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Mary Kassian on Women, Creation and the Fall

Complementarians are Christians who believe that God has instituted specific ways of expressing masculinity and femininity.[1] They define masculinity and femininity purely in terms of leadership and submission. Complementarians believe that leadership is an intrinsically masculine quality and they state that the fundamental “role” of women is to be submissive and responsive to the leadership of men.[2]

In support of their views, complementarians place a great deal of importance on the creation narrative recorded in Genesis 2:4–25.[3] This is the story of the man and woman in Eden, who will later be named Adam and Eve. They believe that there is a divine mandate of male leadership implied in this passage, especially in the order of the man being created first, before the woman. This article will refute the argument that the creation narrative in Genesis 2:4–25 signifies male authority and female submission. In particular, it will refute certain statements made by complementarian Mary Kassian in chapters one and two of her book, Women, Creation and the Fall. Chapter one of Kassian’s book is entitled, “The Created Order.”[4]

The Act of Naming

We read in Genesis 2:19–20 that, prior to the creation of the woman, Adam named the animals. Kassian (1990:16–17) states that there is an implicit authority in the act of naming something, and because Adam named the animals, this proves that men were ordained by God to be the leaders of the animals and of women. It is difficult to see the logic of Kassian’s claim here, that men were ordained to be the leaders of women, considering that women did not even exist at this point in time. There is simply no logical correlation between Adam naming the animals and Adam’s supposed authority over Eve. Moreover, Genesis 1:27–28 says that both men and women were given authority over the animals.

Kassian (1990:19) also states that Adam “recognized his God-given responsibility and authority by naming [the woman].” Then, without apparent logic, Kassian adds, “If the woman and man were meant to have identical roles, God would have named the woman, just as He had named the man.”[5] God, in fact, did name the woman just as he had named the man. God named all human beings “adam.” The word adam simply means a “human being” or “humanity” in Hebrew.[6]

“When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” [adam] when they were created.” (Gen 5:1b-2, NIV, underline added.)

The Bible simply does not say that God told Adam to name his wife.[7] So Kassian’s assertion (1990:19) that Adam had a “God-given responsibility and authority” to name the woman and thus “a hierarchical relationship between Adam and the woman [was] established from the very outset” is entirely without warrant. Yet this is a firmly held tenet of complementarianism.

Moreover, in the Bible, the act of naming does not necessarily imply authority. For instance, Hagar (the Egyptian slave of Sarah) gave God a name, a significant name that has been recorded in Scripture. Yet no one can rightly suggest that Hagar had authority over God just because she named him (Gen 16:13–14). (I have more on Adam naming the animals and Eve, here.)

The Creation of Eve

Genesis 2:4–25 is the only account of the creation of the couple in Eden, and it shows that Adam was created first. The other creation accounts, in Genesis 1:26–28 and 5:1–2, tell us that God’s image is expressed in both male and female human beings, rather than in just one male.[8] Moreover, it is possible we are meant to understand from Genesis 2 that the first human in Eden was not essentially or entirely male when he was initially formed. It is possible that this one person had both male and female features.[9] This concept of the first human having both male and female features has scriptural validity because a part of the first woman was quite literally “taken out” of the first human (Gen 2:21–23b).

In Genesis 2:21, we read that God put the first human into a deep sleep and performed surgery on him. God took something out of this person. Traditionally this “something” has been referred to as a rib. However, the Hebrew word used here, tsela, usually means “side.”[10] When the first human woke from his deep sleep, something of his was missing. He was not exactly the same person as before the operation. Something had been taken out of him and had become an integral part in the making of the first woman.

When the first human saw the woman for the first time, he made several statements; one of these was: “she was taken out of man!” (Gen 2:23d). It is plausible the first human in Eden was androgynous and was the source for the first male, Adam, and the first female human, Eve. Whatever the case, a significant part of the first woman had already been a part of the first human, and this makes “the created order” less clear-cut and compelling. (I’ve written more on the sides of first human in Eden, here.)

Equality or Hierarchy?

The creation account of Eve (Gen 2:21ff) is brief, enigmatic and, many believe, metaphorical. The purpose of this account, however, is surely to illustrate the equality, affinity and unity of the first man and the woman made from his side.

When Adam looked at his new partner he exclaimed that she was “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”! A profound expression of kinship and equality. There is no hierarchy here. But to further emphasise the point, verse 24 says that when a husband and wife join in marriage they become one flesh, a point which Jesus also highlighted (Matt 19:4–5, Mark 10:6–7).

Complementarians have missed the point of the Creation of Eve narrative and, instead, have read hierarchical authority into it. They believe that because Adam was created first, he was to be the leader, and because Eve was made second she was to be Adam’s submissive follower and assistant (Gen 2:18, 20).[11]

Mary Kassian is emphatic that the creation order reveals this hierarchical paradigm of gender roles for all men and women. She writes,

An understanding of creation is central to a correct understanding of male and female roles, as all Biblical teaching on roles is contingent on this historic event.[12] Gender roles are rooted in the created order, and apart from this context, cannot be understood. Therefore the Genesis account of creation is the underpinning for New Testament teaching[13] on the role of women. (1990:13)

In the latter half of chapter one of her book, Kassian describes beautifully the unity of the first man and woman. However, she also remarks on their supposed, different roles: “Adam gave loving guidance to the relationship without domineering his wife. Eve willingly and gladly submitted to Adam’s leadership . . .” (1990:20) This may sound lovely, especially to those who romanticise wifely submission, but it is complete conjecture. The Scriptures just do not say that Adam led and Eve submitted. Genesis 2 does not hint at either leadership or submission between the first husband and wife, instead, it portrays affinity, equality, and unity.

The Forbidden Fruit

Genesis 2:8ff tells us that God planted a garden full of beautiful trees and that he placed Adam in the garden before Eve was made. In Genesis 2:16–17, we read God’s command and warning to Adam not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Failure to obey this simple instruction will result in death. Despite the warning, both Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit.

