Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 5 (Gupta)

The Undoing (Genesis 3)

In this blog series, I want to spend some time on Genesis 3, popularly known as “the Fall.” I think that terminology is inaccurate. Falling is not imagery used here. Closer to what we see happen in this chapter, I like to call it the “undoing” of God’s good work in creation. All that beauty, innocence, harmony, and unity is undone.

The first thing to notice with Genesis 3:1 is that the problem seems to come out of the middle of nowhere. This serpent appears on the scene with a dastardly agenda. He succeeds in sowing the seed of doubt in the mind of Eve (3:3-4). But, what is worse, Eve gives into temptation and seeks to “be like God” (3:5) in her knowledge of good and evil. She believed it would give her special or divine wisdom such that she could be independent of God (3:6). Adam is not absent, but joins in this rebellion (3:6). So they hide and are ashamed when their eyes are finally opened (3:7-9).

Their reaction isn’t to revel in their newfound wisdom. When they are confronted by God, they immediately cast blame. Man blames woman (3:12) and woman blames the serpent (3:13). Conscience and integrity or undone. All this back-stabbing and division unravel God’s work of establishing unity and abundance. And God’s words of judgment further underscore the frustration of creation’s fecundity.

A key verse here in terms of gender roles is 3:16 where God says: “and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Jewish Publication Society). This is a pretty good “literal” translation of the Hebrew, but what does it mean? Well, it seems obvious (to most) that man “ruling” over woman is a problem, not a blessing. This verb is about absolute authority over someone, like a king ruling a subject (Gen 4:7; Gen 37:8). The Creation accounts do not call for man to rule over woman; she helps him and they co-rule over the creatures together.

A more difficult interpretive issue is what it means that her “desire” will be towards her husband. What kind of desire? Love? Sexual feelings? The Hebrew word itself is neutral; it simply means passions or longings. It could be good, like deep love. But it can also be destructive passions, like malice. The ESV 2016 translates this as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” This has been largely rejected by scholars. The NET translates this as “You will want to control your husband.” I think this is close. I would translate this (in paraphrase) as, “you will desire to undermine your husband.”

Old Testament scholar Richard Hess interprets the text in this way:

 The woman’s “desire” for her husband is not primarily sexual desire. In accordance with basic principles of interpretation, one finds this rare word, teshuqah, nearby in Genesis 4:7, where it refers to sin’s “desire” to control Cain. The same verb, “to rule, master, ” mashal, describes both the man’s domination of the woman and Cain’s ability to dominate sin. Thus the woman will desire to dominate the man but the man, perhaps with superior strength, will dominate the woman. However, this is a judgment of how things will be, not necessarily how they must be. The patriarchal societies of the world express the reality of male domination…[T]he emphasis here is on the terrible effects of sin, and the destruction of a harmonious relationship that once existed. In its place comes a harmful struggle of wills.

One can see the reality of this “undoing” in Genesis 3, and it gets worse until the call of Abram (Gen 12). Does Genesis 3 teach that men must lead and women must follow? No, we see hope in Adam and Eve joining together as one flesh, and it is Eve who has the final word as she praises God for blessing them with a child.

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Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 4 (Gupta)

IN THE BEGINNING

Image of God, Male and Female

It’s time to look at Genesis 1 and 2. I used to think that it made a big difference that woman was created after man, and that she was created to be a “helper” to man. But, as Lucy Peppiatt reminded me (in her soon coming book, which is excellent), this is one way of interpreting the creation story, but it is not the only way. Before we get to some of these gender issues, I just want to make a few notes about Genesis 1 and 2.

Genesis 1

This is a grand narrative of the incredible act of God to fashion a good and beautiful world: light, day and night, waters, sky, land and greenery, sun, moon, and stars, sea creatures and birds (1:1-20); and the command for all things to produce abundance (1:21-25).

In 1:26, adam (human) does not mean “Adam,” nor does it mean “man/male.” We know that because it switches immediately from adam (singular) to “they” (plural), implying that adam stands for human, male and female. This seems fuzzy in 1:26, but becomes more clear in 1:27 when they are defined as “them: male and female.” They are created in God’s own image, which means they are like him in special ways that are not true of other creatures. Presumably, this relates to their unique ability to rule (wisely?) over all the creatures of the world. This is said twice, in 1:26 and 1:28.

If all we had was Genesis 1, we would naturally assume men and women were equals, partners and co-rulers on earth as the image of God. There is not a whiff of headship, male-leadership, or “gender roles” here. Put another way, if the dinosaurs had questions, they wouldn’t necessarily go to Adam first and foremost.

Genesis 2

This second account clearly goes back and re-tells parts of the creation story in a bit of a different way. We are given more details about the actual formation of the man (2:7). He is made from earth. Man is given work in the Garden, he must care for it (2:15). But he is warned not to eat from the special tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17). (A bit of foreshadowing—woman is not made yet, and had not received this command first hand as far as we know.)

So then, God formed animals and saw whether they might work as helpers for Adam (2:20). “Helpers” to do what? We are not told, but either it means those who would tend the Garden (from 2:15), or to help rule the earth (from 1:26-27).

Let us not get tripped up on the word “helper” (2:18, 20). This word (ezer) does not mean “assistant,” but neither does it mean “savior.” “Helper” is actually a good neutral word: someone who helps someone else. If my car breaks down and I have to push it to the side of the road, I need help, someone else to share the work.

When Genesis says that woman was made from man’s rib, that does not mean she is derivative, but simply means she is like him (bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh). She is not less than him, she is human like him. He is not superior in any way because he was made first. (Otherwise, why were humans made last in Genesis 1?) He clearly needed help with his vocation, and God created woman to partner in the work. Nothing from Genesis 2 clearly establishes headship, female submission, or unique male leadership. In fact, quite the opposite, man is not commanded to lead or guide woman; he is “united” to her (2:24) and they become one.

The Big Picture

When I read Genesis 1 and 2, here is what I think these chapters are communicating about humans.

  1. A Unified Species: The first mention of human(s) is 1:26, and they are treated as one thing, a unified species, made in the image of God and created to co-rule.
  2. Two Types: From 1:27, the clear addition is there are two types, male and female.
  3. Man needs help: In 2:18, it is made clear Adam can’t do this work alone, he needs help.
  4. Woman helps man: The animals cannot suffice, so woman is created from man to show her fitness for helping him.

I can see no clear Creation signals that man is given special command to rule or serve as leader over woman. Quite the contrary, he is seen as incomplete and lacking without her. That doesn’t make her superior. Presumably she needs him as much as he needs her, but all in all everthing is considered very good because there is the possibility of these two being united as one.

Next, we will look at the spoiling of Eden according to Genesis 3.