Women and Words: Eve, the First Woman

If I’m being honest, Eve’s first recorded words in Genesis 3 are painful for me to read. When Adam’s first words are so beautiful and quite literally perfect, why, I ask myself, aren’t Eve’s the same?

I think part of the answer lies with the one to whom Eve is talking.

It’s easy to read Genesis 3 through 21st century lenses and raise a skeptical eyebrow at the Dr. Doolittle-esque idea of a snake talking to a woman. But when God has just called the whole universe into existence with his words, it seems completely consistent that the creatures He made for His glory might possess some echo of this attribute of their Maker.

The more significant detail in this passage isn’t so much a snake talking to Eve; it’s how, and why, Eve is talking back to the snake.

Genesis 2:4-23 reads like the opening scene in a Disney musical, with its once upon a time beginning, and its lush descriptions of gardens, rivers and gold to set the scene. Moses describes the beautiful way in which God makes Adam his necessary ally- someone who is both like him and not. Adam responds to God’s work with poetic exultation. You can almost hear the music begin to swell into the opening notes of a duet.

But then a third character suddenly breaks into the scene, and the music stops abruptly.

Moses introduces the serpent by calling out what makes him unique, but not in a way that negates the essential truth of what he is. He’s just a beast of the field. His wits may set him apart, but in all other respects he’s just one of the many creatures who move over the earth, over which God called Adam and Eve to rule, together.  So how is Eve drawn so unquestioningly into talking with him as if he’s an equal?  Why aren’t Eve’s first words directed at Adam, about who on God’s green earth this creature is to presume to strike up a conversation with her, uninvited and unintroduced?

The answer lies in his crafty, conversational strategy.

True to Moses’ description, the serpent engages Eve by framing his question in terms that presume upon the things they share in common, even spiritual things.  Both of them were made by God. Both of them have a role to play in God’s creation mandate. What could be more natural, even fruitful, than clarifying conversation between two of God’s creatures about His commands, just to make sure they were both on the same page?

Eve unquestioningly follows the lead of the serpent’s questions. Her answers stretch, and shape, and smooth God’s words until He looks like someone altogether different than who He actually is.

With her words, Eve:

  • puts herself and Adam in front of God, sidestepping His authority.
  • reduces the scope of God’s provision, reducing His generosity.
  • redraws the lines of God’s protection, exaggerating His boundaries.
  • diminishes the scope of God’s transcendence, diluting His glory

all in the space of a single sentence.

The god Eve’s words depict is a god Satan knows how to work with.

Eve’s words form the fatal framework for the lies Satan feeds her, and Adam, and all of us.

That’s why my heart aches when I read Eve’s words in Genesis 3. Because in her words I hear echoes of my own – in every time I’ve put my will ahead of God’s, in every complaint I’ve made over what it seems God has withheld, in every chafing at His protection, in my lust for glory that robs God of His.

The bitter consequences of Eve’s words, and all of ours like them, are what makes Jesus’ words in Luke 4:1-13 all the sweeter.

Several thousand years after Satan meets Eve in a garden, he meets Jesus in the wilderness. He deploys the very same strategies he used with Eve (Satan may be crafty, but he’s hardly creative), questioning authority, testing God’s boundaries, proffering power he doesn’t possess in exchange for the worship he continually craves.

But where Eve succumbed, Jesus prevails.

In the wilderness, Jesus, the Living Word, speaks over Eve’s words with the word of the living God.

  • Where Eve’s words set aside God’s authority, Jesus’ words submitted to it.
  • Where Eve’s words dismissed God’s provision, Jesus’ words rests in it.
  • Where Eve’s words rebelled against God’s boundaries, Jesus’ words revered them.

Eve’s words were the beginning of humanity’s undoing; Jesus’ words were the beginning of its rescue.

With His words, the second Adam spoke with perfection where Eve, and I, have not. And with His words, He modeled for me, and for all of us, the kind of speech that crushes the crafty serpent into the dust – speech that centers itself on the words of God, and the worship of God, all for the glory of God.