Some complementarians assume that Eve took the fruit because she was ignorant of God’s command and that Adam had failed in his supposed “leadership task” of teaching Eve about the command. While we know that God told Adam the command, there is no reason to assume that God did not also tell Eve at some point. Perhaps God reiterated his command and warning to both Adam and Eve several times? Eve’s reply to the serpent indicates that she did know that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was prohibited, even if she does not state the command to the serpent in Genesis 3:2-3 exactly as it is worded in Genesis 2:16–17. How Eve learnt of the command is simply not mentioned in the Bible. (I’ve written about Eve’s different wording, here.)

As well as theories about how Eve may have heard God’s command, there are also several theories as to why the serpent spoke to the woman and not to the man in Genesis 3:1ff, but any attempt to answer this question must be speculative as the Scriptures do not give a reason. However, if the man had been the evident leader, it makes more sense that the serpent would have spoken to Adam rather than Eve. Nevertheless, the serpent directs his conversation to Eve while her husband was with her, and they both at the forbidden fruit.

The Fall

Kassian (1990:23) states, “The results of sin were instant. The created order had been violated.” Yet she does not explain how Eve offering the forbidden fruit, or Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, violated “the created order.”[14] Moreover, Kassian says that “The sin of woman and man was not that they desired knowledge, but that they misused and violated God’s created order.” (Kassian 1990:28) This statement is a huge departure from classical theology which asserts that the first sin was disobedience to God’s command not to eat the prohibited fruit.

The command not to eat the forbidden fruit was articulated by God and recorded in Genesis 2:16–17. There is no command articulated by God and recorded in Genesis involving a “created order.” Kassian does not give her reasons for saying that the first sin was violating a “created order.” In fact, she makes numerous assertions in her book without explaining her reasoning behind them.

Both Adam and Eve are confronted and individually questioned by God about their own disobedience (Gen 3:7–13, 16–19). They are each held accountable for their own actions. Each is punished and must deal with the consequences of their own sin: “sorrowful toil” (Hebrew: itsabon).[15] At this point in time, the man and woman in Eden still appear to be equal—equally culpable.

The Curse

Chapter two of Kassian’s book is cheerily entitled, “Born Cursed.”[16] Here Kassian (1990:29) writes, “The entrance of sin into the world changed man and woman’s relationship to God, to creation, and to her/ his fellow human beings. No longer do women and men walk in harmony with God. The unity and equality present in the first relationship have disintegrated.”[17] While this changed state of relationships is true, Jesus Christ came into the world precisely to deal with this situation. Furthermore, it is important to note, that God never cursed Adam or Eve. God continues to help the humans he has made even though they are forced to leave Eden (Gen. 3:21; 4:1). Only the snake and the ground are cursed by God in Genesis 3.

Kassian (1990:30) goes on to state that Christ came into the world “to destroy the power of the curse” (Gen 3:16–19); however, she is waiting for Christ’s second coming for the curses and their effects to be completely removed. In the meantime, she seems content to live with the consequences of the Fall and speciously claims that the only way women can be “truly liberated [is] to fulfil their God-given role” which she believes is adopting a hierarchy of male leadership and female submission. (Kassian 1990:30)

Freedom from the Curse

When Jesus walked on earth as a human being two thousand years ago, he continually taught and demonstrated to his followers how to live as Kingdom of God people. Jesus did not just teach and show a better, more benevolent way of living, he taught about a social and cultural revolution. Jesus taught against the notions of hierarchy and primacy; he taught that “the first will be last.”[18] There is no evidence whatsoever in the New Testament for the concept of primogeniture (extra rights and privileges for the firstborn) in New Covenant relationships or ministry. At the heart of New Testament teaching is the message of equality of all human beings regardless of race, social status or gender, etc, a message that, on the whole, the church has resisted.

At this present time, as believers, we are already part of God’s Kingdom. We have been re-born into a new life of freedom and mercy. We are graciously empowered to live out and demonstrate kingdom principles as Christ’s ambassadors. Even though we may be hindered by the effects of “the kingdom of Satan” (Kassian 1990:30), and our efforts may be imperfect, we should not merely wait passively for the future fulfilment of the complete overthrow of Satan. We should be living as kingdom agents now, bringing peace, hope, justice, and unity wherever we can. We should be trying to alleviate the pain and discrimination caused by sin.

Kassian’s Claims

Mary Kassian makes numerous claims in her book without explaining her logic or reasoning behind them. Her strong statements regarding gender roles, which she believes hinge on male authority and female submission, have no definitive scriptural basis in Genesis 2:4–25. Despite the lack of logic in her arguments, and despite the lack of valid scriptural support, Kassian is relentless in her theme, and she continues to make baseless claims throughout her book which promote complementarian principles. Kassian continues with her theme and begins chapter three with: “Two basic concepts are inherent in the hierarchy of the created order—authority and submission.”[19] (1990:31) I, however, cannot find evidence of male authority or female submission, either stated or implied, in Genesis 2.


[1] People who hold to a complementarian ideology, and promote it, include Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Wayne Grudem, Mary Kassian, Kathy Keller, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, John Piper, and a few prominent Sydney Anglicans.

[2] See chapter one of John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, (Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 2006).
Contra Piper and Grudem, the New Testament specifies that a wife is to be submissive to her own husband, not to all men in general (Eph. 5:22–24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1.) Moreover, the New Testament ideal is mutual submission between all Christians regardless of gender (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 NJKV).

[3] Many theologians regard the Genesis 2 creation account as a creation myth rather than as a history. The message on gender, however, is identical whether this chapter is taken as myth or history, or whether we take the account metaphorically or literally. This article takes the Genesis 2 account literally.

[4] Mary A. Kassian, Women, Creation and the Fall (Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 1990). At the time of writing  Mary Kassian is a distinguished professor of Women’s Studies at Southern Baptist Seminary.

[5] Complementarians assert that the husband is to be the leader of the household/ family. As the supposed leader and authority figure in the family, you would expect that it is the husband who names the children (assuming that the act of naming implies authority), and yet there are numerous Old Testament examples of women who named their children, including the wives of prominent patriarchs. (See Gen. 4.25; 19:37–38; 29:32–35; 30:4–13, 17–21, 24; 35:18; 38:4–5, 27-30; Judg. 13:24; 1 Sam. 1:20; 4:19–22; 2 Sam. 12:24; 1 Chron. 4:9; 7:16.)

