creation order

The created order of man first, woman second, as recorded 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.

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 a few verses in two of Paul’s letters. In this post, I look briefly at these verses 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] and then again in verses 11-12 where he says,

“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. 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 of taken out of the first man’s body—every other man has been born of a woman, their mothers. 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 to be mutually interdependent 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 giving reasons, however, but corrections. He may be providing accurate summary statements of Genesis 2 and 3 to guide Timothy in correcting a corrupt version of the creation that a woman in Ephesus held to. In the preceding verses, Paul writes that (such?) a woman needs to learn and is not allowed to teach (1 Tim. 2:11-12a).[2]

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.

Still, many believe 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. 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. 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 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 chunk he took out from the side 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 side-kick 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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