Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

creation order

The created order of man first, woman second, as given in Genesis 2, is often brought up in discussions about the place of men and women in ministry and in marriage. For some, this order even forms the basis of their views on gender in all areas of life.

Apart from the creation story in Genesis 2, however, the created order is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and it is not mentioned by Jesus, but it is mentioned in two passages in Paul’s letters. In this post, I look briefly at these two passages and at the significance that Paul places on man being created first and woman second.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

The origin of man and woman is an underlying theme in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. In this passage, Paul alludes to the created order in verse 3,[1] verses 8-9, and then again in verses 11-12 (which elaborate on verses 8-9).

“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; (cf. Gen. 2:21-22)neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 NIV

“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man (cf. Gen. 2:22-23), so also man is born of woman (cf. Gen. 4:1 NIV). But everything comes from God.” 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NIV

Paul is pointing out that even though the first woman came from a man—she was made from a part or side of taken out of the first man’s body—every other man has been born of a woman, their mothers. And even though the first woman was made to help the first man who was alone and needed help, ever since, man and woman have been (or should be) mutually interdependent. We need each other.

Paul is downplaying any significance that people might attach to the created order and he turns the focus to God. God is our ultimate source whether we are male or female. And in the Lord, and in the body of Christ, men and women are dependent on one another. Mutuality, rather than hierarchy, is Paul’s message here.

More about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.

1 Timothy 2:13

Paul refers to the created order again in 1 Timothy 2:13. Here he gives a summary statement of Genesis 2: “For Adam was formed first, and then Eve.” Many assume that verse 13 and also verse 14, which mentions Eve’s deception, give reasons for why a woman cannot teach or lead (1 Tim. 2:12). Paul may not be giving reasons, however, but corrections. He may be providing accurate summary statements of Genesis 2 and 3 in order to guide Timothy about how to correct a corrupt version of the creation story. In the preceding verses, Paul writes that a woman needs to learn and is not allowed to teach (1 Tim. 2:11-12a).[2] This woman may have been teaching a false retelling of Genesis 2 and 3.

1 Timothy 2:13-14 is linked to 1 Timothy 2:12 with the Greek conjunction gar. Gar is often used in New Testament statements that do not give reasons, that do not have a sense of “because.” It is often used in statements that supply extra information, and sometimes this extra information is from the Old Testament (e.g., Matt. 3:3; Acts 13:36).[3] I suggest this is what is happening in verses 13 and 14.

Nevertheless, many presume gar is used with the sense of “because” in 1 Timothy 2:13. This is despite the fact that Paul does not limit women in his general teaching on ministry (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11; cf. 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16) And this is despite the fact that Jesus nowhere says that being first somehow affords certain people extra responsibilities or privileges or powers that are forever denied to other equally capable people.

More about 1 Timothy 2:11-15 here.

Jesus and the Created Order

Except for Jesus who is firstborn of us all, being first means nothing in Jesus’ kingdom. Being first has no special social or spiritual significance within the body of Christ. We are all brothers and sisters with Jesus being our firstborn, older brother (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, 18). Furthermore, rather than indicating that men have more authority or greater power than women, Jesus taught that in his kingdom the humble are exalted (lifted up), the lowly are the greatest, and the last are first. There is a levelling. There is equality.

Jesus refers to the creation accounts only a few times in the Gospels. He quotes from chapters 1 and 2, but he does not refer to the created order. Note that he never quotes from Genesis 3 and he never mentions the fall or male rule. For Jesus, the paradigm for male-female relationships is found before the fall, and he quotes from verses that are about the mutuality of men and women, and about the unity of husband and wife (e.g., Matt. 19:4-6).

Genesis 2:18-25

In Genesis 2, where we read that the first (hu)man was created before the first woman, we are shown a picture of equality and compatibility, not leadership or a gender hierarchy. God made the first woman from a side (tsela) or chunk he took out of the first (hu)man (Gen. 2:21-22).[4] The first man and woman were made of the same stuff (Gen. 2:23). They both, quite literally, had a part in the first (hu)man.