[6] Kassian does not explain why she associates “identical roles” with identical (or non-identical) names.

[7] While God called all humans adam, Adam (the first human) did name his wife. He named her after the Fall. When Adam first saw his wife, before the Fall, he simply referred to her ishshah (“woman”) corresponding to ish (“man”) (Gen. 2:23). This is a designation and not a name. Later, after the Fall, he named his wife “Eve” which means “living” (Gen. 3:20). (I have more on these “names” of Eve in postscripts, here.)

[8] It is important to note that God is neither male nor female. He is a genderless spirit. My article Is God Male or Masculine? is here.

[9] I am aware that this may sound controversial, but I believe this concept is worth thinking about. There are several early Jewish scholars and more recent Old Testament scholars who recognise that the first human in Genesis 2 is portrayed as having a male and a female side, and that the female side was taken from the first human in Eden and formed into the first woman.  So the very first person may not have been really male as we understand it.
The first human, Adam, is not called ish (man) until there is an ishshah (woman). Or as someone has said, “There is no ish (man) without ishshah (woman).Some refer to the first human splitting into male and female as “Splitting the Adam.” (I’ve written more on this idea, here.)

[10] The Hebrew word tsela is used 41 times in the Hebrew Bible and is translated in a variety of ways: side, quarter, corner, timber, plank, chamber, side chamber, leaf, etc. But the usual meaning is “side.” It is only translated as “rib/s” in Genesis 2:21–22. The NIV provides the alternate translations of “side part” and “part” in footnotes to Genesis 2:21 and 22. The corresponding Greek word in Genesis 2:21 and 22 of the Septuagint is pleura meaning “side (of the body)”.  A literal translation of Genesis 2:21–22 in the Septuagint is: “[God] took one of his sides . . . and God built the side which he had taken from Adam into a woman . . .”

[11] It has been said by some that Eve was provided to help her husband, but not vice versa (cf. 1 Cor. 11:9). This suggestion goes against everything we know from New Testament teaching on human relationships (e.g., Eph. 5:1–2, 21, 28–29). We are to love and care for one another, as well as help and serve one another. (I have a short article on 1 Corinthians 11:9, here.)
Despite having no scripture that explicitly says that Adam was also to help his wife, we can safely assume that Adam and Eve were to be of mutual benefit to each other while fulfilling God’s command to subdue the earth.

[12] The degree of importance that complementarians place on “the created order” and the primacy of Adam does not seem to be shared by Bible authors. “The created order” is never referred to again in the Hebrew Bible and only twice in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and in 1 Timothy 2:13. I’ve written about the created order in Paul’s letters, here.

[13] It is possible that Paul refers to the creation order in 1 Timothy 2:13 to correct a heresy that gave Eve primacy over Adam. A discussion on Paul’s meaning in 1 Timothy 2:11–15 here.
Paul also alludes to the creation order in his enigmatic teaching about worship and head covering, or hairstyles, in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. (The considerable exegetical difficulties in this passage have been widely acknowledged by Bible scholars on both sides of the Women in Ministry and Biblical Equality debates.) Paul begins this passage by writing some correct, but incomplete statements, about men and women and their origins and relationships. He follows this up with 1 Corinthians 11:11–12, which is a more complete statement about men and women who are “in the Lord.” I’ve written more on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, here.

[14] Some complementarians assert that Eve violated “the created order” of male primacy and leadership, and also of female submission and responsiveness, by offering a piece of fruit to her husband. If this is the case, I often violate “the created order” by offering fruit to my husband.

[15] The woman will feel the effects of the fall, “sorrowful toil,” more so in marriage and procreation (Gen. 3:16). The man will feel the effects of the fall, “sorrowful toil,” more so in the sphere of agriculture (Gen 3:17–19). In agrarian Israelite society, procreation was an important role mainly for women and agriculture was an important role for mainly men. Both roles were vital and necessary for survival.

[16] Nothing in Genesis 3 indicates that either the man or the woman, or mankind in general, was cursed. Only the serpent and the soil were cursed. Nevertheless, humanity now lives in a world marred by sin.

[17] Kassian acknowledges that the relationship between the man and woman in Eden was one of “unity and equality” before the fall. (Kassian 1990:29, underline added.) At the same time, she advocates for the hierarchical gender roles of leadership for men and submission for women.

[18] See Matthew 19:30, 20:16, 25–26; Mark 9:35, 10:31, 41–45; Luke 13:29-30, 14:11, 22:26; etc. (I’ve written more on Jesus’ teaching on leadership and community, here.)

[19] Chapter three of Mary Kassian’s book is entitled, “Authority and Submission”.

This article has been adapted from an assignment entitled Refuting the Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order,” submitted to the Australian College of Ministries on the 7th of May, 2010.

© Margaret Mowczko 2010
All Rights Reserved

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Postscript 1: Adam’s Side and Jesus’s Side

Genesis 2:21–22 (in the Septuagint), John 19:34 (in all Greek New Testaments), and Matthew 27:49 NKJV (in some Greek New Testaments) contain the common Greek word pleura (“side”). Some people make a connection between the Genesis 2 verses and these Gospel verses. But I can’t see that this connection is warranted.

Genesis 2:21–22 doesn’t mention a spear, a piercing wound, blood, or water which are key elements in John 19:34. Furthermore, I see no reason to assume that God wounded Adam, and I see no reason to assume that the “operation” in Genesis 2 was a messy procedure involving body fluids such as blood. This is reading more into the story than what is stated by the author. Genesis 2 mentions bone and flesh (v. 23), but not blood or water.

John Calvin believed “that Adam had been plunged in a sleep so profound, that he felt no pain; and further, that neither had the rupture been violent, nor was any want perceived of the lost rib, because God so filled up the vacuity with flesh, that his strength remained unimpaired; only the hardness of bone was removed.” (Commentary on Genesis 2)

If God can cause Mary to conceive a child supernaturally, surely he can take “one of the sides” of the first human in Eden and make a woman out of it supernaturally. The Genesis 2:21–22 story sounds completely supernatural to me, with no hint whatsoever of the violence that Jesus experienced at the hand of a Roman soldier.

