Biblical Egalitarianism (Part 02) - The Fall and its Consequences

08/03/2009 08:01


Among those who debate the issue, a few labels have come to identify the sides. Those who do not believe the Bible limits the roles of women have been mistakenly (although sometimes derisively) called Feminists. Those who believe the Bible limits women have been called Hierarchalists. The label Hierarchilists gave way to Patriarchalists, just as Feminists became Egalitarians. Both sides were uncomfortable with what they were called. The Patriachalists, employing some organizational as well as marketing skills, insisted that their label be changed to Complementarians, emphasizing that the differences between men and women made their roles complementary. Many who are called Egalitarians prefer the term Biblical Egalitarians to emphasize that their position is not one of mere cultural preference, but one they believe is founded on the Word of God. Biblical Egalitarians also argue that they too believe men and women are complementary, and therefore the opposing view, termed Complementarian, lacks definition for the opposing viewpoint. For the purposes of our discussion, we will refer to these opposing viewpoints as Biblical Egalitarian (or, BE for short) and Patriarchal Complementarian (or PC).

PCs often argue, in contrast to our last discussion, that the creation accounts support the idea that God established the man to be the authority in the church and home. Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has developed a list of 10 reasons affirming male headship in the created order. Six of these ten relate to the creation accounts prior to the Fall. Since we covered the creation accounts in our last session, we’ll take a look at these six now.

1. The order of creation, with the man created first, indicates God’s design of male headship in the male/female relationship.

As we discussed last time, this reason is fraught with difficulties. The Bible simply does not speak of Adam’s authority over those created subsequent to him, and there is no evidence to which we can point that would indicate an authority/subordination relationship based on that kind of generational order. Eve is not spoken of as an authority over those created after her. Additionally, the PCs compound the problem by insisting that this assumed authority of created order somehow transfers from the person (Adam) to the class of person (male), making all men authorities over all women (or at least husbands over wives). But if we must infer hierarchy of class based on created order, we would have to assume the animal kingdom in authority over humans, since they were created first. Of course, that is not true. Therefore, the indication or implication that Bruce Ware speaks of is just not there.

The next two of Dr. Ware's reasons for male headship can be taken together.

2. The means of the woman’s creation as out of or from the man bears testimony also to the headship of the male in the relationship.

3. While both man and woman are fully the image of God, yet the woman’s humanity as image of God is established as she comes from the man.

I’m taking these two together because both are related to the source of Eve’s creation as the rib of Adam. Again, Ware argues for implication where none exists. We cannot understand a subordinate status of the woman to the man because he is the source material for her construct any more than we could insist that the man is subordinate to the dust of the ground from which he was fashioned. As discussed in the last summary, the intent of forming the woman from the man was to show unity not hierarchy.

4. The woman was created for the man’s sake or to be Adam’s helper.

Clearly, Eve was created to be a help to Adam (Gen 2:18). But the implication by Ware and others is that someone who helps is inferior (at least in authority) to the one being helped. Ray Ortlund, contributor to the book Recognizing Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, argues on page 102, “She was his spiritual equal and, unlike the animals, ‘suitable for him.’ But she was not his equal in that she was his ‘helper’. . . . A man, just by virtue of his manhood, is called to lead for God. A woman, just by virtue of her womanhood, is called to help for God.” This misunderstanding is founded on the assumption that the one who helps is subordinate to the one helped. The biblical evidence, however, seems to conclude exactly the opposite. The word translated help is the Hebrew word ezer. Ezer is used 21 times in the Old Testament—two of them referring to Eve. Of the other 19 uses, 17 of them refer to God as the one who helps, and God is clearly not inferior. He is not even on the same level, but superior. If you must assume a hierarchical implication by the term, biblically you should assume the woman to be superior to the man who requires the help.

5. Man (not woman) was given God’s moral commandment in the garden; and woman learned God’s moral command from the man.

This argument requires even more assumption than the previous four. We are told in Genesis 2:16 that God specifically commanded Adam (most probably prior to Eve’s creation) not to eat of the tree. We discover in Genesis 3:2 that Eve knows of the command. How did she find out about it? According to Bruce Ware, Adam told her. And how does Bruce Ware know this?—certainly not from the Bible. The Bible is silent as to how Eve learned of the command.

