Tag Archives: Marriage

Pay Attention to Strengths

29 Jul

Every Sunday night I lead a Bible study at church.  This is one of the highlights of my week.  Not only do I get to do one of my favorite things (study and teach Scripture), but I get to dive into God’s story with a really cool group of people.  Our little group is made up of about ten, and it’s seldom that everyone is in attendance on the same week.  There’s an openness amongst the group which is remarkable. People are kind, vulnerable, quick to share and quicker to listen. Plus, we laugh together- a lot.  Some of my favorite NC memories have come from this gathering, and I am often overwhelmed by the wisdom that gathers in that room (very little of which comes from me). 

Today, we worked through Ephesians 5.  Keep in mind, RC and I were the only people in the room under sixty, and NC is a pretty traditional church.  I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going to go.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of freedom amongst this group for disagreement.  There have been many times when we’ve come to different conclusions about particular passages, but we love each other all the same (I was even able to come clean about not believing in the rapture!).  However, challenging the traditional family structure was a whole different ball of wax, so I was a little nervous.

As it turns out, I didn’t need to be.  After I gave my spiel about Ephesians 5:21 and mutual submission, a man named Doug piped up. He said, “I know the Bible’s talking about the man leading, but anyone who has any sense will pay attention to strengths.  If one person’s strong in one area, they take the lead there and you may take the lead somewhere else.”  He followed this by saying his wife takes the lead everywhere except with the remote control, because such are her strengths.   He’s so right!  More importantly, this came from a man who has probably never paid much attention to the complementarian/egalitarian debate (although he did accept a woman pastor).  He’s simply a man who loves the Lord, loves his wife, and enjoys a happy marriage.  After five decades together, they learned how to make their marriage function in a way that brought both of them fulfillment, and they did it through mutuality.

In the near future (after I finish painting my living room) I’ll write an exegetical post of Ephesians 5.  Until then, may we all benefit from the wisdom that comes to us from a couple who have been married forty-nine years.  Pay attention to strengths. Let each other lead. 

A Controversial Word: “Head”

19 Jun

 “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands”. ~Ephesians 5:21-24

Before we start evaluating the vying types of submission, let’s first examine what it means for the man to be the “head.”  The Greek word for head is κεφαλή or kephale. Complementarians translate this word into “authority.”  I’m going to say, upfront, that too much is read into this one word because, in reality, it has a variety of uses and meanings.  Typically, it means a physical head (you know, that thing that houses your brain).  However, it can also refer to being first, being preeminent, or the origin/source of something else.  We should look for all the ways it’s used, but we should especially watch the way Paul uses it in other letters.  Interestingly, Paul  typically uses kephale to mean “source” or “origin” rather than “authority.”

In 1 Cor. 11:2-16, kephale is used as a literal head and as source (which 11:8-9 makes clear).

In Col. 1:18, kephale, is being used in reference to the beginning, and thus can clearly be understood as origin or source.

In Col 2:10, kephale is clearly being used as source/origin because if it meant “authority” then Paul would be repeating himself.  It’s saying Christ is the source of all authority.

Eph. 1:22 is the only place where kephale can be taken as “authority” without any ambiguity.  However, just three chapters later, in Eph. 4: 15-16 Christ is identified as the “head” in that he is a unifying source of the whole body.[1]

In light of this evidence, I am more likely to believe kephale is being used as origin or source- which would be consistent with the Genesis account as well as other Pauline arguments.  Just look at this passage from 1 Cor. 11 which deals with head coverings.  “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God,” (1 Cor. 11:8-12).  Women come from men, but all things come from God.  Man is the source of women, but Christ is the source of the church.  This interpretation is just as biblically sound (if not more so) as the complementarian argument which insists kephale means authority.

In light of the varying ways the word kephale is used by Paul alone, can we really say, with %100 certainty, that “head” only means authority in Ephesians 5?  I don’t think so.  Am I willing to be a martyr over whether or not it means “source” over and against “authority.”  Probably not.  But the evidence sure does make one think…


[1] Alan Padgett. As Christ Submits to the Church.  66-67

A Series on Christian Marriage

18 Jun

When I was eighteen years old, I had the following conversation with a guy who led one of the Bible studies I attended.

