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Genesis 3:
The Garden of Eden story: The fall (or
perhaps rise) of humanity, &
original sin.

Part 1: Analysis of Genesis 3: Quotations,
Overview, Assumptions, & Authorship

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bullet "Take the snake, the fruit-tree and the woman from the tableau, and we have no fall, no frowning Judge, no Inferno, no everlasting punishment -- hence no need of a Savior. Thus the bottom falls out of the whole Christian theology." Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 1

bullet "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned!" St. Paul (Romans 5:12; Christian Scriptures).

bullet "The whole justification of Jesus' life and death is predicated on the existence of Adam and the forbidden fruit he and Eve ate. Without the original sin, who needs to be redeemed? Without Adam's fall into a life of constant sin terminated by death, what purpose is there to Christianity? None....Without Adam, without the original sin, Jesus Christ is reduced to a man with a mission on a wrong planet!" Richard Bozarth 2

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When the topic of sin is brought up, the first thought that often comes to mind -- at least for the typical North American -- has something to do with sexual behavior. The second guess, at least among many Christians, would probably be related to what they consider the "fall" of humanity as described in Genesis 3.

That particular chapter has had a profound effect upon Christianity.

In the early years of the Christian movement, there were three distinct belief systems, each with its own interpretation of Genesis 3:

bullet The Jewish Christians, centered in Jerusalem, were the first Christian group, founded by the followers of Jesus. They considered Paul to be a heretic. Little is known about their specific beliefs. However, they apparently followed the Jewish traditions and beliefs -- one of which did not place a great deal of emphasis on Genesis 3. The Jewish Christians were later killed, scattered, and exiled by the Roman Army during two uprisings in the first and second centuries CE.

bullet Some Gnostic sects honored the snake of Genesis 3. They did not view the snake as a seducer who led the first couple into sinful behavior. Rather, they saw him/it as a liberator who brought knowledge to Adam and Eve by convincing them to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and thus to become fully human by achieving something that they did not have when they were created: a moral sense. Magically, by eating the fruit, they realized for the first time the difference between good and evil. The Gnostics were attacked by the Pauline Christians in one of the first Christian genocides and essentially wiped out by the mainline Christian church.


The Pauline Christians derived most of their theological beliefs from the Pauline Epistles and the Gospel of John. To them, Genesis 3 was of paramount importance. They saw in the passage the reasons for "humanity's corrupt nature and desperate existential situation." 3 Paul used the chapter to derive his concept of sin. Later, Augustine used it to develop his idea of original sin -- the belief that all of the generations of Adam and Eve's descendents (including ourselves) have inherited the sinful behavior of the first human couple. Original sin leads naturally to the beliefs that:

  • Aa gulf exists between humanity and God.

  • The natural destination after death for all of humanity is to be eternally tortured in Hell without any hope of mercy or cessation of the pain.

The Pauline Christians survived to evolve into modern Christianity. Essentially all of the tens of thousands of Christian denominations and sects have preserved these beliefs, They have developed a variety of conflicting beliefs about how Christians can obtain salvation and escape Hell.

The first three chapters of Genesis arguably make the most important single section of the Bible. They lay the foundation for many historical theological beliefs of Christianity:

bullet Modern day conservative Christians interpret Genesis 3 as describing the fall of humanity, and consider it to be among the most important passages in the Bible.

bullet Many very liberal Christians interpret Genesis 3 as the Gnostic did and do. The passage is seen as describing the rise of humanity from a proto-human to a fully human state.

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Assumptions about Genesis 3:

Theologians bring certain fundamental assumptions with them when they study a passage from the Bible. The following table is a somewhat simplified attempt to show the preconceptions that many very conservative and some very liberal theologians bring to the first three chapters of Genesis. The differences between conservative and liberal theological beliefs are extreme:

Belief Many very conservative Christians   Some very liberal Christians
Author: Moses.  
Anonymous authors: "P", "R" and "J."

Source(s) used: Information from God.  
Middle Eastern, Pagan sources.

Inspiration: Moses was inspired directly by God, thus ensuring that Genesis is all true.  
Authors inspired by a desire to create a mythical history of origins.

Nature of writing: Accurate history, biology & science. It is free of error when literally interpreted.  
Religious myth -- a spiritually important story of events that never actually happened.

Consistency: The Bible is supremely consistent, teaching the same messages from cover to cover.  
The Bible was written about a millennium and demonstrates major evolutions in religious thought.

Accuracy: Inerrant (without error) in its original written form (autograph copies).  
None. The creation stories, Garden of Eden, etc. never actually happened as described.

Nature of God: God is a spirit; any reference to God's hands, legs, voice, are symbolic in nature.  
The author "J" viewed God in anthropomorphic terms: as a special large and powerful male human.

God's personality: God is loving, caring, and just.  
The author "J" viewed God as fickle, jealous, deceptive, vengeful and unfair.

God's attributes: God is omniscient and omnipotent.  
"J" viewed God as limited in knowledge and abilities. For example, he was unable to predict Adam and Eve's behavior in advance.
The "Tree of Knowledge" incident in Genesis 3: Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Their "Original Sin" (a.k.a. "the Fall") introduced death into the world. Their sin was transferred to hundreds of successive generations down to the present day.   Adam and Eve were created by God without a sense of right and wrong. The eating of the fruit generated an "Original Blessing" that symbolizes humanity's rise from their animal, instinct nature, and attaining a moral sense.

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Authorship of Genesis 3:

Among the above beliefs, the authorship of the first three chapters of Genesis is probably the most important. Most of the rest follows naturally, once it is determined who wrote the text.

  • Very conservative Christians generally believe that Moses wrote all of the Pentateuch (the first five book of the Hebrew Scriptures), including Genesis. The text of the Pentateuch certainly states that he was the author. They believe that he was inspired by God to write material that was free of error.

  • Most liberal Christians believe in the Documentary Hypothesis: that the Pentateuch were written by four anonymous authors, generally referred to as J,E, P and D.
    • "P" wrote Genesis 1:1 to 2:3. He was a priest who viewed God as a distant, transcendent deity, sometimes harsh and critical. The words "mercy," "grace" and "repentance" are totally absent from his writing, although they are used often by "J." He lived before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE -- long after "J."

    • "R' wrote the first half of Genesis 2:4. He was a redactor who assembled the writings of J,E,P, & D into the present text.

    • "J" authored Genesis 2:4b to 4:26, including all of Chapter 3 which is analyzed below. He probably wrote sometime between the middle of the 9th century BCE and the late 8th century BCE. He referred to God as "JHWH", and viewed him in anthropomorphic terms: God formed Adam from clay; he walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden; he spoke to Moses, etc.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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  1. Quoted in: Paul Laughlin, "Remedial Christianity: What every believer should know about the faith, and probably doesn't," Polebridge Press, (2000), Page 168. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  2. Richard Bozarth, "The Meaning of Evolution," American Atheist magazine, 1979-SEP, Page 30.
  3. Op Cit., Laughlin, Page 151 to 155.
  4. "How Sin Entered the World," The Way of Righteousness, at:
  5. "Is Genesis 3:15 a Messianic prophecy?," Messiah Truth, at:
  6. Op Cit, Laughlin, Page 153.

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Copyright 2003 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-FEB-29
Latest update: 2015-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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