Saturday, June 12, 2010

Geerhardus Vos Breaks Down Eve's Temptation

"Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16).

In his Biblical Theology, Geerhardus Vos ventures into an area where I as a rookie theologian have never seen dealt with in a detailed fashion. The first thing of interest which Vos touches on is the distinction between Adam's being "tempted" and Adam's being on "probation." As Vos says, the reason why it is not proper to say that "God tempted" Adam (aside from the impossibility, viz. James 1:13) is because the situation in Eden before the fall was "probation." What is the difference between "temptation" and "probation" is that "behind the probation lies a good, behind the temptation an evil." Whereas confirmation in grace for Adam was the good design by God in Adam's probation, the Devil is said to have tempted Adam and Eve because he had evil designs in his proposition to our Federal Head, Adam.

For me, this was a helpful discussion, as I have often wondered in the back of my mind if the situation with the tree and God's prohibition of the tree to our parents was not itself a temptation. Or more correctly, I have often wondered why this was not a temptation.

By Vos' estimate, Satan chose to tempt Eve based on the only consideration which distinguished her from Adam: "that the woman had not personally received the prohibition from God, as Adam had." This is a clever insight, because as Vos points out in a moment, Eve herself may have faced an epistimological dilemma revolving around the question of what God really said.

Vos divides the temptation into two stages:

-The first stage was inducement of serious doubt in Eve.
-The second stage was when doubt gave way to an all-out charge by the serpent against the honesty of God.

In the first stage, as Vos observes, the serpent purposely mis-states God's command. "Has God said you may not eat of any tree?" Eve perceived this error and corrected it.

He further points out that Eve inaccurately quotes the divine prohibition: "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die." Of this Vos says, "[I]n the more or less indignant form of this denial there already shines through that the woman had begun to entertain the possibility of God's restricting her too severely." So we see the craftiness of the serpent already at work. At this point, the salesman has his foot in the door.

Here, then, comes the second stage of the temptation where Eve is now open to hearing an all-out denial of the truthfulness of God. The serpent says, "You will not surely die." Vos points out that if the serpent had led off with this blasphemous thought, Eve would have repudiated the serpent and sent him away. All of the work in stage one was done by the serpent to prepare Eve for his monstrous charge.

The serpent further deepened the lie by putting forth the half truth: "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." As Vos restates the serpent's charge: "God is one whose motives make His word unreliable. He lies from selfishness."

After these two stages of the serpent's temptation, his work is now done. The rest of the events took place within Eve's heart.
In part at least, the pivotal motive of the act was identical with the pivotal motive that gave strength to the temptation. It has been strikingly observed that the woman in yielding to this thought virtually put the tempter in the place of God. It was God who had beneficent purposes for man, the serpent had malicious designs. The woman acts on the supposition that God's intent is unfriendly, whilst Satan is animated with the desire to promote her well-being. [My emphasis]

What strikes me most deeply about all of this is the profoundly personal nature of Eve's sin. By taking the fruit, Eve was calling God a selfish liar who had deceived her. It is not only that Eve disobeyed God, but that she dishonored him by calling the serpent good and the Most Holy evil. The taking of the fruit was a profoundly blasphemous act; not merely a "mistake" or an "error." This blasphemy is present in every one of us still. What a pity that so much of the church tends to think of the fall and of original sin (if they believe in it at all) in terms of disease, as though sin was simply a parasite which God is trying desperately to kill. Sin lies in the inclination of the heart; it is blasphemy, sin is hatred of God, sin is calling God a liar every time it manifests itself. It is a deeply personal attack on the honor, the truthfulness, and the holiness of God. God's just response to this must be wrath and anger, or else He does not value His name, and if He does not value His own name then He is an idolator, and if God is an idolator, then Satan was right.

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