Man's Fall and Salvation in Genesis 3

A Close Reading

Seminar Paper, 2009

53 Pages, Grade: 1.0



I. Introduction

II. An Analysis of the Literary Devices
Structures Connecting Gen 2 and 3
Structures Connecting Gen 3 and 4

III. An Analysis of the Garden of Eden Narrative
The Dialogue between the Snake and the Woman
The Narrative of the Humans Eating from the Tree
The Dialogue between God and the Humans
The Narrative of God Proclaiming Judgment on the Involved Parties
The Narrative of God Driving the Humans Out of the Garden

IV. The Theological Signifance in the Biblical Context
The Existence of Sin
The Clothes Motif
The Promised Seed and Savior
The Serpent

V. Summary


Chapter I

I. Introduction

The narrative in Gen 3 constitutes one of the most basic passages in the Bible. Both Jewish and Christian writers consider the first ten chapters of the book of Genesis as the foundational texts upon which the whole biblical theology is built. On the other hand, these texts have been and still are the object of much criticism by liberal scholars. In this research paper it is not possible to prove the historicity of these chapters in Genesis. Neither is it possible to study and examine all ten chapters since it would go beyond the scope of such a research paper. In this paper I want to examine Gen 3 with a special focus and awareness on what the text has to say.

In the first chapter I will present several possible structures for Gen 3, and thereby point out aspects that the narrator wanted to emphasize. In the second chapter I will follow the flow of the narrative, analyze certain terms and phrases, comment on and discuss what the text has to say. In the third chapter I will provide just a brief biblical overview on a selection of theological topics found in Gen 3.

Although I consulted several secondary sources during the study of the text, I mainly want to focus on the primary source, the biblical text itself.

Chapter III

II. An Analysis of the Literary Devices

The third chapter of Genesis is not disconnected from the surrounding chapters but the author created a lot of topical and terminological connections to those chapters. These inherent structures do, of course, exhibit a certain kind of beauty and the creativity of language. Further, they help the reader to understand and keep in mind the text and its content. However, the structures also have the purpose to show the main point of the story.

Structures Connecting Gen 2 and 3

Before entering into the discussion of several possible structures, it will be valuable to look at the unusual repetition of some words, namely two divine denotations and the term “good”:

(a) The usage of the two terms for God in Gen 3, namely ~yhil{a/ and ~yhil{a/ hwhy, is not by chance but wants to convey a message that is in harmony with the narrative and the dialogue found in chapter 3. In 1:1–2:3 only the term ~yhil{a/ is used.[1] This passage describes how God created the world and everything that is in it just by speaking these things into existence. God is presented in this passage as the omnipotent and transcendent One. While the denotation ~yhil{a/ hwhy is not used once in the above passage, it is used quite often in 2:4-22 where the Lord is described forming man by his own hands from the dust of the earth and the woman out of man’s rib, as well as placing both into a specially prepared garden, and marrying both human beings.[2] In this passage the narrator zooms deeper into the events described in 1:26-31 describing God rather intimate and near, and as a personal Creator.

(b) The term bAj is used four times in Gen 3, and is connected to the use of the term in the previous passages. So all the things God had created were bAj,[3] and the narrator explicitly mentions that God made a lot of trees that were “pleasing to the sight and good for food” (2:9), and that he made another tree called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” from which the human beings should not eat (2:9, 17), implying that it is not “good for food.”

The unusual repetition of these terms should be kept in mind when the reader turns to the second chapter of this paper. Now, we will look at structures that different writers suggested on the basis of topical and terminological connections. Jerome T. Walsh was the first scholar who discovered that Gen 2:4–3:24 forms a literary unit, namely a chiasm.[4] The structure depends on the language, the “actors,” and the terminology. The eating from the forbidden tree forms the central point of the whole garden narrative.

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The offered structural arrangement was refined by Pierre Auffret,[5] and later revised by Gordon J. Wenham.[6] The different units of the chiasm are distinguished by their language and the participants.

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Both chapters 2 and 3 describe events that occur in the Garden of Eden; ultimately they explain how the two human beings got into the garden, and eventually why they had to leave the garden. Gen 3:6-8 as the central point of the chiasm portrays the crucial event, the turning point of the whole Garden of Eden account. The narrative commences and concludes outside the garden, the dialogues are conducted within the garden, and the act of disobedience occurs at the very center of the garden.[7] A closer look at the D section reveals the following pattern:[8]

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The action of the woman and the man – taking/giving the fruit and eating it – forms the very center of the chiasm. Before they acted, the desired effects of eating the fruit were presented; after they ate of the fruit, the accomplished effects are mentioned. Their eyes were opened and they received knowledge but this knowledge (recognition of their nakedness) was seemingly different from what they were promised (knowledge of good and evil).

