Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

What Eve’s statement to the serpent tells us

What Eve's Statement to the Serpent Tells Us

At the moment I’m reading up on Genesis and gender in preparation for the “Genesis, Scripture and Creation” session at The Gender Conversation which will be held on Monday the 7th of September at Morling College.   

Today I read this statement:

“. . . the prohibition against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is spoken to the man alone (in 2:17). He is given responsibility to mediate this command to his wife after her creation and protect her from disobeying it. Presumably this command could have been given to both of them after the creation of the woman, but the account as it stands implicitly gives the man this responsibility to which he is later held to account . . .”

I’ve read this kind of statement many times. Is there any truth in it? What does the biblical account, “as it stands”, tell us about God’s command concerning the forbidden fruit? Did God give the command to the man alone? Eve’s statement to the serpent may indicate otherwise. 

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” Genesis 3:2-3.

The woman’s quotation of God’s command in Genesis 3:2-3 is slightly different to the command given to the man recorded in Genesis 2:16-17. The extra phrase about touching the fruit in Genesis 3:3 is an obvious difference, but there is another difference between the two commands that is not immediately apparent in modern English translations.

“Genesis, Scripture and Creation"In Genesis 2:16-17, where the man is being given the command, there are three singular verbs in the Hebrew text. Note the use of the singular pronoun “thou” three times in the King James Version of Genesis 2:17: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

In Genesis 3:2-3, however, the command is given with three plural verbs in the Hebrew text. Note the use of the plural pronoun “ye” three times in the King James Version of Genesis 3:3: “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said,’ Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’” Is the plural significant here?

The text of Genesis 3 tells us that Eve was deceived, but it does not tell us that she was a liar. Rather, her answer to God’s question regarding her failure shows honesty and candour (Gen. 3:13).[1] Her answer to the serpent’s question may also have been honest and candid. Eve may have, in fact, quoted God verbatim in Genesis 3:2-3 with the three plural verbs. If this is the case, her statement reveals that God gave the command about the forbidden fruit at least once to the man (with singular verbs) quoted in Genesis 2:17, and at least once to the couple (with plural verbs) as quoted by the woman in Genesis 3:3.

In Genesis 1 we read that God spoke to both men and the women and gave them commands (Gen. 1:28). In Genesis 3 we read that God spoke to the man (Gen. 3:9-12, 17-19) and to the woman individually (Gen. 3:13, 16). Throughout scripture we see that God continued to speak to men and to women, sometimes together, and sometimes individually. So there is no reason to suppose that God did not give his command directly to Adam and to Eve, especially as Eve’s quotation indicates that God did give the command to the couple.[2]

I suspect that the veracity of the woman’s statement has been doubted and its significance downplayed, but there is no reason to assume her quotation of God’s command is incorrect. Furthermore, Adam was there with the woman when she was speaking to the serpent, and he doesn’t contradict or correct what she says.

The assertions in the statement I read today do not agree with the biblical text, “as it stands”. There is no mention, implication, or hint in the biblical text that the first man had authority over the first woman before the Fall, or that he was given the responsibility of passing on God’s command to her, or that he was meant to protect her from disobeying the command. These ideas are simply not present in the text.


Endnote

[1] God seems to confirm the honesty of Eve’s statement in Genesis 3:13b. In the narrative, as soon as she explains to God “The serpent tricked me, and I ate”, God says to the serpent, “Because you have done this . . .” (Gen. 3:14f).

[2] God sometimes repeats his messages. For example, the Angel of the Lord (possibly a theophany) gave a message to Samson’s mother, but Samson’s father wanted to hear the instruction for himself, so the Angel visited a second time to repeat the message (Judges 13:3ff). In the New Testament, Gabriel was sent by God to Mary first, and he told her what would happen (Luke 1:26-37). Joseph, however, was troubled by Mary’s pregnancy, so an angel appeared to him in a dream and repeated the news about Mary’s special baby (Matt. 1:18-24).


Related Articles

Was it Adam’s responsibility to relay God’s command to Eve?
Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, similar or similar to the man?
Teshuqah: The Woman’s “Desire” in Genesis 3:16
A Suitable Helper (in the Hebrew)
A Suitable Helper (in the Septuagint)
Women, Eve, and Deception
Men and Women in Genesis 1
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

Posted August 7th, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Gender in Genesis 1-3, , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

11 comments on “What Eve’s statement to the serpent tells us

  1. judy says:

    Agreed…I went through the same thought process…here is another thought.

