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Examining Genesis 1-3

30 Apr

When I began studying the topic of women in ministry (I have so got to find a better way to refer to this topic), I was quite unprepared for how much Genesis 1-3 figured into the discussion. I was expecting to see a lot of argument about Genesis 3:16, but wasn’t the rest of it pretty straightforward?

Evidently not, according to some. This is rather serious, seeing as these chapters are are considered a pivotal foundation for any discussion on gender roles. Raymond Ortlund Jr., a contributor to a leading complimentarian book, said it about as bluntly as one could hope: “As Genesis 1-3 go, so goes the whole Biblical debate.”

Whoa. I guess we’d better take a closer look at these three chapters.

As I was studying this passage, I was floored by the vast amounts of assumption, perceived nuance, and eisegesis that went into various authors’ interpretations of the creation narrative. So for this post, I thought it might be helpful to make a list of two basic observations: 1) what Genesis 1-3 actually says, and 2) what Genesis 1-3 does not actually say. Please feel free to check my observations against your own Bible and draw your own conclusions.

A quick explanation on the “What it says” category: My aim is to keep commentary out of the “What it says” category as much as possible. I do make a few references to the Hebrew words behind the English translation, as I believe they have impact on seeing what the passage really says.

A quick explanation of the “What it doesn’t say” category: I’m sure you’d guess it, but these statements reflect a lot of teachings I have read or heard. Where there is no “What it doesn’t say,” it shows that the verse in Genesis is a generally undisputed truth. Not all of the “What it doesn’t say” statements are even necessarily wrong. My goal is not to unpack a full counterpoint to “What it doesn’t say”, but to simply point out: the Bible doesn’t actually say that.

So let’s take a look:

What it says: God made man/humanity (“them”) in His own image (1:26-27).

What it says: God made humanity, male and female, in His own image (1:27).

What it says: God gave both of them the command to subdue the earth and have dominion over it (1:28)

  • What it doesn’t say: God gave Adam dominion over his wife.
  • What it doesn’t say: God gave them both dominion over the earth, but Adam in a more primary way than his wife.

What it says: God made Adam from the dust and breathed life into him (2:7).

What it says: God planted the Garden of Eden, and put the man in it (2:8).

What it says: God commanded the man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17).

What it says: God said it was not good for man to be alone (2:18).

  • What it doesn’t say: God said it was good and significant that Adam was made first.
  • What it doesn’t say: God said that Adam was — and received the benefits and priorities of being — the firstborn.

What it says: God would make Adam a helper, an `ezer, which is a Hebrew term almost always used to speak of the Lord’s help (2:18. See all other occurrences of `ezer in the OT by clicking here).

  • What it doesn’t say: God would make a personal assistant for Adam.
  • What it doesn’t say: God would make a servant for Adam.
  • What it doesn’t say: God would make a sidekick for Adam.
  • What it doesn’t say: God would make a superior being to Adam.

What it says: God would make a helper comparable to Adam (2:18).

  • What it doesn’t say: God would make a helper subservient to Adam.

What it says: God brought the animals to Adam to name them (2:19).

  • What it doesn’t say: God brought the animals to Adam so he could name them, which means that he was exercising and proving his authority and dominion over them.

What it says: None of the animals could be a helper comparable to Adam (2:20).

What it says: God took a rib from Adam’s side, and made a woman out of it (2:21-22).

What it says: God brought her to the man (2:22).

  • What it doesn’t say: God gave her to the man.

What it says: Adam said the woman was “bone of [his] bone, flesh of [his] flesh” (2:23).

What it says: Adam said she would be called woman (Heb. ishshah) because she was taken out of a man (Heb. ish) (2:23).

  • What it doesn’t say: Adam named her, which means he was exercising and proving his authority and dominion over her.
  • What it doesn’t say: God let Adam define her.
  • What it doesn’t say: Adam named her at all.
  • What it doesn’t say: The woman received her self-definition and identity from Adam.
  • What it doesn’t say: God set Adam up as boss.
  • What it doesn’t say: The woman recognized her place as equal to man in essence, but unequal in function, by Adam’s definition.

What it says: This is why a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

  • What it doesn’t say: This sets up a male/female hierarchy in marriage.
  • What it doesn’t say: This sets up a male/female hierarchy in all of the Christian life.
  • What it doesn’t say: It’s wrong for a girl to take some initiative in a relationship.

