So 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.
Here is one of the most famous, if not infamous, stories in Genesis —or the entire Bible. Contrary to what we may have heard, the labels "original sin" and "the fall of mankind" are never used in the Bible to refer to this passage. Those terms evolved much later, as people struggled to explain human failing, human disobedience.
This is a story (complete with a talking snake) to illustrate something we all do: fall short of our better natures. Walter Brueggemann says in his brilliant commentary on Genesis that the serpent is not Satan, nor a phallic symbol; the serpent is simply a created "character" to move the plot along. And, as all the vivid, memorable stories in the Bible do, this story means a great deal more than meets the eye.
Archetypal stories like this one give us stepping stones or pathways—signposts!—for our own journeys. Adam and Eve were given a prohibition: do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they disobeyed. This was not Eve’s "temptation" of Adam; he was standing right with her during her conversation with the snake and they both ate the fruit.
Genesis has been called an ancient book of modern wisdom; here is a prime example of that wisdom. Rather than The Fall, it is a story of Failure, failure to obey rules, limits, boundaries of all kinds, not just sexual ones. There are serious consequences for such behavior, as the Genesis story makes clear. The couple is banished from Eden.
Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, to the east of Eden, but before they leave, “God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them,” like a parent sending her child off on the first day of school. Though we fail, God enables us, always, to begin again.
Thank you, God, for the gift of personal freedom and even more for your abiding presence with us. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.