A Revisionist’s Take on Adam and Eve

This might make some people grumpy, but the gist of Adam and Eve has nothing to do with God communicating to us what marriage is supposed to look like.  The message goes way deeper.  But, since the author wasn’t a white Evangelical, the meaning can get easily missed.

The story goes like something like this: God creates some stuff, then sits back and says “Wow, that’s good.”  Then He creates some more stuff and sits back again and says “Wow, that’s good.”  This happens a few more times, then He creates Adam, sits back and says, “not good.”  The author has set us up to expect God to really pat himself on the back at Adam’s advent, but we get the opposite.  Very strategic.

What’s not good is the fact that Adam is “alone.”  So the author brings in Eve (in Hebrew “Ish,” not sure how we got “Eve”).  Then God declares that she will be Adam’s helper.  This is traditionally interpreted as “Adam’s the leader, Eve’s the follower” and has been used throughout history to bolster the philosophy that the husband should always be in control – never questioned, always followed. People also mistakenly use this passage to defend the idea that everyone’s supposed to be married.  I’ve been a part of too many churches where single folk are looked down upon.

What’s actually happening here is that God doesn’t want Adam to be the only person on the planet, so he brings in Eve, to co-labor with Adam (ie help him) to bring in more people.  What’s fascinating is that this is the first time that God ceases to create by Himself.  From this point forward, – throughout the remainder of the Ancient Jewish and Christian Scriptures (commonly referred to as “The Bible”) – God doesn’t make a move without people being involved on some level.  Whenever God creates, moves forward, develops something, etc., He’ll be doing it with people from now on.

So again, this wasn’t written to serve as some kind of blueprint for marriage, it’s given to make two very important, often overlooked points.  God’s first act was to make a place for people, then make people. He’s still making people and we can infer from other areas of Scripture that these people are important to Him.  God’s really serious about this apparently. God’s also really serious about working with us, including us in what He’s doing, so much so that if we don’t respond, it doesn’t get done.

This is God’s first order of business – so it should be ours.  We should place people- the importance of people – at the center of our understanding and at the center of our religious life – and figure out what God’s up to so that we might join Him. Whatever it is, it’s going to have something to do with people.

Religious activities that put traditions, behavior, facilities, places of influence, affluence, etc. at their core have sorely missed the point.  Adherents of this type of religion are typically folk who place importance on almost anything but people, and can, many times, find themselves fighting for the wrong side. Alone.  Not good.

 

 

 

55 thoughts on “A Revisionist’s Take on Adam and Eve

  • Mark, love what you’ve done here. Wouldn’t the Genesis story-tellers be shocked at the way the texts have been misused and abused! You’ve done this in colloquial language that is spot on, humorous but deadly serious, as in the uses of ‘alone’ and ‘not good’. The Christian fundamentalist overlay on the Bible is like looking at a Rembrandt as thought it were a paint-by-number production without subtlety, nuance, or depths of meaning. Thank you for helping readers “get” the nature of these texts. Some, as you say, won’t like it. That’s the price you pay for doing a good thing. You’re not ‘alone’ and it’s ‘very good’.

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  • I was grumpy before I read your post, Mark. Not any more though; you’ve encouraged me. 😉

    Imagine the day of the Lord … foof … everything is gone except people. Some left wondering “what happened to my stock portfolio”, others angry that they didn’t get to see the selfie they just posted to Facebook. But quickly I suspect, it will dawn on us that the only thing ever worthy of our investment – our labor in this life, is each other. It’s why I so love the parable of the good Samaritan – he was the only ‘church builder’ in that story as only he recognized a ‘living stone’ when he saw it, wounded and lying there in the ditch … he dragged him out of the ditch, cleaned him up, transported him to a rehab facility and paid his medical bills …

    Jack

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  • Mark, a follow up question and comment to this lovely piece. Are we at a point now in the history of the human species that raises the question about the anthropocentrism of much of Christian theology? There’s a wonderful prayer by one of the early Church leaders, I think it was St. Basil, but am not sure that offers a view of creation that is holistic and inclusive of all forms of nature.

    That same sense of grateful wonder for nature and the universe is expressed beautifully in a prayer by Walter Rauschenbusch published in Prayers of the Social Awakening (1909) by Pilgrim Press. After a very long opening paragraph, the prayer continues. “Enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our little brothers, to whom thou hast given this earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to thee in a song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for ourselves alone, but for , and themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve thee in their place better than we.”

    Grace and Peace,

    Gordon (Views from the Edge)

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    • Right – great point. Assuming I’m hearing you right – we shouldn’t be so afraid of anthropocentrism that we can’t embrace humanity’s “kavod” – it’s all over the place in the bible I think. But you’re right, we’re always in danger of imbalance, but I think conservative religious folk, these days, are a bit blind to understand how important people are to God. Just my two cents.

