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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Paradise Lost

This chapter details the temptation and fall of humanity and their consequent expulsion from Eden. The tempter is introduced (Genesis 3:1); the temptation is presented (Genesis 3:2-5); the fall of Eve, then Adam, (Genesis 3:6); the consequent shame, loneliness and fear (Genesis 3:7,8); their confrontation with God and their futile excuses (Genesis 3:9-13); the curse of the serpent and the word of hope for mankind (Genesis 3:14-15); the outline of the penalties upon Eve and Adam (Genesis 3:16-20); and their expulsion from Eden (Genesis 3:21-24) are other developments that bring the chapter to its conclusion.

Verse 1
Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which Jehovah God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?

The problem that stands at the head of this chapter is that of understanding what the serpent was. The near-unanimous opinion of scholars and commentators to the effect that he was a member of the animal kingdom is somewhat perplexing in view of the fact that the grammar of our versions does not support such a view. It is NOT stated that the serpent was more subtle than any other beast of the field, but that he was more subtle than any beast. This is an indication that he was not a beast at all. Nor does it appear that his becoming a beast following the curse (and one of the lowest of creation at that) is alone sufficient reason for saying that he had been a beast all the time. Whatever the serpent was, he would appear to have been an UPRIGHT creature and to have been endowed with the gift of speech. The Scriptures do not provide any hard information enabling a fuller identification of this creature which was used by Satan as an instrument in the temptation. There is simply no way to know what the serpent was like before the curse.

Of course, the whole person of the serpent that appears in this tragic scene also includes a certain identity with Satan himself, as indicated by Paul's reference in 2 Cor. 11:3, the indication there being that the same serpent who seduced Eve is, in this dispensation, engaged in seducing the Church of Jesus Christ. Also, Satan is called, "The great Dragon, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world" (Revelation 12:9).

Here, at the outset of our studies in the O.T., it needs to be established that the O.T. should be understood only in the light of what is revealed in the N.T. We reject out of hand the dictum laid down by Biblical interpreters that the text can have but a single meaning, namely, the one "intended by the author.F1 Indeed, this is true enough if the "author" is understood to be Almighty God. But the supposition that the mind of the instrument through whom God spoke can be explored for the meaning of Biblical passages is false. We have cited in this series of commentaries numerous instances in which the prophets through whom God spoke either did not understand what they wrote at all or had a very improper notion of the full meaning, a fact cited by no less an authority than Peter (1 Peter 1:10-12). An outstanding instance is that of Amos 8:9. (See fuller comments in my commentary on Amos.) To follow the arbitrary dictum mentioned above would forbid any identification at all of Satan in this entire chapter; for it is accepted that at the period when Genesis was written, any belief in the existence of the Devil "was foreign to the Hebrews."F2 Thus, exploring the mind of the author should mean exploring the mind of God who is the real author of the whole Bible. For that reason, we do not hesitate to find Jesus Christ and a whole summary of the scheme of Redemption in Gen. 3:15.

Therefore, Satan himself was the person speaking in the serpent of this verse. We cannot identify the instrument, but the Tempter is surely known. We can confess our amazement that "Christian" scholars would affirm that the serpent here told man the "truth,"F3 that the intention of the serpent was "innocent,F4 and the serpent was "good,F5 etc. Such views are absolutely wrong. The conversation here begun by the serpent was on the part of the serpent a vicious, malicious lie, craftily designed to seduce and destroy the entire human family. He flatly contradicted and made light of the Word of God; he lied to Eve regarding her becoming "like God"; and he ascribed unworthy motives and intentions to the Almighty! The device by which interpreters who are blinded and hog-tied by their own man-made rules are able to pass over the conversation of the serpent in this passage as good or innocent is founded upon a false syllogism: All that God made is good (Genesis 1:31); God made this serpent; therefore, this serpent was good! By this syllogism, one may also prove that the Devil is good. As Skinner admitted, such views are contradicted by the "spirit"F6 of this scripture.

