How could very good human beings commit the first sin?

Sticky Sin

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

In a moment of contemplation, have you ever thought on how the first human beings made by God could possibly fall into sin? Where did human wickedness start and how was it caused?

What was the condition of the first human beings whom God created? Genesis 1:31 could not be clearer: ‘And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day’ (ESV).

I got to thinking more deeply of this as a result of what a person online asked:

I’m having trouble understanding how sin and evil can exist in the first place since we know from God’s word that He did not create any of this (or am I understanding that in the wrong way). If that is the correct understanding then, and that God created everything, then how can it be that sin and evil can exist if they are not from God?[1]

Free choice not good enough

Sin Stain

(courtesy ChristArt)

My response[2] was that I find the simplest explanation is in what God did with the first human beings according to Genesis 2:17, ‘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’ (ESV).

God gave human beings choice (free will). Where would we be without it? The choice of spouse, chocolate or that Toyota?

In that choice, he gave human beings the free will to obey of disobey God. They chose to disobey with the sinful consequences that followed for the whole human race. And it infected our world.

Thus, God did not create the first sin but he created human beings with the free will to obey or disobey. The consequences of disobedience were that sin entered the world.

Yes, there are times when God intervenes with judgment (e.g. Noah’s Flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, etc).

God is absolutely good and his best plan for the world was to make human beings with free will to agree or disagree with Him and to give the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel.

But have a guess what? Judgment day is coming:

I’m looking forward to God’s Parousia. I think many in Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, China, etc are also looking for the same.
God is the ultimate ‘winner’? Are you saved and do you love Him with all your being?

How would this woman respond to such a view? She wrote:

I understand that part very clearly, yet where did the sin come from? Where did the consequences of disobedience come from? Is there something outside of God then? I think there might almost have to be if unbelievers are in eternity cut off from Christ. Or is that annihilationism? (Which I think is probably not biblical).

I know our disobedience to God’s revealed will is what caused the entrance of sin into the world for we had the free will to obey God or to disobey Him. Yet that the consequence happened sounds like there is some force outside of God–which He has control over of course–yet that there is still some thing which exists outside of God, which He did not create. That is the part that I can’t understand.

(Rationalizing it further makes it sounds as though free will in itself is a power separate from God–almost that this is the source of the sin, though now there is this force which is not from God existing of itself somehow. Yet obviously free will can’t entirely be sinful all the time since when God condescends with the gift of faith to His chosen they come to Him of their own free will).[3]

An internal free act of revolt [4]

Sinful Behaviour

(courtesy ChristArt)

I have to admit that this person posed what is a legitimate and penetrating question. I consider it one of the substantive difficulties in understanding the Fall into sin by two ‘very good’ human beings. How could a ‘very good’ human being Fall and commit the first sin?

I’ve discussed free will, but how did it happen? God placed something in the constitution of the good first human beings that, in the purposes of God, would be used by human beings to trigger this first sin.

Theologian W G T Shedd put it this way:

The first sin of Adam was twofold: (a) Internal ; (b) External. The internal part of it was the originating and starting of a wrong inclination. The external part of it was the exertion of a wrong volition prompted by the wrong inclination. Adam first inclined to self instead of God, as
the ultimate end. He became an idolater, and ” worshipped and served the creature more than the creator,” Rom. 1 : 25. Then, in order to gratify this new inclination, he reached forth his hand and ate of the forbidden fruit. ” Our first parents fell into open disobedience, because already they were secretly corrupted ; for the evil act had never been done had not an evil inclination (voluntas) preceded it. And what is the origin of our evil inclination but pride? And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation, when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end.

Shedd then added,

The internal part of Adam’s first sin was the principal part of it. It was the real commencement of sin in man. It was the origination from nothing, of a sinful disposition in the human will. There was no previous sinful disposition to prompt it, or to produce it. When Adam inclined

away from God to the creature, he exercised an act of pure self-determination. He began sinning by a real beginning, analogous to that by which matter begins to be from nothing. In endowing Adam with a mutable holiness, God made it possible, but not necessary, for Adam to originate a sinful inclination, and thereby expel a holy one. The

finite will can fall from holiness to sin, if it is not ” kept from falling ” (Jude 24) by God’s special grace, because it is finite. The finite is the mutable, by the very definition (Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, vol 2, pp. 169, 171).

But how did this sinful disposition become a part of Adam’s nature? I do not believe that God put the motives into the first human beings to lead them to sin because that would make God responsible for sin and, therefore, human beings would be exempt from guilt. We need to understand that God’s grace was not removed from Adam in the fall into sin.

I don’t think this first sin was based on the power of choice as that would not explain how a good human being would make an ungodly choice.

I do not have a definitive explanation of how a depraved condition arose, but we know it did happen and the only explanation that is satisfactory for me is that the first human beings were given an internal mechanism that enabled them by free action to revolt against God.

Augustus Strong points in this direction:

Reason therefore, has no other recourse than to accept the Scripture doctrine that sin originated in man’s free act of revolt from God — the act of a will which, though inclined toward God, was not yet confirmed in virtue and was still capable of a contrary choice. The original possession of such power to the contrary seems to be the necessary condition of probation and moral development. Yet the exercise of this power in a sinful direction can never be explained upon grounds of reason, since sin is essentially unreason. It is an act of wicked arbitrariness, the only motive is the desire to depart from God and to render self-supreme (Systematic theology, Part 5, ch 1).


I am grateful for this provocative and challenging question that has caused me to think more deeply of how the first sin originated. Reason cannot explain it. But it seems to have originated in the God-given freedom to human beings by which a person could – in the purposes of God – choose to continue with obedience to God or be in revolt against God.

It originated in the unseen human heart – the inner part of human beings – but it was autonomous with the human individual. As a result it was communicated to all human beings.


[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Hamartiology, ‘God did not create sin’, dhh712 #61, available at: (Accessed 2 March 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #62.

[3] Ibid., dhh712 #63.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #64.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.