Before

Complementarians tell me that the pre-fall gender roles was glorious perfect headship and flawless submission. They tell me that sin distorted them. Men still had headship, but they were harsh or passive. Women still had to submit but they were usurpers or doormats. Then Jesus turned back the curses and restored the roles. Men had headship that was neither harsh nor passive. Women had submission that was neither doormat nor usurper. Which means that the New Testament pattern must be exactly what the pre-fall state was like.

So Before the fall, Adam was neither harsh nor passive, he exhibited Christ-like servant leadership as he made the decisions and had the final word on all matters. As the spiritual leader, Adam would teach Eve the one commandment and lead prayers. Eve was neither a doormat nor a usurper, but perfectly submitted to Adam’s leadership as the Church submits to Christ. Because Eve was not the spiritual leader, she would silently listen to Adam as he expounded on profound spiritual things. One day, as A&E were walking, a serpent came up to them and asked: “Is it true that y’all must not eat from any tree in the garden?” Before Eve could answer, Adam took charge of the situation and said, “This is a rather suspicious serpent. I was there when I named all the creatures and I know for a fact that the serpent I named couldn’t speak. What’s more, it looked different – it was another color. I’m the head and I say we ignore this pitiful creature.” Eve was accustomed to always agreeing when Adam said that he was the head, so she submitted to his decision. From that day forward, whenever the talking serpent spoke to them, they’d run from it in the opposite direction. In time, they had many sons and daughters who all grew up in the garden. When it came time to marry them off to each other, Adam would explain to his sons what perfect headship was and Eve would explain to her daughters how to be perfectly submissive. Because no one ever sinned, Christ was never born because no one needed saving. No one ever died either. Every now and then God would walk through the garden and see how people just kept on multiplying. “If this keeps up, I’ll have to build a bigger garden to hold them all! What I wouldn’t give for a world with a little more action! Maybe a chance to cause some natural disaster or send out my army to slaughter thousands of enemies. I wonder – what if I start over and instead of hard-wiring their free will to the context of their gender roles I just let them have completely free will? What’s the worst that could happen?”

Maybe it’s not an accurate representation, but that’s the problem with reading the post-Resurrection concept of headship into pre-fall Genesis; it just doesn’t work. You can’t have Christ-like servant leadership if Christ is never born to exemplify it, and the picture of marriage as a representation of Christ and the Church’s relationship also falls flat without Christ or the need for a Church for him to marry. If Eve is never deceived, then the rule that woman must not teach or lead never gets written. The reality that Christ represents is not a restoration of the original pattern, but a replacement. I know why Complementarians are desperate to hang onto the idea of pre-fall headship; because through the teaching of creation order, the idea that men have authority over women depends upon the idea that God gave Adam authority over Eve while in their perfect, sinless states. Even in the sin-tainted ancient world, they continued to carry on the pattern of men having authority over women; every priest, prophet, king, adviser, and head of house-hold were men who had authority over the women in their lives. Paul happily confirmed that yes, men are the heads of their women, so the pattern remains intact for thousands of years. It doesn’t occur to them that the idea of people ruling other people is the problem. It was the problem on race lines, it was the problem on class lines, it was the problem wherever problems were problematic. Why they think that one gender ruling over the other won’t be a problem is beyond me.

I suppose they might say “The Bible says it won’t be a problem.” Which is what we thought about slavery until we realized that it’s not in human nature to be biblical about how we go about it, how it was immoral for one person to own another, to decide for them what they will do, and how badly people had been treated because they were inferior. It’s not in our nature for one gender to rule over the other with any greater degree of success just because it’s Biblical. You remember Herod’s temple? Did you know that it didn’t fully match what the Bible described? It added on a few sections, a court of the Gentiles, a court of the Women, among others. Where do you think the early church met? Somewhere only Jewish men could meet? Somewhere Jewish men and women could meet? Somewhere Jewish and Gentile men and women could meet? Solomon’s colonnade was a place where men and women both Jewish and Gentiles could gather, they had equal access. Today men and women ought to have equal access, but that’s only a dream so long as doors remain shut to women in Christianity.

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3 thoughts on “Before

  1. Hmm… I agree with the sentiment, but I think you can afford to be far more strident about affirming that sentiment directly from the Bible.

    Jesus defined “authority” in terms of service (Mark 10:42-44). He said that the one who serves most authentically is the greatest. In most homes in my neighborhood that means Jesus’ assessment would be that the woman is the head…

    I think it is worth noting that “submission” for Eve was actually described as part of a curse – “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). It might be noted that, as with the other curses about growing food and so forth, these are not so much a matter of God imposing punishments on Adam and Eve, as God announcing what life outside the garden will be like for them. Then he clothed them so that they would survive!

    Submission of women was not foreshadowed in the pre-fall garden at all. There was no sense in which Eve was less important or less authoritative than Adam. In fact, she acted first and led Adam into temptation, which indicates she had at least equal authority in their relationship. Ephesians 5 famously charges women to be “like the church”, which I think many of my female friends are, and charges men to be “like Christ”, which most of my male friends are not. Being “like Christ” in this context means “washing” your wife through your words, to make her blemish-free in your own eyes, and laying down your life for her…

    In Christ, the consummate kingdom, there is “no longer Jew [in contradistinction with] Greek, there is no longer slave [in contradistinction with] free, there is no longer male [in contradistinction with] female; for all of you are in unity in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). It really could not be more clear – the final state of things is, among other things, a complete restoration of women’s equality; The inequality expressed in male dominance is part of the problem in the world, not any part of the solution.

    I would suggest that the Bible describes peace on earth, equality of the sexes, reconciliation, love, the exaltation of the humble, justice for the oppressed, and so forth, all not only as an “ultimate” state, but as the defining contours of God’s community of people today. We don’t need to invent a feminist hermeneutic. We just need to recover the feminist theology that is already replete in the Bible.

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  2. It’s a little bit different for me as I recover my voice – it feels like I’m learning to speak a whole new language for the first time. I think as get I used to not holding back I’ll find a way to say what I really think, but in the mean time that means not arguing as strongly as I could. I still like to leave room for conversation – I know I don’t know everything in this new language and that more experienced speakers will bring fascinating new perspectives into the conversation.
    The more I learn though, the more I realize that Wayne Grudem, John Piper, 9 Marks, The Gospel Coalition, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, small groups like The Head Covering Movement, and all the rest have done a real number on Christianity and twisted many teachings into an unrecognizable shadow of what they should have been. I don’t know if I’ll strike up the courage to really take them on, but I’d like to think by being a contrarian I can help bring a little balance into an extremely tilted Christianity.
    I really can’t argue with what you’re saying – which takes some of the fun of being a contrarian out of the equation. I guess I’m so used to dealing with complementarian language that I just don’t know how to carry a conversation on in an egalitarian context, which is a really refreshing change.

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  3. 🙂 I don’t call myself “complementarian”, because of the great irony of what the label has come to represent (and because I think labels so often do more harm than good).

    May you “find your voice”. You’re saying important things. I only want to encourage you, that what you are saying is far better attested in the Bible than what you have claimed. You are speaking the well informed, erudite truth, and the more widely you are heard the better for all of us.

    Godspeed.

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