The third chapter of Genesis—the story of the original transgression and its aftermath—introduces a new set of considerations into the account of the origins of the human race. The first two chapters of Genesis considered God’s creation as he originally intended it to be. With Genesis 3, creation no longer reflects God’s intentions; something has gone wrong. After this original transgression, one must always ask whether something reflects God’s purposes for his creation or whether it is a distortion of these purposes caused by the alienation of the human race from God.
The outline of the narrative in Genesis 3 is straightforward. The man and the woman are living in the garden in close communion with God. One day the serpent finds the woman alone and discusses with her the prohibition against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent tells the woman that she does not have to worry about the prohibition. She will not die, but rather she will become like God (or possibly “gods”), knowing good and evil. The woman sees that the fruit is attractive and accepts the serpent’s reasoning. She eats the fruit and gives some to her husband. He also eats. The eating changes the man and woman so that they begin to see things in a new way. They notice for the first time that they are naked, and they make clothes for themselves. When the Lord God arrives, they hide from him, and when he asks the man the reason for their strange behavior, their disobedience is revealed. The man blames the transgression on the woman; the woman blames the serpent. Then God states to the serpent, the woman, and the man the consequences of their disobedience. Finally, he puts them out of the garden and life “after the Fall” begins.
Most of the many questions connected with the events in Genesis 3 are not directly relevant to the concerns of this book. Here it is enough to observe that the heart of the narrative concerns disobedience to God. God had given a commandment, and the original human couple transgressed that commandment (v. 11). Moreover, this act of disobedience caused a major change in the life of the human race. In seeking to be like God, knowing good and evil, the man and the woman had come under the influence of evil and had impaired their free relationship with God. From now on their lives are not lived according to God’s original purposes and the relationship between them as man and woman is changed.1
The man and the woman take part in the transgression in different ways. The woman, who is not in the company of her husband, is the first to be tempted. Most commentators have seen this as significant. The more common view holds that she was tempted first because she was more vulnerable to deception than the man.2 While not exactly taking this approach, the New Testament writers and many of the early Fathers see as significant the fact that the woman was deceived and not the man. Although the Genesis account does not state with any clarity the reason why the serpent began by “beguiling” the woman, the New Testament accurately notes that the Genesis account attributes some importance to the woman’s being deceived first. The man falls at the suggestion of the woman. Much less is indicated about the reason for his disobedience. Perhaps he simply wants to accommodate or please his wife. At any rate, he does sin because of listening to his wife (v. 17), and afterward God confronts him first and holds him accountable. God treats him as the head of the family. Responding in a way that has since become a common male pattern, the man blames his actions on his wife and by implication blames it on God himself, who first brought him the woman. She in turn blames it on the serpent.
The man and the woman fall together, in complementarity, as one flesh. Both fall. The woman transgresses first and draws the man into transgression with her. The man accepts what the woman has done and follows along. God puts the primary responsibility on the man. Both the man and the woman are jointly responsible for the consequences of their actions.
After the transgression and after his interrogation of the human couple, God states the consequences of their actions to the serpent, the woman and the man. His statements have been traditionally referred to as “curses.” God judges them and states what will happen to them because of their disobedience. For the man, these consequences rest upon his work. As some put it, the man is affected in his role as provider. For the woman, the consequences rest upon her childbearing and possibly her marital relationship. She is affected in her role as wife and mother. At the same time, in the curse upon the serpent, the statement appears about the “seed of woman” who will crush the serpent’s head. This was seen later as the protoevangelium, the first announcement of the good news of the one who would redeem the human race from the curses.
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
Genesis 3:16 is of central concern here because it deals directly with the husband-wife relationship and because it raises the question of subordination between men and women.
- Subordination comes as a direct consequence of the transgression and the curse. According to this view subordination of woman to man is a punishment for sin and not at all desirable. Some of the conclusions that have been drawn from this view are that (a) subordination was lifted in Jesus (Gal 3:28) and is no longer binding on Christians; (b) that subordination is a result of an original transgression which has not been completely eradicated by the redemption in Jesus but should be worked against by Christians; or (c) that subordination is something Christians have to live with, but will be lifted when Jesus comes again. This first view has recently become very popular because it supports any approach that holds that man-woman subordination is evil.
