Primogeniture and Patriarchy
I was chatting with a young man yesterday and during our conversation he stated that he believes the Bible teaches “a soft patriarchy while we’re on earth.” One reason he believes in this “soft patriarchy” is because he regards primogeniture as being part of God’s pattern for society, with Adam being created before Eve as a key example of this pattern.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “primogeniture” can have two meanings. It can simply mean (1) “the state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents” with differing implications, or it can mean (2) “an exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son.” With the first definition in mind, Adam and Eve might be understood as being children of the same parent, God, with Adam being the firstborn (Luke 3:38; cf. 1 Cor. 11:12).
Genesis 2 and 1 Timothy 2:13 (which is a summary statement of Genesis 2) tell us that Adam (or ha’adam) was created first and Eve was created second. But do these scriptures indicate that this order is significant and part of God’s design for relationships? Do they indicate that there is a continuing pattern of primogeniture or priority of man first and woman second? Do these scriptures somehow mandate an exclusively male authority or a soft patriarchy? Do they indicate “an exclusive right of inheritance” for Adam that excluded Eve?
5 Reasons why the Primogeniture Argument Doesn’t Work
To link patriarchy among Christians to primogeniture in Genesis is fraught with problems. Here are five reasons why it doesn’t work.
1. After the operation recorded in Genesis 2:21–22, the first (hu)man in Eden was different from when he had first been created by God. A part, or side, had been taken out from his body. A part of him was now missing and had become an integral part of the woman. This transference of a significant body part from Adam (or ha’adam) to Eve makes the idea of man first, woman second, less clear-cut and decisive.
2. Primogeniture is about birth order, but neither Adam or Eve were born; they were both made by God. There is no Bible verse that states Adam was “firstborn.”
3. The custom of primogeniture was part of many ancient societies, including Israelite society, but it only involved sons, not daughters, not women. Furthermore, if we see the principle of primogeniture as still being significant and relevant, and we want to apply it to church leadership today, it could be argued that only firstborn sons can be leaders. Younger sons, as well as women, would be ineligible.
4. The custom was not followed by many prominent biblical families.
Cynthia Westfall writes about this fourth point.
Throughout the Genesis narrative, it is clear from the beginning that someone who was born or came first did not necessarily have authority. Primogeniture among brothers was continually subverted, so Genesis cannot be used to provide an argument for male authority based on Adam being formed first. Cain was born first, but Abel received God’s favor. Esau was born first, but God chose Jacob. Reuben was born first, but the line of Christ came through Judah, and Joseph saved the family and assumed authority over them. Manasseh was Joseph’s firstborn, but Jacob placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head to say that he would become greater.
Other books of the Old Testament also show that God endowed younger brothers with a greater authority than that of their older siblings. For example, Moses had more authority than his older brother Aaron; David was the youngest son of Jesse but was chosen by God to be king of Israel; Solomon became David’s successor despite not being David’s firstborn son.
The custom of primogeniture was not closely or universally followed by the Israelites. More importantly, God disregarded the custom in some key instances. And in Exodus 4:22, he speaks metaphorically of the whole nation of Israel (not just the males) as being his firstborn son.
5. Importantly, the concept of primogeniture has no place among Jesus-followers in the New Creation. Rather, Jesus taught that in his kingdom “the last are first and the first are last” (Matt. 20:16). He also taught other similarly counter-cultural and equalizing principles. (More about Matthew 20:16 and the parable of the vineyard workers here.)
Primogeniture and Jesus
In God’s kingdom, of which we are a part, the only person who can claim the right of primogeniture is Jesus himself. Westfall points out that “Jesus is the firstborn of all of us” who are in Christ (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, 18), and that this truth “relativizes relationships among his followers.” In other words, there is equality among Jesus’ followers as we, without respect to gender, are being conformed into the image of our older brother.
Primogeniture is not a dynamic that God instituted in society or that Jesus condoned. Furthermore, Paul debunked the idea that men have some special position or privilege simply because Adam was created first. In 1 Corinthians 11:12, Paul taught that even though the first woman came from the first man, every other man has been born from a woman. He further stated, “But everything comes from God.” Both men and women ultimately have God as their source. There is no gender distinction here, but mutual interdependence between the sexes.
In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman. For just as woman [Eve] came from man, so man [Cain, and others since] comes through woman, and all things come from God. 1 Corinthians 11:11–12 CSB
Men do not have a greater level of authority nor do they have a better inheritance than their sisters. Rather, we will all share in an amazing inheritance (Eph. 1:21–22). Christian men and women are co-heirs with not the slightest sense of primogeniture. We are even co-heirs with our older brother Jesus (Rom. 8:16–17)!
The amazing theological truths of the New Covenant and our new creation in Christ have a direct bearing on our present relationships within the community of Jesus-followers. In this community, the church, there should be no place for a gender hierarchy or patriarchy of any description.
 The Hebrew word tsela, which is traditionally translated as “rib” in Genesis 2, typically means “side.” (See here.) John H. Walton explains that by looking at how the word tsela is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, “we would have to conclude that God took one of Adam’s sides—likely meaning that he cut Adam in half and from one side built the woman.” Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 78.
 Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 78.
Westfall quotes Richard Hess in a footnote: “The norm among the patriarchs is not primogeniture but God’s blessing on the second or third born.” Hess, “Equality with and without Innocence: Genesis 1-3,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, ed. Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004), 84.
 Westfall, Paul and Gender, 78.
 Jesus never mentions anything like a created order of man first, woman second. In the Gospels, he quotes from Genesis 1 where the narrative indicates that men and women were created at the same time. For instance, in Matthew 19:4, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Haven’t you read that the Creator, from the beginning, made them male and female?” Jesus also quotes from Genesis 2: “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Jesus taught about unity (i.e. oneness) in marriage; he did not teach that there is, or should be, male authority or a gender hierarchy in marriage (Matt. 19:5-6).
