I began a women’s bible study a couple weeks ago at my church called 12 Women of the Bible. Recently, I have been doing a bit of research and reading about women’s roles in the church and what the bible actually says about this, so this study sounded appropriate and promising.
What spurred this dig into women’s roles in the church? Women at our church are not allowed to be elders. This is not uncommon among churches. But we (my husband Chad and I) have been considering church membership recently (we never got around to going through our church’s required membership classes before now) and Chad has also been invited to participate in a bible study with the senior pastor that focuses on church leadership and the roles of elders. So this rule about women being disqualified from eldership has been nagging at me lately. This led me on a search, where I found the blog of Rachel Held Evans, who talks a lot about women’s voices in the bible and the church and how scripture supports an egalitarian view of gender.
So going into my first week of 12 Women of the Bible, I was hoping for a study that raised women up, that recognized and celebrated that, we too, are made in the image of God, and that women have played a crucial role in the history of the church and our faith. What I got at my first session did not exactly live up to those expectations.
Understandably, the first woman studied in this 12-week series was Eve. Going in, I’d already read about Adam’s ezer kenegdo from Evans, and felt inspired and exhilarated to more fully understand who Eve was created to be– Adam’s partner in stewarding God’s creation. She was created as the completion of God’s good work– for it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). I was hoping this would be the kind of liberating discussion we would have at the bible study. Instead, we focused on Eve as the tempted first sinner, who may or may not have then tempted Adam into sinning alongside her.
Now, I realize the significance and impact the temptation story has and has had on all of creation, from the beginning to now, and that’s not to be overlooked, but does it need to vilify Eve?
I love thinking about what life must have been like in the garden, peaceful and beautiful and good. It’s almost hard to imagine. Adam and Eve had personal contact with God. That’s simply incredible– and tragic that the world we live in is any less than that. But our discussion at the bible study seemed to come down to a blame game of saying, when all she needed was at her fingertips, how could Eve have done this? When God gave her everything she needed, why didn’t she recognize that and refuse to eat the fruit? And I just kept thinking, well why don’t we? When God gives us everything we need, why don’t we see that and turn toward him and away from sin?
It’s easy to cast Eve as the villain who ruined it for everyone, but shouldn’t we instead look at her and see in her the very image of God? There aren’t many details in Genesis about who Eve was– her personality, her character, her walk with God. We don’t have the privilege of knowing much about her, but she was as complex, in mind and spirit and body, as any of us. She is not a one-dimensional sinner, whose single most important act was giving in to temptation.
Yes, that sin has very clearly changed everything. It’s not hard to see the ramifications of Eve eating that fruit. But that wasn’t the beginning of her story, and it wasn’t the end. God created her to be Adam’s partner, to be the first woman, and she was an amazing creation. Her being, her gender, and her communion with Adam are just as important as what happened in chapter three. We don’t know how long she was in the garden before the temptation. But she was there, living with Adam and walking and talking with God. She must have had a very close relationship with them both. I can’t imagine the devastation she felt when she went from living in communion with God, to being expelled from the garden.
It’s also a bit sad to me that I’ve never heard a sermon or read anything about Eve from Genesis 4. Granted, she’s only given a few verses there, but it is the rest of her life. She became a mother, and her relationship with God continued: “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” (4:1) She lost a son, and her relationship with God continued: “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel.” (4:25) God did not cast Adam and Eve out of the garden, away from Him forever to fend for themselves. There were consequences for their sin, but as always, God was faithful and merciful. And it seems to me that Eve knew that, because she saw how God favored her in bearing children and building her family. She sinned in the garden, but she wasn’t defiant and stubborn in her sin. She didn’t hate God for how he punished her. She was ashamed and she accepted the consequences and continued her relationship with God. Her life didn’t end with that piece of fruit.
So I’d rather think of Eve as a strong woman of God who made a mistake, rather than the tempted temptress who wrecked it for the rest of us.