Genesis 3:1–7 (ESV)
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
I have noticed that a far too common problem in pastoral counseling grows out a failure to (1) properly evaluate the truthfulness of factual assertions, and/or (2) properly interpret the evidence they have ascertained. This can result in a counselor doing and saying this from ignorance which results in situations they would never have permitted if it took place before them.
The inability and failure of human beings in respect to knowing the truth and evaluating the truth is a common theme throughout the Bible. The short story of the Fall so rich in other observations, also helps us with the present issue of knowledge and interpretation.
First, the reporter upon whom Eve relied is told to be “subtle” or “crafty”. When our evidence comes from an unreliable narrator, we are in danger of making an error. Eve does not know that the Serpent was crafty. But we often do not know how to rightly evaluate those from whom we gain information. (I assume we cannot fault Eve for speaking with a snake.)
When we speak with someone, we should hold our opinions as to their ability and truthfulness lightly. We may need to change our conclusions and must be willing to do so. Rarely does someone who will cause us to error either intentionally or negligently announce their defect. Con men do not begin with “I’m going to lie to you.” Nor do people who make mistakes start off with “You shouldn’t trust me.” In the case of negligence, the person may actually think themselves to be telling accurate facts.
Second, Eve fails to recognize the trap for her, “Did God actually say.” The most effective way to recognize a lie is when it contradicts something else we have reason to know is true. (You can also recognize a lie when someone contradicts their own prior statements.) If someone insists that the sky is red and the sun is purple, we have no reason to believe them because it contradicts something we already know to be true.
The Serpent avoids the direct attack by asking a question. This puts the burden on Eve, her memory and the degree to which she believes Adam. God gave the commandment to Adam. Presumably, Adam told the command to Eve. When the Serpent asks his question, he is asking Eve for the grounding of her current knowledge. This causes her to stumble.
Eve repeats the command with what appears to be a slight modification of the rule.
Third, the Serpent moves Eve yet again: His job is to cause her to distrust the existing knowledge. He tells her plainly that God is wrong/or, perhaps you don’t really understand what is going on her.
Fourth, Eve eats and does not die. She has used the wrong basis upon which to evaluate the truth. She used a subjective evaluation (it did not hurt me). Her test was wrong, because the commandment was given to Adam. And, it seems that the one who in particular must eat was Adam. (1) the commandment was given to Adam. (2) Romans 5 makes Christ’s death and resurrection the parallel of Adam’s sin. (3) According to the text, it appears the eating had no effect until Adam ate.
For Eve, the measure of truth was whether God had actually given the commandment. The Serpent shifts the fact over to Eve’s memory and the transmission of the evidence to her (Adam repeating the commandment). She then shifts the interpretation of the words to a test as to whether she dropped dead instantly or not.
We do something similar in evaluating the truth. We can easily apply the wrong test to determine the truth (how we feel, how the other person appears, et cetera). We can also misinterpret facts when they come to us. She misinterpreted her not dying instantly as meaning that there was no commandment, or that God had misled her. She was wrong which seems to have encouraged Adam to misinterpret the information, leading to sorrow for every human beings since.