I've heard a few Christians say, perhaps half-jokingly, that Adam only ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden because he realized that it was the only way for him to stay with Eve. By this they seem to suggest that Adam only sinned out of a sense of altruism, sacrifice, and love.

I don't find the biblical evidence for this view convincing, but when researching the origin of it, I stumbled across John Milton's Paradise Lost. In the following lines, Eve is responding to Adam's choice to eat the forbidden fruit despite the threat of death:

Tenderly wept, much won that he his Love
Had so enobl'd, as of choice to incurr
Divine displeasure for her sake, or Death.
(Book 9, lines 991–93)

Thus, I wonder:

  1. Is Paradise Lost actually the origin of this theory?
  2. Have any Christian theologians/commentators in church history (before or after Milton) argued for this interpretation of the Fall? Or is this simply an example of pure poetic license that has infiltrated Christian thought?

1 Answer 1


Augustine's concept of defining all sin in terms of disordered love is certainly applicable:

for Augustine, rightly ordered love was virtue (City of God 15. 22) and disordered love was vice... the depravity created by disordered love was so deep that no one could extricate or heal him or herself from it. - David K. Naugle, source

He applies this concept directly to Adam's fall:

...it was that sin that happened at the moment Adam, with a misguided will, took pleasure in something inferior, rather than rejoicing in the power of God. - source

In the City of God (14.13), Augustine more directly suggests that Adam was motivated by a desire to not be parted from his wife:

This falling away is spontaneous; for if the will had remained steadfast [...] the woman would not have believed the serpent spoke the truth, nor would the man have [...] supposed that it was a venial trangression to cleave to the partner of his life even in a partnership of sin. - source

But Augustine uses the clearest language in De Genesi ad Litteram1 (11.42), as one commentator summarizes,

...Adam sinned on account of his love for Eve... - source

In book IX of this work, amongst other things, Augustine explains "Why Adam was lead in to sin by Eve, not also by the serpent". He likens Adam to the example of Solomon who was "...unable to resist the love of women dragging him into this evil...", he then proceeds thus:

In the same way Adam too was unwilling to cross the woman who had taken a bite from the forbidden tree after being led astray, and had given some to him so that they might eat together; he believed that she might easily pine away without him to comfort her, if she found herself estranged from his way of thinking, and might quite simply perish from that conflict. So what led to his downfall was not any lust of the flesh, which he had not yet felt in the law in the members fighting back against the law of the mind (Rom 7:23), but a kind of loving concern for their mutual friendship, which often leads to God being offended, in case friends should turn unfriendly. That Adam should not have done this he was shown clearly by the result - the just sentence passed on him by God. - On Genesis, book IX, page 463

It is certainly arguable that this does not explicitly reference 'sacrifice', but Augustine's argument coupled with the sense of 1 Timothy 2:14 – which asserts that Adam was not deceived in acting the way he did – gives the implication that he acted with deliberate intent after he had been warned that the consequences were death and did so because of (disordered) love – which could fairly be summarized as 'sacrifice'.

  1. On Genesis / The Literal Meaning of Genesis, St. Augustine of Hippo; translated by Edmund Hill, New City Press (reference courtesy of Mr. Bultitude)

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