The Adam and Eve story is so familiar that, when artists depict it, they don’t have to show much to bring it to someone’s mind. Even with my own extremely limited art skills, I could easily sketch the story on a piece of paper so that anyone would be able to identify it. A stick figure of a man standing next to a woman holding an “apple” might be enough. If need be, I could add some fig leaves in relevant places, draw a slithery serpent and a tree, and I’d be done.
The entire Adam and Eve story in Genesis is brief, which leaves room for people to use the story as they see fit. And what a dramatic story it is! It has everything: high stakes, forbidden desire, suspense, deception, tragedy, and dramatic action. When I wrote 8 Old Testament Passages That Changed the World (The Foundry Publishing, 2021), I spent time looking at the cultural and spiritual impact of the Adam and Eve story and seven others on art, music, literature, advertising, film, and people’s lives.
Advertisers love the story of Adam and Eve. It has shown up in commercials and print ads for decades. For Christians, the story is a tragedy, with Adam and Eve’s sin ushering in the fall of humanity, from which the world is still reeling. But for advertisers, the surrender to desire is something else entirely. It is a triumph of sales skill. It is about getting people to give in to a temptation and pay whatever cost is necessary to acquire what the salesperson is offering. Far from being tragic, it’s a success! Advertisers have used Adam and Eve to sell everything from liquor to potato chips. In the 1970s, for example, ads for Eve cigarettes featured the slogan, “There’s a little Eve in every woman.” Eve’s acquiescence to temptation is presented not as a moral failure but as a daring, admirable choice. In these ads and others that use this theme, succumbing to temptation is always depicted as a good thing. Consuming the product leaves Adam and Eve happy, fulfilled, somehow more satisfied—just as the serpent in Genesis said they would be. The tragic aftermath that appears in Genesis 3 is never shown in advertising.
Even though advertisers present the exact opposite message of the biblical Adam and Eve story, those advertisers do understand how temptation works. Tempting potential buyers is their business. No story illustrates the principles of temptation better than the Adam and Eve story, which is what makes it so popular. Here are some of the insights into temptation this story offers:
Did God really say . . . ? Rationalization makes temptation hard to resist. God creates Eve in Genesis 2:22, and only four verses later, the serpent is already tempting her to eat the fruit. We don’t know how much time elapses between her creation and her temptation, but when that temptation comes, she is up against a masterful tempter. Genesis 3:1 describes the serpent as “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.” Temptation is not going to arrive in a form that is easy to resist. The serpent does not begin with a direct appeal to Eve that she should eat from the forbidden tree. No, he starts with an innocent-sounding question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).
Notice the purpose of those first words. How much of our own rationalization follows that same pattern? To rationalize a wrong behavior, the first step is to create doubt about whether it is actually wrong. Did God really say we can’t do that? Is it really wrong? Does God really care about it? God was very clear: You may not eat from that one tree. There is no wiggle room, no lack of clarity. Eve could shut down the conversation right then. The serpent also deliberately falsifies and exaggerates what God said. God didn’t say they couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden—just that one. Eve’s answer to the serpent is also inaccurate, claiming that God said they could not even touch the tree, even though God gave instructions only about eating from it. To rationalize a behavior, your conscience will accept it more easily if you start by taking baby steps away from the truth. Eve has set a dangerous course, but the serpent still has more work to do.
Why can’t you eat the fruit? You deserve it. The lure of sin’s false promises makes temptation hard to resist. When Eve tells the serpent that God has told them they will die if they eat the fruit, the serpent moves to a more direct contradiction: “You will not certainly die. . . . For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4, 5). Eat the fruit and enjoy godlike powers! Like any good advertiser, the serpent offers the most dramatic benefit imaginable. Furthermore, he points out that God knows this to be true. God is keeping that power from Eve. Why shouldn’t she enjoy it? Eve agrees. She eats the fruit and offers it to her husband, who also eats, and humanity changes forever.
All of us face temptation, and all of us have fallen to it at one time or another. But Christ offers hope—both in saving us from our sin and in giving us strength in the midst of temptation to fight it.
Feel guilty? Try cover-up and blame to soothe your conscience. Adam and Eve soon regret their decision. They eat the fruit in Genesis 3:6, and their regret starts in the very next verse. They try to ease their consciences with the same tools we use today: cover-up and blame. They realize their nakedness, which now feels shameful, and they cover up with fig leaves. Even today, the metaphorical idea of putting a fig leaf over something means to hide the truth or conceal something with a lame excuse or cover story. They also try hiding from God, but that doesn’t work any better for them than it does for us today. He knows where they are, and he knows what they did. When those techniques don’t work, they try blaming others. When God asks Adam whether he ate the fruit, Adam says, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). In that one statement, Adam manages to blame not only Eve but also God! God gives Eve a chance to come clean, but even though she admits her sin, she can’t resist resorting to some blame: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).
All of us face temptation, and all of us have fallen to it at one time or another. But Christ offers hope—both in saving us from our sin and in giving us strength in the midst of temptation to fight it. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Recognizing the sneaky techniques of the crafty tempter is half the battle.