Is the Woman Really Responsible for the Fall?


Complementarians frequently will conclude that “Mankind fell from grace because Adam did not lead, permitting his wife to lead and be deceived by the serpent.” Is this really an appropriate way to consider the Fall of humanity in the Garden?

It is witnessed that complementarian and egalitarian readers of Genesis 3:1-19, which records the Fall of humanity and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, often read it very differently. In the 1987 Danvers Statement it was insisted, “Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin,”[1] as male principal leadership would be assumed because Adam was created first. Egalitarian interpreters, in stark contrast, do not assume that simply because the male was created first that all major leadership responsibilities were to rest with him.

Easily overlooked by even the best Bible scholars, is how Adam as the first human was given the instruction to not eat from the forbidden fruit: “The LORD God commanded the human…” (Genesis 2:16, Common English Bible). While we are not told in Genesis 2 how much time transpired between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve, we can assume that a sufficient amount of time occurred for not only for Adam to be lonely—but also to interact enough with the Creator, His Creation, the animals, and for him to have a good idea about what would be lost if the single command not to eat from the forbidden fruit were violated. Egalitarians will widely stress that Adam being created first, should not be taken an indication of principal male leadership in the ekklēsia and in the family, but instead as an indication that Adam had more practical knowledge and experience with the Creator and His Creation before the arrival of Eve.

Eve was surely informed by Adam about how God had declared the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil off limits (Genesis 3:1-2). Yet in her dialogue with the serpent, she is witnessed as saying, “God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:3, NASU). There is nothing in the account of Genesis 1-3 up to this point which specifically states that touching the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and its fruit would cause death. Eve knows that the tree and its fruit are quarantine, so much so that she is seen adding to God’s instruction, so that touching the forbidden fruit will not take place. Eve is thinking for herself, but Eve also demonstrates a naïveté likely resultant of Adam not having adequately informed or taught her as to the dynamics of God, His Creation, and the Garden. Eve is witnessed as being deceived by the serpent because of her ignorance (Genesis 3:4-5), she eats the fruit, and then she passes the fruit onto Adam who also eats (Genesis 3:6). The innocence of Adam and Eve was lost (Genesis 3:7a).

Adam and Eve make themselves coverings due to their nakedness (Genesis 3:7b), and they are confronted by God (Genesis 3:8-9) who asks them about such nakedness (Genesis 3:10). God asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11, NASU). Rather than being honest with his Creator, Adam instead shifts the blame to Eve: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12, NASU). When asked what she did, Eve tells God, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13, NASU). The later testimony of 1 Timothy 2:14 is clear that “it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (NASU). Eve was legitimately deceived by the serpent into eating the forbidden fruit, whereas Adam was not, as he knew exactly what he was consuming.

As a consequence of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, a curse is issued by God upon the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15). A curse is also issued upon the woman, first involving pain in childbirth: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16a, NASU). The statements which follow, appearing in Genesis 3:16b-17, are especially subjected to very different conclusions from complementarian and egalitarian interpreters:

“‘Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’ Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (NASU).

Fundamentalist patriarchalists will read “Your desire will be toward your husband, yet he must rule over you” (TLV), as meaning that in the Creation order, various females have a strong hormonal desire to have a husband, and when they find one, he will consequently be his wife’s leader. Concurrent with this, the Fall of humanity is squarely placed on how Adam listened to and followed his wife, letting Eve be the leader and not him (Genesis 3:17a). In a diverse number of Messianic settings, I have seen Genesis 3:17a, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife” (NKJV), directed to husbands in the assembly, with the explicit direction that they are not to take the advice of their wives too seriously in terms of family matters.

It should hardly be a surprise that egalitarian readers of Genesis 3:16b-17 have a completely different approach to the curse issued upon humanity at the Fall. Genesis 3:16b, employing the Hebrew term teshuqah, communicates “Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (NJPS). Further on in Genesis 4:7, God is seen informing Cain, who later murders his brother, “Sin couches at the door; its urge [teshuqah] is toward you, yet you can be its master” (NJPS). The teshuqah, “urge” (NJPS) is a forceful action, then resultant in a forceful action. As a part of the curse in Genesis 3:16b, wives will have an urge for their husbands, and the husbands will then be forced to master them. This is describing a battle of the sexes which ensues as a result of the expulsion from Eden.

Adam does bear responsibility for eating the forbidden fruit, and readers should be honest enough to recognize that it does involve how he responded to Eve’s activity: “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 is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life’” (Genesis 3:17, NIV). The statement “Since you listened to your wife…” (NLT) is hardly unqualified, as though husbands from this point in history onward should never listen to what their wives have to say. In total, “listened to the voice of your wife,” is joined with “and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you.” While nothing is stated specifically in the text as to what Eve said to Adam, to cause him to eat the forbidden fruit, it is said that “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6, NASU). What Eve told Adam had to relate to how the serpent had deceived her, by saying, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, NASU).

Adam listening to his wife Eve, is qualified along with Adam eating the forbidden fruit. Adam clearly should have corrected Eve for her error, informing her once again as to how terrible things would happen if they ate the forbidden fruit, and the two of them should have cried out to the Creator for His mercy right then. Eve’s limitation was not that she was created as an inferior person with a lower level of intelligence than Adam; Eve’s limitation was that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13, RSV), relating to her experiential education. Adam’s advantage was not that he was created as a superior person with a higher level of intelligence; Adam’s advantage was that he had greater knowledge of the Creator, His Creation, and of the dynamics of the Garden.

Egalitarians do believe that “your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16b, NJPS), is indeed part of the curse resultant of the Fall of humanity. Egalitarians also believe that the work of the Messiah on the tree has inaugurated a post-resurrection era where the curse can be lifted, and the mutual partnership of man and woman intended by Genesis 1:26 can be restored: “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (TNIV). Among Messianic Jewish teachers, Ruth Fleischer recognizes the need to return to what has been lost, “[the] harmony of the sexes within God’s plan. Not the elevation of one sex over the other, not the servitude of one sex under the other, but a program that utilizes the gifts and calling of each, individually, as men and women, to advance the kingdom of God.”[2]


NOTES

[1] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 85.

[2] Ruth Fleischer, “Women Can Be in Leadership,” in Dan Cohn-Sherbok, ed., Voices of Messianic Judaism (Baltimore: Lederer Books, 2001), 151.