What should Adam and Eve have done?

This is about “federal headship” and all that, though it raises interesting questions about biblical teaching on authority, accountability and so on.

The place to start is the way that the rest of the Bible, and especially the New Testament, talks about sin as Adam’s problem, rather than Eve’s, even though she was the first to sin by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

It’s true that Paul on two occasions refers to Eve’s deception by the serpent as an example for the Church (2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:9-10). But whilst this may be saying something about male-female relationships or a difference in gullibility – their application is not that clear – neither is about placing the blame for human sin on women: Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15 put Adam firmly in that role.

Yet the Genesis 1 account of mankind’s creation is clearly “gender neutral” – the image of God, and dominion of the earth, is either shared equally by male and female, or is complete only in the two sexes’ complementarity. Something more, though, is indicated by the fact that the generic term is “adam”, which becomes the name of the male progenitor in ch2.

In the Eden account, by contrast, all the “covenant” arrangements – the creation of the man from dust, his placing in the garden, the permissions and prohibition on diet, and the naming of the creatures – occur before the creation of the woman. And she is derived from Adam’s rib, and named “woman” in (etymologically dubious!) recognition of that derivation.

Now, there is still a repricocity and interdependance in the the narrative. Eve completes Adam, and the saying about a man leaving his parents and becoming one flesh echoes the sense of love and unity of purpose in ch1. Furthermore, whilst Adam is able to say that with the help of God he’s gained a woman from his own substance, Eve is later able to say, on the birth of Cain, that with the help of God she’s gained a man from hers.

So there’s no question of woman being spiritually or ontologically inferior to man. Yet we are left with the fact that Adam is the author of sin, and Eve the one deceived by the serpent.


We must, I think, assume that Eve’s conversation with the serpent takes place without Adam, though he is with her when she actually eats the fruit, because she gives it to him. So although she is aware of God’s prohibition, and should have told the snake where to get off (as it were), she actually received that prohibition through her husband, not directly.

So there is a clash of authorities going on here. On the one side the snake is, if Michael Heiser is correct, a spiritual being in God’s divine council – or at least he certainly seems to have sufficient intimate knowledge of God’s real intent to convince Eve. On the other side Eve’s husband has told her what God commanded him. Two versions of God’s command, so whom should she heed – the guardian cherub or her old man? Put like that there is no contest – Adam was the one made responsible for her knowing God’s will, not the snake. She was (as Irenaeus’s treatment emphasises) scarcely punishable for being more naive and less cunning than Satan. But she was punished not for that, but for accepting the serpent’s authority rather than Adam’s. Whether that authority came from his role as husband or as her federal head is another discussion.

As for Adam, it’s equally interesting to consider what he should have done when offered the fruit by Eve. The text is, of course, underdetermined. But we know that, whilst death came to both of them according to the terms of God’s prohibition, the cursing of the soil for Adam came “because you have listened to the voice of your wife.”

Did he decide that, as equal and responsible partners, they should discuss their interpretations of God’s words and reach a consensus (with the helpful input Eve had had from the serpent)? And did he defer to her as, quite probably, having the better judgement? Or did he simply abdicate his own authority for less noble reasons? Either way, he should (it is clear) have simply preferred God’s words to hers and refused the fruit.

But what would have been the result if Adam had remained obedient, and Eve had eaten alone? Surely Adam also had some responsibility for the “flesh of his flesh” too? Can we envisage that he would have been right to say, “Well, I’m not going to eat because of how I understand God’s command – but you’re an autonomous adult, so you must make your own choice without interference from me”?

My instinct is that, despite the postmodern theory that all power is oppression, the right thing for him to do – again, whether as a husband or as the federal head of the race – would be to have in some way to have exercised the authority he had been given as God’s spokesman on this matter.