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      • Thanks for looking beyond the status quo. Consider that Eve might well have been chosen to help humanity evolve by being “transferred” out of Eden so she and Adam could exercise their free will and learn to discriminate between good and evil. Blessings Barbara

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    • OK, so, I tried to work out “anthropocentrism” and figured you meant ‘a theology where anthropods are at the center’. So I googled “anthropod” because I’m not current on botanical terms and Google gave me lots of photos of spiders and a couple extinct lobsters, suggesting the alternative spelling “arthropods”. Hmmm – a religion for spiders and other jointed creatures with a exoskeleton. Then I think I remembered reading something about the Christian faith getting back a bit more to the whole stewardship of all creation thing, which would be totally great, if so many things in creation weren’t trying to either kill or eat us and each other.

      I did find this at least broached the subject: http://www.snopes.com/photos/signs/dogheaven.asp

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      • Wow! You went to a lot of trouble!!! Anthropocentrism places man at the center of everything. Man is the focus of creation. In most cases we have turned man (the human species) into the exception to nature – not a part of nature, superior to nature. Over nature. We don’t want to hear “you are dust (nature), and to dust (nature), you shall return.” I’m glad you came back with the question. I’m suggesting the best theology is theocentric, not anthropocentric, although for us Christians, Jesus the Christ is the window into the nature and fullness of God.

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  • The Hebrew word God uses, presuming verbal inspiration, is “Ezer.” I like the word. If I understand all the commentaries and translation right, it means covenant helper. She’s to help, it’s not an unequal relationship or anything unbalanced, it’s a partnership so they (and the human race) will succeed. Ephesians 5:21 brings things neatly into focus, with “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The man loves her in a sacrificial way, if necessary at the expense of his own life (5:25), and the woman loves him in a respectful way (5:33) since he bears the final responsibility just as the man did for not stopping the woman in the garden as he was there with her when she was being tempted. (Genesis 3:6)

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    • Thanx for your thoughts. “Ezer” has a few different meanings, and an interesting etymology, deriving from two words that carry the meaning “power” and “salvation.” “Covenant helper” can fit, but the problem with your interpretation above is that there’s nothing in the context of the story that would lead us to think that “helper” has something to do with Adam and Eve’s roles in their relationship, beyond populating the Earth. Sure, the Bible in other places speaks to your interpretation, but this isn’t what the author’s getting at in this case. Remember that the Biblical authors want to pull us into the story, to make us dig a little, work for the meaning. So they drop us clues, hints at their point, or “big idea.” There are more than a couple of clues for the interpretation that I’ve offered here, but none for the more classical interpretation.

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  • You know, you’d think what you said would be a given. That believers would totally get that. But when I see folks at church fussing more about the building than the people who go there, I know they don’t get it. We are getting ready to be involved with the program Family Promise where we house up to 17 people for a week at a time providing rooms and meals in the church while they look for jobs and places to live. It will be interesting to see how some of those folks who are worshiping the building actually respond to this program.

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    • Good thought. I’m trying to devote myself to what I think God is up to, mentor as many people as I can to do the same, then let everyone else go their own way. Easier said than done – I get really riled up about this…

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      • And yet that is the way Jesus conducted his ministry. I’m convinced the proper way to introduce folks to faith is to invite them to come along side you as you minister to others. Once they see that blesses others they become curious and want to know about our faith. That’s when they begin to understand and make their decision to become followers of Jesus. At least I think that’s how it works. I understand the getting riled up.

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  • “Religious activities that put traditions, behavior, facilities, places of influence, affluence, etc. at their core have sorely missed the point.” Oh, yes! Amen!

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    • The Bible was written a long time ago, has been translated so I am always wary of taking it literally. I prefer the idea that it represents best practice at the time of writing, which is why so many problems arise with it now. The notion of Adam & Eve were helpmeets recurs in England in 17th& 18th centuries, especially in relation to marriage & the law of coverture which made the woman legally invisible, hence could not give evidence against her husband as they were legally one.

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      • True re the Bible, but there is a mountain of evidence that supports the idea that our translations are valid, and that the manuscripts we have adequately represent what was originally written. Have you read Eerman’s “Misquoting Jesus?” – it’s a great place to start if you’ve never looked into this.

        Thanx for your thoughts – didn’t know the history of coverture, but not surprised, it still exists today to a degree I think.

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  • I could not agree more with this. So may times churchgoers get SO hung up on this rule or that tradition and all of the stuff that we as humans bring into faith that they forget the most important part: love. And love has everything to do with people, and that has everything to do with God.
    Awesome, awesome post.

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  • Bless you, Mark, for your wondrously reflective piece. Of my many “take-aways”, one stands out as, for me, it is riven with monumental implications: “What’s fascinating is that this is the first time that God ceases to create by Himself.” Having been a daily Bible reader/student for over 40 years, though, yes, the point you make here is conspicuous, it, I think, paradoxically, is not obvious, at least, for me, in an “Aha!” sort of way. Thank you for this. As I’m wont to say, “this’ll preach!”