- Domination (subordination based on force) or oppressive subordination between man and woman stems from the transgression and curse, marring the original form of subordination present in creation. According to this view, man should be the head of woman, at least in marriage, and was her head from the first moment of woman’s creation. However, because of the transgression and curse, man dominates woman and causes her pain through something that should have been a blessing to her. Those who hold this view usually say that this form of oppressive subordination should be overcome in Jesus and that the original form of subordination was restored. This has been the most common view among scripture scholars and among Christians writing about man-woman subordination without a polemical position.
- The husband’s role and the wife’s subordination to him is not a curse, but is rather a blessing intended as a consolation to the woman in her role as mother. According to this view, subordination was an original element in creation, and it is reaffirmed in Genesis 3:16 as a help to woman in the difficulties she will experience as mother. This view is not a common one, but it is worth noting.3
The first view—that subordination of woman to man was instituted with the curse—seems to derive from a strongly negative evaluation of all forms of subordination and especially of the subordination of woman to man. Such an evaluation leads some to conclude that either the scripture teaches that subordination is a result of sin, or that the scripture (at least the Old Testament) is misogynist or sexist or male chauvinist. Many modern people will cheerfully dismiss the scriptures in the latter way. However, most Christians and Jews who hold such a view of subordination are unwilling to dismiss scripture and rather tend to see subordination as something that comes from sin and is founded upon the curse. The strongest points in their favor are the lack of an explicit statement in Genesis 1 or 2 saying that woman was created to be subordinate to man, and the obvious concern of Genesis 1 and 2 to state that woman was created as a being of the same nature as man, a sharer in the call of the human race.
The strongest objection to the first view is the presence of subordination in Genesis 2. Subordination does not begin with chapter 3, but begins with the creation of woman, as was considered earlier. In addition, the New Testament view of the origin of subordination also provides a serious objection to view one, which a Christian must consider. Whenever the New Testament talks about the importance of the subordination of woman to man, it normally makes reference to Genesis 2, the creation account, and not to Genesis 3. The New Testament never refers to the curse on woman as the foundation of any recommended form of Christian subordination. In fact, the New Testament bases none of its directives on the curses. Instead, the foundation of New Testament teaching is the purposes of God in creation.
A number of considerations support the second view that the curse does not institute subordination but rather institutes a form of subordination painful for the woman. The chief consideration is again the presence of subordination in Genesis 2. A second consideration is the analogy between the curse on man’s work and woman’s childbearing and the curse on the marital relationship. In both cases, a function that is good and that is part of God’s plan for the human race even before the Fall becomes painful or at least burdensome through the Fall. Work is perhaps the clearest analogy: Adam was explicitly entrusted with responsibility to till and care for the garden before the Fall (Gn 2:15), but, with the curse on the ground, work becomes burdensome for him. Therefore, it is likely that in the curse on woman, something basically good (man’s headship) becomes burdensome or even painful. A third consideration is the words of the verse. Both in Hebrew and in the Septuagint, the words for “rule” which occur in the verse can easily mean the kind of rule that involves conflict or compulsion. They were used instead of other words which could more readily designate a rule that was good or neutral. The Hebrew word (mashal) is commonly used for cases of domination. Genesis 4:7 provides us with a good comparison passage:
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master (mashal) it.” (Gn 4:6–7)
Whether we translate the Hebrew as meaning that sin will master Cain or that Cain should master sin, the verb clearly indicates a use of force. A word like radah or shalat, which might designate a less dominative form of ruling could have been used instead. Something similar is true of the word in the Septuagint (kyrieuō). It can be translated “lord it over,” and it is used in New Testament passages to indicate the kind of rule that Jesus does not want his followers to practice (Lk 22:24). It is used in a context that indicates there is a right kind of government and a wrong kind, and kyrieuō is the word for the wrong kind. There are words like hēgeomai or proistēmi which could designate the right kind of government. All of these considerations would lead us to think that the curse is referring to a kind of rule that is dominative, but not to all forms of subordination.
