Who Sinned First?

by Bodie Hodge
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Did sin start with Adam, or did sin actually start with Satan’s rebellion?

While reading a chapter out of one of your resources (I believe it was The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved!) about the Fall, I found myself with a rather perplexing question. It is one I may have heard before, but cannot find an answer to by searching on your site. If you do have a page on it, please send it to me. If not, I would ask that you answer this theological inquiry.

The question is over sin, and when did it start. AiG, as well as the Bible (as far as I can tell), clearly states that sin started with Adam and Eve sinning. It also defines sin as a rebellion, or turning away from God or His Will.

So, then, by the above definition, would sin not have started when Satan rebelled against God, which clearly happened before Adam and Eve took the fruit? Not only that, but Satan also sinned when he lied to Eve in the Garden, saying “ye shall not surely die,” when they would. There are two clear examples of sin before the Fall, so why did “all of Creation groan” only after Adam?

—S., US

When AiG or others speak of Adam being the first sinner, this refers to Paul saying:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

It means that sin entered the world through Adam—that is, Adam is the one credited with sin’s entrance and hence the subsequent entrance of death and suffering and the need for a Savior and a last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). When we look back at Genesis 3, it is true that Satan had rebelled and also the Woman (later named Eve) sinned prior to Adam.

The Sin of the Woman (Eve)

There were several things that that Eve did wrong prior to eating the fruit. The first was her misspeaking while responding to the serpent. When the serpent (who was speaking the words of Satan) asked in Genesis 3:1: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’ ?” her response was less than perfect:

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’" (Genesis 3:2–3; emphasis added)

Compare this to what God had commanded in Genesis 2:16–17:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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 surely die.”

The Woman made four mistakes in her response:

  1. She added the command not to touch the fruit (“Nor shall you touch it”). This may even be in contradiction with the command to tend the Garden (Genesis 2:15), which may have necessitated touching the tree and the fruit from time to time. This also makes the command from God to seem exceptionally harsh.
  2. She amended that God allowed them to freely eat. This makes God out to be less gracious.
  3. She amended that God allowed them to freely eat from every tree. Again, this makes God out to be less gracious.
  4. She amended the meaning of die. The Hebrew in Genesis 2:17 is “die-die” (muwth-muwth), which is often translated as “surely die” or literally as “dying you shall die,” which indicates the beginning of dying, an ingressive sense. In other words, if they would have eaten the fruit, then Adam and Eve would have begun to die and would return to dust (which is what happened when they ate in Genesis 3:19). If they were meant to die right then, Genesis 2:17 should have used muwth only once as is used in the Hebrew meaning “dead,” “died,” or “die” in an absolute sense and not beginning to die or surely die as die-die is commonly used. What Eve said was “die” (muwth) once instead of the way God said it in Genesis 2:17 as “die-die” (muwth-muwth). So, she changed God’s Word to appear harsher again by saying they would die almost immediately. [See also Genesis 2:17—“You Shall Surely Die”.]

Often we are led to believe that Satan merely deceived Eve with the statement that “You will not surely die?” in Genesis 3:4. But we neglect the cleverness/cunningness that God indicates that the serpent had in Genesis 3:1. Note also that the exchange seems to suggest that Eve may have been willingly led: that is, she had already changed what God had said.

If you take a closer look, the serpent argued against Eve with an extremely clever ploy. He went back and argued against her incorrect words using the correct phraseology that God used in Genesis 2:17 (“die-die” (muwthmuwth)). This, in a deceptive way, used the proper sense of die that God stated in Genesis 2:17 against Eve's mistaken view. Imagine the conversation in simplified terms like this:

God says: Don’t eat or you will begin to die.
Eve says: We can’t eat or will die immediately.
Serpent says: You will not begin to die.

This was very clever of Satan. This is not an isolated incident either. When Satan tried tempting Jesus (Matthew 4), Jesus said “it is written” and quoted Scripture (Matthew 4:4). The second time Satan tried quoting Scripture (i.e. God) but did it deceptively just as he had done to Eve (Matthew 4:5–6). Of course, Jesus was not deceived, but corrected Satan’s twisted use of Scripture (Matthew 4:7). But because of Eve’s mistaken view of God’s Word, it was easier for her to be deceived by Satan’s misuse of Scripture.

From there, she started down the slope into sin by being enticed by the fruit (James 1:14–15). This culminated with eating the forbidden fruit and giving some to her husband and encouraging him to eat. Eve sinned against God by eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil prior to Adam. However, with a closer look at the text, their eyes were not opened until after Adam ate—likely only moments later (Genesis 3:7). Since Adam was created first (Eve coming from him, but both being created in God’s image) and had been given the command directly, it required his sin to bring about the Fall of mankind. When Adam ate and sinned, they knew something was wrong and felt ashamed (Genesis 3:7). Sin and death had entered into the creation.

The Sin of Satan

Like Eve, Satan has sinned prior to this. His sin was pride in his beauty (Ezekiel 28:15–17) while in a perfect heaven (Isaiah 14:12), and he was cast out when imperfection was found in him (Isaiah 14:12; Revelation 12:9; Ezekiel 28:15). Then we found him in Garden of Eden (Ezekiel 28:13; Genesis 3).

Unlike Adam, Satan was not created in the image of God and was never given dominion over the world (Genesis 1:28). So, his sin did not affect the creation, but merely his own person. This is likely why Satan went immediately for those who were given dominion. Being an enemy of God (and, thus, those who bear His image), he apparently wanted to do the most damage, so it was likely that his deception happened quickly.

The Responsibility of Adam

Adam failed at his responsibilities in two ways. He should have stopped his wife from eating, since he was there to observe exactly what she said and was about to eat (Genesis 3:6). Instead of listening to (and not correcting) the words of his wife (Genesis 3:17), he ate while not being deceived (1 Timothy 2:14).

Adam also arguably failed to keep/guard the garden as he was commanded in Genesis 2:15. God, knowing Satan would fall, gave this command to Adam, but Adam did not complete the task. But God even knew that Adam would fall short and had a plan specially prepared.

I’ve had some people ask me: “Why do we have to die for something Adam did?” The answer is simple—we are without excuse since we sin too (Romans 3:23, 5:12). But then some have asked: “Why did we have to inherit sin nature from Adam, which is why we sin?” We read in Hebrews:

Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. (Hebrews 7:9–10)

If we follow this logic, then all of us were ultimately in Adam when he sinned. So, although we often blame Adam, the life we have was in Adam when he sinned, and the sin nature we received was because we were in Adam when he sinned. We share in the blame and the sin as well as the punishment.

But look back further. The life that we (including Eve) have came through Adam and ultimately came from God (Genesis 2:17). God owns us and gives us our very being (Hebrews 1:3), and it is He whom we should follow instead of our own sinful inclinations. Since this first sin, we have had the need for a Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God who would step into history to become a man and take the punishment for humanity’s sin. Such a loving feat shows that God truly loves mankind and wants to see us return to Him. God—being the Author of life, the Sustainer of life, and Redeemer of life—is truly the One we owe all things.

In Christ,

Bodie Hodge


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