Genesis 3 Curses

(Freddy Magnanimous) #1

Hello, I’m curious how an evolutionary creation model might interpret the curses from Genesis 3: snakes lose legs, husband rules over wife, increased pain in childbirth, agriculture gets harder. I’d be interested in concordist interpretations, spiritual truth interpretations, or whatever. What would Lamoureux do? Just ancient science?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

One non-concordist approach might be as follows.

Certain features the world was known to have back when these were written (childbirth is painful, snakes seem crafty, men tended to rule over women, farming is hard work with a multitude of potential hardships between you and a good harvest, etc.) need to have the back story told in a narrative that shows that God has orchestrated all this (certainly all the good parts of creation generally) and that people too, bear responsibility for stewardship and good care-taking work as well as responsibility for much of the hardships that increased because of sin. I don’t doubt that original writers perhaps assumed that in addition to the spiritual lessons, the actual history probably looked about like that too. Why would they assume otherwise? So many probably did assume God did something to the ground at this particular event in history to make it produce thorns and thistles where it hadn’t been like that before. But the general lesson that our rebellion against God does much to make life much harder for ourselves and everybody else too (including repercussions far into the future) is the general lesson that can stand quite apart from any attempts to bind these narratives fast to their mechanical historicities. That’s one possible overview, anyway.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #3

When I asked above “Why would they assume otherwise?”, I was referring more to the man-on-the-street of the time more than the writers. But even so, I’m probably selling many involved parties a bit short making such an assumption --which reeks more of modern arrogance that we know the languages of parable, myth, vision-casting, etc. more than any of those poor ignorant ancients for whom it could never occur that some account could be anything other than mechanical. In reading these accounts carefully, in fact, it would appear that the ancient author(s) were probably ahead of some of us in that regard. So I retract (with appropriate shame) my contempocentric and arrogant notion that they must have had little reason to assume otherwise. They in fact did, long before modern science came along and just added more reasons to it.

(George Brooks) #4


Surely we can’t expect a figurative discussion to be INFINITELY harmonised, right?

But it is an interesting exercise to note that God made an evolution of the Snake a biblical case study:

  1. Reptile WITH limbs…
  2. Became a snake WITHOUT limbs.

(Jon Garvey) #5

Where does it say (a) the serpent had limbs to begin with or (b) that it lost them? it doesn’t, to be blunt.

God’s curse is just that the serpent, which was always a serpent and not a lizard, will eat dust and go on its belly. Eating dust is clearly figurative (if one insisted on stupid literalism eating dust would directly contradict the command in Gen 1 that all animals should eat only vegetables, so God wouldn’t contradict it!)

And as John Walton helpfully points out, a serpent that is humbled by going on its belly is not doing what arrogant snakes do - rearing up to strike you. The change is of status, not of biology - especially if one can get ones head round the possibility that Genesis is in line with the rest of the Bible in describing a spiritual encounter in a sophisticated literary way, not simply weaving an aetiological story about why snakes don’t have legs, without actually mentioning legs.

Now if that part of the story isn’t aetiological, there is no reason why the rest should be. There’s a strong linguistic and literary case for taking the “pain of child bearing” in relational, rather than obstetric, terms. The story says no more in fulfilment of the biological sense, and neither does the rest of the Bible, but Eve loses her second son to murder at the hands of her first son, whom she loses both to sin and exile, which must be far more traumatic than mere labour, as any mother would tell you.

Likewise, the marred relationships between husband and wife are not biological: you don’t abuse your wife just because males are stronger and bigger, but because you’re a sinner.

The curse on the ground takes longer to unpack (which I’ve done elsewhere), but at the very least no change in the world is necessary for Adam to be expelled from the garden (cultivated, blessed by God’s presence) to the land beyond (uncultivated, in its natural state).

Even if one postulates that the text does describe a special curse on the ground, commentators as far back as Augustine have denied that it means the “invention” of thistles. In fact in Scripture, the elements of nature are uniformly described as God’s servants for governing mankind in blessing or cursing. In the covenant blessings/curses of Lev. 26, for example, God will either keep wild beasts out of Israel when they’re faithful, or send them to attack their flocks and so on when they rebel. Same nature - interacting with man in opposite ways under God’s governance.

Genesis is simply saying the same thing to Adam about thorns - and giving us no particular warrant to extend that curse (a) to all times and places and people (b) to anything in nature beyond difficulties cultivating the ground or even © anything at all beyond “thorns and thistles”.

I have no idea (nor particularly care) what Lamoreux would do, or popular Evolutionary Creation with its tendency to see everything through “modern science” v “ancient science” spectacles.

So instead I’d restate George’s comment more strongly still: “Surely we can’t expect a figurative discussion to have anything WHATEVER to say about biology.”

(George Brooks) #6


The question can only be resolved by asking what you think the readers of old thought Genesis meant.

The Hebrew word used was:



There’s quite a few people who think the story EXPLAINS how snakes lost their legs.

What animal do YOU think was being cursed?.. what animal do you think was cursed to have its head crushed by human heels?

(Jon Garvey) #7

A snake. A snake is what tempted Eve, and a snake is a reptile without legs. Therefore the story doesn’t talk about losing legs (and quite a few people are taking liberties with it). QED.

