there no way to know the truth and to be capable of doing
it?” He then praises God for helping to save him from the burden and power of the knowledge of good and evil.
I’d like to make one of my little sidesteps into present-day spirituality and discuss UFO’s. Why UFO’s? Because in the myths of modern man, the “enlightened alien” is often viewed as a
light-bringer. In fact, aliens fall in well with the light-bringer myth. In the popular imagination, aliens are often rescuers of the earth who descend from the skies to “help mankind” or save humanity from its destructive path. The modern UFO alien often lives in a void which leaves God out of the picture. Often God does not exist because we ourselves will evolve into God (or gods) one day. Or God as we know him was really someone from another planet.
There is something else. Often these aliens fall into one of two categories. They are either good aliens who want to help we Earthers out. Or they are bad aliens who want to steal what is rightfully ours, namely our resources and even our very bodies. (Bad aliens are notoriously parasitical and carnivorous for some reason.) The good (Light-bringing) aliens want to take care of us simply because they are so loving and caring and intelligent, it's their natural way. The bad (adversarial aliens) often think that we shouldn't have the earth because they want it.
In the optimistic days of the original Star Trek, earth astronauts were often the light-bringers. They wandered into other worlds and enlightened them. But in modern science fiction
and in the modern popular conception, it is now we earthlings who need help and enlightenment. But what is wrong with this picture. From a Scriptural viewpoint, the UFO phenomenon
is another case of man attempting to be godlike. Such is our deep-felt belief that Light and Truth are connected, we once again equate mental, intellectual, technological to spiritual evolution and a movement towards godhead and perfection.
Aliens and UFO’s are always smart technologically. And often depictions of good “light-bringing” aliens show them as having a kind of holy sweetness to them. We believe that the smarter and the more “wise,” we become through the help of these aliens the more good and holy we will be. But this is precisely what the Christian tradition is out to disprove. The Bible does not believe that intelligence, education, or knowledge has anything to do with goodness and holiness or spiritual evolvement. In fact, human knowledge is always highly suspect, as is humanity’s pride in its goodness.
When you reach the gospels --the books in the Christian Bible that speak of Jesus— you will read Jesus’s description of the Devil. The Devil is called the Father or Lies, a thief and a
murderer who comes to steal, kill, and to destroy. Quite often, the Tempter tempts humanity through human wisdom and human ideals. We will see this in the first story of a great human
ideal: the offering of a perfect worship to God. This is the story of mankind’s first religious war: the story of Cain and Abel.