Me:  “I’m getting a little frustrated with this relationship.  I know it’s important for him (my boyfriend at the time who shall remain nameless) to be the leader in this relationship, but he’s not doing that at all.  I’m pretty sure I’m more spiritually mature – not to mention more emotionally mature- than he is anyway.”

Mentor J:  “Kate, if you want him to be the spiritual leader of this relationship, then you need to wear the skirt.”

I cringe even writing out this excerpt from my complementarian days.  I had been taught that men were the leaders in society, in church, and especially in the home.  My future husband was to be my spiritual “head” and I was to be his docile and submissive “helper”.  Since that was the kind of husband I needed, it was important that the guys I dated fit the bill.  I had a checklist.  1) He had to be Christian (which I still think is essential). 2) He had to pursue me. 3) He had to be a spiritual “leader.” To be honest, this list contained over sixty expectations (with varying importance), most of which I could care less about now.  Even as I evolved into the Christian egalitarian I am now, I assumed my husband would function as the spiritual leader of our home.  Mutuality wasn’t even on my radar until seminary.  Even then, I figured my future husband would want to “lead” in some fashion, even if we didn’t practice hard patriarchy.  I just assumed all men needed to feel like they were in charge in order to be satisfied in the relationship.

Then I met RC.  He’d dealt with the womanhood issue when he was in college, and came to an egalitarian position.  I knew how he felt about women in ministry early on (that was a litmus test for second dates), but it wasn’t until we got engaged that we started talking about roles within the family we were on the verge of creating.  I still remember driving on Highway 64 West, along the Ohio River in Louisville, and saying, “So you really don’t see yourself as the spiritual leader of our family?”  His response was thoughtful and considerate- classic RC.  He told me that he was a leader to our future children, just as I will be, but when it comes to our marriage, we’re on equal footing. 

That statement, while certainly not meant to be offensive, is sure to rub somebody the wrong way.  Living in a region that is almost 50% Baptist means that this kind of thinking is ingrained in the evangelical culture here.  One could respond, “But wifely submission is biblical!” Believe it or not, I agree with you.  Wives are to submit to their husbands, but the Christian ethic of submission is much larger than wives and husbands.  After all, Ephesians 5:21 states, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  So do I submit to my husband?  Yes.  Does he also submit to me?  Yes.  The ethic of submission is the foundation of our marriage (which by the way is pretty awesome), but the submission is mutual and not patriarchal. 

In this series on Biblical Womanhood, I will be exploring the world of Christian marriage.  We will cover Ephesians 5, Proverbs 31, The Song of Solomon and much more.  For this section, I’m drawing from a few sources more than others.  The first is a book by Alan G. Padgett called As Christ Submits to the Church.  The Second is Paul, Women and Wives by Craig Keener.  The third is A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans.  Finally, I’ll be drawing from Liberating Tradition, by Kristina LaCelle-Peterson.  The Evans source is less scholarly, but still a thought-provoking read. 

I’d like to close by saying that I don’t think marriage –even Christian marriage- can be prescribed down to a “T.”  I know godly men and women who uphold complementary roles and still love and respect each other very much.  At the same time, I know couples who are hard-core Jesus feminists, reverse every role, and maintain a passionate devotion to the Lord and one another.  If God is the center of a marriage, and each partner seeks to love and honor the other, I am convinced that the couple will find a natural rhythm of leading and being lead.  That rhythm won’t be the same for everyone.  Thus, if your marriage doesn’t function the same way mine does, that’s okay.  I’m not interested in critiquing individual marriages.  I do, however, want to present an ethic of mutual submission which evangelicalism has wrongly shunned out of fear.  You may evaluate the evidence I present, and decide you disagree.  That’s fine.  You may see things for the first time and experience the same freedom I did.  That’s good too.  All I ask is that we really wrestle with this issue, let the Holy Spirit lead, and, when we disagree, do so with grace.

