Updated: May 17, 2020
Since the dawn of time, Eve has been the stick that men beat women with, or at least, that's how it seems.
The order in which Eve was created, and the fact that she was the first one to eat the forbidden fruit, has been held up as the reason why women must submit to men, even thousands of years later. In this post, we will take a look at the problem of Eve and how certain readings of Paul's letters have led some to hold Eve's role over all women—and kept women from using their gifts.
The gnostic problem of Eve
Historians have found gnostic works written in the centuries after the early church that retell the creation story in a whole new way. We see Eve as the one who imparts wisdom and understanding to Adam. She is portrayed as the first of creation, and it is Adam who leads mankind in the first sin. This idea likely predates these writings, even into days of the early Christian church. (1) This might serve as a clue for understanding some parts of Paul's letters, but for now, let's take a look at the original story.
The problem of Eve's role being used to repress women
The creation story is told twice, one right after one another. In the first telling, we see this:
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Here we see that both men and women were created by God and in His image. We also see that they both get the same directive: multiply, rule, subdue.
The second telling has a more dramatic spin. Adam is created out of the dust of the earth and God plants a garden and puts him in it. Then God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him.” Then God creates the animals and birds and brings them to Adam to name, but Adam does not find a suitable helper.
What does the Bible mean with this word helper? A maid? A cook? Is Eve supposed to be washing Adam's socks while he gets on with the more important business of subduing and ruling the earth?
This word we have translated as “helper” is used in a handful of other places in the Bible, and it does not refer to a subordinate. The Hebrew word “ezer” (pronounced ay-zer) means to help or assist.
Using the software Logos, I searched the lemma of the word translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18, and these are the verses I found:
Genesis 2:18, 20
Deuteronomy 33:7, 29
Psalms 20:2, 70:5, 89:19, 121:1,2, 124:8, 146:5
Look them up, and you'll see that two times “helper” is referring to Eve. Most of these refer to God or His actions, and others speak of soldiers or shields. Two of the verses show people failing to be a helper.
The word itself does not define the relationship between the helper and the helpee. So while it may have been popular in days past to believe God thought Adam should have a “little woman” around the house, that isn't the image this word paints. It doesn't say in Genesis how Eve is to be a helper, other than to solve the problem of Adam being alone. If you were to take this verse, apply the same context as those additional helper verses, you'd get a picture of a woman as a protector and a valued companion.
Moving on in the story, God makes Adam fall into a deep sleep and creates Eve out of Adam's rib. The author then tells us that this is why a man and woman share a special bond as husband and wife.
Now what are Adam and Eve up to as they share this special bond in the garden? Is Adam ruling while Eve multiplies? If we go by Genesis 1:28, Adam and Eve are both told to multiply and rule over the earth, so we can assume that is what they are