Roberto Ouro worked out several thematic and terminological chiastic structures in Gen 2-3. The following antithetical chiastic structure is thematic, differs slightly from the above structure, but covers the whole Garden of Eden account of Gen 2-3 as well.[9] While the intensity of the account increases in the A section, it decreases in the A’ section.

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The A section contains the exact or similar terms and phrases that appear also in the A’ section so that one section parallels the other. However, the passages are antithetical for God reverses the actions of section A through his actions described in section A’.[10]

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Sections A4 and A4’: While ~yhil{a/ hw"hy> appears in Gen 2:8, the divine name is not mentioned in 3:24. The verb !Kev.Y:w: (to place) in 3:24b is used synonymously to the ~f,Y"w: (put) in 2:8 and the WhxeNIY:w: (put; caused him to rest) in 2:15. The geographical location of the garden, namely ~d<Q,mi (east), appears in 2:8 and 3:24b. The direct object of God’s action in 2:8 had been the ~d"a'h'-ta, (man); in 3:24 the action is placed instead on the ~ybirUK.h;-ta, (cherubim).[11]

Sections A5 and A5’: The direct object of God’s action is ~d"a'h'-ta, (man) in both Gen 2:15a and 3:24a. While in 2:15a ~yhil{a/ hw"hy> takes (xQ;YIw:) the man, he drives him out (vr<g"y>w:) in 3:24a. Again the divine name is not mentioned in the latter verse.[12]

Sections A6 and A6’: Here the use of the divine name is switched; while ~yhil{a/ hw"hy> is used in Gen 3:23, it is absent in 2:15bc. The verb WhxeNIY:w: (put) in 2:15b is used antithetically to the verb WhxeL.v;y>w: (banish, send forth) in 3:23. The Garden of Eden is mentioned in both verses, as well as different forms of the verb db;[' (work, till).[13]

Sections A7 and A7’: In Gen 2:5 it is noted that there was no man to till the ground, while in 3:23b the presence of man “to till” the ground replaces the lack of work found at the beginning of the account.[14] There is also a strong thematic and terminological parallel between “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground” (2:7a) and “the ground from which he [the man] was taken” (3:23b).[15]

Sections A8 and A8’: There are four parallels between those two sections: (a) “the presence of the divine name;” (b) “a thematic antithetical parallelism between human access … and denial to the tree of life,” (3) “an antithetical parallelism between the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … and the knowledge of good and evil,” and (4) “the thematic antithetical parallelism between ‘good for food’ and ‘he must not be allowed to reach out his hand and eat.’”[16]

In Gen 2:16, the verb wc;y>w: (“to command;” piel imperfect) interrupts a series of consecutive imperfects of the preceding section and starts a new antithetical section (B B’). This new section is different from the terminology and content found in the A A’ sections. To emphasize the antithesis an infinitive absolute is used so that 2:16 is antithetical to 2:17. Further, the infinitive absolute emphasizes far more the idea connected to the associated verb.[17] Much could be explained to show the connections between the different parts of these sections but I will refer the reader merely to Ouro’s article for more detailed information.[18]

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The report of humanity’s disobedience (their sin) to the divine command is found at the center of the narrative (section C). This section (Gen 3:1-7) is the focus of the antithetical chiastic structure of Gen 2-3, and the words lk;aTow: and lk;aYOw: (“and she/he ate”) constitute the point of return for the antithetical chiasm as a whole.[19]

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Structures Connecting Gen 3 and 4

It has been shown that strong structural connections exist between Gen 2 and 3. However, there appear to be also a lot of terminological and structural connections between those two chapters and chapter 4.[20] Such similarities are, e.g.:

(a) Both Gen 3 and 4 describe the inner process that leads to sin. God told Cain about the sin, “Its desire is for you, but you rule over it” (Gen 4:7). When God cursed the woman, he had told her, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). In the rest of the OT this combination of words does not appear again. The relationship between Cain and sin echoes the relationship between Adam and his temptress.[21]

(b) When addressing the sinner, in both accounts God asked questions of location. In Gen 3:9 he asked the man, “Where are you?,” while in 4:9 he asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” There is also a parallel between subsequent questions of God to the woman and to Cain. He asked for a confession of what they actually did. In 3:13 he asked the woman, “What is this you have done?” And in 4:10 he asked Cain, “What have you done?”[22]

