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Chapter 4, Part 4

Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture

Samuele Bacchiocchi


Part III - Genesis 3: Sin and Subordination

1. Distortion of Creation

The first two chapters of Genesis present God's creation as He intended it to be. We have seen that God built male headship (not male domination) and female submission into the glorious pre-Fall order of creation. The third chapter of Genesis describes the disruption and distortion of creation brought about by the Fall. Our purpose here is to analyze briefly how the Fall affected the relationship between man and woman.

Genesis 3 is a crucial chapter for understanding what went wrong with God's original perfect creation. If human life started out in Edenic bliss, how do we account for the pain, sorrow, conflicts, and death that afflict mankind today? Genesis 3 explains their origin and gives us hope for God's provision of redemption and ultimate restoration.

Much of the chapter consists of what might be called a trial, in which God interrogates Adam and Eve, establishes their guilt, and pronounces punishment over the serpent, the ground, the woman, and the man. Of special interest for our study is the judgment pronounced upon the woman in Genesis 3:16. This judgment has two aspects. The first relates to childbearing and the second to her relation to her husband. Childbearing, part of the pre-Fall divine design for filling the earth (Gen 1:28), was now to become a painful process (Gen 3:16). The husband-wife relationship would also experience a painful distortion: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16).


The Author's Interpretation

Our author finds in this passage the beginning of the submission of woman to man which he believes did not exist before the Fall. He maintains that it was only "after the Fall, according to Genesis 3:16, that the husband was given a servant headship role to preserve the harmony of the home, while at the same time the model of equal partnership was still set forth as the ideal. This post-Fall prescription of husband headship and wife submission was limited to the husband-wife relationship. In the divine revelation throughout the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament witness, servant headship and voluntary submission on the part of husband and wife, respectively, are affirmed, but these are never broadened to the covenant community in such a way as to prohibit women from taking positions of leadership, including headship positions over men."26

So far we have examined the author's thesis by focusing on his interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. We have found his attempts to negate the presence of male headship and female submission in these two chapters to be unsuccessful. A close study of significant details of these texts in the light of Paul's interpretation of the same passages has shown that the principle of male headship and female submission is rooted and grounded in the very order and manner of Adam and Eve's creation.

At this juncture we need to analyze the Women in Ministry chapter's interpretation of Genesis 3:16. We intend to address two questions: (1) Does Genesis 3 mark the origin of male headship and female submission, as our author claims? Or does it allow for the possibility of a painful distortion of an already existing headship-submission principle? (2) Is male headship restricted to the home, as the author contends, or does it extend also to the community of faith in such a way as to exclude women from serving in headship positions over men? We shall attempt to answer these questions by considering first the role of Adam and Eve in the Fall and then the divine judgments passed on them.


The Nature of the Temptation

In the first five verses of Genesis 3, Satan, masquerading as a serpent, plants seeds of doubt in Eve's mind which lead her to question the limitation God had placed on them regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent pretended to disclose an important secret to Eve, namely, that by partaking of the forbidden fruit she would reach her full potential and become divine. Eve succumbed to the deception. Genesis describes in a matter-of-fact way the actual acts of Adam and Eve: "She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat" (Gen 3:6 KJV).

What happened has significant implications. The text clearly indicates that Eve played the leading role in taking the fruit, eating it, and giving it to her husband, who enters the scene at a later time. The latter is suggested by the prepositional phrase "with her" (immah) which, as H. C. Leupold points out, "strongly suggests that at the outset, when temptation began, Adam was not with Eve but had only joined her at this time."27 Ellen White states even more plausibly that Adam was not at the tree during the temptation at all, but that Eve, after eating the forbidden fruit, went in search of Adam and brought some to him.28

Note that Adam did not take the fruit from the tree but received it from his wife, who played the leading role in the Fall. Adam willingly let his wife take the lead. Apparently, as Ellen White indicates, Eve "was flattered [by the serpent] with the hope of entering a higher sphere than that which God had assigned to her"29 at her husband's side. She usurped Adam's headship, and instead of being his helper to live as God intended, she led him into sin.

A careful reading of Genesis 3 suggests that the original sin of Adam and Eve was largely due to role reversal. The Fall did not originate male headship and female submission, as our author contends, but actually resulted from a failure to respect these roles. Adam failed to exercise his spiritual leadership by protecting Eve from the serpent's deception, and, on her part, Eve failed to respect her submissive role by staying by her husband's side. The tragic consequences of the first sex role reversal carry a solemn warning for Christians today who are told that role interchangeability is a sign of human emancipation.


