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In chapter 2 of Genesis the man and woman in Garden Eden are described. It says in the end:

Genesis 2:25 (ESV)

25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Then the fall happened and Adam and Eve had a very different reaction to each other:

Genesis 3:06-7 (ESV)

6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[a] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Since it is a natural reaction trying to hide one's own misdeed or weakness, wouldn't it make sense that by making themselves loincloths they were trying to do just that, meaning that they commited sin with their sexual organs?

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    In the entire history of Christianity has there ever been a view that a sexual act between a man and his wife constitutes a sin? – Dick Harfield Sep 17 '16 at 22:03
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    I can absolutely see how those who study ANE texts could make that assumption. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (which is often compared and contrasted against Genesis 1-11) the wild man is "tamed" (sexually) by a woman in the wilderness. That is traditionally looked at as his "eyes are opened" story. I have heard it compared to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve's eyes being opened. But when I heard it was in terms of a contrast, that the accounts were different for a reason. I would have to try and find the text again. So its plausible that the view exists. – L0ckz0r Sep 18 '16 at 22:18
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The short answer is no, it seems unlikely that sexual intercourse is the sin that brings about the fall.

Genesis as a polemic to contemporary ANE writings

It has been noted by both secular and Christian scholars that Genesis 1-11 shares some similarities with other ANE origin accounts. This has led some scholars in recent decades to argue that one of the functions of Genesis is to challenge or recast the existing world view presented by Israels neighbors. Other scholars have also argued that Genesis merely borrowed from these accounts.

If you accept either of these views then the closest comparison you could make to a sexual act being involved in the gaining of knowledge in ANE literature is to the Epic of Gilgamesh (A Mesopotamian origin story that likely predates Genesis).

In the Epic of Gilgamesh there is the character of Enkidu, the wild man. He ventures into the wilderness and a prostitute (Shamhat) is sent to "civilize" him by sleeping with him. Morris Jastrow (1861-1921) Professor at University of Pennsylvania suggested that Genesis was almost recasting motifs from that story through Adam and Eve. Eve opens Adam's eyes by giving him the fruit, whilst Enkidu's "eye opening experience" comes after he sleeps with Shamat.

The comparison that Jastrow makes is that he believed both stories originated from a single story that predated both, and that original story involved sex as the Epic of Gilgamesh does (Source: Jastrow's argument is summarized in the book by Jeffrey H. Tigay: The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, p.208). Tigay, in the footnotes, considers it at least a possibility that eating the fruit in Genesis could be a euphemism for sex (he quotes Proverbs 30:20 as a precedent for the idea).

The problem is the actual "knowing" that comes to Enkidu comes after Shamhat offers him some food he had previously "not known" [see Tablet 2 - Epic of Gilgamesh]. So even if you accept Jastrow's comparison, whilst the overarching theme might be similar, there is no direct correlation to the story of Enkidu and Shamat and any sexual act in Genesis. If anything, the greater similarity is that their "knowing" came from eating food given by the woman.

The Command that God Gives

In Genesis the command that God gives is in 2:17, "you must not eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil".

Then in 3:11, God's charge to Eve is "have you eaten from the tree of which I told you not to eat?"

So the actual charge God brings against Adam and Eve is to do with the action of eating the fruit.

In order to say "yes, the fall was caused by a sexual act" one would need to argue that eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was equivalent to a sexual act (i.e. metaphorically).

Tigay's link to the Proverbs 30:20 image of an adulterous woman is not enough to stand on it's own. On the one hand Tremper Longman does note that the language of eating in proverbs 30:20 is euphemistic for sex (Proverbs-Isaiah, Expositor's Bible Commentary, p.240, see also Proverbs 9:17).

However, to link that to Genesis would render a strange and difficult reading considering:

  1. They are allowed to eat from any other tree in the garden. If eating was a metaphor for sex in Genesis 2-3 then it was already permitted by God.
  2. Eve eats of the fruit first and then gives some to Adam.
  3. There is no precedent for such a comparison in the ANE literature (and yet there is a story of a snake who foils Giglamesh's plan to eat from a plant that brings about youthfulness, see wikipedia for a summary).

