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.

8. And they heard the voice of the Lord God. As soon as the voice of God sounds, Adam and Eve perceive that the leaves by which they thought themselves well protected are of no avail. Moses here relates nothing which does not remain in human nature, and may be clearly discerned at the present day. The difference between good and evil is engraven on the hearts of all, as Paul teaches, (Romans 2:15;) but all bury the disgrace of their vices under flimsy leaves till God, by his voice, strikes inwardly their consciences. Hence, after God had shaken them out of their torpor, their alarmed consciences compelled them to hear his voice. Moreover, what Jerome translates, ‘at the breeze after midday,’180180     “Ad auram post meridiem.” Vulgate. is, in the Hebrew, ‘at the wind of the day;’181181     לרוח היום, (leruach hayom). the Greeks, omitting the word ‘wind,’ have put ‘at the evening.’182182     Τὸ δειλινόν. Sept. Thus the opinion has prevailed, that Adam, having sinned about noon, was called to judgment about sunset. But I rather incline to a different conjecture, namely, that being covered with their garment, they passed the night in silence and quiet, the darkness aiding their hypocrisy; then, about sunrise, being again thoroughly awakened, they recollected themselves. We know that at the rising of the sun the air is naturally excited; together, then, with this gentle breeze, God appeared; but Moses would improperly have called the evening air that of the day. Others take the word as describing the southern part or region; and certainly רוח (ruach) sometimes among the Hebrews signifies one or another region of the world.183183     This criticism, it is presumed, cannot be maintained. It seems to derive no countenance whatever but from some passages of Scripture, which speak of God as scattering his people to the four winds of heaven. (See Jeremiah 49:32, and Jeremiah 52:23.) The common interpretation given in our version, “the cool of the day,” as applied to evening, is supported by the highest authorities, such as Cocceius, Schindler, Gesenius, and Lee. Le Clerc, however, adopts the same interpretation as Calvin. — Ed. Others think that the time is here specified as one least exposed to terrors, for in the clear light there is the greater security; and thus, they conceive, is fulfilled what the Scripture declares that they who have accusing consciences are always anxious and disquieted, even without any danger. To this point they refer what is added respecting the wind, as if Adam was terrified at the sound of a falling leaf. But what I have advanced is more true and simple, that what was hid under the darkness of the night was detected at the rising of the sun. Yet I do not doubt that some notable symbol of the presence of God was in that gentle breeze; for although (as I have lately said) the rising sun is wont daily to stir up some breath of air, this is not opposed to the supposition that God gave some extraordinary sign of his approach, to arouse the consciences of Adam and his wife. For, since he is in himself incomprehensible, he assumes, when he wishes to manifest himself to men, those marks by which he may be known. David calls the winds the messengers of God, on the wings of which he rides, or rather flies, with incredible velocity. (Psalm 104:3.) But, as often as he sees good, he uses the winds, as well as other created things, beyond the order of nature, according to his own will. Therefore, Moses, in here mentioning the wind, intimates (according to my judgment) that some unwonted and remarkable symbol of the Divine presence was put forth which should vehemently affect the minds of our first parents. This resource, namely, that of fleeing from God’s presence, was nothing better than the former; since God, with his voice alone, soon brings back the fugitives. It is. written,

‘Whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I traverse the sea, if I take wings and ascend above the clouds, if I descend into the profound abyss, thou, Lord, wilt be everywhere,’
(Psalm 139:7.)

This we all confess to be true; yet we do not, in the meantime, cease to snatch at vain subterfuges; and we fancy that shadows of any kind will prove a most excellent defense. Nor is it to be here omitted, that he, who had found a few leaves to be unavailing, fled to whole trees; for so we are accustomed, when shut out from frivolous cavils, to frame new excuses, which may hide us as under a denser shade. When Moses says that Adam and his wife hid themselves ‘in the midst of the tree184184     בתיך עץ הגו. (Betok aitz haggan.) “In medio ligni Paradisi.” — Vulgate. Εν μέσω του ξύλου του παραδείσου — Sept. Where the singular number is used in each case. It may be translated, “in the midst of the wood of Paradise;” and wood may be, as in English, used collectively for a number of trees, a forest, or a thicket. Calvin, in his version, translates the clause, “in medio arborum horti.” of Paradise,’ I understand that the singular member is put for the plural; as if he had said, among the trees.

