ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH #4
by the late Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi
CHAPTER 3 OF SAM'S BOOK
THE ORDER OF CREATION
The survey of the ministry of women in the Old and New
Testaments presented in chapter 2, has shown that women played a
vital role in both the private and public religious life of God's
people. In the apostolic church they participated actively not
only in the charitable services of the church but also in the
missionary program of spreading the Gospel. Some women
distinguished themselves as "fellow workers" of the apostles and
others as prophets who encouraged and edified the churches.
The recognition of the important spiritual ministry performed by
women in Bible times, must not obscure an equally evident
Biblical fact, namely, that women were precluded from serving as
priests in the Old Testament and as apostles/pastors/elders/
bishops in the New Testament. We have already indicated that, in
our view, the reason for their exclusion from these appointive
roles, was not adaptation to the cultural conventions of the
time, but rather respect for the role distinctions of men and
women established by God at creation.
This chapter takes a closer look at the significance of the
original order established by God at creation concerning the role
relationship between men and women. Our aim is to ascertain if
the principle of equality in personhood and subordination in
certain functional roles--to which we have alluded in the
previous chapters--is legitimately derived from God's purpose in
the creation of mankind or is the result of the Fall.
The chapter is divided in three parts, each of which
examines one of the first three chapters of Genesis. We will
focus especially on the information these chapters provide on the
role relationship of men and women. Brief consideration will be
given at the end of each part to Paul's use of Genesis 1, 2, 3 in
his teachings on the role of women in the church.
Importance of Creation.
Both Jesus and Paul appeal to the account of creation to
explain God's original intent for human relationships (Matt
19:3-9; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-151. This indicates the
foundational importance Scripture attaches to the creation
account for understanding the subject of the role relationship of
men and women. Thus, in order to understand the New Testament
teaching on the role of women in the church, it is important to
begin, like Jesus, at "the beginning" (Matt 19:8) by examining
God's original purpose for male/female relationship as revealed
in His creation of mankind.
The three passages of Genesis which are central for our
understanding of the relationship between man and woman are: (1)
Genesis 1:26-31, which gives the account of the creation of the
human race; (2) Genesis 2:18-25, which describes the creation of
woman; (3) Genesis 3:1-24, which relates the story of the Fall
and its consequences. Let us briefly examine what each of these
passages teaches regarding the relationship between men and
GENESIS 1: MALE AND FEMALE
1. Equal, yet Different
Genesis 1:26-31 is primarily concerned with the place of the
human race in God's creation of this universe. Three key
statements are contained in this passage: (1) God created mankind
in His own image and likeness; (2) God created mankind as male
and female; (3) God gave to mankind dominion over all the living
things and power to increase and multiply, that is, to become a
race. These three statements embody two vital concepts: equality
in being and differentiation in sex.
Equality is suggested by the fact that both man and woman
are created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26 states:
"Then God said:'Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea
"Man" here refers inclusively to men and women. This is
indicated first by the Hebrew word for "man" ('adam) which can be
translated equally well as "mankind, humanity": "Let us make
mankind in our own image." The second indication is the plural
"them," which points to "man" here is a plurality consisting of
both man and woman. The fact that Genesis 1:2628 moves back and
forth three times between the singular "man" and the plural
"them," clearly indicates that the term "man" ('adam) is used
collectively to refer to both man and woman.
This conclusion is corroborated by Genesis 1:27 where the
statement "So God created man in his own image, in the image of
God he created him" is clarified by the following statement "male
and female he created them." Thus, both man and woman were
created equally in the image of God and both were blessed by God
and told to multiply and subdue the earth. The idea that the
image of God in woman is second hand, derived from that of man,
is clearly discredited by the account of creation in Genesis 1.1
Equality, however, must not obscure the sexual
differentiation which is equally clear in the passage: "male and
female he created them" (Gen 1:27). The two sexes are part of
God's original purpose for the human race and both are good. Both
men and women are essential to the proper functioning of the
human race. Denial or perversion of sexual differentiation is a
rejection of the order established at creation.
Genesis 1 does not say much about the roles of men and
women. It simply affirms that man and woman are equally created
in the image of God, but they are sexually different. This notion
of man and woman being equal and yet different is fundamental for
all further consideration of the roles of men and women.
2. Image of God in Man
Maleness and Femaleness.
