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Genesis 3.

Rebellion- Did God Say?
06 February 2011

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Why does life never quite work out the way we would like? When things
go wrong in a photo booth, that is, perhaps, how it is meant to be, as
someone fails to get to grips with how a particular machine works. It’s
hard, if not impossible, to imagine a world where things didn’t go wrong
in that sense. But what about a world where there was no famine or
pollution or discrimination or violence or hatred or war or breakdowns in
relationships? A world where there was no cancer or HIV Aids or diabetes
or leprosy or dementia? A world where there was no evil or death? Is it
possible to imagine such a world as that or are all these things also how it
is meant to be?

The bible states that it is possible to imagine such a world and that, in the
respects I have mentioned, this is not how things are meant to be. In fact a
quick flick through its chapters reveals that these pages end with three
chapters that make a clear promise that things one day will be very
different – Revelation 20-22 – and begin with three chapters – Genesis 1-3
– which explain how things got to be the way that they are currently.
I. Genesis 3 & HISTORY

There are two inter-related sets of questions that we must ask in relation to
Genesis 3:

- Can we believe it?

- What is it trying to tell us?

a) Can we believe it?

Clearly there is much about this account that is symbolic, that is, is not to
be taken literally. The tree, for example, which we have already been told
holds the key to the knowledge of good and evil (2.16,17). Similarly the
snake. Snakes do not usually hold conversations, apart from in the Jungle
Book. How about Adam and Eve? I personally believe that there was a
primal (first) human couple, but clearly what we are told about them is
highly stylised e.g. I doubt that the first humans spoke biblical Hebrew, the
language Adam uses to ‘name’ in Eve in Ch.2 or Eve, in turn, uses to name
Cain in Ch.4. What about Eden? Again, the events described, if they
really happened, must have taken place somewhere, but that does not
mean, in my opinion, that Eden, as described, is locatable on any map, not
least because its description bears many of the features that characteristics
the OT Temple.

Having made allowance for the rich symbolism of these chapters, I

nevertheless want, as a Christian, to affirm that, if we are Christians, there
is an irreducible minimum here that we must take on board. I say that for
two reasons.

First, because the bible as a whole assumes that the events described were
real events, with, for example, Jesus and Paul both referencing back to
these chapters, most importantly, in terms of today’s reading, Paul in
Romans 5.12.
Indeed the bible’s entire storyline is premised on precisely the catastrophe
that is set before us in Genesis 3.
Second, I also want to affirm that there is an irreducible minimum of truth
here because without it human history and experience make no sense.

Quote Pascal Blocher p.84, Newman Blocher p.12

b) How are we to understand it?

This question is linked to the previous one, though is worth treating

separately. Is Genesis 3 seeking to tell us something about how life is – in
which case, it perhaps wouldn’t matter if the account were entirely
symbolic – or is Genesis 3 trying to tell us how life, the way we experience
it, came to be – in which case the historical truth or otherwise of the story
does matter. The posh words for these two approaches are paradigmatic
and aetiological 

I would want to suggest that Genesis 3 is seeking to do both. The story

told in Genesis 3, on the one hand, clearly seeks to provide an explanation
– a very important explanation, for if things as we experience them now
have always been this way, then, assuming that there is a God, He is only
capable of manufacturing a substandard product – one star on Amazon – or
He was too weak to properly determine the course of human history. On
the other hand, the story told in Genesis 3, also seeks to show us how
human beings actually are. In other words, it was written with at least one
eye to addressing our beliefs and behaviour. And so, for example, Eve’s
questions and deliberations provide more than a history lessons, sounding
very much like the arguments that we have with ourselves even though our
situations are very different.
II. Genesis 3 & HUMANITY

The bible tells us a story about God and His world. Human beings are the
key players within that story. What does Genesis 3 have to say about both
Adam and Eve and us?

Previously we have seen that the bible has many positive things to say
about human beings

- we were & are made in God’s image (1.18-31)

= representation
= rule
= relationship

- we were & are made for life in Paradise (2.1-11)

= freedom
= enjoyment

- we were & are made for God, other people and the opposite sex

= social beings
= sexual beings
= spiritual beings

It is all good stuff, but it is not the whole story. There is another side to
tell, a ‘dark’ side. That’s the point we reach in Genesis 3
Just as the origins of God and the world are not explained so much as
described, so too the origins of evil. The prelude is provided by Genesis
2.1-17 where we told of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and
take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from
any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

