Home > Systematic Theology > Chapter 22-The Fall of Man

Chapter 22-The Fall of Man

The Fall of Man


THE chapter on the creation of man presented him in all the sinless perfection with which God can create an intellectual and moral spiritual being. It was there shown that this consisted, as the Scriptures declare, not merely in an innocent sinlessness, which left him without taint or tendency to sin, but in original righteousness, which comprised a love of holiness and natural choice of good rather than of evil.

The excellence of such a nature is seen in the difficulty which men have had in explaining the possibility of its fall. The value of this fact as testimony to the goodness of God is not to be overlooked. To escape this difficulty some have even maintained that there was originally in man a mere condition of equilibrium in which it was as easy to choose the wrong as the right. Nor can it be shown that, if this had been true, a trial upon probation, in which was given a choice of good and evil, with consequent reward and punishment, would have been unjust to man or derogatory to the character of God. But the plain teaching of Scripture is that man was not created in perfect equilibrium, but with a holy nature, the whole tendency of which was naturally towards the good and the holy. In thus fitting him for his trial, God is seen, by special endowment, to have given him most graciously all the powers possible to fit him for a wise choice in any instance in which he should be left to act according to his good pleasure.



In reply to the question how a being thus endowed could fall, the following suggestions may be made. While they may not be entirely satisfactory, they must be recognized as at least constituting a possible explanation of a subject so completely environed with difficulties.

1. The excellent nature thus bestowed was, after all, only that of a mere creature. The perfection, as such, could be only natural and bestowed, not essential and inalienable. Therefore, unless preserved by the purpose and acts of God, it might be lost.

2. It was that of a creature, the excellence of whose action consisted in always choosing the right and rejecting the wrong, but which had the power, should the inclination arise, of making and pursuing a contrary choice. No natural or compulsory necessity existed to prevent such choice. The right would only be chosen so long as the motive to do so should be the prevailing one. While, therefore, the nature wholly inclined by its nature to the right would naturally and certainly act in that direction, yet if that nature could be so affected as to incline towards the wrong, there would be no hindrance to its sinful action.

3. Under such circumstances, against any gross violation of the law of God, or sinful rebellion against him, the heart would so naturally revolt that the beginning of sin in this direction would be almost impossible. But if any desire should be awakened in itself sinless when duly exercised, that desire might so increase as ultimately to acquire sufficient strength to overcome the right tendency of the nature, and to lead finally by undue exercise to wrong action for its gratification.

4. The foundation for such desire might be found in the wish to gratify the lower appetites, or to attain higher exercise of the intellectual faculties.

5. The cause of its springing up would naturally be the denial of some means by which it would appear that either or both of these wishes could be attained. This accords with the principle stated by the Apostle Paul. “I had not known coveting except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Rom. 7:7.

6. The natural result would be not immediately to determine to do the wrong, but to question the justice or intention with which the act was forbidden.

7. This doubt of God would so lead the nature towards sin that the act would then be done from the motive arising from the desire of gratifying either the sensual or the spiritual appetite.



We have the account of the fall in Gen. 3:1-7. The statement is very brief yet complete. This is a proof of its inspiration, which also appears from its accurate agreement with the best thoughts men have been able to attain as to how such an event could take place.

The narrative shows that the attack upon man had to be made in a most subtle manner.

1. We have the occasion; in God’s forbidding man to eat of the fruit of a certain tree, called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Gen. 2: 17.

2. We have that love of wisdom, natural and proper in an intelligent being, excited by the idea that through its increase would be given elevation in the scale of existence.

3. Led by this desire to think of its possible gratification, the very name of the tree whose fruit was forbidden seemed to confirm the language of the tempter.

4. The good thus attainable appeared to be one which God would so naturally wish to bestow, that it created doubt whether God could really have meant to forbid its use, and particularly whether he would fulfil his threats, or had even intended them to be effective to prevent the proposed action.

5. Then followed the result, the statement of which shows the processes through which the mind of the woman had gone; “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a light to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” Gen. 3:6.