The significance of the woman being created second in the Genesis story is not that she had less authority than the man. She was created second to highlight the fact that it was not good for the man was alone. She was created second to highlight her necessity, not as an auxiliary or as a sidekick to the man, but as an ezer kenegdo, an able, equal and compatible partner. These are the qualities the narrator of Genesis 2 highlights. He says nothing about either leadership and authority or subordination and submission. He says nothing about teaching. These words and concepts are absent from the text.

More about Genesis 2 here.

Conclusion

There is nothing in Genesis 2 and in the created order that signifies that women have a lower status or less authority than men. Rather, it shows that the woman, as well as the man, was vital to God’s plans and purposes. Both man and woman were needed and both continue to be needed. Paul understood that it is not good for either man or woman to be alone (cf. 1 Cor. 11:11f).

Furthermore, Paul’s mention of the created order in 1 Timothy 2:13 may have nothing to do with prohibiting godly women from teaching, especially when seen in the light of his general teaching on ministry which doesn’t exclude or restrict women. Sadly, many men are still choosing to be involved in all kinds of endeavours without the valuable partnership of women as equals. They are missing out on the abilities, skills and perspectives that their sisters can bring.


Footnotes

[1] “The head of the woman is the man” (1 Cor. 11:3b). More on the meaning of the Greek word kephalē (“head”) in 1 Corinthians 11:3 here.

[2] Paul also writes that she is not allowed to domineer a man, probably her husband (1 Tim. 2:12). No one should dominate (Greek: authentein) a fellow believer, regardless of their sex. Paul further tells Timothy that “she will be saved through childbearing …” (1 Tim. 2:15 CSB). I suggest that while 1 Timothy 2:13-14 corrects faulty teaching, verse 15 corrects faulty behaviour. More on 1 Timothy 2:15 here.

[3] Gar is often translated as “for” in English, but it is also translated with other words such as “now.” Sometimes gar is left untranslated and sometimes the sentences introduced by gar are placed within parentheses, that is, gar sometimes introduces parenthetical statements. This may be the case in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. More about gar with examples from the New Testament, here.

[4] God, through Jesus the Son, is the protagonist in the creation of the woman. The man is sound asleep. Yet some Christians ascribe to men a higher status simply because man came first and his body was the source of the part that would be formed into a woman. They fail to see that God is the ultimate source of both men and women, and he is the only one who deserves praise and recognition for the creation of the woman, not men.

The Son is the image of the invisible God,
the one who is first over all creation,
Because all things were created by him:
both in the heavens and on the earth,
the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities,
all things were created through him and for him.
He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him.
He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning,
the one who is firstborn from among the dead
so that he might occupy the first place in everything.
Colossians 1:15-18 CEB

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Is a gender hierarchy implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 2:4-25?
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An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 that joins the dots of 2:11-15
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1 Timothy 2:13: Another Reason 1 Timothy 2:12 is not clear
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All articles on Gender in Genesis 1-3 here.

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41 thoughts on “The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell

  1. Well written as usual! I’m surprised at how often created order is mentioned as “proof” that men are the leaders. But after the fall, the firstborns are sometimes the ones that take a penalty…firstborn animals that were sacrificed, the firstborns of Egypt, Esau, Reuben (becomes he defiled a bed), Cain. And sometimes, the last born is honored – David, Joseph, Moses, Rachel, Ephraim were the youngest.

    1. It seems that God ignored the social custom of primogeniture and the extra rights and privilege of firstborn sons. I’ve written about that here: https://margmowczko.com/adam-created-first/

      And I’ve never really understood how the created order supposedly disqualifies women from teaching or leading men. What is it about the fact that Eve was formed from Adam that makes all women, for all time, unfit as teachers and leaders? Being second, or third, or even fourth is not a logical reason.

      1. Preach Marg!! btw, my cousin Melissa was just ordained as a minister. She’s a woman and the last born sibling, and she doesn’t have any children. 🙂

  2. In doing a feminist read of a masculinist work, I am finding much to discuss in terms of gender relationships between man and woman in Genesis 1-3. Most notably would be that the first Adam, the first human, is both male and female and therefore in one body equally fused together male and female, both given characteristics from God that define how they are to steward the earth as one.

    1. Hi Terese,

      Many Christians baulk at the idea, but it could be we are meant to understand that ha’adam, the first human, had a male and female side, or was sexually undifferentiated, before the operation. I discuss this idea here.