There has been considerable discussion over what is the
image of God in man. Recently Paul Jewett adopted and developed
Karl Barth's understanding of the image of God in man as being
the combination of the human maleness and femaleness. Jewett
I do insist that Man's creation in the divine image is so
related to his creation as male and female that the latter
may be looked upon as an exposition of the former. His
sexuality is not simply a mechanism for procreaction which
Man has in common with the animal world; it is rather a part
of what it means to be like the Creator. 2
This interpretation is used by Jewett and many others as the
basis for their rejection of any functional subordination on the
part of women and for their espousal of male-female equal
partnership in every respect, including the office of
pastor/elder. The basis of this interpretation is primarily the
proximity of the phrase "male and female he created them" to the
phrase "in the image of God he created him" (Gen 1:27). As Jewett
explains it: "the text of Genesis 1:27 makes no direct comment on
Man in the image of God save to observe that he exists as male
and female." 3
There is undoubtedly some theological truth in the notion
that the image of God is reflected in the male-female fellowship
as equals. The problem with this interpretation is that it makes
too much of too little. First it reduces the image of God
exclusively to the male-female fellowship of equal and then it
uses this unilateral interpretation to reject as biased those
Biblical passages which speak of a functional subordination of
women in the home and in the church.
In our view, there are four major reasons why the image of
God includes more than the male-female fellowship. First, in
Genesis 1:26 the image of God in man is associated not with Man
as male and female, but rather with dominion over the earth. The
chapter appears to be saying that while the sun rules the day,
the moon the night, the fishes the sea, mankind images God by
having dominion over all the realms.
Second, the structure of Genesis 1:27 (synthetic
parallelism) 4 suggests that "male and female" elucidates what is
meant by the plural "them" already used but not explained in v.
Third, in the New Testament the image of God in humanity is
never associated with malefemale fellowship, but rather with
moral and rational capacities: "put on the new nature, which is
being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (Col
3:10; cf. Eph 4:24). Similarly conformity to the image of Christ
(Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49) is generally understood in terms of
righteousness and holiness rather than male-female fellowship.
Fourth, Galatians 3:28 indicates that the male-female
relationship does not have the significance assigned to it by
those who associate it with the image of God. The phrase "male
and female" in Galatians 3:28 is identical to that used in the
Septuagint to translate Genesis 1:27 ("male and female he created
them"). This suggests that Paul's statement that in Christ "there
is neither male nor female," as Susan T. Foh points out,
"abolishes the distinction upon which Jewett's whole theology
In the light of these reasons we conclude that the image of
God is not reflected specifically in the male-female
relationship. The phrase "male and female he created them" (Gen
1:27) specifies the extent of the image of God, namely, that it
includes both man and woman. Those who try to interpret a
male-female image of God in Genesis 1:27 as the basis for
rejecting role distinctions or the subordination of woman to man
are reading into the passage what is not there. What the passage
simply says is that God created mankind as male and female and
both of them are in His image. This suggests that men and women
are equal in their relationship to God and yet they are different
in their sexuality: men are male and women are female. The
implications of the sexual differentiation for role relationship
are to be found not in Genesis 1 but in Genesis 2 in conjunction
with the creation of the woman.
2. Paul's Use of Genesis 1
Woman: Second-hand Image?
Pauls uses the terms "image" and "glory" in 1 Corinthians
11:7 in his discussion of the manner in which men and women ought
to participate in public worship. He writes: "For a man ought not
to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but
woman is the glory of man" (1 Cor 11:7). Some commentators
interpret this verse as implying that woman reflects the image of
God to a lesser degree than man. Rousas J. Rushdoony, for
example, writes: "Paul declares in Corinthians that even as man
was created in the image of God, so woman was created in the
image of man - so that the image of God in woman is a reflected
image, a second-hand image, as it were." 6
This conclusion is unwarranted for two major reasons.
First, in 1 Corinthians 11:7 Paul neither asserts nor denies
that woman is created in God's image. The focus of his discussion
is not the personal dignity or worth (ontological value) of men
and women which is mentioned in Genesis 1:26-28, but rather the
headship of man in marriage and worship, which is implied in
Genesis 2:18-23, to which Paul specifically refers (1 Cor
11:8-9). It is in this context that man images God and that woman
does not. It is obvious that women bear God's image in other
senses, as Paul himself recognizes in Colossians 3:10-11 where he
speaks of all believers being renewed according to God's image.
Glory of Man.
Second, Paul is careful in 1 Corinthians 11:7 not to say
that the woman is man's image. Rather he says that "woman is the
glory of man." The language of Genesis 1:26-27 in the Septuagint
is "image" (eikon) and "likeness" (homoioma) and not image and
glory (doxa). Thus Paul's use of the term "glory" is significant.
To understand its meaning it is important to note that Paul uses
"glory" in the context of the relation of man to God and of woman
to man. Man images God and gives Him glory by being submissive to
Him and by being a loving, self-sacrificing head (Eph 5:25-29).
The wife is the glory of her husband in the way she honors his
headship by her life and attitude. This meaning is well expressed
in the Septuagint version of Proverbs 11:16 which says, "A
gracious wife brings glory to her husband" (cf. Prov.12:4).
We conclude, therefore, that Paul's use of "image" and
"glory" is not an abuse of Genesis 1:26-29. Indeed, he appeals
primarily not to Genesis 1 but to Genesis 2 to explain why the
woman is the glory of man, namely, because she was created from
and for man and not viceversa (1 Cor 11:8-9).
