In Genesis chapter 3, after the events that we usually call ‘the fall’ where the man and the woman are cursed along with the snake and the woman is given a promise for the future, Adam names the woman Eve.
Then they are gifted new clothes from the skins of a sacrifice so they can continue to approach God—and finally, protected by their new robes, they are cast out of the Garden into wider Eden to work the land rather than receive their food as gift.
I’ve often seen people suggest that because naming is an act of dominion, by which they mean dominance, it allows us to see that men are dominant over women as Adam was over Eve. To be fair, very few proponents would use the word dominant here, would very much want to soften my framing, and I’m sympathetic to many of the theological convictions of those who might argue this.
Their opponents would remark, “not so fast!” and want to carefully point out that this naming is after the fall. While Adam’s dominion over the beasts was part of his God-given responsibility as the heir to the throne of the earth, he doesn’t name Eve until after the Fall and so male dominion over woman is a product of the Curse. The argument would usually go that therefore we should not strive to reflect these dynamics but push against them.
While I think the second argument here is more attentive to the text, the logic that because it’s part of the curse we should push firmly against it isn’t usually followed through—you could argue similarly that all pregnant woman should have epidurals, but I haven’t found anyone doing so—if I’m honest the whole thing is a bit tiresome. I want to bash both of my straw men’s heads together. Though, for all I’ve drawn the arguments with a large brush, I have encountered both of these positions in the last year.
My first, and smaller, problem is that we seem to feel that these texts are about the relations between men and women. They are not. I would happily concede that it is appropriate to learn from their witness when addressing these questions, but we should be very careful to pay attention to what they have to say first.
My second, and larger, problem grows from that initial one: no one is reading the text closely enough. I want to tell you why Adam named the woman Eve, and it isn’t either of the reasons already suggested.
Let’s marshal some data from the text. Firstly, yes Adam names the animals. This seems to be an exercise of his dominion over the created world. But, based on the patterns we’re given in Genesis 1, we should see dominion not as dominance or control but the creation of order out of chaos. To name is to divide, to place in categories, to do the work that the Lord does on days 1-3 of the creation narrative: to create by dividing.
We could perhaps suggest that there is something male about creating order by forming. There’s a view popularised by Jordan B. Peterson that male is order and female is chaos, he finds this idea in Genesis 1. Except, I think instead the pattern we’re meant to notice is that there is something female about creating order by filling, like God does on days 4-6 of the creation narrative: he populates those divisions with life of every kind.
Lots more could be said about that, and I appreciate some might consider it a controversial suggestion, but I want to keep moving towards Eve’s name—and it doesn’t matter for this argument whether you agree with the previous paragraph or not.
Naming is dominion, but not domination. Adam has already named the woman, ‘woman’, but he now names her ‘Eve’, why? Why has her category changed?
The fall cannot be enough of an answer—they have not yet been banished from the garden for all they have each received their curses and the woman her promise.
Immediately after Adam names her Eve they both receive clothing, cut from the skins of animals. Which, of course, requires that something was killed to produce those skins. It’s reasonable to assume that what was killed was a sacrifice, in other words their new clothes are a sign that an atonement for their sin has been accomplished.
They are cursed, but hidden in the curse is a promise. Then before they are banished they receive new clothes—and clothes in the Bible typically speak of an office given by God, a status—before the banishment comes a covering for sin. Adam and Eve receive what I would understand to be priestly robes of lamb’s wool as a gift. Extravagant grace that even after the first moment of taking rather than waiting to receive—of sin—which rent the cosmos and upturned the order carefully established, even then God would immediately move to cover his precious children. They are rescued.
And they hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Eve was deceived by the snake, but Adam wasn’t. He sinned high-handedly, deliberately, perniciously. He knew what he was doing. We often suggest that this is all Eve’s fault. There’s a long tradition in Christian history of doing so. Again, I think this isn’t reading closely enough. What were they supposed to do? If Adam had lived up to his calling to grow into kingship he would have taught his wife the truth and killed the snake.
The bigger problem wasn’t that Eve gave Adam the fruit, it was that he took it. They both sinned, but his was worse. They both deserved the curse and exile, but Adam bears more responsibility.
And the Lord clothes them. And immediately before that, in the midst of all God’s action, Adam names the woman Eve. He changes her name from “from man” to “life”. He changes her name to life.
This matters because names matter—even today to change our names is a theologically fraught activity that should not be taken lightly, names are received gifts. But it matters for a bigger and deeper reason, this is Adam’s act of repentance. This is him choosing to believe the promise. This is him—for the first time—realising that he cannot make his own salvation, he cannot undo what he has done. He’s heard what Yahweh said to Eve though, it can be undone. The snake can be crushed by a seed of the woman.
So as an act of faith he turns to his wife and explodes into repentant worship by naming her Life. By submitting to the Lord’s plan that there will be another king to come and do everything he himself had failed to do. She is the one through whom life will come.
We’re told he did it because she was the mother of all living, and we need to read symbolically here. We might think that this simply means she is our physical ancestor, but that doesn’t make sense of the timing. She is the mother of the living—those to whom life is given, who feast on the tree of life, who have their hearts made into springs of living water (John 7)—because she will bear the seed, the Christ.
This is anything but an act of domination. This is repentance. This is faith in the resurrection.
A few hours ago Adam was surrounded by life, free to eat from the tree of life, surrounded by many trees that were good to eat from. He was in a tended garden that teemed with life. There was one tree he couldn’t eat from, yet.
Now he was surrounded by death. He had taken what he was not ready to eat, trying to work a shortcut on wisdom which always ends in ashy futility. He and his wife are about to be cast out of the garden into the wider world they were once meant to tame, but without their garden home to base themselves from. Surrounded by death, down in the dust, perhaps even able to see the Cherubim—these awful human-faced lions with swords of fire—ready to kick them out. It’s all done.
What does he do? He lifts his head, he looks at his wife in her grief, and he declares faith that somehow from this death, life would come. The gospel has been preached by the triune God in his splendour, and Adam responds with faith in the resurrection of the dead.
He names her life.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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