The Bible’s Viewpoint
What Was the Original Sin?
WHAT was the original sin? “Sex,” many people will answer. They believe that the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden was a symbol of sexual relations and that Adam and Eve sinned by committing a sexual act.
The idea is not new. According to historian Elaine Pagels, “the claim that Adam and Eve’s sin was to engage in sexual intercourse” was “common among such [second-century] Christian teachers as Tatian the Syrian, who taught that the fruit of the tree of knowledge conveyed carnal knowledge.” Also, to Christendom’s Church Father Augustine of the fifth century C.E., sin had its beginnings in sexual desire on Adam’s part. In fact, Psychology Today said “Adam’s sin was carnal knowledge.”
Others have taken the position that the tree of knowledge of good and bad represented knowledge itself. The Encyclopædia Britannica asserts that the “knowledge of good and evil” was “a classic expression for all knowledge.” That would mean that God wanted Adam and Eve to be ignorant and that they rebelled against him by seeking to expand their knowledge.
Both interpretations certainly paint a picture of an unfair and capricious Creator. Why would he create man with both sexual and intellectual needs and then allow him no means of fulfilling those desires without incurring a death penalty? Who would feel drawn to love and serve such a God?
Was Sex the Original Sin?
Many do not know that both these interpretations flatly contradict the context of the Genesis account. Let’s consider first the idea that God’s prohibition in Eden was really one against sexual relations. The law in question is recorded at Genesis 2:16, 17: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”
Was that really a veiled reference to sex? Well, as recorded at Genesis 1:27, 28, God commanded the man and the woman to “be fruitful and become many and fill the earth.” How were Adam and Eve to obey that command without having sexual relations? Are we really to suppose that God gave them a command and then sentenced them to death for trying to obey it?
Besides, the Genesis account shows that Adam and Eve sinned separately, not simultaneously. Ge Chapter 3, verse 6, makes it clear that Eve was seduced to eat of the fruit first and that “afterward she gave some also to her husband when with her and he began eating it.” So eating of the forbidden fruit would make an inept and farfetched symbol of sexual intercourse.
Was It Knowledge?
What about the claim that the forbidden fruit was a symbol of all knowledge? Actually, both Adam and Eve had already taken in plenty of knowledge before they disobeyed the law at Genesis 2:16, 17. Their Creator, Jehovah himself, was directly involved in their education. For instance, he brought all animals and birds to the man for him to name them. (Genesis 2:19, 20) No doubt Adam would have had to study each one carefully in order to give it an appropriate name. What an education in zoology! Eve, although created later, was also not ignorant. When questioned by the serpent, she showed that she had been educated in God’s law. She knew the difference between right and wrong, and she even knew the consequences of wrong actions.—Genesis 3:2, 3.
Interpretation of original sin as either sex or knowledge is just that—human interpretation, nothing more. Its weakness is shown up by the question of the faithful man Joseph: “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8) The Bible is much easier to understand when we do not impose human ideas on it but, rather, let it interpret itself. What, then, was the original sin? Well, the Genesis account gives us every reason to believe that the tree of knowledge of good and bad was an actual tree. We are told where it was in the garden, and it is spoken of in relation to the other trees. Its fruit was real, and Adam and Eve actually ate the fruit.
Was It Disobedience?
By eating of that fruit, what were they doing? The New Catholic Encyclopedia timidly suggests: “It could have been, simply, an open defiance of God, an insolent refusal to obey Him.” Is that not what Genesis clearly says? Romans 5:19 confirms the point: “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” (The New Jerusalem Bible) The original sin was an act of disobedience.
While a sin of disobedience may seem simple on the surface, consider its profound implications. A footnote in The New Jerusalem Bible puts it this way: “It [the knowledge of good and bad] is the power of deciding for himself what is good and what is evil and of acting accordingly, a claim to complete moral independence . . . The first sin was an attack on God’s sovereignty.” Yes, “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad” symbolized God’s prerogative to set the standards for man as to what is approved or what is condemned. By refusing to obey God’s law, man was calling into question God’s very right to rule over him. Jehovah justly answered the challenge by allowing man to rule himself. Wouldn’t you agree that the results have been disastrous?—Deuteronomy 32:5; Ecclesiastes 8:9.
That is why the Bible’s theme, God’s Kingdom, brings so much hope. By means of that Kingdom, Jehovah promises to end oppressive man-rule soon and replace it with His rule—a government that will restore an earthly paradise—something Adam and Eve forfeited.—Psalm 37:29; Daniel 2:44.
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Did Adam and Eve commit the original sin by having sexual relations?