The third view of the effect of the curses on subordination is somewhat more complex than the first two views. To understand it, we have to observe that scripture contains a number of “curses” which have consolations included in them. The best example (and the closest parallel to Genesis 3) is found in the story of Noah. When Noah is born, his father Lamech says, “This boy will bring us relief from our work, and from the hard labor that has come upon us because of the Lord’s curse on the ground” (Gn 5:29). The fulfillment of this prediction is seen in Genesis 9:20: “Noah, a man of the soil, began the planting of vineyards.” Wine was seen as the consolation or relief to the hard labor that resulted from the curse (cf. Prv 31:6–7). Two further examples would be in the blessing-curse on Esau in which his father “predicts” that he will serve his brother, but gives him the consolation of liberation (Gn 28:40), and the blessing-curse on Gad in which his father “predicts” that he will be raided frequently but gives him the consolation of successful retaliation (Gn 49:19). If Genesis 3:16 is a similar curse with a consolation, the woman’s desire for her husband and her husband’s rule would be seen as a consolation in the labor that has come to her from the curse. The curse would then mean: You will have labor and difficulty in your motherhood, yet you will be eager for your husband and he will rule over you (in the sense of care for and help you, not in the sense of dominate and oppress you).
This third view has some difficulties. One consideration, mentioned earlier, is that the words mashal and kyrieuō seem to indicate a dominative and not a consoling form of subordination. Yet, neither word has to have that sense. There are positive uses of both in the scriptures.4 A second difficulty is the consideration that the purpose of the curse is to institute something new for the human race. Hence the curse should refer to something new, not to an earlier situation. Yet, if the last part of the curse is read as a consolation to the first part, it would not be as important for the consolation to contain something new. In fact, it would be reasonable for the Lord to reaffirm the role of the husband as support to the wife in her new situation. The third view is at least possible.
Of the three views of the curse in Genesis 3:16, the second—that the curse brought a dominating form of subordination—has the strongest scholarly support at the moment as well as the strongest support in Christian tradition.5 The third view is a possibility, but does not have support that is nearly as strong. The first view is possible only if Genesis 3:16 is considered alone although it is not even the most likely interpretation of Genesis 3:16. If Genesis 2 or the New Testament are also considered, it looks very unlikely. In other words, the view that man-woman subordination in scripture derives from the curse after the Fall is not a highly tenable interpretation.
The previous chapter of this book began by considering the importance of “the beginning” to Jesus. The first chapters of Genesis, the story of the first man and woman were of foundational importance to Jesus because he perceived in that story a revelation of God’s purposes for the human race. This revelation took precedence over the law of Moses and over subsequent stages of God’s dealings with man after the Fall. God’s creation “at the beginning” was an ideal pattern for men, women, and the whole human race. Paul followed Jesus in this view when he taught about men and women, marriage and community. But Paul also saw something else in Genesis that allows us an even wider perspective on God’s purposes and on the place Genesis and the roles of men and women occupy in God’s plan. The perspective is difficult for a contemporary person to grasp. Nonetheless, this perspective will help clarify the significance of Genesis and the roles of men and women and will also show some of the distinctive elements of Christianity in a new light.
