Posted by: vicholdsforth | February 3, 2010

A Theology of Woman (Part 11: Does the Fall matter?)

In our discussion of Genesis 3, I made the case that patriarchy, or male authority, is not God’s design for marriage, but rather, a byproduct of the Fall.  Complementarians argue that since death has not yet been abolished and women still experience pain in childbirth, we must conclude that all the other effects of the Fall (including patriarchy) remain in force, as well.  While most complementarians embrace a pre-Fall patriarchy, they contend that in the end, it really doesn’t matter whether patriarchy is the result of the Fall or not.  I submit that it matters very much, from both a practical and a biblical standpoint.

Before we delve into the biblical texts, let’s first consider the effects of the Fall from a practical standpoint.  For the woman, this meant an increase in the pain of childbirth; also, that she would desire her husband, and yet be dominated by him.  For those who didn’t get a chance to read the Genesis post, we concluded that “your desire shall be for your husband” (Gen 3:16) refers to the tendency of women to sell out spiritually and morally for the sake of having a romantic relationship.  Interestingly, this text can also be read “your desire shall be for a husband.”   In a recent survey conducted by Dr. Phil McGraw, almost half of the female teen respondents admitted to doing something “extreme” to keep a boyfriend.  Two-thirds of these girls had sex even though they didn’t want to, 8% succumbed to pressure to use drugs, and almost one in four gave their boyfriends money. Perhaps we could paraphrase Gen 3:16 as “You’ll stop at nothing to get and keep a man.”

For the man, this meant an increase in the toil involved in bringing forth food from the ground (Gen 3:17-19).  It is important to note that for both the man and the woman, the text explicitly states that the effect of these two pronouncements is to increase the grief involved in a task that was part of the pre-Fall creation mandate.  So when God says, “I will increase your pain in childbearing,” that implies that there was some pain involved in the first place.  Similarly, when God speaks of Adam’s toil, He is not introducing work for the first time (Gen 2:15); but rather, stating that it will be much harder than before.  It is important to note also that when God spoke of patriarchy as one of the sad effects of the Fall, what He said to Eve was, “your husband shall rule over you.”  Notice that he did not say “you will have to obey your husband.”  Nor did he tell Adam, “you will rule over your wife.”  Just as He was predicting Eve and her daughters’ sinful proclivity to idolize men, God was predicting the sinful domination Adam and his sons would wield against women, not condoning it.

From a practical standpoint, those who insist that we must pattern our marriages after a component of the curse must also eschew pain relief for women in labor, as well as mechanized farm implements.  They must also advocate for racial discrimination and enslavement on the basis of Gen 9:24, and refuse any and all medical treatment for themselves and their children.  Few who argue for the continuation of female subjugation are willing to be intellectually honest enough embrace all these other implications.  The reality is that all the physical effects of the fall, even death (1 Thess 4:13), have unarguably been mitigated through both special and common grace.  So if female subjugation is, in fact, a byproduct of the Fall, then there is no basis in reality to suggest that it, too, should not be mitigated by common and special grace.

Having considered the obvious changes in the observable effects of the Fall over time, let’s now turn to the biblical texts to see what God has to say about our relocation from the kingdom of darkness into His kingdom and what that might mean for women.  Paul wrote that because we are reconciled to God in Christ, “from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Cor 5:16).  If patriarchy is a product of the Fall, then regarding women as subordinate to men is a worldly point of view: “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).  For Christians, race, economic status, and gender should not matter.

