Posted On June 12, 2020

A (Not) Short History of “Second Eve” — (Not Yet) Addressing That Rachel Jankovic Blog Post, part ‘0’

by | Jun 12, 2020 | Theology

Last year, I reviewed two books that heavily concerned the role of women in the church. The first was No More Holding Back by Kat Armstrong. Writing from an egalitarian perspective whereby John 20 effectively releases women to preach from the pulpit, Armstrong states in part:

Mary [Magdalene] does more than just represent that the testimony of a woman can be trusted, that God chooses women for kingdom purposes, and that we, too, can be used by God to go and tell our brothers (and sisters) his good news. Mary Magdalene is Eve’s literary redemption. If Jesus is the second Adam, raised from dust by the power of the Spirit, then Mary Magdalene is the second Eve. Obeying Jesus, Mary fulfilled her mission and was worthy of the truth entrusted to her. The gospel is safe with women. [emphasis added]

“Second Eve” came to the forefront of my social media again recently when Rachel Jankovic, daughter of Douglas Wilson and author of You Who (which I also reviewed), wrote a piece for the Desiring God blog titled “The Second Eve: How Christian Women Undo the Curse.” If you know anything about Jankovic, you have already correctly assumed that she is not taking John 20 to endorse women preachers. In this blog post, Jankovic exhorts women believers to “instead take up the part of the second Eve to the second Adam” through obedience.

In this post, I’m going to address a bit of history concerning “second Eve” to attempt to find some context for Jankovic’s remark. Because there is so much content here, I’ll have to bring this context into addressing Jankovic’s article in a follow-on post. I’m labeling this “part zero” because I can’t get to Jankovic’s post just yet. Part 1 will begin to dig into the article itself.

Choices, Choices

The term “second Eve” didn’t just pop up within the past year with Armstrong and Jankovic. Such ideas have been around much longer. I’ll address some of these areas here. Do note that I’m only bringing up areas where I have been able to pull primary sources or translations thereof. An internet search for “second Eve” yields some more ideas, but without being able to drill down to primary sources in many cases, there isn’t much profit to be had.

Mary, Mother of Jesus

At a bare minimum, “Second Eve” has long been part of Roman Catholic Mariology. Pretty much everyone should see this one coming. In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, we read:


Christ is justly called a second Adam, Mary, a second Eve

The apostle sometimes calls Jesus Christ the second Adam, and institutes a comparison between him and the first; for as in the first all men die, so in the second are all made alive; and as, in the natural order, Adam was the father of the human race, so [in the supernatural], Christ is the author of grace and glory. The Virgin Mother we may also in like manner compare with Eve, making the second Eve, that is, Mary, correspond with the first, as we have already shown the second Adam, that is, Christ, to correspond with the first Adam. For Eve, by believing the serpent, entailed malediction and death on the human race; and, after Mary believed the Angel, the divine goodness made her instrumental in bringing benediction and life to mankind. From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said, In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children: Mary was exempt from this law, for, preserving her virgin integrity inviolate, she brought forth Jesus the Son of God, without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.

Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1.4.9, trans. Theodore Alois Buckley (London: George Routledge and Co., 1852), 45–46.

The problems here are manifold and not terribly related to Jankovic’s article, so we’ll just leave this here for now.

Martha and Mary?

Commentary on the Canticle of Canticles (hereafter In Cant.), attributed to but not confirmed to be Hippolytus (170–235 AD), appears to have used similar language, but not towards Mary, mother of Jesus. A few secondary sources claim that In Cant. uses the term “second Eve,” but the translation I’ve been able to acquire is not so explicit. Within the text in question, the author relates the gospel resurrection accounts to Song 3:1–4 and compares Martha and Mary to Eve.

Wait…Martha and Mary, you ask? Yes, that’s what the text has. It would appear, assuming the manuscript tradition is accurate, that Hippolytus may have conflated Martha and Mary from John 11 into the resurrection accounts. Matthew records the witnesses as Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” Mark 16 records the witnesses as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke 24:10 by inference records Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “the other women with them.” John 20 records Mary Magdalene. Sorry, no Martha unless she’s in the unnamed group recorded in Luke. The Mary of John 11 is Mary of Bethany.

