Friday, January 18, 2008

Women "In the Beginning"

For those of you just joining this discussion, I would urge you to take a look at my previous two posts on the subject: Let's talk about it and My Starting Point.

In discussions of God's will for women in his Kingdom, the first three chapters of Genesis play an important role. Yet, as a narrative passage of scripture, rather than a didactic one ("intending to teach") like the epistles, deriving absolutes from Gen 1-3 can be tricky. Observing hermeneutical practice among my fellow evangelicals, I must admit that, typically an interpreter's pre-determined view of women informs the way an interpreter reads Gen 1-3. That is to say, you can find what you want to find in the text when you're looking hard enough for it. The ideal, of course, would be to allow the truths of Gen 1-3 to inform our view of women without forcing them into any particular theological (ideological?) mold. Since, as I have said previously, pure objectivity is impossible, I will not pretend to approach it. But, I hope that what follows is a fair-as-possible and informed-as-possible response to the significant questions that arise from the first chapters of Genesis as they relate to gender roles.

Preliminary Observations
In our reading of the Genesis creation narrative, it is important to keep in mind that it was most likely written as a means to distinguish the God of Israel from the gods of Egypt and other nations. (See, for example, the violent and bloody creation account of Babylon.) In contrast to other creation stories of the ancient near east, Israel’s God is one God, who created all the elements of the natural world. Whereas Israel’s neighbors worshipped the moon, the sun, the ocean, etc, Israel worshipped the one whom they believed made all of these things.

Moreover, a case can be made as well that the creation accounts did more than just challenge the gods of the ancient near east, but also the way in which men and women viewed one another in God's created order. Humankind was created “male and female,” in the "image of God" (Gen 1: 27), a reality that elevated the status of women in a way that contrasted with surrounding cultures. The revelation of man and woman’s physical kinship (“bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh,” Gen 2:23) challenged the perspective that the two were wholly disparate creatures. And, their original existence as “naked” and “unashamed” speaks to the intention of God for relational intimacy, openness, trust, and connectedness (Gen 2:25).

Is it God's purpose for women to be the subordinate "helpers" of men?
The first passage of scripture to which most complementarians turn in support of the subordination of women to men is Gen 2:18ff, where God makes for the first man, a "helper suitable for him."

Before I address the possible implications of Gen 2:18, I should note that Gen 2 must not be read divorced from Gen 1. In Genesis 1, the emphasis seems to be upon God’s ordered and rhythmic process of creation. One is struck by the rhythm and symmetry of God’s creative work, as the “formless void and darkness” is made to blossom into a thing of tremendous life, breath, movement, and beauty. In Genesis 2, the emphasis seems to be upon relationship, man and God, then man and woman. One notices the innocence of this early narrative, as man interacts with God and animals in an idyllic garden, full of life and vegetation. Man and woman had harmony with one another, with God, and with the garden until “knowledge of good and evil” changed everything.

With this in mind, therefore, what does God mean when he creates woman as a "helper" for man? The Hebrew word, ’ezer, usually translated "helper" is perhaps better rendered "companion." Although often construed as such, this term does not suggest a subordinate role. In the Bible, God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs (Ps 40:17; 46:1; 70:5; 118:7; 146:5). In this context, therefore, the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The element of subordination cannot be substantiated from the wording in 2:18.

Some will argue, however, that the order of creation, with man first and then woman, implies subordination even if it remains unstated. The problem with this assumption is that if the order of creation implies a hierarchy, then the order of Gen 1 should lead to the belief that human beings are last in importance; but, of course, that's not the case. In fact, if the trend from Gen 1 has any application to our understanding of Gen 2, then the creation of woman last should highlight her importance, not her subordination.

Is it God's primary purpose for married women to reproduce?
Those who use Genesis 1-3 as a primary basis for gender roles typically suggest that Gen 1:28, with the command to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” is the foundational responsibility of women in God's order. In this point of view, bearing children and ruling over the earth alongside men is the primary purpose for women (in the marriage relationship, of course).

Yet, a close reading of Gen 1 reveals that the institution of marriage is not mentioned at all. Instead, the focus is upon the rhythm and order of creation, with human beings coming as the climax of the creative process. There is continuity between animals and humans as created beings (both are to “be fruitful, multiply,” and “fill the earth”), but also discontinuity between them (humans are to “subdue” the earth). Moreover, God makes a point to instruct human beings in what things are given to them and every animal for food: “every green plant.” (Meat eaters, take notice!) Marriage as an institution is not considered in a recognizable way at all. Instead, the focus is upon the human race as a whole and the purpose of the human race upon the earth in God’s good created order. For this reason, it seems that Gen 1:28 is an inappropriate basis for gender roles.

