Evolution and the Sin in Eden
A New Christian Synthesis

Chapter 6: After the Sin

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"

Note the shift to a reverse order in the appearances of the dramatis personae: for the sin, the serpent appears first, then the woman, finally the man. For the confession, God calls the man first, then the woman, finally the serpent. For the penance, the serpent gets it first, then the woman, finally the man.

Repentance is not all that difficult when the Lord God, who is already the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, the Father of the Prodigal, smoothes the pathway for Adam and Eve to recognize their sin, to repent, and to resolve to sin no more. The magnanimity of God shows through when He looks past the excuses of Adam and Eve and recognizes their actual confession which they blurted out at the end of their excuses. The Lord God hears them out.

The man said, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate."

Punishment of the Serpent

God vents His anger on the serpent with a raw curse: "On your belly shall you crawl." That punishment is obviously symbolic. Serpents did not have legs to walk on before this. The other punishment of the serpent is the great protoevangelium, an oracle about cosmic and mortal warfare to be fought to the death, with no quarters given on either side: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel." Let the serpent beware of that woman's implacable enmity; let it also know that its head will be crushed under the heel it is biting.

One may ask why this prophesy about the determined woman and her valiant offspring is in the Genesis story, but not, so far as I am aware, in creation myths of hunter-gatherers. The response may well be that the creation narrative which God kept alive among the ancestors of the Israelites constantly looked forward to the Incarnation, and therefore kept this mysterious saying intact. Whereas hunter-gatherers forgot this detail. They can now learn and accept the good news of Christ's coming from the Church.

That prophesy will henceforth become a link connecting epochs of the Chosen People. Noah will become the patriarch of a new people. Abraham will become the father of many nations of believers. Jacob will pick up thread of the prophesy: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah...until he comes to whom it belongs (Gen 49:10). Balaam will see a vision: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh" Num 24:17). Promises are made to Moses, to David; Isaiah will see a glimpse of the virgin who will bear the "God with us." Solomon will see a vision:

And when peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, Your all-powerful word from heaven's royal throne bounded, a fierce warrior, into the doomed land, bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree...

He reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth. For all creation, in its several kinds, was being made anew... (Wis 18:14-16; 19:6; trans. of ICEL).

Luke will sound the trumpet to draw aside the curtain and stage the cosmic event itself: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus" (1:30-31). John will report the climax with the words:

"Woman, behold your son." Then later: "It is finished;" and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

But the enmity foretold in Genesis does not stop there. Though its head is bruised, the serpent continues to battle relentlessly: "Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus" (Rev 12:13). That battle will continue until the end of time:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after destroying every rule and every authority and power...When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to everyone (1 Cor 15:24,28).

Punishment of the Woman

To the woman the Lord God announced two punishments: pain in childbearing, and subjection to her husband:

To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

As to the first penalty, Pope Pius XII taught that the Scripture did not state in what precise manner God considered this punishment nor how He would carry it out. Some claim, he continues, that before the sin childbirth was entirely painless, but that has not been proven. Nor is there any obligation, he said, that prevents women from seeking to make childbirth as painless as possible. This passage of the Bible does not forbid human intervention:

In punishing Eve, God did not wish to forbid and did not forbid mothers to make use of means which render childbirth easier and less painful. One must not look for loopholes in the words of Scripture; these words remain true in the sense intended and expressed by the Creator, namely motherhood will give the mother much to endure. In what precise manner did God conceive this chastisement and how will He carry it out? Scripture does not say (see address of Jan. 8, 1956; The Pope Speaks III, pp. 32-33).

Pius XII here declared that the passage: "In pain shall you bring forth children" is not to be taken literally as a command given to women to suffer pain during childbirth. We must understand the meaning of this passage of Scripture in its context he continued:

In Genesis 3, 16 we read: "In dolore paries filios" ("In pain shall you bring forth children"). In order to understand this saying correctly, it is necessary to consider the condemnation declared by God in the whole of its context. In inflicting this punishment on our first parents and their descendants, God did not wish to forbid and did not forbid men to seek after and make use of all the riches of creation; to make progress step by step in culture; to make life in this world more bearable and more beautiful; to lighten the burden of fatigue, pain, sickness, and death; in a word, to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28).

