Interpretations of the Fall of Man

Updated on December 16, 2017
Anna Watson profile image

Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. Over the course of seven days, He created the universe and made our arm of our galaxy fit for life. He made it the only place in the known universe that can sustain life. Then, He created the Earth and made it inhabitable. He filled it with water, plants, the proper amount of oxygen and sunlight, and everything else needed to sustain life. He filled the Earth with sea creatures, birds, reptiles, all other animals, and, finally, humans.

The Book of Genesis gives the account of Adam and Eve, the first humans. God created Adam from the dust and breathed life into him. He then placed Adam in a beautiful garden flowing with rivers and plants and commanded him to take care of the garden. Among the foliage were two trees of note; the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God had provided fruits and seeds to eat and and told Adam that he was free to eat from any tree except from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Then God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone, I will make a suitable helper for him.” (Genesis 2:18) So, God introduced Adam to all the animals that were in his care and let Adam name them, afterward, God put Adam into a deep sleep, and from his rib, God created Eve. The Bible makes it a point to note that Adam and Eve were both naked and felt no shame. Adam and Eve were caretakers of the garden and animals for an undetermined amount of time and, presumably, were quite happy with the whole arrangement. That is, until one day, a crafty serpent approached Eve and asked her, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” Eve said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it or you will die.’”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-6)

So Eve looked at the unnamed fruit that grew from the tree and saw that it looked tasty, and she liked the idea of gaining wisdom, so she took some of the fruit and shared it with Adam. And thus ended their innocence. Upon eating the fruit, the very first thing they realized was that they were naked, so they immediately rushed to cover themselves with fig leaves. Then, they heard God walking through the garden and they hid.

No matter your thoughts about God, He’s no fool. He knew exactly what Adam and Eve were up to and He played along for a minute. “Where are you?” God asked the couple. Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Adam then answered by ever so gallantly throwing Eve under the bus, and placing some of the blame on God himself for creating her. “The woman that you put here with me- she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” So God turned to Eve and asked her “What is this you have done?” Eve, proving that, like Adam, she has no accountability, turned around and passed the buck. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3: 9-13) God then cursed the serpents, man, and woman, before banishing them all from Eden and the Tree of Life. No longer would man and woman eat fruits and nuts while communing in a garden with animal companions. Now we must work for our basic needs. We no longer walk in fellowship with God. Our days in paradise are over.

The Historical Version

There are almost as many different interpretations of the story of the Fall of Man as there are Jews and Christians. There are those who interpret the Bible as the absolute Word of God. They believe that the Earth was created in a literal six-day period, that Adam and Eve were historical figures, and that the devil, in the form of a snake, literally talked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, which was an actual, though unnamed, type of fruit. This is the ‘original sin’ that caused a fallen world and the reason we all sin today. This is the reason Christ died for us—so that we could regain that fellowship with God. Even though this is a dark thought, it does have a happy ending: the world was perfect once. Because of what we know from the Book of Revelations, it will be perfect again.

Beyond that, there’s really no other way to explore this interpretation. It’s a historical account, already written down for future generations to take it at face value. Anything you want to know about it is in the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis.

Eve looked at the unnamed fruit that grew from the tree and saw that it looked tasty, and she liked the idea of gaining wisdom, so she took some of the fruit and shared it with Adam—and, thus, ended their innocence.

The Allegory

Other people interpret it as an allegory. The world is beautiful and perfect, yet that perfection is destroyed by sin. People who believe that Eden is allegorical, believe that there were many protohumans who existed long before Adam and Eve and that the story is used to explain why humans have free will. According to this theory, the seven ‘days’ are really a matter of thousands or millions of years. The timeframe given is merely to explain how God worked to create the universe through a well-laid plan. The fruit that Adam and Eve ate from is the morality that separates man from animals. Humans are fallen, animals are innocent. In general, people tend to enjoy animals. The numerous zoos and aquariums attest to humanities’ love for our fellow earthlings. If asked why, most animal lovers will tell you it’s because animals are innocent. Deviousness, cunning, and duplicity don’t mar animal species like it does the human species. The animals’ lack the knowledge of good and evil that humans have, and with that knowledge came participation. We can choose to do good or we can choose evil. As often as not we choose some form of evil or another. Animals are never given that choice, they remain amoral.

The fruit grew on a tree in a garden that they all lived yet it was mankind that ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The tree was within easy reach of Eve. She did not have to walk ten miles to access it, or build a ladder or exert herself to reach it, it was there for the taking. Morality and immorality are both within our grasp. Prior to consuming the forbidden fruit, the Bible makes it a point to mention the nakedness of the two protagonists. In their innocence, Adam and Eve were free in their nudity, but with a conscience came shame. Unless a person specifically dresses them, animals don’t wear clothes. Anybody who is familiar with toddlers knows that they go through a phase where they prefer to be naked than clothed. And, of course, we come into this world completely unclothed. Both animals and young children are considered innocent of the evils of humanity. Adam and Eve were in that same state until they ate the fruit. When they ate the fruit they grew up, they lost their innocence. We’re ashamed of our exposed bodies, we hide them. The more conservative a culture, the more layers of clothes they wear. As soon as Adam and Eve heard God walking through the garden they hid. Adam said that they were hiding because of their nakedness. This is interesting; they knew they had disobeyed a direct order from God, yet that’s not why they hid. They were more afraid of their nudity than their rebellion. Animals and children, who are ignorant of the evils of the world, give no thought to their natural state. Our nakedness exposes who we are, that exposure is our shame, so we hide it from both God and from each other.