One further word about the identity of the serpent: Yates mentioned a Hebrew tradition to the effect that the serpent walked upright, was gifted with speech, and talked freely with Eve.F7 The mystery of how Satan was able to use such a creature (previously called "good" in Gen. 1:31) and also the problem of how it would have been just on God's part to curse such a creature (condemned to crawl on its belly, etc.) present no real problem. God cursed the ground for Adam's sake; and certainly the ground was innocent enough. Both the evil that came to this serpent and that which befell the earth itself must be attributed to Satan as having been the primary cause.

Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden. ?
The purpose of this query was to focus upon the restriction and prohibition which God had made regarding a certain tree, that of knowledge of good and evil. Anything forbidden has always held a fascination for human beings, and the Evil One in this approach went straight to the point of humanity's greatest vulnerability.

Verses 2, 3
And the woman said unto the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

God hath said…
The glaring error on Eve's part is her mishandling of God's Word. She added to it, saying neither shall ye touch it; and the old Hebrew legend tells how the Tempter took advantage of it. The serpent is said to have taken the fruit and touched Eve with it, pointing out that no bad consequence came of it, thus reinforcing his argument that no evil would follow her eating of it. It is extremely dangerous to add to God's Word, and the eternal curse rests upon all who do so (Revelation 22:18,19).

But Eve did something else: she diminished God's Word. God had stated emphatically that death would be the consequence of eating of the forbidden fruit, but Eve changed this to "lest ye die," meaning that "ye might die." Thus, the groundwork for the Fall had already been laid through adding to and altering the Word of God.

Verses 4, 5
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.

Ye shall not surely die…
This was a bold and cunning falsehood; and one is a little distressed by the scholars who are still treating this narrative as if the Devil told the truth. Their error is the same as that of Eve, in that they alter what God said and then claim that what God allegedly said failed to come true. For example, it is affirmed that God meant that they would, immediately be struck dead,F8 or that, he did not die (physically) immediately as God said,F9 and that, It is also true that death does not immediately follow the act of eating,F10 etc., etc. It seems to be ignored by everyone that God said NONE of those things. He did not say that death would follow INSTANTANEOUSLY upon their eating the forbidden fruit, nor that they would die immediately. All such thoughts are interpretive errors. What God said was that, In the day that thou eatest, thou shalt surely die, the day here having no reference whatever to days of the week but to the seventh day of Creation, a day that is still in progress. See a full comment on the length of this day under Gen. 1:5 above.

Furthermore, the penalty of death here incurred by the human race was never commuted, repealed, or altered in any manner whatsoever. It still stands; and in the fullness of time, during that very day when the penalty was incurred, namely during the present dispensation of God's grace, the death penalty will be executed upon Adam in the person of his total posterity, the redeemed ones in Christ Jesus being the sole survivors of it. The judgment of the Great Day, which shall terminate the current dispensation, will be the occasion when this penalty will be executed.

Ye shall be as God, knowing good from evil…
This also was a lie, skillfully interwoven with a half-truth. Ye shall be as God, was a vicious falsehood. Eating the forbidden fruit did not make them like God at all, but sent them full of shame, fear, and apprehension into hiding from the loving face of the Creator, whose word they had violated. And as for their knowing good and evil, that also was a half-lie. They already knew what was right and wrong. They knew it was wrong to eat of that certain tree. The additional knowledge they received was nothing beautiful and desirable at all. It was only that wretched, soul-killing knowledge that comes experientially to every sinner who violates God's Word. What an unprincipled and malignant falsehood was Satan's alluring promise!

It is significant that Satan in this passage used the word [~'Elohiym] for God, presenting a problem that casts doubt upon the various documentary theories regarding the alleged sources of Moses, making those theories "doubtful."F11 The plurality of the word [~'Elohiym] caused some translators to render this passage, "ye shall be as gods," but the reference is clearly to the [~'Elohiym] of the first chapter.

The dimensions of Satan's lying contradiction of God in this passage are truly fantastic. As Kline put it, "With one stroke, Satan re-interpreted God as a devil, a liar possessed by jealous pride, and the way of the curse as the way of blessing!"F12 It is simply an astounding mystery to us that Simpson, writing in The Interpreter's Bible could have designated the tempter in this passage as a "benefactor of the human race!"F13

Verse 6
And 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 to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.