(Larry Bunce) #8

The curse that God puts into the world after Adam and Eve have sinned provides an explanation for the things that we humans dislike about the world. From an evolutionary standpoint, the reason that childbirth is so painful in humans is because selection for greater intelligence resulted in an increase of cranial size faster than the female pelvis could widen to accommodate it. Anyone who has ever planted a garden has run into the problem that unless the soil nutrients are replenished, crop yields decline after several years.
Plants in nature grow in random mixtures, some adding nutrients that others need. By concentrating plants of a single kind in large fields, humans also concentrate insect pests and deplete the soil.

What the authors of Genesis are telling us is that most of the pain and suffering we experience as human are the results of the evolutionary changes that made us human. Additional suffering is brought on by the way humans mistreat each other.

(Jon Garvey) #9

Ah - they’d read Darwin, then? that’ll shake ANE studies to the roots.


Very good!

(George Brooks) #11


You have a choice. If the CURSE was a CHANGE … then you have to decide whether:

It was a SNAKE WITH LIMBS, and that’s why it traveled UPRIGHT … OR

It was a Snake WITHOUT LIMBS, that traveled upright even though it didn’t have legs.

I, and many generations of bible students before me, generally think the FORMER
option makes the most sense.

(Jon Garvey) #12

“Upright” snake here.

But since you appeal to the authority of previous generations:

3rd century Eden fresco (legless) here.

12th century Eden mosaic (legless) here

Mediaeval Eden manuscript (no legs) here.

Cranach (Renaissance) Eden - legless snake here

The curse was a curse, not a change. The snake which vaunted itself above the authority of both man and God was humbled back to, and beneath, its original status, and was put at enmity with man. Other passages in Scripture make the link between the snake and “that ancient serpent, Satan”, thus showing the story as figurative of spiritual things and interpreting the curse as the final defeat of Satan and his seed.

So by and large I don’t think I have to make any difficult choices at all about the anatomy of snakes, any more than I have to follow generations of Creationists in generalising the curse to the whole created order, not least because other wise students down the generations have thought otherwise (to name a few, John Calvin, Derek Kidner, Gordon Wenham, John Sailhamer…)

(George Brooks) #13


Some of your pictures of legless snakes ALSO show the snake ON ITS BELLY before the curse.

What exactly is the Curse if God is telling a snake: You will spend eternity “…doing exactly what you are already doing” ! [Huh?]

Gen 3:14
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field;

“…upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life…”

You might try to make the point that the curse was losing a human head and getting a SNAKE HEAD … but the curse doesn’t say anything about that. It DOES present a fate for this “serpent” that pleads a DIFFERENCE.

Since we know snakes STILL linger in trees… “even to this day” … the curse has to somehow invoke something to do with “going on your belly” - - instead of “going on your limbs”.

(Alice Linsley) #14

Is the description of the relationship between the man and the woman a “curse” or the natural effects of fear entering their relationship? Read Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice. Gilligan, a Harvard professor of Psychology, describes the effects of fear on females and males and the description, based on longitudinal studies, aligns exactly with what is described in Genesis 3.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #15

That sounds interesting. Given my immersion in another course at the moment, I probably won’t search out more reading material; but I’ll be happy to learn from and respond to anything of Gilligan’s that you bring up here.

It seems straightforward to imagine our own sin works to corrupt relationships so that power becomes coercive, domineering, abusive, etc. —maybe largely from fear as you might be suggesting. Whether or not we label it as God’s curse, or just our suffering the consequences of what we’ve become is a good question. I would lean towards both being true descriptions of what has happened.

(Alice Linsley) #16

Mervin, here is a short restatement of Gilligan’s findings.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #17

Thanks for that link!

That seems well-written and balanced to me (to the extent that I am in any position to critique it --which I’m not). Are the last couple of paragraphs also your summary of Gilligan’s findings? The bit about never finding any matriarchal societies under the criteria given was very interesting.

I’ve come to think (in recent decades) that the Bible may actually be fairly gender-egalitarian (or even radical) compared to the cultures of the day [or I should modify that to say … not so much ‘egalitarian’ which it definitely wasn’t, as perhaps pushing toward that direction]. The women (Debra, and quite a few in the new testament who were church leaders) may get short-shrift by today’s western sensibilities, certainly, but in that time, it might have been radically feminist for them to get the mentions they do in the Bible.

(Freddy Magnanimous) #18

I agree eating dust is figurative, but it’s a way of saying snakes’ heads will now be at ground level as it slithers on its belly. [quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:5, topic:5217”]
a serpent that is humbled by going on its belly is not doing what arrogant snakes do - rearing up to strike you. The change is of status, not of biology
The snake’s status changed? It used to be arrogant? I can’t tell if you’re talking about actual snakes or not. Genesis 3 sure sounds like we are.[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:5, topic:5217”]
Eve loses her second son to murder at the hands of her first son, whom she loses both to sin and exile, which must be far more traumatic than mere labour, as any mother would tell you.
So it’s not talking about pain in actual child birth? Now all of a sudden it pains a mother to have one child murder another? [quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:5, topic:5217”]
Likewise, the marred relationships between husband and wife are not biological: you don’t abuse your wife just because males are stronger and bigger, but because you’re a sinner.
Is it a punishment for women that they will be ruled over by their husbands? Was there a different arrangement before the Fall?

(Alice Linsley) #19

Mervin, you are right. Feminist theologians who seek to paint the women of the Bible as oppressed by patriarchy fail to mention that more than 70% of the women named in the Bible are the wives and daughters of ruler-priests, and they exercised a great deal of influence in their social circles.