Some Christians, such as John H. Walton and Robert Jamieson (1871), believe these verses in Genesis are about a vision that Adam had while he is in a state of “deep sleep,” and that an actual operation did not take place. According to this understanding, Adam had a vision of the operation which was to visually demonstrate the unity and compatibility of man and woman: man and woman are made of the same stuff, two parts of a whole.

Whether in a surgical procedure or in a vision, what God did to, and with, Adam’s side is not the same as what the Roman soldier did to Jesus’s side.

Some speak about Adam’s sacrifice, but he had no idea what was going on when he was sound asleep. Adam was completely passive in Genesis 2:21–22 and apparently did not suffer. Adam did nothing while God did all the work. And the result was an ezer kenegdo: a vital and equal companion for him.

I know some Christians like to look for patterns in the Bible. Some of these patterns have more validity than others. The Bible, however, doesn’t make a connection between Adam’s side and Jesus’s side.

Postscript 2: Rabbi Joshua of Siknin (Sakhnin or Saknin) and the idea of “rib.”

(Postscript added September 10, 2023)

Some say the idea of  Eve being made from Adam’s rib, rather than from his side, may have its origin in a saying of Rabbi Joshua of Siknin, a Talmudic scholar who lived in the early 300s AD. But I have doubts about this idea. This rabbi supposedly quotes God as saying about woman,

I will not create her from the eye, lest she be haughty of eye; nor from the ear, lest she be an eavesdropper; nor from the mouth, lest she be talkative; nor from the hand, lest she be a thief; nor from the foot, lest she be a gadabout; from where shall I create her? ‘From a modest organ’ (מִן אֵבָר הַצָּנוּעַ) which is hidden, from ‘the thigh’ (הַיָּרֵךְ). Devarim Rabbah 6.11. (Source: Sefaria)

A rib does not come from the thigh (הַיָּרֵךְ). The Hebrew word translated here as “thigh” (yarek) can have other meanings, but it doesn’t mean “rib.” (See here.)

A different Hebrew version of Joshua of Siknin’s statement uses the word tsela instead of yarak. (See here.) But as I’ve said, tsela doesn’t usually mean “rib” in the Hebrew Bible. Nevertheless, some English translations  of Joshua’s statement do use the word “rib.”

Katharine Bushnell, for example, quoted a translation of Rabbi Joshua’s statement that uses the word “rib”: “Therefore I will create her from the member which is hid, that is the rib, which is not even seen when man is naked.” From Lesson 5, section 43, in her book God’s Word to Women, which she has given the title “The Fable of the Rib.” (Online source)

In Hymen Polano’s 1890 book on the Talmud, there is an English translation that is similar to the version Bushnell quoted but it differs from what I’ve quoted from the Sefaria website: “only from the most hidden place that is hidden even when a man is naked—namely, the rib.” (See page 280 on Google Books.)

The Hebrew behind these quotes is not given in Bushnell’s book or Polano’s book. I want to know what the Hebrew word is that is translated as “rib.” Could it be tsela, the word used in Genesis 2:21, even though it didn’t typically or clearly mean “rib”?

(The remarks about women in Devarim Rabbah 6.11, given as commentary of when Miriam spoke against Moses, are misogynistic.)

Image Credit

“Husband and Wife …” by Prixel Creative via Lightstock.

Explore more

The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell
Is a gender hierarchy implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 2:4–25?
The created order, 1 Timothy 2:12, and Bible men who were guided by godly women
5 questions about Adam’s role in Genesis 2 and 3
Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?
Being an Ezer is Not a Gender Role
Women, Eve and Deception
All my articles on Gender in Genesis 1–3 are here.
I have other articles that look at claims made by Mary Kassian, here.

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

37 thoughts on “The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order

  1. Perhaps unity in relationship is more “the point” of the creation of Eve narrative, and equality or hierarchy are seen as necessary consequences by egalitarians and complementarians, respectively? (Though I do think when one stops reading-in hierarchy, equality emerges more clearly as the actual state depicted by Genesis before the Fall.)

  2. I think unity is the main point also. The unity of the first man and woman in the Biblical creation accounts is especially striking when compared with creation accounts from other ancient cultures.

  3. Great article! What I don’t get is why people try to read things into the text of the Bible and force it to say something it just doesn’t say. When that happens then such people are beating others over the head with the Bible.

  4. Thanks Cynthia. I think many people are guilty of interpreting Bible verses in ways that make the verses agree with what they already believe, or with what they want to believe.

    I am constantly double-checking my own interpretive practises and integrity.

  5. Thank you again for another great article! I always look forward to reading your articles as they have helped me sort this issue out.

  6. Great article!

    I’m glad you’re an egal, because the minute a complementarian woman opens her mouth, I have to admit that I tune her out.
    She has already admitted to the world that she can’t be trusted with spiritual things. Why should anyone listen to her witness after that?
    If I want to hear something about the Bible, I’ll just ask her husband.

  7. Thanks Jessica. 😉

  8. “Moreover, Genesis 1:27-28 says that both men and women were given authority over the earth, which would include the animals.”

    What’s fascinating is that Adam was never even given authority over the entire earth till Eve was with him. At the time that both were together, as recorded in Gen 1, then and only then did God give authority – to both to rule over the earth which included the animals! So when Adam named the animals, he had not yet been given authority over them. And isn’t that odd?
    His act in naming was identifying the different creatures as in, lion, elephant, tiger, not Leo, Dumbo, and Tony.

  9. hahaha . . . yes there is a difference between giving someone a personal name, such as Eve (Gen 3:20) or El Roi (Gen 16:13-14), or giving something a “common” name or designation.

    God created people so that they could rule his creation (Gen 1:26-28) but I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say that Adam did not have authority until Eve was created.

    Moreover, I suggest in the article that the first man was not fully male. His female side was taken and became an integral part of the first woman (Gen 2:21-24), so Eve was kind of already on the scene when Adam was giving “common” names to the animals.

