Genesis 3 and Adam’s Sin
I had not planned on adding to my series on gender roles in the church, but I read a blog post the other day that simply blew me out of the water. To summarize briefly, the blogger was taking a professor to task because the professor made a statement that Adam’s sin in the garden was listening to the voice of his wife. The blogger made an oblique reference to such interpretations as being unbiblical and Scripture twisting. I am unfamiliar with both the professor and the blogger, so I will not mention either by name. However, because I happen to agree with the professor (at least up to a point) I wanted to go back to Genesis 3 and see if my position is indeed biblical or not, or whether I was twisting Scripture or not.
Let’s look at the verse in question, “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” Cursed in the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’” (Gen. 3:17, NIV)
To be sure I looked this verse in 11 different translations. They translate the verse virtually identically, although the NKJV adds a little wrinkle. Instead of the word “listened,” the translators use “heeded.” But there is no significant difference between any of the translations. I want to make that point clear.
Now, a little digression. According to the canonical story, Adam was commanded not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before the creation of his mate. I say “according to the canonical story” because I do not believe the biblical writer is necessarily giving us an exact chronological history of the events that took place. For the biblical writer it was enough to emphasize that Adam was taught BEFORE the arrival of Eve. However, Eve did know of the prohibition, as she was able to repeat the command back to the serpent. So, either God gave her the same warning, or Adam taught her after she was created. During the temptation, while Adam was present (3:6), Adam was silent – he let Eve speak to the serpent. Now, notice the sequence the biblical writer has given to us: Adam is created, Eve is created, and then the serpent appears.
After the couple has eaten of the fruit and after God has confronted them he punishes each for their wrongdoing. But he begins with the serpent and ends with Adam! Now, why would the writer reverse the sequence? Would it not make more sense to begin with Eve, since she was the one who was tempted and fell first? In typical ancient storytelling fashion, however, the writer builds the story to a crescendo. He begins with the punishment for the serpent (and adds, “because you have done this”) moves to the female (but, interestingly enough, does not stipulate why she is punished!) and then as the pinnacle of all the punishments focuses on the male. And note carefully – “Because you listened to your wife.” Folks, I did not write those words. The university professor did not write those words. The inspired writer of Genesis wrote those words as having come from the mouth of God. If I am being unbiblical, please tell me how I am being unbiblical. If I am twisting Scripture please tell me how I am twisting Scripture.
Now, the one point on which I would disagree with the professor is in his statement that Adam’s only sin was in listening to his wife (if the professor was quoted accurately, that is). The text goes on to say that Adam was guilty in disobeying the command not to eat of the tree. So, Adam’s sin was in disobedience to God. I have stated, and I believe, however, that Adam’s greater sin was in disobeying God in relationship to his wife. If we take the canonical story seriously, Adam was given the command first, and therefore he was given the greater responsibility. When he abdicated his leadership role he placed Eve in a dangerous position. It goes without saying that Eve was guilty of her own disobedience. But, had Adam exerted his “male spiritual leadership” Eve would have been protected. I stand by my assertion. Adam’s greater sin, the sin that placed Eve in a precarious position and that was specifically identified by God in his sentence upon Adam, was first in abdicating his role as husband and spiritual leader.
Am I making this stuff up? Am I creating this out of my head? One passage that has always intrigued me in light of this discussion is Romans 5. If Paul was the great misogynist that egalitarians make him out to be, why did he blame Adam as the cause of death for mankind? Was it just to draw a male/male comparison between Adam and Jesus? That is indeed possible, but I think Paul knew his Bible and his theology better than that. Paul does make the argument in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 that Eve was deceived first, so he was capable of drawing that analogy if he so desired. If we are to view the writings of Paul at face value we must understand that there is a qualitative difference between Adam’s sin and Eve’s sin. Death entered through the fall of Adam, not the fall of Eve. I may be wrong in the specifics, but in any case I believe Paul viewed the sin of Adam differently from the sin of Eve.
I conclude with the same plea I have made with each of these articles. If I am wrong, please show me! If I am being unbiblical please show me from Scripture where I have erred. I have an extremely high view of Scripture, and so if I am wrong I need to correct myself and others that I have taught. Please do not think that I am saying that women are incapable of spiritual insights, that they are unclean, that they are inferior to men, that they are second class citizens in the kingdom. I am well aware of the abuses of male chauvinism. I abhor all aspects of abuse. Not all men are capable of spiritual leadership, and I am not arguing that they are. The biblical qualities for leadership are plain, and as I suggested in my last post we have way too many men in positions of leadership that are not capable and are not qualified.
Next: The Law of Unintended Consequences