Eve’s Venial Sin & the Mortal Sin of Protestantism: Part 1 – The Argument

The following is Essay 07 of a new essay series that I am working on titled “The Mortal Sin of Protestantism: How Eve Proves the Doctrine of Venial Sin”. Please note that while I am, in fact, very sympathetic to Protestantism, and I am arguably more Protestant than Catholic in personality, when it comes to the matter of mortal and venial sin–which is a matter that I have been thinking about for some time now–I simply see the arguments falling on the side of the Catholic doctrine of mortal and venial sin. Hence this essay series. 

Having examined various philosophical, historical, and scriptural reasons for why the doctrine of mortal and venial sin is in-line with both God-given human reason as well as with certain scriptural passages, it is now time to examine the core argument of this work. And this core argument revolves around the issue of whether or not the Biblical ‘Adam and Eve’ narrative—a narrative which this work assumes most readers are familiar with—provides Christians with a clear scriptural example of something like the Catholic doctrine of mortal and venial sin. And as this work contends, that narrative does indeed provide Christians with just such an example, but in order to see why this is the case, a number of scriptural facts need to be considered.

Scriptural Fact 1 – The Sinless Circumstances of Adam and Eve

The first point to note is that, as recorded in the Book of Genesis and reflected in the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans, the initial portion of the Adam and Eve narrative is situated in a time when sin, and hence spiritual death, had not yet entered the world. As such, that narrative is set in a unique situation where there is no sin and where the first sin committed will bring spiritual death to humankind. Thus, this unique circumstance is precisely the type of situation that is needed to determine whether there is a distinction between sins, and if there is such a distinction, then it can also help to determine whether that distinction matches the distinction found in the doctrine of mortal and venial sin.

And so, the critical thing to remember from this scriptural fact is that the Adam and Eve narrative is the one time in the Bible where there is, as of yet, no sin; consequently, it is, from a scriptural perspective, the perfect time to examine the scriptures to see if a person, like Eve, can sin, and yet not have that sin lead to spiritual death.

Scriptural Fact 2 – Eve Sinned When She Allowed Herself to be Deceived

The second scriptural fact of critical importance is to note that Eve did indeed allow herself to be deceived, and that when she was deceived, she sinned. And 1 Timothy 2:13-14 makes this fact plain when it says the following:

[Quote] For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, 1 Timothy 2:13-14, New International Version]

And Eve’s sin for being deceived is made even more explicit in the New American Standard Bible translation of 1 Timothy 12:14 when it says that “…it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

So it is clear that Eve, in allowing herself to be deceived, became a sinner; she sinned, and that is scripturally undeniable.

Scriptural Fact 3 – Eve was Deceived before Adam Ate the Forbidden Fruit

The third point to note is that Eve was not only deceived before Adam ate the forbidden fruit, but she also touched and ate the forbidden fruit before Adam did as well. Indeed, this fact is recorded in Genesis 3:1-13:

[Quote] Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 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 desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [Unquote, bold emphasis added, Genesis 3:1-13, New American Standard Bible]

So it is undeniable that Eve was deceived, then touched, and then ate the forbidden fruit all before Adam did. The temporal sequence of these events is thus not in dispute.

Scriptural Conclusion 1 – Eve Sinned before Adam

At this point, it is worth stopping to note that a firm and undeniable scriptural conclusion can now be reached: namely, that in the sinless state in paradise, Eve sinned before Adam, and thus the first human sin was committed by Eve, not Adam. Eve sinned first, and only after she sinned did Adam sin.

Note as well that this first scriptural conclusion follows logically and inescapably from the aforementioned scriptural facts, for if Eve did sin due to allowing herself to be deceived—as 1 Timothy 2:13-14 clearly teaches—and if Eve’s sinful deception clearly occurred before Adam’s sin, then Eve’s transgression was the first sin committed by any human being.

Furthermore, as a side issue, note that even if someone wished to claim that Eve’s transgression was not due to her being deceived—although it is hard to see how this could be argued in light of 1 Timothy 2:13-14—it would nevertheless still be the case that scripture clearly teaches that Eve touched and ate the forbidden fruit before Adam did. And so, even in this case, the fact is that Eve indisputably sinned in some way before Adam did, whether through allowing herself to be deceived or through touching and eating the forbidden fruit before Adam did.