      1. Right. I understand Christians baulking-. My desire is to remain faithful to the text and therefore believe there is a reason for the 3 stages of humanity’s formation being drawn out, and the slowing down of the narrative in depicting these 3 stages: pre-fall humanity as one being made male and female in their image (and given equal responsibilities/characterists by God); pre-fall humanity where woman is taken out of man in order to be a suitable helper (‘helper’ is the verb ezer / Azar – means provide, surround, protect and yes- help – used in other places in the OT when God is hepling armies with warriors) In this second stage we see woman demonstrating her qualities of providing; and then the post-fall stage where woman, serpant and man receive their prophetic punishments. There is more happening in the text that most scholars tend to examIne from a feminist perspective (‘feminist’ as in a fresh read that attempts to examine the action and inaction as the text allows; not ‘me too feminism’ which can be easily assumed given the climate.

  3. Hi Marg. Regarding 1 Timothy 2:13-15, I also came to the conclusion quite awhile ago that Paul was correcting wrong teaching. The word “gar” can be translated as “indeed.” In verses 13 & 14, Paul was saying, indeed, Adam WAS formed first; indeed Adam WAS not the one deceived. Some women were spreading false teaching that Eve was created first and that Adam was the one who was deceived. This also helps us to make sense of verse 15. Perhaps there were women teaching pregnant women that Artemis, their goddess who helped women in childbirth, would save them through childbirth. Artemis was the protector of young girls, and was thought to have the power to both bring disease on women and take it way. Paul says in essence, it is not Artemis (he could not name her without getting himself in trouble) who saves women in childbirth, who sees women safely through childbirth. Rather, if she comes safely through childbirth, it will be as a result of her faith, love, and holiness. Obviously, women did die in childbirth. But, if they were to come through it safely, it would not be due to any intervention by Artemis. Just some thoughts.

    1. Hi Dona,

      Because “she will be saved” is a singular verb and “they remain/continue” is a plural verb, I believe that a particular couple is the focus of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Also, singular words for “man” and “woman” are used in verses 11-15, which is a switch from plural words in previous verses (1 Tim. 2:8-10).

      And because verse 15 is followed with the expression “this is a faithful saying,” I believe actual salvation is the meaning, not just a safe labour. Whenever this expression is used in the Pastoral Epistles, it refers to salvation.

      “The pastoral epistles (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1 (referring back to 2:15); 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8) are “punctuated by ‘faithful sayings’. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the standard phrase ‘faithful is the saying’ refers to what has gone immediately before or what follows immediately after, but what is evident, I submit, is that the formula is invariably attached to a statement about salvation. This would suggest that the phrase does not simply signal a reliable Pauline tradition, or a secure doctrine but rather heralds an assurance of the gospel.”
      Frances Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Letters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 56.
      More on this here.

      But it wouldn’t surprise me, though, that Artemis is lurking in the background somewhere. Her presence was pervasive in Ephesus.

  4. Whether women are considered to be lower or not, we all have equal access to Our LORD and that’s what matters most.

    1. It’s true that we all have equal access to God, whatever our gender. And yet many people believe that men and husbands function as priests, that only men and husbands are some kind of spiritual mediator between God and women.

      I would be wary about dismissing whether women are considered to be lower or not. The idea that women might be lower than their brothers is a huge call with broad consequences. The idea that women are lesser creatures continues to have devastating consequences. This has been documented in the book Half the Sky. More here.

  5. Thanks for this post! I love the work you are doing and am thankful you publish it for the world! I am a pastor of a small church that we planted about 8 years ago. We’ve embraced an egalitarian position from the beginning and illustrated that by including women at every level of leadership, including preaching, teaching, and on the elder board. I am often stunned by how many people simply will not come because of that one fact. So very sad. Your work is important! Thank you.

    Grace and peace,

    Biz

    1. Thanks, Biz. I love that you’re egalitarian in theory and in practice.

      I get that it’s hard for some Christians to come around to the idea that God has not decreed that only men can be leaders. I pray the Holy Spirit will keep opening people’s hearts to true mutuality.