Moreover, I do not believe that the command to our first parents, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” has the weight of command to married persons today. Notice that human beings are not the only ones given the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” In v. 22 of Gen 1, the birds and creatures of the sea are told the same thing (while, curiously enough, the beasts of the land are not). This follows a pattern in God's creative process, whereby he creates something, then fills it. God creates the sky, then fills it with birds. He creates the sea, then fills it with creatures. (And now, with something like 6.6 billion humans walking around on the planet today, I think we've probably fulfilled God's instruction to "multiply" and "fill" don't you?)

The only difference between the commands to the birds and sea creatures and that to humans is the command to “rule” and “subdue.” And, that's the main point of Gen 1: human beings are God’s vice-regents on the earth. Unfortunately, the idea that pairs of humans (particularly women) must reproduce in order to be God-honoring human beings is not found in the text of Genesis.

Is it God's will that men "rule over" women?
After the sinful disobedience of our first parents in Gen 3, God pronounces his judgment as a result of their sin. First, the serpent who deceived the woman is "cursed," he is destined to crawl on his belly on the earth, and enmity is placed between him and the woman (3:14-15). Then, the woman is told that she will have increased pain in childbirth and have a subordinate status to her mate (3:16). Finally, the man is told that the ground is cursed because of him and he will harvest and work the earth with "painful toil" (notably, the same word as the word for the woman's pain in childbirth).

(As a side note, please notice that while it is common to hear people speak of women and/or men receiving a "curse" from the Fall, neither the man nor the woman are "cursed" by God. The words for curse are applied only to the serpent and the ground.)

Very often, God's pronouncement to the woman in 3:16, "your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you," is used as an argument for why women are divinely intended to have a subordinate status to men, in family, society, and church. I think that several things mitigate against this interpretation.

A literal rendering of the first part of the sentence is as follows: “and toward your husband [will be] your desire.” The sentence actually doesn't have a verb and so a future verb must be supplied (because the focus of the judgment is on the future struggle). Moreover, the precise meaning of the noun "desire" (tÿshuqah) is debated. Some interpreters conclude that it refers to sexual desire because the word is used in a romantic sense in Song 7:10. Yet, this interpretation does not fit well with the assertion "he will rule over you" and it implies that sexual desire was not apart of the original creation (even though the man and woman were told to multiply).

It is more likely that, in 3:16, God is announcing the reality of conflict and struggle between man and woman. She will desire to control him, but he will rule over her instead. The Hebrew word translated "rule over" (mashal) means more than simply a leadership position, as is often implied. Instead, mashal emphasizes powerful control, domination, or mastery. Like the curse of the serpent to crawl on his belly and the painful toil of the man in labor on the earth, the domination of the woman by the man is the unintended and unfortunate result of our first parents' disobedience.

What does all this mean? Gen 3:16 is a part of a judgment oracle in which God announces that conflict between man and woman will become the norm in human society. In no way does this mean that female subordination is the divine ideal for male-female relationships. In fact, it appears that the exact opposite is the case. Since subordination was absent from the creation accounts and Gen 3:16 is the first instance of female subordination in scripture, it is a better interpretation to conclude that male dominance and female subordination is a result of the Fall and not God's universal will for human beings. And, as we shall see, the conflict between men and women, along with the hierarchy of men over women, is one of many things that Jesus will abolish in the Kingdom of God.

Conclusion
Despite what is often taught and preached in many evangelical circles, it is my contention that the first chapters of Genesis do not provide support for divinely willed female subordination. In fact, Genesis 1-2 are rightly interpreted as providing opposition to any view that would see women as less than full bearers of God's image and less than full partners with men in God's world. Hierarchy enters the male-female relationship only after the entrance of sin and disobedience into the world. This leads me to conclude that female subordination is a result of the Fall and not the perfect intention of God for the world.

27 comments:

Steve said...

