The Deception of Eve

The exegesis of 1 Timothy 2 that Graham mentions in his follow-up post is really a question that deserves its own treatment, so I won’t fully address it here (especially as we are in danger of straying into a different discussion entirely), just to the degree that it bears upon my point. The main concern of my earlier comments was to challenge the common reading of Paul’s argument that Luke Timothy Johnson seems to adopt, as I believe that Paul’s logic is different.

A key observation here is that the deception of Eve did not arise from the fact that she was a woman (as I noted at the end of my last post, the rest of the Scripture has numerous instances of women proving themselves wiser than serpents), but from the fact that she lacked the first-hand knowledge that Adam had, so could be confused and deceived by the serpent.

Adam’s sin is seen to differ from Eve’s in a number of respects that are relevant here.

Adam is not described as having been deceived, while Eve is declared to have been deceived in both Old and New Testament. How was the woman deceived? The commandment concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was in implicit tension with the granting of the right to eat of any tree in Genesis 1:29 and the serpent played the two off against each other. He cast doubt upon the reliability of the commandment given to her through Adam (the serpent’s question could even be read as ‘was it really God who said?’). At this point, Eve should have questioned Adam and sought more reliable information, but she doesn’t. Adam’s silence and failure to intervene—notice that when Eve takes from the tree, she gives of its fruit to Adam too, suggesting that he had been standing silently by—compounded her confusion and uncertainty. Had Adam misreported the commandment? Had she misunderstood it? Had he been deceiving her? Whom should she trust?

Adam wasn’t in a position to be deceived: unlike Eve, he knew exactly what God had said and didn’t have to determine between the mixed messages of two witnesses. He sinned ‘with a high hand’. He wasn’t deceived concerning God’s word, but just distrusted and rejected it. Nor does 2 Corinthians 11:3 blame Adam’s sin on Eve (I disagree with Graham here). Adam was the one who was the particular priest/teacher in Eden, charged with upholding the authority of God, teaching and enforcing the commandment and guarding and serving the Garden sanctuary. We principally fall in Adam, rather than in Adam and Eve. Adam failed to protect Eve from and prepare her to withstand the false teaching of the serpent (an aspect of his guarding work), choosing to use her as a guinea pig for sin instead. In this respect, Adam’s sin lies behind Eve’s.

I strongly agree with Graham that Paul’s argument doesn’t hinge upon a claim that ‘women are universally like Eve in being deceivable.’ Also that Adam’s sin is the one emphasized in Scripture, contrary to much subsequent popular theology. However, I disagree with his claim that Adam was deceived like Eve: the deception of Eve is rather different from the distrust of Adam. We can recognize this difference between their sins without suggesting anything about their relative intelligence. In short, I believe that: 1) Paul’s condensed summary in 1 Timothy 2 is perfectly in line with the Genesis narrative and almost certainly arises from a fairly attentive reading of that text; 2) contrary to many readings, 1 Timothy 2 presents us with no biblical basis for the belief that women are by their nature less reliable or more susceptible to deception.