The Anatomy of Original Sin: The Sin of Adam was Far More than Eating a Piece of Fruit.

Many understandings of Original Sin, the sin committed by Adam and Eve, tend to describe the sin as the eating of a forbidden fruit. While this description is not inaccurate, it is incomplete and many rightly wonder as to how and why all this trouble came from the mere eating of a piece of fruit.

It may be helpful therefore to consider the Sin of Adam more richly. While the eating of the fruit is the external act, like any human act, it proceeds from the heart and admits of some complexity or stages.

Perhaps a quote from the Book of James will help frame our reflections since it describes the stages of sin:

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. 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 1:13-15)

And thus we can distinguish the following stages of sin:

1. The lure of Temptation
2. The engagement of desire
3. The conception of sin
4. The birth of sin
5. Spiritual Death

And thus when we consider the Sin of Adam and Eve we can see these stages at work. Perhaps we do well to examine these stages and also add in some of the subtleties and presumptions of the story.

Preamble- God had put Adam in the garden even before Eve was created. As the text says,

The LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden in order to have him work it and guard it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”(Gen 2:15-17).

And therefore Adam’s task was to work the garden and also to guard, (to keep watch over) the Garden. There was also a boundary that God told him not to cross regarding the tree. Of the fuller meaning of that tree we will treat in a moment, but for now note that God does not explain why, but simply notes the danger and asks Adam to trust him that the tree is trouble.

Thus, in three words, Adam is to: tend, till and trust. As we shall see, Adam fell short in two of these, and they are aspects of what we have come to call Original Sin.

1. The Lure of Temptation – The story of Original Sin opens with the description of the serpent which is described as the most cunning of all the wild creatures God had made (3:1). While most of us imagine a snake of some sort, that description is given only after God curses Satan who is allegorically represented by this creature. Exactly what this creature looked like before the fall, is not stated, and hence we need not imagine a talking snake. Whatever the creature Satan made use of, (or what the author of Genesis allegorically made use of) it is the way in which Satan interacts with Eve.

Cunning and subtle, Satan uses intellectual arguments to appeal to aspects of what would later come to be called pride and sensuality. He also seeks to undermine her trust in God’s goodness.

He begins his temptation by attempting to make God seem unreasonable, suggesting that God had forbidden them to eat from any of the trees in the garden. Eve easily deals with this temptation and dismisses it, correctly stating that it is only one tree that has been proscribed. Of course this is a common tactic of Satan even to our own day; namely, that God is unreasonable, that He demands too many things, forbids too many things, etc. This accusation of course, wholly ignores that God has given incredible liberty to the human person,  who, unlike any other creature except the Angels, is able to say “no” to God.

Satan’s second attack is more successful. He declares that God is not telling them the truth. In effect he says that God who has given them everything, is holding something very important back. In effect Satan argues that God is restraining them from being the gods they deserve to be. In pointing to the fruit of this tree, Satan says,  in effect, “Why do you let anyone have power over you? Why do you let anyone tell you what to do? Why do you not instead say, “I will do what I want to do, and I will decide whether it is right or wrong!” Satan temps to an incredible pride, “You will be gods!”

And thus Eve is in the first stage of the sin, the lure of temptation. But we do well to ask where is Adam at this time? Satan has been speaking with Eve. Yes, but where is Adam? The text says he is right there with her (Gen 3:6)!

Now here’s a problem integral to the sin of Adam. He was told, among other things, to guard the garden; that is, to keep watch over it. It is arguable whether he could have prevented Satan from being present at all, (he probably could not), but surely he could have sought to protect and guard his wife! Satan is manifest, and Adam says nothing, and does nothing. He does not seek to ward off the evil one, neither does he assist his wife in refuting the tempting thoughts. No, he stands quietly by. Here is a passive husband.

As the head of his family he had every obligation to come to his wife’s help, to protect her, to assist her in this grave temptation and threat. But the text reports him doing nothing but standing quietly by; indeed, so quietly, that when I point out to many people the sixth verse which says he was “with her” they are surprised. Even many modern passive husbands would intervene when they see some strange individual speaking to their wife.

