Genesis 3, as most of Genesis 1-11, are etiological stories. Such stories seek to explain the origin of something in mythological or literary terms. William Blake’s poem, The Tyger, composed in 1794 is an example of an etiological story:
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Blake offers a poetic reflection on the origin and nature of a tiger. Etiological stories do not provide a scientific explanation of something; they provide an imaginative explanation. The story of the first humans, the two trees, and Eden offer an explanation of why life is difficult and why things are the way they are. So Genesis 3 would explain why childbirth is painful, why the physical labor of farming is difficult, and why humans and serpents are at odds with one another.
Miguel A. De La Torre describes the story this way, “The opening of the eyes of humans by eating the fruit of the tree may lead to expulsion; but in a way it also is what defines our humanity, our independence, our free will” (Genesis. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2011, 69). The story recognizes that sometimes. Human curiosity and inquiry has led to great discovery and great failure on our part. We learn from those experiences and adapt. The serpent within the story serves as a trickster that provides tension that moves the story forward to a critical moment.
While the story recognizes our independence and our free will, it also acknowledges that our nature leads us sometimes to desire to be like God, or even imagine that we are God. The story says the penalty for eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is death. But no one dies in the story, so the story is not a reflection on death so much as it is a reflection on troubled, anxiety-ridden life. I think it also begs the question, where would we be today if Adam and Eve had not eaten from this tree? Without this action, the story cannot continue because it cannot move forward.
1. How do you make sense of the two trees? Why would eating from both be a problem?
2. How does our curiosity lead to a knowledge of good and evil?
3, How do our choices help us live more or less faithfully with God?