This is one of the most important areas of discussion. The Fall is an important event in the history of the world and redemption. It is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith.
Context of the fall
Although the Fall, which simply refers to the first sin of man and the resultant break of fellowship with God, takes place in the third chapter of Genesis, we have to at least have a general understanding of its context (chapters 1-2 of Genesis). These first three chapters of Genesis are fundamental to the understanding of the rest of the Bible. Throughout the Bible we find these important themes: God and creation, man and sin, Christ and redemption. All of these, however, begin here! In Chapter 1 we find the existence of God. We also see that He is the sovereign Creator of all things. We especially find that He created man in His image, according to His likeness (1:26-27). In short, this means that mankind is distinct from the rest of creation; we are moral and rational beings, with the purpose of representing God on earth (Genesis 1:28; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). It also means we have a unique relationship to God, different from the animals, as is clearly evidenced throughout Scripture. In Chapter 2 of Genesis we find that God gives a specific command to Adam:
“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 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 2:15-17)
The warning is clear enough, disobedience to God’s command leads to death (both physical and spiritual).
This is what we find in Chapter 3, where the serpent tempts Adam’s wife, Eve, to sin. We know from subsequent Scripture that this serpent was Satan or the Devil (Revelation 12:9; 20:2; cf. John 8:44). The Bible doesn’t describe what the serpent looked like, but there’s no reason to believe that the serpent looked any different from serpents (snakes) today. Although some have concluded that this account is parabolic or poetic, not representing literal history, we should think of it as a literal and historical account. For instance, Adam is treated as a historical figure (Luke 3:38; Romans 5:12-14). To deny the historicity of this account is to bring the rest of Scripture into question. While it seems strange to us that a serpent could communicate with a human being in some way, we must give the benefit of the doubt to God’s word. Further, we do know that demons, which are fallen angels (Satan being the leader of fallen angels), can inhabit animal life (Mark 5:9-13).
The temptation and fall of mankind
In any case, we find here in Chapter 3 the temptation and Fall of mankind. The serpent begins by bringing doubts into Eve’s mind, as well as misquoting God (Genesis 3:1). Eve responds by correcting the serpent, but then adds onto God’s word: “or touch it” (Genesis 3:2-3). The serpent then outright denies God’s word and essentially calls Him a liar: “You surely will not die!” (Genesis 3:4). The serpent basically brings into question God’s generosity and blessing, making it appear that God is holding back true quality and fullness of life. The serpent asserts that if Eve eats the fruit she will be like God. The irony in this is that man was created in the image and likeness of God. What more could they ask for!? Further, God instructed them to rule over the earth, including the animals (Genesis 1:28). Here, however, the animal (serpent) is ruling over or influencing man. It appears that the serpent was tempting them to try to become equal with God, to overthrow God’s reign and rule themselves. Though this is not attainable, it is certainly what man attempts by denying the existence of God and seeking to live by their own rules. Next, Eve noticed that the forbidden fruit was good for food, it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree could make one wise. By her fleshly desires she ate the fruit and then gave to her husband (Adam), and he ate (Genesis 3:6). In short, this resulted in their spiritual death (sinful nature and separation from God; Genesis 3:8-13), as well as their physical death, though delayed (Genesis 5:5).
The sin of eating the fruit
It is important to keep in mind that there was nothing inherently sinful about eating the fruit. Rather, when God commanded the man not to eat it, then it became an established law for man to obey. The seriousness with this sin, as with all sin, is that it is against God and His law (Psalm 51:4; 1 John 3:4).
The promise of a Savior
Because of Adam’s sin, the rest of mankind after him is born with a sin nature, living contrary to God and His ways (Psalm 51:5; Mark 7:20-23; Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1-3). However, God gave Adam and Eve the promise of a Savior, who would defeat the work of Satan (Genesis 3:15), and this was signified by the killing of an animal(s) (likely a lamb) to serve as a covering for their naked bodies (3:21). In Colossians 2, for example, we are told that Christ has defeated Satan’s work through the cross, and that those who are united to Him by faith, have life in Him (Colossians 2:6-15; cf. Romans 6:23). In summary, the Fall of man means that mankind is born into this world as sinful creatures, under God’s just judgment. They are in need of a Savior, and this Savior is Jesus Christ, who has perfectly obeyed God’s will, who bore our sin and penalty on the cross, who rose victoriously from the grave, having defeated sin and death. Those who repent of their sins and believe in Christ alone for their salvation will be saved!
Thanks to GospelImages for the painting.