To me, at least, the scurrilous question arises as to whether that would have involved beating his wife into submission or wresting the fruit from her grip by superior force. And I think, in context, that is an irrelevance. Eve’s problem was being deceived, not resisting against her victim status as a female. Adam should have undeceived her – and that must surely have involved the question of authority, for in terms of “rational argument” it was still a matter the interpretation of Adam versus the interpretation of the serpent. In that pre-sinful state, surely a reminder of how God had set up the human condition would have been sufficient to save both Eve and the human race from disaster.

In the end Adam was not punished for being a bad husband, and Eve was not punished for being a bad wife, although Scripture does draw later lessons from both which are, despite modern ideas of equality, worth pondering. Perhaps Genesis is a text imposing patriarchal oppression… or perhaps the postmodernists take the role of the serpent in deceiving people into believing that God has not said what, in fact, he has said through his appointed spokesmen.

Adam was held the more accountable than Eve even within the story, for he is the one named as being exiled from the garden, Eve being simply assumed to accompany him. And that must be because it was Adam who is considered to head up not only his family, but the race. In other words, the garden narrative does not only treat of a primordial couple as representative of the human race in both genders – even though Genesis 1 has stressed the essential duality of humanity in God’s image. The male progenitor, Adam, is the theological focus of the story of the Fall and, as we read in Romans and 1 Corinthians (but also, perhaps, in the parallel of the Kings of Israel and Judah who bring about the Exile through their poor leadership) the redemption.

It is hard to see how that could make any theological sense apart from his historical reality.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Adam, Genealogical Adam, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What should Adam and Eve have done?

  1. Robert Byers says:

    I agree that Adam must be real. A real human who is also given a age when he died.
    The bible says that woman was only created so man would not be alone. Not for reproduction. indeed one would think Adam woulfd notice his reproductive organs and the like in animals and therefore female animals.
    Therefore I SPECULATE that Adam had both male/female organs to reproduce.
    He never thought a female was coming. Then God took a RIB, but really the female part, and made a woman out of it. woman was uniquely taken from a existing being unlike all other beings on earth.
    The only reason women exist is to take mans loneness from him. to bne a helpmate.
    She is not to be/desire to be accomplished as man.
    The man is innately motivated to be accomplished. The woman innatelty to help her husband.
    this is why feminism is evil. this is why woman can never intellectually compete with men because the men are more motivated. not because innately smarter.
    modern equalness is Ungodly, unnatural, and a injustice to men.

    the woman was punished for her sin. not mere deception. She did evil.
    our woman uniquely/exclusively have pain at childbirth.
    Female critters do not.

  2. Jay313 says:

    “… she was punished not for that, but for accepting the serpent’s authority rather than Adam’s. Whether that authority came from his role as husband or as her federal head is another discussion.”

    Yes, it is another discussion, because the woman was not punished for rejecting the man’s authority, but God’s. And Mr. Byers shows us the fruit of such thinking:

    “this is why feminism is evil. this is why woman can never intellectually compete with men because the men are more motivated. not because innately smarter.
    modern equalness is Ungodly, unnatural, and a injustice to men.”

    A perfect example of why you are

    • Jay313 says:

      Sorry. Forgot the delete the last fragment, and there’s no edit function here.

      • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

        My point was that, according to the text, Eve was not around when God gave the command, having not been formed. She appears to have received it on authority.

        Some authors (including Beale) place stress on her misquoting of the command, either to show the way her heart was inclining, or the imprecise grasp she had on its content. I don’t – I think the verbal variation is just literary freedom.

        Nevertheless, it is not coincidental that the formation of Eve comes after the establishment of Adam’s role in naming and in receiving God’s command. That, it appears, is part of the explanation that the major fault is said to be his, not hers.

        You should know better than to judge an argument on the use that Mr Byers makes of it. Robert did not write 1 Tim 2.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          A rider to that, from the text.

          Note how the narrative is all about reversals of order. God gives the command to Adam, who gives it to Eve, who should give it to the beast.

          In the event, Eve heeds the beast, Adam heeds his wife, and God’s authority is denied.

