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How Is Adam’s Sin Different from Eve’s?

February 13, 2017 24 Comments

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.

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Comments (24)

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  1. Joanna says:

    Interesting and provocative post, Father. St Paul never did mince his words with either men or women. If you remember that St Paul was trying to build up the Church and not being, well, sexist (according to a 21st mindset), you can see where he is coming from. I notice at my parish that when women volunteer for every role at Mass, the men kind of sit back and don’t get involved which is a shame. I also see this particularly with regards to altar boys- where there are ‘altar girls’ (don’t get me started), the boys don’t want to get involved and thereby miss out on a potential grace filled opportunity to learn about a priestly vocation. Women have a role to play, but it should be complementary to and not in competition with men. I wish that we could walk a fair line that said we can all build up the Body of Christ in different but equally important ways.

  2. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    This reminds me of the argument, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Eve is deceived into sin first by the serpent and Adam is seduced by Eve into sin second and yet it is his original sin not Eve’s. Next you going to tell us Who’s on first and What’s on second and I don’t even know who’s on third and then you’re going to say,”No, Who’s on second.” So the original sin was a result of Adam’s failure to keep Eve in line with God’s will and as a result of trying to please his steady squeeze we are all born into original sin. I don’t think the women’s movement is going to have any argument with that. It just reinforces their position that men are to blame for all the problems in the world.

    • c matt says:

      In the legal world, there is what is known as “the last clear chance” doctrine. For example, driver 1 runs a red light, and driver 2 (with the green light) plows into 1. Normally, driver 1 would be at fault. However, driver 1 could establish that driver 2 had a clear opportunity to avoid the accident (perhaps 2 gunned it as soon as the light turned or driver 1 was well into the intersection and view of driver 2 before 2 proceeded).

      Adam appears to have had the “last clear chance” to avoid the original sin. Paradise Lost offers a very interesting take on this situation – Adam knows Eve had sinned, but is so infatuated with her, that he would rather perish together with her than be on his own. It therefore comes down to what is really a sin against the First commandment – put someone/something else before God.

  3. Dante says:

    political correctness is the problem! society and even the church have been more than permissive hence we earn the problems of homosexuality and confused the faithful. instead we could have focused on solutions like gender role reinforcement and address the anomaly not being afraid to be called a bigot.

  4. Joe says:

    If you Compromise the truth for love both are lost, plus tone can’t always be seen in written text, the woman ( THAT YOU GAVE ME )

  5. Kelly Chamberlain says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope, I enjoyed it very much. Makes sense to me.

    Kelly

  6. Todd says:

    There is much here to prayerfully think about for a long time as to understand things happening now we often have to go back to the beginnings.
    A Catholic Priest once taught me much about the two ways set before us through his talks. “Pride(arrogance) – disobedience – death!” The antithesis of this, the right Way is: “Humility – obedience – life.”
    Adam was given responsibility for caring for and protecting the Garden. He was put in a position of leadership. As men today we’re all given this role as protector, provider, & leaders. Women are by nature more nurturing which is I believe, for the sake of children. Women will never be happy being anything other than what God has made them. If they try to be a man – they will not find happiness. Likewise, men will never be truly happy trying to be like a woman or effeminate. The cost of a mans leadership is death. When the bill comes due, he is to act manfully, step into the gap, and be willing to die to defend his bride – Eve. I can imagine Adam saying: “NO! Begone devil!” Stepping in between Eve and the serpent ready to lay his life down for the sake of his beloved. In the fullness of time Jesus does exactly this – laying His life down for his friends, His Bride, the Church. When the devil showed up in the garden he first appealed to Eve’s sense of injustice with a lie – an exaggeration. ‘Did God really say you couldn’t eat of any trees in the garden?’ The implication here is well sure today it’s just that one tree but what about next week, month, or year?? When we get angry we don’t think as clearly – easier to get tricked.
    Then comes the “perceived” good. This, that, or the other thing is “good for” (fill in the blank). Pleasing to the eyes & to be “desired,” for gaining wisdom. Don’t we all want to be wise or at least to be thought of as wise? Eve told us these were the reasons. We have the benefit of knowing now that we don’t converse with the devil. Adam was there with Eve yet he remained silent. Nothing – has – changed. We men still find ourselves weak in the knees, and soft in the spine. We sin. We like the authority part of our relationship – but not so much the dying part. I believe it was St Paul who said he teaches Christ crucified so that his preaching doesn’t become something else. As men we need to understand – this is the Way! Jesus is The Way that separates the boys from the men. The women from the little girls. In todays upside down age it is going to take perhaps more courage for a woman and a man to “be” what they have been called to be from all Eternity. Holy – and what they are male or female. As men – we need to be willing to die in small ways and sometimes even in large ways. As our Bishop is fond of saying – may God give us this grace.