Interesting points. I continue to struggle with the use of two simple people as determiners for what would happen to people thousands of years later. If it were outwardly presented as simply allegorical the traditionalist interpretation might have a bit more weight behind it, but they who hew to tradition are usually the last to see Genesis 1-10 as allegory.
If Moses had written of a perfect collaboration between equals, what are the odds that a male-centered tradition of Jewish theology would have conveyed it to later readers?

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Steve,

Regarding your question about the odds of a "male-centered tradition of Jewish theology," arising from a creation story of equality, I would have to answer that it seems the odds are pretty good. :)

Although some egalitarians give it a try, I think it is impossible to deny that most of the Hebrew Bible is unapologetically male-centered. Even the sign of the covenant with Abraham, re-affirmed after the Exodus, is male-oriented. (Circumcision certainly was not intended to be performed on female members of the covenant community.)

I hope to get into more of this later in the series, but for now let me be on the record as saying that after Gen 1-2, patriarchy is the norm in Hebrew scripture. But, I would argue that what began as a created order of partnership and mutuality became a male-dominated system, just as God said that it would.

Moreover, as you seem to have alluded, just because the culture of the Hebrew Bible affirmed and perpetuated patriarchy unquestioningly, that does not mean that members of the new covenant in Christ are meant to do the same.

Grace and peace,

Emily

Debbie Kaufman said...

But, I would argue that what began as a created order of partnership and mutuality became a male-dominated system, just as God said that it would.

I have come to the same conclusion Emily. I believe when it changed was when sin entered into the world.

JMS said...

Your statement about the oracles of Genesis 3 being more descriptive than prescriptive ... that is, describing the way the world would be because of sin ... is similar to the observation that can be made about Jesus' remark about "The poor you have always with you." Some take that to be a condemnation; it seems to me actually to be an acknowledgment of human reality, in no way an excuse for not doing something about poverty.

You may want to say something more about the nature of Genesis 1-3 as parable (a better term, I think, than allegory). That may not be crucial to your discussion, but for the sake of clarifying the method of interpretation I believe you are using, it may be useful.

UnderMidnight said...

I think that desiring to rule over a woman, well or anyone...is pathological. I can't think of a better way to express my feelings other than simply saying that.
I think it is a desire to be controlling and a thing which is the entry level to abusive behavior. I think we should be called to let go of that. maybe domination is an effect of the fall, a product of selfishness. I do not think God intended men and women relate to one another in this way. Maintaining this inequity causes us to miss out on the bonds that can grow between one another.

Rex Ray said...

Emily,
I disagree again. Haven’t read your post or any comments. Just saw the poor choice of pictures that represent Adam and Eve.

God did not put a leaf on them; he took skins of animals to cover their nakedness. And it could be that Eve’s was larger than Adam’s.

Joel said...

Well said.

Some have said that you ought to be clear that you are understanding this to be an allegory. I'm not sure, though, why this has to be understood allegorically in order to take your interpretation?

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Rex Ray,

I know you know this, but just to clarify: I used the picture because it is the "traditional" picture of Adam and Eve, not because it represents anything remotely biblical. If I wanted to be historically correct, they should probably be very dark-skinned with a lot more hair. :)

Joel (and others),

I have the same question that you do. I am not necessarily understanding Gen 2-3 as an allegory. I would not think it wrong if someone else chose to believe it to be an allegory, but I am not comfortable undermining the historicity of the story. (Call me a closet conservative, if you want.)

That said, I have not thought much about Gen 2-3 as a parable, which is what JMS suggested. What difference is there between reading these chapters as allegory and reading them as parable? I'm not sure there is one, especially since many of Jesus' parables must be allegorized to be interpreted.

Joel, I agree with you that Gen 2-3 doesn't have to be an allegory in order to conclude as I have done. I think the difficulty that some may have is believing that what took place between two historical people a long, long time ago determines the course of the future for millions (oops, I mean, thousands) of years.

What do you think about Gen 2-3 as allegory or parable?

Grace and peace,

Emily

Joel said...

Emily,

I dont think it is an allegorically. Maybe it is just that I choose to believe that it is not an allegory. Either way, I dont think your interpretation lacks something if you don't call it an allegory (or if you choose to believe that all of those things literally happened).

