Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Show Stoppers – Genesis 3:16: “...he will rule...” a Godly Remedy or Dire Prediction

In the previous post I explored how one’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, and resulting belief in either hierarchy or equality between husband and wife, must be addressed if any meaningful discussion from the rest of the bible can take place regarding gender relations. Specifically, if one believes that there is hierarchy in the pre-fall marriage, they are compelled to believe that hierarchy continues to be God’s “very good” design even today. Put simply: it is useless to talk to them about equality if, in their view, hierarchy is godly.

But what if they are swayed by my previous arguments? What if they now understand that equality between the sexes is actually what God intended? Does that mean that they now will see equality as the “very good” design after the fall? Unfortunately, the answer is “definitely not”. That brings us to the second “show stopper” in this series, and we don’t have to go very far to find it. Genesis 3 describes the fall of mankind into sin and, for many complementarians, the God ordained initiation of overt male authority in the marriage in verse 16. Let’s see what Genesis 3, and specifically 3:16, has to say (or not say) about male “rule”.[1]

If a person comes to understanding that the pre-fall marriage was one of equality, they still can come to the conclusion that males were put in charge by God after the fall. There are several similar arguments that lead to this conclusion.

A. Eve was easily deceived and subsequently all women need someone less easily deceived to “rule” over them to keep them from being deceived.

B. Eve was deceitful because she used her feminine wiles to trick Adam into eating the fruit and subsequently all women need someone to “rule” over them to keep them in line.

C. Eve tried to take control of the situation and subsequently all women will try to control their husbands, necessitating male rule to curb the sinful controlling behavior of women.

In either case, the message is clear: women are weak and/or evil - the main cause of sin entering the world - and therefore men have been lifted up by God to heroically right this horrible wrong and make the world a better place. Oh sure, maybe there might be a man now and again who takes this “rule” thing a bit too far. But in general, men are kind and loving rulers who never let their authority go to their head. Men are God’s “servant leaders”, who always put their wives first. So, what’s wrong with this picture (this one shouldn’t be hard to figure out)?

There a two fundamental problems, or really, misperceptions, with this view. Not surprisingly, the misperceptions are about Adam and Eve themselves (and ultimately men and women). Fortunately, the bible contains the answers to correct those misperceptions.

Was Eve the villain of the fall?

Curiously, the name “Eve” (Hebrew - Chavvah, Greek - Heua) does not occur anywhere outside of Genesis 3 and 4 and two brief mentions by Paul, one related to creation order (1 Timothy 2:13), and one highlighting her ignorant state when being deceived by the serpent (2 Corinthians 11:3). If Eve were the villain in the fall of mankind, one might expect the occasional mention in such a context of her in the rest of the bible. Or is it that the fall isn’t referenced again after Genesis 3? Certainly not! The fall is referenced by both old and new testament writers with fingers pointing to a singular name as the responsible party – “Adam”. Here is a quick review.

Hosea 6:7 “But like Adam they (Israel) have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me.”

Romans 5:12-19 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like {that which came} through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment {arose} from one {transgression} resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift {arose} from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 For since by a man {came} death, by a man also {came} the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
Could it not be more clear that Adam is the cause of sin in the world and the villain in the garden scene?

“But what of Eve’s deception and/or deceit”, some say. I ask in reply: “are either susceptibility to deception or deceit only female traits?”. Moreover, did Eve really deceive Adam, or was she only herself deceived by the serpent?
Paul deals with deceit in his first letter to Timothy, where the first two chapters address false teaching in Ephesus. Indeed, it is a woman who is deceived in Ephesus similarly to Eve – “Adam wasn't deceived, but the woman, being deceived, has fallen into disobedience;” (1 Tim 2:14 HNV). But Paul was just as deceived before coming to Christ – “even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy[2] because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;” (1 Tim 1:13). Moreover, it is men who are the blatant and willful deceivers – “some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim 19b-20) The charge of deceit against Eve is unfounded at its core, because it requires that Eve sought out and tricked an ignorant Adam. Paul declares Adam was not deceived (by the serpent or Eve - 1 Tim 2:14a), and the Genesis 3 account shows that Adam was present for the whole deception – “So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too.” (Genesis 3:6b NLT).