9. And the Lord God called unto Adam. They had been already smitten by the voice of God, but they lay confounded under the trees, until another voice more effectually penetrated their minds. Moses says that Adam was called by the Lord. Had he not been called before? The former, however, was a confused sound, which had no sufficient force to press upon the conscience. Therefore God now approaches nearer, and from the tangled thicket of trees185185     “Ex multiplici arborum complexu.” draws him, however unwilling and resisting, forth into the midst. In the same manner we also are alarmed at the voice of God, as soon as his law sounds in our ears; but presently we snatch at shadows, until he, calling upon us more vehemently, compels us to come forward, arraigned at his tribunal. Paul calls this the life of the Law,186186     “Vitam Legis.” The life or power of the law. — See Romans 7:6. when it slays us by charging us with our sins. For as long as we are pleased with ourselves, and are inflated with a false notion that we are alive, the law is dead to us, because we blunt its point by our hardness; but when it pierces us more sharply, we are driven into new terrors.

10. And he said , I heard thy voice. Although this seems to be the confession of a dejected and humbled man, it will nevertheless soon appear that he was not yet properly subdued, nor led to repentance. He imputes his fear to the voice of God, and to his own nakedness, as, if he had never before heard God speaking without being alarmed, and had not been even sweetly exhilarated by his speech. His excessive stupidity appears in this, that he fails to recognize the cause of shame in his sin; he, therefore, shows that he does not yet so feel his punishment, as to confess his fault. In the meantime, he proves what I said before to be true, that original sin does not reside in one part of the body only, but holds its dominion over the whole man, and so occupies every part of the soul, that none remains in its integrity; for, notwithstanding his fig-leaves, he still dreads the presence of God.

11. Who told thee that thou wast naked ? An indirect reprimand to reprove the sottishness of Adam in not perceiving his fault in his punishment, as if it had been said, not simply that Adam was afraid at the voice of God, but that the voice of his judge was formidable to him because he was a sinner. Also, that not his nakedness, but the turpitude of the vice by which he had defiled himself, was the cause of fear; and certainly he was guilty of intolerable impiety against God in seeking the origin of evil in nature. Not that he would accuse God in express terms; but deploring his own misery, and dissembling the fact that he was himself the author of it, he malignantly transfers to God the charge which he ought to have brought against himself. What the Vulgate translates, ‘Unless it be that thou hast eaten of the tree,’187187     “Nisi quod de arbore,” are the words which Calvin gives. The expression of the Vulgate really is — “Nisi quod ex ligno.” There is no difference in the sense. — Ed. is rather an interrogation.188188     “Nonne ex ipsa arbore... comedisti?” as in our own version. God asks, in the language of doubt, not as if he were searching into some disputable matter, but for the purpose of piercing more acutely the stupid man, who, laboring under fatal disease, is yet unconscious of his malady; just as a sick man, who complains that he is burning, yet thinks not of fever. Let us, however remember that we shall profit nothing by any prevarications but that God will always bind us by a most just accusation in the sin of Adam. The clause, “whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat,” is added to remove the pretext of ignorance. For God intimates that Adam was admonished in time; and that he fell from no other cause than this, that he knowingly and voluntarily brought destruction upon himself. Again, the atrocious nature of sin is marked in this transgression and rebellion; for, as nothing is more acceptable to God than obedience, so nothing is more intolerable than when men, having spurned his commandments, obey Satan and their own lust.

12. The woman whom thou gavest to be with me. The boldness of Adam now more clearly betrays itself; for, so far from being subdued, he breaks forth into coarser blasphemy. He had before been tacitly expostulating with God; now he begins openly to contend with him, and triumphs as one who has broken through all barriers. Whence we perceive what a refractory and indomitable creature man began to be when he became alienated from God; for a lively picture of corrupt nature is presented to us in Adam from the moment of his revolt.

‘Every one,’ says James, ‘is tempted by his own concupiscence,’ (James 1:14;)

and even Adam, not otherwise than knowingly and willingly, had set himself, as a rebel, against God. Yet, just as if conscious of no evil, he puts his wife as the guilty party in his place. ‘Therefore I have eaten,’ he says, ‘because she gave.’ And not content with this, he brings, at the same time, an accusation against God; objecting that the wife, who had brought ruin upon him, had been given by God. We also, trained in the same school of original sin, are too ready to resort to subterfuges of the same kind; but to no purpose; for howsoever incitements and instigations from other quarters may impel us, yet the unbelief which seduces us from obedience to God is within us; the pride is within which brings forth contempt.

