Why Women: Part 3

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.

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10 comments

  1. alicianewk10 · September 24, 2015

    Yes. Right on.
    ” SIn isn’t isolated–it bleeds into every area of our lives.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Teacherlovesbooks · September 24, 2015

    Thank you for a carefully reasoned approach to this issue. It’s vital for Christians and non-Christians alike to see the completely redemptive nature of our God and Creator. Even His punishments lead to His provision for redemption.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sam Stephens · September 24, 2015

    It’s interesting how some of God’s punishments were His direct intervention (thorns, pain in childbirth, etc.) while others were natural results of humans having a sinful nature. Eve would seek for fulfillment and security from a relationship other than with God (her desire would be towards her husband), and Adam would take advantage of that dependence (he would rule over her). Neither of these problems were in God’s original design.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. TypewriterError · September 24, 2015

    “Thank heavens the story doesn’t stop here.”

    Amen to that.

    I’m also really glad you mentioned the “real men” issue. I honestly think mysogyny has damaged men along with the women that those men were taught (by tradition and other men) to have ultimate dominion over. That dominion often came with sacrifices that the Bible never asked to be made by either party (i.e. “a woman’s place in the home”, “Real men don’t cry”, ect.)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Timothy Pemberton · September 24, 2015

    Ok, and now a feministic, atheist perspective:

    First off, I have a problem with the “any punishment for sin is just.” I have never seen how this could ever be true. How far does one have to stretch logic so that a child stealing a nickel is equally egregious as murder? I simply cannot be down with that. It would not make sense for a court to give a life jail sentence for the crime of stealing five cents, yet god supposedly has not only done that according to this way of thinking, but he has made that life sentence eternal and added in the bonus of it being tortuous as well. That is a deep theological problem for me to overcome.

    I also must ask how it is that you and I are punished for something we didn’t do–for something that supposedly happened over 6000 years ago. I mean, I was born without the use of my arms (although somehow my body gave me that power some time after my birth); how did I possibly deserve that (how do other people who have to live with similar or worse conditions their whole life deserve that)? In my opinion, being born is not a crime, not a sin. If we humans are to be punished for existence, then how is that just?

    Also, were parasites part of the original creation or were they created after the fact?

    How did Adam name the bacteria and tardigrades if he couldn’t see them?

    [just had to get those out of the way; now for my feminist critique.]

    First off, I would like to praise you for the whole Patriarchy bit at the end. That is something I have realized through becoming a feminist. This whole social construct of men and women being fundamentally different in almost every way not only hurts women (which most see as obvious), but it also hurts men through emotional repression and how it may feel to not be a “fully masculine” man. It is much more indirect , but it is a bad side effect as well of the entire culture.

    That being said, I again must point out that according to this text, it is god himself who set up this system. And unlike later books in the Bible, there is no caveat that stipulates how men should treat their women. It merely says, “and he (man) shall rule over you (woman).” There is no “love clause” that defines how women should be treated. If I am not mistaken, Genesis also uses (according to some English translations) the exact same word (rule) when talking about the creatures/plant life on the earth and women in this statement. [I don’t know the original language, but that would be an interesting thing to look into.] From this language, I hope you can see how easy it is for anyone to interpret this as a god-sanctioned dominance over women which leads to misogyny and mistreatment. In the end, how easy would it have been for god to say, “Hey, you know, this is going to be used to subjugate all women in future cultures. Better add something that says that’s wrong.” But according to this, he didn’t. Yes, it may be argued that it does in later stuff, but that is literally thousands of years later. According to these verses, god says man shall rule over woman, and he leaves it at that.

    Finally, if what god had created was perfect (men and women are equal), then why did he go and disrupt that himself? Why didn’t he just leave it the way it was? If he himself changed it (which these verses basically say he did) this means he *created* the imperfect system that we have lived with for thousands of years, therefore making him into an enabler of evil.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to write all this down and hearing out all sorts of people (such as myself). I really have enjoyed it thus far and am reeeeeeeally looking forward to Leviticus. 😉

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    • E.A. Stephens · September 24, 2015

      Hello! Welcome back!

      I won’t answer fully right now, because it’s late and I’m operating on a sleep deficit. But there’s one thing I wanted to let you know: there *is* a love clause. I’d mentioned it in an earlier post, and I’ll elaborate on it in future posts. This “love clause” (I like how you put that) appears in Ephesians 5:25 and Colossians 3:19 and can be found less expressly stated in several other passages I’ve read. I’ll attempt to cover those sections and these verses more in depth when I tackle the topic of “submission.”

      I couldn’t leave that point hanging. 🙂

      Like

    • E.A. Stephens · September 24, 2015

      And no, the caveat does not appear at that moment, but love and appreciation for wives shows up in the old testament frequently. God may not have added the caveat then because Adam, newly sinful, had never known anything *but* hour to love his wife. The concept of “dominating her” was brand new to him.

