When I was a little girl in Sunday school, I heard about Adam and Eve eating the fruit off the forbidden tree, and I colored pictures of them with strategically placed bushes and Eve's long hair. I wondered things like, what kind of fruit was it? Why was the fruit so bad to eat? Why did God forbid it in the first place?
But the last few years, I've heard a different theory popularized. It usually comes in the ambiguous phrase, "Adam shouldn't have let that serpent near his wife. That was the first thing that went wrong." Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit wasn't the first sin at all. The sin came before that. It was wrong to let the serpent in the garden.
This theory has been gaining in popularity, especially as the roles of men and women are being defined and redefined in our culture. This chivalrous statement places the blame on Adam, endangering his wife by negligence. It comes from a place of wanting to defend Eve since she was the first to take a bite. The thinking is that Adam was wrong to blame his wife when he was the one who was charged with dominion over the garden (they were actually both given dominion in Genesis 1:28), and he let something dangerous near his wife. That's why she sinned because he enabled it.
While I appreciate chivalry very much and will thank every man who opens my door or defends me when I need defending, this claim to protect from over-blaming Eve is misguided. Yes, Adam and Eve both participated in sin. This was a joint effort of the two genders of mankind. They are both sinners. But the first sin wasn't letting the serpent in the garden. Here's why:
1) The Bible tells us that God told Adam not to eat the fruit, and when God found them in the garden, ashamed, he referenced the sin of eating the fruit (Gen 3:11). Are we re-writing this to say God actually meant "did you let the serpent in…?" God referenced the sin again: "And to Adam he said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife [the sin of unbelief toward God's word] and have eaten of the tree [the action of unbelief] of which I have commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life" (Gen 3:17). God didn't say "because you let your wife talk to the serpent…" God never forbade talking to serpents or references this as the offense.
2) God allows us to be tempted. He does not tempt us himself, but he does not remove temptation from our life; he helps us stand up under it. It is not a sin to be tempted. It is sin to give into the temptation. Jesus was also tempted by the serpent, and yet he did not sin. It wasn't a sin for him to talk to the serpent, and it wasn't a sin for him to go near the serpent.
3) They had no knowledge yet of good and evil. This was a pre-knowledge conversation. There were no good animals and bad animals identified, and if there were good animals and evil animals, Adam and Eve didn't have the ability to distinguish between the two. The only knowledge Adam and Eve had was what God said was good, and what God said was off-limits. The only thing referenced was eating the fruit.
4) Adam and Eve did not realize they were naked after the serpent came into the garden. Eve had a whole conversation with the serpent without realizing she was naked. They realized they were naked and exposed only after they ate the fruit (Gen 3:6-7).
5) I say this as an avid gardener and farmer's wife: snakes go into gardens. It's where they live. It's like getting mad about a gopher getting into a garden or a bee. How exactly would they keep a snake out? Would they use a fence, or netting, or a spade or weapon they had formed? Why would they have a weapon before the Fall? Would they lay out some poison? In what teaching from God would they have learned to kill an animal?
6) Throughout church history, theologians have tied a parallel of sin coming into our lives through eating the forbidden fruit. One of the means that grace comes to us is through eating of the body and bread of Christ. It reminds us that we no longer eat from the tree of disobedience but from the tree (cross) of the complete obedience of Christ. While this parallel has been made throughout the ages, it is completely lost when all of a sudden, eating the fruit isn't how sin came into the world and we claim that letting Satan in the garden was the pre-sin sin.
7) The trickle-down effect of this incorrect teaching is that we start to fence in the laws that God gave us. All of a sudden, it's not wrong to sin; it's wrong to go near people who sin. Instead of declaring sin evil, we start saying, "but why were they in that situation to begin with? Weren't they at fault just for being there?" We start assessing if people deserve sympathy or not. We start forbidding things that God never forbid. We start putting expectations on ourselves and others that God did not put on us. What does it do to our theology when the first sin wasn't a sin of unbelief but a sin of negligence?
While sin came into the world through unbelief, salvation comes through belief.
We should always seek the Lord for wisdom, and it is often wise to avoid tempting situations. But Jesus was around sinful people— even the serpent himself, and yet was without sin. Instead of fixing our eyes on Christ and living by the Spirit, Christ has given us as a means of avoiding sin; we try the strategy of legalism instead. It's the plan of extra-laws as a means of avoiding sin. When we add to God's law, not only do we question why Jesus did things we think ought not be done, but we also hold back from showering grace and compassion on those around us because they "allowed that situation."
Instead of turning to grace because we have all broken God's law, we just add more laws as a means to a solution.
When it comes down to it, the serpent gave a different story than God did to Adam and Eve. God said one thing, and Satan said the other. Why was eating the fruit so significant? Because they wouldn't eat it unless they didn't believe what God said. The first sin was an act of unbelief. It was an act that proclaimed that either God didn't know what he was talking about or that he was flat out lying.
But while sin came into the world through unbelief, salvation comes through belief.
We will be put in tempting situations our whole lives. God has allowed that, and since the Fall, it feels even heavier. But the core sin has not changed: through Jesus Christ, do we believe what God has said about our redemption, or do we think he either doesn't know or is lying? Through unbelief, we will not enter his rest, but through belief in God's Word, we will see our salvation.