The Scriptures say but little of the difference between Adam and Eve in this transaction. The narrative of Genesis simply relates that the woman was the first tempted, and the first to sin, and that through her the fruit was given to the man. The only other allusion is that in which Paul states that “Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression.” 1 Tim. 2:14. This may mean only that the woman was tempted by Satan, while the man was not; or that Eve believed the tempter, and did not perceive the consequences of transgression, while Adam acted in full knowledge of them.

As to the reality of an external agent in the temptation, there has been no little dispute. Some have held that there was no actor, but that the temptation was the result merely of the emotions and desires of the woman. But the Scriptures say distinctly that there was a serpent, present and active. Temptation, through a serpent might have occurred in several ways.

1. A serpent might innocently and alone have been the occasion of the suggestion of the thoughts to Eve.

2. Some evil being might have accompanied the innocent acts of the serpent to suggest to her mind the thoughts by which he would tempt her to sin.

3. This evil spirit, in the form of a serpent, or taking possession of an actual serpent, might have used and uttered the language or suggested the thoughts attributed to him in the narrative.

4. A fourth explanation has been suggested, and is somewhat advocated by Turner in his Commentary on Genesis, p. 187. This supposes that the devil was the only agent, and that all reference to the serpent is allegorical.

The Scriptures seem to accord more nearly with the third of these theories. There appears to be no valid objection to the acceptance of this their most obvious import.

(1) It is surely not inconsistent with the power ascribed to Satan that he should thus enter the form of a creature already existent, or even assume the appearance of such a creature. “For even Satan fashioned himself into an angel of light.” 2 Cor. 11:14. The temptation of Jesus shows that Satan can assume bodily form. Mere mental suggestion cannot account for all that then occurred. It is necessary to believe that he appeared in bodily form to our Lord and addressed him in words uttered with the voice. This is involved in the offer recorded in Luke 4:7. “If thou therefore wilt worship before me it shall all be thine.”

(2) The force of the objection from the curse against the serpent, as against an innocent animal, vanishes with the light thrown by modern science upon creation. This shows that the serpent has always had its present form. The curse, therefore, so far as uttered against the animal is merely equivalent to an assertion of the continuance of what had always been, and only places before man a constant and dreaded memorial of the first sin. This is consistent with God’s method of cursing and blessing as seen in the bow of Noah, Gen. 9:8-17, and Jacob’s language as to Simeon and Levi in Gen. 49:5-7.

This third theory is favoured by the following facts:

1. The title serpent and dragon is given elsewhere in Scripture to Satan. See Rev. 12:3, 4, 7, 9, 12-17; Rev. 13:2-4, especially Rev. 12:9, “the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan.” See also Matt. 3:7, where John calls the Pharisees “an offspring of vipers,” and compare it with John 8:44, our Lord’s language: “Ye are of your father the devil.”

2. The narrative in Genesis demands more than mental suggestion through a mere animal.

(a) A characteristic special subtlety is ascribed to the serpent. If the temptation of Eve arose from mere mental suggestion to her by the purposeless acts of a purely irrational animal, the mention of this subtlety is unaccountable.

(b) The thoughts suggested could not have arisen in the mind of the woman alone, nor in that of the woman through any mere act of the serpent. These are (aa) That death would not ensue. (bb) That the knowledge of good and evil would elevate them to be Gods (mighty ones).

3. The subsequent references in the Scriptures to this transaction show that this was the beginning of the great struggle of Satan for the ruin of man, which was to end in his destruction by the man Christ Jesus, the seed of the woman.

4. In the New Testament it is both directly asserted, and in various forms assumed, that Satan seduced our first parents into sin. In Rev. 12:9, it is said, ‘The great dragon was east out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan.’ In 2 Cor. 11:3, Paul says, ‘I fear lest . . . as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so also your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.’ But that by the serpent he understood Satan is plain from ver. 14, where he speaks of Satan as the great deceiver; and what is said in Rom. 16:20, ‘The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet,’ is in obvious allusion to Gen. 3:15. In John 8:44, our Lord calls the Devil a ‘murderer from the beginning, and the father of lies, because through him sin and death were introduced into the world.'” [Hodge, Syst. Theol. Vol. 2, p. 128.]



The fall of Man occurred when he was on probation under the Covenant of works.

