Is Eve an Actor or a Prop?

I recently finished reading, and reviewed, Reconciliation by Muthuraj Swamy, and was struck by the way in which Eve’s role in the fall is arguably denigrated. I reproduce below a precis of the relevant study that I think forces us to ask the question this blog post seeks to answer:

If the conversation between God, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had been different, would that have changed humanity’s journey through this world? Would it have changed God’s relationships with human beings? Yes? No? We simply can’t tell… in Adam’s reply to God there is a clear attitude of exclusion. ‘We’ language is completely missing. Look at the number of times the word ‘I’ is used. We find it four times, and along with the use of ‘myself’ Adam’s response is fully in the first person singular. ‘I’ is at the centre, but this does not reflect reality. Verse 8 clearly says ‘they’ hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden and ‘they’ hide themselves. Adam has forgotten he is part of a ‘we’. He is concerned only with himself. He talks only about his hearing  the sound of God, his fear, his nakedness and his hiding, although Adam and Eve experienced all these things jointly. This attitude of exclusion is no less sinful than eating the fruit… The narration of the first sin in Genesis 3 tells us not only that disobedience and lack of trust in God adversely affect our relationship with God, but also that sin should be understood against the background of spoiled human relations – and that spoiled human relations can affect reconciliation.

To me, this reads like a fundamental rejection of the book of Genesis as a coherent theological whole. In Genesis 1, the full humanity of both man and women – the characters in this narrative that we come to know as Adam and Eve – is affirmed robustly in the language of the Image of God:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Swamy’s reading, by contrast, appears to denigrate the role of Eve to that of a prop, a woman as an object, rather than as an independent actor in a play that will determine human destiny.

We live in a world where the identity of women as persons is under threat. It has always been so – and the Bible, particularly these early chapters of Genesis – challenge that even as the New Testament gives us the tools to understand and explore how that works out in churches, homes, and the wider world. What is clear, however, is that Eve is a key character in this story, rather than just another lump of clay to be nodded at but not engaged with. My limited experience of drama at school always included a few things – being an actor, and using props. My sense that this particular treatment of Genesis 1-3 reads as something of a dividing line between the two. Is Eve an actor in the story whose role matters, whose freedom and decision impacts the entire human race, whose humanity is gloriously broken yet divinely affirmed? Or is Eve just a prop, a crutch for the real dialogue, that of ‘reconciliation’ between man and God?

Clearly, I hope, the former.

If Adam and Eve together represent humanity as the fully-orbed but damaged image of God, then to focus on one to the dismissal or downgrading of the other is read these early chapters of the greatest story ever told in a very strange way.

Genesis 1-3 is a foundational text for both Christian and Jewish theology and cosmology. I have argued elsewhere that the gendered language of the Image of God is incredibly important for understanding the rest of the big story of Scripture. The moment we let other concerns – be it ‘reconciliation’ or a disagreement within churches over ‘marriage’ – determine our reading of the text, we risk missing the radical truth of this story, the radical invitation into being fully human that Jesus picks up later in the Bible.

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