What Happened at the Fall

Adam and Eve did not wake up one day and say, "Let's disobey God today, because I am tired of obeying his stupid rules." Something more was going on. To understand our situation, we need to understand what happened to Adam and Eve.

The Genesis account begins with the bad behaviour of the serpent (Gen 3:1), not with human disobedience. It does not fully explain what was happening, but clearly, it was something important. The key to understanding this event is realising that the Old Testament provides a two-agent view of reality. It mostly records the actions of two agents in the world: God and humans. The New Testament explains that we live in a three-agent universe. The main actors are God, humans and the spiritual powers of evil. To understand any event, we need to take cognisance of what each of these three actors is doing.

Apart from a few glimpses into the spiritual realms by Job, David and Daniel, the Old Testament writers mostly ignore the activities of the spiritual powers of evil. They took this approach because the Holy Spirit did not want to give unnecessary glory to these evil powers. God preferred to be blamed for evil at times over bolstering the credibility of the spiritual forces that are always at work in the world doing evil. To fully understand the Old Testament, we need to read it through a New-Testament, three-agent-lens. Therefore, to understand the Genesis account of the fall, we need to take into account the reality that the spiritual powers of evil were actively working to undermine the authority and freedom of the first humans.

Genesis 3:1 does not explain why the serpent was so cunning, or why it had become an instrument for undermining evil, but given their objectives, it is reasonable to assume that spiritual powers of evil were working through him. The Revelation of John explains that the serpent was being used by the devil/satan (Rev 12:9; 20;2).

The scriptures do not explain how or when, but a massive spiritual rebellion had occurred in the spiritual realms. I presume that this occurred before the human failure recorded in Genesis 3. The scriptures never claim that Adam's sin caused the powers of evil to rebel against God. On its own, such an event on earth would not have such a serious effect in the spiritual realms, whereas a rebellion in the spiritual realms could be expected to have a significant impact on the earth.

God had given authority over the earth to humans. By getting control of humans, the spiritual powers of evil could gain authority on earth and establish a domain where they were free to operate. Once they had rebelled, they had a strong incentive to persuade humans to rebel. I presume that this is the order that the rebellions happened: the spiritual powers of evil rebelled first, followed by human rebellion.

Following the rebellion of the spiritual powers of evil, Adam and Eve got caught up in a terrible spiritual battle in which the serpent was an unwitting participant. By giving humans authority on earth (Gen 1:28), God had taken an enormous risk, because it allowed humans to constrain his actions (this was real grace). The spiritual powers of evil understood the risk that God was taking, and they realised that if they could steal the authority that God had given to humans, they could constrain his activity on earth. The stakes were high, but God knew that humans would mess things up with terrible consequences, but he had a plan to put things right.

Large numbers of spiritual beings had rebelled against God. Naturally, they attacked Adam and Eve with a vengeance. They did not have much chance against such a powerful onslaught. They had no children when they lapsed, so they can't have been in existence very long when the attack occurred. They were still learning their role, as the Holy Spirit taught them how to care for the world that had been entrusted to them. They had access to all the resources of the Holy Spirit, but they probably had not learnt how to draw on them under intense battle conditions. They would not have been prepared to handle such a massive spiritual assault.

We tend to assume that Adam and Eve disobeyed God because they were rebellious. That is a distorted view of what happened. They came under such an intense spiritual attack that few humans would have been able to resist it. Paul records that Eve was deceived.

Eve was deceived by the serpent's craftiness (2 Corinthians 11:3).
The serpent lied to Eve. He said that the humans needed to eat the fruit of the tree to be like God, when they were already created in the image of God, and as like to God as humans can be.

Of course, it was not just the serpent at work, but the spiritual powers working through him. Their attack was so intense that Eve believed something that was not true. That kind of deception does not just happen, without spiritual interference. Obviously, Adam was pushed towards disobedience too.

Given the intensity of the battle (because authority over the earth was at stake), Adam and Eve succumbed to the attack. Could they have remained strong despite the pressure? Maybe? But it is easy to understand why they didn't. Rather than calling it "The Fall", we should describe it as a massive spiritual defeat. Perhaps we should call it "The Rout" because it gave the spiritual powers of evil authority over the earth. They would use this stolen authority to do terrible things to humans and the rest of God's creation.

This understanding of what happened changes the nature of the solution that is required. The cross does not just cover our sins, as is usually taught. We did not need the cross to stop God hating us. We needed the cross to rescue us from the authority of the spiritual powers of evil. Jesus' death is the ransom that rescues us from the control of the spiritual powers of evil, who gained control over us when Adam and Eve were defeated and manipulated into disobedience.