“But Father, but Father, are you saying that Adam has already sinned even before Original Sin is committed?” No, not necessarily, but the point here is that Original Sin is a more complicated reality than merely biting into a piece of fruit. It, like many sins, has layers. Adam may not yet have sinned, but his silence is surely puzzling, indeed troubling. To be tempted, is not sin, for even Jesus was tempted. But to do nothing in the face of temptation for ourself or others is to at least open the door to the next stage of sin.

2. The Engagement of Desire – The text says, the woman saw 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 (3:6).

Temptation, is merely a thought that either occurs to us, or is presented to us by another. If I were to say to you, “Why don’t we go down to the corner store and rob it.” I have simply presented to you thought, or course of action, which may or may not appeal to you, based on your background and proclivity to daring and violent actions, greed etc. But temptation of itself is merely a thought.

But in the second stage of sin, the tempting thoughts of Satan now engage Eve’s desires. The fruit engages her sensual desires, for it looks tasty, and delights the eyes. It also engages her intellectual desires, for it has been described to her as a source of empowering wisdom.

Thus, temptation begins to move from being a mere thought, to becoming a kind of force or power. Her desires have been engaged and ignited. Things are a bit more difficult. Mere intellectual response will not be enough, the will must be engaged in such a way that the desires will be curbed and subject to truth and right reason. Either she will obey God who has given her everything, and thus decide reasonably, or she will yield to temptation and desire and unreasonably accept the proposal of Satan who has given her nothing except to appeal to her sensuality and pride.

Again, we can simply note the silence of Adam. How tragic this is. Eve seems quite alone and without support in this moment. One would hope in any marriage, that when one spouse is struggling, the other will be strong. Adam remains silent. He is no leader, he seems to wait and see what his wife will do. He is a passive husband.

3.  The Conception of Sin – The text simply says she took of its fruit (3:6). In reaching out to take hold and possess this fruit, she conceives sin in her heart. Her husband will do the same thing, taking hold of it before he eats it.

What are they taking hold of? Several things.

First, as we have seen, there is a colossal pride. Satan had said, “You will be gods.” Now they are laying hold of and conceiving of this idea. They are laying hold of the prideful and rebellious notion that “I will do what I want to do, and I will decide whether it is right or wrong. I will be under no one’s authority; I will do as I please; I answer to no one; I am god.”

They also sin against gratitude. For God had given them everything. But even paradise was not enough, they wanted more. Ungratefully, they reject God who has given everything, and turned to Satan who “promises” more, but has delivered nothing.

Finally, and most problematically,  they sin against trust. Note that the tree is called “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” To “know” in the Bible almost always means more than simple intellectual knowing. It means to know something by experience. Thus, in naming this tree “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” and commanding them to stay away from it, God is saying:

I am asking you to trust me to tell you what is good and what is evil, and not to demand to know this personally for yourselves. I want you to trust me,  and that I tell you this for your own good. But if you take from that tree, you are insisting on knowing for yourself what is good and what is evil; and more importantly, you are insisting on knowing and experiencing evil.

Thus, Adam and Eve refused to trust God, and insist on knowing, that is experiencing, for themselves the difference between good and evil. The Catechism describes Original Sin in this manner:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.(# 397)

So we see that at the heart of Original Sin and all other sin is a refusal to trust God, a refusal to trust his goodness and an abuse of our liberty.

All of this has been conceived in the heart of Adam and Eve as they lay hold of this fruit.

4. The Birth of Sin – Given all our work, little needs to be said of this stage, the sin is engaged. Note, that Eve eats first, and then entices her husband. More of this will be spoken of in a future post, probably tomorrow,  when I reflect on St. Paul’s commentary on the Sin of Adam. Here, suffice it to say that the sin of Adam and Eve are described somewhat differently here in the text. Eve is described as being deceived, and Adam is described as being, in effect, seduced. Neither of them are without blame, but the nature of their temptation, and the engagement of their desires, is slightly different. Again, more on this later.

