Was Eve a virgin before the Fall?

Was Eve a virgin before the Fall? March 26, 2015

As part of my reading Advent in Lent, I am now working my way through the readings for Christmastide.  As the readings for Lent intensify, it is interesting to pair them with the readings for Christmas:  Jesus truly was born to die, and to rise again.

But as part of this, I stumbled upon an interesting quote from Saint John Chrysostom.  As part of a reflection on the Feast of the Holy Family, I read,

Why was Christ born of a virgin, and her virginity preserved inviolate?! Because of old the devil had deceived the virgin Eve, Gabriel brought the Good News to the Virgin Mary. Having fallen into the trap, Eve spoke the word that led to death. Having received the Good News, Mary gave birth to the incarnate Word who has brought us eternal life. (Chrysostom, Homily for Christmas)

I must admit that I did a bit of a double-take when I saw the reference to “the virgin Eve.”   I did a quick bit of searching, and discovered that in fact this expression was common among the Fathers, with usage at least as far back as St. Justin Martyr. (CatholicCulture.org has a nice list of quotations.)  And in fact it gets a mention in the Catechism, which quotes St. Irenaeus:

The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.  (CCC 494)

It is clear reading all of these passages that they are part of a mariological argument:  Mary is the new Eve, and they want to extend the parallel as far as possible.  This leads to a post facto reading of the Old Testament:  Mary was (explicitly) a virgin, and so, therefore, Eve must have been one as well.   There is, of course, not a stitch of evidence for or against Eve being a virgin in Genesis, unless one wants to read Gen 2:25, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” as being a Hebraic euphemism for sexual activity.  This seems a stretch, though as I have noted before, the Hebrew OT does have a number of very earthy passages.  I got this reading from a random website I stumbled upon which was a discussion board for Reform tradition Christians.  Read down a bit for their acerbic comments on “Romanism” and “Popish” ideas.

So how important is this reading?  What would be lost or undermined by assuming Adam and Eve had a prelapasarian sex life?  I think Augustine (or was it Thomas Aquinas) gave this some thought:  didn’t he argue that before the fall, Adam only got an erection at will as he was not subject to concupiscence?   Moreover, all of these readings take Genesis quite literally, so I wonder how this reading would fare given a more symbolic interpretation to deal with human evolution?  Also, to what extent was this reading affected by the (in my view at times obsessive) importance that the Church fathers attached to virginity?

I have no answers, and I am sure that I will think of more questions, but I thought I would toss this out just to see what people thought.

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  • Brian Martin

    What you are really seeing is the root of the Church’s view of women as less than men. Eve is to blame not only for her own choice…but for tempting Adam. His “Free Will” is conveniently put aside, and Eve is blamed…thus women have forever been seen as seductresses…that is why there is such an unhealthy fear of women in the hierarchy of the Church. The fear reaches near pathological proportions…Just google Cardinal Burke’s interview with something called the “New EMANgelization” where he blames every problem in the church on the “feminization” of the church…or the prevailing idea among many conservatives that female Altar Servers “scare off boys who would likely go on to be priests”. That only makes sense if you believe that vocation is so weak that a call from the Holy Spirit would be so weak as to be erased by the mere presence of a female altar server. Not much Faith in the power of God or the Holy Spirit evident there, now is there. Makes one wonder if they truly believe that people actually are “Called” by the Holy Spirit, or if people have to be led to a “vocation” by manipulation. Not much evidence of trust in the Holy Spirit being active in all of us, despite the fact that the Church insists that it is. A recent issue of Commonweal magazine had an article written by someone who was in priestly formation and talked about how the issue of sexuality was addressed (or not addressed in the seminary he attended). Augustine seems to have a fairly negative view of women….is it possible he blamed them for his behavior early in life?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I think this is part of it, but not the whole story. As I indicated, there was an interest in virginity among the Fathers that at times appears (to me anyway) as obsessive, and it leads to conclusions about women that rise at times to the level of misogyny. But at other times they say some very thoughtful things.

    • I think that this is part of it, but I also think that the Early Church Fathers were very influenced by Greek and Roman philosophy and ideas. The ancient Greeks and Romans took it as axiomatic that women were deformed men, and therefore inferior. The early Christians read Genesis with these ideas in mind.

      I do agree that female sexuality does inspire a certain degree of fear in Catholic writing and thinking.

  • Gerald

    Well, they only had children after. They WOULD have had relations if they hadn’t Fallen, but it seems to have happened so fast that it’s unlikely they had time yet!

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Yes, the Reformed site I linked to also mentioned this theory. Again, there is no evidence in Genesis for establishing time frames, so this is again strictly speculative.

  • Julia Smucker

    I don’t see any problem with reading “the virgin Eve” allegorically as a mariological parallel. Maybe this is too easy an answer, but that would be my first inclination.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I see your point, but the problem is that I am pretty confident that the Church fathers meant this in an objective, physical way. And what would it mean to read “the virgin Eve” allegorically? What is it an allegory for?

