Genesis 3:16 (continued)
In the previous note, I examined the punishment decreed by God for the woman in Gen 3:16. I concluded the discussion with the important observation that the situation in the last two lines of that verse, which establish a ‘subordinate’ position for women, reflect the sinful (“fallen”) human condition and should not be considered part of the good order of creation initially set by God (Gen 1:31). This is most significant in light of the Christian revelation; for, if in Christ, believers are no longer in bondage to sin and the old order of things (the “old man”), to what extent are we still to be bound by the conditions of Gen 3:16? Paul’s line of argument in Romans 5:5-21 would indicate that Christ’s work has effectively reversed or undone the effect of Adam’s (i.e. humankind’s) transgression (Gen 3). However, the discussion in chapters 6-7, as well as all throughout the other letters, makes clear that Paul’s view of the situation was more nuanced and realistic—believers, while free from the power of sin, were still living within the fallen order of creation (8:18ff), and still plagued by the impulse to sin which remains in the “flesh” (7:13-25). Only with the resurrection will believers (in their human bodies) be freed completely from the effects of sin and death. Until that time, humans (including believers) are still faced, essentially, with the physical/biological and psychological effects of Gen 3:16-19. But how exactly does this continuing “fallen” condition relate to believers in Christ, that is, in the Church? If we are truly a new creation (Rom 7:6; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 3:28; 6:15, etc), how far should we continue to uphold the old order of things within the body of Christ?
This brings us to the relation between men and women in the Church, as addressed in the Pauline letters; I have examined all of the principal passages, in Parts 1-6 of this series. There are two key passages which draw upon the Creation narratives in Genesis 1-3—1 Cor 11:2-16 and 1 Tim 2:11-15 (discussed in Parts 1 and 5, respectively). It will be helpful here to look at these references again.
1 Cor 11:2-16 (vv. 7-9)
In this passage, Paul is addressing the corporate worship-meeting, and the believers—men and women—who take active speaking/preaching roles in it. Their participation should take place according to certain established customs, including a specific dress-code, whereby women speak/preach with their head covered, while the men do so uncovered. Paul’s primary argument is that this maintains an appropriate order, and distinction between genders, which reflects the order of creation. This is not strictly an argument for the subordination of women, though a definite order and (hierarchical) chain of relation is declared in verse 3—man is the head of woman, Christ is the head of man, and God is the head of Christ. The same basic conceptual framework continues on into the argument from Scripture (vv. 7-9), in which Paul refers to the Creation account. Significantly, he does not refer to the “fall” nor the context of Gen 3:16; rather, his argument is based on an interpretive blending of Gen 1:26-27 and the narrative in chap. 2:
Verse 7—Paul states that a man (a)nh/r) is the “image and honor/glory of God”. This alludes to Gen 1:26-27; however, in the actual context of that passage, “man” (<d*a*) is best understood as humankind collectively—male and female both. Paul, by contrast, seems to interpret the “man” in the gender-specific sense of a male human being, presumably in light of chapter 2. He has also made two additions which are not found in the Genesis account: (a) he has added “honor/glory” (do/ca) to “image”, and (b) the distinction that while the man is the image/glory of God, the woman is the glory of the man.
Verse 8—Here he alludes to the actual process of the woman’s creation, as narrated in Gen 2:21-22—that she was formed out of (e)k, i.e. from) the man, and not the other way around. In a technical sense this would indicate the man/male’s priority, but it is doubtful that many readers today would find this a very convincing argument.
Verse 9—Along the same lines, Paul derives from Gen 2:18ff, the idea that the woman was created for the sake of the man, and not the other way around. The preposition dia/ (lit. “through”) may have a two-fold meaning: on the one hand, it effectively restates verse 8 (i.e. she was created from the man); on the other hand, she was created because of the man (i.e. to be his helper/partner).
It must be admitted that Paul has made relatively free use of the Genesis narrative, though his method of interpretation here can be said to be in accord generally with Jewish thought of the time. Unfortunately, he does not make at all clear just why the situation of Gen 2 should be considered normative for believers in Christ. In Part 1 (and the separate note on 1 Cor 11:10) I raised the possibility that verses 7-10a refer the old order of creation, while vv. 10b-12 refer to the new. According to such a view, Paul would actually be arguing that the situation in the Church should reflect a new (and transformed) order of things, where men and women serve together side by side, equally, but without entirely abolishing the gender-distinction of the old (original) order.