But for a moment, let’s assume Adam did tell her. Does that imply authority over her? If I were to tell you of a command from the Bible that you had not known before, does that imply my authority over you? Perhaps this situation would show authority if God spoke only with Adam, who then acted as a mediator to inform Eve of God’s commands. But flipping back to the Genesis 1 account we find in verse 28, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion. . . .” Therefore, even if you were to assume that in the case of the tree, Eve learned of the command from Adam, no hierarchical structure is implied. But still, to assume Adam told her of the command is pure conjecture.

6. Man named the woman both before and after the entrance of sin.

Since we have not yet discussed events after the Fall, I’ll speak just to the first part of this so-called reason. As we discussed, the point of the Genesis 2:18-25 passage is to show the unity of the husband and wife. The passage begins with God’s pronouncement that it is not good for the man to be without a unifying, completing partner. God brings all the animals to Adam, not because God is curious about what Adam will name them, but for the purpose of Adam examining each creature to recognize their inadequacies in being able to complete him. After Adam realizes that, immediately God puts him to sleep and forms Eve. When Adam awakes, realizing what God has done from him and for him and recognizing the perfect union he has with Eve, his over-charged soul cries out, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Why does he cry out “at last”? It is after the futile examination of all the creatures God had made and not finding any to complement himself, at last he finds the one who completes him. And in that same cry of wonder and satisfaction he calls her “woman” (the Hebrew isha (woman) to the Hebrew ish (man)) because incredibly, she is made from him—no closer connection could be possible. This is the ultimate in human relationship—even closer than a parent-child relationship as verse 24 proclaims. The whole passage is about unity not hierarchy. The climax of the passage is in Adam’s declaration, not in showing dominion but rather in awe-inspiring wonder at the unity. The completion of the passage provides God’s principle that the husband-wife relationship reigns supreme among earthly relationships. Absolutely contrary to Ware’s contention, Adam calling her “woman” does not affirm male headship. It affirms oneness.

Before we begin to examine Genesis 3 and the first sins and curses, let’s note a couple of ideas. First,  all covenants have blessings and obligations. Below is a list of the blessings in this covenant relationship that Adam and Eve had with God.

Covenant Blessings

1. Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect dominion over the rest of creation.

2. Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect relationship with each other.

3. Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect relationship with God.

Second, although, as we discovered through the creation accounts, the man and woman were equal in creation (in the image of God and in the obligations to have dominion over the rest of creation and refrain from eating of the one tree), God did create them with distinctions. These distinctions were both structural and chemical in nature. Structurally, the woman was created to bear children. Structurally, the man was better suited for physical force. The chemical configuration matched their structural differences. Chemically, the woman was more prone toward satisfaction from nurturing. Chemically, the man was more prone to satisfaction from employing physical force. We will come back to these issues a little bit later. For ease of recall, I will organize them in a list.

Gender Distinctions

1. Structural

            - Women bear children

            - Men better in physical force

2. Chemical

            - Women prone toward nurturing

            - Men prone toward display of physical force

Now, let’s move into chapter 3, and we’ll reference both the three Covenant Blessings and the Gender Distinctions as we discuss the events of the chapter.

The first portion of the chapter recounts the story in which sin occurs. Three characters take part in the story (Adam, Eve, and the Serpent), and all three characters sin. The sins are these:

Serpent’s sins

            - tempted Eve to disregard God

            - tempted Eve to judge for herself

            - tempted Eve to take the fruit

Woman’s sins

            - listened to another (serpent) over God’s instruction

            - removed trust/faith from God and placed it in herself

            - ate in disobedience

Man’s sins

            - listened to another (woman) over God’s instruction

            - removed trust/faith from God and placed it in himself

            - ate in disobedience

Notice that the sins of the woman and the sins of the man are the same. These are the sins that the Genesis 3 account specifies. Someone may ask, “Was not one of the sins (as the PCs insist) the woman’s failure to remain submissive to her husband?” As we’ve seen so many times already, that charge is unfounded. The creation accounts do not state or imply hierarchy in the marriage relationship. Therefore, to assume this as one of Eve’s sins is imposing on the passage an outside interpretation. In other words, it is an example of eisegesis, not exegesis.