In Romans 5:14, Paul says, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” By “the one who was to come,” Paul meant the messiah who was anticipated in the Old Testament and who came in the person of Jesus. In speaking of Adam as a type of the one who was to come, Paul indicates that there is an important correspondence between the role and significance of Adam and the role and significance of Jesus. (A type is a person or event that corresponds to a later person or event in such a way that there is a kind of identity between the type and what it foreshadows.) The same kind of thing was happening in Adam that happened later in Jesus. Adam was a foreshadowing of Jesus. Jesus repeated Adam’s role, but in a fuller, more complete way; hence he is the new Adam.6
To understand the significance of Christ as the new Adam, one must return to an earlier observation about the first Adam. Adam was the first man. His name means “Man” or “Human.” He is the father and prototype of the human race. In fact, at one point he was the human race. just as Abraham’s descendants were in Abraham (Heb 7:9), all of the human race was in Adam. Hence, when Adam fell, man (or humanity) fell. He embodied the human race, and his story embodies the destiny of the human race. Moreover, his nature and place is passed on to his descendants and determines their lives. Adam’s descendants are the sons of Adam, and therefore they are like Adam and are successors to his position. For a contemporary man, this line of thought is strange, because family, kinship and race have lost much of their significance in the social structure of technological society. But for the early Israelites, the Jews of Jesus’ time, and the early Christians, the principle was quite comprehensible. For them, family life and the kinship network exercised a predominant influence upon their social structure and hence on the course of their lives.
Jesus is the new Adam, which means that he is the new man or new human. He is the head and prototype of the new human race.7 His nature and destiny as “the son of God” is passed on to those who belong to him and who become “sons of God” by sharing in his Spirit. Jesus reversed what Adam did. As Paul says:
Then as one man’s [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s [Jesus’] act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. . . . If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:18, 17)
For he is our peace, who has made us both one [Jew and Gentile], and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. (Eph 2:14–16)
And Jesus’ work leads to a restoration in the members of this new humanity of the image of God and enables them to live as a new man, a new type of human being (or better still, a human being restored to what “man” was supposed to be according to God’s original purpose):
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust, the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor 15:47–49)
Put off your old man which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22–24)
Paul’s teaching on Jesus as the new Adam offers a fuller perspective on Christianity and on God’s purposes for the human race. God’s purpose for creation, at least for this earthly creation that the human race is part of, was to some extent frustrated by Adam’s failure. God therefore sent his only-begotten Son into the world as a remedy for the consequences of the Fall, to restore the human race to its original purpose, men and women alike. God’s strategy or plan was for Jesus, his own Son, to be a new Adam and to succeed where Adam failed. He would thus become “the first-born of many brethren” (Rom 8:29), the head of a body which would be a new Man, a new Humanity. In so doing he would fulfill God’s original purposes in creating man.8 As Paul says in Ephesians 1:9–10:
For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite [or: unify under one head, or sum up under one head] all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Therefore, the Christian people are the new humanity, and should show by the way they live together what God intended the human race to be. They are the fulfillment of God’s purposes for human history, the human race united with him and with one another in love.
Paul’s teaching in this area has more implications than can be explored here. However, it does have two important implications. The first is that all Christian teaching on men-women roles presupposes a new creation and a new nature (or to use scriptural terms, a new man or person). This teaching is intended for the redeemed community, a new humanity living under the headship of Christ and leading a transformed life in his Spirit. It is not primarily intended for the mankind that wears the image of the old Adam. The teaching in scripture is not a teaching for contemporary society as it exists (what the New Testament often refers to as “the world”), but for a redeemed community of men and women living new lives in the power of the Spirit. To be sure, the Christian teaching in this area of men-women roles is based on creation and not on redemption, and therefore the Christian teaching does have implications for what is to be regarded as truly human. Nonetheless, it is elaborated as practical teaching for those in Christ, not for those who are not.
The second implication is equally important: The goal of Christ’s work is the creation of a new human race, one which lives the way God originally wanted the human race to live. Christ is creating a body of people who love one another and who are one in the Spirit (Eph 4:1–6). He is creating unity, unity among human beings and between them and their heavenly Father. To put it another way, using a common contemporary word which will be used throughout this book, he is creating a new human “community.” Genesis teaches that God did not create an aggregate of individuals; he drew the second human being out of the first so the two could live together as one. This teaching shows God’s intention for the human race and for the marriage relationship. Genesis teaches that unity is God’s desire for human beings and for every human grouping. The work of Christ is intended to restore that unity by recreating a new humanity, the church, in which that unity is actualized (Eph 5:32) and in which every grouping, including families, lives according to that unity. Genesis is the model both for the Christian community (Eph 5:32) and for the Christian family (Eph 5:33).