      • Julia Smucker

        For the virgin Mary. More specifically, whatever all it means to be “full of grace”, i.e. some notion of prelapsarian purity, which may or may not include “objective, physical” virginity. I certainly wouldn’t say the latter is a requirement of the former, but given its significance in Mary’s case, I can see virginity language being symbolically assigned to Eve in order to highlight the parallel. I can’t say for sure whether this is what the fathers had in mind (though they do sometimes seem heavy on allegorical readings of scripture to the point of overkill), but I guess I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • There were certainly Church Fathers who believed that sexual reproduction was a punishment (or at least a consequence) of the Fall. However, as you said, part of that is extending Marian characteristics back to Eve. I think, as Julia, we could choose to interpret it metaphorically.

    • I think virgin means young woman in the Aramaic

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        In Hebrew this is a much debated point which I am not qualified to comment on. I just know people fight about it.

        • I feel time is wasted on these things when we could pray i nstead and I get fed up hearing about hymens.I don’t think I ever had one myself.It’s embarrassing to hear it so much.Does God care about that?I don’t think so.
          Was St Joseph a virgin?Why is it always women getting labelled… it’s mad.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Katherine, hunt up my old post on virginity: I think it was called “Do we care she was a virgin?” This addresses some of your concerns. The comments were also really wide ranging.

          • Thank you,David.I shall.

  • As you pointed out, all of this assumes a literal reading of the book of Genesis. The Church does not insist on a literal reading of the creation narrative, so I think it’s completely appropriate to see the virginity of Eve in an allegorical sense.

  • Ronald King

    The woman and the man were both virgins in my opinion. They were naïve and innocent. It’s a story of developing awareness and knowledge of self and the environment. The woman is called woman because the man said so due to a belief that she came from man. What is interesting is that in the story there is no distress within the woman after she attempts to gain knowledge until the man felt vulnerable after his attempt to gain knowledge. His shame was immediately felt by the woman which makes sense since women resonate with those closest to them as part of their ability to connect with others. After this “fall”/awakening it somehow occurs to the man that the woman is more than she appeared to be. He now calls her Eve which is related to life giving. Now fast forward to the present and it has been discovered that the DNA of mitochondria which exists in every cell in our bodies and is responsible for the life of that cell is passed from mothers to daughters. The mitochondria in the sperm of the male survive only long enough to make a trip to the egg and then the woman takes over from there. I find that extremely interesting and believe it to be so important that it could be the beginning of developing a different approach to theology. However, I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.
    Why? Men are still controlled by shame and it is what prevents us from admitting to ourselves and other that we are not good enough to create a world in which it is safe for a woman to bring life into the world.

  • Abe Rosenzweig

    Genesis Rabbah suggests that the serpent was envious of Adam’s going to Bone Town (to use a biblical euphemism) with Eve, which led to his apple-related shenanigans.

    [DCU: This is a 3rd century Jewish commentary. Though the original is a bit more tactful, it does indeed say this. See the article in Wikipedia for a link to the Rabbah.]

  • Mark VA

    I thought that the Deep Sea Scrolls, discovered in an underwater cave in the 1940s, have settled this issue once and for all. Fragment WLG2m, sheds light on this:

    “And it came to pass that Adam,
    Happy on prelapasarian punch,
    Asked Eve: “How about a bunch?!”;
    But she demurred, saying: “Let’s wait a while,
    I’m still not sure if motherhood quite is my style””

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      How thoughtful of you to provide a translation of this obscure fragment—and in verse!

      • Mark VA

        Obscure indeed – found by an aquatic Frenchman, who was assisted by a Dutch aviator and a certain Captain Nobody. All three deciphered the cuneiform impressed on millennia old, water logged vellum – and still messed up the last line, tough…

        Bottom line – Eve’s personality changed after the Fall, not before – does that make any sense?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          I am not sure what Eve’s personality has to do with it….unless, she perpetually had a headache before the Fall!

        • Mark VA

          Every Eve has her Adam, every Papageno his Papagena, every Ginger her Fred, except for the Three Stooges, who remained staunchly bachelor:

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    For what it is worth: Augustine, despite his manifest discomfort with the topic, does speculate about the nature of sex before the fall, asserting that Adam would have full control over his erection (as sex would be an act of will and not driven by the passions) and that Eve would remain a virgin after sex, in the material sense that her hymen would not be broken (“the integrity of the female genital organ being preserved”).

    However, he goes on to say, I think, that this is all just a Gedanken experiment on his part, since “that which I have been speaking of was not experienced even by those who might have experienced it”.

  • I don’t see why we go on so much about hymens etc.All these stories are allegorical

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, the problem is that we have to figure out what the Fathers of the Church meant, and how important their interpretation is for our own understanding. I tend to agree that these things should be understood allegorically, but we need to be sure we are not reading our own preferences into the ancient sources.

      • I think we can discover what the right way is without knowing whether Eve was a virgin… perhaps after Cain and Abel she was sorry not to be BTW who did her children marry and was it incest?Was she married to Adam?It’s all a waste of time and we need time for important things like love and prayer

  • And marriage did not exist before there was a society..There was no church nor any civil authority.So we are all illegitimate and born of incest… that explains a lot.But seriously ot doesn’t matter except to folk who want a Ph.D and God has no interest in those….