This should lead us one to believe that something else is going in the consumption of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil other than sex.

However your question doesn't ask if this is the best interpretation, but simply if it is a possible interpretation. One scholar (Tigay) argues it is possible, but it is not a well supported assertion. Thus it is unlikely that such a reading is intended by the author of Genesis.

  • I gather that you refer to Jastrow the younger.... it might be helpful to specify (I believe his father is more widely known; I had not heard of Morris Jastrow before this) and provide the actual reference if possible. – Susan Sep 19 '16 at 5:24
  • Edited to clarify, also added some more details about the source and the argument. – L0ckz0r Sep 19 '16 at 6:07
  • Thanks for your well elaborated answer. I actually didn't hear about the Epic of Gilgamesh before. Regarding the first point you mentioned: That eating a fruit from every tree symbolizes sex is an additional assumption, which does not have to be the case. It could be that other trees and their fruits have different meanings. With the second and third point I agree. – Daiz Sep 22 '16 at 20:43
  • @Daiz - I understand. The thinking behind point 1 is the general link between Eating and sex in the Proverbs 30:20 metaphor. If the metaphor is specific to that tree, then one would need to show that "knowledge of good and evil" is a sexual metaphor. To which I know of nothing in or outside of the Bible that has made that comparison. Yet there is biblical and extra-biblical material to suggest that "knowledge of good and evil" means something else entirely. – L0ckz0r Sep 23 '16 at 2:26
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I believe you might be reading something into the Genesis text that simply isn't there. Per the verses you yourself quote, Scripture clearly states that Adam and Eve's eyes were opened immediately after eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The significance of Genesis 2:25 is that it indicates that prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were passionless and were not stirred by carnal inclinations. This is also the interpretation of the Church Fathers (e.g. Ephraim the Syrian, John Chrystostom, John of Damascus).

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Not quite sure why the following is overlooked in the conversation, "26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

To argue that the sin was sexual in nature, one would contradict the command that God had given to "go forth and multiply..." In a conversation with some Mormon "elders," this argument was brought up. After looking at the statement where God created man and woman, the reply was, "Gad wanted a little disobedience (the sex act) so there would be a lot of obedience..."

  • Whilst I agree that this should be part of the conversation, a lot of scholarship points to chapter 1 being a separate creation account. Both chapter 1 and 2 are referring to the same creation story, but with a different message and perspective. Source critics would argue that they were from 2 different writers/sources, but there are also convincing arguments for single source. Either way, the text itself seems to present it as 2 separate accounts of the same event, so I chose to address it on the basis of the Genesis 2 account alone. – L0ckz0r Sep 22 '16 at 3:54
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Nothing in the context suggest such a thing. We should not assume anything beyond the context. The act of clothing and covering is caused by feeling of shame because of nakedness, not because of doing sex. They should have been washing their bodies perhaps if they had sex instead of trying to cover themselves. The feeling of shame suggests they have gained conscious awareness, knowledge and moral-conscience which was prohibited. The account represents the development of man from being innocent children to maturity.

Pelagius writes

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge they were exercising their freedom of choice; and as a consequence of the choice they made, they were no longer able to live in the Garden of Eden. When we hear that story we are struck by their disobedience to God; and so we conclude that they were no longer fit to enjoy the perfect happiness of Eden. And we should also be struck by the nature of that tree and its fruit. Before eating the fruit they did not know the difference between good and evil; thus they did not possess the knowledge which enables human beings to exercise freedom of choice. By eating the fruit they acquired this knowledge, and from that moment onwards they were free. Thus the story of their banishment from Eden is in truth the story of how the human race gained its freedom: by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve became mature human beings, responsible to God for their actions.