Why Is Adam Responsible for Mankind's Sin?

If our author's contention is correct that "before the Fall there was full equality with no headship-submission in the relationship between Adam and Eve (Gen 2:24),"30 then why didn't God summon Adam and Eve to account together for their transgression? After all, Eve had played the leading role. Why did God call out only to Adam, "Where are you" (Gen 3:9)? Why does Genesis 3:7 say that it was only after Adam ate of the forbidden fruit that the eyes of both were opened? Why does Paul hold Adam responsible for the entrance of sin into this world when he writes, "Sin came into the world through one man" (Rom 5:12)? Why didn't he say "sin came into the world through one woman" or "through the first couple"? Why is Christ portrayed as the second Adam and not the second Eve? The answer to these questions is simple: God had appointed Adam to serve in a headship role. He bore primary responsibility for failing to exercise his spiritual leadership at the time of the temptation. Consequently, as the head of Eve and of the human family, his transgression brought sin and death to fallen humanity.

In both Genesis 2 and 3, Adam is addressed as the one to whom God had entrusted the responsibility of spiritual leadership. Adam received the divine instructions not to eat of the tree of knowledge (Gen 2:16-17); consequently, he was in a special way responsible for instructing Eve so that neither of them would transgress God's command. The great fault of Adam in the Fall was his failure to exercise his role of spiritual leadership. Instead of leading his wife into obedience to God's command, he allowed his wife to lead him into disobedience.

The leadership position that God assigned to Adam made him especially responsible for the transgression of the divine commandment. Werner Neuer rightly observes that "the leadership position of the man intended by God in Genesis 2 precludes ascribing to Eve the chief guilt for the Fall, as has happened time and again in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. His seduction by Eve offers no excuse for Adam, for he was pledged on the basis of his spiritual responsibility to correct his wife and to prevent the disobedience initiated by her from turning into joint rebellion against God."31 Because of his failure to exercise his spiritual headship role at the time of Eve's temptation, Adam is fittingly viewed in the Bible as the head of fallen humanity. If this interpretation is correct, as the text strongly suggests, then Women in Ministry's contention that male headship is a post-Fall phenomenon is clearly incorrect.


The Curse on the Serpent

After interrogating the first human couple, God states the consequences of their actions to the serpent, the woman, and the man. These consequences have been generally referred to as "curses." The curse upon the serpent affects not only the serpent as an animal (Gen 3:14) but also the relation between Satan and mankind, characterized by an "enmity" and hostility which will eventually end at the destruction of Satan himself (Gen 3:15). God's merciful promise to defeat our enemy through the victorious Offspring of the woman is our only hope for a glorious destiny.


The Judgment Upon the Woman

The divine judgment upon the woman is of central concern for our study, because it deals directly with the impact of the Fall upon the husband-wife relationship. The judgment upon the woman has two aspects. The first relates to her role as a mother and the second to her role as a wife. As a mother she will still be able to bear children, but God decrees that she will suffer in childbirth: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children" (Gen 3:16). Childbearing, which was part of the pre-Fall divine design for the filling of the earth (Gen 1:28), will now become a painful process.

As a wife, the woman will suffer in relation to her husband. "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16). This divine judgment represents a measure-for-measure response to Eve's attempt to usurp her husband's headship. The meaning of the first phrase appears to be, as Leupold puts it, "She who sought to strive apart from man and to act independently from him in the temptation, [now] finds a continual attraction for him to be her unavoidable lot."32 Feminists may try to banish a woman's attraction for man, but it is there to stay. This is not necessarily a punitive element. The meaning of the word "desire" (Hebrew teshuqah) is illuminated by its occurrence in Song of Solomon, where the Shulamite bride joyfully exclaims, "I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me" (Song 7:10).

The second phrase, "he shall rule over you," has been the subject of numerous interpretations. Our Women in Ministry chapter acknowledges that the "word mashal [to rule] in this form in verse 16d means `to rule' (and not `to be like') and definitely implies subjection."33 The meaning appears to be that as the woman sought to rule man by taking control in her own hands and leading him into temptation, now her penalty is that she will be ruled by her husband. This does not mean that God gives a license to man to exercise despotic rulership. The author rightly points out that the Hebrew word for "to rule," mashal, is used in many passages "in the sense of servant leadership, to `comfort, protect, care for, love.'"34 The Old Testament uses mashal in a positive sense to describe God's rulership (Is 40:10; Ps 22:28) and the future rulership of the Messiah (Mic 5:2).

