Monday, September 8, 2008

Equality in the Original Marriage Design - Part II

...continuing the discussion of the original design for marriage in Genesis 1 and 2 as it pertains to authority and hierarchy between the spouses.

In part I we saw three aspects of human creation found in Genesis 1 which are equally distributed between males and females. Not only are both genders endowed equally with God's image (1:26-27), but God blessed them equally and delegated to them equally the task of exercising dominion over the rest of creation (1:28). Now we will turn our attention to Genesis 2 and the more detailed narrative of human creation.

To begin, I would like to dispel some of the arguments that have been made through history to claim that the marriage relationship is not equal (or in particular, that the female is less than and subservient to the male). There have been 3 such arguments which traditionally were (and still are in some circles) doctrinal positions subordinating women.

First in Line

The first argument is that because the man was created first, he has priority in the relationship (and therefore is superior to the woman). There is no actual biblical proclamation that first created means first in authority so instead, supporters of this view rely on the dubious, ambiguous, and inconsistent cultural deference to the first born. This is flawed on multiple levels, a few of which I will highlight.

Remaining in Genesis, it is clear in fact that humans were not the first created. If first created means first in authority, then fish and birds would rule over land animals and all of them would rule over humans. In fact, the very opposite is true of creation. Humans, being created last, are the “crown” of creation. Logically, then, if one wants to go down this road, females, being created last within humanity, would be the “crown” of the human species. I suggest we don’t go there.

The next big flaw in this argument is it relies on cultural practices instead of biblical principles to make the case. The truth is, outside of culture, being born first means nothing. If it were an inherent and universal fact that being born first makes you superior to your other siblings, then you wouldn’t be able to sell that position or have it stolen from you (Genesis 25:31-33; 27:6-28), or have it redistributed to others (1 Chronicles 5:1). If this were the case, God would have never allowed Joseph to reign over his family and certainly would never have chosen David, the youngest of Jesse’s boys, to be King. Being first does not in any way give you godly preference or dominion.

If the testimony of the Old Testament didn’t make this clear enough, Jesus settles the argument once and for all. When his disciples were questioning him about the failure of the rich man to grasp salvation, he said plainly: “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first” (Matthew 19:23-30). Jesus repeats this statement in Matthew 20:16 when he finishes with the parable of the generous employer who treated both the first hired and last hired equally. (See also the prodigal son story - Luke 15:11-32.) A little later in the same chapter, when James’ and John’s mother was lobbying to get them priority in the kingdom, Jesus advises the 12 that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (vs. 26b-27). Hardly the superior position envisioned by those who see the female as subservient to the male.

Finally, this argument ignores the omniscience and sovereignty of God. Do we really believe that the female was some after thought, created only because God didn’t realize how much the male would need her? I hardly think God is that short sighted. The reality is that both the male and female were equally and simultaneously created in the mind of God before the actual physical order of creation took place. Why God needed to leave the man on his own for a while so he would realize his need for a partner to complete him is fodder for plenty of jokes, but really outside of our knowledge base. But that by no means indicates that the woman was a stop-gap, and it certainly does not diminish her equal status with the man.

“Your Delta Tau Chi name is…”

In the movie Animal House, there are several ways in which the fraternity members exercise authority over their new pledges. One of them is by giving each pledge a new name. This concept of “naming = possession of/authority over” is certainly not new. Like birthright, it has been a staple of societies throughout history. Even our common practice of having the new wife “take the name” of her husband is a reflection of the patriarchal notion that a woman is the property of her husband. So goes the naming argument when applied to the first marriage. Because Adam named Eve (twice, no less), he automatically assumes a position of superiority, authority, and ownership over her, and she becomes subservient to him. So what is wrong with this reasoning?

First of all, it is again, man made. God has never said that naming something gives you dominion over that something. Humans don’t have dominion over the animals because Adam named them; they have dominion because God delegated it to them. The dominion would exist whether Adam named the animals or not. The naming of the animals was simply a function that Adam performed – part of his on the job training. Moreover, as we have already discussed, the dominion role was given to all humans, male and female. Presumably, if there were animals left to name, Eve would have been just as qualified and empowered to name some of them.