Davis mistakenly believed that, "Sin, here, is not a breaking of a law."F14 However, there was the breaking of a law, God's law that they should not eat of that certain tree; thus, the action here lies clearly within the perimeter of the N.T. definition of sin as "transgression of the law." The three primary avenues of temptation are also visible here. The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) appear here in a manner suggesting the three temptations of Christ (Matthew 4). Another feature of this passage is the greater blame that lay upon Adam for involving himself and his total posterity in the disaster of Paradise Lost. "Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled fell into temptation" (1 Timothy 2:14). Thus, Adam sinned deliberately with his eyes wide open, whereas Eve was deceived.


Verses 7, 8
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of Jehovah God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Jehovah God amongst the trees of the garden.

What a tragic failure of Satan's glorying promises! "Like God?" Well, God was never ashamed, conscious of an intolerable nakedness, fearful, and seeking a place to hide. How brutally and viciously Satan had betrayed them!

A lot of sexually-related nonsense has been written about this event, but we find full agreement with Skinner who wrote that:

"A connection between sexual shame and sin is not suggested by this passage, and is, besides, not true to experience."F15

Walking in the garden in the cool of the day…
The anthropomorphisms of this passage present no problem. The only way God could communicate with man was upon a level that man could understand. Furthermore, the ultimate intention of God's becoming a man in the person of Jesus Christ was surely inherent in his early intimacies with his human creation.

TRYING TO HIDE FROM GOD It was impossible, of course, for the sinful couple to hide from the Creator, but that did not prevent their trying to do so. Men still try to hide from God by turning away from Bible reading, forsaking worship services, and by pretending to be so busy that they have no time for thoughts of God. Ahab tried to hide from God in the battle, but the arrow of God found him anyway. Jonah tried to flee from the "presence of Jehovah," but the eyes of the Lord were upon the wide seas, and God found him just the same.

Verse 9
And Jehovah God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?

This is one of the great questions of the Bible, "Adam, where art thou?" It is connected schematically with another great question that occurs at the beginning of the N.T., where it is stated that the wise men came, saying, "Where is he, that is born king of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2) Thus, the O.T. begins with God seeking man; and the N.T. begins with man seeking God. Without the initiative of the Father apparent here, man's condition would have been utterly without hope, but God still loved him, despite his sin, and would set in motion the train of events that would eventually lead to his redemption, provided only that man would consent to be redeemed and comply with the conditions under which God would bring it about.

This verse begins the arraignment of the sinful partners before the holy God whose law they had violated.

Verses 10, 11
And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

There was no way for Adam to hide his sinful condition from God. The mention of his nakedness and his hiding laid bare his ugly secret. It should never be supposed that Adam's actions were in any manner a surprise to God. Even before the foundation of the world, and long before Adam and Eve had been created and placed in Eden, God had anticipated their sin and had formulated the remedy for their transgression (1 Corinthians 2:8). God went straight to the heart of the problem and asked Adam if he had eaten of the forbidden fruit.

Verse 12
And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

Adam's response was weak and insufficient. He did not confess his sin, except in a most reluctant and inadequate manner, and he coupled it with a flimsy excuse to the effect that maybe God Himself was to blame, for He had given to Adam the woman who had given the fruit of the tree, so what else was there for Adam to do but to eat!

Verse 13
And Jehovah God said unto the woman, What is this thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

What is this that thou hast done?…
The meaning of this is: How could you have done such a thing! It is the same expression used by the pagan sailors who reproached Jonah with the words, What is this that thou hast done? (Jonah 1:10). As Whitelaw pointed out, It is the language of one who wonders as at something prodigious.F16 In Eve's reply, there is the same fault that marred the response of Adam -- no admission of sin, no asking of pardon, no expression of regret or sorrow, but merely a weak maneuver to place the blame upon the serpent who had beguiled her!