 Question and answer 34 of The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that, through adoption, we “have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.” There is no gender distinction here.
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Postscript: April 12, 2022
B.T. Roberts makes this comment about the woman being made last, after the man.
It is urged [by some] that the Bible represents the woman as inferior to the man, and subject to him; therefore she should not be permitted to occupy a position equal to his, either in church or in state. As proof of this, the fact that she was created last is presented. But, if this proves anything, it proves her superiority. For the work of creation proceeded in regular gradation from the lower to the higher.
B.T. Roberts, Ordaining Women (1891)
Postscript: December 9, 2022
I disagree with pretty much everything Calvin says about 1 Timothy 2:13 in his commentary on 1 Timothy. It’s horrible. But he also could see that Adam being made first is not, in itself, a strong case for male superiority.
Yet the reason that Paul assigns, that woman was second in the order of creation, appears not to be a very strong argument in favor of her subjection; for John the Baptist was before Christ in the order of time, and yet was greatly inferior in rank.
Calvin, Commentary on Timothy, Titus and Philemon (Source: CCEL)
“Firstborn” in Jewish Virtual Library
The Status of Christian Women, in a Nutshell
The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell
Is a gender hierarchy implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 2:4–25?
Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?
Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)
The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16
All my articles on Genesis 1–3 are here.
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:13 are here.
54 thoughts on “Adam was created first and this means …”
So thankful you are tackling these issues, Marg! I believe this work will have an enduring impact on the kingdom!
I’m glad more and more men and women are realising that the idea of male-only authority has a flimsy basis and goes against Jesus’ kingdom principles.
It’s disturbing to think that the church has been obsessed with who has and doesn’t have authority (contra Matt. 18:1-5, etc), and has been delegating power primarily on the basis of gender rather than requirements such as character or ability. How is that a good idea???
Can I ask the author to consider that All the comparisons about being born first is related to Males. ” Cain was born first, but Abel received God’s favor. Esau was born first, but God chose Jacob,….” these are all male men.
But if we look at Saul and his Children, the First Born was female, but it was Jonathan who was the man of Valour on the battle field. Not Merab. [ 1 Samuel 14:49]
It is some what misleading because the idea of Male Headship is in relationship to women . Being born first is one of reasons that God and Paul used to justify why men are Heads of and NOT women, and why patriarchy is designed by God.
Since Jesus became the ” First Born of those who Slept” and He was a Male, it was consistent with Adam being First Male and the patriarchs being male [ Colossians 1;15-21]
The point about heirs being male is clearly made in the article.
And I agree that the idea of connecting primogeniture with Adam and Eve is weird (or misleading, as you put it), since Eve is female. Yet, it is a concept that is brought up by some complementarians and patriarchalists, like the one I spoke to the other day.
The husband being the “head” of his wife (as per Eph. 5:23ff) is not necessarily patriarchal. No one who faithfully abides by Paul’s instructions and his intent in Ephesians 5, correctly understood, is a patriarchalist.
God did not institute patriarchy, even if he has tolerated it among his people in the past. Patriarchy is a result of sin entering the world and is not God’s ideal (Gen. 3:16d). Thankfully, Jesus came to deal with sin and its consequences. As redeemed followers of Jesus we are living in a new era, with a new life and a New Covenant, as well as a new way of being in community. And I’m very grateful for that!
And, of course patriarchs are male. The female equivalent is matriarch, a term that applies to Deborah who was “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7).
You completely ignored the context. Paul specifically mentions authority and then cites his reasons why a woman shouldn’t exercise authority over a man, and he mentions Adam being formed first. So if order doesn’t matter, why did he mention it?
I have also written about the Greek word authentein (inadequately translated as “exercise authority” in the ESV) here. Paul does not mention any kind of ordinary or healthy kind of authority in 1 Timothy 2:12.
Why does Paul mention Adam being formed first in 1 Timothy 2:13? He doesn’t tell us why, but perhaps it’s to correct a false idea we find in some ancient Gnostic texts that Eve came first before Adam. I mention some of these texts here. There are links to them so that you can check this for yourself.
1 Timothy 2:13-14 contain correct summary statements of Genesis chapters 2 and 3. They are not necessarily reasons, but corrections. More on this here.
In other blog posts, here, I discuss the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in some depth.
According to Genesis 2, Adam was indeed created first. But being first doesn’t matter in Jesus’ kingdom where the first are last, etc. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 Paul mentions the created order also:
“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman [Eve] came from man [Adam], so also [every other] man is born of woman [his mother]. But everything comes from God.”
Men and women are interdependent, we need each other. And the creation story in Genesis 2 shows that ultimately, all men and women have their source in God.
Paul nullifies hierarchies among us who are “in the Lord” by pointing out that each of us, both men and women, come from God and belong to Christ (1 Cor. 11:11-12; 3:23). Moreover, we are all equally under God’s authority (1 Cor. 3:7).
I love your fact checks! This is awesome! I am a Duke M.Div alum and you are so on target. #nocherrypickinghere!
Why would paul mention adam being created first in order to correct gnostics?
Genesis 2 says that Adam (as ha’adam) was created first and Eve was formed second from a chunk taken out of a side of ha’adam. 1 Timothy 2:13 correctly interprets and summarises Genesis 2.
Some Gnostics, however, had a very different version of Adam and Eve. For example, some believed Eve (her name means “living”) gave life to Adam. More about Gnostic views of Adam and Eve here: https://margmowczko.com/adam-and-eve-in-gnostic-literature/
In Jesus, there is no différence between man and woman. They are the same. Only in marriage does the Bible say man is the head of woman, but this does not mean man should dominate woman. It is the responsabilité given to man.
Actually it is wives who are told that the husband is the “head.” It is not a responsibility given to men.
What does “head” mean in French, Credo? Does it refer to a person with extra responsibility or authority?