How is it possible, then, for an act of disobedience to God to bring such a blessing? When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden they were like small children: they simply obeyed God’s instructions without considering the moral reasons for those instructions. To become mature they needed to learn the distinction for themselves between right and wrong, good and evil. And God gave them the opportunity to become mature by putting within the garden the tree of knowledge, by which they could learn this distinction. But if God had simply instructed Adam and Eve to eat from the tree, and they had obeyed, they would have been acting like children. So he forbade them from eating the fruit; this meant that they themselves had to make a decision, whether to eat or not to eat. Just as a young person needs to defy his parents in order to grow to maturity, so Adam and Eve needed to defy God in order to share his knowledge of good and evil. By defying God, Adam and Eve grew to maturity in his image.

The Letters of Pelagius edited by Robert Van de Weyer

  • Are you aware that Pelagius was condemned as a heretic by the early Church? – user15733 Sep 18 '16 at 18:29
  • You down voted my answer just because you consider Pelagius to be heretic by some early church! This is so against the rules. – Michael16 Sep 21 '16 at 9:23
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    @Michael16 I don't think that's the case. I think he's asking you if you are convinced that Pelagius' words are the answer you should provide some evaluation of them. To present the quote on it's own implies that Pelagius definitely had it right. He may indeed have been right, but you should provide some evaluation. If Pelagius was considered a heretic by the early church then can his writings on this matter be considered the majority opinion or the best interpretation? You need to show that this is the case. Perhaps compare his words with some more modern commentators. – L0ckz0r Sep 22 '16 at 4:07
  • @Michael16 . Your analysis is great . But I think it needs to be flipped. By eating the tree of Knowledge of Good and evil, Adam and eve became indepedent from God which is not a good thing to exercise independence as you state. As the Lord pointed out he who eats me shall live because of me ( John 6:57). eating the tree of life gives brings dependence on God which is what the Lord wants. Knowledge of good and evil makes one wise in their own eyes so they feel they dont need God. That is why in Revelation we see the tree of life showing up again as a reward to those who loved God. – Dr.Apell Aug 13 '18 at 23:48
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Yes, possibly. However this would mean that there is a secondary level to the Torah which of course no one can deny. There are a few things that make this possibility interesting. First, the act of sex was not first indulged by man and woman, but by Angel/Demon and woman. We see this act later with the Nephalim as well. Second, this would also explain why eve's punishment had to do with childbirth (which is closely related to sex) and also the punishment of the snake's "seed". When you tie these interesting concepts with other biblical details the truth becomes blaringly obvious. Welcome to the top of the rabbit hole.

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    Do you have any sources for such interpretations that you could provide? – L0ckz0r Sep 19 '16 at 4:08
  • I would also be interested in sources for this interpretation. It does make sense to me, since there are a few verses where Jesus said to people that their father is the devil. And how could he be his father if not by a sexual relationship with a woman. I welcome feedback of any sorts concerning this. – Daiz Sep 20 '16 at 8:15
  • @Daiz well one answer to your question might be that Jesus is speaking metaphorically. – L0ckz0r Sep 23 '16 at 2:30
  • Well, what would be the hints that he is speaking metaphorically? – Daiz Sep 23 '16 at 12:50
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Daiz, you rightly suggest that trying to hide one's own misdeed or weakness is a natural reaction. But you underestimate the misdeed that has been exposed. Reading beyond just 3:7 provides a broader picture of the problem. The fact that Adam and Eve made coverings for themselves (a cosmetic thing, albeit arguably with symbolic meaning) is less significant than that they attempted to hide not just part of their bodies, but their whole selves, from God (3:9). 3:8 suggests that the presence of God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening should have been an untroubling event. It was not a search party expedition, but just an opportunity to be in the garden with Adam and Eve.

Note also that in 3:10 Adam does not say he is "ashamed". That is a popular interpretation, built, I suspect, on the twin foundation of the understanding that sexual sin was involved and that sexuality is shameful. Adam says he was "afraid". He and Eve are not just embarrassed about being physically naked; Adam is afraid because he realises he is face to face with the God against whom he has rebelled in disobedience. His disobedience has been exposed, not just his body.

Thank God for Christ, through whom, rather than hide in fear, we are able to enter the presence of God, approaching the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19).

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