Verse 14
And Jehovah God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

God tacitly acknowledged the greater blame in the situation as belonging to the serpent, therefore the curse fell on it immediately. The blameworthiness of the serpent which appears here requires the understanding, either that the serpent is truly identified as Satan, or that the curse fell upon Satan's instrument as an instruction both for Satan and for mankind of the inherent disaster inevitably associated with Satan's use of anything whatsoever. If the latter is true, it is no greater a theological problem than Jesus' cursing of the fig tree, or of God's cursing the ground "for Adam's sake" a few moments later. Henceforth and forever, the lowly serpent, hated and ruthlessly exterminated by the people of all nations, would serve as a suitable and "visible symbol of God's displeasure with sin."F17

This part of the curse apparently fell upon Satan's instrument in the seduction, but the next part of it fell upon the Evil One himself, a being visible in the terminology of the famed Lord's Prayer, given upon the authority of Jesus Christ himself.

Verse 15
and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Many scholars cannot recognize this as the great Protoevangelium of the O.T., which of course, it surely is. Their blindness is due to their failure to recognize that the key to understanding the O.T. is Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:15,16). The terminology of this verse is such that it cannot apply to anything in heaven or upon earth except the long spiritual conflict between Christ and Satan.

Between thee and the woman…
Woman here stands for the whole of Adam's race, a point emphasized a little later in Gen. 3:20, where it is stated that Eve is the mother of all living. Enmity indicates the hostility of Satan toward humanity. God's statement here that he would put enmity cannot mean that it did not exist previously, but that it would be intensified and continued, a fact mentioned in Rev. 12:12. However, this warfare is more than Satan's campaign to destroy humanity; it also includes the warfare between:

Thy seed…
that is, the followers of Satan, and

her seed…
that is the seed of woman. Note the singular here, a ... , that is the seed of woman. Note the singular here, a characteristic continued in the pronoun he: He shall bruise thy head. Now, the only seed of woman ever known upon earth was and is Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul's statement to the effect that Christ was made to be of a woman (Galatians 4:4) implies not only the virgin birth of Christ but his pre-existence also.F18

He shall bruise thy head…
is a promise of ultimate and complete victory over evil by the Lord Jesus Christ. This, of course, took place on Calvary, where Christ slew him that had power of death (Hebrews 2:14). The Charter of Redemption was achieved on the Cross, and full rewards of it will be bestowed upon the righteous at the time of the eternal Judgment.

Thou shalt bruise his heel…
is undoubtedly a reference to the Crucifixion. And one should not be surprised by the fact of so terrible a death being compared to a mere heel-bruise, because, the comparison is valid when contrasted with the casting of Satan into the lake of fire.


Thus, this 27-word promise of healing for the sins of Adam's race conveyed limited information, but the significance of it is unlimited. In the light of subsequent events, it comprises as comprehensive and definite a statement of God's Plan of Redemption as could have been devised in so few words. Here is a summary of what was included:

  1. it outlines the doctrine of the Incarnation;
  2. and of the Virgin Birth;
  3. has a prophecy of the crucifixion; and
  4. of the final overthrow of Satan in hell;
  5. announces the ultimate overthrow of evil;
  6. the long agony of the human race; and
  7. provides a message of hope and salvation for fallen humanity. (See an entire chapter on this subject in my book, The Mystery of Redemption, pp. 12-21.)

Verse 16
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Thy pain and thy conception…
The frightful pangs of childbirth do not appear in nature in similar situations in the lower creation, and they are a continual reminder to all men of the fallen estate of the race. Note also that the conception of Eve would be multiplied. This would appear to have no reference to shortening the period of gestation, but would seem to apply to the multiplication of human beings upon the earth, a phenomenon apparently linked to the population explosion of the present era.

Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee…
The meaning of this can be read in the lowly estate of woman in all nations for thousands of years. And only in those nations where the Great Deliverer has found a place in men's hearts is her pitiful condition alleviated. What a brutal and terrible thing it was that Satan did for Eve.


Verses 17-19
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Cursed is the ground for thy sake…
It should be particularly noted that God's purpose in all of these judgments upon Adam and Eve was benign. God at once imposed upon the ground limitations and penalties against men, not as the mere punishment which disobedience had deserved, but as a means of a continual reminder of man's fallen estate, and as a means of hedging him in and procuring his seeking after God. Nor may it be supposed that this account of what happened to the earth is by any means complete. The entire series of the trumpet visions in Rev. 8, etc., are clearly related to the primeval curse mentioned here. God simply re-ordered this physical world in such a way that man would never be able to make himself too cozy in his state of rebellion against his Creator. There was a further destruction of the earth in the Great Deluge; and that also would appear to be an extension and development of the principle visible in these verses. Kiel agreed that this curse, reached much further; the writer has merely noted the most obvious aspect.F19 The expulsion of the sinful pair from Eden was also benign, as Willis put it: God lovingly seals off any possibility of his eating of the tree of life by driving him out of the garden.F20