Unlike English, Latin, Hebrew, and German, in the original language of the New Testament (Koine Greek) “head” is not the word usually used for a leader. Rather, “head” is part of a head-body metaphor in Ephesians 5 signifying unity. Unity was what Paul wanted for Christian husbands and wives.
Do husbands have a greater responsibility than wives? Sacrificial love is required of husbands, but this is also required of all followers of Jesus (Eph. 5:1-2). Submission is required of wives, but this is also required of everyone (Eph. 5:21). More on this here. And none of this has anything to do with Adam being created first.
Dear Marg, sorry, but I don´t see that male dominance (or as you put it ‘delegating power on the basis of gender‘) in today’s Western world any longer (possibly with the exception of the Catholic Church)…
and again, I find you line of argumentation rather biased…
all the examples from Genesis you listed above (citing Westfall) where primogeniture doesn’t play a role are exceptions! The norm is the principle of the first-born….
…as you can clearly see in the narrative of Esau and Jacob… Esau, as the firstborn, is selling his right for a soup of lentils and later Rebecca and Jacob have to deliberately trick blind Isaac into blessing Jacob and not Esau…. this trick or fraud is needed to break the norm!
that’s why, for me, your article is biased.
Erik Peter Sauter from Weinstadt, Germany
Hi Erik Peter,
I do not write with the western church in mind. I write with the global church in mind. I have many readers from India, Pakistan, and various countries in South America. (Check the tabs at the very top of the page.)
I fully acknowledge in the article the primogeniture was part of the culture of Bible times, even if it was subverted in key families, including Esau’s family.
(I have removed a couple of misguided, judgemental words from your comment.)
…and just to clarify what I meant that I don’t see that male dominance in the Western world:
my own country, Germany, has been governed, or should I say ruled, by Angela Merkel for over 11 years (sawing off many promising male candidates of her own party over the years- a fact little noticed abroad – with the result that she is pretty lonely now…), maybe a reason why I am a little sensitive on that topic; England has a female Prime Minister, the US almost got a female president and the heads of the two most powerful financial institutions – the FED and the IWF – are again held by women – Janet Yellen and Christine Lagarde.
I am not saying they are not doing a good job, but what I don’t like is the myth of male superiority in today’s world (of course, I am not talking of the Arab or Hindu world)
best, Erik Peter
…just one more thought: Westfall’s and your list of younger-born but spiritually more blessed brothers are all that: brothers, in other words m a l e s.
We are all aware of that. It’s plain in middle section of the blog post that we are talking about brothers and sons. Not sure how I could have made it clearer.
Furthermore, primogeniture, according to the second definition provided, refers to first born sons: “an exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son.”
But primogeniture was not instituted by God. There were elements of Israelite society that was not according to God’s ideal (e.g., polygamy). And patriarchy is a result of the fall (Gen. 3:16d).
Society in the community of Christians should be different. Everyone who belongs to Jesus, the “first-born son”, is a son of God, me included (Rom. 8:14-16 NKJV; Gal. 3:26-27 NKJV; Eph. 1:5 NKJV, etc). This wonderful theological truth has sociological ramifications.
Such a helpful reminder and rejoinder that it was the pattern of God to choose the younger brothers in the narrative of the Pentateuch.
Amen to our status, male and female, as co-heirs with our older brother Jesus, the only one who can rightly claim primogeniture.
Thank God for our older brother! <3
Hi Marg, what you’ve said is so obvious if one is familiar with the Bible. But I have never seen this discussed in the comp literature. I think it just underscores the fact that certain writers and thinkers are writing with a bias at best and an agenda at worse.
You’ve never seen primogeniture or “Adam first” discussed in complementarian literature? I’m glad you’ve been spared this. The arguments are contrived.
I’m loving Cynthia Westfall’s book!!! Without a doubt, it’s a must-have for any looking at the Pauline letters and what they say about men and women. Though, I’m not sure it will add to your particular project at the moment. Looking forward to celebrating its completion. 🙂
I really wish my church believed this, or that I could find another that did in driving distance. Feeling really discouraged and low these last few years. Most in my church, (or family or older friends) just don’t want to have this conversation. I have tried only to get shot down. I don’t want to wreck the things that do work, so I’ve kept to myself for the most part. My husband is the only one I have to really talk to.
At least I have that I guess.
Some Christians feel threatened, even fearful, when other Christians hold to ideas they haven’t come across before, no matter how well-grounded in scripture these ideas are. I can understand why they don’t want to talk about it. But it’s very frustrating. I’m glad you can talk about this with your husband.
Patriarchy means ” Rule of the Father”. The idea came from God as Father.Through out the Bible there is a Consistent theme of Patriarchy. Hence the Patriarchs of Old- all men.
Hebrews ch7 spoke of the Patriarchs; if it wasn’t of God, why would God the Holy Spirit inspire the writer to record the Patriarchs.?
I disagree that God did not institutionalized Patriarchy, for He Created Man First and He gave Man the Dominion Rule over Eve and His Creation. And God saw it was good ; because Adam did not abuse his ” Authority to Rule” the animals and Eve.
After the fall, God allowed Adam to exercise ” authority ” again, by calling her Eve. God did not give Eve equal authority to name Adam. It was Adam alone having ultimate Dominion over animals and Eve.
This is done for purpose and to have order. Hence the doctrine of One.
Gen3:16 does not nullify the Headship of Adam or men. It highlights the distortion of the relationships and the hardship that will follow as a result of Eve’s desire to rule over,and Adam’s ability to reject her attempt. But from that time onward, God always call MEN and gave the Patriarchs His instructions which he was to pass onto his family.
If sinful men abuse a system, it does not mean the system is wrong or bad. Is democracy a bad Idea? Sinful men and women abuse each other under that system as well.
Biblical Patriarchy is not abusive, because it was meant to pattern after the Love of God the Father.
I agree, there is a constant “theme” of patriarchy throughout the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. There are also constant themes of strife and war and hardship and unfaithfulness and idolatry. That doesn’t mean that these things are part of God’s ideal plan for his people.
The Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors to record plenty of stuff that wasn’t according to God’s perfect will. Most of the Old Testament is about Israel going from one disaster to another.
Patriarchy is not necessarily abusive, but many patriarchs and rulers were abusive. David using his power and authority to have Uriah killed springs to mind. Most of Israel’s leaders had some serious flaws. So I think it is unwise to broadly use the biblical example of patriarchs as examples of godly leadership.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that patriarchy is God’s idea. Nowhere, in the New Testament, does it say anything like God’s will is that only men are to be “leaders” using any of the usual Greek words for “leader.”
We have a very different view of Adam and Eve’s relationship. I see perfect compatibility, mutuality, equality and unity in Genesis 2. You see authority, even though Adam is never called a “leader” and Genesis 1:27-28 states that men and women had the same authority and the same status. Genesis 1 tells us that they both had authority over animals, and there is no mention in Genesis 1 or 2 about any person having authority over another person or people.
There are so many statements in your comments that have no basis in scripture whatsoever, and they have nothing to do with our new life in Jesus Christ. I’ve listened to your repeated criticisms respectfully, but we can have nothing more to say to each other. I won’t be approving further comments from you.
I still have two questions: if patriarchy was not instituted by God but is a result of the fall, why does Eph 3:15 read: ‘from whom (i.e. God) all fatherhood is named…’ (I know that modern translations also use ‘family‘ instead of ‘fatherhood‘…)
and secondly, if Jacob didn’t have 12 sons with four women (Lea, Rachel, Bilha and Silpa), there wouldn´t have been the 12 tribes of Israel, which play a big role in all of the Hebrew Bible and still at the end of times (the 144000 of Revelation 7 and 14);
I do see the point that this polygamous constellation wasn’t easy, especially not for less-loved Lea, but it seems clear to me that God – in this case – is using polygamy for his purposes, and hardly seems to criticize it…
by the way, the fact that Laban is giving the first-born Lea to Jacob in the wedding night (contrary to their deal) is just another proof for the importance of the first-born, in this case also applying to sisters…
Hi Erik Peter,
I am a Christian. A follower of Jesus. And my primary paradigm for life and living are the teachings found in the New Testament about Jesus’ Kingdom and the New Creation. The Old Testament is part of my heritage, but life is very different for those of us who have experienced redemption through Jesus and sanctification and empowerment through the Holy Spirit.
Jacob’s sons and daughters (of whom only Dinah is mentioned, though I have little doubt he had other daughters who married their half brothers) lived before redemption and sanctification. They lived under a different covenant. Nevertheless, I maintain that even then patriarchy and primogeniture were not God’s best intention for his people.
Genesis 1, written about a time before sin entered the world, tells us that men and women had the same status and the same authority, and this authority did not extend to having authority over people. I firmly believe that equality and harmony is the message in the creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2. This was ruined by sin. But Jesus and the Holy Spirit make equality and harmony possible again in the new creation.
By the way patria is best translated as “family”, “nation”, or “people group”. The word is translated in Ephesians 3:15 as “family” in the NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, HSCB, NET, NRSV, etc. The CEB has “ethnic group”. Patria is derived from the Greek word for “father” but there is a danger in allowing etymology affect our understanding of the word. Many families in the Greco-Roman world were identified by their paterfamilias, a few by their materfamilias (e.g., Lydia’s and Chloe’s household), but authority structures in Greco-Roman families are not the paradigm for Christians. “Fatherhood” is a contrived and inaccurate translation of patria.
God is our Father, but Jesus warned his followers not to have any other father with a sense of authority in their community (Matt. 23:9). Jesus is our older brother, but primogeniture stops with him as far as relationships in the kingdom are concerned.
I acknowledge that patriarchy was a prevalent feature in the community of God’s people in the past, but I dare not set aside Jesus’, Paul’s and John’s profound teaching about status and relationships among Jesus’ followers. These teachings have a direct bearing on our relationships right now. The obsession with authority and insistence of patriarchy is the antithesis of what Jesus taught (Matthew 18:1-5; Gal. 3:28: etc). If we want to be hearers and doers of the Word we must put Redemption and New Creation theology into practice (James 1:22-23).
By the way, I don’t know of any Christian in western cultures and most other cultures today, who insist that their daughters marry in order of their birth. This custom, and others associated with a kind of primogeniture, has died out. And I think that is a good thing. Would you insist your children marry according to their birth order? There were many customs in Israelite and Greco-Roman society that God never mandated.
Here’s a link to my article on the 144,000: https://margmowczko.com/144000-revelation/
thanks for answering so thoroughly and friendly. I do agree with almost everything you say and I don’t think people should exercise power over other people (in a negative way). And I also see and criticize that men have used their power over women negatively over many centuries – in and outside the Church – and are still doing so, especially in Muslim, Arab, Hindu but possibly also in Orthodox or Catholic cultures…
Yesterday, I read a little bit into your outlines and interpretations of the Greek kephale (head) of 1 Cor 11 and Eph 5 (as you suggested). I found it really interesting, you and other scholars emphasize the ‘origin‘ and ‘source‘ meaning of it a lot and for you it mainly stands for ‘being connected‘ to the body (i.e. wife, church..), if I understand you correctly.
What, for me, was missing a bit are the usual associations we combine with the word ‘head‘: observing (eyes), speaking (mouth), thinking (brain) and decision making (brain, but I think also the heart comes in here)….
Altogether, I see where you are heading at, the new loving relationships among each other in the body of Christ, but don’t you think that, as long as we live in this (‘fallen’) world, we need some structure, authority, leadership? Like also police, army etc. (even if we don’t like them too much)…
If I understand you correctly, you say that through the coming of Christ many human institutions like polygamy, man ruling over woman (Gen 3:16) have come to an end or at least we should be aiming at that, but aren`t women still having pain when giving birth (also in Gen 3:16), just to give a very concrete example that we are still waiting for full redemption?
