The Fall

FALL, THE. The Fall of man is narrated in Gen.3.1-Gen.3.24 as a historical fact, not as a myth. It stands in a context of historical facts. Though not alluded to again in the OT, it is regarded as historical in the NT (Rom.5.12-Rom.5.13; 1Cor.15.22; 1Tim.2.14). Some philosophers and theologians think the account is an allegory describing the awakening of man from a brute state of self-consciousness and personality—a fall upward, rather than downward, but such an explanation conflicts radically with biblical teaching. There is no doubt that Paul takes the account literally and sees in the Fall the origin of sin in the human race. The scriptural view of sin and of redemption takes the Fall for granted.

The Scriptures teach us that man was created in the image of God, with a rational and moral nature like God’s, with no inner impulse or drive to sin, and with a will free to do God’s will. There was, moreover, nothing in his environment to compel him to sin or to make sin excusable. In these circumstances, solicitation to sin could come only from outside. The Bible does not allow us to probe the mystery of the presence of sin in God’s fair universe; as in so many other things, it faces us with the practical reality, the voice of the Tempter coming to man from outside himself, the voice of the Serpent that the rest of the Bible recognizes as the voice of Satan.

The sin that constituted the Fall involved Adam and Eve in disobeying the word of God (Gen.3.1-Gen.3.4) and challenging the goodness of God by imputing to him an ill motive (Gen.3.5). But chiefly it consisted in disobeying the law of God. Such was the bounty of the Creator that the whole lavish richness of the Garden was open to man with only a single condition (Gen.2.16-Gen.2.17). The Fall was thus the breaking of the whole law of God. Equally involved in the Fall was the whole nature of man. Eve was first emotionally attracted to the forbidden fruit (Gen.3.6, “good for food and pleasing to the eye”); second, she was led into sin by the logic of her mind that contradicted the mind of God. He had said, “The tree of will surely die” (Gen.2.17). Eve appears to have said to herself that a tree of knowledge was bound to make those who partake wise. It was a question of God’s logic or man’s. Third, the Fall was an act of will: “she took...and ate it” (Gen.3.6). Emotions, mind, and will combined in the first sin. The whole law of God was broken by the whole nature of the sinner.

The effect of the Fall, as Gen.4.1-Gen.4.26 and the remainder of the Bible explicitly and implicitly bring out, was not merely immediate alienation from God for Adam and Eve, but guilt and depravity for all their posterity and the cursing of the earth. Redemption from the Fall and its effects is accomplished through the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rom.5.12-Rom.5.21; 1Cor.15.21-1Cor.15.22, 1Cor.15.45-1Cor.15.49).——SB and JAM

FALL, THE, refers to that event recorded in Genesis 3 (cf. Rom 5:12; 1 Tim 2:14) according to which our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell from the estate of integrity in which God had created them.

The occasion.

The focus of the temptation was direct assault upon the veracity and integrity of God (Gen 3:4, 5). It was not an impeachment of God’s knowledge nor merely a denial of His power. The tempter accused God of deception and deliberate falsehood. God, it was alleged, perpetrated a lie in order to preserve His own exclusive possession of the knowledge of good and evil. Herein lies the diabolical character of the allegation. The design was the destruction of man’s integrity by the breakdown of man’s belief in the integrity of God. The way of integrity is unreserved and unrelenting trust in God and the giving to Him of the sovereignty and finality that are exclusively His.

The cause.

Temptation was the occasion; it was not the cause. To be subjected to temptation is not sinful for the tempted. Embrace and acquiescence constitute sin. So it was with our first parents. Eve succumbed to the solicitation of the tempter and Adam to that of Eve.

The strategy of the tempter was to direct his solicitations to the woman. The silence of Scripture compels reserve concerning the reason. In the case of Eve, however, one is justified in tracing the process by which she came to the point of overt disobedience to the divine prohibition. Acquiescence in the allegation of the serpent and defection from God’s Word cannot be postponed beyond the point when she “saw that the tree...was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen 3:6 ASV) This demonstrates that the tempter had gained her trust; she accepted as true what was a blasphemous assault upon the veracity of God and came to regard the tree as desirable in the direction that contravened the divine prohibition. She served the creature rather than the Creator. Her failure to recoil with revulsion from the tempter’s “You will not die” (Gen 3:4) is evidence that defection had already taken place and that she exemplified the invariable psychology of sin that overt action proceeds from the inward disposition of heart (cf. Prov 23:7; Mark 7:21-23; James 1:14, 15). The eating of the forbidden fruit was the expression of an inward movement of apostasy at the instance of satanic beguilement. In the case of Adam there was a difference; he was not deceived (1 Tim 2:14). What the movement of his thought was cannot be defined. But the same principle must hold that the actual volition cannot be divorced from precedent disposition of mind and heart.

