“He will rule over you”: An egalitarian perspective

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Gen1.27I should start by saying that I dislike the term “egalitarian.” I’d rather refer to myself as a “complementarian” because I believe God made Eve to be a complement to Adam — to make up what was lacking. But “spiritual leadership” or “hierarchicalist” teachers have adopted “complementarian” as their own self-description, leaving me with an inexact term. After all, I don’t believe men and women are the same. But I do believe that anyone, male or female, who is gifted by God to lead should be allowed to lead.

I’m writing in response to Tim Archer’s recent article teaching that God only allows men to serve as spiritual leaders of men in the family and in the church. I have great respect for Tim both personally and as a student of scripture. But I have to disagree on this one point. Here’s why —

* Tim concludes that the NT’s teachings on the place of women in the family and the church is based on the relationship established by God between Adam and Eve before they sinned, that is, before the Fall of Man. I entirely agree.

* Tim explains,

Reproduction wasn’t new; God had already told men and women to multiply. But now childbirth would involved pain. Agriculture was already a part of their lives. But after the Fall, the earth would no longer work with them; food would be produced only through intense labor. It would only make sense that male leadership also existed before the Fall.

A better understanding of Genesis 3:16 recognizes that man was already supposed to be leading his wife; after the Fall, he would do so through domination. Servant leadership would be replaced by a dictatorial approach.

And I agree that the domination of wives by their husbands is a curse, not a command, and in fact exactly the sort of thing that Christians should oppose.

* I also agree that childbirth and agricultural labor existed in the Garden before sin, and a result of the Fall was for the challenges of labor and birth to be intensified by sin to the point of becoming curses.

* But this is where he loses me. Tim argues that male domination of wives is therefore an intensification of pre-Fall servant leadership to the point of becoming a curse; but unlike agriculture and childbirth, there is nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 that says this. Rather, male domination of wives is a corruption of the gender equality (“mutuality” would be a better word) that existed pre-Fall — as is easily found in chapters 1 and 2.

* For example, in Gen 3:15, the serpent is cursed with hostility between him and the woman. Before sin, there was no hostility at all. The Fall did not intensify a dislike into hatred. In fact, before the Fall, Eve was clearly at ease chatting with the serpent, whereas afterwards she became hostile. In other words, the text does not insist that each curse is an intensification of the way things were before the Fall. Rather, each curse is a corruption (φθορά) of the way things were (Rom 8:21; 2Pe 1:4 ESV).

In fact, Gen 1 and 2 teach equality (or mutuality) of Adam and Eve; not sameness but equal standing before God.

— In Gen 1:26-28, both male and female were created in the “image” and “likeness” of God himself. There is no distinction at all in chapter 1.

— In Gen 1:28, both male and female are given “dominion” over the creatures that live in the Creation. “Dominion” is the word for the rule of a king, and yet the female was given as much rule as the male.

— In Gen 2:18, we’re taught —

(Gen 2:18 ESV)  Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Man without the woman was “not good” — the only part of Creation that displeased God.

— Eve was made to be Adam’s “suitable helper.” In English, “helper” implies inferiority or subordination. But the Hebrew word,  עֵ֫זֶר or ‘ezer, usually refers to God as Israel’s Helper. Obviously, ‘ezer does not remotely suggest subordination or inferiority! Rather, it refers to someone who provides what’s needed. “Complement” would be an excellent translation (which is one reason I really wish I could refer to myself as a complementarian).

— In Gen 2:19-20, God showed Adam every animal there is, and not a one proves to be a suitable complement. Neither is God himself. Adam’s complement could not be an inferior, such as an animal, or a superior, such as God.

— In Gen 2:21-22, God created Woman (ishah) out of Man (ish). The similarities of the names show their closeness. The woman was not called “Eve” until after sin entered the world.

— God created woman from man’s rib. As the rabbis taught long before Jesus, God did not use the skull, so that the woman would not rule the man, nor the feet, so that the woman would be trod upon by the man, but the rib, so that she would be at his side.

— Moses himself explains the significance of how God made Eve —

(Gen 2:23-24 ESV) 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

“Bone of my bones.” “Flesh of my flesh.” “They shall become one flesh.” What language could be chosen to more clearly express equality? Oneness? Mutuality? In fact, because Moses speaks of the man leaving his parents for his wife, it’s the man who is called on to give up something of himself for the woman.

— Finally, Moses writes,

(Gen 2:25 ESV)  25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Why not ashamed? Because of their sameness; because of they were created to become one.

This is what the text says. And if Paul truly built his theology of marriage and the role of women in the church on the relationship of man and woman in the Garden, there is no basis there from which to assert that Eve was subordinate to Adam or that Adam was her “spiritual leader.” Rather, they were co-regents, rulers together.

In response to this argument, three objections are often voiced.