Thus the great moral theologian Pope Pius XII has nailed into a coffin a literal translation of the command that women must bear children in pain.

And Pope John Paul II nailed into another coffin a too literal translation of the other punishment given to Eve and her offspring: "Your husband...shall rule over you." Even in our day some good Catholic publications carry the message that the sentence must be taken literally, that wives take on an obligation of obedience to husbands at marriage, which is somewhat similar to a religious vow of obedience, which is a new element over and above the obligations and dynamics of mutual relations intrinsic and natural to the marriage relationship. The subjection is not one-sided but mutual, concludes the Pope. The passage responds to the usual difficulties raised, and is therefore quoted at length:

"Husbands, love your wives," love them because of that special and unique bond whereby in marriage a man a woman become "one flesh" (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31). In this love there is a fundamental affirmation of the woman as a person. This affirmation makes it possible for the female personality to develop fully and be enriched. This is precisely the way Christ acts as the bridegroom of the Church; he desires that she be "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:27). One can say this fully captures the whole "style" of Christ in dealing with women. Husbands should make their own the elements of this style in regard to their wives; analogously, all men should do the same in regard to women in every situation. In this way both men and women bring about "the sincere gift of self."

There is a difference, however, in the manner of the obedience of the Church to Christ, and the manner of obedience of a wife to her husband:

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife" (5:22-23)). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and the religious traditions of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the "head" of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give "himself up for her" (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the "subjection" is not one-sided but mutual (Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women" 15 August 1988).

In brief, there is no innovation in Genesis 3:16 which obligates wives to obey their husbands in a manner which is different from, and over and above, natural dynamics of the marital relationship. Admittedly, birth pangs suffered by women, as well as difficulties of the marital relationship, may in reality be aggravated by the sinful condition of mankind. Whether the sacred author had this in mind here may be doubtful. Rather, he uses well-known human sufferings as a symbol to help us reflect how great is God's displeasure with sin. What he presents symbolically, we need not, indeed we ought not, interpret literally. When he brings to mind human pains to motivate us against sin, we ought to be teachable to his method. We do him an injustice if we imagine that he thereby registers a real change in the natural world because of original sin.

Punishment of the Man

Finally the Lord God turns to Adam who had allowed Eve to seduce him:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of 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 to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return.

We note that the curse on the ground is lifted by God in Genesis 8:21, when He was pleased with the sacrifice made by Noah: "And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man..."

Again, we need not interpret the words spoken to Adam literally in the meaning that God caused a change in the natural world because of original sin. The relaxed manner in which Pious XII and John Paul II interpret the punishments inflicted on the woman, may also be applied to the punishment of the man. The sacred author is employing hardships experienced because of the limitations of nature as rhetorical symbols to impart to us a picture of the Lord God's righteous and intense displeasure with sin. The author may also imply that man makes life unnecessarily harder for himself by committing sin. Nature appears to be hostile only when man casts off intimate and friendly relations with his Creator.

If we suppose that nothing natural was changed in this world by original sin, how then shall we understand the passage of Paul to the Romans:

For creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves who have been the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (8:20-23).

The passage has poetic resonance, ascribing to inanimate nature feelings and aspirations similar to those of man. Obviously inanimate nature does not really "groan." Poetry must be interpreted as poetry, lacking literal precisions.

Moreover, Paul has in mind the above passage of Genesis 3:17-19, and 5:19, namely the curse of God on the earth because of Adam's transgression (cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans, Doubleday, N.Y., 1993, p. 505). If the parent passage to which Paul refers is already symbolic, Paul's passage referring back to it is to be read in like manner. Waters flowing downriver never rise above the headwaters of the source. Romans 8:20-23 is not only poetic, it builds this poetry upon the foundation of symbolism in Genesis. Poetry built upon symbolism does not thereby become a new dogma to be interpreted in a literal sense. This passage of Romans does not teach that an actual change came into the cosmos with Adam's sin. What it does is to make this glance back into the garden of Eden to reflect light forward to shine upon our pathway leading toward the escatological glories yet to come.


