Adam, Eve, and a female serpent at the entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The portrayal of the image of the serpent as a mirror of Eve was common in earlier Christian iconography as a result of the identification of women as the ones responsible for the fall of man and source of the original sin.[1]
Adam, Eve, and a female serpent at the entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The portrayal of the image of the serpent as a mirror of Eve was common in earlier Christian iconography as a result of the identification of women as the ones responsible for the fall of man and source of the original sin.[1]

The fall of man, the fall of Adam, or simply the Fall, is a term used in Christianity to describe the transition of the first man and woman from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience.[1] The doctrine of the Fall comes from a biblical interpretation of Genesis, chapters 1–3.[1] At first, Adam and Eve lived with God in the Garden of Eden, but the serpent tempted them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden.[1] After doing so, they became ashamed of their nakedness and God expelled them from the Garden to prevent them from eating from the tree of life and becoming immortal.[1]

In mainstream (Nicene) Christianity, the doctrine of the Fall is closely related to that of original sin or ancestral sin.[2] They believe that the Fall brought sin into the world, corrupting the entire natural world, including human nature, causing all humans to be born into original sin, a state from which they cannot attain eternal life without the grace of God. The Eastern Orthodox Church accepts the concept of the Fall but rejects the idea that the guilt of original sin is passed down through generations, based in part on the passage Ezekiel 18:20[3] that says a son is not guilty of the sins of his father. Calvinist Protestants believe that Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice for the elect, so they may be redeemed from their sin. Lapsarianism, understanding the logical order of God's decrees in relation to the Fall, is divided by some Calvinists into supralapsarian (prelapsarian, pre-lapsarian or antelapsarian, before the Fall) and infralapsarian (sublapsarian or postlapsarian, after the Fall).

The narrative of the Garden of Eden and the fall of humankind constitute a mythological tradition shared by all the Abrahamic religions,[1][4][5][6] with a presentation more or less symbolic of Judeo-Christian morals and religious beliefs,[1][4][7] which had an overwhelming impact on human sexuality, gender roles, and sex differences both in the Western and Islamic civilizations.[1] Unlike Christianity, the other major Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, do not have a concept of "original sin", and instead have developed varying other interpretations of the Eden narrative.[1][2][5][8][9][10]

Genesis 3

Main articles: Biblical cosmology and Genesis creation narrative

Further information: Adam and Eve and Tree of the knowledge of good and evil

The doctrine of the fall of man is extrapolated from the traditional Christian exegesis of Genesis 3.[11][1] According to the biblical narrative, God created Adam and Eve, the first man and woman in the chronology of the Bible.[1] God places them in the Garden of Eden and forbids them to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.[1] The serpent tempts Eve to eat fruit from the forbidden tree, which she shares with Adam, and they immediately become ashamed of their nakedness.[1] Subsequently, God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, condemns Adam to work in order to get what he needs to live and condemns Eve to give birth in pain, and places cherubim to guard the entrance, so that Adam and Eve will never eat from the "tree of life".

The Book of Jubilees, an apocryphal Jewish work written during the Second Temple period, gives time frames for the events that led to the fall of man by stating that the serpent convinced Eve to eat the fruit on the 17th day, of the 2nd month, in the 8th year after Adam's creation (3:17). It also states that they were removed from the Garden on the new moon of the 4th month of that year (3:33).

Traditional interpretations


Main articles: Original holiness, Christian mythology, and Jewish mythology

Christian exegetes of Genesis 2:17[12] ("for in the day that you eat of it you shall die") have applied the day-year principle to explain how Adam died within a day. Psalms 90:4,[13] 2 Peter 3:8,[14] and Jubilees 4:29–31[15] explain that, to God, one day is equivalent to a thousand years and thus Adam died within that same "day".[16] The Greek Septuagint, on the other hand, has "day" translated into the Greek word for a twenty-four-hour period (ἡμέρα, hēméra).

According to the Genesis narrative, during the antediluvian age, human longevity approached a millennium, such as the case of Adam who lived 930 years. Thus, to "die" has been interpreted as to become mortal.[17] However, the grammar does not support this reading, nor does the narrative: Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden lest they eat of the second tree, the tree of life, and gain immortality.[18][19]

Original sin

Main article: Original sin

Further information: Salvation in Christianity and Theodicy and the Bible § The Fall and freedom of the will