Don’t you think that till the second coming of Christ God uses structure, leadership and, in a way, authority (in and outside the Church), just as Martin Luther talked of two regiments, a spiritual and a worldly one?
I wish you a wonderful Sunday,
best, Erik Peter
Hi Erik Peter,
The associations that we today make with “head” are not necessarily the same as the associations first century people had. Surprisingly, the 2nd century AD physician Galen was one of the first to conclusively prove that the brain was the control centre of the body. Before that there were a lot of strange ideas about what the brain did and what it consisted of. There’s a discussion about what the Greeks and Romans and other ancients believed about “head” on this page. Note that Egyptians removed the brain when mummifying people in preparation for the afterlife because they regarded the organ as useless, and that biblical Hebrew doesn’t even have a word for “brain”. As you cautioned me, allow me to do the same: we mustn’t read modern concepts in ancient texts.
The important question is. “How did Paul use “head” in Ephesians 5:22-33?” The answer is that he used it as part of a head-body metaphor. Paul never instructs husbands to lead or make decisions in Ephesians 5, rather he tells them “they should love their wives as their own bodies . . .” Love and unity is what Paul was getting at. Authority and leadership just doesn’t come into it.
In a fallen world we do need some structure and authority, but hopefully this authority is delegated on the basis of ability and it is limited in scope. A policeman on duty can ask to see my driver’s licence, but an off-duty officer is (almost) a regular person with no special authority. The prime minister or president has the authority to make laws (with checks and balances) but he or she cannot come into my home uninvited. There is also a difference between being authorised to do a job, and having authority over another person. Jesus warned against the idea of having authority over others.
Authority and order are needed in broader society, but in a marriage of two capable people there is simply no need for one person to always be the leader with a supposedly greater level of authority, and the other person to always be the follower with supposedly less authority. Rather, it makes good practical sense that the responsibilities of life be shared according to the individual skills, abilities, temperaments, available time, and other resources of the husband and of the wife.
I don’t think patriarchy, polygamy, slavery, dowries, and other customs that disadvantage certain sectors of society, were ever what God wanted for his people, but he did tolerate these things. Now that sin has been dealt with by Jesus, however, there is the real potential for us to live in communities were people are treated with dignity and equity, and not like property or second-class or worse.
We are still waiting for redemption to be fully finalised, but there is much that is accessible to Jesus’ followers now. As it happens, my first labour was completely pain-free and 6 hours long, my second labour was not pain-free but it was 4 hours. And both pregnancies and labours had minimal medical intervention. I know other women who have had pain-free easy deliveries, but we tend not to talk about it because there are so many labour horror stories, and we don’t want to make our friends feel bad.
As agents of Jesus Christ, empowered by his Holy Spirit, we have a mission to bring his shalom. God doesn’t want us to sit on our hands but to do what we can along the lines of Luke 4:18 and to implement, where we can, his principles for society. More on this here.
And women are very much included in this mission. Families need their gifts, but so does the church and the world.
I think it’s important for the church to understand that “worldly” governments are not “Christian”, but we must be influencers in broader society and lead by example. Until Jesus returns as king, no “worldly” government can be truly Christian.
Marg, I have just found your blog today and am overjoyed. Your explanations are scholarly biblical . It is so encouraging to read your blog because I am in total agreement. It is difficult not to reply to all your blogs with the words, yes! absolutely! exactly! well done! It is exciting to see your skills to confront heresy. I am a women minister so I deal with this mess all the time. However, I am strong in the Lord and yes it is good to have our Brother Jesus. God bless you as shine the light of Truth so our brothers and sisters can see their way through the Bible clearly with love and unity, equality and respect,
Thank you, Joanne. 😀 I’m glad you found me. And, “amen” to your last sentence!
I forgot to mention it was my husband who actually found your blog and sent me your link. God blessed me with an amazingly supportive godly husband who does not believe in complementarianism at all! He has read the Bible several times and does not see how they arrived to their conclusions except to read the Bible with prejudice. I know that many reading this will assume he is a weak man or I am the over bearing wife, but neither is the case. We are both strong in Christ and believe we are equal in Christ as we present the gospel together even though I am the minister. God bless him and all other men who support and encourage women.
I agree about the prejudice bit. Too many Christians simply assume that patriarchy is God’s intention for the community of his people, and they read male authority into Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5, etc.
My husband and I have an equal partnership in our marriage too. And it’s wonderful. I am very blessed.
Wit, Just to be clear, patriarchy is in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament books which record events and thoughts after the fall. As such, patriarchy can be described as biblical, and yet there is no biblical basis for patriarchy in the New Covenant.
As well as patriarchy, polygamy, slavery, treating women and slaves as property, forced marriage, rape, child (or young-teen) marriage, the custom of dowries, stoning disobedient children, war, genocide, and the slaughtering animals as worship are mentioned in the Old Testament and therefore might be described as biblical.
At least one of these things was indeed instituted by God and there are instructions regulating it.
Other things in this list were not instituted by God. Nevertheless, he tolerated them before the New Covenant and he made laws to curb abuse and excesses. None of the things in this list, however, have a legitimate place in the community of Jesus’ followers today. None!
Patriarchy was not instituted by God. The only time when it mentions a man ruling his wife is in God’s statement in Genesis 3:16d after the fall. This statement is in the future tense and predictive: “he will rule over you”. It doesn’t say, “he must rule over you.” Genesis 3:16d is neither a divine command or instruction.
In Esther 1:22 there is a statement that men should rule their households. Apart from this statement, which was a royal decree of a pagan king, there is nowhere in the entire Protestant Bible where it says “every man should be ruler over his own household.”
As followers of Jesus, we should be taking our cues for living from his teachings, and not from the fall or from pagan kings.
The idea that patriarchy was instituted by God as his ideal for his pre-fall and post-Pentecost people is not found in the Bible.
