Fall of Man, What Is It?
For many Christian denominations, the doctrine of the fall is closely related to that of original sin. 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 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. Judaism does not have a concept of “the fall” or “original sin” and has varying other interpretations of the Eden narrative. Lapsarianism, the logical order of God’s decrees in relation to the Fall, is the distinction, by some Calvinists, as being supralapsarian (antelapsarian, pre-lapsarian or prelapsarian, before the Fall) or infralapsarian (sublapsarian, postlapsarian, after the Fall).
The story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man represents a tradition among the Abrahamic peoples, with a presentation more or less symbolical of certain moral and religious truths.
Genesis creation narrative
The doctrine of the fall of man is extrapolated from Christian exegesis of Genesis 3. According to the narrative, God creates Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. God places them in the Garden of Eden and forbids them to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The serpent tempts Eve to eat fruit from the forbidden tree, which she shares with Adam and they immediately become ashamed of their nakedness. Subsequently, God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, condemns Adam to working in order to get what he needs to live and condemns Eve to giving birth in pain, and places cherubim to guard the entrance, so that Adam and Eve will not eat from the “tree of life”.
The Book of Jubilees 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).
Christian exegetes of Genesis 2:17 (“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, 2 Peter 3:8 and Jubilees 4:29–31 explained that, to God, one day is equivalent to a thousand years and thus Adam died within that same “day”. 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. 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.[Gen. 3:22]
Catholic exegesis of Genesis 3 claims that the fall of man was a “primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.” Traditionally, the fall of Adam and Eve is said to have brought “four wounds” to human nature. These are enumerated by St Bede and others, especially St Thomas Aquinas (STh I-II q. 85, a. 3) 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.” Although the state of corruption, inherited by humans after the primeval 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. 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. 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 Orthodoxy rejects the idea that the guilt of original sin is passed down through generations. It bases its teaching in part on Ezekiel 18:20 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 St Paul in his epistle to the Romans, non-Christians can still act according to their conscience.
Orthodoxy believes that, while everyone bears the consequences of the first sin (that is, death), only Adam and Eve are guilty of that sin. Adam’s sin isn’t 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).
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 Tim. 2:11–14]
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.: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 is 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 eons ago)? Addressing that, the Kroegers conclude that Paul was referring to the promise of Genesis 3:15 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.:144
The agricultural revolution
Symbolic aspects of the fall of man are commonly taken to correlate with knowledge gained by experience in the wake of fateful decisions. Some of the Genesis 3 narrative’s symbolism may correlate to the experience of the agricultural revolution. The serpent of the Genesis narrative may represent seasonal changes and renewal, as with the symbolism of Sumerian, Egyptian, and other creation myths. In Mesoamerican creation myths, Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent agricultural deity, is associated with learning as well as renewal. 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 of necessity have taken the role of organizers in early farming settlements, thus effectively leading the shift to agrarian society. 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.
In Gnosticism, the snake is thanked for bringing knowledge to Adam and Eve, and thereby freeing them from the Demiurge’s control. The Demiurge banished Adam and Eve, because man was now a threat.
In Islam, Adam and his wife were misled by Shayṭān, who tempted them with immortality and a kingdom that never decays, saying: “Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest ye should become angels or such beings as live for ever”.Adam and Eve had been warned of Shayṭān’s scheming against them, and had been commanded by God to avoid the tree Shayṭān referred to. 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”, they ultimately gave in to Shayṭān’s temptation and partook of the tree anyway. Following this sin, their “nakedness appeared to them: they began to sew together, for their covering, leaves from the Garden”, and were subsequently sent down from Paradise onto the earth with “enmity one to another”. 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.”
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.
The Alawites believed that they 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.
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- Kugel 1998, pp. 50–51.
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- Catechism of the Catholic Church: 390
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: 404, 405
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- Eastern Orthodox Catechism, published by the Russian Orthodox Church. Accessed February 16, 2008.
- 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. ISBN0-8010-5250-5
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