Eve: Mother of All Life
“Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth. God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
“So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took part of the man’s side and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:20b-23).
Women at the Beginning
One of the greatest evils that our society struggles with today is the oppression of women and girls which has been justified and perpetuated by incorrect interpretations of the Bible. In the story of Eve, the mother of all life, we encounter for the first time a woman whose story has become tainted and obscured in history by misinformed traditional Biblical interpretations and erroneous retellings of too-familiar stories. In this article, we will take a closer look at the Genesis text that introduces us to mother Eve, and in the process uncover truths from her life that reveal to us a clearer picture of God’s intention for both Eve and for all of women, across all of time. There are two places in the creation narratives where Eve has been given a bad wrap. The first is in the controversy of her creation: who was created first and how? Does it matter? Which is correct, Genesis 1 or 2? And the second is in the drama between Adam, Eve, the Serpent, and God. Can Eve alone be blamed for the fall of humankind? What were her motivations? Did the Serpent really lie? When we take a closer look at what the scripture actually says, we find some surprising answers.
What scripture does and does not tell us
Genesis provides us with two stories of creation in its first two chapters. In Genesis 1, God creates both male and female simultaneously, without hierarchy, and in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). Because Eve was created in God’s image and likeness, we see the face of God in women, which reflects attributes of God not found in men. In Genesis 2, Adam is created first and Eve is then later taken out of Adam’s side (his tzela in Hebrew). Some will be surprised to learn that Eve was not taken from Adam’s “rib” which is a common mistranslation. Nowhere else in Scripture is tzela translated as rib, except for these two instances in Genesis, but is translated as “side” or “sides” the other forty times it is used in the Old Testament. God saw that it was not good that Adam was without a partner, and not finding a suitable mate anywhere else in creation, God put Adam to sleep and created Eve (Genesis 2:21-22). It isn’t until after this point in Genesis that we have recognition of gender for the first time, Adam is no longer just “human” but is assigned “man” and Eve is assigned “woman”. Since Eve was taken from Adam’s being, it is arguable that Adam is no longer whole without Eve. Adam requires Eve as his partner to be whole and to more fully reflect God’s divine image. The two are created for relationship with each other, no equal mate could be found among the animals, so God created Eve from the same substance of Adam, paralleling the science of cell mitosis which we know in science is fundamental in the process of life formation. Adam was first made from the red dirt of the earth (the hebrew “adamah”), from which we get the name “Adam”. Eve’s name in the original hebrew “chaavah” means “life”. The earth (the adamah) cannot flourish without life.* Adam and Eve, armed with the creation mandate, (Genesis 1:28 & 2:15), were called by God together to multiply not only humans on the earth, but to lead together in the missional work of cultivating a world full of God-loving and worshiping creation through science, technology, theology and art.
Eve the ezer
God also created Eve as Adam’s “helper” or “wife” as it is typically translated in Genesis 2:18. This word in hebrew is “ezer”. The reason this is important to know, is because the translation history from the original Hebrew into English has been a slippery slope. The word “helper” in english denotes a feeling of being inferior. However, when taken back to its meaning as the Hebrew word ezer, inferior is not implied. Thanks to modern research on the meaning of the word ezer, there is consensus among scholars that the word is more accurately translated as “strong helper”, and was never intended to be “wife”, although arguably it could be implied. “Ezer” is used in the Old Testament twenty one times and sixteen times ezer refers to God as helper and deliverer to Israel. Ezer is a powerful Hebrew militaristic term which implies the action of a warrior. Within the context of the Garden of Eden, protection and cultivation were top priority. Adam was given the task to “guard” Eden, (in hebrew,“shamar”), implying that there is something or someone that Eden needed protection against. Evil was on the prowl, (how else would the serpent have been able to enter the garden to deceive Eve in the first place?), and Adam needed a strong equal who could be his partner in battle, (a warrior), and in his work of cultivation and protection.
The deceitful serpent
Contrary to popular modern understandings of the story of Eve, she is not the cause of sin, nor is she responsible for the fall of humankind. Eve did not attempt to seek knowledge for prideful gain, and she wasn’t seduced. Eve was an assertive and capable woman, equipped by God to protect the garden with Adam, she had every reason to address and question the Serpent in the tree, it was her God given mission to protect the garden after all. As rulers tasked to protect the garden, one can reasonably imagine Adam and Eve patrolling the garden grounds and coming upon the serpent in the tree, engaging him and questioning his motivations before the serpent's deceitful plan and trickery unfolds.