GENESIS 2: EQUALITY AND SUBORDINATION
1. Complementary Information
Creation of Mankind.
Genesis 2 contains a considerable expansion of the creation
of mankind covered in Genesis 1:26-31. While Genesis 1 affirms
that God created mankind as male and female in His own image,
Genesis 2 elaborates on how the two sexes were created and on the
relationship between them. God created man from the dust and
breathed into him the breath of life. He placed man in the garden
of Eden, giving him permission to eat of every tree except of the
tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Adam names the animals brought to him by God, but he could
not find among them "a helper fit for him" (v.20). God, who had
already planned to create for Adam such a "helper fit for him"
(v.18) even before He brought the animals to Adam, now proceeds
to create the woman from the rib of man. The latter constitutes
the central action of Genesis 2.
Equality and Oneness.
Why did God create the woman from Adam's body instead of
making her a separate creation from the dust like Adam? Four
reasons stand out.
First, the creation of woman from man's rib suggests the
sameness of nature between man and woman. As Adam acknowledges,
the woman is the very bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh
(Gen 2:23). The actual selection of man's rib from which to
create the woman suggests that "she was not to control him as the
head, nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior, but to
stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and protected by him."
Second, the human race, including the first woman, derives
from the same source, Adam, who is the head and representative of
humanity (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22).
Third, the creation of woman from man establishes the basis
for the one-flesh principle in marriage (Gen 2:24; 1 Cor 7:4).
This principle rests on a real biological and historical
Fourth, the woman's creation from man and for him ("a helper
fit for him"--Gen 2:18) suggests a functional dependency and
subordination. As von Rad points out, Genesis describes the woman
not in romantic terms as a companion to man, but in pragmatic
terms as a "helper" to him. 8 Bible writers speak of human
relationships with a certain practicality.
Many resent and reject the notion of a functional
subordination of woman to man in Genesis 2. They argue that in
Eden before the Fall there was a perfect 50-50 partnership
between husband and wife. The notion of the headship of man and
the subordination of woman is seen as a consequence of the curse.
In their view Christ lifted this subordination (Gal 3:28) and
consequently Christians must work to eradicate any form of
subordination in the relations between man and woman.
This view stems from a negative evaluation of all forms of
subordination and especially of the subordination of woman. This
conviction has led many either to interpret all the Scriptural
references to subordination as reflecting the post-Fall condition
or to treat Scriptures as sexist or male-chauvinistic.
The strongest objection to this view is that subordination
is present in Genesis 2, that is, before the Fall described in
Genesis 3. Moreover, the New Testament, as we shall see, urges
the subordination of woman to man not on the basis of the curse,
but of the purpose of God in creation.
2. Subordination in Genesis 2
Although the focus of Genesis 2 is on the sameness of nature
and partnership between man and woman, there exists within that
equality and partnership an overall sense of woman's
subordination to man. The term "subordination" is used here not
in its negative connotation of oppression, domination or
inferiority, but in its positive sense of depending upon another
person for direction. Its purpose is to ensure unity and harmony.
Central Role of Man.
Subordination is suggested in Genesis 2 first of all by the
central role of man in the account of the creation of woman. Man
is created first and is provided by God with a garden, an
occupation, and finally a wife to be "a helper fit for him" (Gen
2:18). Feminist authors argue that the Hebrew word 'ezer (helper)
does not imply subordination, because, as Clarence J. Vos points
out, in 15 out of the 19 times the word is used in the Old
Testament to refer to God as the "helper" of the needy. 9
It is true that the word "helper" by itself, whether in
Hebrew or in English, does not necessarily imply subordination.
But the meaning of a word cannot be determined without
consideration of its context. In this case the word occurs within
the phrase which says that God created woman to be a helper fit
for man. "If one human being is created to be the helper of
another human being," rightly notes George W. Knight, "the one
who receives such a helper has a certain authority over the
helper." 10 This does not mean that woman exists solely for the
sake of helping man, but rather that she is a helper who
corresponds to man because she is of the same nature.
Name of Humanity.
Second, subordination is suggested in Genesis 2 by the fact
that man bears the name "Man" or "Human" which designates the
whole human race. In spite of the objections from feminists
today, the name for the human race in Genesis is the proper name
of the man, because he is seen as the embodiment of the race. Eve
is seen as the mother of all human beings, but not as the
embodiment of the race. She is the wife to the man who is the
embodiment of the race.
Priority of Creation.
Third, subordination is suggested by the temporal priority
of the creation of man. Paul refers to this fact to support the
exclusion of women from the pastoral teaching role in the church
(1 Tim 2:8-15). Some object to this argument, saying: "If beings
created first are to have precedence, then the animals are
clearly our betters!" 11 This objection is discredited first by
the fact that in the story of the creation of man and woman,
priority of creation is associated with derivation, as 1
Corinthians 11:8-9 shows. The animals were created before man but
man does not derive from animals. The objection is further
discredited by the meaning the Bible attaches to primogeniture.
