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Fall of Man

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The Fall of Man, or simply "the Fall," in Christian doctrine refers to the transition of the first humans from a state of innocent obedience to God, to a state of guilty disobedience to God. In the Book of Genesis chapter 2, Adam and Eve live at first with God in a paradise, but are then deceived or tempted by the serpent to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which had been forbidden them by God. After doing so they become ashamed of their nakedness, and God consequently expelled them from paradise. The Fall is not mentioned by name in the Bible, but the story of disobedience and expulsion is recounted in both Testaments in different ways. The Fall can refer to the wider theological inferences for all humankind as a consequence of Eve and Adam's original sin. Examples include the teachings of Paul in Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Cor. 15:21-22.

Some Christians believe the Fall corrupted the entire natural world, including human nature, causing people to be born into original sin, a state from which they cannot attain eternal life without the gracious intervention of God. Protestants hold that Jesus' death was a "ransom" by which humanity was offered freedom from the sin acquired at the Fall. In other religions, such as Judaism, Islam, and Gnosticism, the term "The Fall" is not recognized and varying interpretations of the Eden narrative are presented.

The term "prelapsarian" refers to the sin-free state of humanity prior to the Fall. It is sometimes used in reference to sentimental recollections of a past time when conditions stood in sharp contrast to the present; this situation is called nostalgia.



In Genesis, the first book of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, God creates Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, in his own image. God places them in the Garden of Eden and forbids them to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (often symbolized in European art and literature as an apple tree). The serpent persuades Eve to eat fruit from the forbidden tree. Eve shares the fruit with Adam and they immediately become ashamed of their nakedness.

To the Serpent, God said:

Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.[1]

Although God does not use the word "curse" when he addresses the couple, he does, at a minimum, prophetically warn them of the consequences awaiting them as a result of the sin they have committed.

To the woman God said:

I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.[Gen. 3:6]

To the man God said:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it",
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken; you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.[2]

The question thus remains as to whether God's statements to the woman and man are prescriptive, and therefore a curse, or are instead descriptive; that is, prophecies of the natural consequences of their actions. Calvinist theologian Roger Nicole understands the passage this way:[3]

This passage is not a commandment, but a prophecy that has been fulfilled extensively over the centuries in all the earth. Whatever we may do to alleviate God’s curse is legitimate in the matter of subordination, no less than in providing some relief from the pains of the delivery of children[Gen. 3:16] and the sweat in cultivating the ground and earning a living[Gen. 3:17-19].

Roger Nicole

Subsequently, God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and places cherubim to guard the entrance, so that Adam and Eve will not eat from the Tree of Life.[4]


God announced to the angels that he would create a viceregent (man) on the earth. The angels questioned this, wondering why God would create something with the capacity to disobey him:

002.030 Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what ye know not."

002.031 And He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: "Tell me the names of these if ye are right."

002.032 They said: "Glory to Thee, of knowledge We have none, save what Thou Hast taught us: In truth it is Thou Who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom."

002.033 He said: "O Adam! Tell them their names." When he had told them, Allah said: "Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what ye reveal and what ye conceal?"Qur'an 2:30 (Al-Baqara [The Cow])

God then commanded the angels to prostrate (bow down) to Adam. The angels prostrated but Iblis (Satan), out of haughtiness, refused to bow. God cursed him because of his disobedience. Iblis sought respite and vowed to mislead Adam and his progeny. He misled Adam and his wife Eve to eat from a tree that was forbidden for them by God. Due to their disobedience, God ordered the removal of Adam and Eve out of paradise and down to earth. God promised that the earth will be a dwelling place for them and their children a limited time (Until the Day of Judgment). The Qur'an Al-A'raf (The Elevated Places) verses 7:11-27 detail the story of the Fall. God warns men and women that they should not allow themselves to be deceived by Satan and fall into disobedience (disbelief, polytheism and sins) which will eventually lead them to Hell. If men and women obey God, they will lead a successful life on earth and be admitted into paradise as a reward.

