After the account of creation, Genesis relates the sad tale of how sin entered an otherwise sinless world. Simply put, the devil lied to Eve and tricked her into disobeying God, she somehow convinced Adam to do the same. God punished all three, and the world has been broken ever since.
Judeo-Christianity has fairly placed the blame on Eve, the first human to sin. But, in fact, the failure was with Adam. The broken state of a sinful world was caused by Adam; therefore a new Adam (Jesus) was needed to correct the broken condition of sin.
12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned… 18 Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. 20 Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:12, 18-21)
21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive… 45 Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor 15:21-22, 45)
In both of these texts, St. Paul compares Adam and Jesus; as Adam brought sin and death into this world, so Jesus brings grace and life. Adam was the source, not Eve. Let’s review what happened during the Fall.
8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil... 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." (Gen 2:8-17)
Two things to note: (1) God gave Adam a mandate (Eve had not yet been created, so the mandate is for Adam); don’t eat from a particular tree or else you will die. God does not lie, so it is a truth that Adam will die if he eats from that tree. (2) Adam had two jobs: to till the garden and to keep it. The Hebrew word here translated as “to keep it” is shamar, which means to guard it. This begs the question: guard it from what? After the above text, God creates a bride for Adam, out of his own flesh. Then we meet the one from whom Adam must guard the garden. We must realize that now within the garden is Adam’s bride, Eve; she must also be guarded.
1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" 2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" 4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:1-5)
We understand that the serpent is the devil. The Hebrew word for serpent is nahash, which is also the Hebrew word for ‘dragon.’ We can compare this with the NT text from Rev 12:9, which speaks of “the great dragon [who] was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” It is clear from this verse that the dragon/the Devil/Satan was that ancient serpent, here mentioned as a deceiver; it is one and the same as the nahash in Eden. When we read the Eden account, our image should be that of a great dragon, not a snake in a tree. It was Adam’s job to guard the garden from this dragon; specifically, to guard his bride, ‘the woman,’ from this dragon. And he did not.
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. (Gen 3:6)
Adam is here mentioned for the first time in this narrative. He seems to have been missing, not protecting his bride. The RSVCE is not quite accurate in its translation here; the Hebrew says, “and she also gave to her husband who was with her.” He was standing there next to his wife the whole time, with the great dragon; yet he did and said nothing while the dragon intimidated his bride. As if to emphasize this point, he is here called ‘her husband,’ the first time we hear of them as spouses. A common understanding of this story is that Adam was expected to protect his wife from this dragon – even knowing that it would likely cause him great suffering to take on such an adversary – yet he did not. He allowed the dragon to intimidate his wife. As a result of his failure, she fell. Then he joined her.
The new Adam, Jesus, corrected this cowardice by defending His bride – the Church – against the dragon. He went so far as to suffer death in His combat with the devil. He did what Adam failed to do, courageously guarding His beloved. When Jesus completed His battle, He rose from the dead; as John’s gospel notes, Gethsemane was by a garden and Jesus’ tomb was in this garden (think Eden), and the first person Jesus encountered on Easter morning was Mary Magdalene, who thought He was the gardener – that is, one who ‘tills and keeps’ the garden as Adam had been called to do.
Now let’s examine God’s response to the dragon, Eve and Adam.
14 The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Gen 3:14-15)
This is why we tend to think of the serpent as a snake: because it was condemned to ‘crawl on its belly.’ But snakes do not eat dust. Some exegetes see in this text an image of Sheol, the underworld where the demons lived. The devil was condemned to live in the bowels of the dusty earth.
Vs. 15 is the famous protoevangelium, understood by Christians as the first promise of Christ, the son of the woman, the new Eve, Mary.
16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Gen 3:16)
Eve was punished by spousal domination and pain in childbirth. But notice these two things are of a nuptial nature: husband and child birth. If we remember that Scripture uses women as a type of God’s covenant people, then we can see here an image of our innate desire for God; we ‘bear children’ in that we become a new person in union with God. That path to union normally includes suffering. Before the Fall, union with God was easy; after the Fall, it is difficult. We will need help.
17 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen 3:17-19)
Adam, whose sin was born of avoiding suffering, was punished to enjoy long suffering, as he would struggle to grow food. The gardener would experience difficulty gardening. Of interest is that God cursed the ground; Adam’s name, Adamah, means ground. It was Adam who was cursed. We also note that his curse was essentially that of death; God warned Adam not to eat the fruit, lest he die. Had he not eaten that fruit, he would not have died.
Jesus’ passion involved all of these punitive elements. His sacred body was laid in a tomb in the earth, to sanctify the cursed ground to which His body returned. He wore a crown of thorns. His sweat was as blood in the garden of Gethsemane. He established the Eucharistic bread as part of His passion, His cosmic Passover. On the cross, He was offered sour wine to drink by means of a hyssop branch (a plant of the field). The new Adam accepted all of these punishments, even as He went to work to do what the old Adam failed to do.