What commandment(s) did Adam violate in the Fall?

Question
It seems outrageous that God would condemn Adam and the entire human race for simply eating a piece of fruit! Did Adam do something else that warranted such a response from God?
Answer
This is a good question, because the fall of Adam isn't merely about the definite sin of eating a piece of forbidden fruit. It's about all the sins behind this sin of sins as well. It concerns the heart of man and rebellion against God himself.

What happened in the Fall is told to us in Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-7, but basically Adam was instructed not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and when he and Eve were later tempted to do this by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, they did so anyway.

What commandments did Adam break in the Garden? All of them (cf. Jas. 2:10). In essence, a violation of one part of the law is a violation of the whole law, because the law is a chain, and to break one link is to break the entire chain. So, the sin of eating a piece of forbidden fruit is far more complex than one may first recognize.

Did Adam and Eve specifically break any of the Ten Commandments? Yes, they did, even though the law of Moses had not been formalized yet (Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:4-21). Adam was created "very good" (Gen. 1:31) and therefore would have known the heart of God concerning his covenant commandments, which are holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12). While only one sin — the eating of the fruit — was enough to condemn Adam and Eve and all mankind for all eternity, let’s look at how each one of the Ten Commandments was also broken. (Note: Though Adam and Eve both sinned in the garden, what I list below is concerning Adam's sin and therefore emphasizing his unique position as the head of the covenant with God [Hos. 6:7].)

The First Commandment

Exodus 20:3: You shall have no other gods before me.

God's word to Adam was to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16-17; cf. John 1:1). Adam had the power and authority to walk faithfully and obey God and rule the universe in righteousness (cf. Gen. 1:28-30). However, instead of believing and obeying God's word — that is, God himself, his voice, his authority, his covenant stipulations — Adam chose to put faith in the words of "the god of this world" — the serpent (2 Cor. 4:4; cf. John 12:31; Eph. 2:2). He chose another god. Moreover, through unbelief he also put himself before God (Rom. 1:21-22; cf. Psa. 82:6; John 10:34), desiring to be wise "like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5-6). He put the serpent and himself before "the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God" (1 Tim. 1:17). Adam violated the first commandment.

The Second Commandment

Exodus 20:4-6: You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The apostle Paul informs us that our depraved tendency is towards idolatry (Rom. 1:18-32; cf. Isa. 40:18; 41:7, 29; 45:9; 46:5; Acts 17:29, et. al.). The unregenerate gravitate towards fashioning images of God in wood, rock, metal, and even by forming other images within their own fallen imaginations (cf. Gen. 6:5). John Calvin wrote that the heart is essentially an idol factory that is always coming up with new ways to invent and fashion false gods:

The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. (Inst. 11.8).

The Lord God has the right to command how he chooses to reveal himself (cf. Deut. 4:15-31). And because of our tendency towards idolatry, we are to avoid any attempt to imagine God apart from what he has already revealed to us in his Word.

But Adam carved an image in his mind of what it would be like to be wise: desiring to be "like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5-6; cf. Rom. 1:21-22). Essentially, he desired to attain divine knowledge (Greek gnosis), a higher secret knowledge that had been previously forbidden (Gen. 2:16-17). In his mind Adam pictured an image of God other than what had already been revealed to him, and he violated the second commandment.

The Third Commandment

Exodus 20:7: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

In the Bible, names reflect the character of a person or creature (Gen. 2:19-20; 16:11; 17:5, 15-16, 19; Isa. 8:3-4; Hos. 1:4, 6, 9; Luke 1:13). This applies to God's holy name as well (cf. Exod. 3:13-14). (Please see "What are the Names of God?" and "What are the Attributes of God?" below.) All that God is can be summed up in his glorious name, the name that is above every name (Phil. 2:9). Therefore, to use his name in vain is to bring contempt upon his very person, attributes, and character.

From naming the animals and his own wife, Adam clearly understood the importance of a name (Gen. 2:19-20, 23). Also recall that the serpent used the name of God, Elohim, during the temptation of the first couple in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1, 5). In addition, the serpent lied concerning God's word. Indeed, he defamed God's person, attributes, and character when he used God's name within the context of his lie and well deserves being called the Father of Lies (John 8:44).