In fact, nowhere in the bible does it say that it is the male’s unilateral job to name anything, nor does it say anywhere that naming something gives you authority over or possession of that thing. That is a cultural standard, not a biblical teaching. In fact, there are many significant cases of women naming things (mostly children). Are we to assume that Eve had sole dominion and authority over Able and Seth (Genesis 4:1, 25) because she named them instead of Adam? What about the command of the angel that Mary was to name Jesus (Luke 1:31)? Did that cut Joseph out of the picture in terms of having authority over his son? In reality, the naming of something does not grant any authority that does not already exist. Parents have authority over their children not because they name them but because they simply are their parents. Humans have dominion over creation not because we name the animals but because God has designated us to rule over the earth. Naming is simply a necessary task with no inherent godly grant of superiority associated with it at all. The fact that we attach human significance to the act of naming does not impress God.

Adam’s Rib

The third argument is that the female is somewhat less of a human being because she was made from a part of the male rather than being constructed “from the ground up”, as it were, like the male. This is contradicted both in the description of the two human creation events and in Adam’s exclamation when presented with Eve.

Four different verbs are used in Genesis when discussing creation. Three of them (bara’ – to create, ‘asah – to make, yatsar – to form) are used somewhat interchangeably, applying to animals and humans (including male and female separately) and just about everything else in creation. The fourth word, banah, is only used once in the entire creation narrative and that is for the creation of Eve. banah means to construct, as in a house. In fact, it is the word that is used in the Hebrew idiom “to build a house”, meaning to have a family. Although it is certainly a common Hebrew word, it is only used this once in the Genesis creation account (Genesis 2:22). Interestingly, in terms of what is being constructed, banah suggest the most detailed and complex kind of work amongst the 4 verbs. That isn’t to suggest that, say, the universe isn’t detailed and complex. But it seems to be no coincidence that the particular way Eve was brought into existence is unique.

Another aspect of the unique construction of Eve is that she was the only living creature that was not created from earthly elements. She alone is constructed out of material from another living thing. All other created creatures were formed by God from the ground or “spawned” by the sea (Genesis 1:20, 24; 2:7, 19).

The significance of this unique construction should not be over looked. Those who want to diminish the creation of Eve seem to take a “size matters” approach. To them, a “rib”, being a small part of the male, yields a less than human result. Maybe the focus should instead be that Adam became less complete in giving up his “rib”. (In reality, he was incomplete to begin with, hence the need for a partner). God took that portion and carefully constructed a new equally endowed “helper” who perfectly complimented him in every way (although she too is incomplete without him). There is nothing “less than” about Eve. Adam recognized this instantly, exclaiming “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). His statement is all encompassing. It recognizes the fully autonomous and equal human partner, not just some spare part which has been modified to help him out around the garden.

The picture of two complimentary equals who never-the-less need each other to become “whole” again is completed in Genesis 2:24. That rejoining of the two into “one flesh” is what we will celebrate in part III.


  1. gengwall, truthseeker here from Cheryl's site. Good article and I agree completely. How do you respond to those who cite the fact that head is mentioned hundreds of times in the OT in reference to families and clans, geneologies, etc. and it is always men who are listed in that capacity. I respond with the comment that just because something is described in the bible doesn't mean it is endorsed as best by God. In reply, I am told that women are not chosen as priests, etc., therefore they are not meant to be heads.

  2. Their "facts" are flawed at each point.

    Hundreds of mentions of "head" in biblical history mean very little. Culture is far more often a reflection of man's fallen nature than it is his adherence to God's desire and design. What they need to do is demonstrate in biblical teaching that the man is the authoritarian "head". Such a challenge usually draws blank stares because they never think to differentiate the fallen history of man from the holy teaching of God.

    As far as women being chosen as priests, that is true...if we were Jews trying to establish a nation under the law. But the New Testament tells us we are all priests, men and women alike, in the new covenant. Moreover, they conveniently ignore other leaders. Must I say "Deborah". They can chose to ignore that there were female leaders even in Old Testament times, even within covenantal Israel (there were certainly plenty of female leaders outside of the Jewish state), but that doesn't change the pure fact it defeats their argument.