      Like

    • E.A. Stephens · September 24, 2015

      (I reread your comment and realized I hadn’t answered the right question. Sorry!)

      Like

    • E.A. Stephens · September 30, 2015

      Aaaaand I’m back. Sorry it took so long for me to respond.

      You ask really good questions. Christians grapple with these, too–I sure have. Whole books have been written about everything you asked. I wish I had life enough to read them all. 😦 I can’t answer them perfectly, and maybe, once I find some solid resources that will answer them better and refer you to them. I’ll do my best, though.

      First question: Yes, you’re right. That’s really hard to understand, and equally hard to explain. God looks at sin at its root, which is often something humans cannot immediately see. In Adam and Eve’s case, eating the fruit wasn’t the problem–their attitude of rebellion was. What we might call “small sins” are symptoms of a deeper problem–usually, a prideful heart or a rebellious heart. And “small sins” left unattended will pave the way for “big” sins, sins that do a lot of damage to the sinner and a lot of other people. Let me try an imperfect analogy: say someone has cancer, but it’s only a tiny spot on his lung. it’s just a little cancer, but he’s still not cancer-free. Sin is soul cancer–an aggressive cancer that we’re born with.

      Which brings me to your second question. Sin is inherited. God created Adam to be the representative of the human race. When he fell, the consequences of his actions extended to us. There are several passages in the new testament that discuss this, including Romans 5. Sin, by its nature, has corroded the world, and not one of us is exempt from its ravaging effects. It seems horrendously, awfully unfair to carry the heritage of evil–but there’s a plot twist here. Just as the sin of one man–Adam–made all men and women sinners, the goodness and the sacrifice of one man–Jesus Christ–covers all sin. His goodness is counted as our goodness when we ask Him to save us. As to why people are born with physical challenges…I feel like the best answer I can give you is the story of the man who was born blind in John 9.

      About the parasites and naming the bacteria: I haven’t the foggiest idea. 🙂 It’s not discussed in scripture. I can only theorize on this point. God could have made pests after the curse, or they may have already existed and simply lived in better (undestructive) harmony with the environment. There’s a lot I wish God had explained in the Bible, because I’m just as curious as you are.

      I already tried to address your first feminist critique. I read your comment again, to make sure I didn’t miss anything or misunderstand you. A lot of what you addressed is stuff I want to discuss in later posts…from my recent readings in the Old Testament I think I have reason to believe that God held a high standard for how women were to be treated based on His swift retribution on those who were cruel to them. But I haven’t delved deeply enough into that yet.

      That’s a very valid point. But did God disrupt the way things were–or did man? It may be that because Adam and Eve let sin into the world that the second part of Eve’s punishment was not so much of an edict from God as it was a natural consequence of the pride that now consumed their hearts. It could be either from a literal reading of the text. Let me clarify: I don’t think there’s any reason to believe from this passage that the punishment for her sin made her less equal to Adam than she was before. There’s nothing in this passage to support that thinking–she’s still fundamentally as valuable as he is. But from now on, because of sin, man would be inclined to *act* and *think* as if she were a lesser being. If God had decreed that women were now lesser beings then men, degraded to the status of animals, then salvation (John 3:16) would not be possible for us, but the rest of the Bible is very, very clear that salvation is available to both men and women.

      Sorry I can’t answer more clearly or in better detail. But I hope this might have helped a little.

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  6. The Intransigent One · October 20, 2015

    Late to the party… I don’t feel that the “patriarchy hurts men too” argument really makes Adam’s punishment equal to Eve’s. Sure, patriarchy does hurt men, in innumerable ways. Just, it hurts women a lot worse. That, after all, is why it’s called “patriarchy” and not just, “sucks-to-be-human”.

    I’m not seeing how “God sees sin at the root” justifies the same punishment for different sins, or different severity of punishment for equal severity of sin, unless you want to get into a tautology about how human morals don’t apply to God, because he’s God, so the argument that the punishment should fit the crime, doesn’t apply to Him, because he’s God.

    The cancer analogy really doesn’t hold up. The treatment for a small spot on a lung is way different from treatment for a stage 4 metastasis, even if they are both cancer. Treating a small spot as if it’s a stage 4 metastasis does more harm than good. The goal when you treat cancer is to get rid of the cancer, while minimizing damage to the patient and allowing them to have as long and good a life afterwards as possible.

    It appears that God’s treatment plan for sin, on the other hand, has the outcome of permanent collective suffering (in the case of the Fall), and maximal, eternal individual suffering (in the case of hellfire). Jesus’ atonement on the Cross doesn’t actually help that much. It may allow individuals fortunate enough to hear the Word and believe it, to escape hellfire, which is very nice, but if all sins are atoned forever, why are we still suffering Adam and Eve’s punishment? Remember, God is omnipotent, so if he wanted to lift that punishment once their (and all of our) sins had been atoned, it would be well within His power to do so. But He clearly didn’t.

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