Okay, I’m supposed to be writing one post every week but clearly I have problems with both discipline and clarity of thought when it comes to writing, these days. It’s been way too long since I took time out specifically to research and write, so I supposed it will take a while for me to get into a good rhythm.
A question that has been flitting in and out of my mind for the past few weeks has been the actual consequence of Adam’s (and Eve’s) first sin—what, really, were the contents of that terrible first curse?
Death, some say. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of every tree in Eden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, adding that in the day they ate of it they would surely die. And they died a spiritual death as a result of their disobedience, resulting in the need for Jesus’ eventual redemptive sacrifice. And as a result of their sin, too, women are cursed to be in subordination to men, and to suffer in childbearing, and men are cursed with hard labour when before, work was not work as we know it but a joyful and relaxing activity… and all the earth was also cursed, and all life has been degenerating through the ages to this day, groaning for the Day of the Lord.
But… really? I don’t want to appear heretical and I’m not saying this just to be controversial, but when I sit down and read the passages slowly and carefully, in not just one but a few translations of the text, that doesn’t quite seem the case. My favourite study version is the Amplified Version, but here I’m referencing the old King James Version and the New American Standard Bible.
Genesis 2: 16–17 (KJV)
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Genesis 3: 14, 16–19 (KJV)
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Genesis 2: 16–17 (NASB)
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Genesis 3: 14, 16–19 (NASB)
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life;
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
“Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
For those who need a reminder of what humanity was given food-wise from the beginning, or who are just interested and want to know:
Genesis 1:29 (NKJV)
And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.
A curse is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something”. There are two Hebrew words for “curse”—arar and qalal—and it is arar that is used in the passage above. Some scholars say arar is the more formal and more serious term.
General reading on the Hebrew concept of “curse” reveals that it’s usually used to indicate one’s position in relation to a lack or absence of God’s favour, and more rarely the presence of His disfavour. Qalal apparently also carries the idea of being made light and contemptible, or to be dishonoured and lightly esteemed.
Clearly the original Hebrew meaning and the modern English meaning don’t quite match. Our English understanding involves the addition of a negative; in the original Hebrew, it actually involves the removal of a positive. There’s a big difference!
So what I now understand from the passages is this (and I’m not saying that anyone should agree; just that this is what I get):
One: Death takes a few forms and occurs at different levels as Adam and Eve clearly lost (gained?) something when they ate the fruit, but they obviously didn’t fall down dead. Physical death is arguably part of it, but in what way and to what extent? What I do think, however, is that mankind wasn’t created immortal—why else would God put the Tree of Life in Eden and later remove Adam and Eve from its presence, citing immortality as the reason? My guess is that we had a lifespan to begin with, but maybe ageing and decay wasn’t a part of the original deal…
Two: It seems like death wasn’t a pronounced curse per se, but a natural result/consequence of eating from that particular tree. God never said “If you eat it I will curse you”; He just said hey, if you eat from that tree, you’ll die. And He didn’t say, “Because of this sin you will return to the dust.” He said, in effect, “You’ll continue to suffer the effects of the curse I’ve spoken over the ground, until the time comes when you return to the dust.” And returning to the English/Hebrew translation issue, I get the feeling that it’s about the disobedience (and what was behind it) and not the eating-from-the-tree per se that resulted in God’s blessing/favour being removed.
Three: Women are more prone to emotional lows and depression than men, fertility is increased, and childbirth has become laborious and painful, as a result of the curse — there’s no question that this was a pronouncement over Eve because of the part she played in the Fall. So womankind is cursed. “Properly” so.
Four: Adam/Mankind was not directly cursed. It was the ground that was cursed for Adam’s sin — not him. For all that we have been taught about the man’s sin being greater than the woman’s because he was the one to receive that one rule directly from God and he was there when she received and gave in to temptation, we’re faced here with the fact that based on a simple literal reading of the text, God held Adam less culpable than woman… or at least, it seems so.
Five: The ground — the earth — is cursed. And man’s “curse” is really much more of a consequence than an actual curse… at least it looks that way right now, I freely admit that my research is only just starting on this topic.
So… what significance does this ultimately have? Well, I don’t know yet. But I’m going to be continuing this study because I feel that to truly understand what Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary meant, and what we are saved from, we need to know what we fell from.