Women in the Old Testament: Eve
In the second creation story, seeing how Adam desires someone equal to him, God gives woman to man as his partner. She is the first being like Adam, spiritual and physical, and cast in the divine image. Adam names her Eve, a modification of the Hebrew word meaning “to live” as she is “the mother of all the living” (Gen 3:19).
Despite being the mother of all men, history turns an unsympathetic eye towards Eve, often dismissing her as the one by whom man fell into sin. She is the first person tempted by the lure of the tree’s fruit. She is the first human to consider that God’s gifts do not contain enough for her – as Satan is the first to do so for the angels. It is true that Eve brings the fruit to Adam, and that he eats of it freely. However, what history often overlooks is that Adam is fully responsible for his subsequent actions – at Eve’s great peril.
Just as Eve is the first human person to sin, she also is the first to experience man’s inhumanity towards man. When God confronts our two fallen parents, Adam’s immediate reaction is to blame both God and Eve for his transgression. “The woman whom you gaveto be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Gen 3:12). He will not say, “I took it” or “I chose to eat it.”
Adam receives Eve as a precious gift from God, created to fulfill his earthly life with human love. Yet, in his now-fallen state, Adam cannot face his own culpability. Had he acknowledged her wrongdoing without eating the fruit, then he would have done so out of his original innocence and love for her; perhaps he could have been her advocate before God. However, he now has intimate knowledge of good and evil. This is the double-edged sword that defeats Adam: he now knows fully what he has done, but he no longer has the grace to repent. And so, he hides his guilt behind the very person he should love and protect without hesitation: his wife.
Leaving the story as it is, Eve’s life is a tragedy for her and all humanity. She ushers in an era of death and isolation from God. She even loses her son Abel to the violence of murder rooted in the very sin she helped release into the world. Her only hope lies in her own long-descendant son. Only this time he is a pure man coming forth from a pure woman.
When we look at the Old Testament and New Testament as mirror images, we see how Christ’s pure self-sacrifice in atonement for the sins he did not commit undoes Adam’s selfishness. Adam tried to hide his sin behind the sin of Eve. Christ stands before God as the sinless man who takes responsibility for all sin.
Moreover, the first fruits of his sacrifice go to preserving his own mother from the stain of that first sin, so that she could answer God’s call and become the new mother of all the living. Eve’s and Mary’s similarities are striking. Initially, both are women without knowledge of sin. Both women lose their sons to the violence of murder. It seems as though Mary’s life continues to suffer from the bad choices of our first parents.
Yet, Mary’s choice is radically different. Eve made a choice without knowing sin, but a choice that would lead to sin. Mary made a choice without knowing sin, but a choice that would lead to destruction of sin. The New Eve not only brings forth life anew in Christ, but life eternal in the same Christ: her child, perfectly human and perfectly divine.
We must look kindly on Eve and with sympathy. For like her, we all have fallen by our own ignorance of sin. And she shares in the fruits of salvation just as we do. She is the mother of our race and our sister in Christ. History blames Eve for Adam’s downfall. If we can call Adam’s traitorous sin “a happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a redeemer,” then we must also acknowledge Eve’s role in setting into motion not only our destruction, but our restoration and perfect union with God.