THE BLOG

Adam, Eve and the Serpent

09/21/2013 09:56 am ET | Updated Nov 21, 2013

The story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent in the garden of Eden is found in chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis, the first book in the Bible. Whether you interpret the story literally, believing it took place exactly as it appears in the Bible, or prefer a more symbolic translation is absolutely unimportant for our purposes--the meaning of the story is the same. And there is no question about it--this story has genuine relevance for all of us today. Let's take a look at what happened. [In the Hebrew and in most English versions of the Bible, the "g" in garden of Eden is lower case; in current popular usage, the "g" has been capitalized: Garden of Eden.]

In chapter 2, after God creates Adam [the first human creature], God puts Adam in the garden of Eden. And in the midst of the garden, among "every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food," God plants "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." God tells Adam he is free to eat of the fruit of any tree except the one tree in the center of the garden. And then God creates Eve to keep Adam from being lonely and to give him a helper. [All quotes from Revised Standard Version]

In chapter 3, the serpent comes into the story. The serpent is described as being "more subtle [that is, crafty] than any other wild creature." The serpent convinces Eve that God did not really mean what he said to Adam about not eating of the one tree, and after taking a good look at the tree, Eve samples its fruit. She likes how it tastes, that it is a "delight to the eyes," and that it is "to be desired to make one wise"; and she gives some of the tree's fruit to Adam. He seems to forget, at least momentarily, what God had told him about not eating of that particular tree, and he eats the fruit that Eve has given him. Then God appears.

After being questioned, Adam admits to God that he ate of the tree, but goes on to offer an excuse for his behavior: "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." God then asks Eve: "What is this that you have done?" And she makes an excuse for her behavior: "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate."

We now come to the real purpose and meaning of this very first story in the Bible about the human creature after he and she have been created. God punishes all three--the serpent, Eve, and Adam--for their behavior. From the beginning of human existence, God makes it plain to all of us--male and female--that we cannot go through life blaming others for our own behavior.

Certainly there are legitimate exceptions to all basic principles, and that is the case with taking responsibility for one's own actions. Sometimes there are circumstances or people over which we have no control that affect our lives, but, in my opinion, things have gotten way out of hand these days.

People of all ages are quick to blame someone or something else for their own actions or circumstances: their parents or siblings, a teacher or another student, a co-worker or boss, the other woman or man, the economy, the top one percent, big business, Wall Street, Obamacare, the government, the president, members of congress, the Democrats or the Republicans or the Tea Party members, the IRS, the Fed, Russia, leaders of foreign counties, and on and on the list goes. Let's be truthful with ourselves: that's the easy way out! It's a lot easier just to blame others than to buckle down and do something on our own to change our behavior or the circumstances we find ourselves in.

There's another relevant story about accepting responsibility in Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, chapter 16. Annually, the early Hebrew people placed their hands on a sacrificial goat, supposedly transferring the responsibility for their undesirable actions over the past year from themselves to a goat, and the goat was then driven into a "solitary land," to "the wilderness," to "Azazel," the Hebrew word for "scapegoat." [The King James Version uses the word "scapegoat," the meaning of the Hebrew word "Azazel," rather than the word itself. But ancient manuscripts found since the KJV and other older versions were published show that in the original Hebrew text the actual word "Azazel" was used. So whether you are reading an older or more recent version of the Bible, the concept of the scapegoat is the same: transferring from yourself the responsibility of your actions to someone or something else--placing the blame onto another.]

In today's society we use the word "scapegoat" without really understanding how it came about or its root meaning. Does any rational person really believe that he or she can transfer responsibility for behavior to another being and let the other being accept the consequences--as the ancient goat was driven into the wilderness to die? Does anyone really believe that personal responsibility can be scuffed off in that way?

It is time that we stop looking beyond ourselves to find someone else to point the finger at. We need to stop saying, "It's your fault." Instead, let's stand tall and strong, as individuals and as a people, and say, "It's my fault, and I'm going to fix it!" From the very beginning of human existence, that is what God has expected of us, and that is what all of us should expect and demand of ourselves.