When a man rules in the spirit of Christ, such rule is not harsh or domineering and "may be regarded as a blessing in preserving the harmony and union of the relationship."35 But where sin prevails, then such a husband's rulership may become a miserable domination. God ordained that man should exercise godly headship, not ungodly domination.

The phrase, "he shall rule over you," represents God's rejection of the woman's attempt to take on the leadership role at the time of the Fall and His summons to the woman to return to her creation submission to man. The story of the Fall shows how the woman endangered herself and her husband by her bid to dominate. God's judgments upon the woman represent the divine remedy to maintain the intended order of the sexes as it appears in Genesis 2. The divinely intended submission of women has nothing to do with male domination and oppression of women. It is a beneficial arrangement designed to protect men and women from the destructive powers of evil.

Not all the elements of the divine judgment are punitive. God's declaration that the woman will bear children is not punitive; only the pains of birth are punishments for the Fall. Similarly, her desire for a man is not necessarily punitive, because the same is said about man before the Fall: the man leaves his parents in order to cleave to his wife (Gen 2:24). The punitive aspects of Genesis 3:16 do not imply that all aspects of subordination must be seen as punishment.

Summing up, we can say that the wording of Genesis 3:16 does not warrant our author's conclusion that the relationship between man and woman has been fundamentally altered by the Fall. George W. Knight cogently points out that "Genesis 3 presumes the reality of childbearing (Gen 1:28), in which the woman will now experience the effects of the Fall and sin (Gen 3:16). It presumes the reality of work (Gen 1:28; 2:15), in which the man will now experience the effect of the Fall and sin (Gen 3:17ff.). And it presumes the reality of the role relationship between wife and husband established by God's creation order in Genesis 2:18ff., a relationship that will now experience the effects of the Fall and sin (Gen 3:16). `He shall rule over you' expresses the effect of sin corrupting the relationship of husband (the head) and wife. Just as childbearing and work were established before the Fall and were corrupted by it, so this relationship existed before the Fall and was corrupted by it. Neither childbearing, nor work, nor the role relationship of wife and husband is being introduced in Genesis 3; all are previously existing realities that have been affected by the Fall."36


The Judgment Upon Man

The divine punishment for Adam's disobedience contains three significant points worthy of consideration. First, man's relationship to the ground is distorted: "Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; . . . In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread . . ." (Gen 3:17-19). Work is not the punitive element, just as childbearing was not Eve's punishment. The punitive element is the pain in cultivating the ground in the sweat of one's brow.

The second important point is God's rationale for inflicting the punishment. The first reason God gave for inflicting the punishment was not "Because you have eaten of the tree which I commanded you," but "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you" (Gen 3:17). The point here is obvious. Adam sinned first of all because he listened to the voice of his wife rather than to the command of God. By so doing, he abdicated his headship. Second, and as a result of the first, Adam sinned by transgressing the simple and plain command God had given him (Gen 2:17).

Note that God issued a formal indictment only before sentencing Adam, and not before sentencing Eve. The reason is that Adam was the head and thus ultimately responsible for the disobedience of both. God did not place the blame on both as if both shared equal responsibility. God says: "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife . . . cursed is the ground because of you" (Gen 3:17). The "you" refers exclusively to Adam, because he had been entrusted with the responsibility to serve as the spiritual and moral leader.

A third point to note is that God told only Adam that he would die: "till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen 3:19). Eve died too, of course, but God pronounced the death sentence on Adam alone, because he was the head, and the death sentence upon him included Eve and all members of the human family that he represented.


Paul's Use of Genesis 3

In our study of Genesis 1 and 2 we noted that Paul faithfully appealed to the implication of these chapters to support his teaching that women ought not "to teach or to have authority over men" (1 Tim 2:12). We must now turn our attention to Paul's use of Genesis 3. His main reference to Genesis 3 is found in 1 Timothy 2:14: "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." This is the second of the two reasons Paul gives to support his teaching. The first reason is the priority of Adam's formation (1 Tim 2:13).

This second reason, based on Eve's deception, has produced many dangerous interpretations. Some have assumed that this verse teaches that women are disqualified to act as leaders in the church because they are more gullible than men. Paul "may have in mind the greater aptitude of the weaker sex to be led astray."37 A variation of this interpretation is that women "are inferior in their gifts so far as the teaching office is concerned."38

These interpretations are wrong because nowhere does Scripture suggest that women are more prone to err than men or that their teaching gifts are inferior. If the latter were true, how could Paul admonish women to teach their children and other women (Titus 2:3-5; 2 Tim 3:15)? How could he praise women fellow-workers for their roles in the missionary outreach of the church (Rom 16:1, 3, 12; Phil 4:3)?

