Recently in New Zealand, there was a job advertisement calling for a couple to manage a holiday camp. According to the ad, the ideal wife would have knowledge of Microsoft Office, know how to work the telephone, and be “of a quiet disposition.”
The implication was that vocal or outspoken wives would not be suitable for the job.
The ad created no small stir because in New Zealand we consider ourselves egalitarian when it comes to women’s rights. In fact, it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of gender. (The man who placed the ad backpedaled in the face of public reaction.)
The ad was more amusing than harmful, but it raises an interesting question. How did we arrive at the notion that a good wife is a quiet wife?
“A silent wife is a gift from the Lord,” said Ben Sira, a Jewish scribe who lived 200 years before Christ. A man fortunate to be married to a good and silent wife “will live twice as long because of her” (Sirach 26:1, 14).
Sage advice. But from where did Ben Sira get this idea that the ideal wife is silent? Perhaps he got it from the story of Adam and Eve.
Eve was the first woman to speak in the Bible. She uttered a few sentences, then she never spoke again. Or at least, no more of her words were deemed worthy of being recorded.
“Better that she should not have spoken at all,” Ben Sira might have said. “For the little she did say led us into a world of hurt.”
He’s not wrong. Adam got into trouble, said God, because he listened to the voice of his wife (see Gen. 3:17).
Who was this Eve who spoke to the serpent?
Tradition tells us she was a temptress who seduced her husband into sin. At best, she was foolish; at worst, she was in cahoots with the devil. Look at any painting of Adam and Eve, and chances are she’s beguiling her husband with the forbidden fruit.
Bad, wicked Eve. She should’ve kept her mouth shut.
Like a good wife from the Lord.
Like a campground manager’s wife.
Would the real Eve please stand up?
We need to take another look at the first woman. The Bible says little about Eve, but the little it says is too important to miss.
Along with her husband, Eve was called by God to rule over the earth. Which means Eve was a queen. Indeed, she was the Queen and the mother of all the kings and queens who came after her.
Yet if you Google “queens of the Bible,” you will not find Eve’s name on any list of royalty. Why not? Maybe it’s because her name is stained with scandal. Eve was the queen who fell. She heeded the serpent and lost her right to reign.
Tradition tells us that Eve was alone when she was seduced by the devil. If her manly husband had been around, the crafty serpent would never had tried his dirty tricks.
Yet the lonely wife interpretation doesn’t square with the biblical account. When the serpent spoke to Eve, her husband was right there with her:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)
So Eve can hardly shoulder all the blame for what happened next.
The serpent prevailed because the husband-wife partnership failed to recognize the danger they were in. At least Queen Eve tried to refute the liar. But acting alone, she was no match for the serpent’s cunning.
After the Fall, Eve seems to have been struck from the historical record. Almost nothing she says or does is recorded. Adam had sons who became city-builders and men of renown, but Eve and her daughters were shunted to the side.
Patriarchy replaces partnership
The men of ancient times were kings and conquerors, but the women did nothing worth writing about. After Eve, the words of no woman are recorded in scripture for more than a thousand years.
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
These are God’s words, but this was never God’s plan. God wanted Adam to rule with Eve, not over her. He wanted their partnership to bear fruit with joy, not pain.
In Genesis 1 we were ordained to be kings and queens, but in Genesis 3 we lost our crowns. The divinely-mandated partnership between men and women was dissolved by selfishness and sin. God offered us abundant life, but we chose death.
As a result of the Fall, Eve lost her identity and her voice. She went from being co-ruler to being ruled, from a queen to a subject.
“Your desire will be for your husband.” From now on, Eve would find value in the aid she gave to the men in her life. Her sense of self-worth would come from being a good wife and a hardworking mother.
“He will rule over you,” meaning Adam and his sons would have the last word and the final say. They would make the decisions and write the rules. They would create history while their wives raised their children.
Patriarchy in the church
Adam and Eve’s rebellion created an unequal division of labor that persists to this day. Even in the church.
Rank your top ten preachers and teachers and chances are most of them are men. Rank history’s most influential pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and authors, and you’ll get the same result.
The majority are men.
Where are the women? They’re either playing the supportive wife, or they’re sitting silently on the sidelines. For sure, there are notable exceptions, but women who speak with authority are notable precisely because they are exceptions.
Like the women who speak in the Bible, they’re in the minority.
God told Eve she was destined to reign, and one way we rule is by speaking. When the Creator spoke, his creative will shaped a formless and chaotic world. But Eve misspoke and became the silent queen.
Ever since the Fall, Eve’s daughters have been silenced by the men who rule them. “Don’t teach, don’t preach, but if you really must talk, be accountable to a man.”
The Fall of humanity was the worst thing that ever happened to us. God created a partnership of equals, but sin sent our world spiraling into a self-destructive tailspin of misogyny and discrimination. The consequences were catastrophic, even in the church.
But Jesus came to undo the harm and set things right. Jesus listened to women which is to say he encouraged them to speak. Those who followed him did likewise. Despite what you may have heard, the early church encouraged women to teach, preach, and lead.
A woman who speaks – who reveals the words and wisdom God gives her – is a gift from the Lord.
More questions about Women:
- Should women remain silent in church?
- Are women permitted to teach?
- Are women more easily deceived?
- Did Jesus say adultery is the only grounds for divorce?
- Do you have a Biblical view of women?
- How did Jesus empower women?
- Are women weaker vessels?
- Are women saved through childbearing?
- If a women can’t be a husband, she can’t be a pastor, right?
- Jesus listened to women, why don’t we?
- What does the Bible say about women pastors?
- Women preachers? Where’s that in the Bible?!
- Why is the church is wrong about women?
- Who was the true pioneer of women’s education?
- How did Jesus treat women?
- Are you complementarian, egalitarian, or something else?