Was Adam and Eve’s punishment just?
Arguably, any punishment for sin is just. They were told what the consequences of disobedience would be (immediate spiritual death resulting in eventual physical death), and disobeyed anyway. In pride, they duplicated Lucifer’s choice and decided they wanted to be like God (Genesis 3:5-6; Isaiah 14:12-17). And that pride was their downfall and the downfall of mankind (Romans 5:12). Any punishment they bore would be the punishment for all of us. If God is just as He says He is (2 Thessalonians 1:6), then what He placed on man and woman before they were expelled from the garden was no more and no less than what they deserved.
But were their punishments equal?
I noted Eve’s punishment last time, and I will note it again:
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
Adam’s punishment takes a few more words (and a few more verses):
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19).
Interestingly, their punishments correspond with two of the three commands God had given them: A) be fruitful and multiply and B) subdue the earth and have dominion over it.
Their punishments, the results of breaking the command not to eat from the tree, would make it painfully difficult to follow the other two. SIn isn’t isolated–it bleeds into every area of our lives.
From now on, women would have a nightmare of a time bearing children. Had it not been for the Fall, labor might never have been called “labor.” What’s more, the Fall introduced a power struggle between men and women that was not supposed to exist. Different translations handle this part of the curse differently. Some of them interpret the phrase “your desire will be for your husband” in the Hebrew as “your desire will be to rule over your husband,” others, “you will long for your husband.” Most translations have it as I have copied it here. There is little variance on the second half of the phrase: “and he will rule over you.” Some replace “rule” with “dominate,” but for the most part the phrase remains glaringly, sickeningly the same.
Eve’s punishment was the opposite of what God had planned for the relationship between Adam and Eve. They were intended as corulers in a perfect (or at least “good”) garden. They did not have to be told to love. They walked in the garden with God (Genesis 3:8). There was no pride, no hatred, no anger, and no abuse. But their sin upset the balance God intended: man and woman would be at war.
Now, what about Adam’s punishment? Reading his punishment without meditation can make it sound like while Eve will be subjected to being dominated by her husband and the physical agony of childbirth, Adam will just have a hard time gardening. And that doesn’t seem remotely fair.
Both Christians and non-Christians alike are tempted to think of the punishments this way. Some have argued that Eve’s punishment was worse because her sin was worse, but sins aren’t graded on a curve–if you’ve broken one, you’ve broken all of them (James 2:10-11). Adam was standing with her at the time of her temptation–not only could he have refused the serpent’s (and Eve’s) temptation, but he could have stopped Eve from eating the fruit and didn’t.
It seems to me that both are being held accountable for their sin and for contributing to their spouses’ sins.
Adam’s punishment is extremely harsh, when you think about it. Up to this point, taking care of the garden and its creatures had been a cakewalk. But now nature would fight him back. Thorns would prevent his crops from growing; diseases would blight his orchards. Adam was thrown from thriving to surviving: food would only come out of the ground for him if coaxed. There would be drought. There would be plagues. There would be famine. His hands would bleed on the thorns, his fingers would be rubbed raw from yanking weeds out of the ground. Even with all of our modern agricultural advancements, there are still corners of the world where men and women are starving because the ground will yield up nothing for them. Even farmers in fertile lands pray for more rain, or less rain, or that the locusts will hold off.
Instead of man having dominion over the earth, suddenly the earth had the upper hand. I have observed that men have a deep desire to provide for those they love. Millions of men throughout earth’s history have broken their backs to put a roof over their heads and the heads of the wives and children they love. That desire is thwarted at every turn by the ruthless teeth of a sin-cursed world where even in fertile lands families still go hungry.
Adam’s punishment affected both men and women. But did Eve’s?
From what I have found so far in my study (and I’ve barely scratched the surface), there is no Biblical statement declaring that Eve’s punishment hurt Adam as well. I may find something like that as i go; I may not.
But I will repeat here what I have heard many feminists observe. I will zoom out for a moment and make a practical argument based on practical observation. The Patriarchy–that amorphous entity defined by the concepts of “male privilege” and “female oppression”–hurts both men and women. The Patriarchy tells men they must be brutes to be considered “real men,” that more men commit suicide per year than women because The Patriarchy tells them “real men” hide their emotions, that male victims of rape and domestic abuse will not go for help because The Patriarchy tells them “real men” can’t be hurt by women and that if a woman attacks them, they can’t fight back.
If misogyny and inequality was Eve’s punishment for her sin, then yes, her punishment hurts us all.
Adam and Eve. Men and women. Equally treated. Equally loved. Equally sinful. Equally punished. Equally condemned.
Thank heavens the story doesn’t stop here.