13. And the Lord God said unto the woman. God contends no further with the man, nor was it necessary; for he aggravates rather than diminishes his crime, first by a frivolous defense, then by an impious disparagement of God, in short, though he rages he is yet held convicted. The Judge now turns to the woman, that the cause of both being heard, he may at length pronounce sentence. The old interpreter thus renders God’s address: ‘Why hast thou done this?’189189     “Quare hoc fecisti?” — Vulgate. But the Hebrew phrase has more vehemence; for it is the language of one who wonders as at something prodigious. It ought therefore rather to be rendered, ‘How hast thou done this?’190190     “Quomodo hoc fecisti?” מה-זאת עשית as if he had said, ‘How was it possible that thou shouldst bring thy mind to be so perverse a counsellor to thy husband?’

The serpent beguiled me. Eve ought to have been confounded at the portentous wickedness concerning which she was admonished. Yet she is not struck dumb, but, after the example of her husband, transfers the charge to another; by laying the blame on the serpent, she foolishly, indeed, and impiously, thinks herself absolved. For her answer comes at length to this: ‘I received from the serpent what thou hadst forbidden; the serpent, therefore, was the impostor.’ But who compelled Eve to listen to his fallacies, and even to place confidence in them more readily than in the word of God? Lastly, how did she admit them, but by throwing open and betraying that door of access which God had sufficiently fortified? But the fruit of original sin everywhere presents itself; being blind in its own hypocrisy, it would gladly render God mute and speechless. And whence arise daily so many murmurs, but because God does not hold his peace whenever we choose to blind ourselves?

14. And the Lord God said unto the serpent. He does not interrogate the serpent as he had done the man and the woman; because, in the animal itself there was no sense of sin, and because, to the devil he would hold out no hope of pardon. He might truly, by his own authority, have pronounced sentence against Adam and Eve, though unheard. Why then does he call them to undergo examination, except that he has a care for their salvation? This doctrine is to be applied to our benefit. There would be no need of any trial of the cause, or of any solemn form of judgment, in order to condemn us; wherefore, while God insists upon extorting a confession from us, he acts rather as a physician than as a judge. There is the same reason why the Lords before he imposes punishment on man, begins with the serpent. For corrective punishments (as we shall see) are of a different kind, and are inflicted with the design of leading us to repentance; but in this there is nothing of the sort.

It is, however, doubtful to whom the words refer, whether to the serpent or to the devil. Moses, indeed, says that the serpent was a skillful and cunning animal; yet it is certain, that, when Satan was devising the destruction of man, the serpent was guiltless of his fraud and wickedness. Wherefore, many explain this whole passage allegorically, and plausible are the subtleties which they adduce for this purpose. But when all things are more accurately weighed, readers endued with sound judgment will easily perceive that the language is of a mixed character; for God so addresses the serpent that the last clause belongs to the devil. If it seem to any one absurd, that the punishment of another’s fraud should be exacted from a brute animal, the solution is at hand; that, since it had been created for the benefit of man, there was nothing improper in its being accursed from the moment that it was employed for his destruction. And by this act of vengeance God would prove how highly he estimates the salvation of man; just as if a father should hold the sword in execration by which his son had been slain. And here we must consider, not only the kind of authority which God has over his creatures, but also the end for which he created them, as I have recently said. For the equity of the divine sentence depends on that order of nature which he has sanctioned; it has, therefore, no affinity whatever with blind revenge. In this manner the reprobate will be delivered over into eternal fire with their bodies; which bodies, although they are not self-moved, are yet the instruments of perpetrating evil. So whatever wickedness a man commits is ascribed to his hands, and, therefore, they are deemed polluted; while yet they do not more themselves, except so far as, under the impulse of a depraved affection of the heart, they carry into execution what has been there conceived. According to this method of reasoning, the serpent is said to have done what the devil did by its means. But if God so severely avenged the destruction of man upon a brute animal, much less did he spare Satan, the author of the whole evil, as will appear more clearly in the concluding part of the address.

