What was the original sin of Adam and Eve? According to many Jews and Christians, the answer is….sex. Was sex the original sin? And, if so, what does that say about sex today, even sex within marriage?
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
In the book of Genesis, God creates Adam and places him in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8-15). Later, God creates Eve, and brings her to Adam in the Garden (Genesis 2:21-22). As an evangelical Christian, I believe in a literal Adam and Eve and a literal Garden of Eden. As a Christian apologist, I also find it interesting that, even within the mainstream scientific community, there is substantial support for the idea that every person on Earth can trace his or her lineage back to a single common female ancestor. Some of my readers will challenge the notion that the Creation narrative in Genesis should at all be taken literally (even with the evidence for Mitochondrial Eve), and we can address that disagreement at a later time. For now, we’re going to address the topic of original sin according to how the book of Genesis presents the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. According to Genesis, was sex the original sin?
What was the Forbidden Fruit?
According to Genesis, God places one restriction on Adam (and later, by extension, Eve) with respect to the Garden of Eden. Said God to Adam: “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” (Genesis 2:16-17).
The serpent enters the scene in the third chapter of Genesis and tempts Eve. We won’t go into the different avenues of temptation in this article. Suffice it to say that the serpent (who many scholars believe was Satan or Lucifer – and, for what it’s worth, I share that view) utilizes several approaches, appealing to different aspects of Eve’s nature and personality. Eve succumbs to temptation by eating the fruit, and then gives it to Adam. As soon as they eat, they realize they are naked, struggle to cover their nakedness, and then hide themselves from God.
Over the centuries, various scholars and theologians (from Jewish and Christian traditions) have speculated on the “forbidden fruit.” Some have argued for the apple. Others have said it was a fig. Others have preferred the grape. And still others consider the fruit to be metaphorical for sex. They say Eve wasn’t tempted to eat from a literal tree, but rather she was tempted to have sex with Adam – or, some say, with the serpent!
Was Sex the Original Sin?
Those who argue that sex is the original sin point to the fact that Adam and Eve experienced shameful awareness of their nakedness after their sin and tried to cover themselves (Genesis 3:7). If their sin was not sexual in nature, these folks ask, why would their nakedness at all be an issue? As we’re about to see, this is actually a very weak argument for the idea that sex was the original sin.
Allow me to give you four reasons why we can know that sex was NOT the original sin in the Garden of Eden:
- When God created Adam and Eve, there’s every reason to believe (and NO reason to doubt) that sexual and reproductive organs were included in that original creation (and NOT added later). Why would God give them sexuality (including both the biological capacity for sex as well as the emotional desire for it) if He didn’t want sex to be a part of their relationship?
- God tells them to have sex! When God brings Adam and Eve together, He tells them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). If sex is the original sin, then God is commanding Adam and Eve to sin! Clearly, God’s not doing that, and that means (and this is the really important point!), had Adam and Eve NOT had sex, THAT would have been the sin, because they would’ve been disobeying God!
- When God brings Eve to Adam, Adam lays out God’s standard for marriage and sexuality by saying: ”Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The term “one flesh” has definite sexual meaning. This idea of one man and one woman being joined together in intimacy is God’s standard for marriage (and not simply Adam’s opinion), and it’s clearly reaffirmed in Jesus’ teaching on marriage in Matthew 19.
- Adam and Eve were naked before they sinned. Not only were they naked before the Fall, but it’s strongly implied in Genesis 1-2 (see the preceding three points) that they were having sex in the Garden before the Fall! If that’s true, then sex cannot possibly be the original sin, since God’s command for sex (as well as the first couple’s practice of it) precedes the Fall. Remember that, in Hebrews, marital sex is categorized as “pure.” It’s fornication (premarital sexual immorality) and adultery which God says He will judge (Hebrews 13:4).
Why then did Adam and Eve cover their nakedness after they sinned? The answer is simple. Remember that the entire Garden of Eden narrative, while literal, is an object lesson with profound lessons on purity, obedience, humility, pride, openness, and much more. Nakedness represents complete openness. Adam and Eve were shamelessly naked before the Fall, because they were completely open with each other and before God. Once they sinned, that openness became vulnerability and they sought to cover themselves accordingly.
To those readers of mine who question the above paragraph, I would simply say that, even if you dispute my understanding of Genesis 3:7-11, it still doesn’t overturn the four points above — four points which represent a powerful argument against the flawed idea that sex was the “forbidden fruit.”
The bottom line is that Adam and Eve weren’t prohibited by God from having sex. They were prohibited from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What’s the Big Deal about Eating Fruit off a Forbidden Tree?
If the original sin isn’t sex but really is about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, some may wonder: “What’s the big deal?” The answer is simple. God designed the entire scenario of Adam, Eve, the Garden, and the talking serpent to be a test for Adam and Eve as well as an object lesson on sin and disobedience. When Adam and Eve obeyed God, they were humbling themselves before God and submitting to His authority. It’s not really about the fruit itself so much as it’s about obeying God.
When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they disobeyed God. They listened to someone else other than God (namely the serpent) and they made a decision to act on that information (what the serpent told them) without even so much as asking God about it. This demonstrated a lack of trust or faith in God as well as a self-oriented desire for pleasure and greater enlightenment apart from the plan and parameters provided by God. One could argue then that the original sin was pride, namely elevating their interests, desires, and reasoning above the commands of God. It was pride, after all, that took down Lucifer and a third of the angels and it’s the sin of pride which God singles out repeatedly for serious condemnation in His Word.
The original sin then is pride and the resultant disobedience to God. The original sin of Adam and Eve was not sex. Marital sex is not a sin. It is God’s idea. It’s His gift to married couples and His way of joining husbands and wives together and in perpetuating the human race. Too many Christians have shackled themselves with unhealthy attitudes about sex within marriage. It’s time we remove those shackles by getting clear on God’s plan and intentions when it comes to marital intimacy.