As the covenant head in the garden (Hos. 6:7), but unlike the second and last Adam, Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:1-11, esp., Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; 1 Cor. 15:45, 47), Adam made no attempt to correct the serpent's misuse of God's holy name. Instead, he bowed down, listened, and obeyed the word of the serpent and so became a party to using the Lord's name in vain. He allowed sin to flourish in the creation kingdom he had been given to rule in righteousness (Gen. 1:28-30). Adam violated the third commandment.

The Fourth Commandment

Exodus 20:8-11: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Many theologians believe God walked in the Garden of Eden on the Sabbath (Gen. 3:8) and that the Garden of Eden itself symbolizes the church and therefore the Sabbath as well. This temple imagery is abundant throughout the Pentateuch. (Please see, "The Old/New Testament Church" and "Adam and Eve and Sabbath Rest Imagery" below.)

Adam, as prophet, priest, king, and underlord of God's creation, failed to guard the pre-Fall temple of God. As the covenant vassal king [1], he desecrated the very church of God and the Sabbath Day.

Moreover, Adam was to make every effort to enter God's rest (cf. Heb. 4:1-11), and though created "very good" (Gen. 1:31) with the capacity to attain it, he failed. Indeed, proper worship includes both faith and obedience (Rom. 1:5; 15:18; 16:26; cf. Heb. 5:9). While Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath (please see, "What is the meaning of Mark 2:27-28" below), the first Adam failed to obey God and keep the Sabbath. Adam violated the fourth commandment.

The Fifth Commandment

Exodus 20:12: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Adam did not honor his (the) Father of creation, his very maker (Gen. 1:1, 26-27; 2:7). He did not rely on this Father's word and the Spirit during the garden temptation as Jesus did during his temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11; cf. Eph. 4:27; 6:11, 13; Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). Instead, he listened to the lies of the serpent and failed to correct his wife in her sin. He also forfeited "long days," lest we forget the Tree of Life was present in the garden too (Gen. 2:9). Adam violated the fifth commandment.

The Sixth Commandment

Exodus 20:13: You shall not murder.

Because of Adam's original sin and depraved indifference toward his prodigy already in his loins meant that every murder that ever transpired happened because of the fall of Adam — even the very death of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:19-20; cf. Gen. 3:21). After being barred from the garden (Gen. 3:22-24), hatred expressed itself when Adam's son, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel (Gen. 4:8; cf. Matt. 5:21-22; John 8:44; 1 John 3:15). Unlike the second and last Adam, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:45, 47), who gave abundant life (John 10:10), the first Adam gave his posterity death. Through his own sin the first Adam even caused his own death (Gen. 5:5). Adam violated the sixth commandment.

The Seventh Commandment

Exodus 20:14: You shall not commit adultery.

Jesus said, "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom" (Matt. 25:1). The church is the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2, 9). Adam and Eve were God's creation and bride (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27) and were a special treasure to God (cf. Exod. 19:5).

Most people only consider adultery as it applies between a man and woman in covenant marriage. However, it is also applied to the turning aside of the church (i.e. Israel) from God's covenant to worship idols (Jer. 3:8-9; 5:7; 23:14; 29:20-23; Ezek. 16:8, 15, 25, 32). God even divorced Israel because of her unfaithfulness (Isa. 50:1; cf. Matt. 5:32). The first couple betrayed their creator. They were unfaithful to God's covenant (cf. Hos. 6:7). They committed adultery when they lusted for another — the word of the serpent and his ways — and with the eating of a single piece of forbidden fruit, they violated the seventh commandment.

The Eighth Commandment

Exodus 20:15: You shall not steal.

Adam was told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). The fruit of this tree did not belong to Adam and Eve but to God alone, who created it (Gen. 1:1, 11-12). Their intent was to steal knowledge they weren't entitled too. They were thieves, so in stealing what they ate, Adam (with Eve) violated the eighth commandment.

The Ninth Commandment

Exodus 20:16: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Adam did not correct his wife when she stated that God had said they couldn't “touch” the fruit upon the tree (Gen. 3:2-3). We are reminded that the Lord God never mentioned touching the fruit, only not eating it (Gen. 2:16-17). By not taking his proper leadership role in the covenant and his own family, Adam allowed his wife to believe a lie and thus became a party to the lie. When Eve “touched” the fruit she didn't die and, feeling emboldened, the next logical step in the fall of the first couple was to actually eat the fruit expecting similar results.

