Scriptural Roles of Women: Genesis
My goal in this series is to analyze how complementarians and egalitarians come to their conclusions of women’s roles in their particular use of Christian Scripture, not to necessarily persuade anyone to a certain position. I recognize the pros and cons, in biblical and experiential interpretation, of both sides. I also understand that this is a very personal subject because this discussion, as a whole, directly addresses the past, present and future of women in ministry. As with all theological studies, mere abstract language will not suffice; we are discussing God and our place in His world.
For this case study, I will be drawing from the Core Beliefs from The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and Christians for Biblical Equality’s (CBE) statement “Men, Women, and Biblical Equality”. I will be looking at various parts of Genesis 1-3.
In the Beginning
Both complementarians and egalitarians view both man and woman as “equal”, though complementarians see gender distinctive roles. Both parties draw on Genesis 1:26-27, though CBE also includes verse 28:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
CBE sees this text as evidence for the “[joint] responsibilities of bearing and rearing children and having dominion over the created order.”
CBMW makes no mention of this verse, citing 1:26-27 and 2:18, concluding that “Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood” and “manifests the equally high value and dignity which God attached to the roles of both men and women”. So why does CBMW not cite 1:28 as part of their core beliefs?
How do both sides understand “helper” and its implications?
From a complementarian perspective, Genesis 1:28 would still be interpreted within the role of the woman as “helper” (2:18)(עֵזֶר, ‘ezer) of the male in this mandate. CBMW cites the “helper” role of the woman as a support for “the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community” and that “Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin.” The helper plays a supportive role to the leader.
However, the egalitarian perspective sees a linguistic connection with the use of עֵזֶר throughout Scripture, taking note that the same word “refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage (e.g. I Sam 7:12; Psalm 121:1-2). Consequently the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority.” The connection is that God is seen as a helper to humanity as well, yet that does not downplay Him to a subordinate role to man; therefore, women may function in the creation narrative as a “helper”, but the position is of equal ground.
Building upon CBMW’s viewpoint, “the Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women”; more specifically “in the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility” (Gen 3:1-7, 12, 16). There is no specification on how “he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16) is to be understood in terms of a curse.
CBE comes from the opposite standpoint: “The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order. Genesis 3:16 is a prediction of the effects of the Fall rather than a prescription of God’s ideal order.” In this view, rather than being a representation of God’s design, male headship is part of sin’s curse in relationships. However, the issue of God issuing the curse does create some tension in this answer.
What is your take on these interpretations?
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- scottxstephens said: great work Alvin. I usually base my more egalitarian stance on a reading of the New Testament (specifically Paul in Galatians), but this idea of starting in Genesis is great. We’ve actually got a “Women in the Old Testament” class here at my school.
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