Thou art cursed above all cattle This curse of God has such force against the serpents as to render it despicable, and scarcely tolerable to heaven and earth, leading a life exposed to, and replete with, constant terrors. Besides, it is not only hateful to us, as the chief enemy of the human race, but, being separated also from other animals, carries on a kind of war with nature; for we see it had before been so gentle that the woman did not flee from its familiar approach. But what follows has greater difficulty because that which God denounces as a punishment seems to be natural; namely, that it should creep upon its belly and eat dust. This objection has induced certain men of learning and ability to say, that the serpent had been accustomed to walk with an erect body before it had been abused by Satan.191191     See Bishop Patrick’s Commentary. There will, however, be no absurdity in supposing, that the serpent was again consigned to that former condition, to which he was already naturally subject. For thus he, who had exalted himself against the image of God, was to be thrust back into his proper rank; as if it had been said, ‘Thou, a wretched and filthy animal, hast dared to rise up against man, whom I appointed to the dominion of the whole world; as if, truly, thou, who art fixed to the earth, hadst any right to penetrate into heaven. Therefore, I now throw thee back again to the place whence thou hast attempted to emerge, that thou mayest learn to be contented with thy lot, and no more exalt thyself, to man’s reproach and injury.’ In the meanwhile he is recalled from his insolent motions to his accustomed mode of going, in such a way as to be, at the same time, condemned to perpetual infamy. To eat dust is the sign of a vile and sordid nature. This (in my opinion) is the simple meaning of the passage, which the testimony of Isaiah also confirms, (Isaiah 65:25;) for while he promises under the reign of Christ, the complete restoration of a sound and well-constituted nature, he records, among other things, that dust shall be to the serpent for bread. Wherefore, it is not necessary to seek for any fresh change in each particular which Moses here relates.

15. I will put enmity. I interpret this simply to mean that there should always be the hostile strife between the human race and serpents, which is now apparent; for, by a secret feeling of nature, man abhors them. It is regarded, as among prodigies, that some men take pleasure in them; and as often as the sight of a serpent inspires us with horrors the memory of our fall is renewed. With this I combine in one continued discourse what immediately follows: ‘It shall wound thy head, and thou shalt wound its heel.’ For he declares that there shall be such hatred that on both sides they shall be troublesome to each other; the serpent shall be vexatious towards men, and men shall be intent on the destruction of serpents. Meanwhile, we see that the Lord acts mercifully in chastising man, whom he does not suffer Satan to touch except in the heel ; while he subjects the head of the serpent to be wounded by him. For in the terms head and heel there is a distinction between the superior and the inferior. And thus God leaves some remains of dominion to man; because he so places the mutual disposition to injure each other, that yet their condition should not be equal, but man should be superior in the conflict. Jerome, in turning the first member of the sentence, ‘Thou shalt bruise the head;’192192     “Conteres caput.” The version of the Vulgate is, “conteret caput.” But this does not affect the validity of Calvin’s criticism, his object being to show the inpropriety of translating the same Hebrew word by Latin words of such different meaning as contero and insidior. — Ed. and the second, “Thou shalt be ensnared in the heel”,193193     Insidiaberis calcaneo.” does it without reason, for the same verb is repeated by Moses; the difference is to be noted only in the head and the heel, as I have just now said. Yet the Hebrew verb whether derived from שוף (shooph,) or from שפה (shapha,) some interpret to bruise or to strike, others to bite194194     See Cocceius, Gesenius, and Professor Lee, sub voce שוף. — Ed I have, however, no doubt that Moses wished to allude to the name of the serpent which is called in Hebrew שפיפון (shipiphon,) from שפה (shapha,) or שוף (shooph).195195     There would appear greater force in Calvin’s criticism if this had been the name given to the serpent in the narrative of Moses. The word here used, however, is נחש, (nachash,) which gives no countenance to the supposed reference; besides, the word quoted by Calvin only refers to a particular kind of serpent, not to the whole species. — Ed

We must now make a transition from the serpent to the author of this mischief himself; and that not only in the way of comparison, for there truly is a literal anagogy;196196     Anagogy. This word is inserted from the original for want of a more generally intelligible term in our own language to express the author’s meaning. It is from the Greek Αναγωγή, which signifies “a raising on high, especially elevation of the mind above earthly things to abstract speculations, (in ecclesiastical writings,) to the contemplation of the sublime truths and mysteries of Holy Scripture.” The meaning of Calvin is, that there was an intentional transition from the serpent to the spiritual being who made use of it. — Ed because God has not so vented his anger upon the outward instrument as to spare the devil, with whom lay all the blame. That this may the more certainly appear to us, it is worth the while first to observe that the Lord spoke not for the sake of the serpent but of the man; fur what end could it answer to thunder against the serpent in unintelligible words? Wherefore respect was had to men; both that they might be affected with a greater dread of sin, seeing how highly displeasing it is to God, and that hence they might take consolation for their misery, because they would perceive that God is still propitious to them. But now it is obvious to and how slender and insignificant would be the argument for a good hope, if mention were here made of a serpent only; because nothing would be then provided for, except the fading and transient life of the body. Men would remain, in the meanwhile, the slaves of Satan, who would proudly triumph over them, and trample on their heads. Wherefore, that God might revive the fainting minds of men, and restore them when oppressed by despair, it became necessary to promise them, in their posterity victory over Satan, through whose wiles they had been ruined. This, then, was the only salutary medicine which could recover the lost, and restore life to the dead. I therefore conclude, that God here chiefly assails Satan under the name of the serpent, and hurls against him the lightning of his judgment. This he does for a twofold reason: first, that men may learn to beware of Satan as of a most deadly enemy; then, that they may contend against him with the assured confidence of victory.