This understanding also shifts some of the responsibility. Adam and Eve's disobedience was not a totally free choice. They were provoked and manipulated without being aware of the power that they were up against. They don't fully deserve the condemnation that is heaped on them by Christians. They are still responsible for their actions, but it was harder for them than we realise, so they also deserve more sympathy.

There is a bit of blame passing going on here. If the fall was Adam and Eve's fault, it gives us an excuse for our disobedience. We can say, "It's all their fault, not ours". A more productive response would be to acknowledge the difficult struggle they faced. That would help us to understand the spiritual battle that we are engaged in.

Origin of the Idea

Augustine of Hippo developed the doctrine of Original Sin in the fourth century AD with his claim that when Adam and Eve sinned, all humans sinned with them. Participation in original sin means that all humans:

While not doubting the seriousness of human sin and its impact on human life, I have several problems with this doctrine.

Bad Translation of Romans

Augustine relied on a Latin translation of Paul's letter to the Romans. He used Romans 5:12 to develop his doctrine of original sin, but the Latin translation was defective and misleading. His misconception has travelled through into most modern English translations. A literal translation of the Greek text follows
Therefore, just as through one man,
the Sin entered into the cosmos,
and the Death through the Sin,
so also Death spread to all humanity,
whereupon all sinned.
The first part of this verse is quite clear. One man called Adam opened the way for sin to penetrate the world. And his sin opened the way for death to enter the world.

The second half is trickier because it says that Death got hold of all humanity, and that caused all humans to sin. The problem is that this is the wrong way around for traditional teaching. So most English translations change the last line into "because all sinned". Translators prefer this reading because it makes sin the cause of death, which fits with their theology, but it is a distortion of Paul's words, and it does not explain how or why all people sinned. It just states that they did, whereas Paul is doing something deeper.

Paul says that after the first man sinned, Death spread to all humanity. This becomes clearer if we understand that in this part of Paul's letter, Sin, Death and Wrath are strong spiritual powers (called world dominators). Chapters five to seven of his letter are easier to follow if we understand this reality. Adam and Eve were deceived by a tricky spirit called Satan the accuser. Although they submitted to his authority and came into his captivity, he was quickly pushed aside by a more powerful world dominator called Death.

Paul says that Death controlled the world from Adam to Moses. He even reigned over those who did not sin like Adam (Rom 5:14). This is interesting because Death had control in many places where there has been no sin, ie Death got there before Sin, although he often worked with him. Death usually got there first.

Paul explains that Death gained control over all humans and opened the way for his mate called Sin to attack them and get control of them. This is how Sin got at all people. So the pattern in Romans 5:12 is correct. Death got control of all humanity, and following that, Sin spread his control to them all. Death gained control over them and he allowed Sin to attack everyone, and as a result of his pressure, everyone has sinned.

Paul confirms this view in 1 Corinthians 15:56.

The sting of the Death is the Sin, and the power of the Sin is the law.
Death is not the sting of sin. Sin is the sting of death. It is Death that initiates the sting. Sin is the consequence of the sting.

If we understand that Sin and Death are powerful spiritual beings, this verse makes more sense. Sin gained his power from the law. Once God had given the law that specified crimes (and punishments), Sin used the law as a basis to accuse people and demand that God punish them. This massively increased his power on earth.

Prior to the giving of the Law, Death was the dominant spiritual power on earth. He worked with Destruction to terrible stuff on earth in the season between the fall to the flood. He also empowered Sin to work on earth as his sting. It was another way of saying that Sin was his sidekick.

Too Much

The doctrine of original sin explains too much. Despite the claims of the Calvinists, the human soul has not been totally corrupted. Unregenerate humans can still do good, and many do far more good than some Christians. The people that I know are not totally corrupt. Some are very loving and kind. They often make good choices. They have often sacrificed their lives for the good of others. Most people still seem to have an active conscience, although, like Christians, they can choose to ignore it.

Most humans can hear God speak. Adam and Eve continued to be aware of God and continued to hear his voice after they had sinned. The scriptures give many examples of people who had rejected God, but who could still hear him speak. Some humans see into the spiritual realms, but only see the bad side.

A few humans get caught up with evil and pursue it seriously in an ugly way, but that seems to be quite rare. The behaviour of most non-Christians is not much different from those who have chosen to follow Jesus. All humans seem to be able to make a choice between doing good and doing evil.

Saying that humans are all totally corrupt is misleading and unfair. We should be more precise about how humans were changed by the fall.