  10. Thanks for lots of great thoughts on the created order. Especially bits about the naming, and the emphasis on equality in Gen 2. How do you respond to I Tim 2:13 where Paul specifically cites the created order for why women shouldn’t be leaders over men in the church?

    One other question. You say, and I agree: “At the heart of Jesus’ teaching was the message of equality of all human beings regardless of race, social status or gender, etc; a message that, on the whole, the church has resisted.” Jesus was radical in the way he treated and befriended women, yet he didn’t make one of them his disciple. Do you think that is significant? How would you respond to someone who used that as a case for complementarianism?

  11. Jesus did have women disciples, see Luke 8. What Jesus did have was 12 male apostles, but they were also Jewish, so it proves too much for those that think their maleness is important. The gospels also explain why there were 12 (free Jewish males), it was to map to the 12 tribes/patriarchs.

    In 1 Tim 2, Paul does REFER to the creation account found in what we now call Gen 2. It does not need to be seen as a justification from Scripture for a supposed restriction on all women. What it could be is a direct refutation of part of the wrong teaching that could have been along Gnostic lines, such as the woman was created first and had special knowledge. Paul is then refuting such false teaching directly by referring to Scripture.

  12. Hi Kate,

    Jesus chose the Twelve before his death and resurrection and before the Holy Spirit came. He chose them while the curses of the Fall were in full operation. He chose them before the possibility of a new creation and true equality and affinity between the sexes. Jesus stated that his main ministry was to the Jews (Mat 15:24) and he chose 12 free Jewish men as a symbol to show that his ministry and New Covenant was for all Israel. When Judas died he was replaced. But after Pentecost, when subsequent apostles died they were not replaced.

    Jesus also chose the Twelve to be his witnesses. In first-century Jewish society, women were not considered to be credible witnesses. This may well be another reason Jesus chose men. Jesus never calls the Twelve “leaders.” He most often refers to them as “witnesses.” I have written more about why the Twelve were all male here.

    As to 1 Timothy 2:13: The preposition gar (“for”) is used in all sort of contexts in the New Testament. Gar is used in variety of contexts and a simple translation of “for” does not always convey the true intent of the word. I suggest that gar introduces, not the rationale or reason for Paul’s prohibition, but his correction of a proto-gnostic heresy in Ephesus. More on gar here.

    I suggest that Paul was giving the creation order to correct a false teaching in Ephesus that Eve was created first, and that Adam was deceived. There are surviving ancient Christian Gnostic manuscripts which state this topsy turvy idea. I have written about the heresy in Ephesus as part of a series on 1 Timothy 2:12 here.

  13. Hi Marg,
    In reading Ephesians 4-5 I understand the context to be ‘the church’, Paul writing to the Church in Ephesus giving them instruction on how to live as believers in Jesus Christ. Chapter 5 verse 21 seems to be at the end of a section of instruction to all believers in Ephesus, relating to their attitude and actions to their brothers and sisters in Christ. ‘Submit to one another’, which helps to eliminate pride and arrogance between fellow believers. Whereas verse 22-33 is directed specifically to a wife and her husband, then chapter 6 goes on to speak specifically to chidren and their parents, then slaves and masters. Paul specifically says wives, submit to your husbands, and husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. There does seem to be instruction that wives are to submit to their husbands. But I would suggest that likewise Paul asks husbands to submit to Christ by laying down their very lives for the good of their wife. ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’. Paul seems to be saying to the husbands ‘give up your life because that is what Christ has done for the church’. I understand that submission is not easy for anyone, but I don’t think Paul is asking wives to do something that he is not also asking the husbands to do. There is no inequality in scripture. Wives and husbands are both asked to submit, but within marriage the emphasis may be differnt – wives are to submit to their husbands and the husband is to submit to Christ. Of course wives also submit to Christ, but in this particular passage it seems that Paul is highlighting that the husband must submit to Christ by laying down his life. I am not saying that husbands don’t submit to their wives, because I don’t think verse 21 can be excluded from a marriage context. For example there are regular times when my wife is right about something and I am wrong. It would be absolute nonesense to say that I would not submit to her ‘right’ thinking just because I am her husband. Pride would encourage me to argue my point and insist I am right but that is just plain wrong! I believe husbands are charged to lead, but leadership when leadership is equated with rulership and superiority, submission is not viewed as something beautiful. I read scripture’s definition of leadership as servanthood, as being the least, as being sacrificial of one’s life. This could go on and on, so I’ll stop here. I would appreciate your comments

  14. Hi Jason,

    Giving yourself up for someone sounds a lot like submission. I believe Paul is, in effect, telling husbands to be submissive to their wives, but doesn’t use the word submission. Wives were used to being submissive to their husbands, so Paul speaks plainly about this (but qualifies it in relation to Christ.) Men in Greco-Roman society viewed humility and submission as undignified, so Paul used other words to make it sound more dignified for men.

    I have written about Ephesians 5:22-33 here. The word for “be submissive” is absent in the two oldest Greek manuscripts of verse 22. The theme of submission carries on from the mutual submission in verse 21.

    Peter also speaks about husbands and submission.

    It is important to note that the husband is never called the leader of his wife in the Greek New Testament using any of the many Greek words for “leader” or “authority.” The husband is called the “head” (kephale). In English, “head” can mean leader, but I have yet to find an example of kephale in original untranslated Greek literature, or in inscriptions or papyri, where it means leader. (There is one instance in the Shepherd of Hermas where kephale possibly means leader, but the Shepherd was written about 100 years after Paul wrote First Corinthians.)

    I have more about the meaning of kephale here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/kephale/

  15. Another excellent article! I think further support for your counter-argument against the complementarian idea that naming represents an example of exercising authority can be found in the fact that it is Eve and not Adam who names their sons (further examination shows that the names are prophetic and not just descriptive, giving weight to her legitimacy in doing this).

    1. I can’t find where it says that Eve named her sons. But I am aware that plenty of other Bible women named their children.

      P.S. I saw that you quoted my articles on Phoebe on Christianity.Stackexchange. It made my day! Thank you.

