The greatest disappointment in global history came when Adam and Eve sinned in Eden. From within the borders of God’s perfect garden came an act of treason so horrible that all of mankind suffers from its consequences. God may have known she would sin but God did not cause her sin.
“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 who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6).
Although this verse tells us why Eve took, ate and then gave to Adam, it really only scratches the surface. Did Eve have any choice in the matter? Did some unseen force compel her to violate God’s direct order (Genesis 2:16-17)? I argue that Eve was in total control of her choice and that she was not compelled to eat the forbidden fruit. But some notable theologians argue that Eve was compelled by God to eat the fruit because her sin was a part of God’s divine plan.
Speaking of the doctrine of predestination, Boettner(1) argues that even the tiniest act of man is part of God’s plan of predestination. “Even the sinful acts of men are included in this plan. They are foreseen, permitted and have their exact place. They are controlled and overruled for the divine glory.” He continues. “plainly the fall of Adam and all other sins which made that sacrifice necessary (sacrifice of Jesus – jbe) were in the plan, no matter how undesirable a part of that plan they may have been.”(2)
Let us ask some questions of the text and see if Boettner’s ideas hold up under close scrutiny.
What was the Setting?
Adam and Eve were the first couple. They were specially created beings crafted from the very had of God. Neither was the result of human procreation. Man was created from the earth (Genesis 2:7) and then the woman was created from man (Genesis 2:21-22). After creating man, God looked upon his world and declared that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31) It cannot be reasonably argued that sin was lurking somewhere in the world. All that God created was good and without blemish. Regarding man, he was made in the image of God and therefore would be as pure as God (Genesis 1:26).
Among the plants in the garden were two particular trees. The Tree of Life was necessary for their continuing life without death (Genesis 3:22). There was no restriction of access to this tree. The second was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was this tree, located in the garden, which was not to be touched. The fruit Eve ate and gave to Adam was from this tree. It did precisely what the name implied; it gave the first couple a knowledge or accountability for sin.
Why Did God Make It Possible to Sin?
This is an important question. Without the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man could not have sinned. Why would God place such a temptation in their path? The answer is that God decided to give man a choice.
God could have created the world without allowing man any choice. His actions and behaviors would be pre-programmed much as an assembly line robot. Man would not sin anymore than your internet browser can sin. To disobey would lie beyond the possibilities for the robotic man. Of course if man could not sin he could not freely love either. His response to God would be determined by his pre-creation programming.
By giving man choice, it made him able to love freely but also, inherent in that choice, was the possibility that man would sin. But in God’s eyes, that which is freely given is superior to that which is compelled.
What is the Evidence that Eve Had a Choice?
From Genesis 3:1-13 we learn several important facts concerning Eve’s choice.
Eve was Intellectually Challenged by the Serpent
Eve was confronted intellectually by the serpent. The text records a dialogue between Eve and the serpent which called upon her mental faculties to make a decision. The serpent asked of God’s commands and Eve correctly responded with God’s prohibition against even touching the tree. Such would be unnecessary if Eve were compelled, beyond her will, to sin.
Eve was Deceived by the Serpent
If a person is compelled to do anything, their mental state is irrelevant. In World War II many citizens of Eastern Europe were captured and compelled to work in the industrial machine of Germany. Whether they cared to or not and whether or not they agreed with the German cause was not important. Such is the nature of compelling a person to work. If Eve were compelled to sin because of some divine plan, her mental assent would be of no importance.
Eve Wanted the Fruit
Eve was negatively impacted by the serpent’s lie. But she was inclined to sin because of her own desires. James reminds us that sin comes from within the man:
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
Likewise, Eve’s sin came from within herself, not from some outside force or compulsion. According to Genesis 3:6, Eve “saw that tree was good for food, that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise.” It appealed to her bodily, through the normal sense of sight and to her mentally for wisdom. These factors enticed her to sin just as James would warn millennia later. Now these temptations do not come from God.
“ For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16)
“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13)
If temptations do not come from God then certainly an irresistible force to sin would not either. Eve sinned because Eve chose to sin.
The Unanswerable Question
If, as Boettner claims, the sin of Eden was the result of God’s plan, we are forced to ask “why?” Why would a pure and holy God create a perfect world and then, of his own volition, ruin that world? Why would a Creator with “eyes too pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13) actually force his creation into sin? Why would the Holy One who planted every tree of the garden spoil his own fruit? The biggest question is why would God force sin into his world knowing beyond question that his action would cause Jesus to be offered at Calvary?
Boettner is just wrong. And if he is wrong here then his entire concept is also flawed. By showing that Eve sinned of her own choice we demonstrate that there are some things God has left in man’s hands. Man does have choices and is judged accordingly.
Is There Common Ground?
We do not mean to suggest that every Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and so on believes that God caused Eve to sin. Many who worshipper in Calvinistic based faiths have never plumbed the depths of its doctrine and do not know what is taught. Sadly, many are Biblically illiterate and simply ingest whatever their preacher offers on Sunday.
But would say that there are some things we can agree on, perhaps. First, God can know a thing without causing it to happen. As one of our Bible teachers here recently taught the youth, you can watch an apple fall from a tree and know it will hit the ground without ever causing it to fall. The fact that God did not cause Eve to sin is no limitation on his power and certainly only brightens his purity and glory.
We can further agree that we need to all be students of the word. You have read all the way to the end of this lengthy post because you at least have a curiosity of the word. I hope you are provoked to study more and more._____
- Loraine Boettner (1901-1990) was a noted Presbyterian theologian who is often quoted as a defender of Calvinism.(↩)
- Boettner, Loraine, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 1932, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philipsburg, NJ, pg. 24(↩)
- Although she was deceived, she was still responsible for her sin as is clear from verse 16.(↩)