Spiritually Blind

We live in a reality that is both physical and spiritual. The spiritual realm is probably more important than the physical, but we see the physical side of reality far more clearly than we see the spiritual, possible due to the fall.

Humans obviously have a facility within us (not floating over us, or beside us) that has the ability to observe and communicate into the spiritual dimension of life. That ability has been badly damaged by the fall (original sin is not a very good term for describing what happened). I presume that this facility is within the brain (not the heart, which is just a pump that responds to adrenaline), but I have no idea how it actually works.

Some Christians call this facility their "spirit", and there may be some scriptural justification for that, but that does not tell us much more, given that the Greek and Hebrew words for spirit also mean wind, which suggests something that can't be seen, but has an effect that can be observed.

Some people have this facility to observe the spiritual world with a greater capacity than others do, just as some have greater intelligence and some have heightened compassion. I do not think it is just a gift of the Spirit (although discernment is one of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives) because some non-believers have this heightened ability too.

No matter how much neuroscientists learn, they will not be able to see this facility because their tools can never observe the spiritual dimension. They might pick up the effect of the spiritual on the physical, but they will not be able to observe the interaction. They will see effects in other parts of the brain, but they will never know what caused them.

I reckon that the deadening of this facility that interacts with the spiritual realms is the major effect of the fall. I presume that it is restored when we are born again. However, it is essential for followers of Jesus to be aware that they have this facility, and develop their ability to use it. This awareness is something that has been lost with the secularisation of our culture.

Unclear Process

The doctrine of original sin does not explain the process by which human souls are corrupted. How were humans changed so that they find it hard to do good? Who inflicted this harm? What did they do? What has deadened our facility that has the ability to see into the spiritual realms and communicate with the beings that populate it?

There are three possibilities. God did it. Humans did it to themselves. Or the powers of evil did it.

1. God

Most theologians imply that in response to Adam's sin, God changed the human soul so that it was corrupted and incapable of doing good. The reason that theologians do not come out and say this directly is that it makes God the author of evil. It seems odd that God would change humans so that they would be more evil.

The other problem with this option is that there is no record in the scriptures of God corrupting human nature. When God announced the curse that Adam had put on himself by sinning, he explained that the earth would be corrupted so that thorns and thistles would grow, making it hard to grow the food he needed (Gen 3:17-9). He was going from living in abundance to living under scarcity. Genesis is clear that Adam was not corrupted. It was the ground that would be affected.

Eve was changed so that delivering babies would become painful, but there is no suggestion that she was changed so that she had a propensity to do evil. Rather, God said that women would continue to be drawn to men, which is a good thing (even if they dominated them harshly).

The scriptures never suggest that God corrupted the human soul to make original sin effective.

2. Self-Corrupting Humans

The second possibility is that humans corrupted themselves. It is possible that God made Adam and Eve in such a way that if they sinned, their souls would be totally corrupted by that one act. The problem with this option is that God created Adam and Eve in his image, so it is hard to believe that he created them so fragile that one sin would totally destroy his image and turn them into the opposite of how he created them.

According to Genesis, the souls of Adam and Eve were not totally corrupted at the moment that they sinned. They carried great shame, so this naturally made them afraid of God. They tried to cover their shame by making covering of leaves, which shows that they still wanted to do the right thing. If they were fully corrupted, they would have been delighting in their evil state. They were still seeking and listening to God when he came to them, so it seems that they were not in the state that the doctrine of original sin said that they should be in.

3. Spiritual Powers of Evil

The more plausible option is that the spiritual powers of evil harmed the souls of the first humans so that they struggle to serve God and develop a propensity to do evil.

When Adam and Eve were deceived into sinning, they were surrounded by millions of evil spirits who continued to harass them and persuade them to continue sinning. (Most had gone off to attack the animal world and plant world and to harm the earth that God had created, but many would have continued to attack the first humans.)

Paul tells us that Death and Sin ruled from the time of Adam until the giving of the law. Death had gained authority over Adam and Eve when they had sinned, so he was able to control them. God had warned of this when he had said that if they disobeyed, they would die of death. Death stirred up Cain to kill Abel. Cain then became scared of other humans trying to kill him (Gen 4:13-14). He knew that Death was at work in the world. Death continued to wreak havoc on earth up until the flood when he caused huge numbers of people to die by attempting to wreck the earth.

The spiritual powers of evil continue to harass people and deceive them into sinning.

Corrupted Body or Soul

Apart from deceiving them into sinning, what harm did the spiritual powers of evil do to Adam and Eve? Did they corrupt the human soul in some way? Did they destroy our spiritual discernment and their ability to discern spiritually?