Scriptural Fact 4 – Death Came through Adam, not Eve

Having established that scripture clearly shows that Eve was actually the first human being to have ever sinned, it is now critical to note that scripture also clearly teaches that the sin that led to death came into the world through Adam, not through Eve. Indeed, in Romans 5:12-21, the Apostle Paul says the following:

[Quote] Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass [or, alternatively, ‘the trespass of one’] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness [or, alternatively, ‘the act of righteousness of one’] leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, Romans 5:12-21, English Standard Version]

Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, the following is also written:

[Quote] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, English Standard Version]

As these verses attest beyond a reasonable doubt, the fact is that scripture clearly and repeatedly affirms that sin entered the world through the trespass of one man; and these verses also specifically note that it was the sin of this one man which is what brought death into the world. Furthermore, note that the Apostle Paul mentions nothing about a female in these passages, nor does he make any claim that it was a female’s sin which brought death into the world. So Adam, not Eve, was responsible for death entering the world through his one sin, and the Apostle Paul makes this point clear.

Scriptural Fact 5 – Spiritual Death, Not Just Physical Death

Now, it should be noted that the death that the Apostle Paul is speaking of in Romans 5 ultimately concerns spiritual death—meaning eternal separation from God—not just physical death. Indeed, when that passage is being read, the full context, as well as certain key words—such as the words ‘eternal life’ in Romans 5:21—are clearly speaking of eternal life and death, as well as eternal judgement and condemnation. Thus, those passages are not just about physical death, but about spiritual death. So again, the Apostle Paul is thus saying that condemnation and spiritual death was brought into the world through the sin of one man, namely Adam. Thus, Adam’s sin, as recorded in Genesis 3, immediately leads to Adam and Eve’s spiritual death, not just to their physical death.

And note that numerous Protestant sources agree with this claim. For example, the popular Protestant website ‘gotquestions.org’, in an article titled “What is spiritual death?”—accessed on the 27th of June 2017—makes the following statement:

[Quote] Death is separation. A physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death, which is of greater significance, is the separation of the soul from God. In Genesis 2:17, God tells Adam that in the day he eats of the forbidden fruit he will “surely die.” Adam does fall, but his physical death does not occur immediately; God must have had another type of death in mind—spiritual death. This separation from God is exactly what we see in Genesis 3:8. When Adam and Eve heard the voice of the Lord, they “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.” The fellowship had been broken. They were spiritually dead. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, https://www.gotquestions.org/spiritual-death.html%5D

Furthermore, in another article titled “Why do I face the consequences of Adam’s sin when I did not eat the fruit?”—also accessed on the 27th of June 2017—the same website adds the following:

[Quote] The Bible says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). It was through Adam that sin entered the world. When Adam sinned, he immediately died spiritually—his relationship with God was broken—and he also began dying physically—his body began the process of growing old and dying. From that point on, every person born has inherited Adam’s sin nature and suffered the same consequences of spiritual and physical death. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, https://www.gotquestions.org/I-did-not-eat-the-fruit.html%5D

Notice how in both of these quotes, this Protestant source clearly affirms that Adam and Eve died spiritually at the Fall. Note as well how the second quotation affirms that sin entered the world through Adam, not Eve. As such, this Protestant source confirms two main points of this essay: namely, that sin entered the world through Adam and that Adam’s sin led to spiritual death, not just physical death.

Next, consider the Protestant website ‘whatchristianswanttoknow.com’. In an article titled “What Does the Bible Say About Death? Five Important Facts”—accessed on the 27th of June 2017—the article’s author Robert Driskell says the following:

[Quote] The two meanings of the word ‘death’ we will focus on in this article are ‘physical death’ and ‘spiritual death’.  Many times, they are connected in the biblical record.  Physical death is when our mortal bodies cease to function.  Spiritual death is when our spirits are separated, temporarily or permanently, from the life-giving presence of God’s Holy Spirit.  Adam and Eve experienced both types of death when they listened to the serpent and disobeyed God.  Spiritual death was instantaneous and they began to die physically when their access to the tree of life was cut off (Genesis 3:22-24). [Unquote, bold emphasis added, http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/what-does-the-bible-say-about-death-five-important-facts/#ixzz4lC8Wyyoj%5D

Again, this quotation affirms that Adam and Eve died spiritually upon sinning, not just physically.

