Adam's federal headship, the feminist heresy, and the Westminster Standards

I know these are somewhat speculative questions, but they do present to me as I read the texts, and maybe there is some profit in thinking on them. First, what happens if Adam sins first, and not Eve? Does Eve, who is very much Adam’s physical descendant, somehow fall too, inheriting Adam’s sin as we now do?
Second, what happens if Adam refuses to listen to the voice of his wife? This is certainly what God required of him in that moment. However this is resolved, would it not spell failure for the serpent, as the whole human race does not fall if Adam does not fall?
Third, is Eve’s sin already Adam’s responsibility, since he is her federal head? Much is often made of Adam’s failure to protect his wife from the serpent, almost to the point of charging him with sin before he even partook of the fruit. Is there some sort of failure of responsibility on his part that is not chargeable as sin?

First, a warm welcome to you, Jim!

In seminary, in his Old Testament Hermeneutics class, Meredith Kline said he thought the Fall would never have occurred if Adam had done as you say, rebuking Eve for disobeying God. And that, I think, is not speculative if we take the testimony of Scripture at face value concerning the Fall as it places all the weight of it on Adam. Whether Eve would have escaped her curse of pain in childbirth I don’t know, and would not want to say since it strikes me as one of the secret things belonging to God (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Yes, if Adam had refused to listen to Eve, it would have been crushing to Satan in the serpent, ruining his plan of rebellion among man.

Concerning Adam’s sin with respect to Eve, many make cases of this or that based on the statement of Scripture that he was “with her” in the sin, but again, this is somewhat speculative given the fact that this phrase in Hebrew can mean solidarity in an action. It does not necessarily mean physical location.

Warmly in Christ,


If you would like a detailed speculative (as Pr. Tim rightly says it must be) answer to your questions, read C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra. In it, Lewis explores what it would look like had Adam and his wife escaped falling into sin by presenting to us (in a fictional narrative) another sinless couple on a different planet (Venus) tempted by Satan as Adam and Eve were.

The briefest survey of the novel can be found here. But, to get at the meat of Lewis’ answer to some of your questions, you need to read the novel itself, in particular the scene where the temptation and the resistance to it are recounted.


Thanks, It’s a great suggestion. Of the space trilogy, for me the most entertaining has always been the first, and the most insightful and prophetic the last, but Perelandra has always been very unsatisfying. Something in Lewis’ speculation has always seemed off the mark to me. I’m overdue for another read as I’ve shed a number of confused gender related assumptions over the past few years.


FWIW, this has always been my take on the trilogy also. I reread it within the last two years and my take was unchanged. Part of the problem with Perelandra is that the story just bogs down in the middle, and like you say, the premise is just missing a few nuts or bolts and isn’t enough to carry the story through the slow points.

That Hideous Strength is creepily prescient, as is The Abolition of Man. Lewis was able to see a flaw in science-as-worldview, I think, that’s grown significantly in reach this century and really metastasized during Covid. With 9/11, people were interested in questions of evil that science-as-worldview really can’t address. But Covid seems almost tailor-made for the Belbury crowd.

From a literary standpoint, it doesn’t make sense that Adam was blameworthy for failing to protect Eve from the serpent or otherwise responsible for her actions because those are not the reasons for which he is rebuked by God. Instead, he is rebuked for listening to his wife and eating the forbidden fruit. From God’s rebuke, we can infer what Adam should have done: rebuke Eve for listening to the serpent and refuse to eat the fruit.

That so many evangelicals fail to understand a rather simple story but instead reinterpret it as something else suggests to me that there is a deep discomfort with the idea of a husband rebuking his wife for her sin. Realistically, no husband is going to be able to protect his wife from ever being tempted to sin, so the responsibility of headship cannot rest in prevention of sin but rather in properly addressing it when it occurs. This is where Adam failed, and it is telling that so many evangelicals find it difficult to accept.


Of all the five aspects of manhood I have presented to men over the past 45 years, Man, the Husbandman has always been the most difficult for men to hear. The concept is not hard to apprehend. Rather men (I speak in general terms now) turn from husbandry of their wives as a child would shrink under his bed covers at the tortured creaking of door hinges in the middle of the night.

I do not exaggerate! Men instinctively avoid an obviously complex and momentous project when they know that they are utterly ignorant about how to proceed with it. That reasonable aversion becomes a horror not unlike an aversion to a snake pit when it’s their wife they contemplate husbanding in the sense that St. Paul lays that responsibility on them, namely to cleanse her . . .

… from spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies . . . [Ephesians 5:27, emphasis supplied]

The creation of the woman occurs in the context of the creation of man for a specific purpose, namely husbandry.

… before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground [לַֽעֲבֹ֖ד אֶת־הָֽאֲדָמָֽה] Genesis 2:5

For the lack of rain, God supplied instead subterranean water (v. 6). And for the lack of a cultivator of the ground, God man a man (v.7).