On a totally different note, you said, “Some will argue, however, that the order of creation, with man first and then woman, implies subordination even if it remains unstated” and you go on to show why this isn't the case. I do wonder, though, why Paul says in 1 Tim 2:13 (since as of late I have read this passage about a billion times) “For Adam was formed first, then Eve;”? I'm not saying that he is implying any kind of subordination, but I do wonder what the significance of him saying this is? What do you think? Does it hurt, help, or is it indifferent to your view? Thanks friend.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Joel,

I plan to address the verse you speak of more fully when I get to the post on women in Paul's letters. For now, though, let me reveal some of where (I think) I'm going with it. Please permit me the possibility of changing my mind, though, as I read and write in the future. You know how it is...

In his letter to Timothy, the issue for Paul seems to be the warding off of heresy and the orderly structure of the church in Ephesus, to whom Timothy is pastor/elder. But, Paul's instructions regarding the women in Ephesus differ significantly, I think, from his instructions to the church at Corinth. There, he assumes the women are praying and prophesying in the assembly, with prophesying being the most important gift, in Paul's mind. So, why then in his letter to Timothy does Paul seem to give counsel contrary to his previous practice?

Rather than conclude that Paul is simply confused and inconsistent, as some have no problem doing, I posit that there is some behind-the-scenes problem in the Ephesian congregation that gives rise to Paul's more stringent instruction. Given his concern for false teaching, I think the most likely culprit is the spread of false doctrine by the uneducated and uninformed. I think this makes sense of Paul's instruction to Timothy about women, which literally says: "I am not now permitting a woman to teach..."

So, to get to your question, what does Paul intend Timothy to understand by referencing the order of creation? Honestly, I think it is more than a little ambiguous, perhaps even convoluted, because of the distance between us and Paul. The first thing I see is that Paul is using the order of creation as an illustration of his point. And, observing the ambiguity, I make an educated guess that Paul does not spell out the illustration in detail because it is something common to Timothy's experience. Like, if we were to say, "Your situation is like the mustard seed." To someone not familiar with the parable or the interpretation of the parable, this reference may not make much sense.

Also, there's something going on in the reference to Eve being "deceived." It is as though he credits Eve's ability to be deceived to Adam being "formed first." Does this mean that Eve was defective as the second-formed? No, obviously not. But, as the second-formed, she was not privy to the same instruction from God that Adam received. Perhaps Paul is saying that Adam was informed and Eve was not, just as the women of Ephesus, being new believers coming out of a patriarchal society, are uninformed but the men are not.

Now, I've gone way longer in this comment than I intended. I'm sorry. What do you think about what I've said? I hope its not too convoluted. I'm writing off the top of my head right now.

Grace to you,

Emily

UnderMidnight said...

Response to Rex Ray.

The figures in the painting were originally naked.
But some prudish individuals at one time or another thought them lewd and painted the leaves on after the fact.

So it appears that some faithful followers, in an effort to do something pleasing to the Lord, defaced a painting and caused it to misrepresent the scene entirely. So in a way you are correct.

Benji Ramsaur said...

Emily,

As usual, you coolly and calmly make your points.

My opinion on the early chapters of Genesis is that, merely in and of themselves, it is difficult to make a "slam dunk" case either way.

And I think some of the points you brought out support part of my perspective.

I have a hermeneutical question [I read your post on presuppositions].

Do you believe that we already have all of the Living Word's interpretations of the Bible contained in the New Testament [not merely the Gospels] or do you believe that the Living Word's interpretations of the Bible continue today?

* What I mean by "Bible" in the first option would be the O.T. Scriptures and what I mean by Bible in the latter option would be both the O.T. Scriptures and the N.T. Scriptures.

Grace

Benji

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Benji,

Perhaps I'm just paranoid, but I get the feeling you may be asking a trick question--or, at least one in which my answer will paint me into a corner. I am not trying to play stupid, but maybe you could clarify what you mean? Thanks for your patience.

Grace to you,

Emily

Benji Ramsaur said...

Emily,

I have in mind this statement of yours: "Inasmuch as the Bible testifies to and is interpreted by the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, it is the ultimate source of authority and nourishment for those living in the reign of God."

Let me set forth my perspective and then perhaps you might want to comment.

When Jesus said "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." I believe He meant that the Apostles would continue His teaching ministry and that the New Testament Scriptures are the accomplishment of this ministry.

Therefore, based on this perspective, I believe that Ephesians 1:1 is just as authoritatively from the Living Word Jesus Christ as is John 14:6.

In other words, both the black and "red" letters flow from Jesus.

Accordingly, I believe the New Testament reveals the final "Word" in His person, works, and teaching [and this includes "interpretations" of the Old Testament] and it is this Word that the Old Testament was pointing to all along.

