Traditional Jewish and Christian interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis have led to the heaviest blame often falling on Eve for the entrance of sin and death into the world. I have encountered in most surprising places the almost word-for-word affirmation of apocryphal Sirach 25:24 (c. 250 B.C.): “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.” Faulty interpretations of many Bible texts concerning women foster the low status, oppression, and abuse of women the world around, which is one of the greatest social evils.
John A. Phillips, in his book Eve, The History of an Idea, notes:
Modern scholarship regards most earlier interpretations of Eve as prime examples of eisegesis—that is, the reading into the text of the writer’s own ideas and prejudices. The real Eve is the Eve of Genesis, and a faithful exegesis of the scriptural story . . . will disclose her. The history of the interpretation of Eve, modern scholars hold, is largely a history of misunderstanding and malice . . . and has little to offer in understanding the Eve of Genesis.1
Phillips’s book details a steady flow, for long centuries, of the maligning of Eve, including the imparting to her of attributes of the Greek Pandora myth. But although he shows that change is on the way, he does not come to a final and satisfactory conclusion.
The Witness Of Scripture
What does the Bible really say about Eve’s participation in the Fall? In close reading and rereading of the Genesis account, I have noted as never before the difference in God’s dealing with Adam and with Eve. This, along with the related New Testament passages as well as Job 31:33, has given sharp focus to the whole account of the Fall.
In Genesis 1, God describes his Creation as “very good.” Both man and woman were created in God’s image and were together instructed to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over all living creatures.
Adam was to tend the Garden of Eden, which had been prepared for him, and to keep, or guard, it (Heb. shamar, the same word used in 3:24 where cherubim and a sword guarded the way to the Tree of Life). This implies that some evil power was seeking to enter the Garden.
God told Adam that he could eat fruit of every tree except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that was in the center of the Garden. The tree was there to remind Adam that God the Creator was sovereign, and that he, Adam, was God’s creation, dependent upon and answerable to God. If he were to eat of the forbidden tree, the disobedience, an act of independence from God, would separate him from God, the source of life, and he would die. All this was not spelled out, for obedience was not to be through compulsion or fear but by voluntary choice, responding to the Creator’s love and goodness.
Adam had the pleasant occupation of looking after a beautiful garden-park, with animals to enjoy and train if he wished, and he had fellowship with God. Yet God saw that it was “not good” for him to be alone and formed woman from his side, drawn out and molded from the same physical and soul-stuff as he—a mate his equal partner and counterpart, of the same essence, but different. Commenting on the statement that God found Adam’s condition now to be not good, Katharine Bushnell says we are not told what the signs of this change were, “but the following points should be weighed: (1) Adam was offered freely the tree of life (2:16) but did not eat of it (2:22); (2) was made keeper as well as dresser of the Garden (2:15), but Satan later enters it.” She quotes early commentators:
William Law, a learned theologian and one of the most accomplished writers of his day, declares: “Adam had lost much of his perfection before his Eve was taken out of him, which was done to prevent worse effects of his fall and to prepare a means of his recovery when his fall should become total. ...” The German philosopher Jacob Behman taught that “There must have been something in the nature of a stumble, if not an actual fall, while Adam was yet alone in Eden.”
Eve was “created [Bushnell: he should have said ‘elaborated’] to help Adam to recover himself, and to establish himself in paradise, and in the favor, fellowship and service of his Maker.”2
Adam’s devious reply to God’s questioning after the pair had eaten the forbidden fruit shows that something had gone wrong. Further evidence of the beginning of a fall was in his not protecting his young wife from the temptation she was going to face. He was a silent observer.
The Genesis account does not say what Adam may have been told about the Tree of Life, which also was in the center of the Garden (2:9). But for it to have come down to us in Scripture, he must have known of it and spoken of it to his progeny. Both trees are symbolic. The Tree of Life is symbolic of commitment to obedience and dependence upon the sovereign Creator God, the source and giver of life.
The woman, Adam’s female counterpart, was to be a strong help. Gilbert Bilizekian notes that the word helper (Heb. ezer) “is used in the Bible as a designation for someone who rescues or saves from difficult situations rather than for a subordinate assistant, which the word suggests in English.”3 Nineteen of the twenty-one usages in the Old Testament concern God as help or helper.