Theologians are accustomed to speak of two especial covenants, the one of works, the other of grace. These do not embrace all the covenants between God and man, which indeed have been very numerous. The others most prominently mentioned in the Scriptures are that with Noah, Gen. 9:11-17; with Abraham, Gen. 17:2-14; (repeated to Isaac, Gen. 26:2-5; and to Jacob, Gen. 28:13-15;) with Israel in giving the law, Ex. 24:7; Deut. 5:2, 3; with Moses and Israel, Ex. 34: 27; with David, 2 Sam. 7: 1~16; with Solomon, 2 Chron. 7: 1~22; and that of Nehemiah and the Israelites with God, Neh. 9: 38 to 10: 39. The two covenants of works and grace are spoken of in Gal. 4: 2~31, and are called “the two covenants” in verse 24. That of grace is the covenant of redemption made by God with his elect, or more properly with Christ, the second Adam, as their representative. That of works, is the covenant of the law entered into between God and all mankind through the first Adam, their natural head and appropriate and appointed representative.

[Upon the Scripture use of the word covenant see Hodge’s Out-lines of Theology, pp. 309 and 367-369.]

A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties by which any one or more things are to be done under the sanction of rewards and penalties.

This is the ideal form of a covenant. Some parts of it may he wanting, and still it may he a covenant. Thus there may be penalties and no reward, or reward and no penalties. Also, the agreement may arise, not from mutual consultation, but from a command given and accepted. This may take place at the time it is given, and with the person to whom it is spoken, or the command may be given, or promise made, to be accepted and acted upon by any who may at any time choose. Thus, between a government and its responsible subjects, law becomes a covenant. Rewards also are promised, as for the killing of dangerous or destructive animals, or for the capture of criminals; or threats are uttered, for violation of the rights of others, either as to life, liberty, or property.

These preliminary statements may remove the difficulties sometimes felt as to the existence of a covenant of works. Law prescribed by God as lawgiver is admitted to exist together with its sanctions and penalties; and, as in human law, so here, no excuse can he made of want of formal agreement; because of the natural obligation to obey.

These facts are, however, more fully applicable to the covenant of works, regarded as the general law of obtaining and maintaining spiritual life, given to all mankind, and still held forth to them, than to the transactions under that covenant connected with Adam’s fall.

In this latter the elements of a covenant more distinctly appear.

I. There are here the two parties to a covenant, God and man; the one prescribing what was to be done, or left undone; the other receiving the command to do or not to do it.

If it be objected to the parties, that God enjoined an act through his sovereign and supreme power and dominion, to which man dared not object; the sufficient reply is that God was no more sovereign lord than man was willing subject. The holy constitution of his nature, rendered his ready acceptance absolutely certain.

I. Here also we find the subject matter of a covenant, the forbidding under penalty the eating of a certain fruit. That which made this properly a part of the covenant, was that man knew that he was commanded not to eat; that he recognized God’s right to command, and his duty to obey; that he had a natural inclination towards obedience; and that, accepting the command of God, lie proceeded to submit himself to it.

Both the knowledge and assent of man, however, may be absent from the general covenant of works, where it appears under the especial form of law, or duty, whenever that absence is the result of man’s sinfulness, and man still be held responsible. But in an innocent being this knowledge and assent are essential to responsibility. Yet that very innocence, because of the holiness of the creature’s nature, secures such assent to God’s law when known as completes the more formal covenant.

I. The third element of the covenant is the penalty, death, the meaning of which will be hereafter examined. The threat of God “thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17), was known not only to Adam, but to the woman also, as appears from her conversation with the serpent. Gen. 3:1-3.

II. The promises made or implied constitute a fourth element. It is questioned whether promises were added to the covenant. None appear in the narrative. None were necessary to make this a covenant. None are necessarily involved except such as are implied as attendant upon the result of obedience. These, therefore, may be first stated as being thus implied, and such considerations may be added as, from our further information, suggest that others were actually expressed.

Those implied are:

(1) Continuance of God’s favour, which having been bestowed on them as innocent creatures, would continue to be shown if they should not disobey his commands.

(2) Continuance of their happy, holy condition until by their own act they should forfeit it.

(3) Continuance, therefore, unless in like manner forfeited, of the immortality natural to their souls; and as to their bodies, continuance of their then existent condition, or, if any change should occur, a change into higher forms, bestowed for their greater happiness.