Women, Words, and the Word of God

When you’re gifted with words, and you make your living by using them, you feel the sting of the moments when you’ve said something wrong and hurt someone, or said something right and been ignored, more than the average person.

Or is that just me?

For a long time I viewed my gift with words the way some people view their gift of singleness. I couldn’t deny I had it;  I just wanted God to take it back. I was raised in a complementarian context that equated  womanliness with being quiet. Being a woman with  gifts that have anything to do with being heard make you feel like you live with a giant 1 Peter 3 penalty flag perpetually flapping over your head. Or like you have a genetic condition.

In my case, that’s entirely possible. Because having a strong voice, and the compulsion to use it to help people, seems to be literally codified in my DNA.

The  branches of my family tree are laden with pastors, writers, published authors, and even heralds (my maiden name is Horner).  I followed in my ancestors’ footsteps  by earning an English degree at a Christian liberal arts college. For more than twenty years, I’ve put my gifts to work in the technology industry, helping people improve the way they communicate so they can make gazillions of dollars building the technologies on which all of the the Internet runs.

(Please choose from any of the following options: A. I’m sorry. B. You’re welcome. C. Both)

I’ve been a front row observer of the digital revolution’s transformation of the way people communicate, and have been part of the work to shape that transformation, so that people are helped more than they’re harmed by it.

Home decorating projects give me panic attacks, and the time I spend volunteering in my daughter’s fifth grade classroom is the hardest 45 minutes of my month.  But I can string sentences together, and nothing makes me happier than when I learn that a collection of them has been helpful to someone.

So when my words fail me, by being unhelpful, unkind, or just plain stupid, the weight of that failure feels particularly heavy.

A while ago, my words failed me (or rather, they failed God)  twice in the space of a month. So I sat under the weight of the Holy Spirit’s conviction over it in an intentional way.

There was one time in my Christian life when my conclusion would have been that my two-footed stumble was a sign I  wasn’t actually gifted with words at all – that the fruit I should bear in keeping with repentance was the fruit of learning to sit down and shut up. But in my womens’  Bible Study on the Gospel of John this year, Jesus’ words in John 15 have caused me to think otherwise.  I’m learning to see that God grants these moments of stumbling as a means of pruning, to make me more fruitful in my gifts, not to mention more humble in acknowledging the true Source for that fruit as it comes.

The questions I began to ask of the Holy Spirit was what shape this pruning should  take. The bad fruit had been of a particular varietal – speech that was injudicious. How did God want me to produce better fruit that was the opposite? Not just me as a Christian, but me as a Christian woman?

So much of the messaging targeted at Christian women focusses on the Bible’s words about the pruning of our speech and being silent; I haven’t read nearly as much focussed on what the Bible says about when women are to speak, and when we should know we’re meant to listen.

So I’ve spent the last several months digging into that topic.  I’ve studied the words of the women of the Old Testament, the women of Proverbs 7, 8 and 9, and the women who followed Jesus. I’ve studied the context for their words, and the consequences, for the women who spoke them, for the people who listened to them, and for the people who refused to listen as well.

What God has been teaching me has been startling and strengthening, convicting and emboldening.

There’s no question that the Bible contains strong warnings against certain types of womanly speech, speech that endangers the soul of anyone who heeds it. But the Bible is equally clear that there is a kind of womanly speech that brings life, and it’s every bit as dangerous to our souls when we ignore it.

As I’ve sought to replicate the patterns of speech God affirms in Scripture, and put off the ungodly ones, God has graciously produced the fruit in my life, in encouraging and unexpected ways. That fruit has come not just from speaking differently, and, yes, in saying less in certain circumstances; it’s also come from speaking differently and saying more in others.
I’m  posting some of the results of that study here in the coming days. I hope it will bear fruit in your life as well, whether you’re a woman wanting to be a better steward of your words,

or you’re a woman, or a man, wanting to be a wiser listener when a woman speaks.