1 Timothy 2:11-15
In this passage, Paul (or the author of 1 Timothy [cf. Part 5]) seems to be addressing the role of women in the worship-meeting (and the congregation) more generally, in a manner similar to that of 1 Cor 14:34-35 (on this passage, cf. Part 2). Again, an appeal is made to the Creation account, but this time the author does make use of the “Fall” narrative in Genesis 3. In the context of 1 Tim 2:11-15, Paul instructs Timothy that women ought to behave and learn quietly, adding the personal injunction: “I do not turn over to a woman to teach or have power over [au)qentei=n] a man” (v. 12). This latter verb may well have brought to mind the final line of Gen 3:16—”and he [i.e. the man] will have control [lv*m=y]] with/over you”. For a woman to have power/authority over a man, would, in the mind of Paul (or the author), be a violation and distortion of the created order established by God. Verse 13 states bluntly what Paul had implied in 1 Cor 11:8-9—i.e., that the man was created first, before the woman. In verse 14f, however, we find an interesting (and, it would seem, highly problematic) use of Genesis 3:
“And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being deceived, came to be in transgression; but (yet) she will be saved through the bearing of offspring…”
This appears as a curious interpretive gloss on the narrative. A key question is whether “came to be in transgression” relates to Adam (and humankind) or specifically to the woman; the latter seems more likely here, but, if one were to accept the former, then the verse might be rendered: “And Adam was not deceived, but (by way of) the woman being deceived, came to be in transgression”. This would accord better with the proper sense of the Genesis narrative (and cf. Paul’s language in Rom 5:12ff). However, it is possible that the author specifically has in mind the punishment of Gen 3:16, which reflects the woman “in transgression”. Indeed, it is Gen 3:16 which emphasizes the bearing of children; though, again, the idea that this would result in her being “saved” seems quite out of place and intrusive to the creation narrative. Perhaps the thought was that, as long as the woman, like the man, remained faithful and obedient within the conditions in which God had placed her, she would be saved. This is suggested by 1 Tim 2:15b, though some commentators understand the phrase “if they should remain…” as referring to the woman’s children (rather than to women generally); even so, the proper rearing and education of her children would be evidence of the woman’s faithfulness.
The entire argument, it must be said, is foreign to our way of thinking today. Even commentators who prefer the traditional-conservative (“subordinationist”) view toward the role of women in the Church are unlikely to use the Genesis narrative in this way. It has been suggested that Paul (or the author of 1 Timothy) was addressing certain kinds of false teaching which emphasized ascetic behavior and the denial of marriage (1 Tim 4:3). Indeed, there were ascetic tendencies in early Christianity which encouraged celibacy and downplayed the importance of marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul himself encourages believers, so equipped by God, and with the maturity or temperament for it, to remain single, which also meant staying celibate. According to the view of certain Gnostic groups, childbirth effectively kept believers bound to the “fallen” material condition, and so ought to be avoided—sexuality itself becoming sublimated and “spiritualized”. It is often thought that the Pastoral letters give evidence for early Gnostic thought which Paul (or the author) was combating. In an upcoming article of the current series, I will be discussing the subject of “Women in Gnosticism”.
If Christian women were being influenced by such teaching (cf. 2 Tim 3:6-7ff), this might explain the emphasis on childbearing (i.e. maintaining the marital and sexual bond). It is always difficult to read passages such as 1 Tim 2:11-15 without a complete knowledge of the specific issues and circumstances that the author is addressing. This, all the more, creates serious difficulties of interpretation for Christians today, especially in light of Galatians 3:28 and the noblest ideals associated with our union (and unity) as believers in Christ. How far should we attempt to apply 1 Cor 11:7-9 or 1 Tim 2:13-15 and adopt the particular understanding of Genesis 1-3 expressed in those passages? How exactly does the new order of creation (in Christ) relate to the old?