If you have read anything from a Bible to a Christian coloring book, you have probably heard about when Adam and Eve ate the fatal “forbidden fruit” in the Garden of Eden, which led to the Fall of humanity.
While Scripture gives enough information to understand the basics of this story, there are certain details not given by the biblical authors that have left us with difficult, even controversial, questions — such as why God put a forbidden tree in his utopian garden in the first place, whether sin and evil existed before the Fall or not, how long our “first parents” were in the Garden before succumbing to temptation, and why God created people with the propensity to sin.
What we do know, according to Genesis 2-3, is that the trees in the Garden of Eden were planted by God himself. Eden (which means “pleasant”) was a place that was “well-watered” by an irrigation system developed by God that resulted in rivers flowing from it.
While God was the original gardener, he commissioned Adam to cultivate the Garden as an image-bearer of God. Eden was a safe place for Adam and Eve to live out their designed purpose.
The “Tree of Life” produced fruit that yielded everlasting life to whoever ate from it. The fruit was so potent that after the Fall, God barred Adam and Eve from accessing it lest they end up living forever underneath the weight of their sin and shame (which was a very merciful act of God).
The “Tree of Knowledge” was similar to the rest of the trees in that its fruit was “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” While many people picture it as an apple (probably because of the namesake lump in men’s throats), we do not know what kind of fruit this tree bore.
Whatever it was, though, eating from this tree was clearly forbidden. That does not mean that the tree was poisonous, or its fruit was toxic, however, because everything God created was “good.”
It is even possible (as Rory Shiner postulates) that God would have eventually allowed them to eat this fruit when they were mature and ready to receive the wisdom it provided. Nevertheless, it was forbidden at that time.
Why did God prohibit Adam and Eve from eating from the Tree of Knowledge? Because he knew that it would destroy their innocence and purity, introduce shame and guilt, and bring death into their lives. God told Adam that if he ate from it, he would “surely die.”
Because of this, Adam knew that obeying God was good and disobeying him was bad, but he had no real, experiential understanding about death because he had never seen it. All he knew so far was life and goodness.
Then enters the sly serpent that was possessed by or at least motivated by Satan himself. John calls him the “great dragon… that ancient serpent… the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
But the serpent did not force Eve to take the fruit. He simply twisted the truth, beautified sin, and left out the horror, pain, shame, and death that would come with their disobedience.
After a familiar progression of events, the serpent’s temptation led Eve to eat the fruit and give a bite to Adam who was passively watching alongside her. As a result of this first meal in the Bible, they were aware of their nakedness, filled with shame, cursed with difficulties, and kicked out of the Garden.
Their disobedience caused a ripple effect of sin and death that stretched beyond themselves to all of humanity across all of time. There are many lessons to learn from different aspects of this story, but the best understanding of the “forbidden fruit” is in one word: choice.
Given the Choice
According to his omniscience and sovereignty, God caused the Tree of Knowledge to grow in paradise, and he made a covenant with Adam and Eve to refrain from eating from it so they would have a choice between receiving the eternal blessings that come through obedience and worship to a gracious God or the consequences from disobedience and idolatry against a just God.
The tree represented the choice between submitting to God’s law or pursuing “moral autonomy.” That is why the serpent said, “You shall be as gods…”
Ironically, God had already made Adam and Eve as close to “gods” as any humans have ever been. He created them “in his image,” positioned them together in complete harmony, breathed into them his own breath, empowered them with dominion over all of creation, gave them the responsibility to care for the plants and animals, blessed them with the ability of procreation, and provided them with everything they would need to survive and thrive, such as the perfect food (fruit), which requires no harvesting, milling, mixing, kneading, processing, or cooking in order to eat it — you just pluck and eat.
When you do, it does not even harm the tree. More than that, God gave Adam and Eve the opportunity of eternal life in paradise.
Instead of embracing their destiny to rule creation in joy, freedom, and life, they sadly chose their own path to pain, enslavement, and death. God gave them an invitation to fully satisfy their desires, yet they ignored it and chose dissatisfaction and a diminishing life instead.
And as representatives for mankind, their consequences affected (and are still affecting) all of humanity. One author described this as a “catastrophic bite” that doomed them and their children.
All of the problems in humanity (such as the unfulfilling nature of work, pain in childbirth, tensions in marriage, and death itself) can be traced back to that “simple crunch.” Paul explained in Romans 1:18-21,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness… although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
The effect of Adam and Eve’s disobedience was so far-reaching that it has snow-balled throughout human history into all manner of destructive sin and death.
However, at this seemingly hopeless point in Adam and Eve’s story, we catch our first glimpse of the gospel (known as the “Protoevangelium”). God promises that because of the serpent’s lies, the offspring of Eve will one day “bruise” his head (Genesis 3:15). Despite mankind’s sin, God set a plan in motion to “help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
That is why centuries later a second or “last” Adam (according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15) would come onto the scene who would not give in to the temptation of the serpent (Matthew 4) or choose disobedience (Hebrews 5:8), but would obediently and humbly take on the penalty of our sins and destroy the works of the devil so that we might be rescued from death, reunited with our Creator, redeemed from our sin, and returned back into the kind of paradise that God wants for us (Philippians 2:5–11; Matthew 12:29; Mark 1:24; Revelation 2:7, 22).
What Will You Choose?
But remember — the forbidden fruit shows us that we, as humans, can choose to respond to God’s goodness by siding with him and turning from our sin instead of following our fallen nature to rebel against God and choose sin.
In fact, the “riches” of God’s kindness, restraint, and patience is simply meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Paul goes on to explain that:
[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality (Romans 2:2–11).
What about you? Will you seek fulfillment through God who promises his love, goodness, joy, power, and truth, or will you seek fulfillment elsewhere, which only promises unhappiness, disappointment, and ultimately death.
Which will you choose?
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Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, and most recently as the Lead Pastor and Planter of Village Church in Churchville, Virginia. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the Gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.