Theology refers to this incident as the ‘fall of man’ as, against God’s will, he ate the fruit that allowed him to distinguish good from evil. The Bible does not actually mention an apple – early Christian art depicts the Fall of Man by a fig. Christianity likely introduced the idea of the fruit being an apple, in recollection of the ‘apple of paradise’ or when the Bible was translated. In Latin, evil is malum and an apple is called malus. This could have been either a simple mistranslation or a deliberate play on the these words. An apple already featured in one of the earliest depictions of the Fall of Man from the 2nd century CE in the catacombs of San Gennaro in Naples.
According to the Christian doctrine, original sin, also known as ancestral sin, is a consequence of the fall of man. As descendants of Adam, all human beings are born into sin. Yet it also draws a connection between the tree of knowledge and the salvation of man. The tree is equated with the cosmic ‘world tree’, the ‘path to eternity’, the tree of life planted on Calvary. Jesus takes the way of the Cross as a sacrifice to save man from sin. In this respect, Jesus is the new Adam. Adam is disobedient, because he ate fruit from the forbidden tree, while Jesus is obedient, allowing himself to be nailed to a cross, the tree of Calvary, to atone for Adam's sin. In the Middle Ages and modern times, an apple represents overcoming original sin, often depicted as a snake with an apple in its mouth – as in English Greeting by Veit Stoss (Lorenzkirche, Nuremberg). Depictions of the Madonna also often include an apple, since Mary, as the new Eve, symbolises overcoming sin.