The Fall of Eve in the Letters of Paul – and Why It Matters Today
Historically, biblical scholars have given great attention to Paul’s theology of Adam but comparatively little to Paul’s unique focus on Eve.
That’s important because strikingly, after Eve gives birth to Seth in Genesis 4 and the Creation is summarized in Genesis 5, not a single canonical author ever mentions Eve again except the apostle—who is just as interested in the fall of Eve as he is in the fall of Adam.
Yet, in addition to mentioning the deception of Eve specifically twice (2 Cor. 11:2–3; 1 Tim. 2:13–14), Paul appears to allude to her in other texts. But why?
Apparently, the fall of Eve captivated Paul as a paradigm for warning the church, the new Eve, against the deception of Satan’s new messengers, false teachers.
Paul’s Warning and Key Themes
Looking carefully at 2 Corinthians 11, we see clearly how the deception of Eve serves as a paradigm in Paul’s thinking. Paul says in verses 2–3, and 13–15:
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.
Notice some of the themes of the paradigm Paul constructs:
- The picture of the church as a virgin bride waiting to be presented to her husband, drawn from ancient Jewish marital customs. The bride, the church, must remain pure during the “betrothal period” before her union with Christ, contrasting the first, innocent woman who allowed herself to be seduced by Satan.
- An intensive form of the word “deceived” (ἐξαπατάω; exapataō), which is used to refer to the deception of Eve both in Paul’s letters and nearly without exception in references to Eve in ancient Jewish literature outside of the New Testament.
- The serpent’s character, described with the single word, “cunning,” similar to the single word used to describe the serpent in the garden in the Septuagint (ancient Greek) translation of Genesis 3:1.
- A focus on the Corinthians’ “thoughts” being led astray, a thread that scholars have noticed running throughout 2 Corinthians. For instance, those who do not obey the Gospel of Christ have hardened minds (2 Cor. 3:4) and minds blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).
- The analogy of false teachers to Satan: they disguise themselves as apostles of Christ, as Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Satan’s Deception: The Cunning of False Teachers
There are other places in Paul’s letters where, even though he does not specifically mention Eve, the apostle may have the fall of Eve paradigm in his thinking when warning the church against false teaching:
- In 1 Corinthians 3:18–20, Paul warns against deception (exapataō) in the quest for wisdom.
- In 2 Thessalonians 2:2–3, Paul warns the Thessalonians not to be deceived (exapataō) by false teachers, and so to be “quickly shaken,” or to vacillate, in their minds.
- In 2 Timothy 3:5–8, Paul refers to false teachers as those who “worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible [naive, innocent] women.”
Yet nowhere is the parallel stronger, and the nature of the deception clearer, than in the many allusions to Genesis 3 in Romans 16:17–20. The apostle urges,
(W)atch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 … I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
Every element of Paul’s paradigm may here be detected. He warns an innocent church (bride) to pursue true wisdom, and not to be deceived (exapataō) by the cunning (smoothly talking and flattering) of the false teachers, who are representatives of Satan.
How to Respond: Fidelity to Christ and the Truth of the Gospel
The fact that Paul points to this deception by crafty false teachers in so many direct and indirect allusions to the church as the new Eve is a clear and unmistakable warning about Gospel corruption. In fact, according to the Barna organization, pastors today identify their top challenges as “watered-down Gospel teachings” and “culture’s shift to a secular age.”
How should we respond? First, Paul urges us as the new Eve to stay faithful to our husband as we await Christ’s return, guarding our minds (2 Cor. 11:3) as well as our hearts (Rom. 16:18).
Second, we must embrace a right understanding of the Word (2 Cor. 11:4) and resist the “watered-down Gospel teachings” and secular thinking being brought into the church. This may mean that we, like Paul, must enter into a spiritual battle with our blinded opponents (2 Cor. 10:4–5), armed with the uncorrupted Gospel, pulling down their arguments—their stronghold walls of opposition “raised against the knowledge of God”—and taking their every “thought captive,” as a prisoner of war, to bring them into obedience to Christ.
If, following Paul’s admonition, we remain pure in our doctrine and faithful in our devotion to Christ, we can rest in the promise of Genesis 3:15 also paralleled in Romans 16:19, that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet.”