Finally, consider that even Young-Earth Creationist sources, such as the website ‘answersingenesis.org’, support the idea that Adam and Eve died spiritually at the Fall. Indeed, in a May 2nd, 2007 article titled “Genesis 2:17 – ‘You Shall Surely Die’”, Dr. Terry Mortenson says the following:

[Quote] Clearly in the context of Genesis 3, Adam and Eve died spiritually instantly—they were separated from God and hid themselves. Their relationship with God was broken. But in Romans 5:12 we see in context that Paul is clearly speaking of physical death (Jesus’ physical death, verses 8–10, and other men’s physical death, in verse 14). We also find the same comparison of physical death and physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20–22. So both spiritual death and physical death are the consequences of Adam’s fall. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, https://answersingenesis.org/death-before-sin/genesis-2-17-you-shall-surely-die/%5D

Now, whether you agree with the above author’s exegesis of Romans 5 or not is besides the point for this discussion; the point is that even Young-Earth Creationists admit that Genesis 3 is clearly referring to spiritual death, even if it is referring to physical death as well.

So, all these different Protestant sources agree that Adam’s sin led to spiritual death, and that is the key point to note moving forward.

The Protestant Problem

Now, once all the above information is taken together, an extremely serious problem arises for Protestant theology. Remember, from Essay 2 of this essay series, that Protestants teach that all sins, no matter how small, deserve eternal and spiritual death. Indeed, remember that in their article “Does the Bible teach mortal and venial sin?”—which was accessed on the 24th of April 2017—the Protestant website ‘gotquestions.org’ stated the following:

[Quote] Over and against the concepts of mortal and venial sin, the Bible does not state that some sins are worthy of eternal death whereas others are not. All sins are mortal sins in that even one sin makes the offender worthy of eternal separation from God. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, https://www.gotquestions.org/mortal-sin-venial.html%5D

And the Westminster Confession of Faith also states the following:

[Quote] Chapter 6, Point 6 – Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

Chapter 15, Point 4 – As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds3.iv.xvii.ii.html%5D

And finally, the 10th of November 2011 ‘calledtocommunion.com’ article by former-Protestant-turned-Catholic Dr. Bryan Cross titled “Why John Calvin did not Recognize the Distinction Between Moral and Venial Sin”—which was accessed on the 24th of April 2017—stated the following as well:

[Quote] John Calvin rejected the distinction between mortal and venial sin, and Protestantism has largely followed Calvin on this point. … For Calvin, all sin is a rebellion against God’s law, and therefore deserving of eternal punishment. … The substance of Calvin’s argument is that all sin is a violation of God’s law, and is therefore a rebellion against the will of God. But the wages of any rebellion against God’s will is eternal death, and therefore all sin is mortal sin. [Unquote, bold emphasis added, http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/11/why-john-calvin-did-not-recognize-the-distinction-between-mortal-and-venial-sin/%5D

So again, from these sources, it is clear that nearly all Protestants hold that any and all sins, no matter how small, lead to spiritual death and eternal condemnation.

Yet it is here where the problems for the Protestant arise, for as has been conclusively demonstrated above, Eve did sin, and she sinned before Adam did, and yet her sin did not lead to spiritual death or separation from God; after all, remember that the Apostle Paul says that spiritual death and separation from God was brought into the world by one man’s sin, not one woman’s sin. And so, what this means is that if Protestant theology— as stated above—was correct, then it should have been Eve’s sin which should have immediately brought spiritual and/or physical death into the world even before Adam had a chance to sin. Indeed, if every sin, no matter how small, is worthy of spiritual death and damnation, as is stated by the Protestant texts above, then Eve’s sin, no matter how small it was, should have been the sin to bring spiritual death into the world, for it was the first sin that was ever committed by a human being. And yet, Eve’s sin did not bring spiritual death into the world. But this then means that there is at least one sin which, even though committed, does not lead to spiritual death (nor even to physical death). Consequently, the Protestant theological claims noted above are wrong, for Eve’s sin is a clear Biblical example of a sin that was committed, and yet which did not lead to spiritual death nor to separation from God. And note how radical this point actually is: it means that if the Apostle Paul is correct that spiritual death entered the world through one man, meaning Adam, then had Adam rejected the forbidden fruit from Eve, then Adam and Eve could still potentially be in an unfallen world, even though Eve had nevertheless already sinned! It means that Adam and Eve could potentially have remained unseparated from God and still innocent even though Eve sinned. And Protestant theology simply has no coherent or consistent way to account for this fact given that Protestant theology claims that all sins, no matter how small, warrant spiritual death and a separation from God.

