Every December the same image circulates my social media feeds. It is a picture of a very pregnant Mary comforting Eve. Eve has a serpent entangling her leg, Mary’s foot is crushing its head. It’s a sweet, sisterly image at first glance, but it’s actually quite bothersome when we think through what it is imagining. Particularly the way it emphasizes the two women, Eve as victim still clutching the fruit she took (clothed not in the animal God sacrificed on her behalf, but in her own hair), Mary as triumphant snake-crusher. It illustrates something important about our bend toward human-centered, and more recently, woman-centered reading of scripture (undoubtedly there are a multitude of man-centered mis-readings, but that’s a different post for a different day).
The image was created by Sister Grace Remington, and its heavy emphasis on the veneration of Mary is important for us to note. Remington based her image on the corrupted 16th century vulgate translation of Genesis 3:15 which translates as, “she will crush the head of the serpent”, versus more reliable sources such as the Septuagint and most (though not all) Hebrew manuscripts which would translate as, “he/it will crush the head of the serpent”. Textual debate aside, in the greater context of Scripture it is Jesus Christ who will crush the serpent (consider Romans 16:20 in addition to the overarching theme of the gospel), not Mary. Why does this matter? In some sense, it is merely an image, a nice woman affirming Christmas card, but upon a closer look it is indicative of a subtle shifting of our vantage point of what the gospel is, and what it isn’t.
The true snake-crusher, the only one who could crush the devil himself, has been usurped by a woman-exalting image. At first glance it seems very good to exalt women in this way considering their plight in human history, a sort of corrective for the sins of men. It is precisely this kind of thinking that is insidious. It is an echo of the same subtle twisting that first darkened our earthly landscape, where Eve put herself in God’s place and tipped the world from its foundation. In Remington’s image Eve is comforted, not by the hope of redemption through a bloody cross, but through another woman. And certainly, the thought of Mary pregnant with God’s own Son is very comforting. Emmanuel–God with us–is a great comfort to sin-torn humanity, but not merely because he entered humanity and joined our brokenness. No, Emmanuel is a comfort because he came and paid for our wicked, rebellious sin. The serpent’s head is crushed, not by Mary’s humility nor even her pregnancy, but beneath the nail-torn heel of Jesus Christ as he saved his people from their sins.
Unless we keep this truth at the forefront of our minds, we all run the risk of reading Scripture with the lens of victimhood and human-centeredness. Our biggest problem as women is not the sins men commit against us, it is the sin that resides within our very own hearts. Eve is a victim, certainly, but not of an oppressive system or the sins of others, she is a victim of her own transgression.
The Lord God said to the woman, “what is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
How did he deceive her? A simple distortion of God’s word, and Eve believed the serpent instead of trusting the God she knew. Eve, the archetype of Woman is not a particularly glowing icon. We see her sin in her arrogant assumption that she ought to have what God forbids, and her subsequent blame-shifting. Reading of Eve in Genesis is not a story that bestows admiration for the female sex, and I flinch when I read the later words of Paul to Timothy, “it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Timothy 2:14).
Many in reading the Bible get the sense that is not particularly “pro-woman”. I’d hazard to say the Bible isn’t pro-man either, at least not in the sense that we’d like it to be. The Bible is true, therefore it paints men and women as we are, in all our depraved, broken unglory. The Bible is full of examples of men and women who are seducers, abusers of power, idolaters, murderers, child-killers (even mothers who eat their own children, see 2 Kings 6:29). We do not read the Scriptures and think of humanity as good. This is because, beginning in chapter three of the very first book of the saga of the world, what it means to be human shattered into fragments that no human system–whether male led or female led–can ever piece back together. And it all began with the forked-tongue question: “did God really say?”
Considering the nefarious anti-faith nature of this question, it’s startling how often it repeats in various forms, but especially among women today. We are not so different from our first mother.