As you’ve said, patriarchy means the “rule of the fathers”. I don’t know of any other Bible verses, other than Genesis 3:16 and Esther 1:22, that mentions husbands or men ruling their wives or households. Importantly, these verses are not instructions or commands given to the church.
Where are the biblical commands for a husband to rule his wife? I stand by my comment that your views on patriarchy as being instituted by God have no biblical basis.
Marg, first of all: thank you for your site! I believe with Gail Wallace that your work will have an enduring positive impact on the kingdom.
Still, I feel again that I have to be a little critical. Most of all, I reacted to you saying that «Paul debunked the idea that men have some special position or privilege simply because Adam was created first». Actually, it isn’t that Adam was created first that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 11, but rather that Eve was made out of a part from him. It is «woman came from man» (NRSV translation) that he sets against «man comes through woman».
If simply being older (by however little) gives an authority, then that would set up any older person in authority over any younger, a rather drastic result. However, while Adam being created first is a clear and obvious aspect of the story in Genesis 2, it isn’t really made any point of. That Eve is made out of a part from him, is, on the other hand, emphasized in v23 when Adam talks about how she is «taken out of» him. It seems that this is significant. And the significance seems to be primarily that the two are the same kind of being, the same «flesh and bone».
However, the expression «taken out of» could perhaps also be an allusion to how men are usually «taken out of» women. This would support Paul’s idea. Maybe we are meant to see Eve’s creation from a part of Adam as something that should be set against how it usually is women who give birth to men.
Hi Knut AK,
I believe 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is written as a chiasm and in two parts that address two different contexts. The verses in the second part of the chiasm are about relationships for those who are “in the Lord.” And I believe one of the overall themes of the passage is origins, rather than hierarchies as many Christians suggest.
Since it is about origins, it is kind of about who came first. But the significance of who came first has been misinterpreted by many Christians. Furthermore, if people associate ‘hierarchy of authority’ with origins, then verses 11 and 12 do overturn, or debunk, those ideas.
I completely agree that simply being older does not give anyone a greater level of authority in the kingdom or in western society today. Things are different in other societies, though, past and present.
The whole point of the article is to show that primogeniture among Jesus’ followers has no validity in the kingdom. So, if I’m understanding you correctly, I think we are in agreement with this principle.
Dear Marg, in the lines Knut AK is commenting, may I also ask how you interpret Vers 9 (of 1 Cor 11, which – thanks to your article – still makes me think a lot about gender relations in God’s kingdom), which says that ‘man wasn`t created for woman, but woman for man‘ (NIV)?
And also V. 10, which talks of a ‘sign of authority’ on women’s heads.Reading more of the Pauline instructions for the young Christian churches (as part of the New Covenant), I do get the impression that authority and hierarchy does play a role in building them up.
Isn´t it possible that total equality and absence of rank will only be achieved after Christ’s Second coming, as indicated in Gal 3, 28?
Hi Erik Peter, I’ll work backwards through your three comments.
(1) I agree that the total equality and the abolition of rank will be fully achieved after Jesus’ second coming. But since it is a kingdom principle, we should be applying it, or living it out, when and where we can now. We are already part of the New Creation (2 Cor. 5:16-17). We are already being led by the Spirit in order to emulate Jesus and carry on his ministry. No one says, let’s wait for Jesus to come back before we display the fruit of the Spirit, or let’s wait before we live justly and righteously. We should be developing, maturing and conforming to Jesus Christ and his ideals now.
(2) There is a difference between being authorised to do a task or perform a certain ministry and having a permanent and pervasive authority over another person.
In the past many husbands, male householders, and male and female slave masters (and some clergy!) had this second kind of authority which effectively creates two classes or castes of people. Instead of two or more castes, we should be one.
Some Christians, such as John Piper, even teach that all men have authority over all women regardless of the relationship or differing levels of competence. (If you think that sounds crazy, which it is, take a look at his chapters in this book.)
All of us have ministries and responsibilities to keep. But the authority to fulfil these roles waxes and wanes depending on the given situation. It should never involve having a permanent authority over another capable, well-behaved person.
I think the church has really got the idea of authority wrong. I’ve written about it here.
Also, in the Greek there is no word for “symbol” or “veil” in 1 Corinthians 11:10. Moreover, every NT verse that uses the word exousia (“authority/right/freedom”) is about the authority of the person mentioned in the verse. So verse 10 is about the woman’s own right or freedom concerning her own head. That is, she is the one who can make the decision whether to cover or uncover her head. Especially, as Paul regards a woman’s hair as a valid covering. Paul also acknowledges that the churches don’t have a universally accepted custom about head-coverings (1 Cor. 11:15-16). (Check recent English translations of 1 Corinthians 11:10.)
(3) The statement “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9) is, of course, absolutely accurate. Sadly, these truths often have often been interpreted in ways that miss the mark by a long shot.
The first woman was made for the first man because he was alone. The problem was solitude (Ge. 2:18). As soon as she turned up, the problem was solved. Yet some people think that all women continue to have a role of unilaterally helping men. Surely mutual and reciprocal help, regardless of gender, is better for everyone concerned. (More on this here.)
Paul, expands on the ideas that woman was created for man, and woman came from man, in verses 11-12. In verse 11 Paul says that, rather than women unilaterally helping men, we are mutually interdependent on one another: woman is dependant on man as man is dependent on woman. In verse 12, Paul acknowledges that while the first woman came from the first man, every other man has come from a woman. He is playing down the significance of origins. (Origin–family and town of birth–played a huge part in a person’s identity in ancient times.)
Anyway, I feel like I’m regurgitating stuff that is freely available in my articles. Click on the links in this comment if you want to know more about this stuff. Here is my article on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.
In a nutshell: Men do not have a God-given or intrinsically greater level of authority than women, and vice versa.
Thank you, Marg.