The Fall and Expulsion from Paradise, fresco painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City (1510–1564)
The Fall and Expulsion from Paradise, fresco painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City (1510–1564)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms [...] that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents."[20] St Bede and others, especially Thomas Aquinas, said that the fall of Adam and Eve brought "four wounds" to human nature.[21] They are original sin (lack of sanctifying grace and original justice), concupiscence (the soul's passions are no longer ordered perfectly to the soul's intellect), physical frailty and death, and darkened intellect and ignorance. These negated or diminished the gifts of God to Adam and Eve of original justice or sanctifying grace, integrity, immortality and infused knowledge. This first sin was "transmitted" by Adam and Eve to all of their descendants as original sin, causing humans to be "subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin."[22]

In the light of modern scripture scholarship, the future Pope Benedict XVI stated in 1986 that: "In the Genesis story [...] sin is not spoken of in general as an abstract possibility but as a deed, as the sin of a particular person, Adam, who stands at the origin of humankind and with whom the history of sin begins. The account tells us that sin begets sin, and that therefore all the sins of history are interlinked. Theology refers to this state of affairs by the certainly misleading and imprecise term 'original sin.'"[23] Although the state of corruption, inherited by humans after the primaeval event of original sin, is clearly called guilt or sin, it is understood as a sin acquired by the unity of all humans in Adam rather than a personal responsibility of humanity. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, even children partake in the effects of the sin of Adam, but not in the responsibility of original sin, as sin is always a personal act.[24] Baptism is considered to erase original sin, though the effects on human nature remain, and for this reason, the Catholic Church baptizes even infants who have not committed any personal sin.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity rejects the idea that the guilt of original sin is passed down through generations. It bases its teaching in part on Ezekiel 18:20[25] that says a son is not guilty of the sins of his father. The Church teaches that, in addition to their conscience and tendency to do good, men and women are born with a tendency to sin due to the fallen condition of the world. It follows Maximus the Confessor and others in characterising the change in human nature as the introduction of a "deliberative will" (θέλημα γνωμικόν) in opposition to the "natural will" (θέλημα φυσικόν) created by God which tends toward the good. Thus, according to Paul the Apostle in his epistle to the Romans, non-Christians can still act according to their conscience.

Eastern Orthodoxy believes that, while everyone bears the consequences of the first sin (that is, death), only Adam and Eve are guilty of that sin.[26] Adam's sin is not comprehended only as disobedience to God's commandment, but as a change in man's hierarchy of values from theocentricism to anthropocentrism, driven by the object of his lust, outside of God, in this case the tree which was seen to be "good for food", and something "to be desired" (see also theosis, seeking union with God).[27]


Traditionally, women have received the major blame for the Fall of humanity. The subordination exegesis is that the natural consequences of sin entering the human race, was prophesied by God when the phrase was made: the husband "will rule over you". This interpretation is reinforced by comments in the First Epistle to Timothy, where the author gives a rationale for directing that a woman (NIV: possibly "wife"):

...should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man [NIV: possibly "husband"]; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

— 1 Timothy 2:11–14[28]

Therefore, some interpretations of these passages from Genesis 3 and 1 Timothy 2 have developed a view that women are considered as bearers of Eve's guilt and that the woman's conduct in the fall is the primary reason for her universal, timeless, subordinate relationship to the man.[29]: 21 

Alternatively, Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger argue that "there is a serious theological contradiction in telling a woman that when she comes to faith in Christ, her personal sins are forgiven but she must continue to be punished for the sin of Eve." They maintain that judgmental comments against women in reference to Eve are a "dangerous interpretation, in terms both of biblical theology and of the call to Christian commitment". They reason that "if the Apostle Paul was forgiven for what he did ignorantly in unbelief", including persecuting and murdering Christians, "and thereafter was given a ministry, why would the same forgiveness and ministry be denied women" (for the sins of their foremother, Eve). Addressing that, the Kroegers conclude that Paul was referring to the promise of Genesis 3:15[30] that through the defeat of Satan on the cross of Jesus Christ, the woman's child (Jesus) would crush the serpent's head, but the serpent would only bruise the heel of her child.[29]: 144  Moreover, many scholars[who?] suggest that the concept of inherited guilt in Christianity is a controversial subject at best, and must be treated with care.[citation needed]

Agricultural revolution

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Main article: Religion and agriculture

Some of the Genesis 3 narrative's symbolism may correlate to the experience of the agricultural revolution.[citation needed] The serpent of the Genesis narrative may represent seasonal changes and renewal, as with the symbolism of Sumerian, Egyptian, and other creation myths.[31] In Mesoamerican creation myths, Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent agricultural deity, is associated with learning as well as renewal.[32] The leading role of Eve in the Genesis narrative may be attributed to the interest of neolithic women in shifting away from gatherer life in favor of raising crops. Women also may have taken the role of organizers in early farming settlements, thus effectively leading the shift to agrarian society.[citation needed] Though these settlements may have been relatively egalitarian compared to more modern societies, the Genesis narrative may be interpreted as mourning the hunter-gatherer life as a paradise lost.[citation needed]

Other interpretations


Main article: Gnosticism

Further information: Gnostic texts

A lion-faced, serpentine deity found on a Gnostic gem in Bernard de Montfaucon's L'antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures may be a depiction of the Demiurge.
A lion-faced, serpentine deity found on a Gnostic gem in Bernard de Montfaucon's L'antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures may be a depiction of the Demiurge.

