Why Would Our First Parents Sin? A Reflection on The Fall

A Difficult Questionadam-eve-temptation

The question of how two perfect people could sin is one that has been raised countless times throughout church history. Typically the question is phrased as follows —

If God made everything, and he saw that it was good — i.e. without either structural or moral corruption and evil — then how could Adam and Eve have sinned?

For some of the church fathers, the answer lies in the free creature’s capacity to choose that which is not-God, i.e. non-being or, what is the same thing in our parlance, the existential state of spiritual and material corruption and decay.

[N.B. – For more on this subject of non-being in the writing Athanasius and Irenaeus stay tuned to BiblicalTrinitarian.com. I will be publishing an article on Athanasius’ theology and why he was not an annihilationist.]

The distinction between God, who is being and goodness itself, and his creation which is only good and only exists to the degree that it participates in God’s goodness and, therefore, being, goes a long way in helping us understand how the act of sin could be possible. Because he is not God, man is not ontologically simple. His being and his attributes are distinct from one another. He was created, moreover, a mutable creature, capable of becoming worse or better. But does this help us understand how it could be morally possible for a perfect man and woman to be tempted to sin?

The Moral Problem of Adam and Eve’s Temptation to Sin

Adam and Eve’s temptation is seemingly impossible given that they was created righteous, without sin, and with intellectual capacities as of yet not tarnished by the Fall. Considering a key text of Scripture that addresses the origin of temptation in the human soul, viz. James 1:13-15, this is problematic. James writes:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

If Adam and Eve were tempted by their own desires, does it not follow that their desires were for that which is against God’s law? It does. And if the desire to do what is against God’s law is itself a sin against God’s command for us to love him with all of our minds, does it not follow that Adam and Eve were in sin before they broke God’s commandment? This also appears to be the case.

Then what do we make of our first parents’ temptation to sin?

Well, considering that the apostle James is addressing post-lapsarian (i.e. post-Fall/already-fallen) men and women, we have to ask: Does James 1:13-15 even apply to Adam and Eve?

And the answer, I think, is — No, it does not.

Adam and Eve were externally tempted to sin, even as our Lord Jesus Christ was externally tempted to sin. That is to say, they were all tempted by an external agent, not by their internal corrupt desires, to do what is against God’s Law. However, just as our Lord was born a perfect, sinless man, so too our first parents were created perfect, without sin.

James 1:13-15, then, is not a text that we can apply to Adam and Eve’s temptation in the garden.

A Category Error

Put another way: The moral problem of Adam and Eve’s temptation arises from a logical fallacy known as a category error. Non-fallen man’s experience of internal temptation (whatever that might be, if indeed it could be anything at all) is not recorded for us in Scripture; therefore, the description that James gives is not applicable to Adam and Eve. These two kinds of temptation are, of course, related, but in precisely what way they are related has not been revealed by God, nor need it be in order for us to know that the Fall of man was not due to a defect in Adam and Eve’s constitution as rational, moral creatures.

The problem, then, is not really a problem at all, unless we mis-apply James 1:13-15 to Adam. How Adam and Eve could be tempted and fall into sin is not a question that Scripture allows us to answer, seeing as it only describes temptation as it occurs in already-fallen mankind. Scripturally, we have the following revealed to us —

  1. God created Adam and Eve upright.
  2. Adam and Eve were mutable.
  3. Adam and Eve were capable of sinning.
  4. Adam and Eve were also capable of refraining from sin.
  5. However, Adam and Eve chose to sin.
  6. Fallen man now experiences temptation in the manner described in James 1:13-15.

Then What About Eve?

In Genesis 3:6, we are told that

…when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Does this scenario match the one described by James 1:13-15? I don’t think so.

Let me explain.

