When responding to the serpent’s temptation to eat the forbidden fruit, Eve says that one “must not touch it” (Gen 3:2–3). In this, Eve appears to embellish upon God’s clear command that one must not eat from the tree (Gen 2:17). Did Eve add to God’s command, becoming the first legalist? Was this an innocent mistake? Or is the answer altogether different?
Jeffrey J. Niehaus tackles this issue head-on in When Did Eve Sin? Though many commentators believe that Eve altered God’s command, there are notable exceptions in the history of interpretation that suggest another answer. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture and analyzing biblical stories where characters retell the facts, Niehaus recognizes a common scriptural pattern that resolves the mystery of Eve’s words.
Niehaus examines his view’s implications for biblical historiography, what it meant to eat from the tree of life, how a sinless being can fall into sin, and the nature of the mysterious serpent. Everyone engaging with these questions will be deftly guided by Niehaus’ thorough study of this thorny issue.
Jeffrey J. Niehaus has given us a short but feisty book. Its thesis is stimulating, and it unfolds like the plot of a fast-paced novel. Niehaus lays out his evidence so meticulously that even those who disagree with him will be left impressed with what he has accomplished here. This book opens up new possibilities for understanding the Bible’s implicit historiography, and it illuminates the moral psychology of Eve’s sin. I am grateful to Niehaus for inviting me into a fascinating argument that left its imprint on my mind long after I finished reading it.
–Hans Madueme, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Theological Studies, Covenant College
“Sin perverts this by falsely presenting what is not good as though it were good.” (Page 160)
“The problem is: How does one understand sin? If ‘whatever is not of faith is sin’—that is, whatever does not completely amen the Lord and agree with what he is, says, and does—then it would be impossible that Adam had misinformed his wife and equally impossible that his wife added to what the Lord had said. If either were true, Adam or his wife would be sinning already, and Paul would have been mistaken when he wrote, ‘it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner’ (1 Tim 2:14, emphasis added; cf. Gen 3:13b, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’).” (Page 81)
“When the woman began to covet the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she was already sinning in her heart and mind (cf. the Tenth commandment, ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,’ etc., Exod 20:17, emphases added). Then, her sinful desire led to her sinful act.” (Page 159)
“If faith is amening God, as has been argued, then whatever does not amen God—whatever is not on the same page as God—is sin.” (Page 158)
“To an obedient way of thinking, nothing could be desirable about gaining wisdom in a way God had forbidden.” (Page 159)
Jeffrey J. Niehaus (PhD, Harvard University) is Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he has taught since 1982. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and books. In addition to being a biblical scholar, Niehaus is a poet who earned his PhD in English Literature.