Friday, February 20, 2009

St John Chrysostom on Eve's Sin

Alice C. Linsley

Eve was created to enjoy a unique relationship with the Creator. Being made in the Creator's Image, she enjoyed communion with the Creator as no other living thing. She also enjoyed a special intimacy with Adam, from whom she was made while he slept.

In considering Eve, we note that she had two trustworthy relationships in her life: one with her Creator and another with the man from whom she was created. In both relationships, Eve experienced a unique and special existence. She was a woman of high estate whose life was encompassed by great potential for fulfillment and joy.

What happened with Eve? Why did she act against her high estate and against the trustworthy relationships that were to bring her fulfillment? Why did she listen to the serpent’s lies instead of listening to God in whose image she was made? In listening to the creature rather than to the Creator, Eve became subjected to a creature of low estate. She exchanged the natural for the unnatural. So the first trespass was against the order of creation.

Likewise, instead of listening to God, Adam listened to his wife's delusion and became like the serpent, eating dust all the days of his toil. Adam’s fall recalls his origins from dust: "And God formed man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7).

St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest biblical expositors of Christianity, explains that Eve's action is that of exchanging truth for falsehood. He wrote:

"...she revealed the secret of the instruction and told him what God had said to them, and thus received from him a different kind of advice, bringing ruin and death. That is to say, when the woman said, 'We do eat of every tree of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, Do not eat or even touch it,' that evil creature, enemy of our salvation, in his turn offered advice at odds with that of the Lord. You see, whereas the loving God had forbidden their tasting that fruit on account of his great care for them lest they be subject to death for their disobedience, that evil creature said to the woman 'You will not truly die.'[ Gen 3:4 ] What kind of excuse could anyone find appropriate to the woman for being prepared to give her complete attention to the creature that spoke with such temerity? I mean, after God said, 'Do not touch it lest you die,' he said, 'You will not truly die.' Then, not being satisfied with contradicting the words of God, he goes on to misrepresent the Creator as jealous so as to be in a position to introduce deceit by this means, get the better of the woman and carry out his own purpose. 'You will not truly die,' he said. 'God, you see, knows that on the day that you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.' [ Gen 3:5 ] See all the bait he offered: he filled the cup with a harmful drug and gave it to the woman, who did not want to recognize its deadly character. She could have known this from the outset, had she wanted; instead, she listened to his word, that God forbade their tasting the fruit for that reason 'He knows that your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil' puffed up as she was with the hope of being equal to God and evidently dreaming of greatness.

Such, after all, are the stratagems of the enemy: when ever he lures someone to a great height through deceit, at that very point he casts them down into a deep abyss. The woman, you see, had dreams of equality with God and hastened to taste the fruit; she had evidently set her mind and her thinking on that goal, and she thought of nothing else than how to drink the cup prepared for her by the wicked demon. That is to say, listen to the account Scripture gives so as to learn that she was bent on this course after receiving that deadly poison through the serpent's advice. 'The woman saw that the tree was good for eating, pleasing for the eyes to behold, and attractive to contemplate. She took some of its fruit and ate it.' [ Gen 3:6 ] True it is that 'evil converse corrupts good behavior.' [ I Cor 15:33 ] Why was it, after all, that before that wicked demon's advice she entertained no such idea, had no eyes for the tree, nor noticed its attractiveness? Because she feared God's direction and the punishment likely to follow from tasting the fruit; now, how ever, when she was deceived by this evil creature into thinking that not only would they not come to any harm from this but would even be equal to God, then evidently hope of gaining the promised reward drove her to taste it. Not content to remain within her own proper limits, but considering the enemy and foe of her salvation to be more trustworthy than God's words, she learned shortly afterwards through her own experience the lethal effect of such advice and the disaster brought on them from tasting the fruit. The text says, remember, "She saw the tree was good for eating, pleasing for the eyes to behold and attractive to contemplate," and she reasoned with herself, probably from the devil's deceit which he proposed to her through the serpent: If the tree is good for eating, can so delight the eyes and has some indefinable attractiveness about it, while tasting it provides us with the highest esteem, and we will have honor equal to the Creator, why should we not taste it?

Do you see how the devil led her captive, handicapped her reasoning, and caused her to set her thoughts on goals beyond her real capabilities, in order that she might be puffed up with empty hopes and lose her hold on the advantages already accorded her? 'She took some of its fruit,' the text says, 'and ate it; she gave it to her husband also, and they both ate it. Their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked.' [ Gen 3:6, Gen 3:7 ] O woman, what have you done? You have not only followed that deadly counsel literally and trampled on the law imposed on you by God, spurning his instruction and treating it with such displeasure as to be discontented with such great enjoyment, but you have also presumed to take fruit from the one tree which the Lord bade you not to lay hold of, you put faith in the words of the serpent, you regarded its advice worthy of greater heed than the instruction given you by the Creator, and have been ensnared in such awful deception as to be incapable of any claim to excuse. Surely you're not, after all, of the same nature as the one who offered you the advice? He happened in fact to be one of those under your control, one of the servants placed by providence under your authority. Such being the case, why did you disgrace yourself, departing from the one for whom you were created, as whose helpmate you were made, in whose dignity you had equal share, one with him in being and one in language why then did you agree to enter into converse with the serpent, and by means of this creature accept the advice of the devil, which was plainly at variance with the Creator's injunction, without being turned aside from such evil intent, but rather presuming to taste the fruit through hope of what had been promised?

