The Genesis Curse

I’ve been reading the curse as described in Genesis 3-9 over again, and I’m attempting to question the traditional understanding of these passages: that is, it’s talking about origins of how thorns and thistles came into existence.

It seems to me that most focus on the initial curse in chapter 3, but don’t look at the other passages that talk about it.

It begins with Adam “Cursed be the ground because of you…” Continues through Cain, “When you till the ground it shall not henceforth yield her strength.” Is lamented by Noah’s father, Lamech, “This same shall comfort us for the ground The Lord God hath cursed.” And then finally reaches some sort of conclusion in Noah, after the Flood, “And God said, No more shall I curse the ground for man’s sake for he is wicked from his youth.”

  1. is the emphasis of the story talking about aeitology? The origins / causation of things like thorns? Or is it rather talking about mans sinfulness, and how out of control it is?

From a literary perspective, we seem to reach some sort of conclusion of the curse in Noah after the Flood.

Theologically speaking, this would fit quite well because Noah is portrayed as the “new Adam”. God is starting anew with Noah … And that means new tactics. I get the impression that with Adam, God used curses as a form of punishment as well as a tactic to get mankind back on the right track … But it obviously doesn’t work seeing how the world dwindled down into horrible violence. With Noah, and the Flood, it’s a whole new beginning a fresh start. The curses were simply external … What needed to change was mans heart.

If we read what God tells Noah very lterally it would seem to imply that the curse was done away with … But it’s not. We still have thorns and thistles.

My conclusion is that it’s taking about how bad man’s sinfulness is — and the terminology of thorns, tilling, and toil is just to make use of the theological meaning.

What do you guys think? Is my interpretation bizarre or does it have some merit?



Thanks for pointing me here from the other thread.

My offering: to start with, I don’t believe it’s an aetiological tale (and neither did great theologians like Augustine, who was certain that thorns already existed). The couple were excluded from the garden of God’s presence, back to the “real world” of hard graft and suffering , and I think that’s the main message.

If the curse was specifically about thorns, it didn’t call them into being, but at most increased them. Interesting though how the Creationist idea that the curse brought general death is contradicted by the actual text, whose only specific words about nature are about a flourishing of life, albeit inimical to man.

I find your thoughts about the rescinding of the curse after the Flood interesting, because I’ve wondered that myself, and find the commentaries don’t so much deny it as fail to notice it. It makes sense to me because, just as the Flood was a direct reversal of creation (life dies, land disappears, heaven is covered and all goes back to water/chaos), so the covenant with Noah was a renewal of Creation, a new start.

I don’t think the curse on the land is ever mentioned again in Scripture, though I’m open to correction. Generally, eg in Paul, “the curse” seems to apply to the curse of death, which of course was not rescinded after the Flood.

If that’s so, yet another plank in the Creationist hermeneutic of a “fallen Creation” falls away. We’re left just with human death, Eve having some reproductive grief, the snake keeping his head down and that’s all. Nature is still “as designed”, which does not of course preclude its sometimes working against us since we have both stepped outside God’s will and stomped on Creation.

As far as Theistic Evolution goes, it means there is also no biblical support for the prevalent idea that evolution/chance/autonomy or whatever have made Creation bad, rather than an historic Fall. Since Scripture consistently says Creation is good, both Creationists and those TEs are seriously misrepresenting God’s view of the world. Possibly it matters…

All I can say, is that the story is so specific to the place and time it was written in. I am just thinking about hunter-gather tribes of humans all over the world say 15,000 years ago. Thorns, tilling, and toiling would not have made any sense to them. Al Leo talks about a great leap forward tens of thousands of years ago, so these hunter-gather tribes in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, 15,000 years ago who be at a complete loss if they heard stories from the OT in their native language millennium before they supposedly occurred. How do you reconcile this?


Like the Catholic Church co-opted many pagan stories in order to
facilitate converting nations of new Christians, it should not supirse
anyone that the Bible scribes co-opting a main-stream story of a
Sumerian/Akkadian flood to make a common piece of folklore
a PART of Hebrew theology.

George Brooks

That’s the conclusion I got too. It seems like a neat little package: from Genesis 3 to Genesis 9. It fits so well too because it begins with Adam and concludes in the “New Adam”.

There are other biblical themes of God “blessing crops” and causing thunder, lightning, plagues etc., typically in accordance with sinful nature. But as far as I know … The cursed-ground terminology ends in Genesis 9.

I have some friends that believe insects were part of the Genesis Curse, and others that believe mutations occurred for creature like porcupines (needles are used for self defense … And would not be “good” according to them). The problem is that Gods creation is good. If spiders and porcupines aren’t part aren’t quote-unquote “good” then they aren’t part of his creation … And do we really want to say, that something else, other than God, created spiders and porcupines?


