East of Eden – With Apologies to Steinbeck

The Fall of Mankind: Eve’s Consequences

The place is Scotland, the year is 1591, and a woman is burning alive. Her crime? During an excruciating experience while giving birth to twins, she requested something to ease her pain. Her midwife granted her wish. Nothing more, nothing less.

Why the harsh punishment? She had violated the clear meaning of Genesis 3:16:

I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children. (NIV)

The interpretations of that day allowed no wiggle room: women were commanded to fully experience all the pain of childbirth due to the consequences of the fall. Tragically, Eufame Macalyane suffered the consequences for violating this “command,” and her twin boys were left motherless. 

Today, most of us would be horrified to witness such a severe punishment for anything, much less such a small “crime.” Most women are now allowed and even encouraged to use painkillers and life-saving medical procedures during childbirth. We don’t interpret Genesis 3:16 as a command from God, but as a curse, or at the very least a prophecy of how things will be in a fallen world that sin has entered. It’s a description of the way things will be due to the fall, not a prescription from God, and something we are free to overcome with painkillers or whatever else we choose.

And yet many of us still perpetuate another result of the fall as an eternal command from the Creator: the second part of God’s words to the woman in verse 16:

Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.

Most complementarians claim that this is just an INCREASING of an already hierarchal relationship, but remember there is nothing in the Genesis text before now that directly speaks to any sort of hierarchy, save the man and woman as caretakers over the rest of the creation. There isn’t any hint in 3:16b of an increasing of an already established rule, either.

Let’s look at the first part: “Your desire (teshuqah) will be for your husband.” Teshuqah means “desire” or “longing.” There are different interpretations as to what this statement means, exactly. Many egalitarians believe it is speaking of a longing or desire for the mutual, equal relationship the two shared before the fall. This would certainly fit the context, as the next line says the husband will, however, rule the woman in this new fallen, perverted relationship.

This also makes sense given that men are, for the most part, physically stronger than women, putting women in a more vulnerable position. And patriarchy has certainly been the prevailing culture all throughout history, true to God’s prophecy.

This leads to another interpretation of what teshuqah means in this context. Instead of the previous view where the woman will long for the once mutual, equal relationship, the man and woman will become entangled in a perpetual power struggle, where she will desire to rule her husband, but he, the physically stronger and culturally privileged, will prevail. Here is Jay Guin’s explanation of that view:

In the King James Version, this verse says that “unto thee shall be [sin’s] desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” The NIV translators have paraphrased this passage to interpret “unto thee shall be his desire” to mean “it desires to have you.” The NET Bible translates: “It desires to dominate you.” Thus, in Genesis 3:16, the virtually identical phrasing, only a few verses away, must mean that woman’s desire for her husband is her desire to rule her husband. God is saying that although the wife may want to rule her husband, under his curse, the husband will rule the wife.

A result of Adam’s and Eve’s sin is strife in marriage. Both husbands and wives will want to be in charge, but in the ordinary case, the husband will succeed in ruling over his wife. And certainly the last several thousand years have proved this to be very true indeed (p. 37).

Adam’s Consequences

Now it’s Adam’s turn. Verses 17-19 spell out God’s description of how the world will change for him after eating the forbidden fruit with his wife:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
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.”

All of creation feels the awful consequences of what Adam and Eve have done. The earth itself is cursed. Notice that Adam and Eve themselves are not CURSED per se. God instead describes the negative changes that will occur due to their sin. For Adam, that means that the ease with which he gathered sustenance from nature will disappear. Weeds will spring up, and he will suffer in heat and sweat.

Have we taken this part of God’s prophecy as a literal command for all-time? Hardly. It is probably an accurate speculation that the very men who sentenced and killed poor Eufame Macalyane were not taking their part of the fall literally. Theologians who enforced interpretations and religious laws were certainly not earning their way through toiling the fields by the sweat of their brows. This is just another example of the unhealthy rule of men  (coming from a place of privilege and power) over women.

This is also where death itself enters the picture. The dust with which mankind was so lovingly made in the Creator’s own image will return to the ground as dust. Sin, death, and decay go hand in hand.

And on the east side of the Garden of Eden, cherubim and a flaming sword guard the tree of life. Adam is expelled from his perfect world.

Not the End of the Story

Thank God this is not where the story ends! Christians now realize that Jesus’ sacrifice enables His children to defeat death in the resurrection and to be cleansed of sin forever.

But how often do we think about the other ill effects of sin that are also reversed by Jesus? It’s not just death that is defeated, but ALL of the results of the fall. We see how all creation will be avenged in Romans 8:21-23:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

We are caught in the middle. We still suffer some of the effects of the fall, but we are eagerly awaiting the day when His kingdom comes to power with a NEW CREATION. 

In the meantime, as we find ourselves in the tension of the “already but not yet,” shouldn’t Christians be the first to jump at the chance at making earth as close to achieving God’s will and ideal as possible?

Of course, this doesn’t explain some of the New Testament passages that seem to conflict with the Genesis account. So we will look at that issue more in-depth next time.

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