The first son inherited twice as much as his brothers and became
the head of his father's house and the leader of its worship upon
the father's death (Deut 21:15-17). It is because of this meaning
that Christ Himself is called "the first-born of all creation"
(Col 1:15). The prior formation of Adam is seen by Paul as
typifying the leadership role man is called to play in the home
and in the church. This typological underderstanding of the
priority of Adam's formation may appear irrational from an
empirical standpoint, but, as we shall see in chapter 6, it is
rational from a Biblical standpoint, because it reveals a divine
design for the role of men and women.
Naming of Animals and Woman.
There are other indications of the subordination of woman to
man. Man names not only the animals, but also the woman herself,
both before and after the Fall (Gen 2:23; 3:20). In Hebrew
thought name-giving is the prerogative of a superior. God
exercises this prerogative by naming the things He created and
later on by giving a new name to Abraham and to Jacob (Gen 17:5;
Man demonstrates his God-given headship when he names first
the animals and then the woman God brought to him. Man is also
instructed by God regarding the forbidden tree and is apparently
held responsible for passing on the information to his wife (Gen
2:16-17). After the Fall, God holds man accountable for the
original transgression (Gen 3:9). Indications such as these make
it abundantly clear that woman, though equal in being, is
subordinated to man before the Fall.
3. Objections to Subordination
Cleaving to his Wife.
Feminist writers seek to deny the presence of any
subordination of woman to man in Genesis 2 by appealing to two
elements of the chapter. The first is the phrase that man
"cleaves to his wife" (Gen 2:24), which is seen as denoting
subordination of man to woman. As Clarence J. Vos puts it: "It is
the man who cleaves to the woman, and usually with regard to
persons the lesser cleaves to the greater." 12 This argument is
discredited by the fact that in its context the phrase suggests
not subordination of man to woman but the formation of a
committed marital relationship.
Last in Creation.
The second element to which feminist writers appeal is the
placement of woman as last in the creation, a fact which is
interpreted as making woman rather than man the climax of
creation. 13 This view ignores the different literary structure
of Genesis 1 and 2. While in Genesis 1 the creation of the human
race as last represents the climax of creation, in Genesis 2 the
creation of woman as last represents the consummation of man's
search for a fitting partner. As Cassuto points out, the model
for the creation of the woman appears to be that of a father
finding a wife for his son. When the partner who is truly fitting
for him is found, she is brought to the man. 14 Her place as last
represents the fulfillment of mans search for a fitting companion
and not woman's superiority to man.
There are feminist writers who acknowledge the presence of
the subordination of woman to man in Genesis 2, but they try to
negate its legitimacy as a permanent principle by appealing to
Genesis 1, which affirms the equality of man and woman. According
to this view, the creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:4, where man
and woman are presented as equals, is more credible than the
second account of Genesis 2:4b-25, where the woman is
subordinated to man.
Dichotomy between Genesis I and 2.
This view creates an unwarranted dichotomy between Genesis 1
and 2, by assuming that there is a fundamental incompatibility
between the two chapters. Is this true? Apparently the author who
put the two chapters together did not think so. He must have seen
them as complementary rather than contradictory, otherwise he
would not have put them together. As Stephen B. Clark remarks,
"We ought to credit the author with some understanding of the
central meaning of the material he was putting together." 15
The resolution to the apparent tension between Genesis 1 and 2 is
found, not by discrediting the latter, but rather by recognizing
the different context of the two chapters. In Genesis 1 the
context is man and woman in relation to God. In such context they
are equal. In Genesis 2 the context is man and woman in relation
to one another. In such context woman is functionally
subordinated to man. We have already shown that the recognition
of this principle of equality in being and subordination in
function adequately explains why women in the Bible are both
equal to men in personhood and yet subordinate to men in certain
Those who accept the authority of Scripture as it has been
written down and canonized cannot accept any interpretation which
views any part of the Bible as less credible than other parts (2
Tim 3:16). Biblical principles have to be established on the
basis not of subjectively selected texts, but on the cumulative
witness of the Bible.
4. Nature of Subordination
Contradiction in Terms.
Is is difficult to appreciate the principle of equality in
personhood and subordination in function which is present in
Genesis 2 because this principle is becoming increasingly foreign
to our modern Western society. An example of this difficulty may
be seen in the following comment by Scanzoni and Hardesty: "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." 16
Example of Christ.
To claim that equality and subordination are an unacceptable
contradiction, means to fail to recognize that such an apparent
contradiction coexists in our Savior Himself. On the one hand
Christ says: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) and "He who
has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9), and, on the other
hand, He states "I can do nothing on my own authority; ... I seek
not my own will but the will of him who sent me" (John 5:30) and
"the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). Christ is fully God
(John 1:1; Col 1:15-20) and yet "the head of Christ is God" (1
Cor 11:3; cf. 15:28).