    Who planted the tree? Was it part of God’s work (it was very good)? OR was it planted just after God finished His work?…by Satan? Was this why God had to warn the two? It might be as reflected in this verse…”The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
    25 But while men slept , his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way .”Matthew 13:20-30

    Either way it might have been part of God’s good plan to ensure mankind loved him for the right reasons, or it might have been Satan’s plan to destroy God’s work…We will not know until we are in Heaven.

  2. Gail says:

    This is brilliant! I’ve often wondered why people are so quick to assume God didn’t give the command to Eve as well. Thanks for working this through, Marg. So appreciate your scholarship – I can’t even say how much it has helped me grow in my understanding the scripture the past few years!

    • Marg says:

      Hi Gail,

      I think the assumptions comes down to a bias in biblical interpretation. The words of women are skimmed over, seen as less authoritative than men’s, and possibly suspect. 🙁

      I deeply appreciate our friendship even though we’ve only met once IRL. 🙂

  3. Kristin says:

    Are you familiar with Katharine Bushnell’s interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis? She not only addresses some of the issues you raise here, but she’s got a really provocative interpretation of the divergent responses Adam and Eve gave upon being confronted in the Garden. Eve rightly confessed that the Serpent deceived her, and she ate. Adam, however, accused God: “The woman YOU put here with me caused me to sin.” She calls this the true fall into sin. The implications of this, as you might imagine, are profound–for interpreting the rest of Scripture, and human history. You can find more in Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women, but it can be a bit convoluted at times. I have a chapter on this (Ch. 5: Leaving Eden) in my book A New Gospel for Women, just out with Oxford–you might enjoy taking a look at it as you prepare for your Gender Conversation. Best wishes!

    • Marg says:

      Hi Kristin, I borrowed the Katharine Bushnell’s book once and leafed through it, but didn’t have time to read it all the way through.

      I found some of her interpretations truly fascinating, but others were a little far-fetched. You’ve piqued my interest so I’ll take another look.

      I vacillate in my opinion about Adam’s reply to God. Sometimes I think he is passing the blame to the woman and to God. But at other times I think he may have felt jipped. If we take the term ezer kenegdo seriously then surely Adam would have felt that he could trust his partner whom God had especially made to be strong “rescuer” equal to him.

      Your book A New Gospel for Women looks wonderful. I’ve seen reviews of it. I’ll definitely have to read it!

    • Marg says:

      Kristin, I found this in your book (at Amazon) on page 117:

      “Bushnell ascribed profound significance to Adam and Eve’s contrasting responses. By “becoming a false accuser of God,” Adam “advances to the side of the serpent.” But Eve, by exposing “the character of Satan before his very face, created an enmity between herself and him.”

      Wow, they are strong statements, and worthy of consideration.

  4. BA says:

    This really is so helpful Marg. I have often taught Genesis and this question almost inevitably comes up. I’ve always told the students – we can’t know if God gave the command to Eve as well or only to Adam. I’ve never actually noticed that Eve is reporting what God said in quotation marks if you can believe that. People always make a big deal that she adds to God’s command. But perhaps that’s what he really did say to THEM. I find the idea that God would communicate something so important only to the man not in keeping with his character elsewhere.

    Regardless of what we don’t know though, to make a point about implicit authority or responsibility (I’ve heard people blame Adam for her lack of understanding because he didn’t pass the command on correctly also), etc. does the text a disservice. That’s not how to do good, careful interpretation. What you’ve done here is.

    • Marg says:

      It doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t notice that Eve was reporting. I think we’ve all been brainwashed to think that Eve couldn’t have had anything noteworthy or worthwhile to say, let alone quote God verbatim.

      I’ve also heard people who say the first sin wasn’t eating the forbidden fruit, it was Adam’s lousy leadership in not passing on the command properly. This teaching is just plain ridiculous, and it is tragic that it passes as biblical interpretation. 🙁

  5. Ed Tuttle says:

    Enjoying your perspective. My takeaway from this narrative has been the addition “or touch it.” If the first couple added those words to God’s original command that introduced doubt. God’s under no obligation to fulfill our interpretations. If Eve, in doubting, reached out to touch the fruit and nothing happened, she could easily go a step further and figure that maybe the snake was right.

  6. […] It is apparent that the first woman did know God’s command, even if her words to the serpent in Genesis 3:2-3 contain an added clause as well as plural, rather than singular, second person pronouns, when compared with the original command recorded in Genesis 2:16-17. (The added clause may, or may not, be significant. The significance of plural pronouns is discussed here.) […]

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