      1. cf. Gen 4:1 & 25 – I’m no Hebrew (or Greek) scholar, I’m just going by the various english translations (and their footnotes) I can access. With regard to the Christianity.SE post, I’m glad you’re ok with that – I tried to let you know/ask for permission, but there was a problem with the reply submission – maybe because I was including a link?

      2. I missed your footnote 5 before – so many examples! (I knew there were more, but the only other one that sprung immediately to mind was Rachel’s ‘Ben-ommi’ which was not a really good example as the name didn’t stick – and rightly so). I think that section would be improved slightly if you added a sentence to refer to the practice of (biblical) women naming their children and put your footnote at the end of that sentence.

        1. Eve’s declaration in Genesis 4:1 sounds like a naming declaration . . . but not quite. But the one in Genesis 4:25 is quite clear; I’ll include it in my list. Thanks for that.

          It’s a good suggestion, but I’m worried that I might overload “The Act of Naming” section with too much detail if I add the mothers to it. I’ll think about it though.

  16. I feel complementarians are being misrepresented and misunderstood in this discussion. I have listen to John Piper and his message regarding complementary, divinely ordained difference between the sexes that God designed to work together in a complementary way and feel his message has been missed.

    The heart of the misunderstanding relates not to gender differences or complementarianism but to the biblical definition of “leadership” or “headship”.

    Headship (or leadership) in the biblical sense, exemplified by Jesus who is the leader who serves and sacrifices Himself out of love and care for His people. This fits with Paul’s teaching on headship including marriage.

    This is in stark contrast to the worlds idea of leadership which is the heart of the problem (unrelated to gender). Anyone, man or woman who takes a leadership or headship role and uses it to rule over another (“to lord it over them”) is a worldly leader.

    A person, who does not like being submissive to a leader who serves and sacrifices (for the benefit of the person they look after) is being disrepectful to that leader (probably because they have never experienced a leader like that and instead assume they are like a worldly leader, who primarily serve themselves).

    Do not miss the forest for the trees. The issue we all have is with worldly leadership not with gender differences which are beautiful, complementary and part of God wonderful design.

    1. Hi James, Can you point to a specific statement that you think is a misrepresentation of the complementarian ideology?

      I certainly think that a worldly, domineering leadership has no place in the Christian community or in marriage, but I also believe that the complementarian and patriarchal concept that in a marriage between two people of equal capabilities one person should always be the leader and the other person should always be the follower, simply on the basis of their gender, has a flimsy biblical basis. I see no New Testament evidence for this hierarchical dynamic in a marriage where both husband and wife are Christians. However, I most definitely uphold all the Christian virtues which include submission, humility, and mutual respect.

      I do not believe that Paul was writing about leadership in Ephesians 5:21ff. And he certainly wasn’t writing about it in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. I have yet to see the Greek kephalē (head) used for “leader” in any text that was originally written in Classical or Koine Greek. (It mights occur in some texts that are translations into Greek, however.) I feel too many Christians are overly concerned with the idea of authority and leadership.

      I have written about the Christian egalitarian ideology if you’re interested, here: https://margmowczko.com/christian-egalitarianism-in-a-nutshell/

  17. Hi Marg,

    We connected on twitter a Little while ago (I’m @kaxkatten on there). I’ve been reading a lot of your articles since then and I’m so grateful to you for your excellent, scholarly work and all the new and deepened insights I’ve gained from it. And I love your use of endnotes.

    I came across this article today and I really enjoyed it. Your suggestion that adam was a “generic human” rather than a male one intrigues me. It reminded me of one of the things that convinced me that gender equality is really God’s ideal (regardless of what parts of the Church says about it) and not just the cultural ideal I grew up with (I’m Swedish). I thought I’d share this thought with you:

    In Genesis 2:7, we read “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (NIV 2011). And later, in Genesis 2 :22, we read “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib [or part] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” What I find striking when comparing these two verses is what is missing: God is never said to give the woman a breath of life, but she is clearly a living being. I would tentatively suggest that the option, then, is that the woman was of the same breath of life as the man, just as she was of the same flesh and bone. I hope this makes sense.

    Grace and peace to you.

    1. Hi Emmy,

      I agree with you, and I like how you put it: same flesh, same bone, same breath/spirit. I believe that ha’adam – and then the first couple, when they were divided and differentiated, – carried the breath of God. (The Hebrew word for “breath” and “spirit” is the one word ruach.)

      Sorry about the delay in replying. Computer problems and due essays have kept me away from my website.

  18. Another well-researched article. Thank you. Isn’t it interesting that complementarians assume leader/submissive roles for Adam and Eve, yet there is not a single shred of evidence to indicate they adhered to these roles? If anything, Eve was the leader and Adam submitted! But that was not the case. His sin was not in submitting to her, he willingly disobeyed God to enjoy what she gave him. Complete selfishness that threw our world into chaos. Instead of pointing to Adam’s lack of intervention, they blame Eve. I look forward to the day that complementarianism is eradicated from the church’s ideology. Keep going, Marg, we need your voice.

    1. Thanks Jess.

      It’s a shame Eve has been given all the blame . . . probably because we know her excuse: she was deceived. What was Adam’s excuse?

      I agree that there is not a single shred of evidence that shows there was a leader/submissive dynamic between Adam and Eve, either in Genesis chapters 1, 2, or 5 (or chapter 3 before the Fall).

  19. Marg, I hope you are working on some kind of women study dealing with these issues. Complementarianism is prevalent in so many churches in America. I don’t have the knowledge you do of all this, though I am learning. I would love to offer a possible counter course dealing with these issues.

    Starting up in September a lady will be leading a study on Biblical Womanhood by Barbara Mouser, 5 Aspects of Woman. We will study from Genesis to Revelation about God’s beautiful & influential design of womanhood. It is a high commitment course.

    If you are interested please listen to this link: http://www.5aspects.org/audio/2014audio/5AW_Lesson_08_HCR.mp3

    I listened to this mp3-all 46 minutes of it and went about mad with this ladies reasoning and scriptures taken out of context or ignored all together. Please consider working on an egalitarian course to counter these lies in the church.

