Post last updated on March 7, 2022
Image credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston via Wikimedia Commons
I find that I read Genesis 3 somewhat differently than I do its two preceding chapters. It is true: there is nothing substantially different about the third chapter; it is only that from that point on, scripture records people so much like me. This is not true of the second chapter. And this means I must read carefully.
Chapter 3 records the original couple acting in ways that are quite recognizable—more recognizable to us now than they are in their former innocence. Our world now and their world then are uncomfortably similar, certainly more than our present world and what Adam and Eve knew before their fall. By the time that I finish the third chapter, I am a sinner reading of other sinners. I recognize the couple’s guilt; I predict their sad evasions. The scripture, here, records their first leanings into sin, but every reader of this chapter already knows similar inclinations and acts in himself.
The psychological aspect also comes in, even for those who eschew psychological readings; after all, we are soon aware that Adam and Eve now act differently after the Fall than they did before. (Does guilt so quickly father delusion?) They surprise themselves, perhaps, but not the reader. Adam and Eve were doing all of this for the first time; we haven’t done it for the last. They are nearly uncomprehending of their new character; we are so comprehending of it, that many carelessly dismiss this same character in themselves.
It is impossible to read this section of scripture without wanting to read between its lines. The unsuspecting reader easily—then naturally—adjusts to the changes that the story records. He examines the couple’s motives for sin, even as each claims their innocence. (How did word and deed become such strangers?) Again, the reader considers their sins, but also their easy evasions. He then decides that he doesn’t trust these two. He reads a bit more, and soon finds that his suspicions are soon confirmed in their children—Cain and Abel and all the rest. Then comes the better confirmation, still: Indeed, Cain was a murderer, but then the reader is willing to call the whole story a myth. Alas, the reader trusts his own judgement, which is a rather easy feat for a son of Adam.