    2. ❤️

  6. Hi Marg
    Thanks for your post, very informative. I sometimes feel that Paul’s comments to Timothy got hijacked by others with a different agenda, When I read these so often quoted passages of scripture, I simply cannot find any presence of Jesus in them whatsoever

    Regards
    Alan

    1. I’m with you, Alan. I frequently feel that Paul has been misunderstood.

  7. Please keep up your good work!

    1. Thanks, Rod.

  8. Hi Marg.

    I was recently wondering, if it is true that women can also be apostles, then why in 1 Corinthians 9:5 does it not say “husbands and wives” instead of what it actually says- just “wives”?

    1. Hi Megan,

      Paul is hardly going to ask the rhetorical question if whether he and Barnabas can take husbands along with them on their missionary journeys. And note, Paul didn’t have a wife.

      There is no question that male apostles/missionaries, such as Paul and Barnabas, took male believers with them on their travels. What is more controversial is that Paul wanted to take a believing woman with him as a ministry partner (cf. Acts 18:18).

      1 Corinthians 9:5 says nothing at all about whether women can or cannot be apostles. In 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, Paul is simply defending his own rights as an apostle.

      I’ve written about 1 Corinthians 9:5 here.

      1. I don’t think I wrote my question very well haha. I just don’t really know how to word it. I’ll try again though.

        I guess what I meant to ask is, when I read, “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?”, why wouldn’t he use the word “spouse” instead of wife? To me, it just seems like it’s saying that apostles have the right to take wives along with them, which automatically makes me assume that only men are apostles.

        And it also uses the words “the brothers of the Lord” as a description to describe the apostles, which is why it sounds to me like only men were apostles.

        1. Actually never mind. Your comment answered my question as well as the article you linked. I’m sorry I got so confused! my last comment made absolutely no sense either. Sorry for the confusion!

        2. Paul is speaking about his own situation and he is not asking if he can take a spouse along. Paul was not married.

          Paul is speaking about taking along a believing woman or sister. There’s no reason for him to ask if he can take a man along, as this is in no way controversial. Also, there is no Greek word for “spouse” used anywhere in the New Testament.

          Paul did not have had a spouse but he did have female coworkers in ministry. For example, Euodia and Syntyche worked with Paul for the gospel (Phil. 4:2-3). And Prisca and her husband Aquila travelled and ministered with Paul (Acts 18:18; cf. Rom. 16:3-4). Moreover, Paul refers to Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2) and to Apphia (Philem. 1:2) as “sisters”.

          It does sound in 1 Corinthians 9 as though the apostles/missionaries were men. No doubt most apostles were male, just as most overseers were male. But not all. Junia and Prisca functioned as apostles. Did you have a look at this article?

          There’s nothing in Paul’s words 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 that suggests only men are allowed to be apostles. If anything, Paul wants to include women as apostolic coworkers.

          1. Yes, that was the article.

            I am sorry for all of the confusion!

          2. I just saw your “never-mind” comment. I think you posted it as I was already writing my previous comment.

            It’s all fine. 🙂

        3. Just a small and unimportant aside here:

          «The brothers of the Lord» probably does not refer to the apostles, but to literal brothers or siblings of Jesus, i.e. other children of Mary and Joseph (although the catholics deny this, in order to keep up their doctrine about the perpetual virginity of Mary). Jesus seems to have had 4 brothers, and their names are given in Matthew 13:55. We also get to know that he had sisters, in plural, although not their names or number.

    2. Megan, this may be a little off the direct topic of your question to Marg, but in the passage 1 Cor 9:1-2 Paul says something interesting about apostleship that may answer your question. When he asks, “Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?” And then answers, “Even though I am not an apostle to others surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship.” The implication is that in Paul’s view apostleship is a result of a relationship’s affect on another’s growth in Christ. You are not an apostle because an institution gives you a title – rather, you are an apostle based on the results your preaching, teaching, mentoring, and example does in others. There’s a case to be made using Paul’s teaching that apostleship is an organic occurance that depends on the receiver as much as the giver.

      1. That’s such an important point, Terese.

  9. Really enjoyed the article and the responses. I also recommend N.T. Wright’s article here http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/womens-service-in-the-church-the-biblical-basis/ for further reading.

