By Paul Fahey Thursday, February 6
As I was studying the book of Genesis for my course in Salvation History, a nuance that I had not yet heard of concerning the conversation between Eve and the serpent was brought to my attention (Most of the scriptural exegesis in this post is inspired/borrowed from Gray and Cavin’s book “Walking with God”). Here is a break down of that conversation:
What the Serpent said:
Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1 New American Bible, Revised Edition).
What Eve said:
The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die’” (Gen. 3:2-3).
What God Really Said™:
The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die (Gen. 2:16-17).
So what’s going here, and why am I pointing this conversation out? Notice two things. First, the serpent intentionally exaggerates God’s command – “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” In other words, he makes God’s command appear arbitrary because God could have forbade them from eating from any random tree in the garden, which really means that God is giving Adam this command just for the Hell of it, which really means that God is an omnipotent tyrant.
Second, Eve also exaggerates God’s command – “You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.” By “buffering” God’s actual command, Eve demonstrates a lack of understanding in what God actually said (and why he said it). Thereby she distorts the significance of God’s actual command. Thereby she makes God’s law appear arbitrary. Thus, while it may not have been intentional, Eve’s exaggeration also undermines God’s law.
I see this same thing playing out in today’s theological and juridical discussions within Catholicism about what the Church really says. Two polarized “movements” with Catholicism, the “progressives” and the “trads,” (that really aren’t that different) are guilty of the same distortion of God’s word that Eve and the serpent are guilty of. For the purposes of polemics, I will use the issue of female ordination to illustrate the point.
The “progressives,” on one hand, intentionally misrepresent and over-exaggerate what the Church actually teaches about female priests. They say things like, “The Church is just a patriarchal organization trying to limit female leadership!” Rather than understanding the reasons behind the Church’s beliefs concerning female priests, this group merely belittles the teaching in the hope of making it appear arbitrary and irrelevant.
On the other hand, the “trads” build man-made fences around the Church’s teaching concerning female ordination. Take, for example, the vehement feelings that this group holds against female altar servers. Their reasoning behind this ban on altar-girls is that serving at the altar is somehow the training ground for the priesthood, and by allowing girls to serve we are giving them false encouragement (or at least a false impression) of the priesthood. However, this “law” is simply an arbitrary fence, and like Eve’s fence around the tree, it distorts the significance of the teaching that it’s trying to protect.
At the end of the day, what’s important is knowing What God Really Said™ and why He said it. The mistake that Eve, the serpent, trads, and progressives make is that they add their own agenda (no matter how well intentioned) to God’s Word rather then remaining docile to it.
Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology with minors in History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology.