Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Unlike the other theological articles on this site, this one is almost complete and utter speculation. Exactly nothing rides on whether this theory is right or wrong. No church that I have ever heard of has a dogmatic position on this subject, nor should they. I can’t prove that I am right on this point, but I think the case is very strong for one guilty fruit in particular.
The Scene of the Crime:
Genesis 3:7 reports that directly after the eating of the fruit this happens:
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Clearly the fig tree was in the immediate vicinity, making it a prime suspect. Furthermore, from a theological perspective as sinners, don’t we, too, try this same process when we sin? The alcoholic watches as their life falters and fails and yet goes back to the same tree of alcoholism to seek a remedy for their problems. Or how about the proud person whose fragile ego tells them that their confident facade is all that protects them from exposure.
We have all been here. We have all reached again to the same sin that struck us down in order to try and get back up. What does God offer as a covering instead? Genesis 3:21 tells us:
And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
What animal had to die to give up its skin? Traditionally, it was believed to be a sheep. After all, there is a clear parallel to Christ who dies to finally undo our sin. His skin was given at the scourging at the pillar fulfilling the prophecy that “By his stripes we were healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
So here is the parallel: Jesus represents the sheep that covers our first parents. Jesus is also the fruit of the new tree of life (see my article on the Eucharist), therefore the tree of the cross supplies both covering and food for our salvation. Would it not follow that the tree of the Fall would likewise supply both covering and food?
A sighting of the subject:
Genesis 3:6: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes...”
Figs look great on the tree. Yet they quickly go bad. Therefore, to store them they are dried. This is how they get the ugly brown and wrinkly look that we are accustomed to. This, too, parallels sin. It looks good from afar but it quickly goes bad, and to habitually sin is to experience the sin as ugly even if it retains a fleeting sweetness. Sin tastes sweet to us even as it kills us. Interestingly, figs have the highest sugar content of almost any fruit.
There are many who have noticed the resemblance of the fig to a certain part of the body. It, too, is full of seeds. What else would we expect of the fruit that begins all sin but for it to be full of seeds? In this one act of rebellion against God, the seeds of all sin were planted by mankind.
Ruling out other suspects:
Some have suggested the pomegranate. Yet these were pictured in the Tabernacle and the temple as ornaments made of gold. It seems very unlikely that the fruit of the fall would be given such treatment.
Others suggest the apple, since it originates in the correct area. That said, so does the fig (roughly). Apples were one of the first cultivated trees. Again, so was the fig. The Greeks had legends about the apple as a forbidden fruit and yet these have been challenged as evidence, since the word for apple in many languages can be the generic word for foreign fruit. Again, even so, the fig can match that by claiming that almost every major religion talks about the fig. You may remember that Buddha received enlightenment under a fig tree.
It seems the source of the apple theory may be that the word for ‘evil’ and the word for ‘apple’ are the same in Latin- “Malus”. Thus it makes a good pun. Although we ought to keep an eye out for the apple, I don’t think that is our perp.
Sin never flowers, as it doesn’t ever create beauty. Can you name a fruit that doesn’t have visible flowers? To my knowledge the list is very short. I only know of one such fruit…the fig. All other fruit trees need to attract pollinators to help them reproduce, using visually appealing flowers. The fig, however, has a symbiotic relationship with a specific wasp which pollinates hidden flowers inside of the fruit.
The tree in the garden also had accomplices that take flight to spread the sin of our first parents. These are specialized creatures that only desire the nectar of death. We call such things demons and like wasps they can be unseen, they cause us terrible pain, and they swarm.
Revelation 6:13 reads: and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.
The stars are commonly a symbol for angels. Their falling to earth represents their falling from grace and turning into demons. Here the descent of the demonic is compared to the descent of the fig’s fruit to the earth. Knowing about the symbiotic relationship between the wasp and the fig, the analogy becomes even more clear.
Runs with the wrong crowd:
If all of this is not enough, those who cultivate figs know that they attract, you guessed it, snakes! Of course, you are aware that the serpent in the garden was attracted to the suspect tree as well.
The Fig has a Rap Sheet:
First, it participated in the cover up of Adam and Eve. Then it runs afoul of Jesus in the New Testament. Both Matthew and Mark record this event:
(Mark 11:13-14): Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he (Jesus) went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Matthew adds that the tree immediately withered. )
First, Mark, the shortest and most concise gospel mentions this detail. Jesus sees a “fig tree in leaf”. Seems like a similar description of the fig in Genesis which was also in leaf. Why was it “not the season for figs”, you ask? Because this event falls shortly before the Crucifixion, where the cross, or the tree of life, is restored to mankind and thereby strips sin of its power.
How can we miss the most obvious sign of all? God says in Genesis directly after the fall, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” and directly before the restoration from the fall Jesus (who is God), speaks again, almost as if to complete His original thought, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”. Now instead of taking away the tree of life as in Genesis, He does the opposite and takes away the tree of the fall.
The fig already found a Lawyer:
John 1:47-49 records the calling of Nathanael:
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Tradition tell us what he was doing there, which was studying the law. What is the law but the knowledge of good and evil? This view is supported by the words of Philip; in an effort to convince him to follow Jesus he argues like this:
We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”John 1:45
Receiving a tip off:
Jeremiah tips us off in this passage from Jeremiah 24:1-2:
the Lord showed me this vision: behold, two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. 2 One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. 3 And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”
Sure, this passage was about Israel and Mark 11:13 likely relates to Israel, too. Yet prophecies can, and do, have multiple fulfillments and interpretations. Here the fig tree is caught by Jeremiah producing good and evil. Suspicious. Furthermore, fruit from this tree is twice described as, “so bad that they could not be eaten”.
The fig seems guilty to me.