5. Spiritual Death – Adam and Eve do not drop dead in physical death; but rather, they die spiritually. And this is symbolized in many ways in the verses ahead.

In their experienced nakedness they feel exposed, no longer innocent, they feel vulnerable, naked ashamed. Righteousness and integrity have died in their hearts, now they are dis-integrated and disoriented, turned away from God and turned in on themselves.

Most seriously, they are cut off from God. who is the source of their life. When God walks through the garden at the usual time, they do not run to him, but from him; they are afraid. Having died spiritually and embraced the darkness, they now fear He who is Life and Light. They cannot endure his presence.

Recriminations follow, and the prophecy of suffering, strife, and ultimately death. The wages of sin is death. God would spare them of this, had they been willing to trust him. But Adam and Eve wanted to know for themselves. Mysteriously, they sought a “better deal” than Paradise, even knowing the price of it would be death. So tragic, foolish, and horrifying.

Therefore, dear reader, pardon this rather long essay. But too often Original Sin is reduced to the mere eating of a piece of fruit. Far more was at stake, and far more was going on beneath the surface, in the subtleties of the story. There were many moving parts, and layers to the sad reality that we call Original Sin, and the sin of Adam.

28 Replies to “The Anatomy of Original Sin: The Sin of Adam was Far More than Eating a Piece of Fruit.”

  1. Adam was informed directly by God. We presume he “shared” this information with her, yet stood idly by. She is his bride, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” This may be the FIRST BIG LOSS, … no protection. This sets up a series of falls that keep falling and have not stopped. Men lead. A lost leader is a big loss. Jesus, the NEW Adam, (man) gives all for His Bride, the Church. Roles are important. The Blessed Mother intercedes and knows the “heart” of the matter. Eve gave thanks to God for her gift in bringing new life. Where was Adam then? Big lost leader… has led to women trying to protect, or “act” as man, etc. confused roles.

    1. Sorry Sandra, I’m piggy back riding on you.

      Msgr., you said:

      “hence we need not imagine a talking snake.”

      Why not believe in the TALKING SNAKE?
      Msgr., did you forget about the talking donkey in Number 22:27-28?

      “And when the ass saw the angel standing, she fell under the feet of the rider: who being angry beat her sides more vehemently with a staff. And the LORD OPENED THE MOUTH OF THE ASS, and she said: What have I done to thee? Why strikest thou me, lo, now this third time?” – Number 22: 27-28

      Perhaps, we are actually seeing the disgust and the humor of God all rolled into one.
      Perhaps, God is saying to Lucifer: “Oh Mr. Big Shot, you know what? You’re nothing but a freak show that can talk.”

      1. Only after the sin does God condemn the serpent to craw etc. That’s why. I have no problems with talking snakes, my point is only that the text doesn’t have to conclude that.

  2. There is an old English expression of going to hell in a hand cart. The origin of this would seem to be derived from a stained glass window made between 1500-17 in St. Mary’s Church in Fairford, Gloucestershire.

    At first sight it appears to be a picture of a devil pushing a woman in a hand cart or wheel barrow. Closer examination shows the woman with or holding a snake and as such is a symbol of humanity who has chosen to follow the serpent of the allegorical encounter with Eve in being the decision maker or decider of what is good and what is evil.

  3. Do we know why the tree was in the garden where Adam and Eve were placed – was it a test?
    Do we know why God put Adam and Eve in the same place as Satan was sent to after being thrown out of heaven? Also I am not sure if this true or if the chronology is correct.
    If Adam and Eve had no knowledge of good and evil prior to eating the apple, would they have known not to listen to satan, they had no knowledge of evil?
    Thanks – these questions have been really bothering me.

      1. Eating the “fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ means to decide for oneself what is good and evil. It does not mean that good and evil, as defined by God, were not known by Adam and Eve. It means that they rejected it and replaced it with their own definitions of good and evil. They could not reject what they do not know, and so they obviously knew good and evil as God defined it, prior to their original sin.

