Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Curses Curses

This misunderstanding may be even more controversial than Romans 7.

Most people who read
Genesis 3:14–19, see the “curses” issued to the serpent, Eve and Adam as punishment that God dishes out because he is angry with their respective sins. But I want to suggest that this is a gross misunderstanding of what is happening here.

God is explaining what they have brought upon themselves. These are not punishments, but consequences that directly result from their rebellion.

God had warned them of the deadly consequences of disobedience (Genesis 2:17). This was not a threat, but a compassionate forewarning.

Dorothy Sayers expresses this well:
The fashionable habit of calling the prohibition of the Fruit of Knowledge an “arbitrary taboo” is a quite unjustifiable travesty of the Bible story. There, God is represented as saying to Adam and Eve: “Do not eat: if you do, it will kill you”—and I do not know what else one could reasonably say to anybody when begging him to refrain from taking strychnine or prussic acid (Dorothy Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante, p. 63).
And so when the sin was committed, God sits them down and tells them what they’ve done.

Why does this matter?

It prevents the too-common caricature of God as the “angry old man” who lashes out at his creatures for doing what “he enticed them” to do.
[God] puts an apple tree in the middle of [the Garden of Eden] and says, do what you like guys, oh, but don’t eat the apple. Surprise surprise, they eat it and he leaps out from behind a bush shouting “Gotcha.” It wouldn’t have made any difference if they hadn’t eaten it.… Because if you’re dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them you know perfectly well they won’t give up. They’ll get you in the end (Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe).
It also resolves the question of whether we should seek to reverse the effects of the fall. If these “curses” are punishments handed out by God, then we shouldn’t interfere with his discipline. (Have you ever tried to console an unhappy child only to find out that he had been put in “time out” by his parents?)

We seem to understand this when it comes to the resistance of nature to man’s effort to cultivate the land. We also seek to lessen the pain of childbirth. But we get confused about woman’s subjection to man. We pass this off as God’s ordained “chain of authority.”

Some go so far to say that original sin is “the woman taking over authority from the man, and the man saying and doing nothing to stop it” (Michael Harper, Equal and Different, London, 1994). (The complete article can be found

Besides, these pronouncements by God are presented in poetic language. A woodenly literal interpretation misses the point. Take verse 15 for example. God says that there will be “enmity” between the offspring of the serpent and the woman. Couched within this reference to the nearly-universal abhorrence for snakes is the first prophecy of the coming Messiah who would crush the head of Satan once and for all. (See
Romans 16:20.)

So tell me what you think.

Bonus: Notice that work is not Adam’s curse. The consequence for Adam was that his work would be now be burdensome. Adam performed work before the fall and experienced fulfillment and satisfaction in it (
Genesis 2:15).

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


Anonymous said...

Don Johnson says

you should check out what Joy and Bruce Fleming writes on Gen 2-3. Info is at http://www.thinkagainbooks.com/8book-series.html

and Bruce has a subsequent book available at Amazon.

They have some very good insights. There is no curse associated with the woman's actions.

Pastor Rod said...


I'll have to check out the books. Thanks for your contribution.