    Your articles are so freeing and educational!

    1. Hi Lorena,

      Thanks you so much for your encouragement.

      I have spoken on the created order several times, and contributed a book chapter on this subject in the Australian book The Gender Conversation. My chapter was called, “Is a Gender Hierarchy Implicit in the Creation Narrative of Genesis 2:4-25?”

      I am currently, and slowly, writing about Phoebe. I did a masters’ thesis on her and I am turning it into a 20-30,000 page booklet. I plan on writing a 20-30,000 booklet on 1 Timothy 2:12 also. The created order will be covered in this second booklet. I will include questions at the end of each chapter so that it can be used as a study guide. But this probably ins;t what you have in mind.

      I will think about writing a study. 🙂

    2. I started listening to the audio file. It was pretty boring. It was also annoying.

      The Trinity has nothing to do with marriage. Ughh!

      And I can’t believe that she said that God is masculine!!!

      Her point that Jesus (or John) broke grammar rules to call the Holy Spirit “he” in John is completely misleading and shows a lack of very basic Greek grammar.

      The Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete in John 16, and the Greek word parakletos is grammatically masculine. John followed the grammar rules by calling the Paraclete “he” (auton) in John 16! He did not break them!

      Here is an example where God is referred to in feminine terms. In Matthew 3:17 God speaks from heaven. The Greek word for “voice” is grammatically feminine:
      And a voice (feminine) from heaven said (feminine participle), “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
      καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν λέγουσα· Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα.

      So the idea that God is consistently referred to in the Bible with masculine language, as this speaker says, is just plain wrong.

      Her fictitious conversations are just that, fiction. They are not “faithful” as the speaker claims, but harmful. She actually calls women “subordinate”. How is a subordinate equal with the person she is supposedly subordinate to?

      She tells husbands to look to God and emulate him, and she tells wives to emulate the creatures (whatever that means). This is outright heresy. We are all called to follow Jesus and emulate the qualities of God (e.g. Eph 5:1-2).

  20. It was Paul who used the order of creation to give legitimacy to the prohibition not complementarians. Why would Paul do this? Why would Paul in light of so much evidence which proves ” Equality” make reference to the order in which they were formed? Gen 5:2 says their name was Adam in the day they were created. Which gives the impression they were created the same time. How ever Paul’s argument seems to rest in”Adam was first formed”……not created. What is the significance? Paul is not mad. There has to be reason for making such a reference. This reference is not complementarian it is Apostolic.

    The second reason Paul gives….And Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived was tin the trangression(1Tim 2:14)

    Quite intriguing. We have failed to deal with this in the Church.
    How does Eve’s deception become applicable in implementing this prohibition? How is it possible to use this, post redemption? How can you use the fault of another(Eve) to implement a prohibition?

    This would be unjust, unless the tendency or propensity that was in Eve is present today making it necessary to have the prohibition to guard against such propensity.

    Paul’s statement is not a light one it strongly suggest Eve’s propensity was passed on.

    1. Hi Aaron,

      You make a lot of assumptions in your comment.

      No one denies that Genesis 2 shows that Adam was created or formed first, but is Adam being created first and Eve being deceived reasons for what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:12? Or is Paul’s summary statement of Genesis 2-3, which he gives in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, a correction of what a woman in the Ephesian church was teaching?

      I believe verses 13-14 is a correction, and in 1 Timothy 2:15, Paul continues to correct false doctrine. https://margmowczko.com/chastity-salvation-1-timothy-215/
      How does your interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:13-14 fit with 1 Timothy 2:15?

      If Eve’s deception does somehow disqualify all women for all time from teaching every man, then how do we account for the women who did teach men in the Bible? I list some Bible men who were led, guided, influenced and taught by godly women here: https://margmowczko.com/created-order-1-timothy-212/

      In this article I highlight some issues which must be thought through when interpreting 1 Timothy 2:12: https://margmowczko.com/1-timothy-212-not-as-clear/

      The Bible gives no indication that Eve had any kind of “propensity” or that it was passed on. (Adam ate the forbidden fruit too. What was his “propensity”?) The Bible shows that both men and women are capable of deceiving and being deceived: https://margmowczko.com/women-eve-and-deception/

      I would be wary about silencing any godly woman who God has gifted to minister. And it is very unfortunate that you regard your sisters-in-Christ as having a greater propensity for deception.

  21. Two major injustices came out of the fall….how the world views women and how the world views snakes–both today getting a bad rap and judgement for something neither of them did.

    1. Hi Susan,

      I must admit, I’m not a fan of snakes. We have several species that come into our yard, including ones with deadly venom.

      In many ancient cultures, snakes were seen as symbols of wisdom and of healing (cf. Numbers 24:1-9; John 3:14-15).

      Two examples:

      (1) The “Staff of Aesculapius” is a rod with a snake entwined around it that belongs to Asclepius, a Greek god of healing and medicine.

      (2) In Ophite (“snake”) gnosticism, the serpent is the embodiment of the wisdom transmitted by Sophia.

      I’m not sure that people hold all snakes responsible for the fall. Sadly, some people hold all women somehow responsible for the fall. So you make a good point!

  22. Hi Marg,

    In footnote 15 you note that “Nothing in Genesis 3 indicates that either the man or the woman, or mankind in general, was cursed.” I hadn’t noticed this difference before, that unlike in v14 and v17 (the serpent is “Cursed … above all livestock”, “Cursed is the ground”) the “curse” classification is missing from v16. While looking this up I notice that v16 is also missing the cause and effect structure contained in both v14 and v17 (“Because you have done this…”, “Because you listened … and ate of fruit”), which further differentiates it.

    If this differentiation is significant how should we understand v16, specifically how God says that he will multiply her sorrow in pregnancy/childbirth? As it is still something that God is doing/changing as a result of them eating the fruit.

    I had always understood/been taught that v16 was included as a curse of the fall, v14 and v17 serving as bookends surrounding all the curses, each one corrupting God’s original blessing to humankind in Gen 1:28: There is now enmity between one of the animals they should be ruling, fruitfully increasing in number is now painful, as is subduing the earth.