  4. Thank you. I am looking forward to the “future post, probably tomorrow” since I have wondered about many details of this story all my life. The best I have read so far is by Rabbi David Fohrman: Serpents of Desire: Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden at

  5. Thank you for this post. I don’t know why, but the whole story of Adam and Eve has been bothering me of late. I have so many questions. Why did there have to be a tree in the first place? God knows everything, so He must have known that Adam and Eve would fail—–which means He knew original sin would infect all of mankind. What would have happened if Adam and Eve had resisted the temptation? Would they have had children? Would those children have had the same warning given them about the tree? Would it be just a matter of time before one of them failed and then doomed mankind? Why does this failure necessarily mean that everyone else who comes after them must have the curse of this failure? To me, it just seems like so much of a set-up, like God wanted things to turn out the way they did. I realize that He certainly has that right! But it just makes no sense to me. I know we cannot know the mind of God, but I feel like I must be missing something very important. Looking forward to any insights.

    1. Sharon,
      I was scrolling through these comments and found your concern over why God put the tree in the garden was a common concern to many other commentors.
      Because this event occured at the very dawn of creation there are many things that we can never be certain about. However, the fathers of the church had a hearty debate about whether or not the fall of the angels happened concurrent with the fall of man. There is scriptural evidence that Lucifer was placed by God in Eden before he sinned (Ezekiel 28:11 af). This text is addressed to the King of Tyre, but the reader quickly discerns that God can not be addressing the King of Tyre as he was never placed on God’s holy mountain of Eden. Moreover, the text can not refer to Adam because the final verse is ” you have come to a dreadful end
      and shall be no more for ever.” – and we know from salvation history that God mercifully did not condemn Adam forever. So the only possible person that the text is speaking about is Lucifer.
      With the possibility in mind that Lucifer was ministering to God in Eden when Adam was put there, is it plausible that the “fruit of the tree” could possibly have been just ordinary fruit from an ordinary tree that one very powerful and very cunning Nachash (the hebrew term used for the snake in the story can also mean dragon. For ex is same word used for leviathan in job) used to trick Adam and Eve with? Perhaps God forwarned them, calling it the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because he knew they would eat it and know the horrifying reality of rejecting God?
      Im only positing this as an alternative view to the perspective that God planted in Eden (no pun intended) a device ordered to cause temptation per se. That, as the Msgr pointed out in the epistle of St James, is not tenable.

  6. Msgr: I was taught that Original Sin was specifically Adam’s sin in the Garden – not Eve’s. That is, if Eve alone had eaten the fruit then it would not have been passed on to future generations, but because Adam did, it was passed on to all his descendants. Is this not correct??

    1. Yes, agreed, as I point out it is called the Sin of Adam. Nowhere in the bible is the sin called the Sin of Adam and Eve. Adam as the head of the human family is the one who incurred the sin. Eve clearly sinned too, but when God seeks for an account he says, “Adam where are you?” It is Adam’s sin. The burden of my article however is not that point but examine the many moving parts in the event.

  7. Very good Msgr – one of the best and balanced write ups I have read on this very important topic , since the recognition of its the ramifiactions can alert us to deal with many issues we all face .

    Loved the way you present the connections to Book of James .

    Not wanting to jump ahead to possibly what you are going to share , in the Holy Spirit inspired wisdom ,
    yet may be this could be a follow up to the previous good write ups on the ritual impurity in Old Testament;

    the way the enemy induced greed and confusion has been playing at massive levels , such as the animal instincts ( may be even worse than animal instincts ! ) , wherein cultures and nations tend to worship animals and God try to tell the Jewish nation , not to fall inot such , instead using them for sacrifices ; the tendency to use and dominate , as a result of the enemy hold , which too continues to cause issues in many relationships .
    The enemy ( possibly already having sensed God’s plan of the atoning Sacrifice of The Cross ) induces the demonic lie and lust for human blood as a way to please the evil gods ; instead , God puts a warning of ‘uncleanness ‘ on all blood and body fluids , since immoral sex is also used by the enemy , as a ploy to degrade human sexuality and women ; with the restrictions related to such areas , God gives the warning , not to resort to such , since such is not what worship is about , that He instead want His children , to be restored to the glory and goodness of His image and sends forth The Son , who then sends forth The Spirit , to help in same !