What it says: The man and his wife were naked and unashamed (2:25).

What it says: The serpent approached the woman and asked her if God had told them not to eat from the trees of Eden (3:1).

  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent approached the woman in order to subvert Adam’s headship, forcing the woman into the decision-making role.
  • What it doesn’t say: The woman should not have talked to the serpent, because that was properly Adam’s job.
  • What it doesn’t say: Any clear, indisputable reason why the serpent approached the woman, rather than her husband.

What it says: The woman misquoted God’s command of 2:17 about not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, adding, “…nor shall you touch it.”

  • What it doesn’t say: The woman had a tarnished view of God’s command as being too harsh.
  • What it doesn’t say: She added to the command out of a misguided desire to be safer.
  • What it doesn’t say: Adam added to the command out of a misguided desire to be safer, and taught it to her.
  • What it doesn’t say: She forgot the correct command.
  • What it doesn’t say: She was in physical existence when God gave the command (note that the command is in 2:17, but woman’s creation was not until 2:22).
  • What it doesn’t say: Any clear, indisputable reason why Eve quotes it differently than 2:17.

What it says: The serpent told the woman she would not surely die. The serpent told her that God knew that when she ate the fruit, her eyes would be opened. The serpent said that when her eyes were opened, she would be like God, knowing good and evil (3:5-6).

  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent told her that God’s authority was too harsh.
  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent told her that she should take the course of her family into her own hands.
  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent told her that she really deserved to be in charge.
  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent told her that Eden was bad.
  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent told her that Adam was a loser.
  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent told her that she would be like God, ruling the roost and calling all the shots.
  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent told her that she shouldn’t wait around for her husband to make this decision.
  • What it doesn’t say: The serpent told her that the fruit offered her  power, authority, or dominion that she didn’t already have.

What it says: The woman saw three things in the fruit that made her decide to eat it: 1) It was good for food, 2) It was pleasant to the eyes, 3) It was desirable to make one wise (3:6).

  • What it doesn’t say: It was good for a power play.
  • What it doesn’t say: It was pleasant for ego-stroking.
  • What it doesn’t say: It was desirable to put one in charge of one’s own destiny.
  • What it doesn’t say: It promised a greater place of authority.
  • What it doesn’t say: It meant she didn’t have to submit to anyone anymore.
  • What it doesn’t say: She wanted to spurn God’s ordained role for her as Adam’s helpmeet.

What it says: The woman took of the fruit and ate (3:6).

  • What it doesn’t say: The woman took her destiny and family into her own hands.
  • What it doesn’t say: The woman stepped out of her place of godly submission to her husband.
  • What it doesn’t say: This was a tragic instance of gender role-reversal.
  • What it doesn’t say: The woman attempted to liberate herself from the social order.
  • What it doesn’t say: The woman intended it as a direct snub of God and/or her husband.

What it says: She gave some fruit to her husband who was with her, and he ate (3:6).

  • What it doesn’t say: She ordered her husband to eat it.
  • What it doesn’t say: She force-fed him.
  • What it doesn’t say: She led him into sin.
  • What it doesn’t say: Her husband said, “Yes, dear,” and ate it against his wishes.
  • What it doesn’t say: Her husband ate it because he decided he would take the hit to go down to death with his wife rather than stay true to God.
  • What it doesn’t say: Her husband abdicated his ordained role as the ruler of his family.
  • What it doesn’t say: This was a picture of the perversion that happens when a husband submits to his wife.

What it says: Both people had their eyes opened, realized they were naked, and sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

  • What it doesn’t say: Their role-reversal is what caused this.
  • What it doesn’t say: Their inverted marriage hierarchy plunged all of creation into disarray and despair.

What it says: God was walking through the Garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid from Him (3:8).

What it says: God called to Adam and asked him where he was (3:9).

  • What it doesn’t say: God called to Adam because he was the one responsible for the marriage.
  • What it doesn’t say: God didn’t call to the woman because she was not responsible for the marriage.
  • What it doesn’t say: Any clear, indisputable indication of why God called to Adam, and not to his wife.
  • What it doesn’t say: Adam’s sin was more serious than his wife’s.
  • What it doesn’t say: Her sin was more serious than Adam’s.
  • What it doesn’t say: Adam was being held responsible for his wife’s sin.

