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.


  1. This post is loaded with biblical AND logical points well made. Again, thanks.

    I especially liked what you said here..."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."

    I'm going to add this to a study of that phrase I do in marriage retreats...with credit.

  2. "If Eve were the villain in the fall of mankind, one might expect the occasional mention of her in the rest of the bible."

    Well put - great point!

  3. I have a correction which will be included in the post. Eve is mentioned twice by Paul. Neither mention portrays her as the villian of the fall.

  4. Gengwell

    What comp teachers believe that Gen 3:16 is a remedy to the fall? I have never heard such a thing, the opposite actually. That men will dominate in an ungodly manner as women's desire will be against their husbands. Both parties are corrupted by the nature of sin. I would love for you to point me to some respected comp teachers who believe what you have said they believe