a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

The First Sin and Its Punishment


Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the L ord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

8 They heard the sound of the L ord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the L ord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the L ord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the L ord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 14The L ord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

cursed are you among all animals

and among all wild creatures;

upon your belly you shall go,

and dust you shall eat

all the days of your life.


I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;

in pain you shall bring forth children,

yet your desire shall be for your husband,

and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to the man he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,

and have eaten of the tree

about which I commanded you,

‘You shall not eat of it,’

cursed is the ground because of you;

in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;


thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

and you shall eat the plants of the field.


By the sweat of your face

you shall eat bread

until you return to the ground,

for out of it you were taken;

you are dust,

and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21And the L ord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

22 Then the L ord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23therefore the L ord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

6. And when the woman saw This impure look of Eve, infected with the poison of concupiscence, was both the messenger and the witness of an impure heart. She could previously behold the tree with such sincerity, that no desire to eat of it affected her mind; for the faith she had in the word of God was the best guardian of her heart, and of all her senses. But now, after the heart had declined from faith, and from obedience to the word, she corrupted both herself and all her senses, and depravity was diffused through all parts of her soul as well as her body. It is, therefore, a sign of impious defection, that the woman now judges the tree to be good for food, eagerly delights herself in beholding it, and persuades herself that it is desirable for the sake of acquiring wisdom; whereas before she had passed by it a hundred times with an unmoved and tranquil look. For now, having shaken off the bridle, her mind wanders dissolutely and intemperately, drawing the body with it to the same licentiousness. The word להשכיל (lehaskil,) admits of two explanations: That the tree was desirable either to be looked upon or to impart prudence. I prefer the latter sense, as better corresponding with the temptation.

And gave also unto her husband with her From these words, some conjecture that Adam was present when his wife was tempted and persuaded by the serpent, which is by no means credible. Yet it might be that he soon joined her, and that, even before the woman tasted the fruit of the tree, she related the conversation held with the serpent, and entangled him with the same fallacies by which she herself had been deceived. Others refer the particle עמה (immah,) “with her,” to the conjugal bond, which may be received. But because Moses simply relates that he ate the fruit taken from the hands of his wife, the opinion has been commonly received, that he was rather captivated with her allurements than persuaded by Satan’s impostures.168168     So our great Poet: —
   He scrupled not to eat
Against his better knowledge, not deceived,
But fondly overcome with female charm.
Paradise Lost, Book IX
For this purpose the declaration of Paul is adduced,

‘Adam was not deceived, but the woman.’
(1 Timothy 2:14.)

But Paul in that place, as he is teaching that the origin of evil was from the woman, only speaks comparatively. Indeed, it was not only for the sake of complying with the wishes of his wife, that he transgressed the law laid down for him; but being drawn by her into fatal ambition, he became partaker of the same defection with her. And truly Paul elsewhere states that sin came not by the woman, but by Adam himself, (Romans 5:12.) Then, the reproof which soon afterwards follows ‘Behold, Adam is as one of us,’ clearly proves that he also foolishly coveted more than was lawful, and gave greater credit to the flatteries of the devil than to the sacred word of God.

