Eve, deception and Doctrine

thought it might be helpful to dig a bit further into some of the things raised in my conversation with Elyse Fitzpatrick on last week’s podcast.  If you haven’t watched or listened in yet then I’d encourage you to do so via one of the links below.

One thing that Elyse raised was the way in which our understanding of male and female roles can be shaped by misunderstandings of what was going on back in Genesis 1-3.  There were three particular examples of this.

  1. The idea that God created men and women with different natures
  2. That God’s judgement brought in a battle of the sexes.
  3. That Eve was easily deceived due to her nature.

I want to pick up on the last one now. It arises out of a text in 1 Timothy 2:12-15 where Paul says:

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

I’m not going to comment on the whole passage here. I recognise that some bits are controversial and others difficult. I expect there will be different interpretations and applications among my readers. However, I do want to pick up specifically on verse 14.

What I think we’ve done over the years is we’ve taken a simple statement of fact, that Eve was the one on the frontline, the one primarily targeted by Satan and therefore the one deceived and read that as a comment on her character and therefore on all women since.  As Elyse said, this has lead to a view that women are intellectually inferior to men and unsuitable for things like theology and doctrine.

The first point to make on that is that if true, this would indicate deficiency in creation. It would mean that God had created something “not good.” It would mean that God’s assessment of his creation was faulty and that God lied when he assessed it as “not good.”[1] As Elyse pointed out in the discussion, it would mean that Adam was justified in his excuse when he blamed his sin on “the woman you gave me.” God would have given Adam something bad and defective. This would mean that Jesus’ point that God is a better father than human fathers who know not to give their children stones and snakes instead of bread and fish.

Secondly, it misses what actually happens in the narrative.  We often picture the scene with Eve there on her own, deceived by Satan and then Adam turning up later. Yet, as Moses tells the story, he is very clear that Adam takes some of the fruit because he is with her.  Adam, to quote a recent British political leader was “present but uninvolved.”  He remains passive in the conversation. He fails to step up. He leaves his wife unsupported in the spiritual battle.  It’s almost as though he’s happy to sit back as long as he knows that his wife will bring him dinner.

What this means when it comes to the question of doctrine and theology is that if Eve’s theology is imperfect, at least she is doing theology. At least she is engaging with doctrine. Adam doesn’t even bother. His doctrine is absent.

I say “if Eve’s theology is imperfect” because it has been assumed that it is. This is because she is seen to add something to God’s command.  In Genesis 2, God commands them not to eat from the fruit but in Genesis 3, Even adds that they are not even to touch the tree. Now, it is possible that she adds in commands and becomes the first legalistic but it is also possible that she is reporting accurately, giving fuller detail of the summary in the previous chapter. We can’t say for definite on this but I’d be careful about building a whole theology on a few words.

Alongside this is it worth remembering that back in chapter 2, it is in the context of God giving Adam the command that he must not eat the fruit that God says it isn’t good for Adam to be alone. That’s when he says that Adam needs a helper and gives him one.  This suggests that Eve is needed as helper not just for the work of subduing and filling creation but also in the work of being a holy worshipper of God. Eve is meant to help Adam stay faithful to God’s command.  When Satan attacked, they really should have been in it together.

There are a couple of implications from this. First, it means that theology and doctrine are things we do together, men and women. I hope that we are taking time to read and listen to female theologians such as Kristi Mair and Sydney Tooth, Fiona Gibson, Karen Jobes, Kirsten Birkett and Ros Clarke to name a few.

Secondly, when it comes to home life, whatever your views on complementarianism and egalitarianism, there is no place for an attitude which says that husbands don’t have to listen when challenged by their wives on their faith both in terms of what they believe and how they live it out.

Yes, Eve was the one deceived but men and women are equally capable of being deceived by Satan’s lies because we are all fallen. Men and Women are also equally able to withstand deception and temptation in Christ because of the redeeming power of the Gospel.

[1] My assumption is that Genesis 2 is an expansion of the events on Day 6.

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