In the allegorical account of Adam and Eve, the protagonists were not actual people, but representatives of the whole human race. Men and women were created equal, and it is our shared duty to tend to the garden and guard it. Why does the garden need to be tended? A god capable of creating the universe is capable of making it self-sustaining. Here the garden represents the Earth and all that is in it. We don’t need to plant seeds in the rainforest or water the Sahara, but we are to care for the Earth and all that is in it. We are God’s representatives, it is significant that God showed Adam the animals before creating Eve. The animals were not able to be helpmates for Adam, they don’t have the spirit of God breathed into them. The animals are to be our companions, and we’re to watch over them, but they don’t have the responsibilities that we have. In this interpretation, we see that mankind rebels against the high ideals of perfection and harmony that God intended.

Some interpretations believe that Adam and Eve represent the spirit, or soul of humanity. The clothes that they put on are the human bodies that we receive prior to being born in the flesh. Our soul starts off innocent, but once made human we gain the knowledge of good and evil. The garden is heaven where our soul resides until we’re ready to put in our time here on Earth. The fruit represents the free will we’re given, and the banishment from the garden is our time here on Earth. The death sentence that comes with eating the fruit is our impermanent state of being. We’re only humans for a short while and then we die and return to God.

How do you interpret the Garden of Eden?

 
Historical
Allegory
Metaphor
Other
Answer in the comment section

The Metaphor

Another way of interpreting the text is metaphorically. As in the allegorical account, Adam and Eve represent all of humanity, but this account is less spiritual and more scientific. Adam represents the protohumans. He is slightly elevated among the animals, but still with the animals. After Eve is created, they join together, and through their offspring the human race is formed. The fruit of knowledge of good and evil represents the period in evolution when mankind morally and intellectually split from the apes. When they left the garden, marks the point they came down from the trees and formed civilizations.

In Eden, food was there for the taking, mankind did not need to work for it. God banished them for their disobedience and cursed their labors. This represents the period when we began to form communities and farm plants and animals. Farming is labor intensive work. Most animals have the luxury of eating without the backbreaking prep work. Herbivores graze most of the day on vegetation that is already there. Carnivores put in the exertion to chase prey, but the hunt doesn’t last too long. In the end, they either catch their prey or they don’t. None of those methods involve tilling, planting, or harvesting. When we broke off from the other animals, we ended up working harder than we ever did before, that is represented in the curse mentioned in Genesis. It’s all a metaphor for what happened when God created the Earth and the process of human evolution.

The fruit that Adam and Eve ate from is the morality that separates man from animals.

Many Interpretations, Only One Truth

These are the main interpretations of the Genesis account, there are numerous variations within them. The multiple analysis can be confusing to new believers. Many people get hung up on the details and miss the point of the story. Whether the account is historical, allegorical, or metaphorical, is of little importance, and certainly not something that we should fight over. The truth of the story is that God was behind it all. That’s all that matters, the rest is just details.

An almighty God created the heavens and the Earth. He did it over a period of time and with exact precision. He created the plants, the animals, and the humans. He gave us greater responsibility than the other animals and commanded us to watch over His creation. As humans, we have the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. The universe and all that is in it is perfect, but it gets tainted sometimes by our sin. Actions have consequences, and our mistakes and bad deeds can stain that which is beautiful. Through it all though, God is still in charge, and though the world is infected with sin, the Book of Revelations tells us that we will all meet again in a perfect world. The story hasn't ended, we're still in the middle of the book, working toward that end goal; we'll be back in that garden some day.

As humans, we have the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. The universe and all that is in it is perfect, but it gets tainted sometimes by our sin.

© 2017 Anna Watson

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    • Anna Watson profile image
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      Anna Watson 4 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      @Paul, "The truth for me is the continuing presence of God in my life."

      Anything else is just details, friend. I love the way that you put it. You absolutely nailed it.

    • Paul K Francis profile image

      Paul K Francis 4 months ago from east coast,USA

      Interesting article. I like your conclusion. I try to look at the beginning chapters in the book of Genesis from different angles though, if it helps illustrate ideas regarding the human condition. I tend to see these early stories as mythological, meaning that they do not need to be entirely factual in order to convey real truth. The truth for me is the continuing presence of God in my life. Have a great day.

    • celafoe profile image

      charlie 4 months ago from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth. between the oceans

      what utter foolishness, there is ONLY ONE CORRECT interpretation of scripture, and that is not found in the churches an colleges of man as it is only available from the Holy Spirit of God who will have NOTHING to do with those that have divided his people ( over 46000 divisions all claiming to be the one)and led the millions to their false christ whose name is satan

    working