What is Adam’s defense for his sins? When God asks him whether he ate of the tree, Adam replies, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (3:12). In Adam’s answer he is not trying to deflect blame from himself to place it on the woman. He is attempting to justify himself. Remember, we have just completed the creation account at the end of chapter 2 in which Adam recognizes his soul-entwined unity with Eve. The principle is stated that a man will leave his parents to be one with his wife, forming this the greatest of earthly relationships. The very next scene shows him with Eve at the tree. She eats. And Adam, his mind probably spinning through scenarios (as we all do in attempting to justify ourselves), settles on the fact that, well, they two are one, and so, he reasons, differentiation and inequity should not exist between them. And so, Adam eats. Now, God approaches, and Adam tries to explain his reasoning to God: “The woman whom you gave to be with me. . . .” In other words, Adam tells God, "We are one. You made us one. We must remain as one. That’s what You wanted, right? Surely, this makes what I did okay…right?" But God says no. And here we see the next major principle taught by God. Yes, the husband-wife relationship is the greatest earthly relationship there is. But the individual’s relationship to God supersedes even this. Therefore, Adam sinned, and God brings forth His judgment.

Each of the three characters’ sins had physical and spiritual aspects to them. The eating of the fruit is the obvious physical activity. The removal of faith in God and placing that faith in themselves was the spiritual aspect of the sin for the man and woman. In each of the curses, then, God also specifies physical and spiritual elements. Let’s review the curses.


            - Physical – crawl on belly and eat dust

            - Spiritual – judgment will occur by Christ in crushing his head


            - Physical – pain in childbearing

            - Spiritual – discord in the marriage relationship


            - Physical – pain/suffering in working the land

            - Spiritual – separation from God

Here’s where we will pull in the Covenant Blessings mentioned earlier. Notice that these curses all affect the three blessings or benefits that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the covenant prior to sin. (The serpent we know is Satan. However, in this story, as a serpent, he represents both Satan and the animal kingdom.) The curse affects the perfect dominion over creation as shown in the enmity between the woman and the serpent, in the difficulties by which the land will yield its fruit, and in the general pain experienced by both the man and the woman.

The second blessing—perfect relationship with each other—is affected in the woman’s curse. The wording here indicates the discord in that relationship. In verse 15 we are told that “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Notice that the same construct is found in Genesis 4 when God speaks to Cain in verse 7: “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” That desire is a desire for control. For Cain, sin’s desire was a desire to control. But Cain was exhorted to master it. In Eve’s case, her desire for her husband was a desire for control. This is part of the curse. She would desire control in their previously harmonious, perfect relationship. But the verse also tells us that Adam (also under the curse of sin) would rule over her. Now, for the first time, the Bible expresses the ruling of one spouse over another. But it did not happen in the created ideal. It happens in the curse. Why does the husband rule? Well, look back at our Gender Distinctions. The husband will rule because he is able to do so based on his gender distinction. We do not see here, as the PCs so fancifully state, a God-ordained ideal of the husband’s lead and the wife’s submission. We have a sin-driven cursed state of squabbling for control. We have sin’s distortion of the biblical ideal of the harmonious equality of relationship. And because of the Gender Distinction in this sin-driven discord, we have the husband able to take command.

Of course, the third covenant blessing—perfect relationship with God—is affected as well. In the man’s curse we see separation from God—physically and spiritually. The effect on relationship with God is also noted in the serpent’s curse wherein the seed of the woman—Christ—will crush his head.

Each of these curses, although presented separately to the three characters of the scene all affect the others as well. The death mentioned in the man’s curse would not only affect the man. Discordance in the marriage relationship was not only a female problem. Difficulty in working the fields would not be limited to the man. Pain is a result for both of them. But if the individual curses affected the others as well, why didn’t God just gather them together and give the general curse that the three covenant blessings would be marred?

I think He did it in the way chapter 3 presents for two reasons. First, as already noted, both Adam and Eve attempt to use another’s action as justification for their own sin. But God says this won’t work. Individual responsibility before God is paramount. Therefore, He addresses their sins individually, even though the curses are common.

Second, it appears that although the curses commonly reflect the marring of all three Covenant Blessings, God has divvied up the curses based on the Gender Distinctions.

1. Pain in childbearing and discord in spousal relationship are directed toward the woman since those conflict with both her structural (child-bearing) and her chemical (nurturing) distinctions.

2. Pain in working land and death are directed toward the man since those conflict with his structural (physical force) and chemical (satisfaction in physical effort) distinctions.

3. Enmity between the animal world and humanity as well as ultimate destruction are directed toward the serpent/Satan since those conflict with the distinctions of being governed by humanity and being governed by God.