* Adam’s naming of the woman Eve shows his spiritual leadership over her. But Adam did not name her Eve until after the curse when he had been placed in dominance over her (Gen 3:16).

* Adam’s naming of the woman ishshah (woman) shows his spiritual leadership over her. But ishshah is a common noun, not her name. It’s only the giving of proper names that the scriptures imply might arguably indicate authority over someone. Moreover, Adam and Eve were both given dominion over the animals, and yet only Adam was charged with giving them names. Naming power does not imply authority over someone in this passage.

* The order of creation shows Adam’s spiritual leadership over her. This is based, not on Genesis, but 1 Tim 2:13. But we are talking about how to read Genesis 1 and 2. Adam and Eve were created after the animals, and they were given dominion over the animals. The order of creation points toward the creation of mankind and the resting of God in his new Creation, not from higher in authority to lower in authority.

So what do we do with 1 Tim 2:13? Well, I offer a more comprehensive answer in my eBook Buried Talents, but here’s a highly abbreviated explanation of 1 Tim 2:11-14.

(1Ti 2:11-14 NET)  11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness.  12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet [Greek: “in quietness”].  13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve.  14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression.

First, I believe the text is best understood when we outline the passage as follows:

a women should learn in quietness

b do not teach or exercise authority (in a domineering way), but be in full submission

Adam was formed first

Eve was deceived

This structure is called a “chiasm” and is very common in the scriptures [1] and the ancient world in general. The logic is parallel, with a’ explaining a and b’ explaining b.

  1. Women should learn in quietness because (a’) women should not be easily deceived, as Eve was. Paul uses the account of Eve’s deception to apply essentially the same point to all Christians in 2 Cor 11:1-3. “But I’m afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” As in 1 Timothy, Paul sees Eve’s sin as a warning to Christians, men or women, against being led astray by false teachers.
  2. The reference to Eve being deceived makes the point that women should learn so as to avoid following Eve’s bad example in being deceived.[2] When women do not study, they allow themselves to become victims of false teaching, and they can’t count on their husbands’ learning to protect themselves, any more than Eve was protected by Adam from the serpent’s lies. This is exactly what was going on in Ephesus at the time, and it continues to be sound advice. Paul’s first command is that the women “should learn.” Only by learning can the women avoid following in Eve’s footsteps.
  3. Wives should not teach in a domineering way because (b’) Eve was made as Adam’s suitable complement. Thus, the rationale must be found in the purpose behind the order of creating men and women. Man was not good alone. He needed a suitable complement. God made women to complement their husbands. Therefore, if a wife domineers, she fails to be the complement that God intended.

We learn from this passage:

  1. Women are required to learn in quietness. The command to quietness is the natural extension of Paul’s command that all Christians should live quiet and peaceful lives, found in 1 Tim 2:2 (based on the same Greek word).
  2. Wives are to be in submission to and complements for their husbands, and this is always true.
  3. Wives may not teach in a domineering way.
  4. Women should learn God’s word to protect themselves from deception (which is always true but was a particularly critical need in Ephesus when Paul wrote 1 Timothy).
  5. Nothing in this passage teaches that women are gullible or more gullible than men.[3]

Concluding thoughts

We would do far better in defining “spiritual leadership” to emphasize “spiritual.” The NT teaches that leadership in the church is a gift of the Spirit (Acts 20:28; 1Cor 12:28; Rom 12:3-8; Eph 4:11). Note especially,

(Act 20:28 NET)  28 Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

The Spirit gives gifts of leadership to equip the church with leaders and elders. And if being a leader is a gift, we are taught —

(1Co 12:21 NET) 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.”

And Rom 12:3-8 commands that someone with the gift to lead should lead with zeal. Thus, both the gifted person and the rest of the church are commanded to let God decide what God decides. If he gives a gift to someone, he has thereby authorized its use.

Just as God equipped Deborah to be a judge over the people, male and female, as well as a prophetess, those whom God equips to lead are authorized to use their gifts in God’s service. And because Deborah was equipped by God to have authority over men, she did not sin when she exercised that authority, even over the male head of Israel’s army.

And the Spirit still gives gifts to Christians to lead, and those with the gift may do so — indeed, are instructed to do so.


[1] See Brian Casey, “Galatians mini-structures,” NT Christianity (March 1, 2013), https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/galatians-mini-structures/, for several other examples from Paul’s writings.

[2] The NET Bible translators note –

Although the Greek conjunction δέ (de) can have a simple connective force (“and”), it is best to take it as contrastive here: Verse 1 Tim. 2:11 gives a positive statement (that is to say, that a woman should learn). This was a radical and liberating departure from the Jewish view that women were not to learn the law.

[3] Indeed, if being compared to Eve’s sin makes a gender gullible in God’s eyes, then both genders are gullible because both men and women are compared to Eve’s deception in 2 Cor. 11:3.

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