God desires oneness: the oneness that makes a Christian community “one new man” and oneness that makes a man and woman “one flesh.” This perspective allows us to take another look at the question of subordination and community in Genesis and at the differing interpretations of passages in Genesis.
Subordination in Genesis 2 and 3 was discussed earlier. If the question of subordination is examined from the new perspective of God’s desire for oneness, the reasons for many of the disagreements in interpretation will become clearer.
Some interpretations differ because of disagreement over what subordination is and why it is worthwhile. Interpreters who disagree about whether subordination is to be found in Genesis 2 often will not differ in their interpretation of the text. Rather, they use the term “subordination” in different ways. This is a continual problem in scriptural interpretation. When one interprets a passage, one restates or translates the meaning and teaching of that passage into a different set of terms than those used by the people who wrote scripture. One translates scripture into a cultural “language” that speaks to people who live in a different social situation with different customs and in a different environment. Therefore, anyone who tries to restate the meaning of a passage accurately must pay attention to the terms they use. This is necessary in interpreting Genesis. In fact, interpreters of Genesis have invested relatively little effort in the task of clarifying the various types of subordination. To be sure, there exists an even larger question of interpretation, namely, how to translate into one social system teaching that was originally taught in terms of another system. This question will be considered in later chapters. Here “translation” problems in the term “subordination” and related terms will be dealt with in order that the kind of subordination Genesis portrays can be more accurately stated.
Subordination is an aspect of a relationship. The term, as was discussed in Chapter One, concerns the way a relationship can be ordered. There are many ways of distinguishing forms of subordination, but here the focus will be on distinctions which follow from the origin of subordination and from the way subordination is conducted. In terms of the origin of subordination, it is helpful to notice three main types:
- Domination or coercive subordination. Domination is subordination based on force. A slave or a conquered person is subject to domination. Domination could possibly be for the person’s good. The domination involved in our mental hospitals is, at least according to some theories, for the good of the patient. God sometimes exercises domination (1 Cor 15:24–27).
- Mercenary subordination. Mercenary subordination is a relationship in which there is some kind of bargain. The head or ruler in the relationship gains from the subordinate’s services. The subordinate in turn receives reward. The relationship can be just (both get a fair gain) or unjust (either the head or the subordinate gets an unfair proportion of the gain).
- Voluntary subordination. Voluntary subordination is freely chosen by the subordinate. Both persons in the relationship want the relationship. Even when the subordinate does not get an explicit choice (as children do not) the relationship is voluntary because it is willed by them.
In terms of the way in which subordination and governance are conducted, it is helpful to notice three main types:
- Oppression. Oppressive subordination occurs in a relationship that works for the benefit of the ruler and the harm of the subordinate. Conquest normally leads to oppression as the conqueror exploits the conquered. But oppression is not always based on force. For example, some would hold that the capitalistic system oppresses even where it cannot exercise force.
- Care-subordination. Care-subordination characterizes a relationship in which the head is dedicated to the care of the subordinate and engages in the relationship for the benefit of the subordinate. The parent-child relationship is the most obvious example of such care-subordination (when parents rear their children well). The master-disciple relationship is also an example of such subordination.
- Unity-subordination. Unity-subordination occurs in a relationship that is carried on for the sake of a unity or a higher cause. This is the kind of subordination that is integral to genuine community. Care-subordination and unity-subordination can often occur in the same relationship.
In much of the contemporary discussion about Genesis 2, writers assume that all subordination is dominative or oppressive or both.9 To be sure, a marriage or other relationships can be characterized by a dominative or oppressive type of subordination.
Genesis is primarily concerned with unity-subordination (in this case, unity-subordination which is voluntary). The goal of the marriage relationship as presented in Genesis is oneness, the oneness described as “one flesh.” The woman is voluntarily subordinate to the man so that the two might be one and thus be in a position to fulfill the call the Lord gave to the human race. This kind of subordination is also the key to the unity which God intended for the whole human race and for the new human race which is the Christian people.