God demonstrated to the man what He wished him to do by divinely acting as the first cultivator of the ground - in other words, by planting the Garden. With that as a starting place,

. . . the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it [לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ].

It’s the absence of a husbandman [ לַֽעֲבֹ֖ד ] that God addresses by creating Adam and setting him to husband it [ לְעָבְדָ֖הּ ] What God has first husbanded by planting the Garden. Adam is created to become the first creaturely husbandman. The first “target” of his his husbandry is the Garden.

But, Adam alone cannot succeed! " “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” [Genesis 2:18]

The woman, then, joins her head and participates under his headship in his Garden mandate from God. Together the Garden Mandate is then expanded to encompass the entire earth: " “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Is the woman within Adam’s purview as a husbandman? Or is she an equal partner in the sense that modern egalitarians insist?

St. Paul comes down solidly on the woman being, as it were, the highest, most important target of a husband’s husbandry. He is to do for her as Christ is doing for His Bride. There is no other way to read Ephesians 5:22ff. And, St. Paul ends his delineation of the parallels in husbandly mission between our Lord and a Christian husband toward their respective brides by quoting Genesis 2:4 - the conclusion of the narrative that recounts Adam’s creation as a husbandman:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. [Ephesians 5:31-32]

The “great mystery,” then, is this: that verse which Paul has just quoted from Genesis speaks of our Lord and the Church. God had His Son and the Church in mind when he formed the first wedded couple. The Holy Spirit had this in mind when He inspired the text of Genesis 2:4.

But no one can know this from Genesis alone, nor from anything in the Old Testament! That is why it is a mystery - a truth hidden until it is revealed by the One Who hid it. He revealed it to Paul, and through Paul to His Church.

I report from several decades of teaching this passage to Christian men that (in a spiritual sense, perhaps almost in a literal sense) they lose their bowels when they realize the implications of Ephesians 5 for their role as husbands to their wives.


Oh, my. I am a poor writer ergo poor defender but Perelandra is a wonderful novel with much to teach us. That Hideous Strength wouldn’t be half the novel without Ransom’s learning on Perelandra how to defend earth.

In what I think of as the middle of the book, three major events happen.

First, Weston lands. He and Ransom debate about spirituality. Weston exhibits some of the foolish modern beliefs of Lewis’ time, and in conjunction with silent planet shows how men committed to scientific materialism make themselves defenseless against foolish spiritual inclinations. This is the same point made in the last part of That Hideous Strength. Weston’s arrogance culminates in possession, similarly to how N.I.C.E. inadvertently welcomed Satan into their science project.

Second, Weston tempts the lady. Much of this exists to build towards the later conflict, but I think this is clever, troubling writing. Weston’s cunning is well written and the confusion he creates in both Ransom and the lady reminds me of small but confounding temptations we endure as Christians on earth. It’s clear the lady cannot hold out against Weston, even though he provides ample evidence that he is evil. It’s a good reminder for we who believe we can always keep our heads down and avoid compromise in our various institutions and organizations we share with the world.

Third, Ransom is convicted of the need to physically fight Weston. I love this portion of the book. This is a rebuke to all bookish and/or complacent Christians who rely on either self-evident truth or the hard work of others to preserve life and save souls. Ransom is willing to deploy elaborate, beautiful rhetoric against the devil’s servant, but not to see his body as being put in active obedience to God.

I love this book! I really hope you see it differently if you re-read it.


The conviction to fight Weston definitely stood out to me in my recent re-reading of perelandra.

Thanks. I appreciate the defense.

James, I think these are interesting questions and I’m in agreement with you in thinking they are helpful to consider. Further I’m in agreement with the other men who have spoken to them.

I only throw this in to highlight what Jesus did. His bride sinned, but he did not follow her into it. He, as our head, did what was right. He went to the Father and paid the debt that was incurred by his bride’s sin (and then cleansed her). The Second Adam did right and brought life and righteousness where the first did wrong and brought death.

(As a good Calvinist, I’ve gotta believe God ordained it thus for His glory and with full knowledge of what He would do on the cross “in response.”)

This also struck me a few years ago actually while studying Jephthah: He made a foolish oath which bound him to sacrifice his daughter to God - which is NOT in accord with God’s character or law. He should have gone to the Lord and repented and offered himself in her place. The parallel - to Adam and Jesus - is not perfect. But Jephthah’s duty in this instance is - to me - clear and he really failed. He made another suffer for his foolish oath when he should have been the one to suffer - or entrust himself to a merciful and understanding God. Meanwhile Adam followed Eve into sin instead of going to God and offering to take her place as her head. And Jesus did the amazing thing. He, perfect, took on the sin of his bride and paid for it himself.

Scripture is really amazing, but I digress…

(Hope this is somewhat helpful in thinking about these questions.)


Agree completely.

At one point, Ransom - dreading the “showdown” to come - basically says, By this time tomorrow it will be done, win or lose. I have my duty, my work to do. I know what it is. Now I will be obedient and do it.