Thus, chapter 3 shows us how the corrupting influence of sin and the resultant curse has created the hierarchical conflict between men and women. But this is not the created ideal. And just as salvation has been given by God to counter the effect of sin and its curse to restore perfect relationship with God, so too should we who have received salvation not concentrate our striving to maintain the curse-imposed bonds of discord, but rather we should embrace the equality of perfection in relationship.

The PC of recent time (the past 40-50 years) has, as discussed last time, acknowledged the equal worth and being of men and women. But to maintain a hierarchical order, they have categorized authority and submission in terms of role and function. Thus, Ligon Duncan, a noted PC proponent, proclaims, “God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church.” In other words, he argues that men and women are equal in worth and being, but different in roles/functions. Although this sounds almost reasonable, it may be that what the PCs are really doing (perhaps subconsciously) is merely playing with words.

Let me explain. We all believe that both men and women are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). But what exactly is that image? I believe the image involves six elements:

        1.     Conceptual intelligence – the ability to distinguish truth

        2.     Conscious morality – the ability to distinguish goodness

        3.     Perceptive aesthetic – the ability to distinguish beauty

        4.     Spiritual wisdom – the ability to receive and recognize God’s revelation/enlightenment

        5.     Volitional faith – the ability to assent to God’s revelation/enlightenment

        6.     Relational love – the ability to give of self for the benefit of others

Through these six elements the original three covenant blessings—perfect dominion over creation, perfect relationship among image-bearers, and perfect relationship with God—were realized. Of course, with sin came the marring of the image’s six elements.

But now let’s try to apply these to life situations as the PC might do.

Let’s consider dominion over creation. Adam and Eve were charged with dominion over creation together. In the ideal world of the PC, husbands make the decisions and the wives submit. The result is that, for this original covenant blessing, the redeemed man is free to exercise God’s image fully. The redeemed woman must limit God’s image in her.

Let’s consider relationship with each other. The PC maintains that the husband is to hold a position of authority while the wife is to subordinate herself to that authority. The result for this original covenant blessing is, again, that the redeemed man is free to exercise God’s image fully, while the redeemed woman must limit God’s image in her.

In our relationship to God, the pattern holds. The PC offers the leadership role to the man, while identifying the woman’s “role” and “function” as a follower. Again, the redeemed man is free to exercise God’s image fully, while the redeemed woman must limit God’s image in her.

Thus, in every situation, only the man is free to exercise fully the image of God within him. Here is the point that makes the PC’s “equal in worth/being but complementary in role/function” designation merely a play on words.  The image of God within us is part of our being—our essence. Therefore, although the PC may want to call this a role or function, the designation is, in fact, a permanent limiting of essence. Note again part of Ray Ortlund’s statement quoted earlier: “A man, just by virtue of his manhood, is called to lead for God. A woman, just by virtue of her womanhood, is called to help for God.” He is affirming precisely my point. The PC argues that a woman, by virtue of her womanhood—i.e., her essence or being—is different from a man. How then can the PC say, as we saw Ligon Duncan say, that “God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood. . . .” Human personhood is being or essence. They argue that they are equal in being yet different in…being. That is double talk. And that is not biblical.

Furthermore, if a husband, as part of his “role,” is to determine (decide) how best to glorify God in activity, word, and life for his wife, he has taken on the role of mediator. In other words, for her, he stands in the place of Christ. Not only is this also obviously unbiblical, it also argues that if the wife needs a mediator for proper conduct before God, and man does not need a mediator for proper conduct before God, then women and men are not equal spiritually. To be unequal spiritually is to be unequal in worth.

The PC statement mentioned previously was that men and women are equal in worth and being, but different in roles/functions. We can clearly see the play on words to hide the realized result. The roles/functions specified are inextricably tied to worth and being. Last time we discussed that the church fathers and reformers had purpose for subordinating women. Their purpose (although incorrect) was that either women were not fully in the image of God or women were intellectually inferior. Since we no longer believe that, the PCs had to affirm that men and women are equal in being and worth. However, by disguising the limitations of God’s image in a woman with terms like function and role, the PCs attempt to parade their hierarchy as purposeful. But their conception of hierarchy incorporates the same idea of limitation of essence and worth for the woman in which she has always been traditionally cast.

The Biblical Egalitarian argues that nothing in the created ideal demonstrates an inequity in either a woman’s worth or being. Sin and its curse marred the created blessings. Our goal as Christians is to return to the created ideal.