In Friday’s blog post, I sought to explore the details of original sin and to convey that there are subtleties and stages to it. The sin was more than eating a piece of fruit; there were things that led up to it, both externally and internally.
Today I would like to consider how the sacred text speaks of the sin of Adam and differentiates it to some extent from that of Eve. Biblically, original sin is Adam’s sin, not Eve’s (cf Rom 5:12inter al).
It is not that Eve did not sin, nor that her actions have no interest for us, but as the head of his household and of the human family, it is Adam who bore the responsibility and thereby incurred the “original sin,” which comes down to all of us.
Today’s post isn’t going to be very politically correct, because in striving to differentiate Eve’s sin from Adam’s I will take up a controversial text from St. Paul. It does not comport well with modern notions, so it is important to consider a couple of points before beginning.
First, we ought to remember that it is a sacred text, and even if St. Paul may draw some of his reflections on the cultural experience of his time, he also gives theological reasons for what he writes.
Second, this is only one text from one author. Further, what St. Paul says rather absolutely in the verse that follows, he qualifies to some extent in other writings.
With this in mind, let’s examine the controversial text and strive to see the distinctions between Adam’s sin and Eve’s. St. Paul writes,
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Tim 2:11b-14).
Upon reading the text like this, so astonishingly out of step with modern thinking, many are prone to dismiss it out of hand as a relic of a past dark age. It is debatable whether this edict that women should not teach or have authority over men was merely a disciplinary norm that need not be observed today. It is also debatable how absolute Paul’s words were, for Paul speaks elsewhere of women as catechists (e.g., Phoebe in Romans 16), spiritual leaders, and benefactors (e.g., Lydia in Acts 16) in the early church communities. And in Corinthians, he says that when a woman speaks in the assembly, she is to cover her head (1 Cor 11:5). So, what St. Paul says in his Letter to Timothy is distinguished elsewhere in a way that allows for women to both speak and teach the faith.
In the passage from Timothy, the context seems to be that of the family and marriage. St. Paul affirms the headship of the husband here just as he does in Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18 as does Peter in 1 Peter 3:1-6.
There is another text in which Paul speaks of women being silent in the church. The context in the following passage seems to be liturgical:
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Cor 14:34-35).
Here again, there is legitimate debate about how strictly the silence described in this passage is to be interpreted. Generally, Church practice has understood it to mean that women are not to give the official teaching in the liturgy that we refer to as the sermon or homily. This stricture has been observed from antiquity to the present day; the homily can only be given by a bishop, priest, or deacon. In more recent times women have been permitted to serve as lectors, cantors, and singers, but the official teaching moment of the homily is still reserved for the male clergy.
While some prefer to see St. Paul’s observations as cultural artifacts that can be adjusted, we need to see that Paul sets forth theological reasoning for the difference between Adam’s sin and Eve’s.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Tim 2:13-14).
St. Paul begins by saying that Adam was formed first, then Eve. So, here he teaches, as he does in other passages, that the husband has headship, authority. The husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the Church (Eph 5:22).
In terms of original sin, St. Paul says that Adam was not the one deceived, it was Eve who was deceived. Thus, St. Paul speaks of Eve’s sin as different from Adam’s. She was deceived and so sinned. Adam was not deceived; his sin lay elsewhere.
Eve herself speaks of her own deception: “The serpent tricked me and so I ate it” (Gen 3:13). Of Adam’s sin, God says, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it’ …” (Gen 3:17). Thus, Adam’s sin lay in his willingness to allow his wife to tempt him. These sorts of teachings grate on modern ears, but this does not make them untrue.
Perhaps a little additional reflection may help to avoid knee-jerk reactions to either gloat or become angry. Adam’s and Eve’s sins are described differently and can also be understood as weaknesses to which each was particularly susceptible: she to deception, he to being swayed by Eve’s feminine mystique and beauty.
St. Paul does not simply ascribe these two weaknesses to Adam and Eve as individuals but also as male and female. Hence, St. Paul seems to teach that a woman ought not to have solemn teaching authority in the Church because of her tendency to be deceived.
Why might this be, that a woman could be more easily deceived? Perhaps it is rooted paradoxically in her strength. Women are more naturally spiritual and inclined to be a source of unity and peace in the family. While these are wonderful strengths, in certain circumstances they can provide an easy opening for deception. If one seeks to make peace too easily, one may compromise with error and sin; and though being open to spiritual things is of itself good, one should not be open to erroneous spiritual concepts.
Further, should a woman cede to these, she can have undue power over her husband and other men who may be drawn by her beauty into setting aside their better judgment.
To my mind, this is St. Paul’s point when he says that Eve was deceived and Adam was not, and therefore a woman cannot have teaching authority in the Church. There was a similar warning in ancient Israel that a man should not take a foreign wife because she might confuse his heart into the worship of her foreign gods. A man’s heart can easily be swayed by a beautiful and influential woman.
Addressing this double threat, St. Paul forbids women to have teaching authority in the Church and ties it back to the archetypal incident of Adam and Eve. Eve was deceived and then was able to seduce her husband to sin.
In modern times it may well be that St. Paul’s caution is affirmedby the problems in liberal Protestant denominations that have a large number of female leaders. It is these very denominations that have departed significantly from the orthodox Christian faith, denying basic tenets of the Trinity, moral teaching, and biblical interpretation. This was not caused solely by the presence of women in leadership roles, but there is a high correlation between denominations that have embraced women as leaders and departure from orthodox Christian beliefs.
Have I been politically incorrect enough for you? Please feel free to comment below, but keep in mind that the focus I am interested in is the different descriptions of the Adam’s sin and Eve’s sin.