The Fall: Adam’s Folly

Our story of the fall of man left off with Eve eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve believed the serpent’s deceptive arguments on why she should eat in spite of the clear, unambiguous command from God against it. She argued that the tree was good for food, it was visually appealing, and it would make her wise.1 So Eve must have thought to herself, why not! How bad could it be? Unfortunately, she would later find out. People are good at rationalizing things and Eve was no exception. Where did she acquire this ability? Remember, all this was before she ate the forbidden fruit.

We would expect more from Adam since he was created first and God communicated with him directly. But Adam performed no better than Eve on this test of obedience since he gave in without even offering an ounce of resistance; at least Eve made an attempt to obey. But Adam, he just took the fruit from Eve and ate.2

What was Adam’s excuse? He really didn’t have any. Eve might have been deceived, but Adam willfully disobeyed. Would he have been so quick to disobey if he knew he was representing all of his future descendants?

The notion of Adam being mankind’s representative is referred to in theology as “federal headship”3 (Even though this teaching may be unpopular with some believers, it is essential for understanding the consequences of Adam’s sin and the reason for salvation.) The doctrine of Adam as our federal head is derived from Romans 5:12-19.4 5 Those who would object to this teaching on federalism would, by necessity, be denying Scripture. In Romans 5:12-19 the same theme is repeated over and over which is that sin entered into the world thorough one man and that all men are condemned through that one transgression—Scripture emphasizes important teachings through repetition. And, if Romans 5:12-19 is discarded based on objections to Adam’s sin being imputed to us then you would also be objecting to the teaching that righteousness is imputed to us through Jesus since this is also taught in these verses.

Another subtle point from Scripture related to Adam as our federal head concerns knowing good and evil as the first consequence of eating from the forbidden tree. As mentioned previously, Eve ate first but it wasn’t until Adam also ate that their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked.6 Eve’s disobedience didn’t bring about the penalty pronounced by God in Genesis 2:17, the penalty wasn’t realized until after Adam disobeyed.

If we are to agree that Adam acted as our representative or federal head, then it must logically follow that his sin was imputed to us. In theology there is a debate as to whether the imputation was mediate or immediate. Mediate imputation implies that people are born without actually being guilty of Adam’s sin,7 instead, they only inherit the propensity to sin from Adam. Immediate imputation says that we are all guilty of Adam’s sin because Adam was our representative and we are all descendants of Adam. Again, according to Murray, Romans 5:12 leaves no room to consider any other means by which death passed to all except through the one sin committed by Adam.8

I believe there is a correlation between the nature of the imputation and the following two commonly known sayings:

Immediate imputation => We sin because we are sinners.
Mediate imputation => We are sinners because we sin.

If you accept the latter, then you may be inclined to believe that people are basically good—an indefensible position even by man’s standards. However, if you believe the former, then you are sure to believe that people are inherently evil—a defensible position by God’s standards.9 Nevertheless, whichever of these sayings you believe to be true says a lot about your theology.

God promised that Adam would die on the day he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.10 But the penalty both Adam and Eve endured on that day was not physical death, that was to come much later; they died in a way that neither of them could have imagined.

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Copyright 2013 Gerard Sczepura

  1. Gen 3:6 NASB 

  2. Ibid. 

  3. “Our First Federal Head,” Ligonier Ministries, accessed December 07, 2013, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/our-first-federal-head/

  4. Ibid. 

  5. John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1992), 64. 

  6. Gen. 3:7 

  7. Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, 42-43 

  8. Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, 66 

  9. Isa. 64:6 

  10. Gen. 2:17 

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