It is around this tree that the passage centres, as the snake, symbolising
evil and the forces of rebellion against God, subtly leads Eve astray

i. The possibility of wrongdoing

It might seem odd that things can go wrong in paradise. A contradiction in

terms surely? A question mark over God’s character, definitely if left
unexplained. At this point, though, a careful reading of the text can help
us, for nowhere are we told that life in Eden, as described, represents the
end of the journey. Rather this is the beginning, a sort of ‘probationary’ or
‘growth’ period, a ‘temporary contract’, and so, strictly speaking, it is not
right to speak of the ‘fall’ of Adam and Eve, rather a ‘false step’ or a

Here, then, we are being told something important about the nature of
human freedom

CS Lewis quote Motyer p.112

ii. The mechanics (psychology) of wrongdoing

- Firstly, the serpent engages Eve in conversation

The tempter is a spirit of discussion Thielicke p.127

A conversation whose aim is clearly to disrupt the previously

harmonious and trusting relationship between the man and the woman
and the Lord (c.f. 3.8)

“Did God really say…’?”

Maybe that is why the Lord’s Prayer says not, ‘Lead us our of
temptation, but ‘Lead us not in to temptation’

- Secondly, the serpent draws attention to the restriction that the Lord
had made

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Here, I suppose we might say, the serpent is seeking to distort or re-

defined Eve’s understanding of who God is. After all, the Lord had
given her and Adam a whole world full of trees from which they were
free to eat from all but one.

This is a line of reasoning we are all familiar with. ‘The Ten

Commandments, they’re very negative’. ‘Become a Christian?’, ‘No
chance, I’d wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself anymore’.

Eve’s reply demonstrates that she knew the prohibition surrounding the

God did say…

Though, in the process, she has maybe already slightly distanced herself
from the Lord by using the less personal term ‘God’.
Her reply also maybe demonstrates that Eve already secretly resents the
restriction relating to the tree and has started to somewhat obsess on it.
I say this because she slightly misquotes what had been said (c.f. 2.16).
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden

And because she also adds to it

God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the
garden, and you must not touch it…..’”

Helmut Thielicke, the great post war German preacher, has some very
perceptive comments which I would like to add at this point.

Quote Thielicke p. 134

- Thirdly, the serpent questions both the Lord’s authority

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.

And also the Lord’s character

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be
like God, knowing good and evil.”

This is now the full frontal attack, but Eve is so compromised, that the
result is all but certain hence the climax so forcefully described in v.5. Her
emotions are overloaded, her mind has become clouded and so her will
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to
the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also
gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Notice the verbs: she saw… she took… she ate… she gave…

c.f. Nicky Gumbel’s fruitcake

iii. The nature of the wrongdoing

Various suggestions have been made which I will quickly run over

- Sex. No!
- Pride (hubris)? = an attempt to assume the place of God.
- Knowledge? Not knowledge in general, for that is clearly assumed
in the story (c.f. the role granted to the man and woman in regard to
the creatures) rather knowledge of what is right and wrong. In other
words, moral autonomy
- Trust? Or, putting it another way around, a lack of faith. God has
become distanced and personal trust in Him has evaporated.

In each in each of these last three, wrongdoing is fundamentally about me

– I want to be god, I want to decide, I am the centre of the Universe. That
is why faith in God involves such a fundamental re-alignement

c.f. May’s Baptism

iv. The consequences of wrongdoing

At the end of Ch.1, we are told that the man and the woman were naked
and not ashamed. Now they seek out the largest leaves that they can find
and try to cover themselves.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so
they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

But the consequences extend far wider than simply Adam and Eve, as we
shall see next week. With expulsion from the garden there is no going
back, only forwards?!
III. Genesis 3 & THEOLOGY

Why is that not the end of the story? Because of the grace of God by
which the world was made and the world will one day be remade.
This is not simply the old paradise stuck back together with superglue and
a few bits of sticky tape, it is an altogether bigger and better place. In fact,
it might even look as it this had been God’s intention all the way along,
with God it is always Plan A and never Plan B, just that Plan A is perhaps
a little bigger and more complex than we might at first appreciate.

Sticking to Genesis 3, we see something of God’s grace in the immediate

aftermath of this incident

Adam, where are you?.... v.8

Next week we shall explore further how God’s judgement represents a foil
to his mercy.

But even within the verses we read there are echoes of that mercy

- take another example, the outworking of the promise of death

Was this fulfilled or not? Understood spiritually it was fulfilled

immediately and understood physically after a few years. But reading on
through the bible…

- take, for example, the manner of Eve’s entrapment

It finds its counterpart in the testing and temptation of Israel – another

failure – the testing and temptation of Israel’s king – further disaster – but
supremely in the testing and temptation of Jesus, which produced a rather
different outcome