In fact, as per Genesis 3:7, there is even further support for the above idea given that the eyes of Adam and Eve are not even opened to their sin and their nakedness until after Adam eats the forbidden fruit; but when Eve was deceived and ate the fruit, and thus sinned, Adam and Eve still remained innocent and did not know of their sin. What this shows is that Eve’s being deceived, though it was a sin, was not a sin that brought spiritual death into the world, nor was it a sin that was sufficient to make Adam and Eve lose her innocence in paradise, for their eyes were not opened even though Eve had sinned. Again, Protestant theology has no plausible way to account for this fact, for as the Westminster Confession noted above says: “Every sin…being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner…” But Eve did not feel guilt, or know of her guilt, when she sinned; only after Adam sinned did she then feel guilty alongside Adam. Thus, Eve’s sin neither opened her eyes to her guilt nor brought spiritual death to the world, which is in contravention of the Protestant idea that every sin, no matter how small, brings forth guilt and spiritual death.

In the end, the fact is that Eve’s sin is a clear Biblical example of a sin which did not lead to separation from God or spiritual death. It was committed, and yet no eternal consequences occurred because of it. And Protestants, with their idea that all sins lead to spiritual death, cannot coherently or consistently account for this fact.

The Catholic Solution

Whereas the Protestant, given his theology, cannot coherently account for the fact that Eve’s sin did not lead to spiritual death, the Catholic can. Why? Because the doctrine of mortal and venial sin, which is a Catholic doctrine, can readily account for the difference between Adam’s sin and Eve’s sin. Indeed, if Eve’s sin was just venial in nature, then it would not lead to spiritual death, which is precisely what scripture tells us it did not lead to. By contrast, if Adam’s sin was mortal in nature, then it would lead to spiritual death, thus causing spiritual death to enter the world. And again, according to the scriptures, that is exactly what occurred. Therefore, something like the doctrine of mortal and venial sin can easily, coherently, and consistently account for why Eve’s sin did not lead to spiritual death but Adam’s sin did. And unless something like the doctrine of mortal and venial sin is adopted, there is no reasonable way to reconcile the fact that Eve sinned before Adam, and yet it was only Adam’s sin which brought spiritual death into the world.

But if the doctrine of mortal and venial sin does potentially solve the problem of why Eve’s sin did not bring spiritual death into the world, then an entirely new set of questions can be asked in light of this solution. For example, why was Eve’s sin only venial and yet Adam’s sin was mortal? What are the differences between their sins that accounts for the fact that one of their sins was deemed to be venial and the other sin was considered mortal? And do the differences between Eve’s sin and Adam’s sin actually match the criteria laid out by Catholic doctrine concerning why a sin might be considered venial rather than mortal?

Now, if a plausible answer cannot be given to the aforementioned questions, then the mortal and venial sin solution to this whole problem can be called into question. At the very least, if the aforementioned questions cannot be coherently answered, then the mortal and venial sin solution to this problem will not be as certain as it otherwise might be. So hopefully these questions can be coherently answered by the Catholic proponent of mortal and venial sin! And, in fact, they can be. Indeed, in the Genesis account, there are a number of significant differences between Eve’s sin and Adam’s sin which match the criteria required to make one sin mortal and the other venial, thereby offering even more support to the mortal and venial sin solution to the problem of Eve’s sin.

The Difference Between Mortal and Venial Sin

Now, in any discussion concerning the doctrine of mortal and venial sin, the first thing that needs to be understood is what makes one sin mortal and another venial. And this determination is made by answering three main questions, which are the following:

Question 1:  Did the sin under consideration involve a grave matter, such as, for example, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments?

Question 2:  Was the sin under consideration committed with full knowledge and awareness of the sinful act and the gravity of the offence?

