Genesis and Gender: Genesis 1-3 in Early Christian Texts

I. The Accounts of Human Creation in Genesis 1-3

A. From the “P” Source, the account of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a.

                  Genesis 1:25-28. Then God said, “Let us make humankind (H: ha-’adham; G: ton anthropon [anthropos]) in our image (Greek: eikon), according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

                                    So God created humankind (H: ha-adam; G: ton anthropon) in [God’s] image,

                                    in the image of God [God] created them;

                                    male and female (H: zakar we-neqebah; G: arsen kai thelu) [God] created them.(1:26-27)

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 

B. From the “J” Source, the account of “Adam and Eve” in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:7; 18; 21-23:  Then the Lord God formed a human being (H: ha-’adham; G: ton anthropon) from the dust of the ground, and breathed into [his] nostrils the breath of life; and the human being became a living being. . . 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the human being should be alone; I will make him a helper. .  . 21  So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the human/Adam, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the human/Adam he made into a woman (ishsha; Greek: gyne) and brought her to the human (ha-‘adham). 23  Then the human said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called woman (ishsha; Greek: gyne), for out of man (ish; Greek: ek tou andros [aner]) this one was taken.”  [This is the first verse in which the gender specific noun: ish (man) appears;  ishsha (woman) first appears in 2:22 and again in 2:23 – deriving significance etymologically [and socially?] from the “derivation” of “ishsha” from “ish.”

Genesis 3:14-21: The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” 16 To the woman [God] said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” 17  To the human/Adam [God] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 20 The human/Adam named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made garments of skins for the human and his wife (ishsha; gyne) and clothed them.


I. Pauline and Post-Pauline Interpretations of Genesis 1-3

1 Corinthians 11:3; 7-12. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man (or husband; aner), and the man is the head of a woman (or wife; gyne), and God is the head of Christ. . . . 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image (eikon) and reflection (or glory; doxa) of God; but a woman is the reflection [glory] of [a] man [husband]. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head,  because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord [there is] neither woman without man, nor man without woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.

2 Corinthians 11:2-3.  I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband (aner), to present you as a chaste virgin (parthenos) to Christ. But 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.

1 Timothy 2:11-15.  Let a woman (or wife; gyne) learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman (wife) to teach or to have authority over a man (or husband; aner); she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.



III. Other Early Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1-3 (2d-3rd Centuries)

The Hypostasis of the Archons: The Spiritual Eve and the Fleshly Eve (ca. 160-220 CE) The rulers took counsel with one another and said, “Come, let us bring sleep upon Adam.” And he slept. --But the sleep that they “brought upon him and he slept” is ignorance. They opened his side like a living woman. And they built up his side with some flesh in her place, and Adam came to be entirely of soul. And the Spiritual Woman came to him and spoke with him, saying, “Arise, Adam.” And when he saw her, he said, “It is you who have given me life; you will be called ‘Mother of the Living.’ --For it is she who is my Mother. It is She who is the Physician and the Woman and She who has given birth.” . . .And the fleshly woman took from the tree and ate; and she gave to her husband and herself; and the ones of soul ate. And their deficiency showed forth in their ignorance; and they recognized that they were naked of the Spiritual, and they took fig leaves and bound them upon their loins.

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies III.22.4 (ca. 180 CE).  It  follows that Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient. She says, "Behold your handmaid, Lord; let it be done with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Eve was disobedient, to be sure, since she did not obey when she was still a virgin . . . Eve, having become disobedient, was made the cause of death both for herself and for all the human race. Thus also Mary had a husband selected for her and nonetheless was a virgin, yet by her obedience she was made the cause of salvation both for herself and for all the human race. . . The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosened through the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve bound through unbelief, the Virgin Mary looses through faith.

Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women (ca. 205 CE). If such strong faith remained on earth, not one of you, dearest sisters, from the time she acknowledged the condition of women, would have desired a more charming dress, not to speak of a more exquisite one. She would rather go about in cheap clothes and strive for an appearance characterized by neglect. She would carry herself around like Eve, mourning and penitent, that she might more fully expiate by each garment of penitence that which she acquired from Eve - I mean the degradation of the first sin and the hatefulness of human perdition. “In pains and anxieties you bring forth children, woman, and your inclination is for your husband, and he rules over you” (Gen 3:16). You give birth, woman, in suffering and anguish. You are under your husband’s spell, and he is your master. And do you not know that you are also an Eve?  She still lives in this world, as God’s judgment on your sex. Live then, as you must, as an accused. You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first forsaker of the divine law; you are the one who deceived man, whom the Devil knew not how to vanquish. It was you who so easily overcame him who was made in the image of God, the man Adam; because of your punishment, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die. And you think to adorn yourself beyond your ‘tunics of skins’?