Now, though all do not dissent in their minds from Satan yea, a great part adhere to him too familiarly — yet, in reality, Satan is their enemy; nor do even those cease to dread him whom he soothes by his flatteries; and because he knows that the minds of men are set against him, he craftily insinuates himself by indirect methods, and thus deceives them under a disguised form.197197     “Et les decoit en se masquant de la personne d’autruy.” — French Trans. In short, it is in grafted in us by nature to flee from Satan as our adversary. And, in order to show that he should be odious not to one generation only, God expressly says, ‘between thee and the seed of the woman,’ as widely indeed, as the human race shall be propagated. He mentions the woman on this account, because, as she had yielded to the subtlety of the devils and being first deceived, had drawn her husband into the participation of her ruin, so she had peculiar need of consolation.

It shall bruise198198     “Ipsum vulnerabit.” This passage affords too clear a proof of the great ignorance, dullness, and carelessness, which have prevailed among all the learned men of the Papacy. The feminine gender has crept in instead of the masculine or neuter. There has been none among them who would consult the Hebrew or Greek codices, or who would even compare the Latin copies with each other.199199     See the Vulgate. “Ipsa conteret,” — She shall bruise. The following judicious note from Professor Lee’s Hebrew Lexicon confirms the criticism of Calvin: — “The attempt that has been made gravely to justify a blunder of the Vulgate, which here reads ipsa for ipse, is a melancholy proof of the great neglect of the study of Hebrew in this country. Any one acquainted with the first elements of the grammar would see that, to make the Vulgate correct, we must substitute תשופר for ישופך, and תשופנה for תשופנו,” — that is, both the form and the affixes of the verb would require alteration, in order to accommodate themselves to the change of gender. — Ed Therefore, by a common error, this most corrupt reading has been received. Then, a profane exposition of it has been invented, by applying to the mother of Christ what is said concerning her seed.

There is, indeed no ambiguity in the words here used by Moses; but I do not agree with others respecting their meaning; for other interpreters take the seed for Christ, without controversy; as if it were said, that some one would arise from the seed of the woman who should wound the serpent’s head. Gladly would I give my suffrage in support of their opinion, but that I regard the word seed as too violently distorted by them; for who will concede that a collective noun is to be understood of one man only? Further, as the perpetuity of the contest is noted, so victory is promised to the human race through a continual succession of ages. I explain, therefore, the seed to mean the posterity of the woman generally. But since experience teaches that not all the sons of Adam by far, arise as conquerors of the devil, we must necessarily come to one head, that we may find to whom the victory belongs. So Paul, from the seed of Abraham, leads us to Christ; because many were degenerate sons, and a considerable part adulterous, through infidelity; whence it follows that the unity of the body flows from the head. Wherefore, the sense will be (in my judgment) that the human race, which Satan was endeavoring to oppress, would at length be victorious.200200     The judicious reader will hardly acknowledge the reasoning of Calvin to be valid. The whole subject here referred to is discussed with great learning and acuteness, as well as with great force of language, by Bishop Horsley, in his second Sermon on Peter 1:20, 21. — Ed. In the meantime, we must keep in mind that method of conquering which the Scripture describes. Satan has, in all ages, led the sons of men “captive at his will”, and, to this day, retains his lamentable triumph over them, and for that reason is called the prince of the world, (John 12:31.) But because one stronger than he has descended from heaven, who will subdue him, hence it comes to pass that, in the same manner, the whole Church of God, under its Head, will gloriously exult over him. To this the declaration of Paul refers,

“The Lord shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly,”
(Romans 16:20.)

By which words he signifies that the power of bruising Satan is imparted to faithful men, and thus the blessing is the common property of the whole Church; but he, at the same time, admonishes us, that it only has its commencement in this world; because God crowns none but well-tried wrestlers.

VIEWNAME is study