What it says: Adam confessed to hiding from the Lord because of his nakedness (3:10).

What it says: God asked Adam who told him that he was naked. God asked Adam if he had eaten from the tree that He commanded not to (3:11)

What it says: Adam explained that the woman whom God gave to be with him had given him some of the fruit, and he ate it (3:12).

What it says: God asked the woman what she had done (3:13).

What it says: The woman told God that the serpent had deceived her, and she ate (3:13).

What it says: The Lord cursed the serpent (3:14-15).

What it says: The Lord put enmity between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, and the serpent would bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman (3:15).

What it says: God said He would increase the sorrow and conception of the women, and that she would bring forth children in pain (3:16).

  • What it doesn’t say: God cursed the woman.
  • What it doesn’t say: Woman’s proper place is at home, bearing and raising children.
  • What it doesn’t say: All women are meant to be mothers.

What it says: The woman’s desire would be for her husband, and he would rule over her.

  • What it doesn’t say: The woman’s desire would be to rule her husband.
  • What it doesn’t say: It was right that her husband would now rule over her.
  • What it doesn’t say: God cursed the woman with the rulership of her husband.
  • What it doesn’t say: God reinforced the male-female hierarchy that had been in place from the beginning.

What it says: Because Adam listened to his wife and ate the fruit God commanded him not to, God cursed the ground for Adam’s sake. The ground would produce thorns and thistles, and it would take tremendous toil and labor to make it produce a good crop.

  • What it doesn’t say: God cursed Adam.
  • What it doesn’t say: God rebuked Adam for abdicating his role of leader to his wife.
  • What it doesn’t say: Man’s proper place is to be the primary breadwinner.

What it says: As Adam was taken from dust, he would return to dust (3:19).

What it says: Adam named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all living (3:20).

This is not quite the end of chapter 3, but this covers the part of it that is the subject of the most heated discussion. I know that this post is rather lengthy, but it’s an important step in determining what bearing Genesis 1-3 has upon male and female relationships. In the next post (which may end up being more than one post), I want to explain in more detail why this step is so crucial in the process.

The main point I’m trying to make is this: Genesis 1-3 says nothing explicit about the inherent nature of male and female. It says nothing explicit about marital submission/headship. It says nothing specific about how unmarried men and women in the Church should relate to each other, in leadership contexts or otherwise.

Does Genesis 1-3 have bearing on any of these subjects? I think it may, but that is another post for another day. Stay tuned.

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6 Comments

Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Bible, Genesis, Women in Ministry

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 responses to “Examining Genesis 1-3

  1. Kendall Beachey

    April 30, 2010 at 6:32 am

    the proper phrase for “women in ministry” should probably be “ecclesiological gender roles”

     
  2. Deborah

    May 1, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    I’ll be interested to see where you head w/ this. Thanks :~D.

     
  3. brianbeattie

    May 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I think it is really interesting that in Genesis 3, when God asks Eve about the apple thing, Eve shifted the blame to the serpent, but when God asked Adam about it, Adam blamed God! Back in Genesis 2 Eve was bone-of-my-bone, but let a little sin get in there, and instantly Adam turns on God and demotes Eve to “prop”.

     
  4. defygravityjournal

    May 26, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Amanda – what’s your take on the Hebrew interpretation for the word RIB. Maybe you already covered this (I’m a bit behind on the blog – but I’m committed to catching up!) if you haven’t done so already let us know what you think. Loving the process…

     
  5. Amanda Beattie

    June 1, 2010 at 12:26 am

    I have heard it posited that rib = side, showing the equality between man and woman. I think this is not impossible, but I also think it’s a fairly poorly supported idea. There’s nothing about it that strikes me as profoundly unbiblical, but there’s also nothing about it that says it’s a big statement. I would much prefer to look to clear indicators of equality, such as 1:26-27, than try to make a big case about how the rib really jut means “side” and shows equality.

    I guess that’s a really rambly way to say that I’m pretty noncommittal about coming to any hard conclusions about either the translation of that word, or the interpretation of the theology of it.

    I am much more in favor of seeing this as a foreshadow to Jesus’ wounded side on the Cross, which He received while in the process of atoning for His bride, the church.

     

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