The Failure of Adam

In my undergraduate study of the book of Genesis, as a final project I had to study six thematic principles in Gen. 3:1-7. This is the first study:

The Failure of Adam

“She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).

When reading the narrative of Genesis 3, amidst the drama of the temptation of the serpent, one question often pops up in a reader’s mind: Where is Adam? The entire serpentine conversation happens between Eve and the serpent (who is Satan, Rev. 20:2) and Adam doesn’t even appear in the story till after Eve has already eaten of the fruit. Where was he? What was he doing? Well, there are few questions that we can really answer without falling into wholesale speculation and guesswork. However, upon further examination of the text, there are some serious accusations that can be leveled at Adam.

First off, we have to look back at God’s creation of Adam to figure out what role Adam is meant to play in creation. In Genesis 1:26-28 we see a generic title of “ruler” given to both man and woman (1:27); in this title we see that mankind is meant to have dominion over the earth, and is called to “subdue” creation and “rule” over it. However, in Genesis 2:7 we see that Adam is created first, and Eve is not created till 2:22. In 2:15 we see that God takes Adam and “puts him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Adam’s first task he is given is to cultivate (עבד ‛ābad) the garden, and protect it (שׁמר shāmar). Many Bible commentators draw out that this probably meant that Adam was to take care of the botanical growth and protect it from being trampled by the wild beasts – which is probably true – but the immediate following verses seem to imply another aspect of care and protection. In 2:16-17 God explains His overwhelming provision for Adam to eat “freely of every tree in the garden”, as well as His prohibition of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” It is like God is saying that part of Adam’s protecting and caring work involves remembering this double-edged promise.

Secondly, we have to remember that the provision/prohibition of 2:16-17 is given before Eve has even been created. The short episode of Adam naming the creatures occurs, and then God takes a rib from Adam, and creates Eve (2:18-22). This would mean that Eve did not hear the provision/prohibition firsthand, but would have to rely on Adam to teach it to her. This would make sense though, in light of Adam’s role to act as “nurturer” and “protector”, to protect and nurture not only the garden, but his own wife in teaching her God’s commands. 1 Timothy 2:13 does seem to place a sense of greater authority to Adam for being created first.

And with those two truths combined, it seems that we can see the failure of Adam to faithfully lead and instruct his bride, evidenced by her incorrect responses to the serpent’s temptations. It was no accident that the serpent presented himself to Eve, and not to Adam; he knew the distance between Eve and the commands of God, and sought to ruthlessly capitalize on it. When Eve responds to the serpent she leaves out the emphatic nature of both the provision and prohibition of God from 2:16-17, muting both God’s generosity and justice. She also makes a wholesale addition that was never mentioned before, “neither shall you touch it” (3:3). If Eve’s only connection to God’s Word was through Adam, Adam must have failed to adequately convey God’s law to her.

Now, you could say that this too is conjecture; God could have dictated the same law to Eve directly and it just not be recorded in Scripture. And it may be, but even if it was and Adam was present the whole time of the temptation, he still remained silent the entire time. And even if Adam was not present for the serpentine conversation and showed up afterwards, he still participated in disobeying God by eating the fruit. Regardless, he forfeited his role as “protector” and became culpable for sin entering the world. Indeed, when God comes rushing to the scene, He addresses Adam first, asking him what he has done (3:9), as if God is holding him responsible – in fact, God’s curse on Adam begins with the revelation that Adam waylaid his responsibilities and “listened to the voice of [his] wife and have eaten of the tree” (3:17). In Romans 5:12-21, Paul attributes sin as being primarily Adam’s fault, seeing him as the federal head over all mankind.

Adam should have protected his bride, protected the garden, and protected his future children by crushing the serpent, rescuing his bride, and saving all of creation – but he didn’t. God, however, had already put another plan in place. In 3:15, God promises that a Descendant would come from the line of Adam and would remedy the problem. A second, better Adam appeared, and rather than failing His test in the wilderness, He triumphed over the lies and temptations of the serpent with the Word (Matt. 4:1-11). This second Adam did not let His bride be led astray, but laid down His life to redeem His bride from the clutches of death and sin. This second Adam did not allow the curse of sin to run rampant through all of creation, but healed diseases, raised the dead and promised to one day return and redeem all of creation. Though Adam failed miserably, God provided us Jesus Christ, the second Adam, the serpent crusher, bride saver, world redeemer, Son of God. And now through faith in Him, we too may become the kind of ruler’s and cultivators we were intended to be. 

Other posts in this series:

5 thoughts on “The Failure of Adam

  1. I know you are trying to make a valid point here, I agree that Adam played a role, but the only thing I get out of your comments is that Eve was incapable of making her own decision and can’t be held accountable for her actions. Not sure I can get on board with your very limiting “gender roles”.

    1. Well, they aren’t mine, but come from Scripture. I don’t think the gender roles have anything to do with capability, but with the design of God in creation. Eve was obviously capable to make decisions – she did. Having Adam as the leader and protector of Eve isn’t because of Adam’s superiority and Eve’s inferiority – they both are equally made in the image of God and told to rule over creation, and thus are equal in worth and value (Gen. 1:25-28). But that doesn’t get rid of the roles of headship and submission. Jesus submits to the Father, yet is equal with the Father.

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