Passing Sin Down

Deception is still the best weapon of the spiritual powers of evil. They have spiritual authority over all humans, so they have the right to speak to them, even though they don't speak the truth.

The spiritual powers of evil have always attacked every descendent of Adam and Eve to deceive them into sinning. Once they have sinned, they can hit them with shame and cripple them.

The spiritual powers of evil get other people to do things to us that hurt or harm us. This makes us angry or afraid. This is often our first sin, and it causes us to strike back to hurt or harm others.

Different people can be manipulated differently. The spiritual powers of evil push some people into pride, and they push others into guilt and shame. Both these sins shut us out from God.

Some humans go no further than this. Others get a taste for evil and push further into it. A few choose to pursue evil seriously. For most people, the spiritual powers of evil do not have to do much to push them into sinning. Most children automatically copy the behaviour of their parents anyway. Parents who are in captivity to sin will often hurt their children, by speaking negatively or angrily, withholding their love, or failing to provide for all their needs. These actions make the child feel insecure or fearful, often while still in the womb.

Children who are fearful and hurt do things to harm others. We tend to react to being hurt by hurting others. In this way, children inherit the sins of their parents without the powers of evil having to do much at all.

If we have good parents, the influence of the spiritual powers of evil will be minimised. But if our parents are really held tight by the evil powers, we might be permanently corrupted by them when growing up, and get a serious taste of evil. If the harm is severe, they might be able to influence us to pursue evil. Unfortunately, this happens to some people.

Christian Parents

Being born to parents who have been set free from their spiritual captivity by choosing to serve Jesus is a huge advantage. The spiritual powers of evil will harass their children to prevent them from escaping too. They will prompt the parents to upset their children in ways that will cause them to respond by sinning.

The spiritual battle is stacked against us. There are millions of evil spirits in the world, waiting to attack every human born and tip them into sin before they are aware of what is happening. Therefore, it is not surprising that all humans have sinned. This gives the spiritual powers of evil an ongoing authority over us until we are set free by faith in Jesus.

Our spiritual antennae have not been switched off by something that has changed in our brains. Rather our spiritual senses are shut down by guilt and shame. The spiritual powers of evil can use deception to cloud our thinking, so they use this power to push shameful and proud people into sinful behaviour. That is original sin.

Spiritual Captivity

When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, they unwittingly submitted to the spiritual powers of evil and came under their authority. All of their descendants were born under their authority, so by default, the spiritual powers of evil had authority over their children too. The same applied to all their descendants.

Paul explains that the two dominant spiritual powers during that first season on earth were called Sin and Death. So every person born on earth was already under the authority of Sin and Death, and they had no way to escape their influence.

In Romans 7, Paul explains that people know what they should do, but they are captives of Sin.

I am carnal, having been sold under Sin (Rom 7:14).
I find this principle at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there beside me (Rom 7:21).
I am seeing a different law in my members, warring with the law of my mind, and leading me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Rom 7:23).
We begin as a blank sheet with an empty memory in our mother's womb. Our first experience of life occurs there. Because our parents are under the influence of evil, babies quite frequently experience evil there before they are born.

Because our parents are in captivity to the spiritual powers of evil, we are born in captivity to them too. This is not so-called original sin. We are not contaminated by Adam's sin. Rather we are born in captivity. No matter how much we might want to do good (being born in the image of God), the spiritual powers of evil will be able to get an opportunity to hurt and harm us. They will sometimes be able to persuade us to do evil. So we find ourselves doing evil, even though we may not want to.

Solution — New Birth

The solution to the problem of entrapment in sin is a new birth. We need to be born again outside the captivity of the powers of evil. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again of the Spirit. At the time of his first birth, his parents were in spiritual captivity, so he was born in spiritual captivity too. So although he had resolved to serve God, he was unable to escape the influence of the spiritual powers of evil who had enslaved him as soon as he was born.

We are all born to parents who are in the captivity of the spiritual powers of evil. These evil powers have ensured that they have deceived us into submitting to them in our own right. We need to be set free from their captivity.

When we surrender our lives to Jesus, he sets us free from the authority of the spiritual powers of evil. The cross destroyed their authority over us, so we can be born outside the captivity of evil. This set us free to follow Jesus without being resisted by evil. It allows the Holy Spirit to work in our lives without his efforts being disrupted by the spiritual powers of evil.

Paul says that we died and rose with Jesus. When we die in him, the spiritual powers of evil lose their authority in our lives. When we come to new life in Jesus, we are set free from their activity.