In yesterday’s post, we explored the details of original sin and learned that there are subtleties and stages to it that can teach us something. Original sin was more than eating a piece of fruit; there were things that led up to it, both externally and internally.
I also mentioned that it was worth exploring how the sacred text speaks of the “Sin of Adam” and differentiates it to some extent from the sin that Eve commits. Biblically, original sin is properly denoted as the “Sin of Adam.” It is Adam’s sin, not Eve’s that is called “original sin” (cf Rom 5:12 inter al).
It is not that Eve did not sin, or that her actions have no interest for us. Yesterday’s post focused on the stages she went through. Rather, as the head of his household and the human family, Adam had responsibility and thereby incurred the sin we call “original sin,” which comes down to all of us.
As you can see, this post isn’t very politically correct thus far—and it’s only going to get worse from here. In striving to differentiate Eve’s sin from Adam’s I would like to take up a very controversial text from St. Paul. While the specific text comports poorly with modern notions, two cautions are in order for those of us who read the text:
First, this is a sacred text, and even if St. Paul may have drawn some of his reflections from the cultural experiences of the time, he provides theological reasons for what he writes.
Second, remember that one verse from St. Paul is not all of St. Paul and certainly not all of Scripture. What Paul says rather absolutely in the verse that follows, he qualifies to some extent and other places as we shall see.
With this in mind, let’s examine the controversial text and strive to distinguish Adam’s sin from Eve’s. St. Paul writes:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Tim 2:11b-14).
Many, upon reading a text so astonishingly out of step with modern thinking, are prone simply to dismiss it as a relic of some past, dark age. It is debatable whether the edict that a woman should be silent and have no teaching authority over a man, is merely a disciplinary norm that we are not required to observe today. It is also debatable how absolute Paul’s words were meant to be. Paul wrote elsewhere of women in the early church communities as catechists (e.g., Phoebe in Romans 16:1), spiritual leaders, and benefactors (e.g., Lydia). He also made provisions for the proper attire of a woman who is to speak in the assembly (she is to cover her head). So what St. Paul says here, he distinguishes elsewhere in a way that allows for some provision that women both speak and teach the faith.
In the quote from first Timothy above, the context seems rather clearly to be that of the family and marriage. I this passage Paul affirms the headship of the husband, as he does elsewhere (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18); Peter does so as well (1 Peter 3:1-6).
Here is another text in which Paul speaks of women being silent in the Church. In this case, the context seems to be liturgical:
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Cor 14:34-35).
There are legitimate debates about how strictly this silence is to be interpreted. Generally, Church practice has understood this to mean that women are not to give the official teaching in the liturgy that we refer to as the sermon or homily. This stricture has been observed from antiquity down to the present day, by reserving the homily to the bishop, priest, or deacon. In more recent times, there have been allowances for women to serve as lectors, cantors, and singers. But the official teaching moment of the homily is still reserved to the male clergy, and the Magisterium consists of bishops and the Pope.
Prescinding from debate about how absolutely or strictly to interpret St. Paul’s restrictions, or whether or not some of these things are cultural artifacts that can be adjusted, what I really wish to focus on is the theological reasoning behind the differences between Adam’s sin and Eve’s sin. St. Paul writes,
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Tim 2:13-14).
St. Paul begins by saying that Adam was formed first, followed by Eve. And thus here he teaches that the husband has headship, authority. As Paul says elsewhere, The husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the Church (Eph 5:22).
In terms of original sin, which is our concern in today’s blog, Paul says that Adam was not the one deceived; it was Eve who was deceived. Thus, St. Paul speaks of Eve’s sin as being different from Adam’s. She was deceived and so sinned. Adam, however, was not deceived. His sin lay elsewhere.
Of the fact of her deception, Eve is a witness, for she says, “The serpent tricked me and so I ate it” (Gen 3:13). But of Adam’s sin, God says, “You listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it’” (Gen 3:17). Adam’s sin lay in his willingness to allow his wife to tempt him.
Dear reader, you were warned that this was not going to be a politically correct post. Teachings such as these grate on modern ears, but of course that does not make them untrue.
Perhaps a little additional reflection may help to avoid knee-jerk reactions (such as gloating or anger). Adam’s and Eve’s sins are described differently; each’s sin can also be understood as a kind of weakness to which each was particularly susceptible: she to deception, he to being swayed by her feminine mystique and beauty.
St. Paul does not simply locate these two weaknesses in Adam and Eve as individuals, but also as male and female. Hence, St. Paul seems to teach here that a woman ought not to have a solemn teaching authority in the Church because of her tendency to be deceived.
Why might this be, that a woman could be more easily deceived? Perhaps it is rooted, paradoxically, in a woman’s strength. Among the strengths that women more generally manifest are natural spirituality and being sources of unity and peace in the heart of the family. And while these are wonderful strengths, in certain circumstances they can open one to deception. For if one seeks to make peace, one may compromise with error and sin. And though being open to spiritual things is of itself good, there are erroneous spiritual concepts to which one ought not to be open.
Not only is a woman possibly more susceptible to these, but should she cede to them, she can also have undue power over her husband and other men who might well be drawn by her beauty to set aside their better judgment.
To my mind, this is what St. Paul is getting at here in saying that Eve was deceived and Adam was not, therefore a woman cannot have teaching authority in the Church. There was also a warning in ancient Israel that men should not take foreign wives because they might confuse a man’s heart into the worship of their foreign gods. A man’s heart can easily be swayed by a beautiful and influential woman.
And thus, addressing a double threat, St. Paul forbids women to have teaching authority in the Church and ties it back to the archetypal incident of Adam and Eve: Eve was deceived and then was able to seduce her husband into sinning.
In modern times it may well be that St. Paul’s caution is affirmed by the modern problem of liberal Protestant denominations that have a large number of women leaders. These same denominations have departed significantly from the orthodox Christian faith, denying basic tenets of the Trinity, moral teaching, and biblical interpretation. This is not the only reason, but there seems to be a high correlation between denominations that embrace women leaders and a departure from orthodox Christian belief.
Have I been politically incorrect enough for you? Please feel free to leave your comments, but the chief focus I am interested in is the different descriptions of the “Sin of Adam” and Eve’s sin.