 

Why I’m Writing this Series: My Story

22 Dec

Hello Folks,

I’ve been thinking the last few days, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I should have shared my personal journey towards Biblical egalitarianism before beginning this whole process.  It is only through sharing my story that I believe people will understand why I am so passionate about this topic.  Secondly, I think I need to clarify what my motivation for this project is.

I was blessed with two great parents who affirmed my gifts and talents my entire life.  In my home, there was no such thing as a glass ceiling.  I had many different career aspirations:  dentist and mommy, teacher and mommy, archaeologist and mommy, lawyer and mommy, back to teacher and mommy.  I always wanted to be a mommy, and have always been a “girly girl.”  Aside from that, my gender had very little impact on what I wanted to do with my life.

As I grew older, I began to notice some stereotypes, but I disregarded them.  “Girl Power” was something we cheered on the playground, and I distinctly remember telling my Dad that I liked Star Trek Voyager because the captain was a woman (I still like Voyager as a matter of fact).  My pseudo-feminism was never a problem, because I was living in a secular world that (for the most part) never prescribed my role to me.  Then I became a Christian.

At fifteen I gave my life to the Lord and I joined a United Methodist Church.  I was fortunate to witness many women in leadership at my home church.  Granted, the minister and youth minister were both men, but the worship leader, children’s director and director of Christian ed. were all women.  To be honest, I didn’t think about it much until I started reading Scripture.  I felt like Jesus reached out to women and included them, but there was that darn verse in 1 Timothy, and some weird things about silence and head coverings in 1 Corinthians.  Naturally, I was confused, and my confusion was exacerbated by the fact that I was growing into a leader and sensing the beginnings of a call for ministry.

When I was a senior in high school, I started meeting with a wonderful woman from a different theological tradition.  [If she’s reading this, I hope you know how much I value our time together and I am incredibly thankful that you challenged me to really dig into Scripture and to let it be the authority in my life.]  She pushed me to walk the walk, and to give God my all, but at the same time, she taught me that women were meant to be secondary to men in the home and the church.  Being young, impressionable, and eager to please God, I bought in.  I stepped down from all my leadership positions (because they effectively put me over the boys), and I accepted my role.  I even got upset when my college had the audacity to allow a woman to teach the New Testament class!  While I know this was not my mentor’s intention (or the intention of any Complementarian I might add), the notion that I was somehow “less than” proved damaging to my faith over time.  You see, my gifts and my passions were for ministries forbidden to women (or so I thought).  I was good at speaking, teaching, leading, etc.  I tried to apply those gifts to children’s ministry, but I was miserable and not very good at it.  At first I just thought my gifts and passion for ministry meant I was rebellious or power hungry, but after sincere striving to fit into the mold of good Christian woman, I started to question God.  I was angry at him, for making me “unfit” to do the things I was good at.  I didn’t understand why my passion for ministry was so repulsive to him. This little identity crisis-combined with some other wounds- led to my temporary exit from the church.

To make a long story a little shorter, my Complementarian ideologies were challenged when I met a woman named Linda Fox.  We were working on a retreat together and I knew she was a pastor (ordained in the Southern Baptist church back when they still did that).  I recoiled from her a bit at first, but as I watched her minister I saw the fruit.  She was good.  And God was CLEARLY using her in powerful ways.  That really threw me for a loop.  I had thought God didn’t honor or bless women pastors.  She wasn’t power hungry, or eager to usurp men.  She simply lived out the call and used the gifts God gave her in the places he told her to go.  Wow!  On the same retreat, a woman who is now my dear friend, told me after some prayer time that I was anointed for ministry (something I’d felt before but buried).  At that point, I decided I needed to really study ALL of Scripture and figure out what God really thought about us women-folk.  That process took several years.  To be honest, I wasn’t fully convinced until the summer before I took my first paid ministry position.  The Holy Spirit convicted me that to continue to run from my calling was disobedience to my Lord.  It’s hard to argue against that.  Since then, I have been blessed to serve God and his beloved children (of every gender) in ministry and leadership.  He has continued to develop my gifts and has opened the door for me to be a pastor of a church.  On top of that, God has blessed me with a husband with whom I share an unbelievably intimate relationship that is based on equality and mutuality.  Having been on both sides of the Egalitarian/Complementarian fence, I am truly convinced this side bears more fruit.

