What Is the Bible’s View?
Why Were Adam and Eve Punished, and How?
MANY sincere believers in the Bible have at times wondered about Adam and Eve losing their Paradise home and life itself for what seems to them to be a trifling transgression—eating the fruit of a forbidden tree. They have also speculated as to what happened to Adam and Eve at death.—Gen. 3:1-19.
First of all, let us note that, being the Giver of life and the blessings of Paradise to Adam and Eve, God had the right to make the enjoyment of these conditional. This he did by telling Adam that continued enjoyment would depend upon his not eating the fruit of a certain tree. In doing so, God was not asking anything too difficult of our first parents; just a simple prohibition: ‘Refrain from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and bad.’—Gen. 2:16, 17.
But someone may reply, ‘True, God had the right to issue such a command, but did he have to do so?’ Jehovah God had freely bestowed upon Adam and Eve countless blessings. But did they appreciate these blessings? Were they grateful to their Creator for all he had done for them? For God to have continued to shower blessings upon them without their showing appreciation would have tended to make them selfish and to ignore their Benefactor.
So Jehovah God placed an extremely simple test upon them: They were not to eat from a certain clearly identified tree in a garden that was filled with all kinds of fine fruit trees; but they could eat from all the other trees. Certainly that was not too difficult a test. Adam fully knew the penalty and so did Eve. Eve, however, chose to believe the one who spoke through the serpent instead of believing God, and Adam chose to listen to his wife who said, ‘Eat!’ instead of to Jehovah God, who had said, ‘Do not eat!’ Because Adam deliberately and with full knowledge went against the divine law, God enforced his penalty.
But could not God have taken a permissive attitude, the way judges and parents today sometimes do? Had he done so, would he not have been responsible for the outcome? Has not permissiveness on the part of humans brought about disrespect for just laws and increase of crime and lawlessness? Jehovah God could not be party to any such course of action, could he? Otherwise all the other creatures of the universe would have concluded that God’s Word is not reliable, that God is changeable, that he does not mean what he says, and that his laws can be violated with impunity.—Heb. 6:18.
By their actions Adam and Eve showed that they did not love their Creator, Jehovah God, with all their heart, soul, mind and strength; they showed that they did not appreciate all that God had done for them. So Jehovah God took from them both Paradise and, eventually, life itself. There is a lesson in this for us today. If we do not appreciate God’s blessings, no matter what they are, we will lose them. People who do not appreciate their health sufficiently to take care of it sooner or later lose it. Husbands or wives who do not appreciate their mates are in danger of losing them in one way or another.
How were Adam and Eve punished for their disobedience, their lack of appreciation? According to some religious teachers, at death Adam and Eve went to heaven. But is that reasonable? Does the Bible say they went to heaven? Why, if that were the case, Adam and Eve would have been given a greater reward and blessing for sinning than they would have had for being obedient. Had they not sinned, the best they could have hoped for was to live in an earthly Paradise to time indefinite, for God said nothing about an existence for them elsewhere. No, it is not reasonable to conclude that Adam and Eve improved matters for themselves by disobeying God.
Well, then, did Adam and Eve go to a burning hell to be tormented forever? If God had purposed to punish them in that way, surely he should have warned them to that effect. Jehovah would then have said to Adam: ‘If you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you will go to hell and be tormented forever and ever.’ But God said nothing of the sort. Then did he change the penalty for the crime after it had been committed? Why, even imperfect men realize that to be unjust. Surely God is not less just than man, is He?—Gen. 18:25.
The fact is that in sentencing Adam and Eve God said nothing about their going either to heaven or to a fiery hell. They had been given life on the condition of obedience. When they disobeyed, Jehovah had no choice but to carry out the sentence of which they had been warned and to take from them what he had given them. And so God told Adam: “Because you . . . took to eating from the tree . . . In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground . . . For dust you are and to dust you will return.”—Gen. 3:17-19.
Upon returning to dust Adam ceased to exist. He was conscious of nothing at all, even as we read: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” What about Adam’s soul? Since, when he was created, he “came to be a living soul,” when he died he died as a soul. Yes, “the soul that is sinning—it itself will die.”—Eccl. 9:5; Gen. 2:7; Ezek. 18:4, 20.
But someone may say: ‘Granted, Adam’s penalty was just. But is God not also merciful? Where does mercy come in?’ (Ex. 34:6) Be it remembered that mercy does not mean condoning lawlessness and leaving deliberate violators of divine law unpunished. However, in permitting Adam and Eve to continue living for a time and to become parents, Jehovah God was acting mercifully toward those who did not become sinners by choice but by inheritance from their forefather. Not only did Jehovah permit Adam’s offspring to enjoy life for a limited time but he eventually made provision on the basis of the sacrifice of his dearest Son for all to become free from sin and death. (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:3-6) As a merciful God, he has patiently allowed time to pass so that humans are given an opportunity to learn of this provision and to choose to do his will. “He does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) Nevertheless, those of Adam’s offspring refusing to repent and having no desire to become servants of Jehovah God will not be exempted from punishment.—Compare Exodus 34:6, 7.
Truly this should motivate us to show appreciation for what God has done in our behalf, by being exclusively devoted to him and giving of our time and energies to aid others to gain his approval and life. This requires that we obey the new commandment given by Jesus, when he said: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) Are you seeking to display such unselfish, self-sacrificing love?2