(4) To this may be added that their children, so long as this state of innocence should continue, would be born with like innocent and holy natures.

These results of obedience are implied.

(1.) In the benevolent holiness and justice of God’s nature. Even if never stated to Adam as promises, they would be naturally inferred by him from his knowledge of God.

(2.) They are also implied in the very threat against disobedience, if, as we shall hereafter see, that threat involved not merely natural death, but also, and chiefly, that absence of God’s favour and communion which is the death of the soul.

If death would follow disobedience, then life ought to follow obedience–life in all the opposites to death, and therefore life both of the body and the soul.

It would seem, therefore, that there ought to be no question that these blessings were believed by Adam to have been made dependent upon his obedience to God’s commands.

But not only were these thus implied, but the fact that life was promised “is clearly taught in other passages of Scripture. Lev. 18:5; Neh. 9:29; Matt. 19:16, 17; Gal. 3:12; Rom. 10:5.” [Hodge’s Outlines, p. 311.]

There are three further points of inquiry as to the probation upon which Adam was thus placed.

1. How long was the probation to last if man continued innocent?

2. Was there to be but this one test of obedience?

3. Was confirmation in holiness and happiness promised our first parents in any way as a reward of obedience?

We may answer these by saying that, while we have no means of knowing how long man was to be tried under this particular form of covenant, it is more than probable that there was to be but the one form of test, and that, after a period which could not be very long, confirmation in spiritual life was to be attained if man continued obedient.

In favour of but one form of test is:

1. The fact that the simple purpose was to test man’s confidence in God and obedience to his will. So long as a sufficient one was presented, no multiplication of tests was necessary.

2. God knew whether his purpose was to allow man to fall or not, and knowing this, knew what test would be sufficient. He needed to try man, not to show to himself but to others what man would do.

3. In a case like that of Job, when his purpose is to exhibit his grace in his creature, he may allow many tests, one after another, but when that purpose is to permit the fall of his creature, it is not probable that he would allow his hopes of success to be raised, after successive trials, to result only in final and more embittered disappointment.

With respect to confirmation in spiritual life as resulting from continuance in holy obedience, it may be remarked that:

1. The fact that God selected this one thing to forbid, while he granted indulgence in all others, indicates that it was for a special test. That test would naturally be accompanied by a promise as well as by a threat.

2. A further evidence of such a promise, as well as of its nature, is to be found in the statements about the tree of life. Its suggestive name, its prominent position “in the midst of the garden,” (Gen. 2:9), its conspicuous character, such that it is one of the only two mentioned, its power of confirmation in life, which Gen. 3:22 shows to have been known to Adam–all of these indicate that the idea, not only of life, but of confirmation in life, had been conveyed to Adam.

3. The fall which resulted from the temptation shows that God’s purpose in causing that tree to grow there was not to use it in the confirmation of Adam in holiness, for no such confirmation was to occur. We must find its use, therefore, in something prior to the fall. But in what, save to place constantly before Adam the promise of confirmed spiritual life, should the period of this probation he safely passed?

4. The necessity of his removal from the garden shows that some promise of confirmation in some existent condition thereafter unchangeable had been attached to this tree, to he fulfilled when man should be permitted to partake of it. Gen. 3:22.

Three objections have been made to this transaction.

1. That it made so much, even all, to depend upon a single act.

But this arises (1) from the nature of sin; as guilt demanding punishment for any one transgression, even the least; and as corruption, rendering incapable of subsequent acts of holiness; and (2) from the nature of God’s justice, which cannot pardon sin unatoned for. Any one sin must therefore necessarily terminate probation.

2. That the test was in so unimportant a matter as the eating of a piece of fruit. But the more trifling the prohibition, the easier was the act of obedience, and the more flagrant that of disobedience.

3. That the precept was a positive and not a moral injunction.

But this very fact made it a better test of obedience, (a) as testing the whole man; not his love of holiness only, nor his reverence for God, nor the tendencies of his holy nature, nor those of his will only, but all; (b) as making a well and sharply defined test of his confidence and obedience towards God; and (c) as plainly manifesting to the guilty the sin they had committed and the condition into which they had brought themselves.


Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D. D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887

  1. May 14, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Reblogged this on My Delight and My Counsellors.

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