As readers influenced by our own cultural contexts, we approach the story in Genesis 3 as one we likely know too well, and as one that has been colored by the influences of Agustine and of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is for this reason, that when we discuss Genesis 3 and the tale of the fall of humankind, we do so with our minds as free from as many assumptions as possible, to reveal new insights of what God may be showing us here us, and about Eve. With a close reading of this famous encounter, we see that the serpent begins his plan of deception by asking Eve a question, causing her first to question her trust of God’s goodness: “... Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1, emphasis mine). Eve then replies by stating the goodness of God, what God has given to her to eat, and she acknowledges God's commandment to not eat from the tree of knowledge: “The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” (Genesis 3: 2-3). The serpent then calls God a liar and assures Eve that she will not die, but will receive knowledge of what is good and what is evil, and she will become more like God by the simple and easy act of eating a piece of fruit (Genesis 3:4-5). The serpent does not lie, Adam and Eve do not suddenly die, but they receive knowledge of good and evil, they become aware of their differences for the first time, they cover themselves and they experience shame. Eve gave way to the serpent's deception, and Adam stood there, passive and silent. When Eve offers Adam some, he eats it, and is curiously silent (Genesis 3:6). It is interesting that there is no mention of discussion between Adam and Eve before the fruit is taken from the tree, the lack of consultation of Eve to Adam, and Eve as the main (and only) communicator in the discussion with the serpent, suggests that Eve was Adam’s equal. Eve is also the only one between the two of them that confesses blame. When God discovers they have eaten the fruit and confronts them, Adam’s reply is to first blame God, since it was God who put Eve there with him, and he then places blame on Eve as the one who gave him the fruit to eat (Genesis 3:12). It is curious that Adam does not blame the serpent who tempted Eve in the first place. Eve responds with a concise and honest confession: “... The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3: 13). Eve’s quick confession is admirable. She shows bravery and she shows that she made the choice, despite the trickery and presence of Adam as an equal partner in the drama. How has history so warped this story and made Eve a deceiver and a seducer who initiated the first sin?
The biblical text is clear that Both Adam and Eve turn their backs on God in the act of taking and eating the fruit. It isn’t about a sin of pride or lust, but of questioning their trust in God’s good intentions for them. Instead of pursuing a relationship with God and depending on God, they have instead chosen to become like God, bypassing the relationship for which God designed them. This choice of independence and self-sufficiency creates distance between them and God, and an attitude to live without God’s partnership becomes the problem. God’s plan for man and woman was to subdue and rule creation together, but instead it became a cycle of humanity and males and females attempting to subdue and rule each other.
Made for relationship
When God created Adam and Eve to work the earth, God blessed them to do it together (Genesis 1:28). When Adam first saw Eve created from his side he exclaims that she is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones (Genesis 2:23). Adam first recognizes how both he and Eve are the same, there is no mention of their difference. Their unity and partnership is the perfect balance for the needs of the world. This becomes broken when there is an awareness of shame and fear becomes real. The lesson that we learn here about humanity’s beginnings is that relational brokenness is the real consequence of our desire for independence and control of our own lives. A desire for independence that results in brokenness between God and human, and brokenness between male and female.
Why is it important to understand the truth of Eve’s beginning?
Understanding that Genesis does not subordinate women underneath men but speaks clearly to the purposes of God for equality, is foundationally important in theology and in the study of women in the Bible and in the Church’s history. It is also significantly important today that we understand the truth of this text in the face of the gender violence and abuse of women which is so prevalent in the world. Whenever we have a biblical text, such as Genesis 2 that has often been used as a tool for subordination or even the abuse of women, we have a responsibility to stop and study it, question it, research it, and pray about it alongside the thousands of other scholars and Christians that have come before us and done the same. In the case of Genesis 2 there is a counter narrative to the belief that women are inferior that shines through the text shedding light on how women are equal in power and authority to men. Mother Eve’s warrior-like and assertive personality has rippled through history, sometimes understood, but too often misunderstood, but nonetheless she is not ignored. Eve’s is a story of strength and resilience, of leadership and of misunderstanding and hard lessons learned. She is a figure to be admired, learned from and honored as the Mother of All Life.
About the Art
Eve’s portrait is a modern take on the icons of saints that are venerated in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic church traditions. With a reddish-brown hue, Eve’s skin is reflected as made from the “adamah” of the earth. Her hair and skin also symbolize a tree, which is so central in her story. The arrows in the background represent her warrior nature and calling as the ezer. Breaking the frame in front are fig branches, leaves and figs, which represent the engangling of the serpent in her story, her taking of the fruit, and her garden responsibility.
- What was new and/or surprising in this story for you?
- How does seeing Eve as a warrior change your views of her calling and how God made her?
- Seeing Genesis 2 in this light promotes an intimate connection with God and God’s relational nature. Does this encourage or challenge you? Bring you hope or fear or something else?
- Engage your sanctified imagination and consider Eve’s life immediately after this story takes place. What work did she do? How did her relationship with Adam change? What were the possibilities of her new reality? She most likely needed to rely on her warrior nature even more in the harsher environment outside of Eden. How may have this change impacted her relationship with Adam and with creation?
- Katharine C Bushnell, God’s Word to Women (United Kingdom: Crowning Educational, 1903 & 2016), 41.
- Wilda Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 21.
- Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 42.
- Carolyn Custis James, Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2005), 31.
- James, Lost Women of the Bible, 35-36.
- Ibid., 36
- Jane McNally, “Another Look at Eve: Mother Eve Gets a Bad Rap. But Is It Justified?” The Priscilla Papers, Volume 15, Issue Number 1 (Winter 2001): 8, https://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/another-look-eve (accessed February 20, 2020).
- Gafney, Womanist Midrash, 24.
- James, Lost Women of the Bible, 40.