We begin our imitation of Eve when we look upon the text of Scripture with that same air of superiority that says, I will judge good and evil myself, instead of beginning with faith in the Creator of the universe. We look upon challenging texts, and instead of letting them challenge us, we pass our own twisted judgment on them. We are not asking honest questions to understand what is true, but rather hardening our hearts with the conviction that my sensibilities will not allow for this to be true. How could an enlightened woman such as I believe women are the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7)? How could an educated woman be expected to submit to her own husband (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5)? How could I believe women shouldn’t teach or have authority over men when I have seen so many men do such a terrible job with their authority (1 Timothy 2:12)? How can God say women ought to have gentle and quiet spirits when my spirit was clearly made to be loud and assertive (1 Peter 3:7)?
We posture as though humbly asking a question, but just as Eve took the fruit with prideful doubt, we echo her, believing the God who created us male and female really doesn’t have our good in mind when he gives us boundaries, commands, or distinctions.
In many circles these questions are often followed with a multitude of hermeneutical gymnastics, with history and sociology pointing everywhere but God’s word itself. Beneath it all is not a humility to know the truth, but an arrogant assertion that if God did say these things we will not follow him. That’s a dangerous place to put ourselves when reading the word of the God who looped rings around Saturn, created the ominous depths of the Mariana Trench, and knit us within our mother’s wombs. It would behoove us to take a long look at the sufferer Job, and emulate his shut-mouth trembling before this God who says:
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions?
Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line
On what were its footings set,
Or who laid its cornerstone–
While the morning stars sang
and all the angels shouted for
As contemporary women take their stab at these passages, and butcher their beauty with muddied interpretations, revisionist history, and the spirit of the age as their lens, they will only continue to follow in the footsteps of the first woman. She decided she was a better judge of good and evil than the God who formed her from the fragile bone of a dusty man’s side.
But God, though he is the master of galaxies, is also merciful. So the story doesn’t end with him striking Eve dead, nor the rest of her rebellious offspring, instead he gets blood on his hands and clothes her shame, and he makes a promise. A promise that does not rest on men or women, but himself: “He will crush the head of the serpent”.
And all these years pass, with so much blood. The world seems almost awash with all the death that is necessary to cover the continued defiance of humanity. But finally, after generations of agonized waiting, groaning beneath the weight of our own guilt, one day we meet another woman. A different archetype, who unlike Eve, looked at God’s Word to her and rejoiced.
“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the LORD, let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary is the picture of humility. She is humble, not because of her circumstances as a poor girl, or her pitiable state as an unwed mother unexpectedly pregnant in a patriarchal culture. No, Mary shows us humility because she looks upon what God has said and says, yes! Mary, without hesitation, submits to God, with great joy. She doesn’t do any head crushing here, but she does, by her willing submission, get to be part of the snake-crusher’s entrance into history. For within her womb is the one who pieces back together all that we’ve shattered. God asked Eve, what have you done? and then he says, look what I’ve done, as he once again gets blood on his hands as it pours from his own gaping wounds, and he clothes us for eternity.
Eve bore death in her defiance, and Mary bore Life in her submission to him.
It is not a difficult choice to decide which kind of woman we should be. Because, in my experience, life (abundant life!) always comes through submission to the God who grants it. Even in the sting of relinquishing, and the purifying fire of letting go of what we think we want to be true, there is always the underlying sweetness of knowing the God who created us. As he demands we acknowledge his rightful and good lordship, he grants our stony hearts be enfleshed to do so.
So we can look at the Bible as it shines an unflattering light on us. We can wrestle with texts that challenge our modern sensibilities, because even as we squirm beneath hearing what we do not like, we will find that as it exposes us it is beautifying us. God’s word, when we submit ourselves to it, grants us the new eyes that we need to confess our sins, helps us understand reality rightly, and makes us more like the Son. This is how the snake has been crushed: Christ’s death and resurrection makes us new creatures, the kind who are deaf to the fork-tongued lies of pride and doubt. This is the great comfort: not two women, but the God-man who loved them both to the point of death, even death on a cross.