Well and good, then: so you cast yourself into such an abyss and robbed yourself of your preeminent dignity. Why did you make your husband a partner in this grievous disaster, why prove to be the temptress of the person whose help mate you were intended to be, and why for a tiny morsel alienate him along with yourself from the favor of God? What excess of folly led you to such heights of presumption? Wasn't it sufficient for you to pass your life without care or concern, clad in a body yet free of any bodily needs? to enjoy everything in the garden except for one tree? to have all visible things under your own authority and to exercise control over them all? Did you instead, deceived as you were by vain hopes set your heart on reaching the very pinnacle of power? On that account you will discover through experience itself that not only will you fail to achieve that goal but you will rob your self and your husband of everything already given you, you will fall into such depths of remorse that you will regret your failed intentions while that wicked demon, responsible for concocting that deadly plan, will mock and insult you for falling victim to him and incurring the same fate as he. I mean just as he had ideas above his station, was carried away to a degree beyond what was granted him, and so fell from heaven to earth, in just the same way did you have in mind to proceed, and by your transgression of the command were brought to the punishment of death, giving free rein to your own envy, as some sage has said: 'By the devil's envy death entered the world.' [ Wisdom 2:24 ]

Our text says, 'She gave it to her husband also, and they both ate it. Their eyes were opened.' Great was the man's indifference, too: even though like him she was human and his wife as well, still he should have kept God's law intact and given it preference before her improper greed, and not joined her as a partner in her fall nor deprived himself of such benefits on account of a brief pleasure, offending his benefactor who had also shown him so much loving kindness and had regaled him with a life so free of pain and relieved of all distress.

After all, were you not free to enjoy everything else in the garden in generous measure? Why did you not choose for yourself to keep the command that was so easy? Instead, you probably listened to the promise contained in the deadly advice coming from your wife, and buoyed up in your turn with hope you readily shared in the food. As a result you incur the penalty from each other, and experience teaches you not to place greater importance on the wicked demon's advice than on God.

Read all of St. John's commentary here.


Tap said...

Thanks for the link, i've been looking for St. Chyrsostom's genesis homilies for free online, seems like i'll have to to buy the who thing. This was a good preview though, Thanks.

Alice C. Linsley said...

St. John Chrysostom's Homilies on Genesis are published in full in a series on the Fathers of the Church published by The Catholic University of America Press, Washington D.C.

Thanks for visiting!

Arimathean said...

Interesting. Chrysostom sees the serpent not as an embodiment of the devil, but as a tool recruited by the devil. And the serpent should properly have been subject to the direction of Adam and Eve, not of the devil.

Alice C. Linsley said...

That's correct, Roland. In the order of creation, the serpent should have been subject to humans and humans subject to the Creator. Neither was created to be subject to the fallen angel called Lucifer. Think in terms of a standing ladder with rungs. God and Heaven are at the highest rung of the ladder. Adam is the head over Eve (his rib) and Lucifer, having been cast down, is at the bottom. He attempts to rise to the top. The easiest way to accomplish this is the invert the ladder.

The inversion of the ladder is the inversion of reality. What is real and true is turned on its head and presented to the unsuspecting as the real and true. We live in an age when most people are fooled, it seems.

Anonymous said...

This account of the fall of man after disobeying GOD has often been interpreted as just disobedience. By going against the order of creation they listening to the created for leadership instead of the CREATOR, valuing knowledge ahead of life. the tree of life was also there in the middle of the garden. Would it not have made more sense to eat of the fruit of that tree rather than that of knowledge of good and evil?

This choice, the expression of our free will, in a way exemplifies how man has fallen short of the Glory of GOD. Today,many of us seek to acquire knowledge, even false knowledge, for the purpose of self-glorification, thus putting the cart before the horse. Many today even deny GOD because of the delusion that they are where they are by their own effort. Many do not seek HIS guidance for every area of their life including career, family, romance, various types of relationships, spiritual, and so on. Just as the tree of knowledge appeared attractive in the eyes the woman, the knowledge that seems to be in abundance today appears pleasant. Many don't even seek the LOGOS.

"Daniel 12:4: But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, [even] to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased".