The charges against Eve are a baseless smoke screen. Although she was truly deceived, her ignorance grants her mercy. Moreover, the deception she fell prey to is not unique to her. Satan is the author of lies and he uses deceit and confusion in an attempt to deceive us all. We are all potential victims. Being male grants no one special immunity, not even Paul.

Was Adam the hero of the fall?

Put this way, the idea seems preposterous. Yet that is exactly how complementarians view Genesis 3:16 and therefore justify male hierarchy. After all, there has to be some counter balance[3] to the perceived harm from deceived/deceitful women. Who else but males are available to provide that balance. But how can they feel they are up to the task? Although they would never (anymore) say such a thing out loud, they simply think men are better than women. Men, they claim, are more logical, less emotional, and mentally and physically stronger and so are designed to lead. Women, in turn, are designed to follow. If a man refuses to lead or a woman refuses to follow, they are denying their design and sinning against God. EVEN IF there was equality in the garden, the introduction of sin has created the need for leaders and followers and God has answered that need by elevating males. “He shall rule over you”, therefore, is a remedy for the negative impact of woman’s influence on the world. Can’t you just hear Underdog’s famous call being echoed by men: “here I come to save the day!” After all, that’s what Genesis 3:16 says (*rolls eyes*)

So what kind of “rule” is this that is spoken of in Genesis 3? Is it benevolent, or malevolent? The Hebrew word used is mashal and is fairly benign. It simply means to exercise authority. Whether or not that authority is good or bad depends on context. So, what is the context of Genesis 3:16. Is it describing a good or bad situation? Is the “rule” a prescription for bad behavior on the part of the “subjects”? Or is the “rule” heavy handed and cruel? Most importantly, is the “rule” God ordained, or even commanded? The answer to these questions helps to determine if Adam is hero or tyrant.

The initial overriding thought that comes to my mind when dealing with God’s pronouncement of judgment in Genesis 3:14-24 is that none of it is good. In fact, it seems the antithesis to the “good” that God saw in His original creative work. What this part of the fall narrative says to me is that now, “it is bad”. But specifically with Genesis 3:16, it seems illogical to me that God would insert a prescriptive measure in the midst of all the punishment, curses, and predictions for a now fallen and sin filled world. Certainly, God does not consider the male less prone to sin than the female. I do not believe anyone would try to make that argument. It is also certain that the man failed in his one responsibility – to guard the garden[4]. So why give him more responsibility? A God ordained authority for Adam over Eve makes no sense to me. Not only did she not need to have an authority over her, but Adam would hardly have been the first choice if she did.

Now let’s look at those questions to help clarify the context.

Is it (Genesis 3:14-24) describing a good or bad situation?
Hmmm. Well, sin has just entered the world and condemned the human race to death. I’d say that is pretty bad. Moreover, literally every other phrase but 3:16b[5] is either a direct curse or punishment or describing negative future events. I say this one is a no-brainer.

Is the “rule” a prescription for bad behavior on the part of the “subjects”?
As we have already seen, Eve was not guilty of intentional behavior. She is not portrayed at all in the narrative as unruly or requiring some type of rule over her. The answer to this question is a definite “no”.

Or is the “rule” heavy handed and cruel?
History gives the rest of the story. The rule of males, while kind and loving in individual cases, has on the whole been very heavy handed, often cruel, and just as often abusive. Which leads to…

Most importantly, is the “rule” God ordained, or even commanded?
Based on the infamous history of that rule, it seems absurd to suggest that it comes from God (see note 3 again). Really, is God in the business of inflicting perpetual punishment on those who sin in ignorance. Again, Paul gives us the answer.

“Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are {found} in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost {of all.} Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” 1 Tim 1:13b-16
Not only did Eve not deserve or require a human ruler, but the faithless watchman, the treacherous, “eyes wide open” sinner Adam, was disqualified from such a role. The lesson from Genesis 3:16 is that marriage would now, in a fallen world, be filled with bad behavior and its negative consequences. “He will rule over you” is not a remedy for bad marital relations, it is a dire prediction of the male contribution to bad marital relations. How one views “he will rule over you” will govern their entire approach to marriage. If they believe it is a remedy, they will continue to argue for it strongly because the disease they perceive it cures is female domination and deceit. On the other hand, if they see it as part and parcel of the consequences of the fall, they will resist it and seek true godly solutions to the marital problems it creates. Which is why, “he will rule over you” is a “show stopper” to any further meaningful discussion of gender relations.


1. As I have already discussed, a Genesis 2 belief in hierarchy necessitates a belief in hierarchy going forward into Genesis 3. If one has that perspective, they see hierarchy all over the narrative of the fall. Eve is seen as rebelling against Adam’s authority by talking to the serpent and it goes downhill for women from there. I am not taking time in this post to deal with the arguments based on the false premise of male authority based on Genesis 2 because it is my hope that the first post in the series will get a person beyond that point. That doesn’t mean that such a post shouldn’t be written, it just means that the “show must go on” in dealing with the progression of show stopping passages/concepts. Other arguments for future consideration are:

* Is there anything in the Eve-serpent dialog that hints at an in-place authority structure?
* Does the order in which God interrogated Adam and Eve say anything about hierarchy?
* What, if anything, does the content of God’s “sentence” on the participants in the fall contribute to hierarchical designs.

2. Eve also was shown mercy because of her ignorance as she was the only one of the three participants in the fall to not be cursed or have a curse associated with her sin.

3. Some even go as far as to claim that women deserve punishment for Eve’s treachery (funny how Hosea calls Adam the treacherous one) and male “rule”, even if harsh, is that deserved punishment. This is a fairly antiquated idea, but I do not doubt that there are a few out there who still hold to it.

4. For an excellent treatment of “The Unfaithful Watchman” see this blog post on the Women in Ministry Blog.

5. Although it is out of scope for this discussion, I hold this to be true also of “your desire will be for your husband”. I know that will agitate some women out there, but I simply can’t see anything positive in this passage. Whatever this “desire” or “turning” is, it has a negative impact on marriages in my opinion. A more detailed look at that phrase will have to wait until a future post.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Show Stoppers – Genesis 1 and 2: Hierarchy or Equality in the Garden

“Let’s start at the very beginning; a very nice place to start” – Maria, The Sound of Music

The first “show stopper” in the gender hierarchy/equality debate occurs at the very beginning of the bible – Genesis 1 and 2. Indeed, it is the complementarian view that a male headed authority structure existed even in the garden that supports and even dictates their view of the rest of scripture when it comes to gender relations. As long as a person holds to that view there is no use in talking to them about any other problematic verses or concepts. Indeed, this is logical. For if there was a hierarchy in the perfect setting of the garden, then certainly that hierarchy (God’s “perfect” marriage design) would need to be carried into an imperfect world in order to avoid anarchy and chaos. A person who believes in this garden power structure can’t help but believe that it should be maintained in a fallen world. So, is such a power structure evident in the garden narrative? That is what we will explore in this first installment of the “Show Stopper” series.

Although I believe the complementarian view on authority is almost universally presumptive, it is not so much so with Genesis 1 and 2. The foundation of their position lies in the text of those chapters. We will take a look at both the text they use to support hierarchy, as well as the text they ignore which shows equality.

Complementarians do agree with egalitarians on one important point: both males and females are equal image bearers of God[1]. So, in terms of “essence”, men and women are equal. So, the equality seen in Genesis 1 is acknowledged…to a point. Where Complementarians split from egalitarians is when the soul and spirit of humans gives way to their physical beings and the supposed “roles” here on earth that those beings fulfill. Once Adam and Eve become flesh and bone in Genesis 2, Complementarians see a fundamental shift in their inter-relationship. Put simply, although men and women are equal in “essence”, they are not equal in function: men are in charge and women are subject to that male authority. So, where do they see that in the text of Genesis 2.

In the second installment of my series “Equality in the Original Marriage Design”[2], I discuss in detail the three main arguments in favor of male authority. I will summarize them here. Please see the original post for the full rebuttal. I believe all three, while being based upon the text, still beg the question and are therefore in error. The three main arguments for male authority are: order of creation, naming rights, and method of creation.