As the covenant head, Adam also did not correct the Father of Lies in the Garden of Eden (John 8:44) when he stated, "Ye shall not surely die" (Gen. 3:4-5). The serpent's statement was a direct contradiction to what God had stated earlier (Gen. 2:16-17). Instead, Adam allowed this lie to take root in both him and his wife (Jas. 1:14-16). So, by failing to speak the truth concerning God's word and upholding God's almighty goodness when the authority of the word was challenged (John 1:1), Adam should have corrected the lying serpent. When he didn't, he became partaker of his lies too. Adam violated the ninth commandment.

The Tenth Commandment

Exodus 20:17: You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.

Adam coveted the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16-17). As regards "the knowledge of good and evil," Adam sinfully desired to be like God (Gen. 3:5-6; cf. Rom. 13:9; Eph. 5:3, 5, etc.). This covenant underlord desired to be like the Lord God; this vassal desired to be like the Suzerain [1] (cf. Isa. 14:12-15, esp., Isa. 14:14; Ezek. 28:6, 12-19, esp., Ezek. 28:17). So, Adam was dissatisfied with what God had given to him and coveted that which God had forbidden.

All of this developed within the deep recesses of this first man’s heart (Mark 7:20-23). With the temptation in the garden, sin was first conceived, then given birth, allowed to mature, and eventually was partaken of. Ultimately, this depraved process brought forth death (Jas. 1:14-16). Adam violated the tenth commandment.

In Summary

While a lot more could be said concerning each individual commandment above, it is absolutely clear that in Adam and Eve partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16-17), they broke all ten commandments.

God is not only concerned about outward sins like the eating of a forbidden piece of fruit, but the sin beneath the sin as well — the utter rebellion of the heart. Just like approximately 90 percent of an iceberg is found under water, there is a hidden deadly cancer festering under all outward sin. Every sin has a root sin: murder = hatred (1 John 3:15); adultery = lust (Matt. 5:27-28), and so on. It is deep, dark depravity, unrighteousness, and ungodliness. Oh, the sinfulness of sin!

Note

[1] The standard means by which a Suzerain King (the greater king) related to a vassal king (the lesser king) was through a national treaty, also called a covenant. These were arrangements whereby the Suzerain imposed a relationship on the vassal, as well as the terms of that relationship. He offered blessings for following the terms of the relationship, and threatened curses against breaking the terms of the relationship. Please see "Covenants in General" below.

Suggested Reading

Bolton, Samuel. The True Bounds of Christian Freedom. Banner of Truth, 1965.
Bridge, William. A Lifting Up for the Downcast. Banner of Truth, 1961.
Brooks, Thomas. Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. Banner of Truth, 1968.
Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Echo Library, 2007.
Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Evil of Evils: The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin. Soli Deo Gloria, 2012.
Edwards, Jonathan. Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God. P&R Publishing, 1992.
Owen, John. Apostasy From the Gospel. Banner of Truth, 1992.
_____. Indwelling Sin In Believers. Banner of Truth, 2010.
_____. The Mortification of Sin. Banner of Truth, 2004.
_____. Overcoming Sin and Temptation. Crossway, 2015.
_____. Sin and Temptation: The Challenge to Personal Godliness. Multnomah Pub., 1983.
_____. Temptation: Resisted and Repulsed. Banner of Truth, 2007.
Sibbes, Richard. The Bruised Reed. Banner of Truth, 1998.
Venning, Ralph. Sinfulness of Sin. Banner of Truth, 1996.
Watson, Thomas. Doctrine of Repentance. Banner of Truth, 1988.
_____. The Mischief of Sin. Soli Deo Gloria, 1994.

Related Topics

What is Gnosticism?
What are the Names of God?
What are the Attributes of God?
The Old/New Testament Church
Adam and Eve and Sabbath Rest Imagery
What is the meaning of Mark 2:27-28
Is the Sabbath Saturday or Sunday?
Is excessive drinking an addiction?
Covenants in General

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).