Every one who has even heard of the Bible has probably heard the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and how they ate of a forbidden fruit and were cast out of the garden. Many has been the time we have heard of and even seen pictures portraying Eve taking a bite out of an apple. I would not doubt there being an apple tree in the garden, but there is no mention of one or of an apple. The text speaks of fruit from the tree of good and evil. The fact is, God did give Adam and Eve a clear command, saying “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17).
Now enter the subtle serpent. He is called subtle in the text of Genesis as he is also by the apostle Paul in II Cor. 11:3). Those who would lead one astray does not attempt to do so by telling them up front that they are leading them astray. The text tells us that the fruit itself looked good to the eyes (Gen. 3:6), but it was the work of the serpent that made the prohibition to eating the fruit appear to be a grievous burden upon Eve and the eating of it to be a blessing God would withhold from them. In other words, he used subtlety to lead Eve’s mind into believing that which was a lie. Many years later the apostle Paul spoke of false teachers who, “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18).
The subtle serpent spins his tale to Eve (Gen. 3:1-5), beginning by telling her that God has told them that they could not eat of every tree of the garden. Eve responds that they can eat of all the trees but one and that if they eat of that one, they shall surely die. It is at this point that the serpent speaks words that are in direct contradiction to the words spoken by God. He said, “Ye shall not surely die”. The serpent then continues with further information about what will happen if they eat of the forbidden fruit. He says that “God doeth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”.
Out of all that the serpent said to Eve, there was only one part that was a lie. When the serpent said that they would not die, he lied. But, first consider some of the truth that was presented by the serpent. The serpent promised them that in the day they ate of the forbidden fruit, their eyes would be opened. Immediately after the verse which tells of Eve eating of the fruit and also giving to her husband who did also eat, the text says, “And the eyes of them both were opened…” (Gen. 3:7). Certainly that which the serpent said about their eyes being opened was true. The serpent said that once they ate of the forbidden fruit, they would be as gods, knowing good and evil. As soon as their eyes were opened, they knew they were naked (Gen. 3:7) and just a few verses later, “…the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil…” (Gen. 3:22). Thus, the serpent was telling the truth in all of that part of the tale. However, this is where we need to take a look at the one lie that the serpent told.
The serpent told Eve that they would not surely die. Even this appears true on the surface. God said that they would die in the very day they ate of the forbidden fruit. Yet, they did not die that day, but were cast out of the garden, instructed concerning providing for themselves through the sweat of the face and we then read on concerning their offspring, Cain, Able and Seth. Was God wrong and the serpent right? Is there some kind of contradiction here? The answer is no to both of these questions. One has to understand there are two different kinds of death under consideration. The very word “death” means separation. As James wrote concerning faith and works, he noted that “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). Note that the separation of body and spirit is physical death. Paul, in his epistle to the Ephesians stated, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). He was not writing to those who had been physically dead and then made alive, but to those who had been spiritually dead and made alive. They had been separated from God by way of their sins. The prophet Isaiah pointed out that it is our sins that separate us from God (Isa. 59:1-2). Adam and Eve did not die physically that day, but they did indeed die; they died spiritually. The serpent lied! There was a sense in which they did not die that day, but they did die, thus his added “not” to what God said was but a lie in the whole tale that he told. A lie that when heard, believed and obeyed, led to the spiritual death of Adam and Eve.
We might close with a great lesson for us to learn from the not in the serpent’s tale. All of the tales that are told to us do not have to be wrong for the end result to be our eternal damnation. If one surrounds the lies and false tales with enough good sounding truth, it is east to swallow, but deadly to digest.
Robert Oliver is a long time columnist for The Sampson Independent.