Other traditions

  • In Gnosticism, the snake is thanked for bringing knowledge to Adam and Eve, and thereby freeing them from the Demiurge's control. The Demiurge banished Adam and Eve, because man was now a threat.
  • Ancient Greek mythology held that humanity was immortal during the Golden Age, until Prometheus brought them fire to help them live through cold. The gods punished humans allowing Pandora to release the evil (death, sorrow, plague) into the world due to her curiosity. See Ages of Man for more.
  • In classic Zoroastrianism, humanity is created to withstand the forces of decay and destruction through good thoughts, words and deeds. Failure to do so actively leads to misery for the individual and for his family. This is also the moral of many of the stories of the Shahnameh, the key text of Persian mythology.



Judaism and Islam interpret the account of the fall as being simply historical, Adam and Eve's disobedience would have already been known to God even before he created them, thus draw no particular theological implications for human nature. That is, man's setting, condition, and environment have in essence changed - but not man himself. Quite simply, because of Adam's actions, he and his wife were removed from the garden, forced to work, suffer pain in childbirth, and die. However, even after expelling them from the garden, God provided that people who honor God and follow God's laws would be rewarded, while those who acted wrongly would be punished.

Some Muslims believe that Adam and Eve were clothed in the Garden and stripped when they were expelled. However, these stories hold no significant weight in any Judaic-Christian type of doctrine.[5]


Rubens Painting Adam Eve

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens

Christianity interprets the fall in a number of ways. Traditional Christian theology accepts the teaching of St Paul in his letter to the Romans[6] "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and of St John's Gospel that "God so loved the world that he sent his only son (Jesus Christ) that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life".[John 3:16]

The doctrine of original sin, as articulated by Augustine of Hippo's interpretation of Paul of Tarsus, provides that the fall caused a fundamental change in human nature, so that all descendants of Adam are born in sin, and can only be redeemed by divine grace. Sacrifice was the only means by which humanity could be redeemed after the Fall. Jesus, who was without sin, died on the cross as the ultimate redemption for the sin of humankind.

The dominant view within Christianity is that the serpent of Genesis was an incarnation of Satan, based on the reference in the Book of Revelation: "He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years."[Rev. 20:2]


Catholicism teaches that "the account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man."[7]

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.[8]

This first sin was "transmitted" by Adam and Eve to all of their descendants as original sin, causing humans to be "subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin." Baptism is considered to erase original sin, though the effects on human nature remain, and for this reason the Catholic Church baptizes even infants who have not committed any personal sin.[9]


  • Among the teachings of Protestants John Calvin and Martin Luther were, in a variation and adaptation of the Pauline-Augustinian teaching, that God foresaw and predestined those who were to be redeemed by grace and those who were to be eternally condemned, thus giving humanity, in its sinful state, no real choice in spiritual matters, except to act at God's direction. (See Calvinism.) Calvinists (and others) holding this view are named Infralapsarians. Those who hold predestination to be superior to the Fall, and the creation, fall, and redemption to be part of God's eternal purpose are named Supralapsarians. (See supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.)
  • Some Protestants (including some of the above mentioned Lutheran and Calvinist groups) understand the account of "the fall" in Genesis 2 and 3 not as a historical-factual account of the origins of human sin, but rather as the narrative myth that the Israelite people used to express their recognition that man's relationship with God was broken, (a "myth" in the sense that the truth contained in the narrative does not depend upon its historical factuality). This view has the advantage of not conflicting with the evolutionary description of human origins, while preserving the traditional biblical idea of man's moral failure and need for redemption.
  • Some more liberal Protestants [10] see the person and work of Jesus Christ as God's act to restore relationship, but tend not to view this restoration in terms of a sacrifice necessary for an unpaid debt.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the idea that the guilt of original sin is passed down through generations. It bases its teaching in part on a passage in Exodus saying a son is not guilty of the sins of his father. The church teaches that in addition to their conscience and tendency to do good, men and women are born with a tendency to sin due to the fallen condition of the world. It follows Maximus the Confessor and others in characterizing the change in human nature as the introduction of a "deliberative will" (θέλημα γνωμικόν) in opposition to the "natural will" (θέλημα φυσικόν) created by God which tends toward the good. Thus according to St Paul in his epistle to the Romans, non-Christians can still act according to their conscience. Nonetheless, as a consequence of Adam's sin, seen merely as the prototype (since human nature has been degraded) of all future sinners, each of whom, in repeating Adam’s sin, bears responsibility only for his own sins, humans became mortal. Adam's sin isn't comprehended only as disobedience to God's commandment, but as a change in man's hierarchy of values from theocentricism to anthropocentrism, driven by the object of his lust, outside of God, in this case the tree which was seen to be "good for food", and something "to be desired" (see also theosis, seeking union with God).[11][12]


Pelagianism rejects the doctrine of original sin entirely, holding that the fall did not permanently taint human nature, and that humans are therefore capable of choosing good even without divine aid.


Mormonism believes that the Fall was necessary as part of God's plan to redeem and exalt his children. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he gave them two seemingly contradictory commandments: First, to "multiply and replenish the earth"; and second, not to partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Mormonism emphasizes that Adam and Eve's subsequent partaking of the fruit was a "transgression," not a sin. Eve, after partaking, understood that without partaking of the fruit they could have no posterity, and hence could not fulfill the command to multiply and replenish the earth, partook of the fruit; Adam, seeing that his wife would be driven out of the Garden and he would be alone and unable to fulfill God’s command, partook as well.

The Book of Mormon, sacred scripture to Latter-day Saints, states:

And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given (2 Nephi 2:22-26).[13]

According to Mormonism, through partaking of the fruit, Adam and Eve brought death into the world in two forms, namely physical and spiritual death. Physical death is a separation of the body and spirit; spiritual death is a separation between God and man. Through their own power, humanity is not able to overcome either. Yet, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all of humanity will be resurrected and overcome physical death; and by individual obedience to the Gospel, the grace of Christ provides forgiveness for individual sins, thus overcoming spiritual death and returning the faithful disciple to God’s presence.

This Plan of Salvation rejects the concept of Original sin. Three of their thirteen Articles of Faith state:[14]

  • 2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
  • 3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
  • 4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Unification Church

The Unification Church agrees with those who believe the forbidden fruit was sex, but teaches that Adam and Eve were meant to be blessed in marriage by God after they had grown to spiritual maturity. They fell when they engaged in a sexual act prematurely after Eve was tempted sexually by the serpent in the world of spirit. Thus they learned about the sexual relationship from Satan, not from God.

Contrary to many Christians' belief, Unificationists do not believe that The Fall was predestined by God, but was a choice made by Adam and Eve. According to Divine Principle (the Unification holy book),

"God created human beings in His image, with the character and powers of the Creator, intending that they govern over all things as He governs over humankind. However, for human beings to inherit the creative nature of God, they must grow to perfection by fulfilling their portion of responsibility. . . the period of their growth is the realm of God's indirect dominion or the realm of dominion based on accomplishments through the Principle. While people are still in this realm, God does not directly govern them because He wishes to allow them to fulfill their own portion of responsibility. God will govern them directly only after they have reached full maturity. If God were to interfere with human actions during their growing period, it would be tantamount to ignoring the human portion of responsibility. In that case, God would be disregarding His own Principle of Creation, according to which He intends to give human beings His creative nature and raise them to become the lords of creation. In summary, in order to preserve the absoluteness and perfection of the Principle of Creation, God did not intervene in the acts that led the human beings to fall." [15]

As a result of "the fall", humans lost God's lineage, and have been dominated by their ties to Satan. Unificationists believe that the fall is reversed through the Blessing Ceremony, which is understood to change a couple's lineage back to that of God, cutting off the bloodline to Satan. The entire purpose of history is restoration of man back to the originally intended divine lineage of God.

Felix culpa

Felix culpa (the happy fault) is an interpretation of the doctrine of the fall is that it is necessary so that humans might benefit from God's grace. It includes the notion that, had humankind not been given the capacity for evil, our choice through free will to either serve God or not would not have been as meaningful. For example:

A fall it might seem, just as a vicious man sometimes seems degraded below the beasts, but in promise and potency, a rise it really was.