It is now asked, What was the sin of both of them? The opinion of some of the ancients, that they were allured by intemperance of appetite, is puerile. For when there was such an abundance of the choicest fruits what daintiness could there be about one particular kind? Augustine is more correct, who says, that pride was the beginning of all evils, and that by pride the human race was ruined. Yet a fuller definition of the sin may be drawn from the kind of temptation which Moses describes. For first the woman is led away from the word of God by the wiles of Satan, through unbelief.169169     “Per infidelitatem.” Wherefore, the commencement of the ruin by which the human race was overthrown was a defection from the command of God. But observe, that men then revolted from God, when, having forsaken his word, they lent their ears to the falsehoods of Satan. Hence we infer, that God will be seen and adored in his word; and, therefore, that all reverence for him is shaken off when his word is despised. A doctrine most useful to be known, for the word of God obtains its due honor only with few so that they who rush onward with impunity in contempt of this word, yet arrogate to themselves a chief rank among the worshippers of God. But as God does not manifest himself to men otherwise than through the word, so neither is his majesty maintained, nor does his worship remain secure among us any longer than while we obey his word. Therefore, unbelief was the root of defection; just as faith alone unites us to God. Hence flowed ambition and pride, so that the woman first, and then her husband, desired to exalt themselves against God. For truly they did exalt themselves against God, when, honor having been divinely conferred upon them, they not contented with such excellence, desired to know more than was lawful, in order that they might become equal with God. Here also monstrous ingratitude betrays itself. They had been made in the likeness of God; but this seems a small thing unless equality be added. Now, it is not to be endured that designing and wicked men should labor in vain, as well as absurdly, to extenuate the sin of Adam and his wife. For apostasy is no light offense, but detestable wickedness, by which man withdraws himself from the authority of his Creator, yea, even rejects and denies him. Besides it was not simple apostasy, but combined with atrocious contumelies and reproaches against God himself. Satan accuses God of falsehoods of envy, and of malignity, and our first parents subscribe to a calumny thus vile and execrable. At length, having despised the command of God, they not only indulge their own lust, but enslave themselves to the devil. If any one prefers a shorter explanation, we may say unbelief has opened the door to ambition, but ambition has proved the parent of rebellion, to the end that men, having cast aside the fear of God, might shake off his yoke. On this account, Paul teaches use that by the disobedience of Adam sin entered into the world. Let us imagine that there was nothing worse than the transgression of the command; we shall not even thus have succeeded far in extenuating the fault of Adam. God, having both made him free in everything, and appointed him as king of the world, chose to put his obedience to the proof, in requiring abstinence from one tree alone. This condition did not please him. Perverse declaimers may plead in excuse, that the woman was allured by the beauty of the tree, and the man ensnared by the blandishments of Eve. Yet the milder the authority of God, the less excusable was their perverseness in rejecting it. But we must search more deeply for the origin and cause of sin. For never would they have dared to resist God, unless they had first been incredulous of his word. And nothing allured them to covet the fruit but mad ambition. So long as they firmly believing in God’s word, freely suffered themselves to be governed by Him, they had serene and duly regulated affections. For, indeed, their best restraint was the thoughts which entirely occupied their minds, that God is just, that nothing is better than to obey his commands and that to be loved by him is the consummation of a happy life. But after they had given place to Satan’s blasphemy, they began, like persons fascinated, to lose reason and judgment; yea, since they were become the slaves of Satan; he held their very senses bound. Still further, we know that sins are not estimated in the sight of God by the external appearance, but by the inward disposition.

Again, it appears to many absurd, that the defection of our first parents is said to have proved the destruction of the whole race; and, on this accounts they freely bring an accusation against God. Pelagius, on the other hand, lest, as he falsely feared, the corruption of human nature should be charged upon God, ventured to deny original sin. But an error so gross is plainly refuted, not only by solid testimonies of Scripture, but also by experience itself. The corruption of our nature was unknown to the philosophers who, in other respects, were sufficiently, and more than sufficiently, acute. Surely this stupor itself was a signal proof of original sin. For all who are not utterly blinds perceive that no part of us is sound; that the mind is smitten with blindness, and infected with innumerable errors; that all the affections of the heart are full of stubbornness and wickedness; that vile lusts, or other diseases equally fatal, reign there; and that all the senses burst forth170170     “Scatere,” send forth as from a fountain. with many vices. Since, however none but God alone is a proper judge in this cause, we must acquiesce in the sentence which he has pronounced in the Scriptures. In the first place, Scripture clearly teaches us that we are born vicious and perverse. The cavil of Pelagius was frivolous, that sin proceeded from Adam by imitation. For David, while still enclosed in his mother’s womb, could not be an imitator of Adam, yet he confesses that he was conceived in sin, (Psalm 51:5.) A fuller proof of this matter, and a more ample definition of original sin, may be found in the Institutes;171171     Calvin’s Institutes, Book II, chap. 1, 2, 3. yet here, in a single word, I will attempt to show how far it extends. Whatever in our nature is vicious — since it is not lawful to ascribe it to God — we justly reject as sin.172172     “Merito in peccatum rejicimus.” But Paul (Romans 3:10) teaches that corruption does not reside in one part only, but pervades the whole soul, and each of its faculties. Whence it follows, that they childishly err who regard original sin as consisting only in lust, and in the inordinate motion of the appetites, whereas it seizes upon the very seat of reason, and upon the whole heart. To sin is annexed condemnation,173173     “Peccato annexus est reatus.” or, as Paul speaks,