The picture of subordination in Genesis rests upon a fundamental human reality. Genuine community cannot exist without unity-subordination. Many have attempted in recent years to form community without any subordination. But if community is genuine, there must be some subordination of people’s lives to the greater unity, and there must be some person or body which provides the order that makes that unity actual. Depending on the situation, such a subordination could lead to nothing but benefit for those who are subordinate. Such subordination could also involve self-sacrifice on the subordinate’s part. But in genuine communal or unity-subordination, the head (whether individual or body) will govern the relationship out of a concern for the community, and the subordinate will enter into it out of a desire to be one with others and a desire to support them and serve the common goals. Such subordination is more than just obedience to commands when those commands are necessary. It is a subordination of lives for the sake of a greater unity.
Unity-subordination and community raise many further questions. Some hold that there should be subordination to the unity of the relationship without subordination to an individual person. Some hold that there should be a subordination to the life of the community or marriage and normally to an individual person but no consistent role differentiation between men and women. These are further questions. The issue here is only to understand the kind of subordination presented in Genesis. The subordination in Genesis—the subordination God intended in the original creation—is a unity-subordination. It is a subordination in which some are subordinate to others for the sake of oneness and for the sake of something outside the relationship. This is also the kind of subordination that the New Testament ordinarily presents. The New Testament is concerned with other kinds of subordination as well, but the major goal is community, and the main kind of subordination taught is the kind which brings lives into greater unity in the new humanity, the body of Christ.
A further problem of conceptual background often confuses the discussion of subordination in scripture. This is the issue of the superiority of man and the inferiority of woman. The foreword to a recent book on the roles of men and women includes the following statement of a frequently held view:
The author is too consistent to argue that although woman is equal to man, she must nevertheless obey him as her superior in the social hierarchy. To my knowledge, he is the first evangelical theologian to face squarely the fact that if woman must of necessity be subordinate, she must of necessity be inferior.10
Another work from a similar viewpoint offers a similar comment:
Many Christians thus speak of a wife’s being equal to her husband in personhood, but subordinate in function. However, this is just playing word games and is a contradiction in terms. Equality and subordination are contradictions. But evidently some writers and speakers are motivated by good intentions, hoping to soften a bit of the harshness and injustice of traditional teaching on wifely subjection.11
On the basis of this view, authors sometimes argue that if Genesis and other parts of scripture teach equality between man and woman, they cannot teach subordination at the same time, because subordination necessarily involves inferiority. Beginning with such a premise, one could never arrive at the interpretation of Genesis given in this chapter—even if one knew that this was what the author of Genesis intended.
The word “inferiority” can have several very different meanings. First of all, “inferiority” can mean simply “being subordinate.” The relationship of subordination is often expressed in scripture in the spatial metaphor of over and under. In this sense, when someone is ordered “under” someone else, they are in the inferior (lower) position. Modern English rarely uses the word “inferior” in this sense, though such usage was once common. In modern English, “inferior” often means “of lesser worth,” or sometimes “of lesser ability or competence” or “of lower social class.” The same observation can be made about the word “equal.” “Equal” can mean “not subordinate.” But it can also refer to such things as equality of worth, social status, ability, or legal rights. Neither “inferiority” nor “equality” have any conceptually necessary link to “subordination” unless the terms are defined with such a link. The head and subordinate can both be of equal worth and value. In fact, they can be equal in many other ways, and still be in a relationship involving subordination. The subordinate can even be of greater rank and dignity, as Jesus was in relationship to his parents. To equate subordination with inferiority or inequality is either a confusion, or an attempt to win an argument by defining the terms in a way that is advantageous to one’s own side. The equation of subordination with inferiority is often an attempt to exploit the ambiguity involved in English usage to obscure the real issue.