The following translation quotes come from the doctoral dissertation of Yancy Smith, entitled Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Context. The scripture references therein are added by Smith.

25.2 But the Savior answered and said to them: “Martha, Mary.” And they said, “Rabbuni,” (Jn 20:16) which means “my Lord.” “I found the one I have loved, and would not let him go.” For in that moment, with [his] feet embraced, she holds fast to him. And he with a loud cry says to her, “Do touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my father” (Jn 20:17) Indeed she held on to him and it was said, “I will not let you go, until I take you in and I bring you into my heart.” “I will not let you go, until I take you into my mother’s house and the chamber, [of] the one who conceived me” (Song 3:4). In her womb she treasured the love of Christ, she did not wish to be moved. For this reason (or form) with a cry she says, “I found him and will not let him go.” O blessed woman, who held on to his feet, that she might be able to fly up in the air!

Later in this portion, said Martha and Mary

25.5 Receive Eve, that no longer gives birth with sighs, for pain has been driven out, as well as sighing and distress (Is 35:10). From now on receive Eve who now walks in proper order, receive her and know this offering which has been provided to the Father. Make Eve a new offering, no longer is she naked, no longer clothed with the fig leaf. No, but clothed through the Holy Spirit, she has put on a good garment, of which there is no corruption. Indeed she (or they) would not have Christ unclothed; though the clothes were lying in the grave, nevertheless he was not naked (Jn 20:7). For neither was Adam at first naked, but [at that time] dressed with a fresh adornment of purity and peacefulness and and of incorruption, from which when he was seduced he was found naked, but now truly once again he has been found clothed.

25.6 And after this with a cry the synagogue expresses a good testimony for us through the women, those who were made apostles to the apostles, having been sent by Christ: those to whom first the angels said, “Go and announce to the disciples, ‘He has gone before you into Galilee. There you shall see him’” (Mark 16:7). But in order that the apostles might not doubt [that they were sent] from the angels, Christ himself met with the apostles, in order that the women might become apostles of Christ and might complete through obedience the failure of old Eve. For this reason [she] listens obediently that she may be revealed as perfected.

25.7 O new consolations! Eve is being called an apostle! Behold from now on the fraud of the serpent is understood and [Eve] no longer goes astray. From now on [she understood] the one she saw from that moment she hated and considered as an enemy who seduced her through desire. From now on that tree of seduction would not seduce her. Behold, from now on she is made happy through the tree of life and through the confession. From that tree, she tasted Christ. She has been made worthy of the good and [her] heart desired its nourishment.

25.8 From now on she will no longer either crave or proffer to men food that corrupts; she has received incorruptibility; from now on she is in unity and a helper, for Adam leads Eve. O good helper, with the gospel offering (or sacrificing) [it] to her husband! This is why the women evangelized the Disciples.

Hippolytus #2, Commentary on the Canticle of Canticles, trans. Yancy Warren Smith. Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Context. Dissertation at Brite Divinity School, 2009. [reformat for Turabian]

While it is sure that the author compares Mark 16 and John 20 to Song 3:1–4, scholars debate whether “Hippolytus #2” (we can’t confirm this was the actual ante-Nicene father Hippolytus) is endorsing women in church leadership in a similar sense to how egalitarians like Armstrong today take John 20 as a wholesale endorsement of women preachers. Paragraph 25.8 (quoted above) draws an interesting parallel. Whereas Eve offered corrupting fruit to Adam, the new or second Eve offered the gospel news to the disciples. Does this mean that women “preached” to men?