The prohibition imposed upon Adam and Eve (Gen 2:17) was for the purpose of proving the ultimate criterion of faith in God, unquestioning obedience to God’s commandment. In the prohibition were epitomized the sovereignty, authority, wisdom, goodness, justice, holiness, and truth of God. Transgression was no trivial offense; it was assault upon God’s majesty, repudiation of His sovereignty, doubt of His goodness, dispute with His wisdom, contradiction of His veracity. All along the line of God’s perfections it was what all sin is, the contradiction of God. Hence its gravity and the corresponding liabilities.

The consequences


Man’s dispositional complex was radically altered. The pivot on which this revolution turned was the changed attitude to God (3:7-10). Man was made for the presence and fellowship of God and in the presence of God would have found his supreme delight. Now he flees from God’s face; shame and fear took possession of his heart. “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved” (John 3:20 ASV).


God changed His relation to man. The reason for the rupture between God and man was man’s sin, but the rupture was not onesided. After Genesis 3:9 an aspect of God’s character is disclosed that previously was threatened to be in exercise (Gen 2:17) but had not been manifested and it appears in reproof, condemnation, curse, and retribution (Gen 3:14-19, 23, 24), the echoes of divine wrath. At the outset is the lesson that sin not only involves our changed attitude to God but also His changed attitude to us, not only our estrangement from God but also His alienation from us.


The Fall was an event in the spirit of man. It did not consist in physical disturbance or maladjustment, but it drastically affected the physical and non-spiritual. “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17). “The creation was subjected to vanity” (Rom 8:20 ASV). Man was the crown of creation and with his fall came the bondage of corruption for all over which he was to exercise dominion. Only with the consummation of redemption will the cosmos be released from the curse incident to man’s sin (cf. Rom 8:19-23; 2 Pet 3:13).


The sequel to the fall of Adam and Eve is the catalogue of sins in the unfolding history of mankind—envy, malice, murder, polygamy, violence. The result was cumulative and “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Gen 6:5) and it was “filled with violence” (6:13). History shows that Adam’s fall was not an isolated event but affected the whole race. Scripture reveals the reason and specifies the kind of solidarity existing between Adam and posterity explanatory of this consequence. Adam was not only the father of all mankind but he was also by divine institution the representative head. “Through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation...through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5:18, 19 ASV). As all died in Adam (1 Cor 15:22), so all sinned in Adam; “for the judgment came of one unto condemnation” (Rom 5:16 ASV; cf. 5:12, 15). All mankind is reckoned as participating with Adam in his sin and therefore in the depravity which his sin entailed. This is the Biblical explanation of universal sin, condemnation, and death and no other validation of racial involvement in sin is necessary or justifiable.


The historicity.

Much has been written in support of the thesis that Genesis 3 is myth or legend, not history but story, portraying what happens to all men but not an account of a unique, once-for-all series of events at the beginning of human history. Adam, it is alleged, is every man. We all sin as Adam sinned.

This might appear to be an acceptable and effective way of maintaining the Biblical doctrine that all have sinned, but the position is fraught with fallacies.

It is not true that all sin as Adam.

There is a radical difference between Adam and posterity. We all come to be as sinners; Adam and Eve did not. The beginning of our sinfulness was not by voluntary defection and transgression as in the case of our first parents, but by divinely constituted solidarity with Adam in his sin. As a consequence we are shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin (cf. Ps. 51:5); we are “by nature the children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). We are dead in trespasses and sins not by acquisition but by imputation to us of Adam’s sin and by generation. So the position in question fails to correspond with the total witness of Scripture and to assess the human situation in sin and misery.

If we are all Adam, then the uniqueness of Adam as the first man is denied.

The parallel between Adam and Christ (Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21, 22, 45-49) belongs to the way of salvation and to the integrity of the Gospel. This parallel provides the antithesis between the way in which sin, condemnation, and death came to reign and the way righteousness, justification, and life come to bear upon men. The former was by Adam, the latter is by Christ. Therefore Adam and Christ sustain unique and incomparable relations to men. The preservation of both parallel and antithesis requires that Adam should be as real and unique in his historical identity as was Christ. To aver that Genesis 3 is story but not history, that we are all Adam and sin as Adam, destroys the particularity of Adam and undermines what belongs to our history in sin and redemption.

NT allusions assume the historicity of Genesis 2 and 3.


J. Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin (1959); G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (1962), 119-193; P. E. Hughes, “Fall” in NBD (1962); G. Kittel ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, E-T (1963), I, 281-286; J. G. Machen, The Christian View of Man (1965), 161-172, 208-219.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


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 Ge 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 Ge 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 Ge 3 relates the awakening of man to self-consciousness and personality (see Adam In the Old Testament), 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.

Ge 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 Ge 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 Ge 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:

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 (as anomia) 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" of Ac 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 (Ro 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 naivete, 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 Fahigkeit zur selbstandigen Wahl der Mittel, durch die man sein Gluck schaffen will": "the capacity of independent choice of the means by which he would attain his happiness" (Koberle, Sunde 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 Ge 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 (Jas 1:14,15). 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.)