When Satan asked Eve if God told her not to eat of the trees of the Garden of Eden, Eve replied, “yes, we can eat the fruit of the trees.” She left out the “freely” part from God’s words to Adam, “you may freely eat of all the trees of the Garden.” Then, as if she had remembered something she added in Genesis 3:3, 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.’” She seemed to have understood the prohibition properly. Many commentators said she went too far and was the first “legalist” in adding prohibitions that God did not legislate. She said not only should you not eat of that tree, but you shouldn’t even touch it. Hughes takes this view and says, “Eve magnified God’s strictness—’Just touch the tree, and zap!—you’re dead!’ Her comment suggested that God is so harsh that an inadvertent slip would bring death.” Then he uses a common illustration to explain what he means. This is something we can relate to. “A father says to his young daughter, ‘You and your friend Katie have been too noisy—so Katie will have to go home.’ Then his daughter runs to her mother crying, ‘Daddy says I can’t ever have Katie over again!’”[1] He concludes that when we don’t like a prohibition, we will magnify its strictness.

I think Pink is more accurate on this issue. He says, “…we do not agree with those who charge her with adding to God’s word in verse 3. For while the ‘neither shall ye touch it’ was not distinctly expressed in Genesis 2:17, nevertheless it was clearly and necessarily implied. How could Eve eat of the fruit without touching it? The one-act requires the other.” Pink then points out Jesus’ instructions following the sermon on the mount where he made it clear that murder begins in the mind with hatred. Adultery begins in the mind with lust. So, Pink concludes, “Eve, then, was quite right in concluding that the divine commandment forbidding them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil included not touching it, for the act of eating involves not only desire and intention but also touching, handling, plucking, and placing the fruit in the mouth.”[2]

Now, what about the short phrase, “Lest you die.” She left out another word that is often pointed out. God said you shall “surely” die. Exell is one of the strongest to argue that Eve diminished the words of God. Speaking of leaving out “surely” and replacing it with “lest,” he says that her words contain “An expression which implies a sort of chance, a contingency, a bare possibility; what might happen, or might not happen; what might happen soon, or might not happen for years. It is thus she puts a denunciation as express, as explicit, as language can furnish…[3] Even Spurgeon, the great preacher, seems to agree that Eve was lessoning the force of God’s words. He said, “Error commences in little departures from truth”.[4]George Whitefield says similar things in his sermons. In fact three out four resources I looked at said that Eve was introducing doubt into God’s proclamation of “certain” death. The most frequent comments on Eve’s answer to Satan are best summed up by Benson, who says, “She also added the words, ‘neither shall ye touch it,’ though God had not required this. So she subtracted from God’s permission and added to His prohibition.  In the third place, she downplayed the penalty for disobedience. God had said, ‘In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,’ but Eve softened this to ‘lest ye die.’”[5] Duffield also agrees. He says, “The sharp point of the Spirit’s sword was dulled, suggesting that there was only a possibility that they might die.”[6] My point with all these quotes is that Eve gets an unfair rap by the commentators. They add ideas that are not actually contained in the text itself. Again, Pink takes more kindly approach to understanding Eve. He quotes from Gill, who agrees with him: “Gill also states that Eve’s employment of the ‘lest’ is not at all conclusive that she expressed any doubt.” So, Pink concludes, “We therefore prefer to leave it as an open question.”  He also adds, “Many have supposed she was toning down the Lord’s ‘thou shalt surely die.’ They may be right, but we are not at all sure. ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry’ (Ps. 2:12) is obviously not the language of uncertainty.”[7]

[1] Hughes, R. Kent. 2004. Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Pink, Arthur W. 2005. Gleanings in the Scriptures: Man’s Total Depravity. Logos Bible Software.

[3] Exell, Joseph S. n.d. The Biblical Illustrator: Genesis. Vol. 1. The Biblical Illustrator. London: James Nisbet & Co.

[4] Spurgeon, C. H. 1964. The Interpreter: Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[5] Benson, Clarence Herbert. 2003. Biblical Faith: Doctrines Every Christian Should Know. Biblical Essentials Series. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[6] Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. 1983. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College.

[7] Pink, Arthur W. 2005. Gleanings in the Scriptures: Man’s Total Depravity. Logos Bible Software.