Genesis 3 is the chapter about Adam, Eve, and the apple. It’s an essentially self-contained narrative (although the last verse of chapter 2 foreshadows it and the first verse of chapter 4 rather logically follows it — and, for that matter, the murder recounted in chapter 4 sadly and inevitably comes next). Its 24 verses explain the fate of mankind and so are worth a careful read.
For what they’re worth, here are a few notes.
- The narrative can be divided into four parts: (1) the snake/Satan persuades Eve to eat the apple, and she then gives it to Adam as well; (2) Adam and then Eve offer their lame, finger-pointing excuses to God after He confronts them; (3) God pronounces His judgments punishing, respectively, the snake/Satan, Eve, and then Adam; and (4) in a denouement, God clothes Adam and Eve with animal skins and then drives them from the Garden of Eden.
- There’s a lot about nakedness and shame. See verses 7, 10, 11, 21 (in addition to 2:24). Of course, this must have something to do with sex (4:1): I suppose that it is the quintessential example of a loss of innocence. Speaking of sex, is the behavior — in particular, the failings — of Adam and Eve supposed to warn us about particular failings that men and women, respectively, are to be on guard against? Sex differences can be both true and un-PC.
- Each of God’s judgments has a (simple) first part and a (more profound) second part. The snake has to crawl on his belly — and will be forever at odds with humans so that “[human seed] shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise [human seed] on the heel.” The woman will have pain in childbirth — “Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And Adam will have a hard life working the land — “Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Thus, Satan will lose his struggle with God and man, being cast into the lake of fire; women will have an emotionally fraught relationship with men; and men will die. John MacArthur’s study Bible, in its 3:15 note in support of the Christian interpretation of the judgment here against the snake — that Christ will, after His bruising (Crucifixion), destroy Satan — cites Romans 16:20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
- In the last three verses of the chapter, Genesis 3:22-24, God drives Adam (and presumably Eve) out of the garden and stations cherubim to keep them from coming back. The reason is to prevent Adam from gaining immortality by eating from the tree of life, just as he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But certainly God is being merciful in doing this, since it is only by dying that we can have eternal life with Him — and eternal life as endlessly aging sinners on earth would be, literally, a fate worse than death (compare the Greek myth of Tithonus).
Now, is Genesis 3 to be interpreted literally: Mankind continues being punished for no reason other than that some primitive couple was tricked by a talking snake thousands of years ago into eating an apple?
Sometimes the rejection of a literal interpretation can seem to water down in some way a Biblical account; in this case, however, a narrowly literal interpretation is the one that seems watered down. And what physically happens in chapter 3 is not even materially implausible so long as you believe in the existence of God and Satan (and that Satan can adopt the form of a talking snake; likewise, the following chapter, which recounts the murder of Abel by Cain, contains nothing supernatural except for God’s presence).
But chapter 3 reads like, and makes sense more, as simple and straightforward symbolism, as an allegory whose truth we see reenacted every day: God gives us so much, and asks so little. Yet arrogant and stupid people want to substitute themselves for God and disobey His rules, and always with bad results. It is hard to imagine how this truth could be conveyed better, with any more lucidity or brevity, than in Genesis 3. Not a word is wasted, and the allegory is perfect.
So while we need not in my opinion take Genesis 3 literally, we ought to take it very seriously indeed. Whatever you think happened in the garden, what is recounted in that chapter has happened over and over again and is still happening. It is true.