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      • For me the “Garden” has always represented a metaphor for Earth and how we are responsible for it and the creatures that live on it. Not so much something that is past and done but is currently happening. Thoughts?

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      • One of the tricks here is to understand what it meant to the author before we jump to what it meant to us. “Ours” will be full of emotion, etc. What’s significant about the garden is not where it is or what it is, but more – what’s going on in the garden and why. How would you answer that? What’s God trying to accomplish in it?

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      • “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Then Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowledge and were kicked out essentially. This talks about original sin of course. What am I asking… is it literal to you? Each story has its lesson. What lesson do you get from it?

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    • Well, I’m an Evangelical with a ThM from a very conservative Evangelical Seminary – you can guess whether or not I think it was literal 🙂 A better question though is: why would God put them in a garden like this in the first place? What is he hoping to accomplish? Why this one rule? Why not more rules? Why not no rules? How long were they going to stay in the garden. What does the world we live in now have to do with the garden then? It’s a fascinating story to think about… So many good things to mined that go way deeper than “is it literal?”

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  • If you saying then that the traditions, the culture or the values of a particular group have no relevance in our faith tracks- I disagree. I think that invites a kind of laissez-faire living that easily allows folks to wander off on their own without the guidance and care of their friends.The Wesleyans who have always separated themselves from behaviors that offend God have now become American revisionists and want to allow smoking, drinking and I suppose, drugs within the membership without disqualification for membership. Where I agree that moderation is important and that conscience should be our guide not rules- society and groups need guidelines to assist in making good and positive decisions. I guess i am old fashioned.

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  • Loved it. I think that the Genesis story says what you said, and is also a good picture of marriage. But I agree that the number one message is that, “No man (or woman) is an island.” And those that think that you have to be married, obviously haven’t read Paul’s take on it: that it is better to be single, if you can manage it. Great message!

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  • Thank you Mark, for your perpective. I believe that this was the first time I had heard this age-old tale of what took place in the beginning, told in this way. I believe that we are here to help each other and to view the best of each other, to assist in God’s purposes. Thank you for expressing this view so vividly in your post. It was remarkable.

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  • G-d waited to see what Adam would call each living creature. Eve was called Ishah (Woman) because she was taken from Ish (Man); but her NAME he called Chavah (Eve, I guess), because she is the mother of all living (Chai).

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      • I think I even wondered the same thing myself, once… Sort of like, “How do they come up with these things?” Now we know. It’s not any correction you need to make at all. It’s just good to learn things and I’m happy you’re willing to do so in this area (though I don’t know that I can agree with you on things, but that’s completely separate). By the way, I wondered how on earth I was ever going to find what I wanted to tell you about in the Torah. I opened the book exactly to what was needed, with copious amounts of faith! True story! You seem to me like someone who is really interested in learning. I sense that. Not to proselytize, but because of that, I think you should use better sources for your materials. Try some Jewish courses, or books. Discovery (I think it’s from Aish, but I don’t recall) might be nice. I found a great version of the Torah in a lovely bookstore I love so much which I needed to purchase for my tourism classes. The first version the proprietor preferred was the JPS version.Yuck (no offense, JPS…). He nailed the next “offering”: Koren Publishers (from Jerusalem). (No, definitely and distinctly different than “the Quran”.) In the beginning (ha-ha!), there is a preface, which answers your “question” right off the bat. It explains the pains they’ve taken to correct the Anglicized names which have crept into all of the other versions. It is an unparalleled source to actually learn the Hebrew, because it matches the spacing and lines of the English, while still remaining true to the necessary rules required in transcribing a perfect Sefer Torah. It actually incorporates the chapter divisions the Gentile versions have produced. It is no compromise; it is an improvement all can benefit greatly from. I wholeheartedly recommend this superb edition. I have used it to learn Torah, as well as Hebrew, at the same time. It is really unmatched for it’s practicality and it’s handy pocket size. I can also recommend ArtScroll as a complementary source (additional to the Koren) for its unparalleled and detailed beauty of translation.

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  • Uh-oh… I was re-reading my comment and realized what horrible wording I chose about “offering”. I didn’t mean that the way it came out, at all. I am so sorry, and actually horrified, that I actually did that. Wow. I am so sorry. Can you please forgive me? I ask that really in profound sadness for the offense. It was a horrible oversight on my part. I, too, should have looked before I posted.

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  • Not sure what you’re offense is…. The source I went from is Biblia Hebraica stuttgartensia, but I haven’t read this section of it in awhile, and, my Hebrew is not what it used to be 🙂
    Thanx for the Tora tip, I’ll check it out – either way I need to keep working on getting the white evangelical me out of the way….

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  • The offense was saying “He ‘nailed’ the next ‘offering'”. Really bad mistake. I apologize. I hope you’ll accept it. Thanks for considering a new source to add in your studies and discussions — I think you will benefit immensely. Take care, and I hope you feel better.

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