    Finally, their argument falls to the greatest of flaws - it ignores Jesus. Old Testament headship examples are inherently selfish and unloving - exactly the opposite of the example Jesus shows us in relation to his bride.

    If people want to rest their case on cultural examples, ask them how they feel about arranged marriages and polygamy. After all, that is how someone became "head" in the good old days and often how he increased the scope of his headship. What fine examples to follow (*roll eyes*).

  3. Again, I agree completely, and you state it well. It then comes down to the comp(s) being able to 'see' this. For some reason, it seems to be so elusive to those who have been steeped in comp thinking. It is like that well-known drawing of the woman, depending on how one 'sees' it, they either see an old hag or a beautiful young woman. How to facilitate that crossover can be very problematic when rational thinking doesn't accomplish it.

  4. Very true. That is why I often ask them to explain "headship" in practical terms. It is easy to be wishy washy when waxing philosophical on the topic, but when they come face to face with the practical realities of even their own marriages, and then compare them to all those "heads" back in the OT, they come to a crisis. Either they have to admit their marriage fails to reflect biblical headship or their philosphy of headship is not biblical.

  5. Incidentally - I seriously doubt the existence of "hundreds" of times "head is the OT in reference to families and clans, geneologies". I would not take such a claim at face value.

  6. So...I just had to check out this "hundreds" claim.

    The Hebrew word I researched is ro'sh:
    1) head, top, summit, upper part, chief, total, sum, height, front, beginning
    a) head (of man, animals)
    b) top, tip (of mountain)
    c) height (of stars)
    d) chief, head (of man, city, nation, place, family, priest)
    e) head, front, beginning
    f) chief, choicest, best
    g) head, division, company, band
    h) sum

    There are 598 verses where this word occurs. Of those, I found 158 which refer to some hierarchical arrangement in human relations. Hardly the "hundreds" that are claimed.

    Within that subset, it gets very interesting. I found only 25 that refer directly to the family unit. All of them were recounting some kind of census or other listing of families. I put them under the category of "Factual reality without practical application". In other words, they simply state a cultural, historical fact without and indication of how that arrangement works (if at all) and without any incling of a Word by God on His view of that arrangement.

    All of the remainder fall under categories relating to leaders of people, not heads of a "household". Although that includes tribal and clan leaders, which the comps would like to include, I reject their inclusion in the "hundreds" as it relates to the family because in reality they were community leaders. The other references refer to kings, princes, military officers, or "chief", i.e. prominent, community figures. None of these 133 references are applicable to the family.

    So, in reality, there are only 25 references to the "head" of a family, and all of them are census related, and they all occur in the pure historical books of Exodus, Numbers, and 1 Chronicles. It is true that all of those heads are male. But what is more important, and really the point, is that there is absolutely NO OT teaching (or even law) that says "the 'head' of a family unit is always and only the husband (or worse, any male), and he shall have unilateral and complete authority over all other members of the family." Of course, such an idea would be nonsense because it would not account for the countless widowed mothers that certainly existed, or even the wives, left at home, of the men who were constantly off to war. It also wouldn't account for the Proverbs 31 woman's marriage, which by all indications is about as close as it gets to God's model. Plus it is simply impratical, as we have been discussing here.

    So, truthseeker, I think to call your freinds "misguided" or "mistaken" is putting it too mild. "Liars" comes to mind as a more accurate assessment.

  7. Great job.

    Are you aware though, that it may not have been a 'rib' per se, but a portion of flesh and bone from his side? The word used means something akin to 'side' or plank.


  8. I am indeed aware of that! I was merely keeping things simple. :)

  9. BTW, I think one can see why God put the man in the garden by himself first. Before God even brought the animals by to see what the human would name them, God said it is not good for the man to be alone and He would make him an ezer kenegdo. THEN we see the man discovers that there is none in all creation equal or suitable for him. Only THEN does God take from the human's own flesh and bones and rebuild the one equal and suitable for him. Looks to me like there is a clear lesson there that God arranged for the first human and subsequently all humans thereafter.