For some, the equation of subordination and inferiority is a consciously chosen value judgment that is a premise of their system of thought and approach to life. Many believe that one human being should never tell another human being what to do or give directions to another (unless the person directed suffers from some kind of incompetence or disability). In this view, adult human beings are, by definition, people who make their own decisions, chart their own course, live their own lives. They can delegate decision-making to someone else, but whenever subordination is unnecessary, it is oppressive. This ideal is clearly expressed in the following passage from a feminist book on the role of women in the church:
Hardly anyone today—either Christian or Jewish—can get very enthusiastic about a lecture or book on Women in the Bible. We don’t expect anything useful or pertinent to the twentieth century, and we usually discover our expectations were correct. Very few of the women presented in the Old Testament can serve as models to an independent woman today.12
One could also say that very few of the men in the Old Testament could serve as models to an independent man today. Nor can the men and women in the New Testament serve as models to independent people today. They were much too involved in communal relationships involving subordination. The issue today, in fact, is joined right at this point. A dominant value in modern society is an ideal of independence and freedom to find self-fulfillment that stands against the ideal found in scripture. This difference precedes any investigation of the meaning of the text of Genesis.
Much of modern society consciously fosters independence and individualism. “Independence” here does not mean the opposite of dependence that comes from weakness and need. “Independence” here is the opposite of “interdependence,” the relationship that exists when people freely belong to committed personal relationships that do not leave them free to move on their own but tie them to a body of people. “Freedom” for many in modern society means the freedom from being told what to do. The ideal held by many contemporary people is to become a strong individual who charts his or her own course, who enters into relationships on the basis of equal decision-making rights or carefully specified contracts, who pursues his or her own career or fulfillment. Some have labeled this as an elitist ideal in a technological age. There is much truth to that label. However, it must be recognized that such an ideal permeates non-elite levels of our society and stirs up a desire for personal independence in people who are tied to dependence by their lack of resources. The ideal that regards all forms of personal subordination as harmful is a common one today.
The ideal of scripture is not independence. It is community. The independent individuals of today confront in scripture a very different ideal of human relationships. They confront God’s desire to form one body out of many different self-willed, selfish individuals. They confront the call of Jesus to lose their lives so that they can gain them. The contemporary world demonstrates little real community. This is no accident, because the principles by which so many people live do not allow real community. Contemporary people need a conversion to a whole new ideal, to the call of God to lose one’s life and to be united with other members of the body of Christ. They must be ready to subordinate their lives to the Lord and to other human beings.
30*Some recent feminist writers have asserted that because scripture states no specific reason for why the woman fell first, nothing whatsoever can be said about or based upon this point. Several points in regard to this question are worthy of note. First, the New Testament makes no claim that woman fell because she was more vulnerable or more deceivable. (The significance of this point will be considered more fully in Chapter Eight, which discusses the passage in 1 Timothy 2.) Secondly, the Genesis passage does seem to give some indication that there is a significance to the fact that the woman fell first. Her dialogue with the serpent and her fall are presented much more fully than the man’s fall. In view of this, it appears a bit rash to state that there is no significance to the fact that the woman fell first. Thirdly, most commentators, both traditionally and at the present time, hold that there is something in the author’s mind concerning the woman’s greater vulnerability. The manner in which the narrative is presented would seem to point to something in this regard, although such an opinion derives more from a feel for what is happening in the text than from anything explicitly stated therein.
31*Recently it has been suggested that only the serpent and ground were cursed and that what God speaks to woman and man is not “cursing.” God simply judges them, or predicts in a prophetic way what will happen to them because of their disobedience. This view is acceptable; however, if we keep in mind the fact that cursing need not necessarily include the idea of personal hostility or malice, but could simply be a judicial action, the idea of God’s cursing the woman and man does not have to be seen as anything more than his punishing them for their disobedience by assigning consequences to their wrongdoing. Thus, the curse need not involve a direct command, but simply a punishment. Often it is predictive of what will happen, rather than being directly enforced by the person who gives the curse.