Therefore, I strive to look at the Old Testament Scriptures through the lense of the New Testament Scriptures.

I do believe that the Holy Spirit "illuminates" my mind to understand the whole of the Bible.

However, what I mean by illumination does not mean "extra content", but a drawing out of what is contained in the Bible.

And I do not believe that the Living Word is providing additional interpretations to me or anyone else about what the Bible means.

I believe I already have His interpretations in the New Testament.

Grace

Benji

Cody Walton said...

I have read your blog off and on for the past few months. I stumbled upon it I think from Wade Burleson's blog??? I have never commented before.

First I commend you for taking up this subject. I will say up front that I am complimentarian and therefore I read Genesis 1-3 differently.

My question is about whether there is an importance to Adam being formed first. I would say the hierarchy would fail because nothing else in creation actually was breathed into existence by God. I believe that as God creates it gives definition and meaning to our world. Therefore I see Adam's firstness as carrying meaning to his role- I would not call Eve's role subordination. Do you see no significance in God's design of creation of Adam then Eve other than that of relationship?

Rex Ray said...

Emily and Undermidnight,
Maybe my point was not clear.
My complaint was a picture of Adam and Eve would be more suitable if it could be in Sunday school material rather than Playboy.

Rex Ray said...

Emily,
What was the total curse God put upon man and woman for their sin of eating the tree of knowledge?

“…Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16 Holman) “…and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (King James)

Many people, especially men, think this is a command of God to do his will. They rejoice that the wife will desire him and he is the boss. But in real life, it doesn’t work that way. It’s like the doctor telling the wife:

“I’ve examined your husband. He’s in such a fragile state he will die if he gets upset. So you must do everything he wants to prevent that.”
“What did the doctor say?”
“He said you’re going to die.”

It has been brought out on Wade’s blog the real meaning of Genesis 3:16. The word “desire” is the same as the “desire” that the devil wanted of Cain in Genesis 4:6:

“…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Holman)
“…Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” (New Living Translation)

“Eager to control you” is a clearer meaning of “desire” in this verse.

Likewise the NLT is clearer in Genesis 3:16: “…And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

This is a curse that is only resolved by both husband and wife coming to God through believing in his Son as their Savior and Lord. They inter a ‘partnership’ where they both submit to each other.

“…submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21 Holman)
“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (NLT)

Of course, other scriptures by Paul may seem to contradict this submitting to one another. Some of his statements are more than hard to understand and I start to wonder is God talking or man talking? Such as:

1. “But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.” (1 Timothy 2:15) vs. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is God’s gift.” (Ephesians 2:8)

2. "The younger widows should not be on the list, because their physical desires will over-power their devotion to Christ and they will want to remarry. Then they would be guilty of breaking their previous pledge. And if they are on the list, they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t.” vs. “So I advise these younger widows to marry again, have children, and take care of their own homes…” (1 Timothy 5:11-14 NLT)

Paul said a widow had to be 60 etc. to get on the list to be helped by the church. We might ask Paul why would young widows, wanting to remarry, over-power their devotion to Christ, and what was their previous pledge. Paul seems to have a very low esteem of young widows.

Rex Ray said...

PS,
Emily, I had already written this on Mary Burleson’s blog, and I forgot to mention that you had also brought out the real meaning of ‘desire” was controlling her husband.

So we agree on this.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Benji,

You are a asking a good hermeneutical and theological question. I hope I can answer it in a way that is satisfying to you.

I do not believe that the NT scriptures alone are the fulfillment of Jesus' promise that "the Comforter" would teach the Apostles and lead them into truth. Although I have no problem affirming that the NT is part of that promise, I do not see it as necessarily being a complete fulfillment of it. In fact, I'm not sure how one would go about "proving" that the NT scripture is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to send another Comforter.

So, when you say, "I believe that Ephesians 1:1 is just as authoritatively from the Living Word Jesus Christ as is John 14:6," I find that I have to reply, "Yes, but..." Although I believe that all of the NT is authoritative for followers of Jesus, I think its inappropriate to say that "both the black and 'red' letters flow from Jesus."

