Would you Adam and Eve it?

I grew up in South London, not the East End, but I’m well aware of Cockney rhyming slang. ‘Adam and Eve’ = believe.

Well, I don’t. I don’t believe the Genesis stories – plural, as the story appears twice, in different versions – as historical accounts. Of course they are powerful stories about human disobedience, what Francis Spufford memorably called ‘the human propensity to fuck things up‘, ‘our active inclination to break stuff — “stuff” here including moods, promises, relationships we care about and our own wellbeing and other people’s’. But that’s what they are: stories. I didn’t think this was a very controversial position for me to take until I read the latest document from the Bishops, GS2289, the main event of the February 2023 General Synod. There they are in all their glory: ‘The liturgy also refers to marriage as rooted “in creation”, referring back to God’s original blessing of Adam and Eve in Genesis.’

One of the main drivers of LLF was acknowledgement that we read the Bible differently.

The LLF book includes an acknowledgement that we vary on this: ‘some Christians view the male-female structure in the Genesis narrative as illustrative rather than morally normative’ (my italics). Turns out that some Christians think it’s not a myth, a piece of narrative theology, but … a historical account. It is supposedly the first marriage and it somehow prevents same-sex marriage ever being possible.

Adam and Eve as ‘marriage’? Really? There’s not a lot of choice in the mythical Garden of Eden. Do you see Eve giving her consent to the relationship, yet don’t we think marriage should involve both partners’ consent? Do we think that marriages should happen with both partners naked? Any vows being made? Any celebrant? As for the explanation, that ‘this is why a man leaves his father and mother’: historically it has been the woman who leaves her birth family, not the man. 

In a fed-up moment I tweeted ‘Just want to say: Adam and Eve did not exist. It’s a powerful story, a myth, a theological narrative, but they are not historical figures and they weren’t ‘married’ (never thought I’d need to make that point but hey).’ And it went as viral as my tweets have ever been: 40,000 views.

There were some fascinating responses, in the midst of general support and a certain amount of ‘Does anyone believe otherwise?’ Oh yes, they do. I had ‘Heretic’ (meant entirely seriously); ‘this is what happens if women are educated beyond primary school’ (I think/hope that one was tongue-in-cheek!); a comment that women should not preach or teach; but also an insistence that Adam is the common ancestor of all nations and that Adam must have existed otherwise Jesus didn’t and that he can’t be the second Adam if there isn’t a first Adam. And, yes, statements that ‘Adam and Eve are historically real people’. One person, identifying as from an evangelical background, said it was harder for him to challenge the Adam and Eve story than to say he was an LGBT ally.

Historically, there have been many readings of Adam and Eve. The story has been read to support the view that men are superior and should control women because they were created first. In contrast, in the mid-twelfth century, Peter Lombard wrote that “Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his subordinate, not from his head to be his master, but from his side to be his partner”. The story has also been read to deny women pain relief in childbirth. A prayer published in 1574 asked women to acknowledge that such pain was “a worthy cross and punishment laid upon us by thy godly ordinance”. In the nineteenth century, the introduction of pain relief in childbirth came up against some people’s expectation that intervention would contradict God’s will. Women have suffered for Eve.

Alongside the line that ‘we can’t have same-sex marriage because Adam and Eve’ there’s also the ‘marriage of Christ and the church’ metaphor which tends to come up at the same time. GS2289 lists as one of the questions on which the bishops have apparently not yet come to a decision ‘does the difference between Christ and church map out against sex difference between bride and groom?’ Well no, obviously not. What have anyone’s sex organs got to do with the relationship between Christ and the church?

Genesis is a powerful theological narrative about human nature, not a historical account. The Christian faith is rooted in a set of historical events, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus: in a God who chooses to become ‘flesh’. We reduce the significance of our basis in these historical events when we rely so much on fictional characters. Yes, this myth contains theological truth, about our shared human nature. But it’s a myth and we are making it bear too much weight if we see Adam and Eve as a model for marriage.

About fluff35

I blog on a range of subjects arising from various aspects of my life. On https://theretiringacademic.wordpress.com, I focus on my reactions to early retirement and think about aspects of teaching and research which I hope will be stimulating to those still working in higher education. On https://shared-conversations.com, I blog as an authorized lay preacher in a pretty standard parish church of the Church of England, who needs to write in order to find out what she thinks. I took part in the Oxford/St Albans/Armed Forces C of E 'Shared Conversations' in March 2016, worked on the Living in Love and Faith resources from 2017 and was elected to General Synod in October 2021, and continue to try to reflect on some of the issues. On https://mistakinghistories.wordpress.com I share my thoughts on various aspects of the history of medicine and the body. I have also written for The Conversation UK on https://theconversation.com/profiles/helen-king-94923/articles
This entry was posted in Church of England and gender, equal marriage, General Synod, Living in Love and Faith, marriage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Would you Adam and Eve it?

  1. Pingback: Opinion – 11 February 2023 | Thinking Anglicans

  2. Stephen De Silva says:

    Thanks for this. I have been having similar thoughts about the over use of the Christ/Church bridal metaphor, so it’s good to see it set out here too alongside A&E.
    BTW, I was at the same Shared Conversations session.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Davies says:

    Thank you, very much for this. Nice, clear and very much to the point. I used to struggle with the implications of a literal reading of the story – not least because Paul appears to regard them as ‘real people’ later on. Eventually I chose to regard them as parables, conveying a much greater truth about God and humanity, and found some peace of mind. Yes, I’ve read Darwin (good, sound logic based on personal observation) and Brian Cox, whose explanations of creation and the universe actually helped expand my understanding – and awe – of the majesty of God.

    God bless


  4. Peter says:

    How does this relate to the decisions made two days ago ?


    • fluff35 says:

      As you’ll see from the post, Adam and Eve are described as the first marriage in GS2289, the document supporting the bishops’ motion which we discussed for over 8 hours…


      • Peter says:

        Quite. It was intended as a genuine question. I would be interested to know your more general conclusions.

        Having said that, you are more than entitled to a period of recovery and rehabilitation after what must have been a dismal time.

        Let us know your thoughts when you can face it all again



      • Peter says:

        Hi Helen,

        I think this is a really helpful commentary.

        I think Sam Margrave gave a terribly sour note to the conservative perspective which was really disappointing, and obviously profoundly offensive to the progressive perspective.

        Vaughan Roberts speaks for the authentic and responsible body of conservative evangelicals. He really does, and am I so glad you and Vaughan and others are at least in dialogue.


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