‘By man came sin, and by sin, death,’ (Romans 5:12.)

Wherefore he elsewhere pronounces us to be ‘the children of wrath;’ as if he would subject us to an eternal curse, (Ephesians 2:3.) In short, that we are despoiled of the excellent gifts of the Holy Spirit, of the light of reason, of justice, and of rectitude, and are prone to every evil; that we are also lost and condemned, and subjected to death, is both our hereditary condition, and, at the same time, a just punishments which God, in the person of Adam, has indicted on the human race. Now, if any one should object, that it is unjust for the innocent to bear the punishment of another’s sin, I answer, whatever gifts God had conferred upon us in the person of Adams he had the best right to take away, when Adam wickedly fell. Nor is it necessary to resort to that ancient figment of certain writers, that souls are derived by descent from our first parents.174174     “Quod animae ex traduce oriuntur.” — “Que les ames procedent de celle d’Adam.” That souls proceed from that of Adam. — French Tr.
   It can be scarcely necessary to inform the reader, that a controversy of some magnitude engaged the attention of the learned, on the subject to which Calvin here alludes; namely, whether the souls of men are, like their bodies, propagated by descent from Adam, or whether they proceed immediately from God. The supposed descent of the soul from Adam was said to be ex traduce, by traduction. — Ed.
For the human race has not naturally derived corruption through its descent from Adam; but that result is rather to be traced to the appointment of God, who, as he had adorned the whole nature of mankind with most excellent endowments in one man, so in the same man he again denuded it. But now, from the time in which we were corrupted in Adam, we do not bear the punishment of another’s offense, but are guilty by our own fault.

A question is mooted by some, concerning the time of this fall, or rather ruin. The opinion has been pretty generally received, that they fell on the day they were created; and, therefore Augustine writes, that they stood only for six hours. The conjecture of others, that the temptation was delayed by Satan till the Sabbath, in order to profane that sacred day, is but weak. And certainly, by instances like these, all pious persons are admonished sparingly to indulge themselves in doubtful speculations. As for myself, since I have nothing to assert positively respecting the time, so I think it may be gathered from the narration of Moses, that they did not long retain the dignity they had received; for as soon as he has said they were created, he passes, without the mention of any other thing, to their fall. If Adam had lived but a moderate space of time with his wife, the blessing of God would not have been unfruitful in the production of offspring; but Moses intimates that they were deprived of God’s benefits before they had become accustomed to use them. I therefore readily subscribe to the exclamation of Augustine, ‘O wretched freewill, which, while yet entire, had so little stability!’ And, to say no more respecting the shortness of the time, the admonition of Bernard is worthy of remembrance: ‘Since we read that a fall so dreadful took place in Paradise, what shall we do on the dunghill?’ At the same time, we must keep in memory by what pretext they were led into this delusion so fatal to themselves, and to all their posterity. Plausible was the adulation of Satan, ‘Ye shall know good and evil;’ but that knowledge was therefore accursed, because it was sought in preference to the favor of God. Wherefore, unless we wish, of our own accord, to fasten the same snares upon ourselves, let us learn entirely to depend upon the sole will of God, whom we acknowledge as the Author of all good. And, since the Scripture everywhere admonishes us of our nakedness and poverty, and declares that we may recover in Christ what we have lost in Adams let us, renouncing all self-confidence, offer ourselves empty to Christ, that he may fill us with his own riches.

VIEWNAME is study