(c) When asked about their transgression, both Adam and Cain did not acknowledge their sin. Adam put the blame on the woman and on God himself (Gen 3:12, 13). Cain denied any knowledge about the incident, and his answer ridiculed God’s question (4:9).[23]

(d) In both accounts a curse constituted the consequence of sin, and this curse involved the working of the soul. In Gen 3:17 the earth was cursed so that Adam had to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow. Cain had been a worker of the soil (4:2). He was cursed through the soul by God since the soil had swallowed up the blood of his brother. It would no longer give its strength to Cain when he did work/till it (4:12).[24]

(e) Exile was a consequence of sin in both accounts. Adam and his wife had to leave the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24), and Cain should be “vagrant and a wanderer on the earth” (4:12). Cain’s response apparently recalls God’s expulsion of Adam although it only imprecisely describes the actual sentence (4:13).[25]


[1] Gen 1:1-12, 14, 16-18, 20-22, 24-29, 31; 2:2, 3.

[2] Gen 2:4, 5, 7-9, 15, 16, 18-22.

[3] Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31.

[4] Jerome T. Walsh, “Genesis 2:4b–3:24: A Synchronic Approach,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96, no. 2 (1977): 161, 162; cf. Jo Ann Davidson, Toward a Theology of Beauty: A Biblical Perspective (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2008), 42. See also Hugh C. White, Narration and Discourse in the Book of Genesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 115-117, for one unit that stretches from Gen 2:4b–3:24 although he views that passage as a construction out of several sources.

[5] Pierre Auffret, La sagesse a bâti sa maison: Études de structures littéraires dans l'Ancien Testament et spécialement dans les psaumes, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, vol. 49 (Fribourg: Editions Universitaires, 1982), 25-67.

[6] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, ed. David A. Hubbard, and John D. W. Watts, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 1 (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987), 50, 51; cf. Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1 -- 11:26, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary, vol. 1A (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 184. S. Kempf, “Genesis 3:14-19: Climax of the Discourse?,” Journal of Translation and Textlinguistics 6 (1993): 354-377, offered a different structure that is based on textlinguistics. According to his analysis, Gen 2:4b-7 constitutes an introduction and 3:22-24 a conclusion, that frame “three interdependent episodes” (2:8-25; 3:1-7; 3:8-21). He views the penalty oracles (3:14-19) as the rhetorical and grammatical climax. See also Mathews, 184.

[7] Wenham , Genesis 1-15, 51.

[8] Adapted from ibid.

[9] Roberto Ouro, “The Garden of Eden Account: The Chiastic Structure of Genesis 2-3,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 40, no. 2 (2002): 224. Wenham points out a similar structure based on the use of similar terminology in the parallel sections. See Wenham , Genesis 1-15, 50, 51.

[10] Ouro, 226-230.

[11] Ibid., 226, 227.

[12] Ibid., 227.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1978), 173; Nicolas Wyatt, “When Adam Delved: The Meaning of Genesis 3:23,” Vetus Testamentum 38, no. 1 (1988): 118-119; Ouro, 228.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 229.

[17] Ibid., 230.

[18] Ibid., 231-238.

[19] Ibid., 237, 238.

[20] Alan J. Hauser, “Linguistic and Thematic Links between Genesis 4:1-16 and Genesis 2-3,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23, no. 4 (1980): 297-305; cf. W. Vogels, “Caïn: l’être humain qui devient une non-personne (Gn 4, 1-16),” La nouvelle revue théologique 114, no. 3 (1992): 321-340; David K. Sykes, “Patterns in Genesis,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Yeshiva University, 1985), 86.

[21] Ibid., 88, 89.

[22] John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1910), 100; Sykes, 89.

[23] Skinner, 100; Sykes, 90.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

Excerpt out of 53 pages


Man's Fall and Salvation in Genesis 3
A Close Reading
University of St Andrews  (Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary)
Seminar in Theological Issues - Narrative Theology
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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13598 KB
Narrative Theology, Protoevangelium, Adam, Eve, Eva, Schlange, serpent, Genesis 3, structures, chiasm, Chiasmus, Garden of Eden, Garten Eden, Kenntnis des Guten und Bösen, knowledge of good and evil, close reading
Quote paper
M.A. Denis Kaiser (Author), 2009, Man's Fall and Salvation in Genesis 3, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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