    Our ‘Poor ‘ Father , having to put up with so much , with us ‘wicked ‘ children – ( St.Paul , book of Hebrews , on disbelief , as wickedness. )

    Our Lord, toiling , in hidden silence , for 30 years , allowing Mary ( and Joseph – till his death ) to behold His Adorable Face , in the peace and unity of the Holy Family …a Face that is to show what Father hood and spousal love is about , on The Cross , by letting the iron rod pierce Him, shedding forth the last drop, for The Bride – The Church , for us His children , shattering the enemy claims over us ( would that be what is meant by those words ‘ I will rule them with an iron rod , shatter thel like clay pots !’ )

    May we be blessed to let the Holy Spirit tend and feed us , with help of the holy priesthood , to help us to see The Face take in more , the truth of His love and holiness , to be freed and to help free ,us and others , from all sorts of wickedness , that we may see His Sacred Humanity , in the face of each other , by beholding His Adorable Face , at its many facets , to thus be free from bitterness , idolatry of self centerdness , even the ‘pandemic of demonisation ‘ with the related disblief and all that comes with it !

    Thank God , that our country is dedicated to the glorious truth of The Immaculate Conception ,that proclaims how The Father undo the effects of the enemy , in the family line , to bring forth The Son !

    May Her role and prayers too help us as She offers up The Adoarble Face , esp. standing at the foot of The Cross , in response to every plea from her children – ‘pray for us sinners , now and at the hour of our death ‘ rosary beads in hand !

  8. Thank you for this thought-provoking piece on the fall of Adam and Eve. I have always wondered, too, why God put the tree there, especially since Adam and Eve were so “vulnerable”. The way that you explain it, however, helps me to see that Adam and Eve were given intellectual ability; Satan engages Eve intellectually. However, as you point out, the enemy appealed to Eve’s desire to think and know independently of God. She trusted her own thoughts on the matter, even though they differed from God’s. What follows is tragic.

    As Christians, we do this on a regular basis, don’t we? We say to ourselves, “God can’t really expect me to do this”, and we think that He is being unreasonable. It shows our lack of trust in Him, probably due to our lack of knowledge and love of Him. Great piece!!

  9. Why can’t it be as simple as, both were taken in by the enemy?
    Why does Adam have to be labeled passive?
    Temptation and deception was directed to both of them, at the same time.
    Being taken over by temptation, leading to
    1. The lure of Temptation
    2. The engagement of desire
    3. The conception of sin
    4. The birth of sin
    5. Spiritual Death

    Being the first time dealing with Evil! They only knew
    death and sin after they ate.

    A clear message of Evil and it’s impact on us all.
    A liar and thief of the souls of the children of God.
    How we can be trapped by it.

    They were both innocent until evil came.
    They both fell.

    Just a thought.

    1. Your argument for “simple” misses subtleties that the story contains and which are meant to teach us. Sin almost never occurs out of the blue, it has stages and emerges from hearts that are somehow damaged or struggling. The Sin that render them no longer innocent was in motion before the moment of “Chomp” Why can’t it be as simple…? Because its not. St. Paul, the inspired writer, unlike me or you does not take your “simple” approach either but distinguishes Adam’s sin from Eve’s (cf 1 Tim 2:13-15) I will seek to write more on this today in another post.

  10. Actually, what you wrote clearly showed the subtleties to me. How evil works, and what it creates in us.
    Adam and Eve were innocent until Satin made them question God. If they were pure, then until Satin arrived they didn’t have hearts that are somehow damaged or struggling, until they were offered the questions about God. St. Paul clearly shows the process. And it was not there until Satin came to tempt them.

    I see the story of Adam and Eve as a warning of how we can be put to death spiritually by the Cunning snake.
    I do understand what you are saying, and I sincerely agree, I guess I just wrote other thoughts I was having, like above.
    A wonderful lesson, that made me think a great deal. I also see that Adam was responsible for his actions, I just left that out, because I never saw that as being passive before.
    I look forward to any other posts, and thank you so much for this one, it sure made me think.