All of the NT didn't arise from Jesus. The red letters (and the account of Jesus' life) are those teachings from the mouth of Christ and experiences from his life that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John recorded for the edification of disciples and instruction in Christ-likeness. The "black letters" of Paul, Peter, et al, are teachings based upon the teachings of Christ, applied to missiological contexts with ethical and theological issues or problems in mind. I believe that in order to honor the human and historical origins of these sacred documents, we must take these differences seriously.

Although I do believe that the NT reveals the Word, his person, works, and teachings, I do not believe that the NT is "the radiance of [God's] glory and the exact representation of His nature," as Hebrews says of the "Son." When the author of Hebrews says that God has spoken to us "in these last days...in His Son," I think that means that the person and presence of Christ is the fullest revelation of God. The NT and the Christ are not equal in authority.

With this in mind, I agree that we can and should read the OT with the interpreters of the NT as a guide, but the "lense" through which I seek to read (seek being the operative word) is Christ himself. This does not mean that I believe that I or anyone else will receive "extra content," other than what's contained in the Bible, but it does mean that understanding of the OT can come to us that was not fully understood by the writers of the NT.

For example, while no NT writer condemns genocide as a practice, it is clear to me when I read of the conquest of Canaan through the lens of Jesus Christ--his person, work, and teaching--that genocide is not God's desired method to deal with "the heathen." Technically, this would be "extra" knowledge, but it seems to be in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and his person and work.

Benji, here's what I sense is a problem in the bibliology or hermeneutics that you are proposing. By making the OT fully understood in the NT, and the NT the full testimony to Jesus, you've created a "closed system," that seems to make the texts of scripture flat, leaving little room to consider their situation in life and all the other factors that come to bear on written texts, even divinely inspired ones. What do you think about that? Have I misunderstood you?

The other problem I see is that your model closes off any possibility that God's Kingdom is not fully realized in the correspondance of Paul and the Apostles. For example, when Paul offers little to nothing in opposition to slavery in any of his letters, but only instruction by which current slaves may remain in their state and still honor God, are we to conclude that God does not desire the end of humans being enslaved to other humans? I would say, no. Even though the situation of Paul and his mission endeavors did not permit him to deal with issues like slavery head-on (he did believe that he would see Jesus come back in his lifetime, after all), that does not mean that God does not desire the freedom of all.

It seems that if I conclude that all of the Living Word's interpretations are found in the NT, then I cannot conclude with any real support that God hates slavery. What do you think?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me, Benji. It is helpful for me to work through some of these matters.

Grace and peace,

Emily

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Cody,

Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation. You have asked a good question. I'm not sure if I can answer it, but I will try.

Let me make a few clarifications first. From my reading of the text, God did not breathe Adam into existence, but "formed a man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Gen 2:7). Dust came first, then the breath of God to make him a living being. Then, God formed Eve out of Adam's side. It seems to me that the breath of life in Adam was also in Eve, since she was made from him.

We must also consider the purpose of Gen 2. I don't think the question you are asking is being answered by Gen 2. That is to say, I don't think hierarchy due to creation order is the purpose of Gen 2, but instead the description of our fleshly connection and intended relationship. Just as I do not think the purpose of Gen 1 is to describe the scientific facts that accompanied God's creation the world. Both Gen 1 and 2 are true, but they are not historical reports on every detail of the creative process.

So, all this is to say that there may be something significant in Adam being formed first, or there may not be. I don't know. And, I don't think there's any way to "prove" it either way. What I do know is that the idea of woman being formed from man and being created to be an indispensible companion, ran counter to anything the people of the Ancient Near East believed about women. In this way, the Gen 2 narrative is seriously counter-cultural. So, when we read it as a support of hierarchy, I think we're missing the point.

Now, here's another thought about hierarchy. Jesus taught over and over that in the reign of God, the first would be last and the last would be first. Moreover, those who desire to be leaders should be servants of all. In fact, it was in the context of James and John seeking to create hierarchy among the disciples that Jesus offers this instruction. So, even if there is hierarchy implied in Gen 2, don't you think that Jesus' teaching about the first being last seems to cause a problem when men claim their "firstness" as evidence of their right to rule?

Thanks again for your thoughts, Cody.

Grace and peace,

Emily

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Rex Ray,

I'm sorry the picture offended you. But, I do not believe that nudity in art is the same as Playboy. The human body is beautiful and when artists reflect the beauty of the human form in their art, I do not believe it is for the purpose of titillation or arousal. Therefore, nude artwork and pornographic material are not the same thing. Christians would have to deny hundreds of years of rich, Western artistic heritage if they did away with all the artwork of antiquity that contains nudity.