The order of creation argument states that because Adam was created before Eve, he has a natural, God given authority over her. This argument is false because there is no basis for concluding that order of creation grants order of authority. In fact, the entire creation account argues against such a notion (animals were created before humans but are not in authority over us). Moreover, biblical teaching never supports such an arrangement and in a number of places actually refutes such an arrangement (see Jesus’ “last will be first” and similar teaching). So, the order of creation argument is based on an unsupported presumption that first means authority. Scripture never, ever, suggests such a concept, and often argues against it.

The naming rights argument states that because Adam named Eve[3], he has a natural, God given authority over her. This argument fails for the same reasons as the order of creation argument: it has no support in biblical teaching. Not only are men not unique in naming rights, but naming something is never a cause for authority over that something. It is simply a function of life without any inherent grant (or dismissal) of authority. Adam (and Eve, as co-rulers of the earth) did not have authority over the animals because he named them. He and Eve had authority because God granted it to them in Genesis 1. Naming is just a task. Eve named things too (specifically, sons). So one can not draw any conclusions about authority just by the act of naming something. Again, the argument is presumptive and has not one verse of support in scripture.

The final argument is a little outdated and not generally presented, but I include it just in case there are a few die hard female inferiority adherents out there. This argument states that because Eve was made from a piece of Adam, she is somehow less of a human than he is. Of course, as we shall soon see, Adam himself certainly did not think this. Nor does scripture ever say it. What scripture does say in Genesis 2 is that Eve’s creation was unique amongst all living creatures (even Adam). She alone was created from another living being – the real “first born” of creation, in a sense. While Adam was made in the same manner as the animals, Eve was not. If anything, her method of creation sets her apart and above everything else, not underneath it.

In the end, the three mainstream arguments in support of male authority and a hierarchy in God’s marriage design all fail for the same reason – they presume the conclusion is true before examining the evidence, of which there is none. This is called “begging the question” and is a logical fallacy. Even worse than providing no support for the argument, proponents of male authority ignore all of the scriptural evidence against it. In conclusion, I reject all three arguments for male authority for being not only unsupported but directly rebutted in scripture.

But what of equality? Is that equally presumptive, or is there solid evidence in Genesis 1 and 2 that the first marriage was indeed a marriage without human hierarchy? I will turn to that next.

The first mention of human gender occurs in Genesis 1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (NASB). As mentioned before, virtually everyone in the gender debate considers this to be a statement of equality between the sexes; at least equality of “essence”. Where Complementarians diverge is in their view of equality or division of “roles” here on earth. It makes me wonder if they have even read the next verse (Genesis 1:28) in the text: “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Is this not a command to both men and women? Is this not specifically related to their “role” here on earth? In the broadest sense at least, scripture clearly teaches that the “role” of men and women is a shared one and that males and females are equal in their contribution. The conclusion from the text of Genesis 1 is that the equality of men and women goes beyond just their “essence” as equal image bearers of God; it extends to their “role” on earth as equal, co-leaders and administrators for God. The question then becomes: “did that equality extend into their inter-relatedness in marriage”. For that answer we move to Genesis 2?

I have already rebutted the arguments for hierarchy derived from the Genesis 2 text. I will now present the several text based arguments which support equality within marriage. An important distinction needs to be made before I begin. The elements which form the basis for hierarchy arguments are non-relational – creation order (an external reality), naming (a task), and creation method (another external reality). None of these things speak directly to the inter-relationship of the two people involved; they are merely ancillary factors in those people’s lives. Although they may possibly impact the relationship, they don’t define the relationship. Conversely, the scripture I am about to explore goes to the very heart of Adam’s and Eve’s relationship – it is the “essence”, to borrow the phrase, of Adam’s and Eve’s marriage. While external factors such as creation order may signify either hierarchy or equality, they may also have no impact at all on the debate (which is actually the case). On the other hand, internal relationship factors can only point us in one of two directions: towards hierarchy or towards equality. Relationship factors can not possibly be benign to the inner workings of the relationship. The challenge is to determine to which pole – hierarchy or equality – the “rest of the story” of Genesis 2 leads.