Complementarians attempt to explain this verse away by arguing that it simply means that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and that this truth holds no significance in how we are to relate to one another.  Is this true?  Neither the immediate nor the larger context support this interpretation.  The very reason Paul wrote to the Galatians was because they were doing something wrong and he wanted them to change their behavior; namely, keeping the Old Testament Law.  It is interesting to note that each of these three pairings, Jew & Greek, slave & free, male & female, involves one group ordering the other around:  Jews telling Gentiles they had to keep the law; masters treating their slaves shabbily when the church gathered (1 Cor 11); men subjugating women.  When Paul said “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek,” he was not just waxing metaphysical.  He was explaining that this spiritual reality was the very reason why the Galatians needed to change their behaviors.  So to take one tiny fragment of that sentence and spiritualize it to the point of meaninglessness in the here and now is intellectually dishonest. The complementarian interpretation also falls apart under the scrutiny of the larger biblical context as well.  Jesus said one of the hallmarks of the church should be a noticeable difference in how we relate to one another:  “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt 5:46-47) “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35–emphasis mine).  Spiritual truth is not just a set of theoretical principles.  It should change us and change how we live, even if God’s Kingdom has not yet advanced to the point of the complete dismantling of fallen human social constructs.  To insist otherwise is to compartmentalize our relationship with God rather than allowing it to manifest holistically in our lives.  As it happens, this is a mind-set to which men seem especially prone.



  1. Great Articles!

    I am going to go back and read them all again. 🙂

    Gilbert Bilezikiean writes this, “The woman’s desire will be for her husband, so as to perpetuate the intimacy that had characterized their relationship in paradise lost. But her nostalgia for the relation of love and mutuality that existed between them before the fall, when they both desired each other, will not be reciprocated by her husband. Instead of meeting her desire…he will rule over her… the woman wants a mate, and she gets a master; she wants a lover and she gets a lord; she wants a husband and she gets a hierarch.”

    Many women lose themselves wholly in the demand of others. “A result of the fall is for the male to want to excercise power over the female; the result of the fall for a woman is that she wants to sustain relationships, even if it hurts her.”

    It is also curious to me how the ‘toil’ of the man has also become the ‘toil’ of the woman……with not much complaint. Women have always worked the fields and still do, even with a baby strapped to thier back.

    Jimmy Evans of (Family and Marriage Today) Interprets Gen. 3:16, in the sense that the womans desire for her husband in reality is a desire to ‘rule’ the husband. He teaches that since the fall it has been a power struggle between men and women for rulership. What do you think about that interpretation?

    Two really different views.


    • Hi Terri–
      Thanks for your thoughtful questions. I would have to side with Gil Bilezikian (and Mary Stewart VanLeeuwen) on Gen 3:16. The Fall’s unique effect upon women has been their proclivity to go to any lengths, even immoral ones, to snag themselves a man. Who among us doesn’t know at least one woman (perhaps many) like that? And how many of us were her at one point in our lives? In my experience with women sorting out relationship problems, many have confessed that they have made their husband or the marriage into an idol. You might be interested in Carol Gilligan’s research on moral development in women, which supports this thesis with some fascinating research. Ms. VanLeeuwen also wrote an excellent book called “Gender and Grace.” I highly recommend it.

      Evans, on the other hand, must read “desire” to mean “desire to rule” in order to support his interpretation. Complementarians pull this inference from Gen 4:6, in which God says to Cain, “sin…desires to have you, but you must master it.” Strong’s Concordance does not support this conclusion. The definition is simply desire, as in sexual desire, or a hungry animal that desires a meal. There is no suggestion that the desire is implicitly for authority or power. This is called “eisegesis:” coming to the text with a particular assumption and then reading that assumption into the text instead of allowing the text to speak for itself. It’s difficult for us to lay our biases aside. I think the best we can do, really, is just to acknowledge them and rely on our brothers and sisters to help us with our blind spots, rather than to try to pretend that they don’t exist. I’m planning to address this topic soon.

      God Bless!

  2. I agree that the order of marriage from the beginning was a unit scriptures concurs: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. Ge1:26” this is clear as to reign as a unit.

    We as believers and christian should strive and work towards restoring this order, but as long as there is sin in society Ge 3:15-17 will have it’s effect.

  3. Agreed, Miguel! Sounds like we’re more in agreement on this topic than I thought.

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