Question 3:  Was the sin under consideration committed with deliberate and complete consent?

If all of the above conditions are met, then a sin is mortal, and leads to spiritual death and eternal separation from God. However, if the above conditions are not all met, then a sin could just be venial, and thus not lead to spiritual death. And, interestingly enough, when it comes to the differences between the sin of Adam and the sin of Eve, there are significant differences in all three of these areas which clearly account for why Eve’s sin is just venial in nature, and yet Adam’s sin is mortal.

Difference 1 – Eve’s Sin Did Not Necessarily Involve a Grave Matter

One of the most interesting things about the Adam and Eve narrative is that people often assume that the divine commandment not to eat from the forbidden fruit applied to Eve as well as Adam, or they assume that that commandment applied to both Adam and Eve equally. However, there is nothing in the Genesis text to indicate that this is the case. Indeed, Eve may have never been commanded by God specifically not to eat the forbidden fruit. After all, while Eve, as per Genesis 3:3, had obviously been told that God provided instructions not to eat from the forbidden tree, it is nevertheless the case that there is nothing in the text which shows that God was the one who specifically gave Eve that command; in fact, as per Genesis 2:15-23, Eve was not even created when God explicitly gave that command to Adam. So, it is entirely possible that God’s commandment not to eat the forbidden fruit was only given by God to Adam, and that it was then Adam who gave the commandment to Eve. But a commandment directly from God would be different in force and gravity than a command from another human being. Thus, it could be that Eve’s sin was venial because she was breaking a commandment given to her only by Adam rather than breaking one of God’s direct commandments, and this fact would have made her offence substantially less grave. Adam, by contrast, was breaking a commandment given directly by God, which would be a very grave offence.

Furthermore, it should be noted that it is also possible that the commandment not to eat the forbidden fruit did not even apply to Eve. After all, God, being the creator and sustainer of all, could have issued a commandment specifically forbidding Adam from eating the forbidden fruit while not forbidding Eve from doing so; thus, eating the forbidden fruit would only have been forbidden for Adam but not for Eve. This explanation would account for why God never explicitly commands Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit, thereby leaving the option up that Adam was the one who mistakenly tells Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit even though the commandment does not actually apply to her. If this was the case, then Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit was not a sin at all; rather, it was the fact that she allowed herself to be deceived which was her sin, and this is what 1 Timothy 2:13-14 affirms.

Also note that when God punishes both Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:13-20, God explicitly condemns Adam for having broken His commandment, but God makes no mention of Eve having broken His commandment. And this point lends further support to the idea that the commandment either did not apply to Eve or that it was a commandment provided to her by Adam, not God Himself. Furthermore, and as noted above, scripture affirms that Eve’s sin was in allowing herself to be deceived, not necessarily in eating the forbidden fruit, which, as per Genesis 3:17, is clearly Adam’s sin. But this point again supports the idea that Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit was not necessarily a sin for her, even though it was for Adam.

In the end, given that it is not clear that Eve was commanded by God not to the forbidden fruit, and given that that instruction may have been provided by Adam rather than by God, a plausible case can thus be made that Eve’s sin did not concern a grave matter, as Adam’s sin did. And this would be one of the reasons why Eve’s sin was venial, whereas Adam’s sin was not. But even if a person is not convinced of this specific difference, there are still other differences to consider.

Difference 2 – A Lack of Full Knowledge and Awareness of the Gravity of the Sin

For a sin to be mortal, the individual committing the sin must have full knowledge and awareness of the gravity of the sin itself. Without this full knowledge and awareness, the personal responsibility for a sin is diminished and sometimes even removed. And note that even in our own Western justice systems, we understand the rationality of this idea. For example, the police do not arrest and charge four-year-old children for theft, because it is obvious that such children do not have a full or proper grasp of the illegality and immorality of the act that they have committed. Or consider that the police and the courts will often not charge or convict an adult male who has been accused of sexual assault with a female teenager if the female positively deceived the adult male about her age and if the adult male took every reasonable action necessary to confirm her claim, and if the claim would appear reasonable to a reasonable person (for example, perhaps the female teenager clearly looked over eighteen, had fake identification with a fake age on it, was in a bar where only people over eighteen are allowed, had friends that claimed that she was over eighteen, and so on). Thus, the very deception of the female teenager removed the full knowledge and awareness of the gravity of the offence from the adult male’s mind, which is the only reason that he committed the offence in question; but because of this lack of knowledge and full awareness concerning what he was actually doing, the adult male is not considered responsible for the offence itself. So even in our daily lives, a lack of knowledge and awareness concerning an offence can lessen the responsibility for that offence, and sometimes even remove the responsibility entirely.

