Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Female and the Fall of Man

Paul Adams asked: What would you say to the charge that biblical egalitarianism is guilty of an over-realized soteriology? That authority between male and female in all aspects of the new creation in Christ is not intended to be shared equally as in the Pre-fall state?

This question presupposes that man and woman were, indeed, endowed by God at creation with equal authority. However, the current patriarchal-complementarian (PC) orthodoxy denies that this is the case. Rather, God gave “different roles” to man and woman at creation, such that man was endowed with full authority under God and woman was put under man’s authority.

The PC view of creationally ordained authoritative and subordinate “roles” is relatively novel. Prior to the mid-20th century, the prevailing view was that man and woman were equal at creation, but male rule was instituted by God after the Fall (apparently as a punishment for woman being the first to sin). The view that woman’s subjection is a result of the Fall makes an occasional appearance in current PC discussions, but it is no longer deemed the reason why God put woman under man’s authority.

But what about this now largely discarded view? Did God create man and woman with equal authority and then take away all or part of woman’s creational authority because she was the first to sin? Did God decree woman’s subordination after the Fall? Or is male rule merely a consequence of sin rather than a command of God?

If male rule were a command of God and not a consequence of human sin, any effort to ameliorate woman’s subjection to man’s rule (permitting women to vote, own or inherit property, etc.) would constitute disobedience to God’s command. Moreover, any efforts to ameliorate other results of the Fall (such as easing pain in childbirth or employing weed killer and tractors and other means of tilling the soil more effectively) would also be in disobedience to God’s command.

More fundamentally, if God had instituted patriarchy as a permanent ordinance at the Fall, then there remains no room for the redemption and restoration provided us by the new creation in Christ. On this view there is no “now,” only the “not yet.” The Apostle Paul, I think, would be astonished with such a notion; his writings are steeped in the concept of the “now” and the “not yet.” The two states of affairs seem to be all of a piece to his mind, such that they often seem to be collapsed in his thinking (see, for example, Col. 2:11-15; 3:1-4; Eph 2:4-7).

The view that God instituted patriarchy at the Fall implies that woman was responsible for the fall of man (hence all the very harsh words for woman uttered by the early church fathers). Yet Scripture suggests no such thing, but rather states clearly in Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 that sin came by the man Adam.

The reigning PC view is that God held the man responsible for sin because man was responsible for woman because man had been given authority over the woman. But the Genesis text says nothing about man’s alleged responsibility for or authority over woman (see chapter 5 in Good News for Women).

However, the text does state unequivocally (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:11; 3:17) that God had directly commanded the man not to eat of the tree of knowledge. The text makes no mention of God also giving this command directly to the woman. When God was questioning them both after they had sinned, God called the man to account for having disobeyed God’s command to him, but God had no such rebuke for the woman. The evidence points toward God holding the man responsible for sin precisely because God gave the commandment directly to the man before the woman was created.

If we want to interpret God’s Word according to what it actually says (and not according to what we may think we discern between the lines), then we have no warrant to conclude either that (a) the woman was responsible for sin because she was the first to sin or (b) the man was responsible for sin because he had authority over the woman. No, the man was responsible for sin because God first gave the commandment directly to the man before the woman was created.

Despite all the difficulties of this (now largely discarded) view, it does have an advantage over the current PC view in that it does not necessarily entail the ontological subordination of woman (see chapter 18 in Discovering Biblical Equality for this argument of counterfactual entailment). This is because it grounds male rule in human sin, not in God’s creational decree or design for humanity. It also has the advantage of being true in part: a lot did change after Genesis 3:16. Woman’s cultural subjection to man’s rule began at this point, and it has been and will be with us to some degree until sin and death are swallowed up in victory. But though we are not yet in the “not yet,” the “now” of the new covenant in Christ offers freedom and victory over much that was wrought by Adam’s sin in Eden.


Doug Groothuis said...

These comments astutely cut to the heart of the matter, lay out the logical possibilities, and give a cogent statement in essential biblical and theological categories. If only more who write on the gender debate could put things this clearly.

Paul D. Adams said...

Thanks, Rebecca. As always, you've given me (and the Church) much to think about and valuable insights on this important topic.

You are "spot on" in noting the over-realized soteriology assumes that creational authority was shared equally before the Fall.

The "reigning PC view" commits question-begging of the first order when it argues that "God held the man responsible for sin because man was responsible for woman because man had been given authority over the woman." It's the "because" statements that I struggle with here. As you show there are no logical or textual reasons to believe that "man was responsible for woman" or "had been given authority over the woman" from the Genesis passages.

Of course, some PCers may have tacitly observed this lack of explicit textual evidence, so a kind of theological ground is proferred to support femail suborniation from the supposed eternal subordination of Christ. Giles' chapter nicely addresses this in DBE.

I've many more questions to ask, but will await more posts from you.

Again...many thanks for your thoughtful and biblically responsible reply!

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Here is an excellent article on the trinitarian subordination issue, from Priscilla Papers

Julie said...

Thank you Rebecca. Please keep posting because we need to hear the truths you proclaim. As a woman who grew up in a church that subjugated women in all areas of leadership and later watched the church split when the denomination started dialoguing about more authority and roles for women, I welcome and relish the opportunity to read sound, biblical statements on gender equality.

cokhavim said...

Rebecca, I can never get enough of your writing. You have such an amazing clarity and sense in the way you write. I'm so thrilled that you've decided to do this blog. I am immediately going to bookmark this!

A question about this last entry: If God gave the command to the man and not to the woman (though the text does not explicitly say that God did not also command the woman), does this say something about the ontology of men and women? For example, in order to test humanity, did God consider it sufficient to test only the male? If that is the case, then does that not imply that the male is representative of humanity? These questions have bothered me. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Paul D. Adams said...

Excellent question! Thanks for asking. I too wondered the same and have other questions related to this line of thought. I look forward to hearing from Rebecca on this.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

Well here I go again. I will be answering this question by means of a new post. (Maybe you could ask me a simple question sometime!)

Laura said...

I realize the discussion has been done for over a week, but a thought came to mind and I feel the need to "put it out there."

Might the principle in Romans 5:13 ("sin is not counted where there is no law") come into play in Adam's being held responsible for sin? I believe there are issues of Adam's headship of humanity (note: Adam specifically, not males generally), but I'm wondering if his hearing the command is related as well.


Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

I'm not quite sure how you're seeing Rom 5:13 relating to Adam's responsibility for sin. Can you amplify/clarify?

Here is how I see it: Because Adam was the first human to hear the first commandment from God, and because he subsequently disobeyed the command, this put him in a place of singular responsibility for humanity's sin.

Laura said...

This is VERY preliminary thinking, but basically, could it be that Adam is held responsible because he received the command (meaning his sin was counted)? I realize I may be all wet fact I'm not sure if I agree with myself any longer (sleep can do that:-).

Reading your summarized take on it, I think we likely agree.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis said...

When God created the first human, God gave him a commandment (“the law was given” Rom 5:13). When Adam and Eve disobeyed the command, it was charged to their account. They were punished and expelled from the Garden. The commandment they had broken then became inapplicable. From that time to Moses, there was no commandment; yet death (the consequence of breaking the first commandment) reigned.

It is true that Adam would not have been held responsible if there had been no commandment. But since the sin of both Adam and Eve would have been “counted,” I don’t see how Paul’s observations in vs. 13-14 would have any bearing on Adam’s being “the one man” held responsible for human sinfulness.

Laura said...

Rebecca, that is the very thought that occurred to me this morning. I plead end of semester-end of degree stress.