The first question recorded in the Bible was asked by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. “Did God really say that you must not eat from a tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). We learn a lot from observing how the serpent, Adam, and Eve, each handled the word of God.
¶“1Now the serpent was more cunning than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say that you must not eat from a tree in the garden?' 2The woman told the serpent, 'We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die."'” (Genesis 3:1-3).
¶“4The serpent replied, 'You certainly won't die! 5God well knows that when you eat from the tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'” (Genesis 3:4-5).
¶“6When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked. So they stitched fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:6-7).
¶“8Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:8-9).
¶“10The man replied, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.' 11And God said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I told you not to eat from?'” (Genesis 3:10-11).
¶“12The man said, 'The woman you put here with me —she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.' 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman answered, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'” (Genesis 3:12-13).
God had clearly said to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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).
Assuming that Adam knew which of all the trees was the tree of knowledge, the word of God was clear and simple. Adam could hardly misinterpret it or misunderstand it, nor could anyone to whom he communicated it.
Nevertheless, although God had made himself clear, confusion ensued, and three sins were committed against God and his word. The serpent committed the first sin, Eve the second, and Adam the third.
We are looking at the serpent’s question, “Did God really say that you must not eat from a tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). This is not the question we would expect.
We would expect the serpent to ask, “Did God really say that you must not eat from one particular tree in the garden?” But instead he has God forbidding the fruit of every tree!
Now that error makes the serpent seem stupid. However the serpent is said to be shrewd and cunning, not stupid. So did he get it wrong on purpose? Was he twisting God’s word knowingly as a wicked strategy against Eve?
When Eve answered the serpent, she corrected him on the number of trees forbidden. It was not every tree, but only one. But the serpent brushed that aside. Instead he latched on to Eve s mention of God’s warning —namely that the very day they ate of that tree they would surely die.
The serpent immediately contradicted God’s word. The serpent said, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). The serpent was the first false prophet, twisting and contradicting God’s word.
You'll recall that God had said to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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).
Eve’s version is somewhat different: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” (Genesis 3:1-3).
Eve changes “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” to “the tree that is in the middle of the garden”. And to the command not to eat of the fruit, she adds, “And you must not touch it”.
We observe that Eve was not “accurately handling the word of truth” (2Timothy 2:15) —unless Adam was sloppy in communicating the word to his wife.
God’s description of the tree, “The tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is informative about the loss of innocence that the fruit of that tree would impart to the eater. Eve’s vacuous substitution, “The tree in the middle of the garden” subtracts that information.
Eve then adds to God’s word. God forbad the eating of the fruit. Eve might wisely have made a rule for herself, “In that case I won't even touch it” —but she had no right to put those words into God’s mouth.
You might say, “Oh come Mr Graham! Eve’s sin was disobeying God’s word, not paraphrasing it!” But her meddling with God’s word showed disregard for it, and that is the seed of disobedience.
Paul tells us, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1Timothy 2:14). Paul also says, “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Eve was counted a sinner, even though deceived. However Adam is the one blamed for sin entering the world, because he disobeyed even though he was not deceived. Adam had heard God’s command from God himself. Yet he still disobeyed.
James says, “Each person is tempted when lured and enticed by their own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15).
Righteousness is to desire and obey God’s will revealed in his word. Sin is to disobey. Adam gets little credit for not being deceived. He gets little credit for knowing God’s will. He was condemned because he disobeyed.
Four approaches to God’s word. Which is yours?