Verse 20
And the man called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

We observed the obvious reason for the inclusion of this verse in the discussion of Gen. 3:15, above. This verse also has the utility of emphasizing that Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth, and that all subsequent generations of the human family descended from them, a fact also inherent in the apostolic injunction that God "made of one," all the families of men to dwell on the earth (Acts 17:26).

Verse 21
And Jehovah God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skins, and clothed them.

The garments supplied by God necessitated the slaying of animals, and some have concluded from this that the institution of animal sacrifices began here, but there is nothing in the text to support this. Bush thought the mention of Adam and Eve individually here indicated that God clothed them with two types of clothing, concluding that upon this is based "the prohibition in Deut. 22:5 against the interchange of raiment between the sexes."F21

Verses 22, 23
And Jehovah God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever-- therefore Jehovah God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

Any thought that man in his fallen state constituted any kind of threat to the supremacy of the Creator should be rejected. It would have been an unqualified disaster if man had eaten of the tree of life and in consequence thereof lived forever in his shameful and humiliating condition. What man had already done was bad enough, but to prevent an even greater tragedy, God drove him out of the Paradise of Eden, here again, for "man's sake," and not because of any "threat to God's supremacy,"F22 as alleged by Simpson and others.

The tree of life…
is nowhere explained in the Bible, but it disappears from the pages of the Bible here and never reappears until the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation, where once more, it is presented as growing on either side of the river of life, yielding its fruit twelve seasons in the year, and the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations. Clearly, from what is said here, it is that reality which bestows immortality.

Verse 24
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden the Cherubim, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

The Cherubim…
These strange creatures figured prominently in the writings of the O.T. In the tabernacle they are identified with the throne of God (Exodus 37:7); depictions of them adorned the veil separating between the Holy of Holies and the Sanctuary (Exodus 36:35); they are described as having six wings in Isa. 6; and they appear again in Rev. 4. Note that the Cherubim do not wield the sword; it turns of its own accord.

To keep the way of the tree of life…
This not only means that they prevent man's re-entry into Eden, but that they preserve and guard the tree of life itself. Whatever the meaning which lies behind the magnificent symbolism of these expressions, in its ultimate significance it surely lies beyond the perimeter of man's complete finite understanding. We may only lift up our hearts in prayer and thanksgiving to Almighty God who, through the gift of his Beloved Son, has made it possible for those who love him to enter once more into complete and loving fellowship with the Creator through Christ.

Footnotes for Genesis 3
1: John Bright, Authority of the O.T. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1967), p. 92.
2: Thomas Whitelaw, The Pulpit Commentary, Genesis, Vol. I (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 57.
3: Cuthbert A. Simpson, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. I (New York: Abingdon Press, 1952), p. 501.
4: Ibid.
5: G. Ch. Aalders, Bible Students Commentary, Genesis, Vol. I (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), p. 98.
6: John Skinner, International Critical Commentary, Genesis (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1910), p. 71.
7: Kyle M. Yates, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 7.
8: G. Ch. Aalders, op. cit., p. 110:
9: John T. Willis, Genesis (Austin, Texas: Sweet Publishing Company, 1979), p. 119.
10: John Skinner, op. cit., p. 75.
11: John Skinner, op. cit., p. 74.
12: Meredith G. Kline, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 84.
13: Cuthbert A. Simpson, op. cit., p. 501.
14: John G. Davis, Beginning Now (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), p. 198.
15: John Skinner, op. cit., p. 76.
16: Thomas Whitelaw, op. cit., p. 65.
17: Ibid.
18: E. Huxtable, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 20 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p.183.
19: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the O.T., Vol. I (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), p. 104.
20: John T. Willis, op. cit., p. 135.
21: Thomas Whitelaw, op. cit., p. 73.
22: Cuthbert A. Simpson, op. cit., p. 501.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 3". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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