I have been accused of being “liberal” as of late, and the word “feminist” has been thrown around as if it’s a curse word.  Liberal and conservative are rather subjective terms.  Compared to a fundamentalist, I am pretty liberal.  On the other hand, if you compared me to someone on the far left of the theological spectrum, he/she would say I was very conservative.  If you want to know what I believe, look at my statement of faith.   I am orthodox, which means I believe everything the church fathers deemed essential for Christian faith.  You could also put me in the Wesleyan camp (if you want to get more specific).  As for feminist- I am one.  You probably are too if you go by the definition.  According to the dictionary, a feminist is a person who “advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.” I am a feminist because I believe God created men and women for intimate, loving and mutually submissive relationships in which they could experience complete unity.  The unity of Eden was marked by equality.  I believe it is sin that has created the great divide between the sexes.  As a child of God, and participant in the covenant community, I believe I am called to live into Eden, rather than the curse.

My motivation for doing this little blog series has little to do with a “feminist agenda.”  I’m honestly not trying to change the mind of complementarians out there.  Truthfully, I think the best way to accomplish that task is simply to be a woman in leadership and to do it well.  I would be lying, though, if I said I don’t have an agenda, because I have two.  The first is purely personal.  This subject is very important to me and this little project has been fun.   My primary motivation, however, is driven by my love for young people.  I’ve been part of youth ministry for years and I have seen several young women with gifts and graces for ministry.  I also know, first hand, that young women are put down- their gifts buried- and their calls dismissed because they are female.  At the same time, I have seen young men inundated with false expectations of marriage, fatherhood, and responsibility in the church.  My hope is that young women and men -who don’t have the benefit of a seminary library or egalitarian role models- can read this and see the dozens of passages that affirm women, mutual submission, and gift-based leadership, as opposed to the four Scriptures that appear to limit women.  At the very least, there will be some exposure to the “other side” of the issue.

PS:  This picture is of my husband, Linda Fox, and me, on the day that Linda married us!

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The Unsubmissive Wife the Bible Praises: Abigail

20 Dec

The Story of Abigail can be found in 1 Samuel 25.  The following is a summation of her story.  Abigail was married to Nabal.  Nabal was a fool, but Abigail waImages beautiful and intelligent.  At this time, Saul had just died, and David had essentially been living in hiding (Saul wanted to kill him).  After a while of living in the vicinity of Nabal, David sent word to the wealthy man, asking him to share some food with David and his men.  David reasoned that it was only fair because David and his men had not stolen or acted wrongly towards Nabal’s.  They’d even protected them in some ways.  But Nabal is as greedy as he is foolish and refuses to share anything with David.  Keep in mind that hospitality was HUGE in ancient Israel.  Not sharing food would have been highly offensive to David. Thus, when David receives Nabal’s reply, he gets very angry, and tells his men to armor up and prepare for battle.

Meanwhile, one of the servants goes to Abigail.  The servant tells her about Nabal’s lack of hospitality toward David and how good David and his men has been to the people.  Sensing the danger, Abigail secretly loads some donkeys down with food and sets out to meet David and his men before they attack her household.  She is doing this in direct disobedience to her husband’s command.  When Abigail meets David and his men, she offers the food and pleads for him to forgive her husband’s insolence.  David is won over by her and does as she asks.  Thus, a crisis is averted, and Abigail is praised for her wisdom.

Abigail is not what we would call a leader, but she is hailed precisely because she took the lead in a crisis situation.  Had Abigail followed the rules of wifely submission, she would have honored her husband’s commands, and then everyone in her household would have died.  I recently watched a video clip where John Piper (a Reformed pastor and Complimentarian) urged women to submit to their husbands unless/until the husbands wanted their wives to sin- even in situations of abuse!  But here, Abigail is praised for doing the exact opposite.   Her story proves that even in the intensely patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, there is a limit to wifely submission.

