Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Equality in the Original Marriage Design - What About Paul?

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

We have explored the creation of the genders (part 1), objections to equality between the genders (part II), and the beauty and romance of the creation story (part III). As we conclude this investigation of equality vs. hierarchy in God’s marital design, we would be remiss if we did not address the writings of Paul, who spent more time commenting and invoking Genesis 2 than any other biblical author. Specifically, did Paul support an authoritarian hierarchy in marriage via his allusions to the creation account?

The last remaining objection to equality in marriage is that the woman was created to serve the man. This argument represents a misreading of the Genesis text, but its proponents claim to have further corroboration from Paul in passages of his first letters to the Corinthians and Timothy. We will dispense quickly with the Genesis textual argument, and then tackle Paul.

Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. (NASB. Emphasis added)
The textual argument goes like this. Since Adam needed a helper, and since the first “helpers” presented to him were creatures he had dominion over, and since “helper” is another term for servant, the original purpose for Eve was to be subservient to Adam. It has been well documented, but deserves repeating, that the Hebrew word translated “helper” is actually a word reserved almost exclusively for God. There are plenty of other Hebrew words that could have been used if service to an authority was being suggested. Instead, a word was used that in virtually every other instance in the Old Testament refers to God as our “helper”. Unless we are to believe that we have dominion over God, there is no suggestion in the text that Eve’s “position” or “role” was to be subservient to Adam. Moreover, the Hebrew word translated “suitable” literally means “in front of” or “opposite”. In this context, the meaning is clear. Eve was a perfect compliment to Adam1; designed to be equal in value and authority but opposite in giftedness, so that combined they could effectively administer their joint dominion over creation.

But What About Paul?

Paul refers to Genesis 2 and 3 a great deal, more than any other biblical writer. In particular, he alludes to2 the creation of Eve documented in Genesis 2:18-23 in two letters.

1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off ; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (NASB Emphasis added)

1 Timothy 2:11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (NASB Emphasis added)
So, do these statements referring to the creation of Eve and her relationship to Adam support an authoritarian hierarchy within marriage? One might come to that conclusion if the broader passages in which these statements were made were actually about marriage, but they are not! These passages deal with church governance; in particular, conduct in worship services. Although there is much debate over the meaning and application of these passages in current day church proceedings3, they have absolutely no applicability to the marriage relationship.

Marriage and Church are two distinct institutions, each with their own distinct set of godly rules and parameters. You can not simply superimpose a condition meant for one onto the other just because the underlying biblical text may have implications for both. The bible abounds with passages that have multiple and varied applicability. Paul's invocation of Genesis 2 to address certain aspects of church governance has no bearing on the same passage's implications for marital relationships.

We now come to the end of this particular journey. We have explored the creation narrative in depth and found it to, in turn, have great depth. The creation of two perfectly complimentary and equal partners who then rejoin and become one again in the God ordained and blessed covenant of marriage is truly one of the great wonders of the bible and of our human experience. Although there are some who object to this picture of equality within marriage, their arguments are rooted in human culture and history, not godly wisdom and teaching. I pray God would bless all of our marriages and help us see past our selfish fleshly tendancies so that we can truly and selflessly serve each other as we in turn serve He who joined us together.

1 Please do not interpret this as me taking a complimentarian theological stance. I do not use the term "compliment" to suggest that men and women have different biblically defined roles in marriage or that there is an inherent authoritarian hierarchy between the genders. Space does not allow a complete discussion of my views on complimentarian theology but my posts to date and in the future should make clear where (and how quickly) I depart from that camp. Never-the-less, men and women are clearly designed differently and have different strengths and weaknesses inherent in those designs. I do believe God designed each gender to "fill the holes" in the other gender. I will be writing more on this differentiation in the future, but suffice it to say I do not believe "different" or "complimentary" means "unequal" any more than I believe "equal" means "identical".

2 I have seen a growing body of commentary that proposes that the reference to Genesis 2 and the creation order is actually Paul quoting his audience from their prior inquires in order to refute their wrong thinking. Although I present the Genesis 2 references in this post as Paul's own words, and deal with the situation in that context, I personally find this "quotes" argument compelling and am strongly leaning toward it as the correct interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 as well as other passages. It certainly makes the text seem more sensible, with 1 Corinthians 11:11 being the beginning of Paul's corrective commentary.

3 I have intentionally not engaged in this debate here as it is off topic for this post and category. Although I certainly may write in the future about church governance, and at that time revisit this passage in its proper context, my focus currently is on marriage. Please note that my comments should not be taken as a position statement one way or another on the "women in church" debate. For a more in depth look at that debate, and in particular, some great work on 1 Corinthians 11, I suggest a visit to the blog Women in Minstry.

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