Adam and Eve in Genesis and First Timothy

from Men and Women: Leaders Together (Rebecca Groothius)

Why did God say to the woman that her desire would be for the man, and the man would rule over her? Was this—as traditional belief would have it—God’s means of punishing the woman for being the first to sin and then leading the man into sin? Or was this simply God’s announcement of what the woman would suffer as a natural consequence of both her sin and the man’s sin? And how did this alter the relationship between woman and man?

Eve was deceived by the serpent to believe that God had been withholding his blessings, and that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil would in fact be good for her, not bad. So she disobeyed God’s command by eating the fruit. She then prevailed upon Adam to eat the fruit, thus leading Adam into disobedience as well. Given that Adam was not deceived but knew very well that the serpent’s words were wrong and untrue, he would likely have had some serious reservations. Yet, Eve had the upper hand with him.

So it was that when God came to Adam and Eve after their disobedience (from which they showed no signs of repenting), God told Eve that her desire would be for the man, and he would rule over her. Although various interpretations of the woman’s “desire” have been advanced, I am inclined to agree with Richard Hess, who explains in Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE), p. 92, that this is not a sexual desire but rather a desire to dominate. Sin created a struggle of willpower between women and men.

In saying that the woman would “desire” and the man would rule, God was not issuing directives or commandments to Adam and Eve. God was simply explaining what they had gotten themselves into. The punishment fit the crime, as it were. This was the way their sin had made things to be. From now on, Eve would want to have her way with Adam—as she had done after her first sin—but she would not continue to prevail over him. She would want to have her way, but she would not. He would not let her; he would rule over her. Both would live henceforth in sin. She would want to rule him. He would rule her. This is a classic picture of the “battle of the sexes.” From the beginning, man and woman have been drawn to each other—as God made them to be. Yet ever since Genesis 3:16, man and woman have also sought to get the better of each other—as sin has made them to be.

Since male rule is a consequence of sin and not God’s commandment, it should not be sanctioned or enforced, but ameliorated as much as possible—likewise with respect to the other consequences of fallenness (pain in childbearing, weeds and thistles and so on). Yet the roots of male rule go deep into the soil of sinful humanity—inextricably deep. Although we should seek to alleviate the effects of the fall, we cannot expect eradication of sin’s effects until the new heavens and the new earth have come.

Understanding the dynamics of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden helps us to understand why Paul brings Adam and Eve into the picture when he tells the Christians in Ephesus not to permit a woman to teach or authentein a man. (The Greek word authentein has been translated various ways, including “assume authority,” “have/exercise authority,” “domineer over.”) In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul draws an allusive picture of the post-fall set-up. Paul sees in the men and women of Ephesus a situation that is reminiscent of the fall of Adam and Eve. Certain women who, it would seem, were deceived and dictatorial, had been seeking to impose false doctrine on the men, just as Eve had done when she imposed the serpent’s lie upon Adam. Eve had been deceived and so had prevailed upon Adam to accept and act upon false teaching concerning God’s word. Paul is saying to the Christians in Ephesus that a woman must not do what the first woman had done.

An understanding of Paul’s prohibition as forbidding a woman to do to a man what Eve did to Adam accounts for the use of the unusual term authentein. This term does not necessarily mean having or exercising authority in the ordinary way (as it is typically rendered in modern translations). It more likely speaks of exercising a dominating influence upon someone to go along with a specific agenda or to engage in a particular activity.

Gordon Fee sums up the situation in this way: “Paul prohibits a woman from teaching a man so as to dominate him because he does not want the women in Ephesus to replay the sin of Eve, who was deceived and led Adam into sin” (DBE, p. 377). Linda Belleville summarizes Paul’s prohibition in verses 11 and 12 as follows: “Let a woman learn in a quiet and submissive fashion. I do not, however, permit her to teach with the intent to dominate a man. She must be gentle in her demeanor.” She concludes that “Paul would then be prohibiting teaching that tries to get the upper hand—not teaching per se” (DBE, p. 223). (For more detailed treatments of this text, see my essay “Leading Him Up the Garden Path,” as well as Linda Belleville, chapter 12 in DBE, and Andrew Perriman, Speaking of Women, chapter 6.)