After we get a detailed description of the garden and the creation of Adam in the beginning of Genesis 2, God makes a startling statement – “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). We need to pay particular attention to this proclamation because it defines the reason for Eve’s creation. Eve was not created for some practical purpose like as an assistant grounds keeper or domestic underling. No, Eve was created for a strictly relational purpose – Adam was alone. The importance of this relational purpose can’t be lost because it requires a relational focus on the description of Eve as ’ezer neged; a “help meet” to Adam(4). Again, this is crucial to understand. The "help" that Eve provides Adam is not practical or vocational; it is relational. She is the only one who can fill his need for companionship because, as Adam soon finds out, she is the only one who is like him, i.e. human.

The question now becomes: which organizational paradigm – hierarchy or equality – best fits this relational purpose for Eve? Since the purpose is not practical or vocational we can dismiss any idea that Eve was somehow created to be subservient to Adam or to perform any particular task in the Garden. In other words, Eve was not created to do “women’s work”. Work of any kind, vocational, domestic, or otherwise, is simply not applicable to Eve’s creation. Of course, we should know this since God already proclaimed in Genesis 1 that the “work” of the human race was to be enjoined equally by all humans, whether male or female.

Conversely, since Adam’s dilemma is that he is alone, we can conclude that Eve was created to somehow complete or fulfill him. Indeed, that is what we find at the end of the chapter when the first couple are proclaimed to be “one flesh”. Adam says as much when he exclaims “this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” Why is he so excited? Is it because he was so worn out being provider/protector in the garden that he is finally relieved that the maid has arrived to clean up around the “house”? Such an idea is nonsensical based on his statement. He is excited because he finally has a fully formed being like him that he can “relate” to. There is not even the slightest hint of hierarchy in this very relational exclamation. Quite to the contrary, it screams equality. Adam and Eve were already identified in Genesis 1 as being equal in spiritual essence. Now Adam confirms they are equal in the physical, earthly essence as well.

To conclude, Genesis 1 and 2 never even refer to any hierarchy between the first man and woman or in the first marriage. Moreover, any hierarchical inferences that may be drawn from some of the practical realities of the first couple’s creation are presumptuous at best. On the other hand, both Genesis 1 and 2 speak of the equality between Adam and Eve in purpose and creation. In particular, in Genesis 2, that equality is expressed in strikingly relational terms. When it comes to how Adam and Eve relate to each other in that first marriage, authority is non-existent and equality is stunningly expressed.

That is what makes this a show stopper. If a person can not see the equality so blatantly modeled in Genesis 1 and 2, not to mention the complete lack of hierarchy in the same, it is useless to proceed in any other discussion with them about the marriage relationship. If they dogmatically insist on hierarchy in the original marriage design despite all evidence to the contrary, they will, and indeed must, project hierarchy onto every subsequent marriage. If you are in a discussion with someone over marital “roles” and “jobs” and “organization”, find out first if they see those same things in Genesis 1. If they do, it’s time to stop the show until they can be persuaded to take a second look at the first marriage.

1. This certainly was not always so. In her book, “When Dogmas Die”, Susanna Krizo gives a comprehensive review of the degrading view of the “essence” of women throughout history in general, and especially the history of the Christian church.
2. The full “Equality…” series
Equality in the Original Marriage Design
Equality…Part II
Equality…Part III
Equality…What About Paul
3. There are some egalitarians that claim that Adam did not actually assign the gender “name” woman to Eve, but instead simply repeated the name God had already assigned in Genesis 2:22 (the first mention of the Hebrew word for “woman” which Adam gives her in the next verse). Although a exegetical argument can be made to that point, the fact that Adam inarguably names her “Eve” in Genesis 3 makes the argument rather moot. Either way, at some time or other, Adam engaged in naming of the female.
4. See my posts on "Eve the Helper" for a deeper discussion of the Hebrew phrase "’ezer neged" which describes what Eve will be for Adam.
Eve the "Helper" - The Wit and Irony of God's Word
Eve the "Helper" - The Complete Picture