Now, in the case of Eve, the situation is parallel to the illustration noted above. Indeed, as per Genesis 3:13 and 1 Timothy 2:14, Eve was deceived. This is indisputable. And she was deceived by the serpent, who is taken to be Satan, the master of lies and deception. So this was not a minor or an easily spotted deception. Consequently, it is quite reasonable to believe that the deception that Eve suffered may have diminished her full knowledge and awareness of the gravity of the offence that she was committing, thereby making her sin venial rather than mortal. Furthermore, note that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 1860, states that “[t]he promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offence, as can external pressures and pathological disorders” (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive /catechism/p3s1c1a8.htm). Well, as stated, in being deceived by the devil himself, Eve clearly had some serious external pressure being placed on her.

In contrast to Eve, Genesis records nothing about Adam being deceived. In fact, as per 1 Timothy 2:14, scripture clearly affirms that Adam was not deceived like Eve was. Furthermore, it is indisputable that Adam was given the particular commandment not to eat the forbidden fruit directly from God, and thus Adam had full knowledge and awareness of this commandment. Thus, Adam took the forbidden fruit and ate it with full knowledge and awareness of what he was doing. So, whereas a case could be made that Eve was deceived to the point that her knowledge and awareness of the gravity of the sin was substantially diminished, the same cannot be said for Adam.

And so, in terms of the criteria of knowledge and awareness of the sin itself, it is clear that there is a difference between Eve and Adam. And this difference is itself sufficient to show why Eve’s sin would be considered venial whereas Adam’s sin would be considered mortal.

Difference 3 – There Is a Question About Deliberate and Complete Consent

Finally, there is the issue of consent. Think, for example, of the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter; by definition, the crime in the former case includes the complete consent of the murderer, whereas in the latter case, it does not. This is why society treats the two crimes differently. Indeed, in a manslaughter case, emotions and passions are often involved which cloud a person’s judgement and which lead to the undesired and unintentional consequence that someone is killed; now, the fact that emotions and passions played a part does not mean that the killer is let-off for his crime, but it does mean that the punishment for manslaughter is less than that of murder because the person’s full consent and intention to kill is lacking in the case of manslaughter. Or think of a case where a man robs a bank because kidnappers have taken his family and are threatening to kill the family if the man does not rob the bank. In such a case, because the man’s consent has been severely compromised, he is deemed innocent of the crime of robbery because he had no reasonable choice in the matter. His consent was removed, and so his guilt for the crime was removed as well. And so, it is clear that a person’s free and deliberate consent is a key aspect used to determine the extent to which a person is actually guilty of an offence; it is also used to determine how severely a person should be punished for a particular offence.

Now, in the case of mortal and venial sin, the issue of consent plays a part as well. Again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 1860, states that “[t]he promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offence…”. So, in the Catholic doctrine, passions and emotions can reduce the aspect of full consent when it comes to sin. And in the case of Adam and Eve, passions and emotions do play a part. For example, Genesis 3:6 of the New American Standard Bible states that: “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 desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate”. This passage affirms that Eve was prompted by feelings and passions rather than by rational thought. Indeed, Eve is moved by her taste and drive for food, and by the fact that the fruit was visually appealing, and by the fact that she could be made wise through the eating of the fruit. All these desires involve passions, feelings, and emotions. By contrast, and as the above scriptural verse also shows, Adam was not moved by passions like Eve was. Rather, Adam simply took the fruit and ate it. There is no record that Adam was moved by his passions in this case.

So, in terms of consent, there is a clear difference between Adam and Eve. Eve was moved by her passions and emotions, which could have potentially reduced her culpability for her sin; Adam, however, was not influenced in the same manner, and so Adam bore the full weight of his sin.