Equality and Subordination.
In our idealistic understanding of equality, "subordination"
connotes inferiority, limitation and humiliation. "In its
original sense, however," as Fritz Zerbst explains, "'to be in
subjection' means to 'be placed in an order' to be under definite
tagmata (arrangement of things in order, as in ranks, rows, or
classes)." 17 To accept one's role within God's order established
at creation means to find the fulfillment for which we were
The subordination in Genesis 2 is similar to the one that
exists in the Godhead between Father and Son. In fact Paul
appeals to the latter model to explain in what sense a husband is
the head of a wife, namely, as God is the head of Christ (1 Cor
11:3). This is a unique kind of subordination that makes one
person out of two. Man was the head of a relationship that was
"one flesh." Thus, subordination in the Scripture does not
connote subservience, as commonly understood, but willing
response and loving assistance. As Susan T. Foh aptly remarks,
We know only the arbitrariness, the domination, the arrogance
that even the best boss/underling relationship has. But in Eden,
it was different. It really was. The man and the woman knew each
other as equals, both in the image of God, and thus each with a
personal relationship to God. Neither doubted the worth of the
other nor of him/herself. Each was to perform his/her task in a
different way, the man as the head and the woman as his helper.
They operated as truly one flesh, one person. In one body does
the rib rebel against or envy the head? 18
The subordination God intended to exist in His original
creation is a unity-subordination. It is the subordination in
which some are subordinate to others for the sake of a greater
unity. It is a subordination in which the head governs out of
genuine love and the subordinate responds out of a desire to
serve common goals.
Genesis 2 deals primarily with the husband-wife relation,
but its underlying principle of equality and subordination has a
broader social application. In Scripture, as we shall see, the
marriage relationship is the foundational model of the broader
relationship between men and women. The pattern in the larger
household of faith is an extension and reflection of the pattern
in the home.
5. Paul's Use of Genesis 2
It is from Genesis 2 that Paul draws most of his arguments
to explain why women should be subordinate to the headship of man
in the home and in the church. He develops three specific
arguments out of Genesis 2: (1) Adam was formed first (1 Tim
2:13; Gen 2:20-22); (2) Eve was taken out of man (1 Cor 11:8; Gen
2:21-22); (3) she was made for his sake (1 Cor 11:9; Gen
2:20-22). These arguments will be examined more fully in chapter
5. At this juncture it suffices to note the importance Paul
attaches to Genesis 2 for determining the role of women in the
Adam Was Formed First.
In 1 Timothy 2:13 Paul appeals to the prior formation of
Adam to support his teaching that women should not be permitted
"to teach or to have authority over men" (1 Tim 2:12). We have
seen that in the Old Testament the first-born son not only
inherited not only a "double portion" of his father's goods, but
also the responsibility of acting as the leader of worship upon
his father's death.
Paul sees Adam's priority of formation as representing the
leadership role of the first-born that man is called to play in
the home and in the church. This meaning is only implicitly
expressed in Genesis 2 which speaks only of the prior formation
of Adam and of the creation of woman out of Adam to be his
helper. Paul offers here an explicit interpretation of this
historical fact. We have no reason to reject this interpretation
if we believe that Scripture must be allowed to interpret
Eve Was Taken out of Man.
In 1 Corinthians 11:8 Paul defends the headship of man by
appealing to the fact that the woman was taken out of (Greek: ek)
man (cf. Gen 2:21-22). In Biblical thought origin and authority
are interrelated (cf. Col 1:15-18). A child must respect the
authority of his parents because he derives from them. In Adam's
historical situation Eve derived from him in the sense that God
formed her from his body. Thus, Adam was her "source," and to him
was due appropriate respect.
This line of reasoning, though present in Hebrew minds, is
not explict in Genesis 2. What is explicit in the text is the
fact that Adam exercises his God-given headship by naming first
the animals and then the woman herself, both before and after the
Fall. By this act, as we noted earlier, Adam exercised the
leadership role assigned him by God. In the light of this fact,
Paul's cryptic remark that the woman was taken "out of" the man
represents a faithful interpretation of Genesis 2, which implies
the headship of man over the woman, especially though man's
naming of his wife (and of the animals).
Eve Created for Sake of Man.
In 1 Corinthians 11:9 Paul draws the final conclusion from
Genesis 2, namely, that woman was created for the sake of man.
This fact is evident in Genesis 2 where God formed the woman out
of man because no appropriate companion or helper was found for
him. This text and its interpretation in 1 Corinthians 11:9 do
not say that woman was made to be man's slave or plaything, but
rather to meet man's need for a fitting companion and
fellow-worker. When men view their wives as less than a God-given
help, they are unfaithful not only to the teaching of Genesis but
also to the example of Christ's headship, which is the model for
husband-wife relationships (Eph 5:23-30).