Firstly, the scenario in Genesis 3 is an external temptation. In other words, the serpent tempts Eve to do what is in her capacity to do, but which God forbids. It was within Eve’s physical, mental, and volitional capacity – as one who is mutable, ontologically distinct from God – to disobey the divine commandment and eat of the forbidden fruit. James, however, is dealing with the desires of one’s heart. That is to say, James 1:13-15 is dealing with internal temptation that arises from one’s own inner corruption. Neither Adam nor Eve were internally corrupt when facing the temptation of the serpent.

Secondly, the Scripture’s don’t tell us that Eve was led astray by her desires. Rather, they tell us that she was deceived by the serpent. This stated by her in Gen 3:13, and reiterated by the apostle Paul when he explains that “the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning,” (2nd Cor 11:3), and elsewhere states that “…the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1st Tim 2:14). Note that Eve’s “seeing” is not entirely wrong. She saw that the tree was “good for food,” and, strictly speaking, it was good for food. There was nothing intrinsic to the nature of the forbidden fruit that made eating it a sin. As Geerdhardus Vos explains —

God chose one tree from among many and “arbitrarily” told man not to eat of it…If the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had been naturally different from other trees it could not have served its unique purpose. That the commandment might appear as purely “arbitrary” the specially chosen tree had to be naturally like other trees. For the supernatural to appear as supernatural the natural had to appear as really natural. The supernatural could not be recognized for what it was unless the natural were also recognized for what it was. There had to be regularity if there was to be a genuine exception.


1. By this tree it would be made known and brought to light whether man would fall into the state of evil or would be confirmed in the state of immutable goodness.

2. By this tree man, who for the present knew evil only as an idea, could be led to the practical knowledge of evil. Or also because he, remaining unfallen, would still, by means of temptation overcome, gain clearer insight into the essence of evil as transgression of God’s law and disregard of His sovereign power, and likewise would attain the highest knowledge of immutable moral goodness.


From the true conception of the purpose of the tree we must distinguish the interpretation placed upon it by the tempter according to Gen. 3.5. This carries a twofold implication: first that the tree has in itself, magically, the power of conferring knowledge of good and evil. This lowers the plane of the whole transaction from the religious and moral to the pagan-magical sphere. And secondly, Satan explains the prohibition from the motive of envy. … Again, the divine statement in Gen. 3.22 alludes to this deceitful representation of the tempter. It is ironical.

Moreover, Eve saw that the tree “was a delight to the eyes,” and it clearly was, given the absence of corruption in the physical world and God’s pronouncement that all he had created was indeed “very good” (cf. Gen 1:31).

What she thought about the tree was correct, then, insofar as the tree was considered in and of itself (i.e. apart from its symbolic function in the covenant of works). But here is where she went wrong —

She believed the serpent’s claim that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.

And this came from outside of herself. The tree neither appeared nor actually had the capacity to actually make one wise. It was a beautiful tree (we can safely say this, I think, given the divine pronouncement in Gen 1:31). And it was a tree that could be eaten for the sustenance of physical life. This last point is not theological speculation, but implied by Gen 1:29-30. Animals were not forbidden from eating of any tree in the garden. They could eat of the tree and not die, for death entered into the creation through Adam’s sin.

Eve’s desires, as leading her away from obedience to God, are not mentioned in Gen 3. Yes, there is a mention of the fruit’s desirability, but it comes in the context of Eve evaluating the tree in light of what she knows about it via natural revelation (i.e. it is a beautiful, edible creation of God), and what she thinks is true of it given the serpent’s lie (i.e. it is desirable to make one wise).

The Conclusion?

Given that the temptation spoken of in James 1:13-15 arises from the internal corruption of already-fallen man, it is clear to me that James 1:13-15 is not applicable to Adam and Eve’s situation. It seems, in fact, that an attempt to read the Fall narrative in light of James 1:13-15 constitutes a category error that, unintentionally, places sin in the hearts of Adam and Eve prior to their sin corrupting them fully internally, i.e. in their hearts.

Why is this significant?