Another thing I find interesting is the way Abigail speaks about her husband to David.  She says, “Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him,” (1 Sam. 25: 25).  I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think it’s good for marriages when one spouse puts another down- especially in public.  I think the goal of every husband and wife team should be to out-do one another in love.  However, the fact that Abigail spoke out against her husband- even calling him a fool- reinforces the idea that women are not helplessly bound to their husbands’ stupidity.  They can, and should, stand up for what is right and for themselves.

At the conclusion of this story, Nabal died.  He went into a sort of coma when Abigail told him what she’d done.  He lingered for ten days before dying.  When David learned of the fool’s demise, he sent his men and asked Abigail to be his wife.  She accepted, and lived out her life as one of King David’s queens.  The moral of this story (just in case you haven’t picked up on it yet), is that there are limits for wifely submission, even in the Old Testament.  Abigail lived in a patriarchal culture, where women were expected to strictly obey their husbands and never bring them disrespect.  Abigail both dishonors and disobeys, and yet, the Bible teaches that her actions were right.  This is food for thought for everyone who is wrestling with to understand the extent to which wives should submit to their husbands.

Genesis and Womanhood

30 Nov

As Julie Andrews once sang, “Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start.”  Thus, our first delve into the world of Biblical Womanhood will deal with the book of Genesis, specifically Chapters 1, 2 & 3.  A great many doctrines find their basis in these three chapters. Though most discourse on this section of the Bible deals with the Evolution issue, I will be focusing only on the aspects which pertain to gender.   Let’s begin.  By the way, this exercise will be significantly more fruitful if you follow along in your Bible as well.  If you do not have a Bible, Biblegateway.com is a great resource.  Go there, and simply find Genesis 1.  I am referencing three versions:  The Revised Standard Version because it is still the accepted version for the academic world and it is preferred among Wesleyans, the New American Standard Version because it makes Reformed folks happy and the New International Version, because it is what most normal people have.

 Genesis 1

The author of Genesis has offered us a beautiful introduction to the Book of Genesis, and perhaps even the Bible itself.  God creates, and humankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation!  Notice the build-up to verse (v) 26.  Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”(27) So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.(28 )God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground,”

This is our first Biblical look at humanity and a few things stand out.  First of all, in this narrative, we are not given a detailed account of the man or woman.  However, we are given one HUGE theological truth.  Both the male and the female were created in the image/likeness of God.  The word used to denote the imago dei is the same word used for an idol.  That’s a big deal.  God’s good creation (and we know it was good because verse 31 tells us it was good) included male and female humans who bear the likeness of God.

The second observation I’d like to make is that both the man and the woman are charged with the same tasks.  Both were given the responsibility and authority to rule over the rest of creation and both were commanded to be fruitful.  In the first creation story, God makes no distinction whatsoever between the roles of the man or the woman.

But we can’t stop there.  Let’s go on to Genesis 2.

 Genesis 2

This account has God forming the man first (v 7).  In v 18, the writer says that God notices it was not good for the man to be alone.  None of the other animals were suitable companions for the man, so God chose to make a helper fit for him.  The story unfolds as God removes the man’s rib to create a new creature.  The man announces in v23 that she is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh and that she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.  The chapter then concludes by saying a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.  Then v25, the man and his wife were naked and were not ashamed.

Complementarians will use this chapter and argue that God’s original intent for humanity (because Eden represents God’s original intent) was for there to be what I will call a “harmonic hierarchy.”  By this I mean humanity was created with a hierarchy between men and women, but in Eden, where sin was absent, this was a natural and harmonic aspect of creation.  Here is their evidence:

-the Man was created first, which suggest priority

-the woman was created as a helper or helpmeet, which suggest a subordinate role

-the man named her “woman” which suggests authority

-the two were functioning as one flesh, which suggests emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental unity

-the man and the woman were naked and unashamed, which suggests a complete vulnerability and openness between the man and the woman.

There are aspects of the Complementarian view here that I agree with completely.  For instance, I believe the text makes it clear that in Eden (or God’s original intent) men and women live in complete harmony.  The two function as one flesh, living in total unity, and they are completely vulnerable in the other’s presence.  Quite frankly, it represents the perfect marriage.  There were certainly no power struggles between the man and the woman.  A Complementarian would argue this was because sin had not crept in and the wife was perfectly submissive (and happy to be so) and the husband functioned as a perfect, loving leader.  While this view is idyllic, even appealing, I do not believe the text supports this conclusion.  Let’s look at the specifics.

