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How Genesis 1-3 Undermines Calvinism

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.

God Forbids Adam and Eve to Eat from The Tree of Knowledge

What Calvinism Says

According to Calvinism (reformed theology), before God created any human (even before he created the world or even the universe), God predestined some humans for eternal life and bliss, and he predestined other humans for eternal damnation and suffering. Then, after God created humanity, the humans whom God created simply acted out what God had already predetermined, like actors following a script.

The logic of Calvinism goes like this:

  • God is all-powerful
  • The all-powerful God is the creator of everything
  • Because God is all-powerful, He controls everything: nothing happens without it being His will
  • Therefore, God chooses who will be saved and who will be condemned
  • And God chooses this on the basis of His own will

Calvinism denies that God allows humans to make any choice of their own accord that can have an impact (positive or negative) on their eternal destiny. Going back to my analogy, it is impossible for the actors to deviate from the script God wrote for them.

What Genesis Says

However, the first three chapters of Genesis present a different view than the one Calvinism offers.

In Genesis, God first created everything good, and then He gave the humans reasons to trust Him:

1. God created everything good, or flawless (Genesis 1)

2. God created the man and the woman according to His own image (Genesis 1)

3. God blessed the man and the woman (Genesis 1)

4. God planted a garden and placed the man there (Genesis 2)

5. God planted trees with good fruit in the garden, including the tree of life (Genesis 2)

6. God gave the man permission to eat of every tree (Genesis 2)

7. God created marriage (Genesis 2)

That God first created everything good and that God then gave the man and the woman several gifts (the blessing, the garden, the trees, and marriage) indicate that God was demonstrating to the man and the woman that God is good and that they could trust Him.

That God showed His goodness and trustworthiness to them is important because God also gave them a prohibition and a warning. God said to the man that he (and the woman) were not allowed to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and God also warned them that they would die if they ate the fruit that one tree.

So then, just as God’s gifts to Adam and Eve showed to them that God is good and trustworthy, God’s prohibition and warning to them show to us the following:

  1. God is fair
  2. God wanted them to make their own choice
  3. God wanted them to make the right choice

God is fair. God gave Adam and Eve permission to eat the fruit of any other tree in the garden, so there was no need for them to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

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God wanted them to make their own choice. God gave them a prohibition, a command not to do something. Logically, that means that God was expecting them to obey of their own volition.

God waned them to make the right choice. God warned them about the consequences of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: he told them they would die if they disobeyed. By giving them a clear warning, God was trying to persuade them not to disobey.

Did God Plan for Adam and Eve to Sin?

Although the passage in Genesis makes it clear that God wanted Adam and Eve to choose, and that God wanted them to make the right choice, readers can sometimes wonder why God allowed the subtle serpent to tempt Adam and Eve. Had God planned the fall of Adam and Eve?

The answer to this question is straightforward. In Genesis 3, God seems to be absent while the serpent tempts Adam and Eve: the reason is that God is allowing the serpent to test Adam and Eve.

The testing of humans is a constant theme in Genesis. The most obvious example is when God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son. However, the rest of the patriarchs are also put to the test in various ways.

The perspective of Genesis is simple:

  1. God is the sovereign Creator
  2. God shows His goodness and trustworthiness to humans
  3. God then puts the faithfulness of humans to the test

After Adam and Eve sin, we see that God (the sovereign creator) passes sentence on all parties involved. God condemns the serpent for deceiving the woman; God condemns the woman for obeying the serpent; and God condemns the man for listening to the voice of the woman instad of listening to God’s command.

The one who is not condemned is God! God is not at fault in any of this.

How Calvinists Respond to Genesis

The creation and fall accounts in Genesis 1-3 undermine Calvinism because God allowed Adam and Eve (and even the serpent) to make their own choices based on the options God had given them.

  1. God did not cause them to sin (He did not control them)
  2. God did not plan their fall (that would contradict God’s goodness)
  3. God wanted them to make the right choice (this is more congruent with God’s goodness)
  4. God did not intervene while the serpent tempted Eve

It is clear, then, that God was not controlling everything throughout the situation.

In order to overcome this obstacle, Calvinists usually say that, although He gave Adam and Eve a choice, God doesn’t give the rest of humanity a choice. God gave Adam and Eve a choice because they were sinless, but He doesn’t give the rest of humanity a choice because the rest of humanity is dead in sin. According to Calvinists, then, the way God’s sovereignty and the human’s free will interact changed after the events in Genesis 3.

However, this answer is insufficient. At the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis sets forth a model that explains how God’s sovereignty and the human’s free will interact, and it would seem that this model remains consistent after Genesis 3.

