The different positions on gender roles have been given different labels. I will primarily be considering the egalitarian and complimentarian viewpoints in this study, as they seem to be the most exegetically sound. Radical feminism and Paternalism both seem to draw their conclusions before consulting the text of Scripture (eisegesis). Egalitarians see equal value and equal roles for men and women in the church and in society. Complimentarians see equal value but different roles for men and women.
The Creation account (Gen. 1-3) provides the foundational material for all Christian theology, including gender studies. When we look at the creation account, the following observations seem applicable.
- Humanity (both genders, Heb. adam) was made in God's image.
- Humanity was given rule over creation.
- Humanity was made as male and female.
- Humanity was given the responsibility of populating the earth.
- God created man from the dust of the ground.
- God commanded the man not to eat of the tree prior to the creation of the woman.
- God created woman as a response to man's need for companionship.
- Man named the animals.
- Woman was made from man's rib.
- Adam named the woman.
- Neither man nor woman felt any shame prior to the Fall.
- Satan approached the woman to tempt her.
- The Woman is described as being deceived, but it was with the man present.
- The eating of the fruit seems to be virtually simultaneous.
- Both man and woman were equally ashamed after sinning.
- The man was first questioned by God.
- The woman's curse includes the "he shall rule over you" clause (3:16)
Winning Arguments for Egalitarians
- Mutuality. Woman's creation "for" and "from" man is best understood as describing mutuality rather than role differentiation. Woman was created because man was incomplete without her. Men and women complete each other in relationships. In the Garden, man had God's presence in a much more tangible way than we do, even walking with God. But God's companionship is not what man needed, for He is man's Superior. Man also had the companionship of animals, an equally inadequate relationship since man is superior. Man needed an equal to be his companion. In response to this need, God created woman, prompting man to recognize that "she is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh." As we often say at weddings, Eve was not made from Adam's head, as if to rule over him, nor from his feet, as if to be in subjection to him, but from his side, as his equal. This is more than just a cute line that fits well in a wedding; it is actually a significant interpretation of the text.
The creation of woman from man requires the man to recognize his wife as a part of himself. Man could rule all of creation, but the woman was not within his domain, for she was a part of him. In a very real way, she was him. In this way, the "one flesh" relationship can be viewed as a deterrent to male authoritarianism.
In my view, the text makes the best sense theologically when understood as God's provision in response to man's need, not some kind of pre-ordained hierarchy or order which was meant to be normative.
- Woman as "helper." In their decision to create woman, God declared "I will make a helper suitable for him." This passage has often been understood as an indication of male authority. This understanding is the unfortunate result of the translation process, for the Hebrew word 'ezer ("helper") did not carry such a meaning. In fact, the same word is used repeatedly in the OT to speak of God's relationship to his people (see Jay Guin, Buried Talents, pp. 32-35). Clearly, this does not mean that the people were authorities over God! Rather, Eve's designation as "helper"indicates that she was to compliment, or complete, the man. There is no indication of subordination inherent in this word.
Winning Arguments for Complimentarians
The complimentarians, however, also make good points. Their best points, in my view, are:
- Man names woman. Several scholars have noted that, in the Semitic world, the act of giving a name was a statement of authority (see Mary Kassian, Women, Creation and the Fall, pp. 16-20). Therefore, Adam's naming of Eve would have been viewed by the original readers of Genesis as a clear statement of authority.
- Primogeniture. Man was created first. To the Semitic mind that would have originally read the book of Genesis, this was significant. The first born male of a Jewish family was in a position of authority, for on him falls accountability and responsibility for the whole family. He was viewed as "first among equals." In the same way, complimentarians argue, the man is "first among equals" in relation to the woman, due in part to his chronological priority.
I must admit that I have no solid response to either of these arguments, and I have not yet come across one from the egalitarian writings I have consulted. However, it must be taken into account that both of these arguments are based on understandings of authority that developed in later Semitic cultures. Only a week had passed in this account and there were no cultural understandings. Adam and Eve would not have seen his naming of her or his being created first as a necessary indication of authority. Nevertheless, the author and earliest readers of Genesis would have most definitely made these connections. So is the normative value given to the narrative itself, or to the historical context in which it was written? I'm not sure.
Summary: After looking at the creation account, I see a slightly stronger argument coming from the egalitarian camp, although it is certainly not a clear victory. Complimentarianism's arguments are strong, but the difficulties raised in the above paragraph weaken them considerably in my mind. Of course, the consideration of creation is not complete until we look at Paul's appeal to creation in a discussion of male "headship" in 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Tim. 2. We will look at these together in due time.
Next time: The Fall (Genesis 3)