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


  1. Gengwall,

    EXCELLENT post. With your permission I wish to refer to it in part in the future with full credit and linking. I like the way you write.