What Eve's Statement to the Serpent Tells Us

At the moment I’m reading up on Genesis and gender in preparation for the “Genesis, Scripture and Creation” session at The Gender Conversation which will be held on Monday the 7th of September 2015 at Morling College.

“. . . the prohibition against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is spoken to the man alone (in 2:17). He is given responsibility to mediate this command to his wife after her creation and protect her from disobeying it. Presumably this command could have been given to both of them after the creation of the woman, but the account as it stands implicitly gives the man this responsibility to which he is later held to account . . .”

I’ve read this kind of statement many times. Is there any truth in it? What does the biblical account, “as it stands”, tell us about God’s command concerning the forbidden fruit? Did God give the command to the man alone? Eve’s reply to the serpent may indicate otherwise. 

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” Genesis 3:2-3.

The woman’s quotation of God’s command in Genesis 3:2-3 is slightly different to the command given to the man recorded in Genesis 2:16-17. The extra phrase about touching the fruit in Genesis 3:3 is an obvious difference, but there is another difference between the two commands that is not immediately apparent in modern English translations.

In Genesis 2:16-17, where the man is being given the command, there are three singular verbs in the Hebrew text. Note the use of the singular pronoun “thou” three times in the King James Version of Genesis 2:17: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

In Genesis 3:2-3, however, the command is given with three plural verbs in the Hebrew text. Note the use of the plural pronoun “ye” three times in the King James Version of Genesis 3:3: “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said,’ Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’” Is the plural significant here?

The text of Genesis 3 tells us Eve was deceived, but it does not tell us she was a liar. Her answer in verse 13 to God’s question regarding her failure shows honesty and candour (Gen. 3:13).[1] Her answer in verses 2-3 to the serpent’s question may also have been honest and candid.

Eve may have, in fact, quoted exactly what God had told both her and Adam on an occasion not mentioned in Genesis 2. She may have quoted God verbatim in Genesis 3:2-3 with the three plural verbs. If this is the case, her statement reveals that God gave the command about the forbidden fruit at least once to the man (with singular verbs) quoted in Genesis 2:17, and at least once to the couple (with plural verbs) as quoted by the woman in Genesis 3:3.

In Genesis 1 we read that God spoke to both men and the women and gave them commands (Gen. 1:28). In Genesis 3 we read that God spoke to the man (Gen. 3:9-12, 17-19) and to the woman individually (Gen. 3:13, 16). Throughout scripture we see that God continued to speak to men and to women, sometimes together, and sometimes individually. So there is no reason to suppose that God did not give his command directly to Adam and to Eve, especially as Eve’s quotation indicates that God did give the command to the couple.[2]

I suspect that the veracity of the woman’s statement to the serpent has been doubted and its significance downplayed, but there is no reason to assume her quotation of God’s command is incorrect. Furthermore, Adam was there with the woman when she was speaking to the serpent, and he doesn’t contradict or correct what she says.

The assertions in the statement I quoted at the beginning of this article do not agree with the biblical text, “as it stands”. There is no mention, implication, or hint in the biblical text that the first man had authority over the first woman before the Fall, or that he was given the responsibility of passing on God’s command to her, or that he was meant to protect her from disobeying the command. These ideas are simply not present in the text.


[1] God seems to confirm the honesty of Eve’s statement in Genesis 3:13b. In the narrative, as soon as she explains to God “The serpent tricked me, and I ate”, God says to the serpent, “Because you have done this . . .” (Gen. 3:14f).

[2] God sometimes repeats his messages. For example, the Angel of the Lord (possibly a theophany) gave a message to Samson’s mother, but Samson’s father wanted to hear the instruction for himself, so the Angel visited a second time to repeat the message (Judges 13:3ff). In the New Testament, Gabriel was sent by God to Mary first, and he told her what would happen (Luke 1:26-37). Joseph, however, was troubled by Mary’s pregnancy, so an angel appeared to him in a dream and repeated the news about Mary’s special baby (Matt. 1:18-24).

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