Sir Oliver Lodge, "Life and Matter", p. 79

Other interpretations

Entheogen theory

Writer/philosopher Terence McKenna in the Entheogen theory proposed that the fruit of knowledge was a reference to psychotropic plants and fungus, which played a central role, he theorized, in human intellectual evolution.

Kundalini Yoga (Hinduism)

In the theory of Kundalini Yoga, author William Irwin Thompson attributes the story of the fall to the time when human beings first understood that sex led to pregnancy, and understood what menstruation was. In "The time falling bodies take to light", Thompson theorizes that Eve's kundalini awakened, leading her to understand sexuality and human power and intelligence. In Sanskrit, "kundalini" means "curled up like a serpent"[16] .


  • In William Shakespeare's Henry V (1599), the King describes the betrayal of Lord Scroop - a friend since childhood - as being "like another fall of man", referring to the loss of his own faith and innocence the treason has caused.
  • In the novel The Fall (1956) by Albert Camus, the theme of the Fall is enunciated through the first-person account given in post-war Amsterdam, in a bar called "Mexico City." Confessing to an acquaintance, the protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, describes the haunting consequence of his refusal to rescue a woman who had jumped from a bridge to her death. The dilemmas of modern Western conscience and the sacramental themes of baptism and grace are explored.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien included as a note to his comments about the Dialogue of Finrod and Andreth (published posthumously in 1993), the Tale of Adanel that is a reimagining of the Fall of Man inside his Middle-earth's mythos. The story presented Melkor seducing the first Men by making them worship him instead of Eru Ilúvatar, leading to the loss of the "Edenic" condition of the human race. The story is part of Morgoth's Ring.
  • In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series (1995, 1997, 2000), the Fall is presented in a positive light, as it is the moment at which human beings achieve self-awareness, knowledge, and freedom. Pullman believes that it is not worth being innocent if the price is ignorance.
  • In the series Neon Genesis Evangelion (1994-present), the theme of the Fall is often explored. At the end of the plot, an attempt to clean the original sin is performed and a new genesis is started.
  • In the film Jingle All the Way, Howard Langston's hubristic attempt to impress his son by masquerading as "Turbo Man" and the character's subsequent fall from the sky[17] are often invoked in academic circles as a prominent and deliberate representation of the Fall.
  • In the novel Lord of the Flies, Golding explores the fall of man in his novel. The storyline depicts young innocent children which turn into savages when they are stranded on a dessert island. Lord of the Flies was originally named 'Strangers Within', also showing his views of human nature.

See also


  1. [Gen. 3:14-15]
  2. [Gen. 3:17-19]
  3. Nicole, Roger. "Biblical Egalitarianism and the Inerrancy of Scripture." Priscilla Papers, Vol. 20, No. 2. Spring 2006
  4. [Gen. 3:23-24]
  5. Milani, Farzaneh. "Drawing the Line Between Public and Private". Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  6. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, chapter 3 verse 23
  7. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 390
  8. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 397
  9. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 404-405
  10. John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark, Retired
  11. OCA - Q & A - Original Sin
  12. Eastern Orthodox Catechism, published by the Russian Orthodox Church. Accessed February 16, 2008.
  13. "The Second Book of Nephi". Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  14. "The Articles of the Faith". Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  15. Unification Home Page. Exposition of the Divine Principle, Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  16. Fairgreen, Claire. "Kundalini meditation". Retrieved 06-01-2010. 
  • McKenna, Terrence, True Hallucinations & the Archaic Revival: Tales and Speculations About the Mysteries of the Psychedelic Experience (Fine Communications/MJF Books) (Hardbound) ISBN 1-56731-289-6; The Evolutionary Mind : Trialogues at the Edge of the Unthinkable (with Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph H. Abraham) (Trialogue Press; 1st Ed) ISBN 0-942344-13-8; Food of the Gods: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution (Rider & Co; New edition) ISBN 0-7126-7038-6
  • Thompson, William Irwin, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture, 1981, 2001 ISBN 0-312-80512-8.

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