Genesis 3 next recounts how the man called his wife's name Eve, which in Hebrew sounds like the word for "living." He does so because she was the mother of all the living. Perhaps the sacred author intends thereby to show their reconciliation with each other. It is a beautiful name, an honor, a recognition of her dignity. The man takes up again the romance he began when he had called her Ishsha "because she was taken out of the Man" (Gen 2:23). He courts her once more with the new name Eva "because she was the mother of all living" (Gen 3:20). The action implies that they resumed marital relationships by means of which she becomes the mother of all mankind.

This short passage about a new name appears to be a break in the flow of the narrative. The sacred author might more logically have skipped it to continue the story. Shall we attribute to the human author a digression to allow a tribute to motherhood? Perhaps the sacred author thought of his own mother here - for undoubtedly he had a mother. Perhaps he thought also of his wife and her care for his children. And so perhaps the author used this opportunity to give a salute of honor to motherhood in the Book of Genesis which would be read for all ages to come. And the Holy Spirit did not object to allowing a short pause in the narrative, to provide this recognition, this accolade, this salute to womanhood and to motherhood. I say, perhaps.

The Lord God next makes for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and clothes them therewith. The sacred author takes care to not extinguish hope: God loves them still and anew, even though He must sentence them severely to live in altered circumstances, definitely inferior to their experience before sin. He kindly makes for them a sturdy set of clothes. Even more, He gives them a hand when they dress themselves in clothes for the first time. Having shown them this sign of affection, He then passes the sentence as He must.

Note the succession of concepts: naked without shame before the sin -> naked with shame after the sin -> clothed with animal skins when they left the garden. If naked without shame symbolizes innocence and obedience, and naked with shame then symbolizes lost innocence and a state of disobedience, what then does their sturdy animal clothing symbolize? Do we see in it a symbol of a more experienced Adam and Eve, street-wise now against further machinations of the serpent, with better protection than before the experience of the sin? And by illustrating the experience of the first parents, does the sacred author warn us against being naive in this wicked world? For in it "Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

There may be more in the symbol of sturdy clothes for use outside of the garden: clothing allows us to hide our inner secrets when going about in public view. Besides parading exaggerated pretensions about ourselves, or hiding talents from public exposure, clothing also allows us to engage in daily public converse without revealing our inner thoughts. We can hide in privacy our devout innocence and virtuous obedience to God without parading it before the public. Our naked interior we can hide from public view, also if it is virtuous. Sometimes, in the public forum outside of the garden of Eden, it is expedient to hide our virtue from prying eyes and from enemies. The sacred writer symbolizes the fact that God wants us to be "wise as serpents and simple as doves" when we cope with life outside of the garden where all is not innocence, all is not holy, nor can all be trusted.

In consequence of their sin Adam and Eve must now leave the garden. The sin was grave, as the sentence indicates. Readers, beware! implies the sacred author. The two must leave God's private garden, depart from His gracious presence, and exit into the secular world. As they slump out of the gate, the Lord clanks down the bars behind them, cuts off access to the tree of life, and leaves them much to their own devices. No longer will they walk with the Lord God on wooded paths during the cool of the evening breeze. So does the sacred author dramatize God's "tough love," to dissuade Adam and Eve from ever sinning again, and to deter us from the same.

Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" -- therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Adam, now outside of the garden, will once again till the ground from which he was taken. God had previously transferred him into the garden from outside. While in the state of grace he could live on intimate terms with God. By his mortal sin Adam had lost the gift of intimacy with God. Now he lived once more outside of the garden, separated from God's presence. The symbolic action dramatizes the tremendous evil of sin.

Next Page: Chapter 7: Immunity from Bodily Death
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18