Gnosticism originated in the late 1st century CE in non-rabbinical Jewish and early Christian sects.[33] In the formation of Christianity, various sectarian groups, labeled "gnostics" by their opponents, emphasised spiritual knowledge (gnosis) of the divine spark within, over faith (pistis) in the teachings and traditions of the various communities of Christians.[34][35][36][37] Gnosticism presents a distinction between the highest, unknowable God, and the Demiurge, "creator" of the material universe.[1][34][35][36] The Gnostics considered the most essential part of the process of salvation to be this personal knowledge, in contrast to faith as an outlook in their worldview along with faith in the ecclesiastical authority.[1][34][35][36]

In Gnosticism, the biblical serpent in the Garden of Eden was praised and thanked for bringing knowledge (gnosis) to Adam and Eve and thereby freeing them from the malevolent Demiurge's control.[1] Gnostic Christian doctrines rely on a dualistic cosmology that implies the eternal conflict between good and evil, and a conception of the serpent as the liberating savior and bestower of knowledge to humankind opposed to the Demiurge or creator god, identified with the Hebrew God of the Old Testament.[1][35] Gnostic Christians considered the Hebrew God of the Old Testament as the evil, false god and creator of the material universe, and the Unknown God of the Gospel, the father of Jesus Christ and creator of the spiritual world, as the true, good God.[1][35][34][38] In the Archontic, Sethian, and Ophite systems, Yaldabaoth (Yahweh) is regarded as the malevolent Demiurge and false god of the Old Testament who generated the material universe and keeps the souls trapped in physical bodies, imprisoned in the world full of pain and suffering that he created.[39][40][41]

However, not all Gnostic movements regarded the creator of the material universe as inherently evil or malevolent.[38][42] For instance, Valentinians believed that the Demiurge is merely an ignorant and incompetent creator, trying to fashion the world as good as he can, but lacking the proper power to maintain its goodness.[38][42] All Gnostics were regarded as heretics by the proto-orthodox Early Church Fathers.[1][35][34][43]


Persian miniature depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve, observed by the angel Riḍwan, the Serpent, the Peacock, and Iblīs.
Persian miniature depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve, observed by the angel Riḍwan, the Serpent, the Peacock, and Iblīs.

In Islam, Adam (Ādam) and Eve (Ḥawwā) were misled by Iblīs (otherwise referred to as al-Shayṭān, lit.'the Devil'),[5][44] who tempted them with the promise of immortality and a kingdom that never decays,[5][45] saying: "Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest ye should become angels or such beings as live forever".[46]

Adam and Eve had been previously warned of Shayṭān's scheming against them,[5][47] and had been commanded by God to avoid the tree of knowledge that Shayṭān referred to.[5][44] Although God had reminded them that there was enough provision for them "not to go hungry nor to go naked, nor to suffer from thirst, nor from the sun's heat",[48] they ultimately gave in to Shayṭān's temptation and partook of the tree anyway.[5] Following this sin, their "nakedness appeared to them: they began to sew together, for their covering, leaves from the Garden",[49] and were subsequently sent down from Paradise (Jannah) onto the Earth with "enmity one to another".[5] However, God also gave them the assurance that "when there come unto you from Me a guidance, then whoso followeth My guidance, he will not go astray nor come to grief."[50]

Within the Shīʿīte branch of Islam, Muslim followers of the Alawite sect believe that their souls were once luminous stars worshipping ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib in a world of light, but that upon committing sins of pride they were banished from their former state and forced to transmigrate in the world of matter.[51]


In classic Zoroastrianism, humanity is created to withstand the forces of decay and destruction through good thoughts, words and deeds. Failure to do so actively leads to misery for the individual and for his family. This is also the moral of many of the stories of the Shahnameh, the key text of Persian mythology.[citation needed]

Literature and art

William Blake's color printing of God Judging Adam original composed in 1795. This print is currently held by the Tate Collection.[52] In the biblical story, God's judgement results in the fall of man.
William Blake's color printing of God Judging Adam original composed in 1795. This print is currently held by the Tate Collection.[52] In the biblical story, God's judgement results in the fall of man.

