Monday, April 28, 2008

Adam: First but not Best

cokhavim asked: 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?

The account of the Fall makes it clear that God tested both the man and the woman, not just the man. Both male and female knew the fruit was forbidden (although it does not tell us how the woman came to know this), both sinned, and both were individually responsible for their sin.

But as the first human created and the first to receive from God a commandment (which he subsequently disobeyed), Adam stands in as the representative of transgression and disobedience, in contrast with the righteousness and obedience of Christ (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Only in this Pauline picture of the first Adam and the “last Adam” does Scripture speak of the man Adam as representative of humanity. The Bible does not speak of manhood per se as representative of humanity. Nor does the Genesis text accord the man a higher status than the woman.

To be sure, there is some asymmetry in the way the text in Genesis 2 speaks of the man and the woman. But asymmetry does not entail inequality. The patriarchal-complementarian (PC) perspective sees in the asymmetry “hints” and “whispers” of male authority—of which the text itself makes no mention. But I see in the asymmetry merely the consequences of a fact that is clearly stated in the text, namely, the prior creation of the man. As I point out repeatedly in my chapter on creation in Good News for Women, every supposed hint of headship in the Genesis text is more plausibly explained by the fact that Adam was formed first, then Eve.

There is no reason to conclude that what Scripture says of Adam is true of every man. There was only one “first human.” That person 1) was created out of dust, 2) identified and classified all the animals, 3) was the first to be given a commandment directly from God (which he later disobeyed), 4) was held responsible for the sin of humanity, 5) was the first Adam, which required a last Adam for humanity’s redemption. None of these points can be attributed to men in general. Adam’s representational role was unique. His singular responsibility for humanity’s sin is due to the fact that he was the first human, not that he was a male human.

There are no logical grounds to conclude from Adam’s representative role that maleness per se is somehow representative of humanity or superior to femaleness. Moreover, such an interpretation is ruled out by Genesis 1:26-28, according to which both male and female reflect and represent God by virtue of the imago dei, and both represent God as authoritative agents who rule the earth under God. In Discovering Biblical Equality, Rick Hess aptly describes this creational rule as “the ongoing activity of God’s ordering and creating in the world and in civilization” (p. 82; I highly recommend this chapter). If this is the sort of agency and authority that God assigned to both male and female, then any notion of maleness being representative of humanity is completely unwarranted.

In any case, if there were ontological significance to be made of Adam’s representative status, it would be the ontology of sin. Adam’s representational role pertains to his transgression against God’s command. And this role is one of sorrow and shame, not of ontological superiority.

Finally, we need to remember that the issue in question in the gender debate is whether or not God has given authority to male and female equally. Being responsible for something or representative of something is not necessarily to be in authority over something. There are many different kinds of authority. Although euphemistic and equivocal language abounds in descriptions of the PC view, the authority at issue in the gender debate is “final decision-making authority” or, even more stringently, “the right to command obedience.” The “representative authority” of the first human does not entail such authoritative leadership and so has no direct bearing on the debate over male-female authority.

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.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start)

“Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings 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. So God made human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26, TNIV).

When God created man and woman, he made them both—equally and without distinction—in the image of God, and he gave them both—equally and without distinction—authority and dominion to rule over the earth and all its non-human creatures. Notice the text suggests that the image of God entails and justifies the dominion of woman and man over all the earth. God made man and woman in his likeness so that they may rule. Where there is the image of God, there is authority.

Although human sin has defaced the divine image in humanity and skewed the authority that man and woman once shared together, God has provided redemption for us. Because of the cross of Christ, his resurrection, ascension and session at the right hand of God, and his dominion over all his enemies, and because believers in Christ have identified with the death of Christ and are now (by faith, though not yet in eschatological fullness) raised with him at the right hand of God, we too have been given authority, not just over the earth but also over our spiritual enemies. Every believer—equally and without distinction—has been given spiritual authority in Christ.

In Christ, the new creation has come. In Christ all redeemed humanity has authority over spiritual darkness and deception. In Christ all redeemed humanity is authorized and obligated to obey and to proclaim the Word of God to both the church and the world. And our authority to rule and to proclaim rests in the authority of Scripture and the authority of our risen Lord, not in any particular human quality or distinctive feature such as gender. Pragmatic considerations may require that in a particular setting the Word of God be proclaimed by one gender rather than the other. And, of course, a person’s particular spiritual gifts will point to certain ministry contexts and not to others. But the new covenant in Christ sets no universal spiritual limitations (or privileges) that are based solely on gender, race, or any other physical human characteristic.