You are on page 1of 3

Without a biblical understanding of sin, we have no basis from which to judge the external

world, and the apparent brokenness and futility of life. We will have no real answers to the worlds
dilemmas because we wont have an adequate grasp of the true problem. Furthermore, without a
correct view of sin, were bound to misunderstand who God is. C.S. Lewis points out that a belief in God
without an understanding of sin would result in monism, where God is both good and evil, or dualism,
where there are two opposing gods, one good and one evil (see The Problem of Pain). Perhaps most
importantly, sin is the problem for which the gospel provides the solution. Without an adequate
understanding of the problem, we cannot truly appreciate the solution. In other words, without doctrine
of sin, there is no Christianity. The root of this Christian understanding is found in the first three
chapters of Genesis.
The way things were
We live in a culture with a predominantly naturalistic view of world. In the words of Carl Sagan:
The cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be. The idea is that the universe is on a trajectory
that has essentially continued unchanged since its origins. You dont have to be an atheist or an
unbeliever to have this perspective influence your view of life. There are many Christians who hold very
naturalistic views of certain aspects of life. If youve ever heard someone excuse a fault with, God made
me this way, or Im only being human, or its perfectly natural, then youve see a bit of this
philosophy in action. Underlying this is the idea that The way things are by nature is the way things
ought to be.
However, the Bible paints quite a different picture. The way things are by nature is not the way
it was, nor the way it ought to be, and it is not the way it always will be. In many respects, this is the
story of the Bible what was, what happened, what is, and what God is doing to bring about what will
be. Genesis 1-2 describes an original creation untainted by sin. God created humans in His own image,
made to reflect Him to the world. He gave them dominion over all of creation, to act as His deputies in
cultivating and subduing the earth. Gods assessment of His original creation is that it was very good
(Gen 1:31). The world is as it should be; there is real peace, real shalom. The picture is of husband and
wife in communion with God, in communion with each other, and in communion with Gods creation.
They are secure in themselves, undefiled by sin and immorality, naked and unashamed.
God gives the couple one rule: Dont eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Old
Testament Theology, Bruce Waltke comments: The command assumes that as Gods image bearers,
humans should think, plan, speak, and act as their Creator intends. The command is also for their good.
The prohibition protects them from assuming self-serving autonomy in sin and death and to live instead
under the Creators loving and trustworthy rule and protection. (259)
Something happens, and shalom is broken
In Genesis 3, the crafty serpent enters the scene, and questions the trustworthiness of Gods
word, and the goodness of His instruction. He begins by questioning Eves interpretation and attempts
to create doubt (Did God really say?). His focus is on the forbidden thing rather than Gods true
blessings (you must not eat from any tree in the garden?). He tempts her to discount Gods word
and the stern warning (You will not surely die). The core of the temptation is the prospect that Eve
could become as God, tempting her to leave her status as creature, gain independence from God, and
define her own existence apart from God (You shall be as God, knowing good and evil). (Waltke, 261263)
At this point, all of Eves defenses are down and she begins to doubt God. She examines the fruit
and see that its good for food (it doesnt look harmful at all), its a delight to the eyes (how could
something so beautiful be wrong or bad?), and its desirable to make one wise (Im just seeking to grow
and improve myself). She gives in and eats the fruit, giving some to Adam as well. Sin has entered the
human race. Based on this account, Waltke offers this definition of sin: Sin is the perversion at the core
of our being that causes us to disobey. Sin is the desire, the imagination, to be like God- the refusal to

be human, to be creature that causes us to disobey. Correlatively, sin is an inward, spiritual breach of
trust in Gods character and his word that results in active disobedience. (Waltke, 263)
Something does happen to them, just as the serpent said, but its not what they were expecting.
Their eyes were opened and they realize theyre naked and theyre ashamed of it. There is a breach in
the communion they shared with other, attempting to cover themselves and hide their shame. There is
also a breach in the communion they shared with God, as they hide themselves from Him. When God
confronts them about their disobedience they both pass the buck and refuse responsibility. Adam
blames Eve, and ultimately blames God Himself for making her, and Eve blames the serpent. This simple
narrative provides us with a profound description of human sin and our behavior, from the stages of
temptation, to the guilt and desire to hide, and our tendency to pass the blame for our actions on to
someone else.
Gods judgment
Something has already gone horribly wrong. The fellowship between God and humanity has
been broken. The covenant in Paradise has been broken, and the blessings forfeited. God pronounces
judgment as he had promised.
First, God pronounces a curse on the serpent: God speaks not only to the animal, but to the true
tempter behind the animal (Revelation 12:9 tells us that the serpent was Satan himself). In the
curse against the serpent, there is a glimmer of hope Adam and Eve have made their
allegiance with rebellion, disobeyed God, and then passed the blame rather than repenting.
However, God promises that He will put hostility between the woman and the serpent, and
between their respective seeds, with the anticipation of the serpents defeat. This promise of
the seed provides the seed for the story of redemption which is the overarching theme of the
Bibles narrative.
Next, God addresses the woman: she will face pain in childbearing and conflict with her
husband. Eve will have an inordinate desire to control her husband, and he will rule over here
(as opposed to leading, guarding, and caring for her). This conflict destroys the bond of peace
and fulfillment that was once present.
Finally, God addresses the man: The ground is cursed, and work will be difficult. The whole
creation suffers because of this sin and the world as it was becomes the world as it now is (cf.
Romans 8:20-22). The futility of life, described so poignantly in Ecclesiastes 1-3, is a direct result
of humanitys fall into sin. In Reason for God, Tim Keller writes, We are told that as soon as we
determined to serve ourselves instead of God - as soon as we abandoned living for and enjoying
God as our highest good the entire created world became brokenDisease, genetic disorders,
famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression,
war, crime, and violence. We have lost Gods shalom physically, spiritually, socially,
psychologically, and culturally. (170)
Gods final act of judgment in the account of the fall is also an act of mercy. Adam and Eve are banished
from the garden, so that they might not eat from the tree of life and live forever. God cleanses the
garden of sin, and at the same time prevents Adam and Eve, in their fallen, corrupted, and sinful state to
eat from the tree and remain forever in that state. He has better things in store for them beyond death.
Bruce Waltke provides some additional theological reflection on this text:
God plants an idyllic garden as the setting for humanity on probation. The failure of Adam and
Eve in this paradise has profound theological significance. Since Adam is the only human being
who could have resisted the Serpents temptation, his failure implies that humanity that is not
spiritually empowered by God does not match the Serpents power and so keep covenant with
God. In contrast to much sociological thinking that holds that the way to improve humans is to
better their environment, this text shows that humanity at its best, when tested, rebels even in
the perfect environment.

This theological understanding is found at the outset of Genesis. Each of the subsequent
covenants Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic must be read with this presupposition:
unassisted human faithfulness is an impossibility; any aspect of the covenant that is contingent
upon human will alone is doomed for failure. The argument is simple: If Adam falls in the perfect
setting of garden paradise without inherited guilt and a depraved nature, how can stiff-hearted
Israel keep the Lords teachings in Canaan, a land known for its debauchery (cf. Deut 31:26;
32:1-43; Josh 24:19,17). And how can Judean kings in their own spiritual strength satisfy the
conditional aspects of the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:14)? Indeed, the failure of these later
covenants is preordained by the failure of Adam and Eve in the garden. This failure, right at the
start, implicitly anticipates a different sort of covenant relationship, one that does not depend
on human faithfulness, but entirely on the grace of God through the second Adam. (256)