    1. Thanks, Abby. It’s an excellent article. 🙂

      I’ve previously quoted from it and linked to it, as well as the words and work of other prominent scholars, in this article:
      https://margmowczko.com/prominent-biblical-scholars-on-women-in-ministry/

  10. Lots of words here. Fortuitously God makes scripture simple and understandable to all. There is of cause value in deep study of scripture but straight forward understanding of scripture is always correct. Also some have the gift of discernment and we should always listen to there voice.
    Finally we have the especially blessed that have direct revaluation form God.
    I am fortunate to be one of these. I have received Gods word on this topic and can affirm that there is in deed an order of Creation and that men do in fact have authority over women.
    There is a need for this type of order in all creation. It is also obvious that sin will challenge this state because the world sees this as unequal. But in fact it is a blessing because the Christian life blessing is to be submissive. The way of the world is always wrong. The thinking of the world is wrong. We must all submit to the way of the Lord.

    1. Peter, No one is disputing that, in both Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2, there was an order or sequence in creation. Yet this sequence has nothing whatsoever to do with authority.

      In Genesis 1, both men and women have the exact same status, the same authority (authorisation from God), and the same purpose. And in Genesis 2, both the first man and the first woman have a part, or side (Hebrew: tsela; Greek: pleura), in the same body, the body of the first person. Authority is not mentioned in any way in Genesis 2.

      There is no scripture in the Bible, whether complex or straightforward, where God plainly states that men should have “authority” or “rule” over women. Patriarchy is a consequence of the fall. It is not God’s best plan for humanity. [I discuss the Greek word for “head” here.]

      Submission (humble deference and loyalty) is for all followers of Jesus, whether male or female (Eph. 5:21; cf. Phil. 2:3-4; Rom. 12:10; 1 Cor. 10:24; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12, etc).

      You’re kidding yourself, Peter, and I have no time for it. And you haven’t actually responded to anything that I’ve written, or given constructive criticism, you’ve just given your own opinion. If you want a platform to state your own opinions, get your own website. I will not be approving any more of your comments.

      1. Any claimed word direct from God still needs to not be contradicted by the Scriptures we have. And those Scriptures that we have still need to be interpreted by fallible people. What we have here is a case of differing interpretations of Scripture with one claiming a trump card that does not really exist.

        1. The word of God has been sent through, written down by, edited by, interpreted and disseminated by masculinist filters for millennia. As scripture is indeed considered infallible yet written by men for men and to men, the more feminist rhetorical analysis will reveal and emphasize scriptural truths masculinist scholars will not be comfortable with.

          Knowing this, we women Bible scholars need to be all the more thoughtful and faithful to what is written and how it was translated so that we can affirm our true equal and complementary leadership and stewardship of this world. Write more and more often. Thank you, Marg, for continuing your good work.

  11. Marg,
    Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome, Terese.

  12. There is growing evidence that some of these verses that command women not teach in the church were verses added by scribes to limit the role of women in the church. There is an article here on Philip B. Payne’s website : https://www.pbpayne.com/positive-reviews-new-article-codex-vaticanus-new-testament-studies-2/
    Hope this helps, thanks Sonia

    1. Hi Sonia,

      Several respected New Testament scholars believe 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 may be an interpolation, that is, a later addition to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, but this does not affect any verses that allude to Genesis 2 and the so-called “created order.” I’ve written about the interpolation idea in this article: https://margmowczko.com/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

      Here is an article that argues 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is Paul quoting the Corinthians: https://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/1-corinthians-1433b-38-pauline-quotation-refutation-device

      There are several ways of accounting for the abrupt style of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

  13. Is the significance of the created order a recent arrempt. When did this theology start

    1. Hi Tat,
      Most early Christian scholars used Genesis 3:16 as the reason why women are subordinate to men. Some of these same scholars have said some lovely things about the equal way men and women are depicted in Genesis 1 and 2.

      Nowadays the emphasis has switched from Genesis 3:16 to the created order in Genesis 2. This switch is mostly a recent thing, but I’m not sure exactly when it became a popular doctrine. My guess is that it started in the 10970 which is when “complementarianism” began. This article may help: https://margmowczko.com/kassian-complementarianism/

      I write more about the created order in Genesis 2 and whether it signifies a gender hierarchy here:
      https://margmowczko.com/gender-hierarchy-creation-narrative-genesis-2/

  14. Thank you so much for the work you do in and for the body of Christ. I do a lot of writing as well, so I really appreciate your inspired insights.

    1. Thanks, Nathaniel. 🙂

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