Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part II: Looking to Scripture (The Biblical Texts)
Chapter 4 – Equality With and Without Innocence: Genesis 1-3. By Richard S. Hess.
This essay is the first of ten in Part II that addresses specific scriptures pertinent to the discussion. Most of these essays are cursory in nature and I am giving an even more condensed presentation of the material. My intent here is not to fully explicate every argument but merely to remind us of the issues the authors point to.
Dr. Hess is examining the first three chapters of Genesis. He makes the case that both male and female are created in God’s image. What is essential to this idea of “image bearing” is the dominion that men and women are given dominion over the earth. He writes, “There is nothing in this first chapter to suggest anything other than an equality of male and female created together in the image of God.” (82)
Hess writes, “Whereas Genesis 1 describes God as Creator of the cosmos and all of life, Genesis 2 focuses on the creation of the man along with his home, work and companion.” (82) Most hierarchicalists find the idea of primogeniture in this chapter. The idea is that because Adam came first, he is in authority. This usually comes from an interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:13 that Paul was teaching hierarchy and using primogeniture (Adam created first) as his support. Therefore, interpreting this has everything to do with how we understand 1 Timothy and very little to do with the actual passage. Hess rejects the primogeniture argument for three reasons.
First, no rights of the firstborn found in Scripture provide a logical connection to creation order as establishing authority. Second, the norm among the patriarchs is not primogeniture but God’s blessing on the second or third born (e.g. Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers, Ephraim over Manasseh, etc.). Third, in the biblical laws only Deuteronomy 21:15-17 mentions this principle in the context of the firstborn son of an unloved wife. There the basis of the right of the firstborn is found in the statement because he ‘is the first sign of this father’s strength (NIV). This is the only biblical text that could be construed as a rationale for primogeniture (there are no parallel texts that speak to this issue). (84)
Instead, Hess concludes:
Thus the man and the woman were created sequentially in Genesis 2 in order to demonstrate the need they have for each other, not to justify an implicit hierarchy. (84)
Hess observes that man (male and female) is given responsibility over the garden but no where is man given authority over woman. They are co-rulers as joint image bearers of God.
Another common passage referenced by hierarchicalists is where God says he will make a helper (ezer) for the man. Some maintain that a helper is by definition a subordinate position. Yet ezer is used elsewhere in the Bible to speak of God’s relationship to Israel, being Israel’s helper who comes to their aid. There is nothing hierarchical implied by the use of the term.
Another frequently made claim is that in calling his new helper “woman” Adam was naming woman and thereby exercising authority over her. The Hebrew for “man” is ish. The feminine form of the name is ishah. Similarly, the other word for man is adam and the feminine is adamah which means “ground” or “earth.” The issue here is not so much a naming as word play illustrating the man’s identification of ishah as complementary to himself. The account also goes out of its way to note that women is created from man’s side (therefore equal) and is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Man and woman are an equal and complementary . Nothing of hierarchy is implied here.
Finally, Dr. Hess brings us to the Genesis 3 and the fall from grace. Of special interest is the 3:16-17. The first part of this passage had often been interpreted increased toil/pain in childbearing. Hess argues that there are two clauses to this. Increased toil, as in agricultural work, and perhaps additional pain in bearing children are in mind here. Some suggest that Adam’s naming of Eve is an indication of authority over her. Hess shows that havvah is the word we translate “Eve” and is associated with the word hay which means alive or living. Calling her Eve was merely denoting her function and had nothing to do with issues of authority or hierarchy.
The more central verse is 3:17, “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” Hess makes the case that the better literal reading is “You will want to dominate your husband but your husband will rule over you.” However, he emphasizes that this is not equivalent to saying, “You will want to dominate your husband but your husband should rule over you.” Hess writes,
Rather, Genesis 3:16-17 is best understood as a description of the new order of things, of how life will be lived as the result of the Fall, rather than how it should be lived. (92)
Hess’ point is that because of the Fall there will be a struggle of wills between the sexes.
My observations is that seeing issues like "primogeniture" or "subordinate helper" in the early chapters of Genesis happens only if we bring pre-existing assumptions to the text about what the intent of text is. At some level that is unavoidable but it makes it doubly important that we examine those assumptions before we employ them. There is nothing in the first three chapters of Genesis that explicitly states a hierarchy. I think the summary of the research that Hess presents shows that much of what is touted as implicit evidence of hierarchical structures is very weak when given much scrutiny.
Richard S. Hess received his M.Div and Th.M from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and PhD. from Hebrew Union College. He is professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and editor of the Denver Journal: An Online Review of Current Biblical and Theological Studies. In addition to more than seventy articles published in various biblical and ancient Near Eastern journals and collection, he has edited ten books and written three, including Studies in the Personal Names in Genesis 1-11 and Joshua (TOTC). He serves as an editor for a commentary series on the Septuagint and has in press commentaries on Leviticus and the Song of Songs. Rick and his wife, Jean, who is a pastor of a Presbyterian church, have three children.
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