Ask Ivor

a man whose name I failed to get asks:

"If Adam and Eve were perfect when they disobeyed God and thus caused death to enter the world, then weren't they deliberately committing suicide and genocide?"

Did Adam and Eve fully know the consequences of their disobedience? There is no uniform answer among Christian thinkers.

Some argue the relative innocence of Adam and Eve, and point the finger of blame at the serpent. Irenaeus, for example, suggested that Adam was intellectually a child and therefore easy prey to Satan's wiles.

Others argue the perfection of Adam and Eve. Chrysostom held that Adam and Eve lived an angelic life, with perfect wisdom and knowledge, and therefore they knew the penalty for violating the divine command. Augustine seemed to agree: he accused Adam of murder and of turning the human race into a lump of damnation.

Still others take some kind of middle position. John Milton, in Paradise Lost, presents Eve as being deceived by Satan, but Adam consciously choosing disobedience so as to remain united with Eve.

Such a romantic Adam is not found in scripture. The biblical Adam blames Eve, who in turn blames the serpent. God holds all three accountable.

The tree from which Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What does this mean? Again, there is no unity among Christian thinkers.

Some interpret the knowledge of good and evil to mean moral discernment. But if Adam and Eve were ignorant of right and wrong, then how could they be held accountable for doing wrong? Some reason that Adam and Eve had moral discernment from God, but that they were seeking an independent source, and this was their crime.

Others claim that "knowing good and evil" is a classical expression synonymous to knowing everything. Thus some, as we've seen, excuse Adam and Eve for their ignorance. Others, however, argue that even if Adam and Eve didn't have perfect knowledge before they ate the fruit, they had enough knowledge to be responsible for their action.

Are Adam and Eve responsible for stealing a piece of fruit, or for genocide? Is one worse than the other, or are they the same act? Did the fruit provide them with intellectual enlightenment or moral sensitivity? Both? Neither? There are more questions than answers.

What do we know for sure? Adam and Eve ate the fruit, realized they were naked, and felt shame. They were banished from the garden, and thus had no access to the tree of life and immortality (Ge 3:22-24). Their act affects everyone: "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Ro 5:12).

The good news is that there is a "second Adam" (1Co 15:45,47) who undoes the work of the first Adam: "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1Co 15:22).