The foregoing considerations show the fundamental importance
attached by Paul to the order of creation of man and woman found
in Genesis 2. This order constitutes for Paul the theological
justification for the exclusion of women from the leadership role
in the worship service. Such a role would not be in accord with
the subordinate, helping role envisaged for women in creation. To
accuse Paul of reading into Genesis 2 his own rabbinic thinking,
19 means to fail to grasp the theological significance of the
order of creation for the relationship of men and women and to
reject what Paul under inspiration presents as a divinely
established principle. The headship of men in the home and in the
church is not designed to rob women of their equality and purpose
in life, but rather to provide the basis for an harmonious
relationship based on complementary roles.
GENESIS 3: SIN AND SUBORDINATION
1. Distortion of Creation
The first two chapters of Genesis present God's creation as
He originally intended it to be. The third chapter describes the
disruption and distortion of the order of creation brought about
by the Fall. The first part of the chapter relates the temptation
of Eve and the immediate consequences of the Fall made evident in
the hiding of the man and his wife from God (Gen 3:1-8). In verse
9 God calls upon man to answer for the pair, presumably because
he is seen as the head of the family.
Curse on Serpent.
After the interrogation of the first human couple, God
states the consequences of their actions to the serpent, the
woman, and the man. These consequences have been generally
referred to as "curses." The curse upon the serpent affects not
only the serpent as an animal (Gen 3:14), but also the relation
between Satan and mankind, characterized by "enmity" and
hostility which will be eventually terminated by the destruction
of Satan himself (Gen 3:15).
Curse on Man.
The consequence of the disobedience for man is the immediate
distortion of his relation to the ground and the ultimate
experience of death. Whereas previously man had control over the
ground which yielded its fruit peaceably, henceforth the ground
would resist his efforts and cause him pain by raising up thorns
and thistles (Gen 3:17-18). Worst of all, the possibility of
eternal life has now become the reality of death (v.19). We have
here a painful distortion of an existing situation.
Curse on the Woman.
Against this background we need to examine the curse upon
the woman in Genesis 3:16. This curse is of central concern for
our study, both because it deals directly with the husband-wife
relationship and because it raises the question of the role of
the Fall in the relationship between men and women.
The curse upon the woman has two aspects. The first relates
to childbearing and the second to her relation to her husband.
Childbearing, which was part of the pre-Fall divine design for
the filling of the earth (Gen 1:28), will now become a very
painful process (3:16). (Not understood by very many. There is a
study on this website regarding the truth of Gen.3:16 - Keith
Hunt) The husband-wife relationship will also now experience a
painful distortion: "your desire shall be for your husband, and
he shall rule over you" (3:16).
2. Institution of Subordination ?
Curse upon Woman.
Some view the curse upon the woman as marking the beginning
of her subordination to man and consequently as an undesirable
consequence of sin which has been lifted by Christ (Gal 3:28).
Thus, Christians must work for the eradication of all forms of
subordination because their origin is satanic. Kenneth S. Kantzer
emphatically states this conviction in a special issue of
"Christianity Today" dedicated to the role of women in the
church. He writes: "We believe the subservience of women is part
of the curse (Gen 3:16) from which the gospel seeks to free us."
20 In a similar vein Gilbert Bilezikian writes: "Male rulership
was precipitated by the Fall as an element of the curse.... It
was not part of God's design for relationships between men and
This view, that the subordination of the woman to man is the
result of sin and consequently satanic, derives from a strong
negative view of subordination. It leads to the conclusion that
much of the Old Testament and certain Pauline passages are
misogynistic, male chauvinistic or, as Bilezikian puts it, "a
partial accomodation to sinful realities as a way of achieving
their resolution in the new covenant." 22
Subordination in Genesis 2.
The strongest objection to this view is the fact that
subordination begins, as we have seen, not in Genesis 3 but in
Genesis 2 with the creation of woman. As George W. Knight
cogently points out:
Genesis 3 presumes the reality of childbearing (Gen 1:28),
in which the woman will now experience the effects of the
Fall and sin (3:16). It presumes the reality of work (Gen
1:28; 2:15), in which the man will now experience the effect
of the Fall and sin (3:17ff.). And it presumes the reality
of the role relationship between wife and husband
established by God's creation order in Genesis 2:18ff., a
relationship that will now experience the effects of the
Fall and sin (3:16). "He shall rule over you" expresses the
effect of sin corrupting the relationship of husband (the
head) and wife. Just as childbearing and work were
established before the Fall and were corrupted by it, so
this relationship existed before the Fall and was corrupted
by it. Neither childbearing, nor work, nor the role
relationship of wife and husband is being introduced in
Genesis 3; all are previously existing realities that have
been affected by the Fall. 23
Subordination in the New Testament.