Satan used the serpent as a tool; hence, the creature’s craftiness and subtlety. The serpent’s appearance must have been more pleasing to the woman before God’s curse was pronounced upon it. The apostle Paul could have had this in mind when he wrote, “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).
The serpent addressed the woman, probably because she was the newcomer who did not yet exist when God commanded Adam concerning the tree. Another view is that she was seen as the stronger of the two, and if she fell, Adam would fall too. Using the plural you (Gen. 3:1,4-5; ye in the KJV) because the man was “with her” and could also be targeted (v. 6), the tempter asked, “Has God [really] said ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” The woman responded directly that they could eat of every tree except one designated one—adding emphasis given to her by Adam or from her own imagination: “neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”
The tempter then made the attack. “Ye shall not surely die: for God knows that in the day ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:4-5).
Now, was the woman to believe Adam’s report or believe the clever serpent? The fruit looked good, and to gain wisdom also was good. The tempter was projecting on her his own fantasy, “to be like God.” The account does not indicate whether the woman shared that particular wish. As a recent arrival, she had much yet to see and learn; she did not necessarily buy the tempter’s entire package. The account reads: “So 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 its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate” (3:6).
Eve felt free to reply to the tempter without consulting her husband. There was no hierarchy, no male dominance before the Fall. It would, however, have been good for the two to have talked together about the matter. The oneness that had been God’s intention for them was not yet their experience. Apparently this relationship also would be achieved by right choices, in a growing fellowship and love.
The man’s silence throughout signifies assent. There is no suggestion that the woman persuaded him, or that persuasion would have been necessary. Why was he so compliant? Why did he not intervene, rebuke the tempter, and order him out of the Garden?
Adam had been in the Garden longer, had rich experiences with God, but he must have wondered about that one tree and thus already open to doubt and temptation. The forbidden tree was tantalizing. Bilizekian says Adam let his wife act out his own fantasy for autonomy, self-determination—hiding behind her skirts, as it were. He knew his young wife had extenuating circumstances—but he had none.4 Besides, it was apparent that she had not died from eating the fruit, Yet, unaware, both had died spiritually. They now felt shame for their nakedness, and they made aprons of fig leaves to cover themselves. Then hearing the approach of God in the cool of the evening, they hid among the trees.
God called to the man and questioned him, using the singular pronoun thou (3:9, kjv). Adam replied, “I heard . . . I was afraid, because I was naked ... I hid myself.” God asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man knew he had disobeyed, but he made a circuitous confession: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and I ate” (v. 12; emphasis added). The man dared to involve God, and he made no reference to the deceiver who was behind it all, who had gotten past him into the Garden and who may have remained nearby, gloating. Intentionally or not, Adam shielded the tempter.
Then God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” She answered forthrightly: not, “The serpent that you created deceived me, and my husband did not stop me.” Not, “The Devil made me do it.” She just gave the facts: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (v. 12). She transgressed, having known of the prohibition, but she was not willfully disobedient. She had believed the deceiver. Now recognizing the lie, she denounced and opposed him.
Marvin R. Vincent, in his Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, translates 1 Timothy 2:14, because of prefixes on the verbs, in this way: “Eve, being thoroughly deceived, fell into transgression.” Weymouth’s New Testament reads: “The woman was thoroughly deceived, and so became involved.”
The woman and the man both transgressed, both had sinned. But God did not deal with both of them in the same way. There was premeditation in the action of the man, who had longer experience with God and had heard the prohibition firsthand. With no hesitation or objection, Adam had accepted the fruit and eaten it.
In Romans 5:12-19 Paul states that sin entered by one man, using the Greek anthropos, which could mean either human or male. But twice in the passage he names Adam: “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam.” Eve was one whose transgression was not like Adam’s. She had believed the tempter. Adam had sinned with full knowledge of what he was doing. Job wrote (31:33): “If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom ...” (kjv). The rsv, niv, and nrsv have footnotes that read: “as Adam,” or “as Adam did.” The apostle’s statement in Romans 5:14 about Adam’s transgression would appear to hark back to Job’s, giving endorsement to the KJV’s retention of the personal name Adam in the text.
Some will object, saying, “Sin is sin.” While that is true, there are differences, as stated above. Our Lord himself said, “That slave who knew what his master wanted but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one that did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (Luke 12:47). In Matthew 12:31 and Mark 3:29 Jesus speaks of the sin that has no forgiveness—blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. There are degrees of culpability.
