II. Was The Forbidden Fruit Literal, Symbolic, Or Both?
One of the keys to understanding the Eden narrative is to determine whether the forbidden fruiit was intended by the author to be literal or symbolic. Certainly we know that all the biblical writers did not intend for every word to be taken literally; some things are intended to be understood symbolically. Jesus, for example, isn't literally a door or a lamb. The Bible must be properly understood. Whether its passages are accepted literally or symbolically, it is important to understand the message they are trying to convey.
Throughout Scripture, spiritual truths are frequently presented through the use of metaphor or symbol. The parables of Jesus are an obvious case in point. With regard to the story of the Fall, even though many today read the story of the Fall in a wooden literal sense, both the ancient Jews and some early Christians treated the narrative as being somewhat allegorical. This is not to say that they didn't believe in a literal Garden of Eden or a literal man and woman named Adam and Eve. It simply meant that they thought there was more to the story than what met the eye.
Augustine, probably the most influential Christian theologian of all time, argued that the Eden account should be taken both literally and symbolically; that is to say, taken partly as historic fact and partly as spiritual truth. Whatever the sin of Adam and Eve was, it had an affect on the entire human race. So even though there really was a man named Adam and a woman named Eve, the word "Adam" can also refer to "mankind." And whatever the sin of Eve was, it affected "Eve-ry woman." Even today, we suffer the consequences of their one act of obedience. So it seems logical that whatever their sin was, we somehow inherited their sinful fallen nature as a result. If their sin was simply eating a literal piece of forbidden fruit, such as an apple, then could we have inherited Adam and Eve's sinful nature? Highly unlikely.