In Genesis 4, God continues to test the faithfulness of humans. For example, God tells Cain he must do good to be accepted and overcome the sin that desired him (Genesis 4:17).

When speaking to Cain, God is obviously speaking with a fallen human (one who was born after the fall of Adam and Eve). Nevertheless, God tells Cain what he must do. It seems, then, that God wants Cain to make a choice, and that God also wants Cain to make a good choice. However, Cain made the evil choice.

Throughout Genesis, God continues to test humans (for example, Abraham and the rest of the Patriarchs). God even continues to test humans outside of Genesis (think, for example, about the book of Job).

In saying that the model has changed after Genesis 3, Calvinists forgets that many things set forth in Genesis 1-3 are still applicable to humans living after Genesis 3

  1. Humans are created in God’s image in Genesis 1, and they were still created in God’s image after Genesis 3 (see, for example, Genesis 9:6 and 1 Corinthians 11:7)
  2. God sanctified the Sabbath in Genesis 3, and humans had to keep the Sabbath after Genesis 3 (Exodus 20:8)
  3. In Genesis 2, men have to marry women, and women have to marry men; the same is true for humans after Genesis 3 (see Matthew 19:5-6).

Although Genesis 1-3 is a record of what happened (though, I personally believe it is highly symbolic and not completely literal), Genesis 1-3 is also there to teach the humans for whom Genesis was written something about their relationship with God:

  • Human life is sacred
  • Keep the sabbath
  • Marry a member of the opposite sex
  • Trust God
  • Follow God

How Calvinism Imposes on Genesis

The reason Calvinists say God free will to Adam and Eve only and not to the rest of humanity is because of how they interpret Romans 5:12-21 and Ephesians 2:1-3. They believe that, in these passages, the New Testament teaches that, after Adam and Eve’s fall, humans cannot at all choose to believe in God or follow Him. This is a matter I will address in a second article, so I encourage you to subscribe to my profile to receive a notification when I publish the article (I already addressed Ephesians 2:1 in this article)

However, what should be said in this article, which is not about the New Testament, but about Genesis 1-3, is that it makes more sense to interpret the New Testament passages in light of Genesis than to interpret the Genesis passage in light of the New Testament passages. The reason is simple: Genesis came first. Genesis lays the foundation for us to understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and the human’s free will in the rest of the Bible. What the New Testament says is true, but what Genesis taught first must play a part in how we interpret what the New Testament says.

Conclusion

In Genesis 1-3, God’s sovereignty and the human’s free will interact in the following way:

  1. God created everything good, or flawless (Genesis 1)
  2. God created the man and the woman according to His own image (Genesis 1)
  3. God blessed the man and the woman (Genesis 1)
  4. God planted a garden and placed the man there (Genesis 2)
  5. God planted trees with good fruit in the garden, including the tree of life (Genesis 2)
  6. God gave the man permission to eat of every tree (Genesis 2)
  7. God created marriage (Genesis 2)
  8. God told the man not to eat of the forbidden fruit
  9. God warned the man he would die if he ate the forbidden fruit
  10. God withdrew to allow the man to choose.
  11. God allowed the serpent to tempt the man.
  12. The man chose to rebel against God.
  13. God judged the man.
  14. God offered hope for humanity (Genesis 3:15).

Moreover, something similar happens in Genesis 4:

  1. Cain was a fallen man
  2. Cain had been rejected by God
  3. Cain was tempted by sin
  4. God spoke to Cain
  5. God told cain to do good and overcome sin
  6. Cain chose to rebel

Finally, in light of how God’s sovereignty and the human’s free will interact in Genesis 1-3 and in Genesis 4, the way God’s sovereignty and the human’s free will interact after the fall is less like what Calvinism proposes and more like this:

  1. God is all powerful and sovereign
  2. God is the creator of all things
  3. In His revealed word, God gives humans a limited amount of choices (do not eat or eat, disobey or obey, do not believe or believe)
  4. In His revealed word, God tells humans what is good and the rewards for good (because God wants them to choose what is good)
  5. In His revealed word, God warns humans about the consequences of choosing to evil (because God does not want them to choose evil)
  6. God has withdrawn to allow humans to choose
  7. God has allowed sin and Satan to tempt humanity
  8. Humans are presently choosing
  9. God will respond to each human as the human chooses: salvation to everyone who receives Jesus Christ, and damnation to those who reject Jesus Christ

Some will probably ask, “What about the predestination passages?” Predestination is a complex topic, and I have addressed the topic in my article on Ephesians 1, my article on 1 Peter 1:1-5, and my article on Romans 9.

© 2022 Marcelo Carcach

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