Understanding the Bible 02: Sin in the Garden of Eden

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02_raphael_adameveCentral to the biblical story is the conviction that something has gone terribly wrong.  The world as we experience it is not the world as God intended.

In this episode we turn to the biblical explanation why – how humanity moved from the Garden of Eden to a cosmos in which “thorns and thistles” are part of our daily reality.

This story of “the Fall” is told  in highly symbolic language and revolves largely around two trees:  The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  By understanding these images, we come to a much clearer understanding of both biblical theology and basic plot of the Bible.  Along the way we will construct a basic definition of sin and get glimpse at what “salvation” will require.



  1. Erika Williams
    January 30, 2015

    After God learned that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge is there an indicator as to why the specific punishments followed? (painful child bearing etc.) Am I correct in referring to them as punishments or are they something else. Also, I was reading about your breakdown of the satan and diabollos. I’m sure that I spelled that wrong but I think that you know what I mean. It clearly implies that it is referencing a force or being of opposition. So, anytime something is causing a divide between God and mankind we are referring to it as if it is one demonic figure with a name but is that not actually the case? Are there possibly several forces etc. that we are calling “Satan”. How does that related to Lucifer? Who was actually in the Garden of Eden? (I see myself having many more questions as I’m going through this series, I hope that I don’t exhaust you). To bad you are in California. If you ever find yourself in Atlanta, I would love to pick your braid.

    1. Erika Williams
      January 30, 2015


    2. Kirk Winslow
      February 4, 2015

      Hi Erika!

      Thanks for the note. 🙂

      These are, of course, questions for the ages, so I won’t pretend to offer anything definitive.

      With regard to pain in childbirth, toiling for food…I agree with those who think the main thing to notice is that they stand in direct contrast to God’s intent for humanity in the Garden (“…fill the earth and subdue it…”). Humanity is told – literally – to tend the Garden and to reproduce, and now – as a result of sin – such can still be done, but it now the system is broken. What was meant to be pure joy will now happen with great suffering and hardship. And I think – like the whole Eden story – this is not just meant to be understood in literal terms, but symbolically. In other words, I think “fill the earth and subdue it” stands for all of human creativity, and the consequences of sin represent that all of human life is now subjected to futility and death. We can create (literally and figuratively – make babies and art) and yet, without God it will all come to nothing.

      Whether these effects are a punishment inflicted by God or the natural consequences of sin is much debated. I think the latter: that pain/toil/death are the result of what happens when sin enters creation (not sent by God but mourned by God!). Indeed I think the entire project of salvation is rooted in God’s loving unwillingness to let the consequences of sin endure forever. Thus God will take it upon himself to reverse these effects. Hopefully this becomes clearer as the series progresses!

      Same for satan/demon stuff (that it gets clearer as the series goes). By the time we get to Revelation, I think the Bible IS saying that there is an Opponent to the purposes of God (which is never described in terms that feel satisfying to us). I think that Enemy was active in the Garden, and thus I’m comfortable equating the serpent with the enemy figure (and “Satan” is as good a name as any). Revelation has the perspective that human history really only makes sense as understood as part of a larger cosmic confrontation between God and Evil (but not in a way that sees the two as equals!).

      For me the key to all this is to understand that love really is the center of the biblical story: all revolves around it. If love is the goal, then there must be freedom. Freedom means that one (human or angelic) can choose away from love (and thus from God). Once this choice is made, tragedy ensues (it is a self-inflicted, mortal wound). If God desires to heal it, he must heal by means of love, which is never exercised by means of violence and oppression. Thus the entire project of salvation unfolds as it does.

      If all we needed was God to crush Satan, the Bible says God could in an instant. But that does nothing to restore love itself. Rather, God must inject love into a fallen world, loving all creation in such a manner that it redeems (and how this plays out IS the biblical narrative). In other words, the Bible IS the explanation of how God restores love in creation and in the process overcomes evil itself (by loving it out of existence).

      Perhaps one could think of it like winning WWII… For the project of salvation to succeed, it is not enough to bomb the enemy mercilessly (such only adds to the destruction). Rather, God must rebuild what has already been destroyed by war in such a way that when he is thru, all the cities are rebuilt and in the process of rebuilding (the manner in which it occurs), evil has no place left to go.

      Does that help? (Hopefully it makes more sense as the series goes on!)

      But please feel free to keep asking for clarification (helps me the next time I teach it!).

      And if I’m headed to Atlanta, I’ll let you know… 😉


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