I think it is significant because if it is the case that Adam and Eve’s temptation to sin cannot be accounted for by an appeal to James’ description of fallen man’s internal temptation to sin, then the question of why Adam and Eve would sin, despite their moral and physical goodness, needs to be properly identified as one that we cannot answer on the basis of Scripture, since Scripture doesn’t reveal this to us. It’s true that some may, as did Irenaeus, speculate that man’s fall into sin was partly due to his ignorance and spiritual infancy. And maybe there is some merit to that theory. But what we definitely cannot do is say that our progenitors were internally compelled, by virtue of some unbridled desire, to sin. This would make God the author of sin in an ontological sense, as he would be the one who implanted within them a corruption leading them to disobey his law.

The simplest answer, I think, is the best —

Why and how physically and morally good persons would and could sin is not something that we have revealed to us in Scripture. What is revealed is simply that we are now sinners who are tempted in the manner presented in James 1:13-15 and, therefore, are in need of a Savior.

Are we trusting him to deliver us from our sins?

Are you?

If you would be saved from the sin in your heart that drives you to lust after that which is forbidden, then turn to Christ in repentant faith and believe the Gospel.

Today is the day of salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Essence of Being-Dead: A Brief Note

buryiconRecap, Criticism & Response to the Problem of Adam Pt. 1

My last two articles against annihilationism are titled “The Problem of Adam” (Pts. 1 &2), you can find them here and here. I was unaware of any comments pending moderation until yesterday, when I was responded to by some annihilationists. If you haven’t read the articles, I will summarize part 1 here first, and then part 2 in the next section, but feel free to check the articles out for yourself if you want more details. In the first article, I attack the annihilationist belief that being-dead essentially consists in being a lifeless, non-conscious body. Given the law of transitivity – i.e. If A is B, and B is C, then A is C – the annihilationist identification of being-dead as essentially consisting in being a lifeless, non-conscious body would logically imply that Adam was dead prior to death even existing. This being absurd, it follows necessarily that being-dead cannot essentially consist in being a lifeless, non-conscious body. Thus, those who die, i.e. who are rendered dead, must exist in another state, one that no prelapsarian/pre-fall creature could have experienced, for death did not exist until Adam brought sin into the world.

The first criticism I received is this:

…Regardless of what happens to the man in terms of parts and states after an event of death, he still has stopped living in the sense that he was alive (cf. what Genesis has to say about Adam and Eve as living creatures), and cannot be said to simply go on living in the same sense…

Note the commenter, on the one hand, states that “what happens to the man in terms of parts and states after an event of death” is irrelevant, and yet, on the other hand, states that “he has still stopped living in the sense that he was alive…and cannot be said to simply go on living in the same sense…” This is an inherently contradictory criticism that simultaneously affirms and denies the relevance of the state of the individual pre and post death.

Let me explain.

In whatever way an individual dies, his death results in him being-dead. This being-dead has essential properties that belong to it and it alone. This means that prior to anyone ever experiencing death, there could not be an existential state which shared the essential properties of being-dead.

If being-dead essentially consists in being-lifeless, therefore, then any being exhibiting lifelessness prior to the entrance of death into creation would be-dead. Not only this, but whatever object presently is lifeless should also be said to be-dead. Why? Because its existential state being lifelessness would be identical to the existential state of being-dead, i.e. being-lifeless.

Now, the commenter’s inherent contradiction is clearly demonstrated by his statement that “[Adam] was alive…and cannot be said to simply go on living in the same sense.” For if being-alive has essential properties that cannot being-dead, then the essential properties of the existential state one is in – be it being-dead or being-alive – are absolutely relevant to discussions regarding annihilationism’s logical coherence.