    1. And women have had to enduringly deal with passive men ever since. Adam started something which men following Christ must repudiate and expel from our own hearts.

  11. Adam & Eve and original sin is a parable about mankind. It represents how we all are sinners. When are people going to stop trying to make it a historical event!

    1. Your opinion as stated is erroneous. Though details may be allegorical it does not follow that the story does not convey historical truth or that Adam and eve did not exist

  12. I read some place that the forbiden fruit was the fruit of the tree of life and was Christ in the from of the Eucharist. Is this valid theological theorizing?

  13. This brings back a recollection of a talk, and the results, from a pastor before a Christian band performance a few months ago. He mentioned that Eve started going astray by allowing herself to be led into talking about God as if He weren’t there. He may not have been manifest, as He was when paying a visit to the couple in the garden but, He would have still been observing.
    It seemed that; by having my observance pointed in a certain direction; I saw something else a little further on. satan then began asking the type of questions which a prosecutor would ask in court. Not to say that he actually did any prosecution, probably wouldn’t dare, but he led the talk in that direction and Eve became tricked into defending God.
    While apologetics (defence) encourage us to defend our faith – we are no where induced to defend God. Indeed, such defence would likely be so offensive as to imply that the One being defended is lesser and so, the state of mind which led her to willfully decide to over rule God, and act upon that indecisive decision, was set.
    The enemy is so cunning that we can only resist by following the instructions in James 4:7 to firstly submit to God.

  14. I have always believed the first human sin, like that of Lucifer, was one of Pride. Adam and Eve thought divinity was easily obtained, “something to be grasped at” as scripture tells us. Very good article, Msgr. God bless you.

  15. I think you are getting to a much deeper understanding of what God is communicating to us in this story. Just a few thoughts. I think it helpful to distinguish that Adam’s non-protection does not entail making decisions for or coercing Eve in any way. He did not provide support to Eve. He was not a good help-mate (v.18). He did not help her.
    It also seems a little ambiguous to me whether Adam hears the conversation between the serpent and Eve. Is the conversation going on in her head, or it is possible that it was only after thinking about it for a while that she decided to eat ? The text says that he was beside her, but in verse 12, Adam describes Eve as the woman you gave to be ‘beside me’. I do not think they spent every minute beside each other. The ‘being beside’ could be a symbolic way of speaking. The two are considered as a ‘unit’ or a kind of unity and always describing them as beside each other could be a symbolic way of showing this. After they sin, although they seem to be together in the same place they are not described as being beside each other. In our culture being beside someone is a way of indicating a supportive relationship. Adam’s putting the blame on Eve is not very helpful or supportive. It seems to stem from a self centered perspective. Also, from my thoughts below, the story seems to be written somewhat from the perspective of what is going on in their heads.
    The story is written from the perspective of God not being around when this was happening. However, that would be impossible. I think it is written in this way to highlight that God was not present in the consciousness of Adam and Eve when this was going on. When you read the story, God seems ‘distant’. It is written somewhat from their perspective. God becomes distant in their consciousness and the temptation becomes foremost. They lose the larger perspective in place of the self centered perspective. When they regain consciousness of God’s presence (in the story this is written as a physical presence) after disobeying God, they hide themselves, they are afraid to reveal themselves to God, because they realize their nakedness. It is very interesting as to what this may mean from a psychological perspective. Perhaps their blaming others is part of it. They want to cover themselves. In their grasping for power they end up realizing their nakedness and feeling that some part of themselves needs to be hidden from others view. Perhaps their new self centered perspective that withdraws them from the interrelatedness (relationallity) of creation is their nakedness. They are alone, solitary in this perspective. Or, perhaps because they now know (as they say, in the biblical sense) evil, that they feel the need to cover. ??
    Anyway, there could be other reasons or God not being present, too. God also does not intervene, and that could be why God in the story seems to be somewhere else, but to me that seems too anthropomorphic.

  16. Was Eve’s sin venal and Adam’s mortal as individal sin goes? I hope these aren’t stupid questions.

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