Paul’s concern appears to be with the process whereby a person becomes deceived into believing a satanically twisted view of God’s Word and then proceeds to impose this teaching upon another, thereby leading the other into disobedience to God. This is what Eve did to Adam. This is evidently what some women were doing (or were in danger of doing) to some of the men in the church at Ephesus. And this is what Paul will not permit.

Thus Paul does not bar women from ministries that involve teaching and/or having authority over men (either locally or universally). Rather, when Paul says that a woman must neither teach nor authentein a man, he has in mind what the first woman did to the first man. It is the repetition of the error of Eve that Paul disallows, not a woman’s faithful exercise of her teaching and leadership gifts in the church body.

Paul’s reference to “the childbearing” in 1 Tim 2:15 seems to evoke the promise of redemption God gave to Eve in Genesis 3:15. While the woman Eve was deceived by Satan when she failed to submit to God’s true word, the woman Mary heard and believed the word of the Lord to her, and so through her the Christ child was brought into the world. Thus Paul concludes his stern warnings regarding Eve and the Ephesian women on a more positive, encouraging note.

Indeed, in Genesis 3:15, even before God pronounces the dire consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, he hints that this moral disaster is not the end of the story. There will be redemption and, what is more, the woman will be in on it. God has put enmity between Satan and the woman. That means the woman is on God’s side. She is not inherently unclean or defective, as many of the early church fathers and men throughout the millennia have assumed. God does not give the woman over to iniquity. He gives her a starring role in redemption’s drama. And this speaks not just of the one-time event of the birth of Christ. As all women (not just Eve) have in some way borne the brunt of male rule, so God desires all women (not just Mary) to serve a significant role in God’s redemptive drama. For we are each one—male and female—God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We each have an important part to play, a part prepared by God and determined not basically according to our gender but according to the whole person God made each one of us to be.

Here is a very helpful and thoughtful essay by Adam Omelianchuk, which addresses the patriarchal-complementarian (PC) argument that women and men are equal in being but unequal or different in roles. It includes a discussion of subordination in the the Trinity. Below are some excerpts of this article to whet your appetite.

“On an Internet discussion in which I participated, one complementarian stated essentially that women should not be encouraged to preach, because by doing so they would “dishonor God.”…

“Complementarians typically charge that the biblical equality position is not reasoned from Scripture, but from outside of it by the fallen culturally conditioned human intellect. A key egalitarian argument maintains that if men and women are intrinsically equal (as complementarians affirm), then this logically rules out the assignment of an intrinsically equal person to a role of permanent and comprehensive subordination based solely on an intrinsic quality (such as gender).’’…

“But if the Father and the Son are equal in being yet in everything for all eternity relate according to a hierarchal order of authority and subordination, then is not the logic of “equal in being, unequal in role” vindicated?…

“On the surface the argument seems convincing. However, on a closer look it is striking that such a list of proof texts parallels that of the Arian and semi-Arian exegesis that reduced the Word to a demigod. This requires us to examine and test the logic that lies behind this view of the Trinity with the utmost theological care. Moreover, even if it were a true picture of Trinitarian relations, it would still fail to serve as a valid analogy to that of female subordination. I have eight reasons to support this…

“Now we come to the last and perhaps the most significant objection: The doctrine of male authority and female subordination is not about gender differences; it is about obeying God’s will. Therefore, a woman is just as capable as a man in her essential human capacities, yet she resigns herself to a God-ordained “role” where these capacities are largely prohibited from use…

“This debate is about hermeneutics and the presuppositions we bring to the biblical text. I have argued for the lens that reads the Scriptures as recognizing complementarity without hierarchy. I have gone about this, not by means of exegetical argument, but by logical argument… Thus I have reasoned from the whole to the parts (deductive reasoning), rather than from the parts to the whole (inductive reasoning)…This is analogous to the reasoning that I would use in establishing biblical inerrancy….


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