God then pronounced a curse on the serpent. It would slither along the ground and eat dust, and God would increase the enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between its progeny and hers. God also gave the promise of a coming victor who would crush the serpent’s head (3:15). The woman would bear the consequences of her sin, but her clear confession had put her in opposition to Satan, on God’s side.
God’s sentencing of the serpent began with the words, “Because you have done this ...” He used similar words with the man: “Because you have listened . . . cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it.” God did not curse the man himself, but because of his disobedience the ground from which he had come was cursed.
But God did not say to Eve, “Because you have done this . . .” No curse was pronounced on her, or because of her, although cursing the ground would affect her also (cf. Rom. 8:19-23). And because of her transgression, the process of eventual physical death had begun in her body as it had in Adam’s. Childbearing, which was a blessing in the Creation mandate (1:28a), would be affected. But God would not turn into a curse what had been given as a blessing.
Katharine Bushnell entitles chapter 10 in her book God’s Word to Women “Eve Becomes a Believer.” That is a bold statement, but she comes to it through the Genesis passage itself, as we shall see in Eve’s recognition of God’s working out of the promise of the seed that would come (3:15; 4:1).
What then are we to make of 3:16, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”(RSV).
As a missionary doctor in China, Bushnell was perplexed by the substitution in Chinese Bibles of the word yokefellows in place of women who labored with Paul in Philippians 4:3. She was shocked when a male colleague told her that the mistranslation undoubtedly was due to prejudice on the part of male translators. The doctor had never thought of such a possibility. Bushnell had studied classical languages, and she now gave herself to increased Bible study, in England’s university libraries and museums, with intense research into texts in the original languages .5
Some of her findings are warmly acknowledged by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Gordon-Conwell Seminary’s president and Old Testament scholar, as basis for two chapters concerning those words by God to Eve. In his book Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Kaiser agrees with Bushnell’s translation of Genesis 3:16, which follows the Septuagint: “A snare [a lying in wait] has increased your sorrow and sighing. In sorrow (or pain) you will bring forth children.” Kaiser adds: “[N]ote that bearing children in itself was a blessing described in the so-called orders of creation in Genesis 1:28. The grief lies not so much in the conception or the act of childbirth itself, but in the whole process of bringing children into the world and raising them to be whole persons before God.”
Kaiser also agrees with Bushnell’s findings on the word teshuqa, translated in 1528 as desire (or lust) by an Italian monk named Pagnino and continued in most English translations since then. Before Pagnino, teshuqa was regularly translated “turning.” Kaiser quotes Bushnell: “The Hebrew reads: ‘You are turning away [from God to your husband, and [as a result] he will [simple future, NIV, not imperative shall] rule over you.’”6 In God’s Word to Women Bushnell devotes twelve pages to the history of the mistranslation of teshuqa.
She also notes that nothing tells us that Eve was expelled from the Garden (3:24).
Her confession accepted, in God’s not pronouncing a curse on her or because of her, and given her position as the tempter’s enemy and as the bearer of the seed from which the Victor would come, if Eve did not come to true faith when God dealt with her face to face, when better could she?
Lest it be said that Eve did not repent and ask forgiveness, neither did Saul, who became Paul, ask forgiveness in his Damascus Road experience. Neither did Peter after his denial of the Lord Jesus. They acted out their repentance for the rest of their lives.
H. L. Ellison says, “In contrast to the mediaeval misrepresentation of women, attributing the main blame for the Fall to her (going back as early as Sirach 25:24), an attitude unfortunately perpetuated in measure by the reformation churches, God’s promise sees her playing a main role in the coming conflict.”7
Now “turning” to her husband, she either accompanied him out of the Garden or followed after, surely with hope of achieving the oneness that had been intended for them.
In time, a son was born to them. God had promised a birth that would bring victory over Satan. Eve rejoiced over her firstborn, exclaiming,” I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (4:1), which Bushnell translates as “I have gotten a man [the word baby did not yet exist]—even The Coming One!” Eve’s reasoning is understandable, although she was mistaken in identifying Cain, her first- born, as the promised one.