According to Yancy Smith, the translator,

The point of the interpretation of Song 3:1 ff. for Hippolytus is to commend Eve (i.e. women) for baptism and admittance to the community, because she has been transformed through a reversal brought about by Martha and Mary. Now Eve is restored as a helper to her husband, Adam. Now she can truly satisfy him with life-giving food (the gospel) and she can be clothed with a “garment of virtue,” which she and they have recovered to replace temporary fig leaves. The ordination to apostleship which Hippolytus gives to women in In Cant. 25 is not the high honor of hierarchy, but the “ordination” given to women who are active in the church, sometimes patronesses with or without influential husbands who are not believers. These women, then, are commended in the crucial role played by Martha and Mary. They “offer” the gospel (to their husbands?), and even consult with “apostles.” If we desire to draw a historical detail from this teaching, it is the that Hippolytus may have in mind the apostolic succession in the leaders of his church. Yet in the In Cant., the men do well to remain wary and look to confirmation for themselves from Christ alone. In this way the evil effects of the fall are reversed by the recapitulation wrought through the woman (Eve). In other words, the evil initiated by Eve is reversed through Eve’s representatives, Martha and Mary. In terms of social realities in the church, however, little changes. Hippolytus #2’s point does not go far beyond the exhortation of 1 Peter 3:1-6.

So according to Smith, Hippolytus is not making a wholesale endorsement of women preachers, though his opinion is not the only scholarly one around.

If that Martha and Mary of Bethany thing is still bothering you, some scholars argue that the text of Hippolytus #2 is corrupt or that he “either fused or mixed the identities of the women,” but Smith argues, “The fact that Mary Magdalene has become such an important figure in current feminist research should inspire caution in reading her into a text where she is not once named.” (Smith, 453) I must admit leaning towards the conflation of identities, as Hippolytus’ narrative seems to mesh with John 20 other than the women named. We would just assume “Mary” is Mary Magdalene from John 20 if Martha weren’t there.

All this is very interesting, but please, don’t get your theology from probably-pseudepigraphal Hippolytus #2.

The Church

In James Fisher’s explanation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, he writes:

Q. 8. How was the first woman formed?
A. Of a rib taken from the man’s side, Gen. 2:21, 22.

Q. 9. Of what was this a figure?
A. Of Christ and the church, Eph. 5:31, 32.

Q. 10. In what respect was the formation of the woman a figure of these?
A. In as much as the church was, as it were, taken out of the pierced side of Christ, when the Lord God caused the deep sleep of death to fall upon him; first, typically, in the sacrifice; and then actually, in his decease which he accomplished at Jerusalem.

Fisher, James. The Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained by Way of Question and Answer, 3rd ed (Philadelphia: Towar, J. & D. M. Hogan, 1831), 53.

Fisher at no point utters “second Eve,” but the concept is clearly there. If there really is any “second Eve,” the church does seem like the best option, even if one doesn’t hold to how Fisher explains question 10. After all, the church is the bride of the second (or more accurately, last) Adam. This will figure later on in this series.

What Now?

The answer to the second Eve question is certainly not Mary, mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene, Martha, or Mary of Bethany. There is a sound argument for the church, but it just doesn’t seem terribly important to make this pronouncement. As I will argue in more depth in part 2, such a pronouncement has too much risk of conflation into the doctrine of federal headship (not to be confused with Federal Vision).

In Jankovic’s article on the Desiring God blog, she tells readers, “Let’s not play the role of the first Eve to the first Adam, but instead take up the part of the second Eve to the second Adam.” The language is ambiguous. Are individual Christian women second Eve, or is it the whole of Christian women? What about Christian men, who despite the awkward gendered language still make up about half of the Bride of Christ, a phrase whose referent has no debate? And what’s up with the “take up” language? Are Christian women not second Eve until they volitionally “take up” the role, or are they already second Eve and just need to start acting like it? Oh, and then there’s that that Federal Vision elephant in the room and whether it has anything to do with this. There’s so much going on here, and this post is so ridiculously long as is, I’ll have to get to it all in part 1.

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1 Comment

  1. Yahyah

    2nd eve and adam ate the fruit of that tree they cause sin and death to enter the world Mary is not the 2nd eve.



  1. Take Up the Part of Second Eve? — Addressing that Rachel Jankovic Blog Post, part 1 » Things Above Us - […] part ‘0,’ I addressed the history of the term “second Eve” with respect to Rachel […]
  2. The Second Eve Undoes the Curse? — Addressing that Rachel Jankovic blog post, part 2 » Things Above Us - […] part ‘0’ of this series, I went through a fairly dry history of how “second Eve” has been used…

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