Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gender Roles (2) -- The Creation Account (Gen. 1-2)

Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought has good. Luckily this is not difficult. ~Charlotte Whitton

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.

  1. Humanity (both genders, Heb. adam) was made in God's image.

  2. Humanity was given rule over creation.

  3. Humanity was made as male and female.

  4. Humanity was given the responsibility of populating the earth.

  5. God created man from the dust of the ground.

  6. God commanded the man not to eat of the tree prior to the creation of the woman.

  7. God created woman as a response to man's need for companionship.

  8. Man named the animals.

  9. Woman was made from man's rib.

  10. Adam named the woman.

  11. Neither man nor woman felt any shame prior to the Fall.

  12. Satan approached the woman to tempt her.

  13. The Woman is described as being deceived, but it was with the man present.

  14. The eating of the fruit seems to be virtually simultaneous.

  15. Both man and woman were equally ashamed after sinning.

  16. The man was first questioned by God.

  17. The woman's curse includes the "he shall rule over you" clause (3:16)
Once again, these are simply observations from the text. I have purposely tried to leave interpretation out of the above observation. All would agree with the above statements, as they are plainly stated (#14 may be an exception). The way these facts are interpreted is the substance of the debate.

Winning Arguments for Egalitarians

  1. 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.

  2. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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)


Richard said...

Important observations! The issue of culture was especially interesting. In creating the man first, Adam and Eve could have not understood this as an issue of importance unless God communicated it to them. But, later generations, cultures, etc. could place emphasis on this distinction based on their cultural leanings which developed centuries, even thousands of years later.

I have not thought of that before. Some have argued that this is the case with the Sabbath. Namely, God rested on the seventh day, but this was not a normative practice for all people of all time, only the Jews to whom God gave the instruction.

So, unless an authoritative word from God declares that the distinction is meant for all time, one would have a difficult time demanding it. Paul, as you note, may have something to say about this, but I'm not sure I can grasp it.

Thank you for the probing thoughts! I look forward to hear from others on this issue. Anyone?

Sam C said...


Can I recommend this paper by Martin Shields on Genesis 1-3:

I think he deals well with the complementarian claims.

Lin said...

I like the way you are laying out both sides. This is so easy to read and follow.

A few things:

"The woman's curse includes the "he shall rule over you" clause (3:16)"

If you read closely, neither she nor Adam are 'cursed'. Only the land and serpent are cursed. God was telling them the 'result' or outcome of the sin. It was not a command.

You bring up a great point about primogeniture but I would like to add that primogeniture has no bearing here because God often did NOT bless or use the oldest son born. Cain is a perfect example of this as is Esau. And those are right off the bat.

Anonymous said...

Genesis 16:13-14

13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen [c] the One who sees me." 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [d] ; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

Hagar gave God a name, does that mean Hagar has authority over God?

Anonymous said...

Eve named Seth:

Genesis 4:25 (New American Standard Bible)

25(A)Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, "God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, (B)for Cain killed him."

Does the fact that Eve named Seth rather than Adam mean Eve has authority that Adam doesn't have?

Here is another example of a woman naming someone in Genesis:

Genesis 19:37 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab [a] ; he is the father of the Moabites of today.

Genesis 29:32 (New International Version)

Here Leah gives names to at least three of her sons.

32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, [a] for she said, "It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now." 33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too." So she named him Simeon. [a].... 35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "This time I will praise the LORD." So she named him Judah. [a] Then she stopped having children.

Genesis 30:6 (New International Version)

6 Then Rachel said, "God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son." Because of this she named him Dan. [a]

If you do a search on the term "nam" in the Old Testament you will find several examples of women naming children. Does this mean the ancient Jews would have recognized these women as having authority?