So helpful.


It strikes me that this meaning of “with her” is crucial to modern complementarian theology and practice. Can anyone point to some resources on where the men of old addressed/interpreted this question?

U. Cassuto; Magnes Press, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; 1961: “Expressions of this kind occur as a rule when a person is said to associate himself in a given action with someone who leads him. Examples are Gen. 6:18; 7:7; 13:1.”

Gordon Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, 1987: “with her” "This last phrase emphasizes the man’s association with the woman in the eating (cf. 6:18; 7:7; 13:1).

E. J. Young, “Genesis 3: A devotional and expository study” The Banner of Truth Trust; 1966: “Adam is said to have been “with her” in the transgression which quite possibly may mean that he was not merely there present but that he was also associating himself with Eve in her act. Up until this point no word has been uttered concerning Adam. Where he had been we do not know. Had he been present listening to the entire conversation between the serpent and the woman?—one cannot say. All that we do know is that at the moment when Eve actually partook of the fruit Adam was present, and apparently had done nothing to dissuade her action.”

Calvin: “And gave also unto her husband with her” “From these words, some conjecture that Adam was present when his wife was tempted and persuaded by the serpent, which is by no means credible. Yet it might be that he soon joined her, and that, even before the woman tasted the fruit of the tree, she related the conversation held with the serpent, and entangled him with the same fallacies by which she herself had been deceived. Others refer the particle עמה “with her,” to the conjugal bond, which may be received. But because Moses simply relates that he ate the fruit taken from the hands of his wife, the opinion has been commonly received, that he was rather captivated with her allurements than persuaded by Satan’s impostures. For this purpose the declaration of Paul is adduced…”


Many older commentaries, such as Matthew Henry’s , say that Adam must have come on her while she was eating, otherwise he would have been involved in the conversation with the serpent.

However, John Gill says that the historic Jewish interpretation was that Adam was there the entire time:

The Jews infer from hence, that Adam was with her all the while, and heard the discourse between the serpent and her, yet did not interpose nor dissuade his wife from eating the fruit, and being prevailed upon by the arguments used; or however through a strong affection for his wife, that she might not die alone, he did as she had done:
and he did eat; on which an emphasis may be observed, for it was upon his eating the fate of his posterity depended; for not the woman but the man was the federal head, and he sinning, all his posterity sinned in him, and died in him; through this offence judgment came upon all to condemnation; all became sinners, and obnoxious to death, Romans 5:12. If Eve only had eaten of the forbidden fruit, it could only have personally affected herself, and she only would have died; and had this been the case, God would have formed another woman for Adam, for the propagation of mankind, had he stood; though since he fell as well as she, it is needless to inquire, and may seem too bold to say what otherwise would have been the case.

Gill also seems to agree with this interpretation of the passage. This makes it unlikely to be some kind of modern completarian idea or reading of Genesis 3:6.

Personally, I think it’s too vague to say one way or the other with any certainty.


Milton argues in ‘Paradise Lost’ that Adam was nearby but away rather than physically present. He then chose to sin rather than lose Eve to her sin and have to live alone without her.

It’s imaginative at best, but it does make sense of Adam’s deliberate choice to sin rather than just being deceived.


But men do this all the time. They know full well their wife’s arguments against the church don’t hold water, yet they go along to “keep the peace.” I don’t think we need to imagine some weird romance novelly “Then I’ll die with you!” sort of thing (especially since the Bible says nothing about such a motive, just that Adam wasn’t deceived).



Yes, it seems that even Calvin’s argument against that position means that it’s not completely novel. The words “with her” are right there in the text after all.

I did hear a complementarian today express a (not strongly held) opinion that Adam eating the fruit was not his first sin, but that his first sin was in not crushing the snake and protecting his wife. This struck me as theologically very novel, but it also seems hard to avoid if you hold the position that Adam was physically present when Eve was tempted.

Thank you, pastors Tim and Jesse for your input. I would like to do some more research on this and I appreciate the pointers.

This seems to be the strongest argument against the “physically present” side of the argument, or at least to the various complementarian knock-on effects of holding that position: Adam isn’t rebuked by God for it, and Paul doesn’t bring it up either AFAICT.


Like a dork, I just last evening discovered this thread. (But am very much enjoying reading it.)

For whatever it’s worth, I love Perelandra.

I lovingly demur. Unless you’re being funny. The whole planet is essentially a sinless “bog” world. The first time I read the novel, I knew there were things from it that I wouldn’t forget from then on even if I lived to be 150 years old. I’ve since read it several more times. Some of the most amazing parts are from the middle of the book. Reading “Perelandra” again after “Hideous Strength” seems to always make me appreciate the later/closing sections of “Perelandra” all the more, too.

Like they stitched together the seams themselves.

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In Milton that mindset is linked with Satan’s mad desire to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven. It’s a sign of sin’s distorting impact on our minds rather than a romantic devotion.