I’ll have to think of this some more, Patrick. If you want to put Adam in real time and real space, then to be consistent, I think one has to consider Adam’s descendants. One of which is Tubalcain “the artificer of bronze and brass” … According to Jewish sites the Bronze Age was right around 2800 BC, which puts Tubalcain right around the same time period (which means Adam and Eve are not too far behind Tubalcain — speculating about a few dozen generations behind him, but I’ll have to look more into it).

Their are others like Joshua Moritz who says that Eden means “well watered place”, and that some 10,000 years ago, in the Ethiopian area, there was many rivers and lush vegetation.

I’ll have to think some more on it though …



It’s an odd thing that people should fight to the death to deny evolution, and then postulate an entire new creation with “nasty” plants and animals instead of nice vegetarian ones after the Fall, without the slightest warrant in Scripture. Sometimes it’s even held to be the Devil’s work - a nice piece of denial of God the sole Creator.

But equally I find it weird that Christians should espouse evolution as the means God uses to create, and then exclude great swathes of it as the work of an autonomous evolution gone bad. Another nice denial of God as sole Creator.

I’ve written at chapter length on the fact that the whole idea that creation “fell” appears almost exclusively in theology only after the sixteenth century. The goodness of creation was one of the distinctives of early Christianity - but not many people seem to think it’s significant, whichever side of the evolutionary fence they sit. Maybe we’re just a ungrateful and jaundiced generation.

It’s astonishing how worldview colours perception - I always treasure a science documentary which interviewed an expert on tapeworms (not a Christian, as far as I know). The interviewer asked if she didn’t feel disgust studying such nasty things, and there was such a pained look on her face as she said, “But they’re wonderful creatures!”

We tend to hate what we refuse to understand in nature as well as in human relationships. Not to mention ancient texts…

I’ve also read research that macro-parasites are, effectively, top-level predators that are essential to maintaining ecosystems. Insects, equally, are an indispensible mass-produced food - as well as fertilising all those trees in Eden, reprocessing the dung, etc, etc.

But I think the rescinding of the curse on the soil in the Noahic covenant is not often noted, and is a significant theological input to the story of Genesis - so thanks for that.

The Bronze Age that you describe was also going on in Europe. See below.

I like your observation of putting both Evolutionary Creationists and Young Earth Creationists in this category. The problem I think is just an overtly materialistic outlook on reality … While YECs and ECs often come to different conclusions, some of their mindsets are the same. YECs relegate “natural evil” to the fault of the curse, and ECs often relegate “natural evil” to some unknown force that’s somehow distinct from God.

It seems that Old Earth Creationists are more consistent on this particular biblical teaching.


You’re more willing than me to say certain portions of the Bible are “co-opted Pagan stories.” Perhaps you’re right … But that certainly isn’t the first option I jump too.

It’s true that holidays like Easter and Christmas are “co-opted”… But it’s also true that neither of these holidays have anything to do with the Bible. Some Christians don’t even feel comfortable celebrating them because of their pagan origins.

My main point is that if you take the Curse holistically (that is looking at every passage that mentions the curse in Genesis) you will not come to the conclusion that the physical creation became corrupted, and is STILL corrupted to this day, because of Adam’s sin. I’ve heard everything from genetic entropy, carnivorous activity, death of all kinds (well on second thought there’s “wiggle room” there… The death is fairly flexible and has changed quite a bit in their interpretation) to the Second Law of Thermodynamics — ALL of it was because of Adam.

Whether or not you agree with the chapters of Genesis or not, the YEC hermeneutic, regarding these passages are inconsistent. I think what God said to Noah after the Flood is crucial to understanding the curse in the early chapters … But I’ve never heard a YEC mention this … Whether denying it or not realizing it (I think the latter is more likely).


I concur completely.

The world did not turn to “crud” because of Adam and Eve. But you can imagine budding Christianity wanting to establish this paradigm . . .

God himself says Adam and Eve would only be immortal if they ate from the Tree of Life. So they have to leave. Animals never ate from the tree of life …

Death is there for everyone - - if they are not gods.



As I suggested to Tim, some careful research shows that the idea of a corrupted creation was present neither in Judaism nor early - even mediaeval - Christianity. Until about the time of the Reformation (for interesting possible reasons), very few people interpreted the Genesis Fall that way, and almost nobody in what is wrongly called “the traditional view”.

Your observation that animals didn’t eat from the tree of life is spot on - people forget the garden wasn’t the world, but a sacred space in a specific land - Eden. The writer (or the early Christian interpreters!) weren’t imagining flatworms migrating from Guatemala to eat from the tree.

However, that tree does have direct connections to the “reversal of the Fall” (or call it exile, if you will) in Christ, since eternal life at the resurrection comes, according to 1 Cor 13 by the replacement of the “soul-powered” (psychikos") with the “spirit-powered” (pneumatikos), and involves in some way not just man but the transformation of the whole creation (Romans 8).

It’s my bet that had mankind not sinned, his task as “image” would have been to being about that transformation on God’s behalf, taking the fruit of that “tree” out of Eden not only to the rest of mankind but to the cosmos. As it is, God has done the job himself in Christ.

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