33*The one commonly mentioned possibility is 1 Timothy 2:14. But for a discussion of the way in which that view is a simple misunderstanding, see Chapter Eight. The passage that has a better title to be a possibility here is 1 Corinthians 14:34, and that will be discussed in Chapter Seven.
33†A further consideration is the possible analogy between woman’s desire for her husband and man’s work. There are two alternative interpretations of this section of v. 16. The first would read the beginning of that line of the curse as “yet” or “nevertheless” (the Hebrew word can be translated in this way). If this interpretation were correct, the curse would be primarily stating the burdensomeness of childbearing. It would be understood as follows: Bearing children will be a source of burden and difficulty. Nevertheless, you will be eager for your husband (a relationship which will get you into having children and hence will bring you this burden). The second interpretation of the desire holds that all four lines of v. 16 are basically parallel, and that line 3 should begin with “and” (the Hebrew word can also be translated in this way). Therefore, woman’s desire for her husband is part of the curse. The first interpretation is difficult, because it does not provide a good meaning for the line describing the husband’s rule. Hence, if we take the second interpretation, and if we do not see all desire of woman for her husband (sexual or otherwise) as evil, then we can say that the curse here is the corruption of something basically good (woman’s desire for her husband) so that it becomes, as a result of the curse, an excessive desire for her husband. Hence, it is analogous to the curse on work.
34*The Septuagint is the first Greek translation of the Old Testament that we have—significantly earlier than any extant subsequent translations. It also depends upon a textual tradition that appears to have at times advantages over the Masoretic text that is most commonly used as a basis of English translations. Finally, it is the translation that the New Testament writers used. For all these reasons, the Septuagint can provide at times an illuminating insight into the Old Testament that has authority, either in terms of the Old Testament itself, or in terms of indicating how the Old Testament was understood by New Testament writers.
39*The basis of the Christian teaching on the roles of men and women in creation or human nature will be taken up later on in the book, partly in the chapters which study the role of the Genesis passages in the New Testament (see the summary in Chapter Nine), partly in the chapters on the scientific evidence for the biological basis of the differences between men and women (Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen). For those who work with the concepts of “the order of creation” and “the order of redemption,” the view of this book is that the New Testament approach to roles of men and women is based in the order of creation, but for simplicity’s sake, these terms and discussions connected with them have been avoided. The concepts of natural law and human nature could possibly likewise be applied here, but the various discussions of these ideas have for the most part been avoided as unnecessary for the purposes of the book.
39†“Community” is often a troublesome term. Many equate the word with something like a commune or religious community. Here the word is used solely to indicate the kind of unity that the New Testament presents for the body of believers. The word “brotherhood” (a brotherhood involving koinōnia) is probably the closest New Testament equivalent.
40*There are many other distinctions one could make in terms of subordination. The distinction between formal and informal subordination is sometimes useful (that is, subordination that is explicitly recognized and subordination that occurs through informal influence). Another distinction is that between subordination in functional matters and subordination in personal or “life” matters. Often people will find functional subordination acceptable, but will not find personal subordination to be so. It is helpful to keep in mind that the main kind of subordination under discussion here is personal life subordination and not merely the kind of functional subordination that occurs, for instance, in business.
41*This distinction is framed according to the way in which subordination and governance actually occur, not in terms of intention. Someone could, for instance, intend to be very beneficial in their manner of governing and actually prove to be oppressive. According to this distinction, such subordination would be oppressive. When it is actually conducted in such a way that it is truly for the benefit of the subordinate, it is “care-subordination.”
42*It sometimes is also helpful to distinguish between some ways in which unity-subordination can function. It can function for the sake of the relationship itself (i.e., the community as an end in itself), in which there could be subordination for the sake of a unity which could exist simply for creating and maintaining community. The community, on the other hand, could exist for some cause or goal, and the unity could therefore exist for the sake of uniting the group in a way that allows it to effectively serve that goal. Finally, it could be for the sake of some other person outside of the community, as is the case at least in part with the Christian church as it exists for the sake of the Lord, and subordination in this case draws the community together in such a way that it can be dedicated to the Lord as a body.