K so to all the people who can’t read their Bibles, read the KJV. First, there is a difference between “created” and “formed” similar to thinking of what you will make for dinner, and then actually making it.
Animals are created.
Male and female in His image created He them, and gave them dominion.
Adam is formed.
Animals are formed.
Eve is formed.
So if we are basing this off of “who’s created first gets dominion” that’s off (animals, remember?) and if it’s the same with formed, that’s off too because animals were formed before Eve but she is still given dominion over them.
Fixed it for you. 🙂
I read these kind of blogs and articles all the time. They give me hope, and then I’ll scroll through the comments and oh, look! The first male to comment is arguing against the article!
Marg, I like your blog, thank you.
P.s. the word in the Bible for “head” is the Greek word “kephale” is does not mean chief or ruler. More like physical head or the first one into battle, or cornerstone.
Yep, kephalē (“head”) rarely, if ever, meant “chief” or “ruler” in first-century Greek. (I’ve written about this here.)
In Genesis 1, the Hebrew verb for “create” is bara (“create”, “shape” or “form”). This word occurs in Genesis 1:1, 1:21, and three times in 1:27.
Bara also occurs in Genesis 2:3 and 2:4a, in Genesis 5:1 and twice in 5:2, and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.
The second creation account, beginning at Genesis 2:4 (or 2:4b), was written by a different author (or authors) to that of the first creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 (or 1:1-2:4a). This is evident in how God is consistently referred to as Elohim = “God” in the first account, compared with YHWH Elohim = “LORD God” in the second account. (I think the CEB may be correct to start a new paragraph for the second creation account midway through Genesis 2:4).
In the second creation account, the verb yatsar (“form” or “fashion”) is used for the creation or “formation” of the first human (Gen. 2:7, 8), and for the creation or “formation” of the animals who are not mentioned until Genesis 2:19.
The verb banah (“construct” or “build”) is used for the creation or “construction” of the first woman (Gen. 2:22).
The verb asah (“make” or “accomplish”) is also used many times in both creation accounts (Gen. 1:7, 1:11, 1:12, 1:16, 1:25, 1:26, 1:31; 2:2 (twice), 2:3, 2:4, 2:18, 3:1, 3:7, 3:13, 3:14, 3:21; cf. 5:1, 6:6, 9:6).
Regardless of the precise meaning of the four different verbs–and I acknowledge there are different nuances between them–the understanding is that God created man and woman, animals, and everything else. So, for the sake of simplicity, I’ve gone with the English verb “created” in the article.
Please don’t get too disappointed by the comments. 🙂
It always comes back to the creation order. However, we aren’t told that Adam was given authority over Eve, or that being formed first symbolizes dominion. I think the part in 1 Timothy about Adam being formed first was because supposedly there were rumors in Ephesians that woman had been formed first and was therefore superior.
I’ve been studying and learning a lot on these subjects recently. Unfortunately, people are stubborn, and they want to believe what they always have.
If I argue that women can and should teach, I’m (rudely) reminded that “man is the head of woman” either because that’s how God wanted it (demonstrated by making Adam first) or because Eve blew her shot at equality when she listened to the serpent. I’m told that men are naturally more capable of leading, that all the other examples of women leading in modern times or the Bible are exceptions and only happened because no men were willing. Oh, and my favorite: women should nurture and run the children’s Sunday school.
I’ve been called blind, rebellious, a feminist and been told that I need to repent. It surprised me at first because I make sure I’m not being condescending to people or when I try to get my points across.
And this hurts men too! If a man argues for women preaching people think his wife is leading him around by the nose, he’s emasculated. And if a women does the same she’s labeled a Jezebel spirit.
Yep, nowhere does it say that Adam had authority over Eve.
There are ancient Christian Gnostic texts which say that Eve was created first, and/or that the first human was androgynous (The gospel of the Egyptians and The Origin of the World, etc). In many Gnostic documents, Eve is a heroine and teacher. She is described as superior to Adam and never described as deceived. Like you, I think ideas similar to these were floating around the Ephesian church.
And I agree that patriarchal and inflexible, traditional models of society hurt men as well as women.
Anna, I think you are being treated horribly. If I were you, I would have had nothing to do with people treating me like that.
I wonder if you have read Kristen Rosser’s post on the “Jezebel Spirit” Teaching?:
I love Kristen’s writing. She’s a wise woman.
Have you ever considered when God took a side from Adam, He was actually taking a part of all Adams’s personality, giftings, ways of thinking and putting them into the new created being, Eve? Surely He wasn’t just creating a new body without ability to contribute to life in the garden rather creating a fulfilment of the reflection of the fullness of the Trinity dividing between two beings who would work in unity, as the Trinitarian God does. To my mind this explains why men and women tend to think in different ways, why we tend to have different abilities, etc. This means the both male and female existed in the garden together, in the original Adam.
I think it is possible that we are meant to understand from Genesis 2 that the original ha’adam had a male and female “side”, but the text doesn’t go into details. I have more on this here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/human-man-woman-genesis-2/
I just discovered you for myself, Marg. I like what I’ve read and how you write on the subject of God, faith and scripture. I commend you.
Just a brief thought on the above article, “Adam was created first, and this means . . .”
Long ago I ceased to be exasperated by some efforts of my brothers (and, yes, some sisters) to force and extrapolate a meaning of I Timothy 2 along gender lines and with that the reinforcement of the entrenched male hierarchy in the royal priesthood of believers. I am mindful that they are striving to know the God whom we love. Nonetheless, the coinage of slogans and catchy phrase such as complementarian, egalitarian, and, soft patriarchy is as unending just as these offer little by way of enlightenment and edification for the saints.