In William Shakespeare's Henry V (1599), the King describes the betrayal of Lord Scroop – a friend since childhood – as being "like another fall of man", referring to the loss of his own faith and innocence the treason has caused.

In the novel Perelandra (1943) by C. S. Lewis, the theme of the fall is explored in the context of a new Garden of Eden with a new, green-skinned Adam and Eve on the planet Venus, and with the protagonist – the Cambridge scholar Dr. Ransom – transported there and given the mission of thwarting Satan and preventing a new fall.

In the novel The Fall (1956) by Albert Camus, the theme of the fall is enunciated through the first-person account given in post-war Amsterdam, in a bar called "Mexico City." Confessing to an acquaintance, the protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, describes the haunting consequence of his refusal to rescue a woman who had jumped from a bridge to her death. The dilemmas of modern Western conscience and the sacramental themes of baptism and grace are explored.

J. R. R. Tolkien included as a note to his comments about the Dialogue of Finrod and Andreth (published posthumously in 1993) the Tale of Adanel that is a reimagining of the fall of man inside his Middle-earth's mythos. The story presented Melkor seducing the first Men by making them worship him instead of Eru Ilúvatar, leading to the loss of the "Edenic" condition of the human race. The story is part of Morgoth's Ring.

In both Daniel Quinn's Ishmael (1992) and The Story of B (1996) novels, it is proposed that the story of the fall of man was first thought up by another culture watching the development of the now-dominant totalitarian agriculturalist culture.

In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series (1995, 1997, 2000), the fall is presented in a positive light, as it is the moment at which human beings achieve self-awareness, knowledge, and freedom. Pullman believes that it is not worth being innocent if the price is ignorance.

The novel Lord of the Flies explores the fall of man. The storyline depicts young, innocent children who turn into savages when they are stranded on a desert island. Lord of the Flies was originally named Strangers from Within, also showing his views of human nature.

The theme is also frequently depicted in historical European art. Lucas van Leyden, a Dutch engraver and painter during the Renaissance period, created several different woodcuts featuring Adam and Eve (two were part of his Power of Women series).

See also


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  2. ^ a b Tuling, Kari H. (2020). "PART 1: Is God the Creator and Source of All Being—Including Evil?". In Tuling, Kari H. (ed.). Thinking about God: Jewish Views. JPS Essential Judaism Series. Lincoln and Philadelphia: University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society. pp. 3–64. doi:10.2307/j.ctv13796z1.5. ISBN 978-0-8276-1848-0. LCCN 2019042781. S2CID 241611417.
  3. ^ Ezekiel 18:20
  4. ^ a b Leeming, David A. (June 2003). Carey, Lindsay B. (ed.). "Religion and Sexuality: The Perversion of a Natural Marriage". Journal of Religion and Health. Springer Verlag. 42 (2): 101–109. doi:10.1023/A:1023621612061. ISSN 1573-6571. JSTOR 27511667. S2CID 38974409.
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  12. ^ Genesis 2:17
  13. ^ Psalms 90:4
  14. ^ 2 Peter 3:8
  15. ^ Jubilees 4:29–31
  16. ^ "The Book of Jubilees". Archived from the original on 2009-02-24. Retrieved 2009-03-04. Online translation of Jubilees
  17. ^ Kugel 1999, pp. 50–51.
  18. ^ Genesis 3:22
  19. ^ Harry Orlinsky's Notes to the NJPS Torah
  20. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church: 390
  21. ^ STh I-II q. 85, a. 3
  22. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 2019. Paragraph 405.
  23. ^ Ratzinger, Joseph (1986). In the Beginning. Eerdmans. p. 72. ISBN 978-0802841063.
  24. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church: 404, 405
  25. ^ Ezekiel 18:20
  26. ^ Q & A – Original Sin. OCA. Retrieved on 2011-10-30.
  27. ^ Eastern Orthodox Catechism, published by the Russian Orthodox Church. Accessed February 16, 2008.
  28. ^ 1 Timothy 2:11–14
  29. ^ a b Kroeger, Richard C. and Catherine C. Kroeger. I suffer not a woman: rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11–15 in light of ancient evidence. Baker Book House, 1992. ISBN 0-8010-5250-5
  30. ^ Genesis 3:15
  31. ^ Mason, Robert T. "The Serpent as Divinity". Retrieved 2017-09-22.
  32. ^ Briggs, Austin. "Quetzalcoatl". Archived from the original on 2017-09-23. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Beynen, G. Koolemans, Animal Language in the Garden of Eden: Folktale Elements in Genesis in Signifying Animals: Human Meaning in the Natural World, Roy G. Willis, ed., (London: Routledge, 1994), 39–50.
  • Thompson, William Irwin, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture, 1981, 2001 ISBN 0-312-80512-8