 The Creation Order Man was made first.  I will grant, birth order in the ancient world (and in the modern) was significant in terms of inheritance and status. However,  in and of itself, creation order is not enough to suggest any such authority.  Animals were created before the man in this narrative, yet it is not the animals to whom God grants dominion.  Besides this, there are plenty of Biblical examples of God working outside the norms of culture with respect for birth order.  For example, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, and Ephraim are five examples from the Book of Genesis (and likely the same author), in which birth order is disregarded.  Thus,the fact that Adam was created first is not a strong argument for either side.

 Woman as Helper.The Hebrew word we translate as “helper” or “helpmate” is עֵ֖זֶר.  We would pronounce is as ‘ezer. It literally means “one who helps.”  In an English translation, our first inclination may be to consider the role of helper as somehow subservient or “beneath.”  In Hebrew, however, the word ‘ezer contains no such meaning. The word is found in the Old Testament 21 times.  It is used twice in Genesis to refer to a woman (2:18,20).  It is used in a neutral context, where “help” is the noun, in six instances (Ps. 20:2, 121:1, 124:8, 146:5, Ez 12:14 & Dan 11:34).  ‘Ezer  is used in Isaiah 30:5 to refer to a group of people without gender distinction.  Interestingly, this word is used most often in reference to God.  On nine occasions, God is referred to as עֵ֖זֶר or helper to Israel.  Obviously God is not subservient to Israel (who receives his help)!  Additionally, there is no female or feminine element in this world.  It’s actually a masculine noun.  In my estimation, the fact that the woman is referred to as a helper cannot suggest a subordinate role because the word עֵ֖זֶר isn’t used in that fashion anywhere else in the Bible!

 Adam names the Woman. I would suggest that announcing the female as woman, or Ish-sha is not a “naming.”  Naming in ancient Israel carried great meaning.  Names always had reflected the character of the individual, his/her calling, or the circumstances of the child’s birth.  This woman does indeed receive a name, which denotes her as the mother of humankind.  However, she does not receive her ‘name’ until chapter three, after the Fall.  When the man declared that she was woman, he was singling her out as part of his kind, his species.  She was not like the animals, whom he gave names to.  He was recognizing her as his counterpart.  His title, ish, simply means man.  It is not a name, rather a designation of species and gender.  And he uses his own designation with the woman.

In conclusion, when I read Genesis 2, I see a beautiful picture of God’s original intent.  There, man and woman lived together in perfect unity, harmony, vulnerability, and equality.

Genesis 3

Genesis three is a classic tale of temptation and sin.  Eve was challenged with a crafty, deceptive message.  The serpent appealed to a human tendency to doubt the goodness of what we have (however good that may be), as well as the desire to grasp honors and power that belongs only in the hands of God (the ability to discern good from evil).  And Yes, she was clearly deceived.  But she was not alone.  Her husband, who was standing right there, sinned right along with her (and with less coaxing I might add).

I have heard a few Complementarian arguments about this section.

The one that I hear most often is that the woman sinned, but her sin was the result of a negligent husband (who was clearly present when she sinned).  The man, failed to lead his wife away from temptation and ultimately sin.  I have even heard it phrased that the Man abdicated his role as leader to his wife, who seems to have taken the lead in the exchange with the serpent.  Thus there was sin.  The fault in this situation ultimately falls to the man, who failed to properly instruct and lead his wife.  I have also heard that the woman sinned first because she was more susceptible than the man.

I take issues with both of these views (I know you’re shocked).  Let’s address the first.