You seem to be familiar (from other blog articles) with two of the three more prominent beliefs which exalted Artemis as firstborn and savior. I believe, with great respect, that your understanding concerning Artemis and Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve is very close. So often much of Paul’s message, as in Sunday morning studies, is fitted and dressed up with Gnosticism. However, Gnosticism, as real of a threat as it was for the church, was a newcomer. Artemis, on the other hand had been around for centuries and was well entrenched all throughout Asia. I have often noted Paul’s only allusion to Gnosticism (“what is falsely called ‘knowledge’”) in I Timothy is found the last two verses of the letter. Furthermore, unlike the cult of Artemis Gnosticism was a bodiless belief and Paul and John could be much more straightforward about it than in the matter of the Artemis. It was an exercise of prudence for Paul when alluding to Artemis to do so in such a way as to not provoke or incur the wrath of her devotees on the saints in Christ. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus placed him under the virtual shadow of the temple of Artemis. His mission was not only to dethrone Artemis, but to demolish her reign.
Artemis boasted of being the firstborn between herself and her twin brother Apollo. However, unlike Artemis Adam and Eve were not born. They were created. (It seems unfortunate that while Paul took us one step forward towards understanding this born/created dichotomy that we end up taking two steps backward because our attention fixates on “Adam was first created” without an appreciation of Paul’s awareness and knowledge of Artemis.) Paul also ceased that same claim of Artemis and ascribed the same to Jesus who was the firstborn, not of woman, but of the resurrection from the dead.
Artemis boasted of being a savior. She took to making such a claim when, according to the myth, she turned immediately after her mother Leto gave birth to her to assist her own mother give birth to her brother Apollo. Artemis claimed herself as being the savior of women in childbirth. Paul ceased that claim of Artemis and ascribed the same to Jesus who was the savior, not just of women, but of men, that is, all mankind.
The Lord bless, sister.
I’m not exactly sure of the role Artemis played in the heresy in the Ephesian church, and what aspects of her cult and mythology, in particular, influenced the beliefs of Ephesian Christians. But there’s no doubt, her presence and influence were pervasive in the city.
I acknowledge that many modern scholars assert that the various disparate strands of Gnosticism did not fully develop until the second century, but there were pre-gnostic, or syncretistic, ideas already circulating in the first century. And asceticism, which included discouraging and even forbidding marriage, encouraging celibacy in marriage, and discouraging having children, was already present in some New Testament churches including the Ephesian church, and became more intense in the second century.
I’m keeping my options open, but I will keep your interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:13-14 in mind. 🙂
The church in Ephesus, like just about every other church to whom Paul wrote, had her problems. I am not sure it was a heresy. Certainly, the apostle Paul does not make that charge.
The scope and magnitude of Artemis was revealed for us by the Holy Spirit through Demetrius in Acts 19. She was not some small local deity. I have often noted:
Yahweh was to the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea
Artemis was to the Gentiles in Ephesus and Asia.
It is an understate to say her presence and influence were pervasive. I did not state nor do I believe that the cult and mythology of Artemis influenced the our brothers and sisters in Christ in Ephesus. What I do note is that they would quite likely have more than a superficial familiarity with, for instance, her claims of being firstborn. I expect that it would resonate as familiar in their minds when they heard Paul speak and substantiate his claims of Jesus as being the firstborn.
I do not question nor do I dispute the claims of a pre-Gnosticism or full blown Gnosticism in Ephesus. My point is that Gnosticism was a newcomer. Artemis was centuries old and very well entrenched throughout Asia. I cringe at what I refer to as the Sunday Bible study PG soft porn about Artemis and temple prostitution. No, it’s not the sexual references that make me cringe. Rather it is the abysmal, superficial flip overview of Artemis. The standard clip on Gnosticism, on the other hand, is the same trite psuedo appearance of an understanding which I do not think fools the listeners.
There’s no doubt that Artemis was huge in Ephesus. I’ve written about her history and development here:
Artemis’ name is mentioned several times in Acts 19, but she’s not mentioned at all in 1 (or 2) Timothy. So, for the present, I’m keeping my options concerning the Ephesian heresy/ies open.
Paul mentions heresies, or false teachings, in the opening of his letter (1 Tim 1:3-7), immediately following a greeting and prayer that was typical of ancient letters. And he alludes to false teachings again several times in the letter, especially in chapters 4 and 6.
Some of the brothers and sisters in Ephesus were being influenced by false teachings, wrong ideas and doctrines of demons, and some had even fallen away from faith (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 5:15).
Also, there’s no hard evidence (from inscriptions, papyri, etc) for ritual prostitution in the cult of Artemis Ephesia. (If you have a primary source concerning this, I’d love to hear about it.)
Here’s my take on 1 Timothy 2:15, if you’re interested:
Anyway, I will keep your idea in mind about Artemis being born first, before Apollos, as a possible reason for Paul’s corrective statement in 1 Timothy 2:13. Though it doesn’t explain Paul’s correction in 1 Timothy 2:14.
One thing I know is that both Christian women and men together are called the BRIDE — the church. Both are needed equally to constitute the church — Christ’s Church Bride. The Holy Spirit indwells both men and women. Men don’t have more Spirit because they are men, and neither do women because they are women. Once the Holy Spirit fills you you can do anything He alone empowers you to do — especially to serve, which mean to lead — and even to die for others if necessary. The greatest people in God’s eyes are the humblest servants who serve everyone else. Here in Africa women generally love to serve more than men do. By the way, historically many women have been shepherds of cattle, and even of their families — and of churches! Before the Fall God meant men and women to rule everything on earth — as God’s deputies on earth (Genesis 1:26-27). And both men and women will judge angels — not only men! By the way women and men teach one another from the time they are born till death. Even in church, because the Holy Spirit in them is the ultimate teacher. If a man were to give me 100 francs and a woman is offering me me 1million francs to serve the poor more, I am sure I would pick the 100 francs and reject the one million, because it is from a woman!! (My tongue is in the cheek). Anyway if a woman is teaching me the Word of God that would save my soul forever better than a man, I would rather listen to the woman. Some women also write great books that teach men many things — even by their female verbal communication.
I love your comment. I couldn’t agree more.