According to Bushnell, “The earliest Hebrew often employs ‘v’ (or ‘w,’ which is the same letter), where later Hebrew employs ‘j.’ The future form of the verb to be is ‘jhjh,’ which is the name for Jehovah, Jahve, or Jahwe [Yahweh], as the name is variously spelled in English.”8
Ellison writes on 4:1 in the IVF International Bible, Commentary:
Mediaeval commentators, as well as some later ones, understood Eve’s joyful words as meaning “I have gotten a man, even Yahweh,” as though she thought that Cain was the fulfillment of 3:15. This is highly improbable, though it is a possible rendering of the Hebrew. On the other hand, her recognition that her son was Yahweh’s gift suggests a growing trust in God (cf. 4:25).9
Ellison does not explain why he thinks that Bushnell’s understanding is highly improbable. She quotes Dean of Canterbury Payne-Smith (1818-95), also a member of the then Old Testament Revision Company. He wrote in Ellicott’s Commentary:
Jehovah means literally “He will come,” that is, “The Coming One.” The name is really man’s answer to and acceptance of the promises made in Genesis 3:15, and why should not Eve, to whom the promise was given, be the first to profess faith in it? . . . She did not know the meaning of the words she uttered, but she had believed the promise, and for her faith’s sake the spirit of prophecy rested upon her.10
Alexander Whyte also wrote: “Cain’s mother mistook Cain for Christ. . . . What a joyful woman Eve was that day!”11
Bushnell calls Eve “the first redeemed through faith in His name.” These thoughts may be new to many, but they arc compelling ones. Eve’s crucial encounter with God in the Garden, and his promise, surely would remain ever vivid in her mind. Students of the Bible must decide for themselves in light of the complete Genesis account.
Cain, Eve’s firstborn, had a father who had rebelled against God. Cain murdered his brother, and is there not a connection? After a time, Seth, another son, was born. Seth had a son whom he named Enosh. Then we read, “At that time men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26b). Had Adam turned back to God in repentance through Eve’s influence and that of a loving God? A change must have taken place in the home life to cause such a change. The God-fearing line continued through Noah and beyond, in sharp contrast to the line of the departed Cain (4:16), which knew violence and polygamy, and which perished in the Flood. God had expressed his continuing care by clothing the couple (3:21), and he remains the seeker of souls.
Some consider these early chapters of Genesis like parables. Much spiritual history of the human race can indeed be seen in them, but we are looking at them as the listeners to Jesus, and the apostle Paul must have received them. Our Lord, in his reply to the Pharisees who were testing him on the issue of divorce (Matt. 19:3ff.), stated God’s law of marriage as found in Genesis 2:24. On the road to Emmaus, in conversation with the two disciples, “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He must have begun with Genesis 3:15, the promise concerning the seed of the woman. Paul refers to the creation of Adam and Eve in 1 Corinthians 11:8-12, and the forming of both and their involvement in the Fall in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. He states Adam’s guilt in Romans 5.
The Freedom Of Choice
The early chapters of Genesis are presented as the account of our first parents, but they also tell the reader that human beings, meant to live for the glory of God by obedience to and dependence upon him, have freedom to choose. If they choose wrongly, there can be forgiveness and reinstatement with the loving Creator God through repentance and turning to him with faith in his mercy and provision of salvation. We have quoted men and women whose diligent study is leading to lessening of the blame that traditionally has fallen on Mother Eve. The worldwide abuse of women and girls in our day is enormous and tragic. Satan is still the archenemy of the woman, and in different ways, of the man. The woman is vulnerable through an acquired inferior status and through her nurturing nature. Christ was invariably her champion and encourager in his days on earth; and through his servants, marked change in attitude and conduct has taken place, and continues to take place, in many cultures. God haste the day when his church will fully demonstrate the equality and mutual love of its sons and daughters, for all the world to see.
- John A. Phillips, Eve, the History of an Idea (New York: Harper & Row: 1984), Preface.
- Katharine C. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women: One Hundred Bible Studies on Women’s Place in the Divine Economy (God’s Word to Women Publishers: 1923,1988,1998), 32-34.
- Gilbert Bilizekian, Christianity 101 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonder-van Publishing House: 1974,1984,1993), 126.
- Dana Hardwick, Oh Thou Woman that Bringest Good Tidings: The Life and Work of Katharine C. Bushnell (Minneapolis: CBE, 1995), 18.
- Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP), 1988: 31-34.
- H. L. Ellison, “Genesis,” The International Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House: 1986), 118.
- Bushnell, op. cit. 33.
- Ellison, op. cit. 118,119.
- Bushnell, op. cit. 34.
- Bible Characters (Grand Rapids. Zondervan Publishing House: 1970), 28.