Getting the Garden Right: Eve and the Diverse Strands of Female Identity
Within the early verses of Genesis, we find not only the source of the universe but also the source of every woman’s identity. The story of our first mother, Eve, has much to tell us about the purpose of women on this earth.
- Imago Dei
The first piece of Eve’s identity is the fact that she was made in the image of God. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (1:27) Here the scripture refers to an image borne by the entire human race and emphasizes that it is shown forth equally in both sexes. This is the foundation of a woman’s identity: her connection with God, her Creator.
The next piece of Eve’s identity is revealed in the narrative of her individual creation. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” (2:18) The Hebrew word ezer, translated here as “helper”, indicates that a woman’s relationship to a man is one of vital significance in which she supports and complements him. It does not imply inferiority in rank or value, but is an entirely godly characteristic. Eve’s intimate connection with her husband and ontological equality is emphasized in Adam’s words:
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” (2:23)
There was certainly an order to Adam and Eve’s marriage, as demonstrated by the fact that Adam served as the federal head for humanity. Federal headship was part of Adam’s individual identity, but it did nothing to detract from the special identity given to Eve.
Unfortunately, Eve’s identity was negatively affected when she was deceived by the serpent and sinned against God. She attempted to seize an identity for herself in which she would be “like God, knowing good and evil”. (3:5) Perhaps without realizing it, she had committed the original sin of attempting to be equal with God. Instead of gaining the identity she hoped for, she became a sinner. This brought a curse upon her and all her female descendants.
“To the woman He said,
‘I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.’” (3:16)
Even as Eve’s role as child-bearer is revealed, it is simultaneously cursed. This unique aspect of a woman’s identity—that she alone can carry a child and give birth—has been a source of great misery throughout history, not only in the number of women who have died in childbirth, but also the sorrow of women unable to conceive or carry a child to term. Again and again in scripture, we see the pain of infertility in the lives of Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and others.
The curse also attacked another part of Eve’s identity: her relationship with her husband. While the translation is somewhat debated, I believe the second half of verse 3:16 means, “Your desire for affirmation and love from your husband will be frustrated when he chooses to rule over you rather than serving you in a Christ-like manner.” This is not meant to be prescriptive. Even as God does not forbid epidurals, he also does not wish for husbands to act as tyrants over their wives. Rather, he was explaining to Eve what would happen after the introduction of sin into the world: the relationships between men and women would be poisoned.
There is one final aspect of Eve’s identity that is extremely important. God tells her that her role as child-bearer will be redeemed in a manner that cancels out the evil brought about by the serpent.
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (3:15)
This prophecy predicts the coming of Jesus Christ: the incarnate God born of woman who reigns victorious over the forces of evil. Immediately after he is cursed to die, Adam named his wife Eve, “because she was the mother of all the living”. (3:20) Here we see his faith that Eve would bring forth children, and from those children would come a Savior who would reverse the curse of death. By God’s grace, life would follow death, and life would ultimately reign triumphant.
In choosing to bring about the Incarnation through the body of a mother, the Lord weaved this unique aspect of a woman’s identity into the narrative of salvation history. One of the Apostle Paul’s odder phrases is likely a reference to the fact that the sins imparted to us by our mother Eve have been forgiven through the gracious gift of children that brought about the coming of the Messiah.
“And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.” (1 Timothy 2:14-15)
The phrase “bearing of children” could also be translated “child bearing” or even “the child bearing”. The most sensible explanation is that Paul believed this special aspect of female identity, gifted before the Fall, became the means through which God accomplished His redemptive purpose.
Eve’s identity was defined by her relationship to God, her relationship with her husband, her role as mother, her fall into sin, and her ultimate redemption. While the lives of individual women vary, and there are further aspects of female identity revealed in scripture, these are important things to remember when we consider the purpose of women in this world.
Amy Mantravadi holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She is an active member of Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. You can read her blog at www.amymantravadi.com or follow her on Twitter @AmyMantravadi.
All scripture quotations are from The New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation. They are from the book of Genesis unless otherwise noted.