This position has a counterpart in history- femme covert.  It speaks to the idea that a woman is “covered” by her husband (or father if she is unmarried).  Her male authority was responsible for her in every way.  He would care for and protect her, but he would also take responsibility for her.  In an age when women had no education or respectable means of providing financially, this system made sense.  However, it effectively strips women of all financial, legal, or social freedom.  In America, this lasted until the end of the 1800s! Now, this notion can be found in Scripture.  The concept of femme covert goes hand in hand with any patriarchal culture.  However, it is not supported in Genesis 3.  Here’s why:  God never said so.  I’ll elaborate.  God never told the man he was responsible for the woman.  In Genesis 1, God gave the BOTH dominion over creation.  In Genesis 2, God made zero mention of the man being responsible for the free decisions of the woman.  The one aspect in which the man may have culpability, deals with the one prohibition.  According to Gen. 2, the man was given the prohibition prior to the woman’s creation.  It could be fair to say that the man should have communicated the prohibition as he understood it.  Given the woman’s actions- and the fact that she misquotes the law given to the man- it is possible he failed on this score.  However, when God addresses the man and woman’s sin, the man is punished for his own sin- not his wife’s.  And Eve receives her consequences as if she was completely responsible for her own choices.  If the man truly “covered” her the way many claim, God would have rebuked him for allowing his wife to stray.  God does nothing of the sort, rather the man experiences the consequences of sin for listening to the woman when he knew better.  Remember, he knew better because God had given him the prohibition first hand.

The second assertion, that the woman was deceived because women are naturally weaker or less spiritual, also doesn’t hold up under scrutiny or reason.  The woman was deceived by the Serpent who was crafty, manipulative, tempting, and so forth.  She followed the direction of the deceiver- who we can assume was good at his job.  The man follows the direction of another human being- who at that point was not full of sin and therefore would not have been manipulative or crafty.  Should we really make comparisons about the intellectual capacity or spiritual discernment of these two?  If we did, I’m not sure Adam would come out on top, but I do not believe we have enough textual evidence to argue either way with integrity.

** I will address Paul’s comments on this part of Scripture when I reach those texts.**

And now we come to the “Curse section.”  “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

I would like to begin by saying that everyone is in agreement that God’s statements to the man and woman are not “curses.”  Only the serpent and the ground are curses.  There is consensus that God was simply stating the realities they will face in a fallen world.  Women will now experience pain in childbearing.  I do not pretend to understand how the a child would have been conceived, carried and delivered without any pain in Eden, but since that’s not the focus I’ll move on.  The second clause states that the woman’s desire would be for her husband but he will rule over her.  Some people argue that this clause means that women will have in innate desire to usurp of dominate their husbands.  This idea comes from the way the word “desire” (תְּשׁוּקָה) is used in Genesis 4:7.  There God tells Cain that sin’s desire is for him but he must master it.  The word is also used in Song of Solomon,but there it is used in the context of sexual desire.  I am inclined to believe “desire” in the context of Genesis 3 refers to a  continuous emotional and sexual desire on the part of a woman towards her husband, regardless of the resultant pain (from childbearing) or the fact that a husband will now rule over her.

As for the “rule over her,” it is very telling that this is mentioned only after the fall and as an obvious consequence to sin.  Men ruling over women is the result of sin and is a symptom of a broken world, in need of redemption.  It is not a biblical mandate.  It is the symptom of  a disease.

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, Genesis 1,2,& 3 has a lot to say about the relationships between men and women. Though Genesis 2 is frequently cited for a Complementarian foundation in Genesis, the text simply cannot support such conclusions.  This, combined with Genesis 1- which presents an equality between the man and woman- leads me to believe that God’s original intent for human relationships was one of harmony based on equality between the sexes.

The inequality experienced between Adam and Eve (which culminates when Adam exhibits his “rule” over her by giving her the name of Eve), was the direct result of sin.  It is not God’s intention for relationships.  Thus, we should not seek to propagate inequality or domination between the sexes.  For those who think Genesis 3:16 represents a command for all people and all times, I would ask whether or not they use fertilizer, farming equipment, medication during childbirth, medication or surgery for illnesses or anything else that seeks to lessen the consequences of sin upon the earth or the human life.  If they do, they should reexamine the consistency of their doctrine.

As a redeemed community, we are called out of our life of sin.  In a sense, we are called and empowered to live into Eden (God’s original intent), which means we should pursue harmony and equality between men and women.