Another important objection is that when the New Testament
talks about the importance of the subordination of woman to man,
it appeals to the order of creation in Genesis 2 (see Eph 5:31;
1 Cor 11:8-9; 1 Tim 2:13-14) and not to the curse of the woman
in Genesis 3:16. The foundation of the New Testament teaching on
Christian subordination is found in the purpose of God's creation
and not the consequence of the curse.
3. Genesis 3: Origin of Oppressive Subordination
Curse: Distortion of Subordination.
A number of considerations suggest that the curse on the
woman marks not the institution but rather the distortion of
subordination, as the latter degenerated into oppressive
domination by sinful man. First, we have found that subordination
is already present in Genesis 2.
Second, the analogy between the curse on mans work,
childbearing, and the curse on marital the relationship suggests
that as a result of the Fall the rulership of man, like work and
childbearing, became corrupted and painful.
The Verb "to Rule."
Third, the meaning of the verb "to rule" ("he shall rule
over you"--Gen 3:16) both in Hebrew (mashal) and in the
Septuagint (kyrieuo) commonly denotes domination. A fitting
example is found in Genesis 4:7 where the Lord says to Cain: "And
if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is
for you, but you must master (mashal) it." If we permit this
meaning to determine the meaning of "rule" in Genesis 3:16, then,
as Clarence Vos notes, "we can hardly escape the impression that
there is a connotation of suppression involved." 24
Genesis 3:16: Not Basis of Subordination.
Fourth, the New Testament, as noted earlier, never bases the
subordination of women to men in marriage upon the effects of sin
manifested in Genesis 3:16, but rather on the pre-Fall order of
creation. Genesis 3:16 contains not a new commandment but a
prediction of a how man would pervert his leadership role. As
Russell Prohl keenly observes:
God is not here issuing a special commandment, "Be thou
ruled by him!" or, "Thou shall not rule!" But here in
Genesis 3:16 we have a statement, a prediction, a prophecy,
of how man, degenerated by sin, would take advantage of his
headship as a husband to dominate, lord it over, his wife.
Nowhere in the Bible is Genesis 3:16 quoted or referred to
as establishing a general subordination of woman to man 25
The above considerations lead us to the conclusion that the
curse on the woman (Gen 3:16) allows for the possibility of an
oppressive, dominating form of subordination. This must be seen
as a painful distortion of an already-existing hierarchical
relationship, the existence of which we have already found in
Genesis 2. The purpose of redemption, as we shall see in chapter
4, is to remove a husband's oppressive rule over his wife, but
not his headship over her.
4. Paul's Use of Genesis 3
We have considered earlier in this chapter Paul's use of
Genesis 1 and 2. We have seen that he faithfully reflects the
implication of these chapters in his teaching on the headship
role men are called to play in the home and in the church. We
must now turn our attention to Paul's use of Genesis 3. His main
reference to Genesis 3 is found in 1 Timothy 2:14 which says:
"and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became
a transgressor." This is the second of the two reasons offered by
Paul to support his teaching that women ought not "to teach or to
have authority over men" (1 Tim 2:12), the first reason being the
priority in the formation of Adam (1 Tim 2:13).
The second reason has produced many dangerous
interpretations. Some have assumed that this verse teaches that
women are disqualified to act as leaders in the church because
they are more gullible than men. Paul "may have in mind the
greater aptitude of the weaker sex to be led astray." 26 A
variation of this interpretation is that women "are inferior in
their gifts so far as the teaching office is concerned." 27
These interpretations are untenable because nowhere does the
Scripture suggest that women are more prone to err than men or
that their teaching gifts are inferior. If the latter were true,
how could Paul admonish women to teach their children and other
women (Titus 2:3-5; 2 Tim 3:15)? How could he praise women
fellow-workers for their roles in the missionary outreach of the
church (Rom 16:1,3,12; Phil 4:3)?
Connection between Two Reasons.
To understand the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:14 it is important
to note that this verse is linked to the preceding one by the
conjuntion "and" (kai), which is often used by Paul as an
explanatory connective (see 1 Tim 4:4; 5:4-5). In this case the
connective "and" suggests that the typological meaning of the
priority of Adam's formation mentioned in verse 13, is connected
with the typological meaning of Eve's deception mentioned in
What Paul appears to be saying is that both Adam's formation
and Eve's deception typologically represent woman's subordination
to man. The first reason appeals to the order of creation and the
second reason to the Fall to show what happens when the order of
creation is disregarded. When Eve asserted her indipendence from
Adam she was deceived.
The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary supports this
interpretation: "The apostle's second argument for the
submissiveness of women is that when Eve tried to assert
leadership she was beguiled." 28 On a similar vein George W.
Knight writes: "In 1 Timothy 2:14 Paul also refers to the Fall
after citing the creation order ... to show the dire consequences
of reversing the creation order on this most historic and
significant occasion." 29
This interpretation brings Paul's reasons in line with his
other uses of Genesis, discussed earlier. It provides yet another
example of Paul's concern to re-establish the creational
relationship of equality in personhood and subordination in
function. It shows that Paul bases his teachings concerning the
role distinction of men and women not on the consequences of the
Fall described in Genesis 3, but on the pre-Fall order of
creation found in Genesis 1 and 2.