  7. teo says:

    Well said Monsignor. It makes sense in my small (married) corner of the world. Thank you. May the gift of fortitude be with you.

  8. Melissa says:

    I have read that Adam’s sin was one of cowardice. Eve at least tried to do battle with the evil one, but fell. Adam, whose job it was to keep (defend) the garden and especially his bride, stood right behind her silently and would not lay down his life in defense of Eve. Jesus, the second Adam, undoes this by laying down His life for His bride, the Church.

  9. Tom says:

    Thank you, Monsignor. With challenging scriptures (and sermons) we would all do well to remember the first step to gaining wisdom is to admit we know nothing.

    Terrific choice in video too. Brightened my predawn day. God bless you and your priesthood.

  10. Christina says:

    Spot on! thank you Msgr. Pope. Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand wrote a book (The Privilege of Being a Woman) that compliments your article and changed EVERYTHING for me, or rather made it clear for me. I wish every Catholic – YOUNG, old, male and female – would read that book.

  11. Joe says:

    Marriage is based on monarchy. prince and princess,n the prince is head the woman the heart .itcant be democracy the only thing left is anarchy each looking for their own interest first .It is the biggest problem in this day and age..

  12. Stephanie says:

    As a woman, I can affirm that I have been open to deception in my life. The great deception happened in the bloom of youth, when I believed a popular culture that claimed that it was modern and healthy to be sexually active before marriage, and that such experience would help me to find a compatible mate. Thanks for nothing, sexual revolution. How I wish I had followed the Lord’s commands! The scars and the regret are deep. I’m older and I hope wiser now, but I can still be attracted/deceived by material things that are “pleasing to the eye.” The popularity of shows like HGTV would suggest that I am not alone in this. So no, Father, I’m not offended by your words. I know I am foolish. Praise God that he continues to guide me despite my foolishness. Some of St. Paul’s writings can be hard to read and understand, but I am determined to remain open to them.

  13. Vin Perera says:

    It is pity that we have to conform to political correctness today. Most probably it is the Satan who drives the political correctness, because we cannot express the truth. Also I agree that mostly the wife runs the house and decides for the family. If not they get annoyed.

    It is true the sins of two are different

  14. Scott W. says:

    he to being swayed by her feminine mystique and beauty

    There is something ironic going on here when we think about denominations that have swallowed secular feminism whole. There’s no way to sugar-coat it, but if you collected a group of men and showed them a large sample of the women pastors, “bishops”, etc. including the Catholic women that want to be priests, you can bet the farm that feminine mystique and beauty isn’t occuring to any of those men. Something is off. The men know it, the women know it but pretend not to, and the proof is more people leaving these denominations faster than if the buildings were on fire.

  15. JMC says:

    I think another point to be made here might by one made by the old Catechism of the Council of Trent. There one reads that Adam’s sin is passed on to all men because he committed it as “head and source of the human race.” Further, the Baltimore Catechism (first edition) gives the example of an old feudal custom: A man owned land not by purchasing it as we do today, but it was bestowed on him by a higher noble in return for providing some service, usually in terms of men to fight if needed. Part of that bestowal included the right of his eldest son to inherit it. If, however, that man offended the noble who had given the land, the noble could revoke his right to that land, and thus he would no longer have it to bequeath.

    Yes, here I am just as “politically incorrect” as you, bringing up these “benighted” (to modern thought) customs. While Eve was, in her capacity as woman, also a “source” of the human race, a father is, strictly biologically speaking, capable of fathering more children than a woman is of bearing. It’s why some non-Christian belief systems encourage plural marriages. We don’t know how long either Adam or Eve actually lived. (The Bible gives us some pretty incredible numbers, but I’ve always been thought those numbers were allegorical only, having something to do with Hebrew numerology and the things numbers represented to them.) We don’t know who died first; if Eve died first, Adam might have taken another wife and begotten even more children. (One assumes they kept themselves faithful to each other; having been given knowledge “in keeping with their state” of original innocence, they would have understood God’s desire of marriage being one man and one woman.) Either way, it seems that Adam, beyond simply having been created first, would be more of a “source” of mankind than Eve, which, in turn, gives his sin more weight in regard to its effect on the rest of us.
    .
    I know I haven’t given this thought anywhere near the development it deserves, but I’ve taken it as far as my own understanding will permit.