Considering All the Differences

So, in the end, the Adam and Eve narrative does indeed meet all the criteria necessary to explain why Adam’s sin would be considered mortal whereas Eve’s sin would be considered venial. After all, as the Genesis narrative shows, a very strong case can be made that Eve’s sin may not have concerned a grave matter, and it was not done with full knowledge or awareness, and Eve’s consent was reduced. For all these reasons, it is very easy to see how Eve’s sin could be considered a venial sin under the requirements of Catholic doctrine. At the same time, Adam’s sin indisputably concerned a grave matter, and it was done with full knowledge and awareness, and it also had Adam’s full consent. Thus, again, as per Catholic doctrine, it is easy to see why Adam’s sin would be considered mortal rather than venial.

Consequently, far from contradicting the requirements of the doctrine of mortal and venial sin, the Genesis narrative actually records certain points and events which fully support the doctrine of mortal and venial sin, and which explains and justifies why Adam’s sin was mortal but Eve’s sin was venial. So there is no difficulty in having the Adam and Eve narrative fit the doctrine of mortal and venial sin.

Other Support from the Adam and Eve Narrative

It also needs to be pointed out that other aspects of the Adam and Eve narrative are supportive of the doctrine of mortal and venial sin. For example, the doctrine of mortal and venial sin claims that whereas venial sins merit only temporal punishment, mortal sins merit temporal and eternal punishment, such as spiritual death and eternal separation from God. And this difference in punishment is exactly what it observed in the Adam and Eve narrative. Indeed, in Genesis 3:14-19, it is clear that Adam’s punishment for his sin was substantially more severe and broad than Eve’s was. Consider that, as per Genesis 3:16, God’s punishment to Eve for her sin was simply to increase her pain in childbirth and to be ruled by her husband, which are just this-worldly temporal punishments. By contrast, in Genesis 3:17-19, God not only punishes Adam personally for his sin, but God also curses the whole earth because of Adam’s sin, as well as allows Adam to die because of his sin. Furthermore, as explained in Romans 5:12-21, Adam’s sin is what brought spiritual death into the world; but Eve’s sin did not do so.

So, whereas the punishment for Eve’s sin was purely temporal and this-worldly, the punishment for Adam’s sin was both temporal and spiritual, affecting both this world and the next world. Now the reason that this difference in punishment is pertinent to this discussion is because, as stated, it is exactly the type of difference that would be expected on the doctrine of mortal and venial sin, while simultaneously not being the type of difference that would be expected if there was no difference between sins. Consequently, given the Likelihood Principle—which states that some fact or observation counts as evidence for one particular hypothesis over another if that fact or observation is more expected/likely on one particular hypothesis than it is on another—it thus becomes the case that given that the differences in punishment suffered by Adam and Eve would be more expected on the doctrine of mortal and venial sin rather than on a doctrine that denied this distinction, then these differing punishments do provide some evidence in favor of the doctrine of mortal and venial sin over a doctrine that denies this distinction. And so, even the punishments suffered by Adam and Eve offer some support for the Catholic doctrine of mortal and venial sin.

Conclusion

In the end, the fact is that the Adam and Eve narrative simply does not coherently or consistently fit with the Protestant theological claim that all sins, no matter how small, lead to spiritual death. After all, Eve clearly sinned, and sinned first, and yet her sin did not lead to spiritual death; by contrast, Adam’s sin—which was the second sin committed by a human being—did lead to spiritual death. And so, the only coherent way to reconcile these scriptural facts is through the adoption of something like the doctrine of mortal and venial sin.

At the same time, the Adam and Eve narrative includes all the aspects within itself to explain why Eve’s sin could indeed be considered venial and why Adam’s sin could be considered mortal. Furthermore, the punishments incurred by both Adam and Eve are also much more in-line with the doctrine of mortal and venial sin than they are with a doctrine that considers all sins as being equally worthy of spiritual death.

Thus, in light of all of the above, Protestant theology simply does not coherently fit with the facts surrounding the Adam and Eve narrative. By contrast, the doctrine of mortal and venial sin easily and naturally accounts for all the facts surrounding the Adam and Eve story, and it is thus a much better explanation of those facts than the Protestant doctrine is. Nevertheless, Protestants will no doubt have a number of objections to this claim, and so those potential objections will be addressed in the next essay.

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