The “first woman” of Gen 2-4 has a history of interpretation matched by few biblical characters. Yet for such a well-known biblical character, Eve is mentioned remarkably infrequently in the New Testament. While key passages that refer to Adam are found in Rom 5:12–21, 1Cor 15:21–22, 1Cor 15:45–49, and 1Tim 2:13–14, Eve is mentioned by name only twice: in 2Cor 11:3 and 1Tim 2:13.
Paul uses Eve’s action in Gen 3:13 to warn his audience: “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2Cor 11:3). Elsewhere in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of Satan, likely understanding him and the serpent to be one and the same. This connection is never made in Gen 3, but it appeared in other writings by the intertestamental period (Sir 21:27). Several aspects of the snake’s “deception” of Eve have puzzled readers. Why did the serpent speak to Eve first? Some readers hypothesize that she was somehow flawed and thus an easier target. But neither the writer of Genesis nor Paul makes that assumption in this verse (though the writer of 1 Timothy hints at it). Readers also suspect that Adam might have had a hand in the deception of Eve. According to Gen 2, Eve was not present when the prohibition was given— she could only have known of it through Adam. But when Eve recites the prohibition (Gen 3:2), it is not the same as one as was given to Adam. Did the man give the woman incorrect information? Or did she simply misunderstand it?
1Tim 2:11-15 is generally thought to be influenced by Paul, but not written by Paul. This passage ostensibly deals with the appropriate activities of women: they are to “learn in silence” and may not “have authority over” men. These injunctions are justified in two ways by an appeal to Gen 3. First, it is implied that the order of creation somehow privileges males (1Tim 2:13). Second, it is pointed out that Eve, not Adam, was deceived (1Tim 2:14). A close reading of Genesis, however, does not substantiate either of these assumptions. It gives no reason why Eve was addressed first, nor does it imply that Eve is weak or provide any argument for the men’s natural dominance over women. Nor does Genesis absolve Adam from his actions: in Gen 3, Eve deliberates carefully before eating, while Adam simply eats what he is given.
In spite of its sparse literary
development in both the Hebrew
Bible and the New Testament, the figure of Eve later underwent a frenzy of interpretation. It is not difficult to see why. Origin stories are never simply about the past—they hold clues about life, human nature, and God. Readers scrutinize Eve, the first woman, to learn about the purpose and essential nature of all women. Over more than two millennia and across three world religions, the meaning of Eve’s story has continue to puzzle readers, spark theological
debates, and inspire poets, writers, and artists.