Posted by: vicholdsforth | January 25, 2010

A Theology of Woman (Part 3: Genesis)

In part 2, we discussed Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve in 1 Tim 2.  Let’s visit our parents now and see what Genesis has to say about gender relationships.

Complementarians point to the creation order to justify female subordination, but by that logic, man is subordinate to animals rather than vice versa.  Eve’s characterization as a “helper” is also used to cast her in a subordinate role.  However, the Hebrew word “ezer” is used numerous times in the Old Testament, and overwhelmingly as a reference to God:  Ex 18:4, Deut 33:7, 1 Chron 15:26, Ps 30:10, Ps 54:4, and Is 41:14, just to name a few.  Certainly no orthodox believer would suggest this descriptor is meant to imply that God is subordinate to man.  Indeed, the only legitimate inference we can draw from the appellation “helper” is not that Eve was subordinate to Adam, but rather, that Adam was inadequate to carry out the creation mandate alone.  That’s why he needed help.

Complementarians also point to Gen 2:23, in which Adam says, “she shall be called ‘woman,’” in an attempt to establish the claim that Adam held pre-Fall authority over Eve.  We must, however, handle narratives with care.  Narrative literature is the story of God’s interactions with His people.  Their behaviors, even if God directs or accommodates them, do not necessarily imply a universal mandate.  God’s instruction to Moses to call forth water from a rock (Num 20:8) does not mean that the rest of us are to do likewise.  Similarly, few complementarians would suggest that laying a fleece out, as Gideon did in Judges 6:36-39, is normative.  A universal mandate mined from narrative literature without additional textual support is little more than speculation.  In fact, the only pre-Fall discussion of authority is in Gen 1:26-28, which tells us that God gave dominion to both the man and the woman:  “Then God said…let them rule…and God said to them…rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves upon the ground.”

There is no suggestion of hierarchy or male dominance until after the Fall.  Gen 3:16 says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”  Recall that God struck down Aaron’s sons for their failure to follow His instructions with precision (Lev 10:1-2).  It only stands to reason that He would make Himself clear on this most important principle.  It makes little sense for God to say “your husband will rule over you” if he had been occupying that position of authority all along.  The Strong’s definition of “rule” is neutral with respect to the quality or character of the authority.  Thus, complementarians must bypass the plain-sense meaning of this text in order to claim that what the text really means is that male rule had been transformed from beneficent to domineering.

Complementarians further claim that what God really meant by “your desire will be for your husband” is “you will desire to usurp your husband’s authority.”  This is based on an obfuscation of Genesis 4:7, “sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  No Bible dictionary supports the claim that “desire” here means “desire to usurp authority.”  Rather, Strong’s defines this word as “desire, longing, or craving,” in either a sexual sense, or as a beast wanting to devour a meal, as in 1 Pet 5:8:  “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  Contrary to what complementarians claim, there is no inference of authority here.

Mary Stewart VanLeeuwen describes the unique effects of the curse on men and women, respectively.  The curse manifests in men’s propensity to misuse the dominion he was given over the creation and instead, level it against his wife.  Women, on the other hand, are uniquely tempted to sell out spiritually and morally in an attempt to attain and maintain a romantic relationship.  (Interestingly, Gen 3:23 describes only Adam as having been cast out of the Garden.  Apparently Eve just followed him out.)  I find this exegesis most satisfying not only because it relies on the plain-sense meaning of the text and does not require any suppositions or linguistic gymnastics, but also because we observe this dynamic every day.

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Responses

  1. Let’s hope these entries go viral! I think the Church has suffered enormously, by misinterpreting the Scriptures, and enforcing a false doctrine of submission.

  2. Yes, Deb, I agree. The Body has done without the gifts of over half its members over the centuries…a sort of self-imposed paraplegia, if you will. Not to mention the abuse millions upon millions of women have suffered as a result of “male headship” theology. But that’s another column.


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