  16. JMC says:

    I just tried to subscribe, and got a message from google’s “feedburner” telling me that this feed does not have subscriptions by e-mail enabled. Is this something that I can fix, or is the problem somewhere at your end?

    Thanks.

  17. Nick says:

    According to the Jewish Encyclopedia: “Eve was not created simultaneously with Adam because God foreknew that later she would be a source of complaint…Samael, prompted by jealousy, picked out the serpent to mislead Eve (Yalḳ., Gen. xxv.; comp. Josephus, “Ant.” i. 1, § 4; Ab. R. N. i.), whom it approached, knowing that women could be more easily moved than men (Pirḳe R. El. xiii.)…at the invitation of the serpent she had partaken of wine; and she now mixed it with Adam’s drink (Num. R. x.). Nine curses together with death befell Eve in consequence of her disobedience (Pirḳe R. El. xiv.; Ab. R. N. ii. 42).”

    According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “In the story of the Fall, the original cause of evil is the serpent, which in later Jewish tradition is identified with Satan (Wisdom 2:24). He tempts Eve presumably as the weaker of the two, and she in turn tempts Adam, who yields to her seduction…For her share in the transgression, Eve (and womankind after her) is sentenced to a life of sorrow and travail, and to be under the power of her husband. Doubtless this last did not imply that the woman’s essential condition of equality with man was altered, but the sentence expresses what, in the nature of things, was bound to follow in a world dominated by sin and its consequences. The natural dependence and subjection of the weaker party was destined inevitably to become something little short of slavery. But if woman was the occasion of man’s transgression and fall, it was also decreed in the Divine counsels, that she was to be instrumental in the scheme of restoration which God already promises while in the act of pronouncing sentence upon the serpent.”

  18. David says:

    To take one of Todd’s points from a different angle, and to return to your points in the preceding post about trust and inactivity, we see a moment where Eve has sinned and Adam has not. What can he do at that point? He cannot usefully die in place of her. Can he help her? How? He cannot usefully die with her – at once descend into ‘hades’ to fetch her back out. If he has in any sense failed to protect her, he cannot remedy that by activity – beyond trust, prayer. We are not (so far as I know) anywhere told what might have happened if only Eve had sinned, including, just how God would or might have acted to offer her salvation. But Adam need not have joined her in sin and death, for whatever reasons he did. He could have trusted God in the face of her not having immediately been struck dead. He could have trusted her and himself to God, now in two different senses, her having disobeyed, he not.

  19. David says:

    Indeed, Adam, then still virgin immaculate, could have waited with faith and critical intelligence, to be told what wondrous things might be, to Eve’s good, and how he could be serviceable to them and her.

  20. Sue Korlan says:

    Someone once told me that the Corinthians quote was not aimed at women as women but as the people who sat in the back with the young children and were tempted to yell up to the front to ask what was being said. So as a matter of good order, if you can’t hear what the priest is saying, wait until later and ask afterwards.

  21. Crowhill says:

    If women asked their husbands their theological questions — or, to put it another way, if husbands knew that their wives were going to be asking them theological questions with the expectation that they could give intelligent answers — men might have more incentive to study theology.

  22. Bender says:

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll reiterate it again.

    In Adam and Eve, man and woman, there is the “unity of the two.” They are “one body.” The first sin, initiated by she who was formed from the man’s side in view of the “original unity of man,” was consummated/completed by him — all of which was but a single action.

    To say that the first sin was “Adam’s,” does not at all exclude the woman Eve, but emphatically includes her, inasmuch as “adam” means “man,” of which she is an inseparable part of.

    Moreover, inasmuch as “Adam” and “Eve” were the aboriginal humans, that is, they were at the time the entirety of humanity, when they sinned, all of humanity sinned. And their sin remains the sin of all humanity generations later.

  23. Xavier Abraham says:

    Of late, God has been guiding me to the same understanding. I can feel a clear displeasure whenever a woman reads the gospel, says homily, or asks to give peace to one another. I very well know I have high regard and respect toward women. So there has to be something about the liturgy that’s restricted to a priest, who represents Jesus – the second Adam.

    Thank you for this important message.

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