          In the punishments, the serpent is subjected forcibly to Eve’s “seed”, Eve is subjected (apparently forcibly) to the tyrannical(?) rule of her husband, And Adam (because he listened to Eve) is subjected to being returned to dust (in two ways) by God.

  3. Jay313 says:

    “My point was that, according to the text, Eve was not around when God gave the command, having not been formed. She appears to have received it on authority.”

    Your addition of “authority” is reading into the text. If I tell you, “God said not to eat from that tree over there,” does that place me in authority over you? Obviously not. The command has authority because it is God’s word, so the authority is God’s, not Adam’s.

    The major fault is Adam’s because he was not deceived. He ate the fruit with eyes wide open, knowing what he was doing. Simple as that.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Adam told Eve one version of God’s command. The serpent gave her another, and she was deceived. Which version did God expect to accept – Adam’s, or the serpent’s? There are your rival authorities, both claiming to speak for God.

  4. Jay313 says:

    “Yet the Genesis 1 account of mankind’s creation is clearly “gender neutral” – the image of God, and dominion of the earth, is either shared equally by male and female, or is complete only in the two sexes’ complementarity. Something more, though, is indicated by the fact that the generic term is “adam”, which becomes the name of the male progenitor in ch2.”

    Sorry, Jon, but I’m just not a fan of this piece. “Adam” is not a personal name in Genesis 2. The first time that it is used as a personal name is 4:25. In Genesis 2-3, it is consistently ha’adam, or “the man.” And what is the “something more” that is indicated by the generic term “adam” becoming the name of the male protagonist? Honestly, that line of thought just strikes me as silly.

    “In the Eden account, by contrast, all the “covenant” arrangements – the creation of the man from dust, his placing in the garden, the permissions and prohibition on diet, and the naming of the creatures – occur before the creation of the woman.”

    None of those things are covenant arrangements, and even Reformed theologians have made serious objections to the idea of a “covenant of works/creation” in Genesis 2. I’ll make this short. First, Scripture nowhere calls it a covenant. (Don’t bother appealing to Hos. 6:7. You know the problems.) Second, there is neither a covenant oath nor a ratification ceremony, which were customary and required. (“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”) Finally, “covenant” in Scripture is always found in a context of redemption. None of these things apply to Genesis 2.

    Returning to Genesis 1, the image of God is clearly gender neutral, as you say. And in the consummation, when God’s creational intent is fulfilled, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Simple question: If that is the direction that God desires things to go, shouldn’t we be working toward that goal now?

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      You claim there was no covenant – a majority of Reformed theologians disagree.

      …even Reformed theologians have made serious objections to the idea of a “covenant of works/creation” in Genesis 2.

      Sounds like a choice of authority to me.

      And in the consummation, when God’s creational intent is fulfilled, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Simple question: If that is the direction that God desires things to go, shouldn’t we be working toward that goal now?

      I can never understand how people take a text about the present spiritual union with Christ, and hence the unity of the Church, to be about a future dissolution of all human distinctives, and especially one that was part of the creation itself.

      Sure, Paul speaks about the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile having come down, but elsewhere rejoices in his Jewishness and urges Gentiles to respect their debt to the Jews. The council of Jerusalem endorses the cultural laws of the Jews still to be valid for them, and to be similarly respected by Gentiles.

      The value distinctions between slaves and masters are also broken – the teaching both in churches and in Paul’s letters is given to both. Yet Paul, whilst he recognises that slavery arises from sin, teaches them to serve well, and masters to treat slaves well – release, before the eschaton, is less urgent to him, though the text says the unity in Christ is a present fact.

      And Paul’s teaching to the sexes, in relation to each other, is new creation teaching: and yet he differentiates between them on the basis, in at least one case, of creation.

      If Paul in Gal 3 means that the representative distinctions of race, social status and gender are all to be abolished at the resurrection, then we have no reason to expect any of our personal characteristics to survive – we shall be clones of the Lord Jesus. And that might be good, except that nothing in Scripture suggests it to be the case. The risen Jesus was still both Jewish and male.

Leave a Reply