To understand the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:14 we must note that this verse is linked to the preceding one by the conjunction "and" (kai), which Paul often uses as an explanatory connective (see 1 Tim 4:4; 5:4-5). In this case the connective "and" suggests that the typological meaning of Adam's having been formed first, as mentioned in verse 13, is connected with the typological meaning of Eve's deception, mentioned in verse 14.

Apparently Paul is saying that both Adam's formation and Eve's deception typologically represent woman's subordination to man. As we have noted, Paul's first reason for his teaching appeals to the order of creation and the second reason to the Fall. The second reason shows what happens when the order of creation is disregarded. When Eve asserted her independence from Adam she was deceived.

The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary supports this interpretation, "The apostle's second argument for the submissiveness of women is that when Eve tried to assert leadership she was beguiled."39 In a similar vein George W. Knight writes: "In 1 Timothy 2:14 Paul also refers to the Fall after citing the creation order . . . to show the dire consequences of reversing the creation order on this most historic and significant occasion."40


2. Conclusion

Our study of the first three chapters of Genesis has shown that the principle of male headship and female submission was established by God at creation and not, as Women in Ministry contends, after the Fall. We have found that Genesis 1 simply affirms that man and woman are equally created in the image of God but are sexually different. By twice calling the human race "man" (Gen 1:26-27), God whispers male headship already in Genesis 1, though it is explained in chapter two.

Genesis 2 clarifies the equality and gender distinctions of Genesis 1. Man and woman are equal in nature, because they share the same human flesh and bone and have the same spiritual value before God. Yet they are different in function, because woman is to be submissive to man. The latter is indicated by the following four elements of the narrative: (1) the priority of man's creation (Gen 2:7, 22), (2) the manner of the woman's creation out of man (Gen 2:21-22), (3) the woman's creation to be man's helper (Gen 2:18-20), and (4) man's naming of the woman both before and after the Fall (Gen 2:23; 3:20). The headship of man is implied also in chapter 3 where God calls upon the man to answer for the pair's transgression and indicts the man (not the woman) for failing to fulfill his headship role by listening to the voice of his wife rather than to His command.

Genesis 3 describes the distortion of the creation order brought about by the Fall. This distortion affected not only the serpent, the land, work, and childbearing, but also the submission of woman to man. Sinful man would now take advantage of his headship to dominate and oppress his wife. Contrary to our author's view, the curse on the woman marked not the institution of submission but rather its distortion into oppressive domination.

Paul attaches fundamental importance to the teachings of the first three chapters of Genesis. We found that he appeals to the pre-Fall order and manner of creation as the basis for the submission of woman to the leadership of man, both in marriage and in the church. Paul's appeal to the order of creation is in line with Christ's teaching that calls for a restoration of the creational relationship (Matt 19:8) by the members of His kingdom. The function of redemption is not to redefine creation but to restore it, so that wives may learn godly submission and husbands may learn godly headship.

Paul bases his teaching concerning the role of women in the church not on the consequences of the Fall described in Genesis 3, but on the pre-Fall order of creation presented in Genesis 1 and 2. The foundation of his teaching is not the divine judgments pronounced at the Fall but God's original purpose manifested in the order and manner of human creation. It is unfortunate that in his interpretation of Genesis 1, 2, and 3, our author consistently ignores Paul's appeals to these chapters to support his teachings in regard to male-female role distinctions in the home and in the church. Ignoring the internal witness of the Bible can give rise to private interpretations.

Genesis 1-3 deals primarily with husband-wife relations, but the underlying principle of equality and submission has broader implications for the roles of men and women within the community of faith. This will become evident in the next two sections, where we examine the ministry of women in both Old and New Testaments. We shall see that though women ministered to God's people in a variety of vital religious roles, including that of prophet, there are no indications in Scripture that they were ever ordained to serve as priests in the Old Testament or as pastors, elders, or bishops in the New Testament. The reason is to be found, not in the patriarchal mentality of Bible times but in the recognition of the headship role which God appointed man as the "firstborn" of the human family, to be fulfilled in the home and in public worship. The Bible implies this principle in the creation story of Genesis 2 and upholds it in both the Old and New Testaments.


Next Page
Chapter 4, Part 3
Chapter 4, Part 5

Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph.D., is Professor of Religion, Andrews University.

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