No wonder YESHUA tells us to get the order right by seeking the Kingdom of GOD first, and HIS righteousness. Isn't this kingdom is the tree of life, the fruit being eternal life?

"Matthew 6:33: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you".


Alice C. Linsley said...

YT, You are right and you've provided a lovely meditation on our failure to love God above all things.

Disobedience is one way we fail to love God. Another is to disregard or violate His order in creation, an order that reveals a hierarchy and binary distinctions such as male-female, heaven-earth, life-death.

Anonymous said...

Alice, i find your short pieces entirely interesting and they have helped me in my understanding of the Abraham Story as i have begun to implement Isaiah 51:1-2 in my studies.
Thank you.
My question is if:"The reason the serpent approaches Eve rather than Adam has nothing to do with an inherent flaw in the woman. Instead the answer rests in the Tempter's character as one who desires to tarnish the crown of God's creation. Lucifer hates "the Woman" (Gen. 3:15) who as the Mother of God brought forth the Son who crushes the serpent's head"
Then did Elohim Yahuwah know that Adama and Hawah was going to fall. Then why were they created in the first place.
Why would there be a need for a chosen people or man (Elohim Plan)back then, if Adama and Hawah were both perfect. Did Heiylel know that there was need for a chosen people or man to bring about salvation.
I personally see the temptation of Hawah as just a crime of opportunity by Heiylel, and not that he hates women or specifically targets her. As a result of his success, Elohim placed a plan into action.
I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions


Alice C. Linsley said...



It is not possible to answers all your excellent questions. Theologians and great thinkers have pondered them through the ages.

Here is what I think, for what it may be worth. The ancients found a hierarchy in the order of creation. Hawah was the final act of divine creation and she was lovely and essential to the man's welfare - that he might not be alone, but be in a loving relationship. Think of a pyramid. She is at the top and the animals that slither along the ground are at the opposite extreme. The serpent (as an image of the rebellion against the Creator) seeks to invert the pyramid so that he is at the pinnacle. The best way to do that is to have the crown submit to him.

Anonymous said...

Landon \ - Another interesting piece would include the addition to the law on Eve's part "nor even touch it". What would of happened if let's say Adam was tending the garden, triped and touched the fruit? Eve i think is a symbol of Israel aswell as the bride, just as Yashua was a type of adam. We see Israel also added to the law and in doing so made it void.

Unknown said...

The rungs of the ladder is a fascinating analogy to describe the serpent's violation of the order of creation.

God > Adam > Eve > Serpent.

But the Serpent tries to subject Eve, who in turn subjects Adam by giving the fruit to him as well, who all three end trying to subject God unto them... but none of it worked out!

Though I recognize this hierarchy structure in the Bible, it gets a little bit confusing where Genesis is concerned. The first chapter puts the order like this Animals > Adam & Eve. While Genesis 2 puts the order like this Adam > Animals > Eve. I'm not sure in which respect I'm supposed to understand the creation order, in regards to hierarchy aside from the Creator being above the creation, and Man being the head of the woman ... which we get from the New Testament and some OT passages as well.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Timothy, the ancients thought of the cosmos as a pyramid. Eve was the crown of creation, the last to be created. The pyramid is turned upside down when the crown is cast beneath the feet of the serpent - a ground crawler. So the effect of Eve's disobedience is the inversion of the natural order of creation.

We discuss these matters and many more at the international Facebook forum The Bible and Anthropology. You might want to join that group.

Eric said...

From details of her temptation, it doesn't seem that she could be blamed for anything except ignorance of the proper law.

“We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Compare this with what God actually said:

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

And you can see where the problem is. Taking information from Eve's recount of the law, we can tell that she doesn't know what either of the trees are (she only notes one that is in the middle of the garden) and she thinks that the tree is just outright dangerous (she can't touch it apparently). This is different than what God said to Adam and conveys different information (the original law places the danger of the tree of knowledge in its nature and contents and it promises a certain death, Eve's version just simply notes that it is dangerous to the touch and doesn't note how certain dearth is if you eat it) so it even puts to question whether God told her the law directly or, if he did, whether she actually understood it. Add the fact that nothing happened after she ate it and you can safely conclude that Eve was ignorant of her sin. I don't think that she sinned for the lack of anything except knowledge. She didn't know about this fruit in the middle of the garden, she didn't know why she couldn't touch it, she didn't know what about it would kill her, and after hearing from a trustworthy source about it, she didn't know what would be the harm in listening to someone else. And that lack of knowledge was reflected in her lack of shame after eating it and her quickness to share it with her husband. She didn't know what she did was wrong until after Adam ate it.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Eric, That is a very interesting theory! It supports the idea that the woman was confused by the serpent. Indeed, demonic forces attempt to confuse us all the time.

It is also likely that women filter information differently. Have you read Carol Gilligan's book In a Different Voice? I recommend it.