In other matters, I think you make some good observations about tensions in Paul's thought. I hope to address some of these issues later.

Grace and peace to you,

Emily

UnderMidnight said...

In that case we need to seriously reconsider Sunday School.
Adam and Eve were naked in the garden. I do not see why we should suppress that image.
Heck, it's probably the one time in all of human history where nakedness represents an innocence we will never have again.

There is much in the bible we suppress for the sake of the happy smiley Sunday Schooley environment.

It's top the point where grown people go to a christian school and read the old testament for the first time and enter into a state of absolute shock. I mean absolute, speechless crying shock. I find that more criminal than using a piece of art with two naked figures to illustrate something.

Sadly people in church probably look at playboy more than they do at art or the bible.

UnderMidnight said...

I think a tangent issue related to the beginning chapters of genesis is our appointment as stewards over earth and creation. I believe our failure of this task as well as our failure to recognize ourselves as merely creatures has been a driving force of our loss of the meaning of Sabbath.

Cody Walton said...

Thank you for the answer. I would agree that Eve could claim intimate creation just as Adam did. I also do not see Adam's firstness as a right to rule, but one of responsibility. I get this from the fact that Adam was given the "rules of the garden", but Eve was not. Also after the fall God calls Adam into account for sin first. I read Genesis 2 as laying a framework of men being called to spiritual leadership - and women being their corresponding companions or helpers.

I do not see the relationship as heirarchy or rule, both would be sinful. I think there is wisdom in your reference to the first being last and the last first. I believe the firstness, being responsibility is best exhibited in service. I would compare it to how Christ loved and served his disciples while he walked with them. You can also reference Eph 5 where Paul calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church.

I would agree that much damage has been done with how these verses have been taught/interpreted by the church. And I do think I could agree with you that heirarchy is a result of the fall. My hope is I can be complimentarian and not believe or teach heirarchy.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Cody,

I appreciate your response and the spirit of your comments. Thank you.

Just so you know, I'm pretty sure that believing in complementarity (that is, that men and women complement each other) without hierarchy, is called egalitarianism. I can't think of a single complementarian theologian or scholar who doesn't affirm some kind of hierarchy, in the marriage relationship, in the church, and even in the Godhead. If you know of something different, I would love to hear of it.

Grace and peace to you as you pursue truth and faithfulness,

Emily

Cody Walton said...

Point taken. I guess I should clarify my understanding. I fully believe men are called to be spiritual leaders of homes and churches. I believe men and women have different roles that are both significant. I believe the trinity is a great expression of this.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all have differing roles yet none is more God than another. Christ was equal with the Father while He walked on the earth, but He also daily walked in submission to the Father. I recognize that the relationship between a woman and a man in marriage is nothing like the trinity and the comparison fails at many points. But I believe the picture of how the trinity works can help us understand how God desired men and women to glorify Him on the earth and why we can celebrate our differences and roles. I know this is easy for me to say because I am a man.

I guess when I speak of spiritual leadership and the responsibility that men are called to then some may see it as heirarchy.

Thank you for your comments and I will not try to take over you blog with my thoughts. I do believe that we cooperate no matter how we view it.

Rex Ray said...

Emily,
In your future post of the words of Paul in their truthfulness of reality, you may contemplate if all words in the Bible are from the mouth of God or some from men as I’ve tried to show in my comment to Mary Burleson as follows:

Mary,
Even though you’re talking about marriage, the attitude of “God told me…” has been around a long time. Using God to back up some decision or reason is a powerful method to ‘get my way’. It’s helpful in winning discussions.

I feel this was used by James in (Acts 15:28 Holman): “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision and ours to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things: that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

It was also used by Peter in (Acts 15:10 NLT) “Why are you now questioning God’s way by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we not our ancestors were able to bear?”

How can Peter say it was not God’s way to burden the Gentiles, while James said it was the Holy Spirit’s decision to burden the Gentiles?

The background for James’ thinking is (Acts 15: 21 NLT): “For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”

This tradition of the Jews convinced the Jews, but the Gentiles probably cared less about Jewish tradition, so I think in the letter to the Gentiles, James used a name they would respect.

Mary, I know this got to chasing that rabbit again. The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy would say this difference between Peter’s words and James’ ONE DAY will be seen as an illusion.