Our study of the first three chapters of Genesis has shown
their fundamental importance for determining the role
relationship of men and women in the home and in the church.
Genesis 1 simply affirms that man and woman are equally
created in the image of God, but they are sexually different.
Genesis 2 clarifies the equality and difference of Genesis 1
in terms of sameness and subordination. Man and woman are the
same because they share the same human flesh and bones and
because they have been created to complement one another. Yet
woman is subordinated to man, as indicated by: her role as a
fitting helper for man, the priority of the creation of man, mans
bearing of the name of humanity, and man's naming of the animals
and of the woman herself before and after the Fall. The headship
of man is implied also in chapter 3 where God calls upon man to
answer for the pair.
Genesis 3 describes the distortion of the order of creation
brought about by the Fall. This affected not only the serpent,
the land, work and childbearing, but also the subordination of
woman to man. Sinful man would now take advantage of his headship
to dominate and oppress his wife. Contrary to what many believe,
the curse on the woman marks not the institution of subordination
but rather its distortion into oppressive domination.
Paul attaches fundamental importance to the teachings of the
first three chapters of Genesis. He appeals to the pre-Fall order
of creation to defend the subordination of women to the
leadership of man both in marriage and in the church. Paul's
appeal to the order of creation is in line with Christ's teaching
that calls for a restoration of the creational relationship (Matt
19:8) by the members of His kingdom.
Contrary to prevailing thinking, we found that Paul bases
his teaching concerning the role of women in the church, not on
the consequences of Fall described in Genesis 3, but on the
pre-Fall order of creation presented in Genesis 1 and 2. The
foundation of his teaching is not the "curse" of the Fall, but
the original purpose of God in creation.
What are the implications of the order of redemption for the
roles men and women are called to fill in the home and in the
church? To this question we must now turn our attention.
NOTES ON CHAPTER III
1. Rousas J. Rushdoony, "The Doctrine of Marriage," in Toward
Christian Marriage: a Chalcedon Study, Elizabeth Fellersen, ed.,
(Nutley, New Jersey, 1972), p.14.
2. Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids,
Michigan, 1975), pp.13-14.
3. Ibid., p.36.
4. For a structural analysis of Genesis 1:27, see Susan T. Foh,
Women and the Word of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1979), pp.
5. Ibid., p.57.
6. Rousas J. Rushdoony (n. 1), p.14.
7. E. G. White, The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain
View, California, 1958), p.46.
8. G. von Rad, Genesis, trans. J. H. Marks (Philadelphia, 1961),
9. Clarence J. Vos, Woman in the Old Testament Worship (Delft,
Holland, 1968), p.16.
10. George W. Knight, The Role Relationship of Men and Women
(Chicago, 1985), p.31.
11. Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We're Meant to Be: A
Biblical Approach to Women's Liberation (Waco, Texas, 1974), p.
28; cf. Paul K. Jewett (n. 2), pp.126-127.
12. Clarence J. Vos (n. 9), p.18; cf. Paul K. Jewett (n. 2), pp.
13. Ibid., p.18, n. 25; John A. Bailey, "Initiation and Primal
Woman in Gilgamesh and Genesis 2-3," Journal of Biblical
Literature (June 1970): 143.
14. V. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, part 1, ed.
Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem, 1961), p.135.
15. Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor,
Michigan, 1980), p.15.
16. Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (n. 11), p.110.
17. Fritz Zerbst, The Office of Woman in the Church (St. Louis,
Missouri, 1955), p.69.
18. Susan T. Foh (n. 4), p.62.
19. See, for example, Paul K. Jewett (n. 2), p.119
20. Kenneth S. Kantzer, "Proceed with Care," Christianity Today
(October 3,1986): 15-1.
21. Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study
of Female Roles in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985), pp.
22. Ibid., p.68.
23. George W. Knight (n. 10), p.31.
24. Clarence J. Vos (n. 9), p.25.
25. Russell Prohl, Woman in the Church: A Study of Woman's Place
in Building the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1957), p.39.
26. Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: an Introduction and
Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1957), p.77. See also H. P.
Liddon, Explanatory Analysis of St.Paul's First Epistle to
Timothy (Minneapolis, 1978), p.19.
27. Paul K. Jewett (n. 2), p.60.
28. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.,
1957), vol. 7, p.296.
29. George W. Knight (n. 10), p.32. The same view is expressed by
Douglas J. Moo: "In vv. 13-14, then, Paul substantiates his
teaching in vv. 11-12 by arguing that the created order
establishes a relationship of subordination of woman to man,
which order, if bypassed, leads to disaster" ("1 Timothy 2:11-15:
Maning and Significance," Trinity Journal 1/1 : 70).
To be continued