The reason why this is a problem for annihilationists is that the law of transitivity demonstrates that if being-dead essentially consists in being a lifeless, non-conscious body, then Adam, who was lifeless, non-conscious body, was dead prior to death entering the creation. This is absurd, as I’ve said, and therefore must be rejected. And once it is rejected, we see that however one defines the process of death, those who have died are-dead, and their being-dead cannot essentially consist in being-lifeless or being-non-conscious, for these states existed prior to the fall. The process of death, of dying, necessarily entails a state of being-dead once the process is complete. So what does it mean to be dead?

Whatever it means, it cannot mean to be a lifeless, non-conscious body.

Recap, Criticism & Response to the Problem of Adam Pt. 2

My second article received a critical remark as well, so let me first explain the second argument I made. Whereas the first article assumed that the phrase “non-conscious body” was logically cogent, the second article demonstrates that the phrase confuses categories. Consciousness is a property of minds, not bodies.

A commenter asked me the basis for my assertion that “all bodies are non-conscious” and my response was simple:


When we talk about consciousness, we are talking about a property of the mind. Thus, rocks are not un-conscious, they are non-conscious, whereas comatose men are said to be un-conscious, i.e. no longer exhibiting signs of externally directed consciousness (i.e. consciousness of one’s relation to a real, external world).

Okay, then…what is a category error?

Wikipedia’s entry on category errors is decent enough for our purposes, so I will quote it here:

A category mistake, or category error, or categorical mistake, or mistake of category, is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category, or, alternatively, a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property. An example is the metaphor “time crawled”, which if taken literally is not just false but a category mistake.[1]

Though the initial post regarding the problem of Adam was sufficient to demonstrate that the annihilationist conception of being-dead, i.e. of the essential properties of being-dead, is false and must be rejected. However, I wanted to take the criticism a step further and demonstrate the incoherence of the annihilationist conception of what the state of being-dead consists in.

Conclusion: Why A Recap?

I’ve taken a break from my testimony in order to draw my readers’ attention to the fact that logic is necessary when doing theology and apologetics. If one’s conception of x renders the Scriptures incoherent, then one needs to abandon their conception of x. It is neither rational nor pious to say in response that “Scripture is mysterious” or “I’m just following the Bible.” The Scripture is not incoherent; therefore, any belief that you or I have about Scripture’s teaching that makes Scripture self-contradictory is not of the Lord but our own imaginations. If you hold to a position that causes Scripture to be self-contradictory, you are not “just following the Bible.”

We may use logical analysis to refute false beliefs, in other words, just as our Lord Jesus did. Consider the following exchange between our Lord and the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-46.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Note that the Pharisees define the Christ as the son of David. From the context, we can see that what they mean is not simply a descendant of David but a merely human descendant of David. So to the question “Whose son is the Christ?” The answer from the Pharisees is this: The Christ is only the son of David (i.e. not the divine Son of God).

To this, our Lord God responds by pointing out that if the Christ is only the son of David, then David could not properly call him Lord, a term which implies a status only a king over David could properly hold. Thus, if the Pharisees are correct in asserting that the Christ is only the son of David, then it follows that David himself was wrong for implying that the Christ is not only the son of David.

The Pharisees are placed on the horns of a logical dilemma. If they admit that David is right in calling Christ his Lord, his king, then he is implying that the Christ is divine, the Son of God (i.e. not only the son of David). If, however, the Pharisees state that the Christ is only the son of God, then they must, of a logical necessity, identify David’s words as false, for David’s words imply that the Christ is not only the son of David but much more – viz. the divine Son of God.

Logical analysis is indispensable in the practices of theology and apologetics, yet there are many who, because of their commitment to a falsehood, attempt to undermine the significance of any logical dilemmas, contradictions, falsehoods, etc that are implied by their position.

Their refusal to acknowledge the heavy hand of logic will nearly always be couched in pietistic language, words that sound super-spiritual but are really just a smoke-screen for unbelief.

Be on guard against the holier-than-thou rejection of logical inferences, a tactic that seemingly has always been present in the attacks of Christ’s enemies on the truth.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Wikipedia, accessed December 5, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_mistake.