    If v16 shouldn’t be counted as a curse then v14 and v17 are not bookends but are more of a curse sandwich and I’m not sure what to make of its fillings.

    1. Hi Nic, not only are the man and woman not cursed, God continues to help them. So yes, I think the distinction between cursed and not-cursed is significant. And after the flood, God withdraws the curse on the ground.

      We are not born cursed as Mary Kassian claims! This point is huge!

      There are different ways of looking at Genesis 3:16-19.
      1. These verses outline some consequences of living in a world spoiled by sin.
      2. These verses outline punishments for humans.
      3. Closely related to 2, these verses are written as an aetiology. That is, they are an attempt by the author (and his community) to explain why many women suffer in childbirth and why agriculture can be hard. Thankfully the suffering involved in childbirth and agriculture has been greatly reduced in past decades in some parts of the world.

  23. Claus Westermann, A Continental Commentary: Genesis 1–11 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 268–269.

    Westermann’s comment on Adam naming Eve in Genesis 3:20 which some regard as an editorial comment. I think Genesis 3:20 is an important part of the original story, but I put the following here out of interest.

    [3:20*] “This verse is almost unanimously regarded as an insertion” (Th.C. Vriezen, Onderzoek naar de Paradijsvoorstelling.… 1937). Two questions then must be asked:
    (1) If the sentence is an insertion, where can it have come from? H. Gunkel says: “The verse comes from another context and from another source.” W.H. Schmidt: ‘It is a lone tradition that does not belong to a narrative.” The majority of exegetes wonder whether the sentence should precede or follow 4:1* because it presumes the birth of a child. But one cannot concede that it belonged originally to a narrative (or to another version of this narrative). The verse is very like a piece of information from a family tree and it is quite conceivable that the woman receives her proper name in this new context of the genealogy; the appropriate occasion for this is the birth of a child.
    (2) What is the meaning of the insertion of this piece of information from a family tree in 3:20*? It can be that it is only to preserve information which otherwise would have been lost. In that case it would be traced back not to J but to a later redactor. But if it was inserted by J, and this is not to be excluded, then his intention would be to say that the blessing conferred on humans, namely the power of procreation, has not been lost by the crime and the punishment.

    The name echoes the word “life,” however it is to be explained (Gk, ζωή); the man names the woman saying by means of the name what she means for him, namely life—she is the bearer of life. The name is really the husband’s response to the first birth; it is to be understood as the result of reflection on the event of the birth. It is an explanation which cannot be part of the name-giving itself, and as a reflection of the husband who gives his wife the name “life” it is not possible (so correctly U. Cassuto). It is rather a subsequent explanation from a distance of the name Ḥawwā which is in place in a genealogy in which Ḥawwā stands at the beginning followed by a line of descendants.

    But this is not the end of the explanation; both parts of the verse, namely 20a* and 20b*, together with the name Ḥawwā and the phrase “mother of all living,” were at hand to form it; both belong to ancient tradition. “Mother of all living” is called “mother earth” in Sir 40:1* (“till the day they return to the mother of all”). This goes back to a traditional description. It is implied in the very old description of the earth as mother (see Intro. A. III. “the types of creation”). One need not conclude that Ḥawwā is to be equated with Mother Earth. One can however concede that the title “mother of all living,” which was once the title of the primeval mother, whether known as Mother Earth or by some other descriptive mother title, has become free standing and continues on to find an echo here. There could be something similar behind the name Ḥawwā (so e.g., J. Skinner, S.G.F. Brandon). That would mean that the title “Mother of all living” and the name Ḥawwā could have the same origin. This allows us to see the unity of the verse in its present context without difficulty. The presentation here, which at one time was joined with the name as well as with the title, has lost its concrete mythological meaning both for the author and for the listeners. The purpose of the name and the title, and so of the naming and its explanation, is to express joy over motherhood whereby life is protracted into the future.

    One should check Th.C. Vriezen’s compilation for the many attempts to explain the meaning of the name חוה; he lists and discusses eight. Special place is given to the meaning “serpent goddess” who as such is the goddess of life (earlier, reference was to the Aram. חויה = serpent; so Wellhausen); so in particular H. Gressmann referring to Lidzbarski, Ephemeris I, p. 39ff., who concludes from a Phoenician inscription to a Phoenician serpent goddess or goddess of the underworld הות. This is taken up by a number of commentators. I. Eitan (JAOS 49 [1929] 30ff.) explains the name in the Phoenician inscription with reference to genetrix or magna mater and is of the opinion that such a meaning can be demonstrated philologically for חוה too. Th.C. Vriezen also inclines to this explanation. Others explain חוה as woman, H. Bauer, ZDMG 71 (1917) 413, or as Mother, N. Walker, ZAW 74 (1962) 66ff.; cf. also J. Heller EvTh 27 (1967) 255–266.

    Literature: Gen 3:21*, 23*: E.Richter, “Kannte die Priesterschrift eine Geschichte vom Sündenfall? Ein Wort zu Genesis 3:21,” ZAW 57 (1939) 285–287. M. Gertner, “The Masorah and the Levites. An Essay in the History of a Concept,” VT 10 (1960) 241–284. B. Murmelstein, “Spuren altorientalischer Einflüsse im rabbinischen Schrifttum. Die Spinnerinnen des Schicksals,” ZAW 81 (1969) 215–232.
    Claus Westermann, A Continental Commentary: Genesis 1–11 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 268–269.

  24. […] Complementarians distance themselves from post-fall Genesis 3:16 and base their premise of male authority and women’s submission on the pre-fall story recorded in Genesis 2:21–22. This is where we read that the woman was created second. It is a significant departure from traditional beliefs not to use Genesis 3:16 to support the concept of male-only authority. […]

  25. […] Grudem, however, is careful to distance himself from linking the complementarian concept of male authority with Genesis 3:16 and the Fall. Grudem claims that “the Law” probably refers to the Old Testament in general and Genesis 2 in particular “where Adam is the ‘firstborn.’” (Grudem 1988:223) Many hierarchical complementarians use the created order of Adam first, Eve second, to support their view that God has ordained men to have authority over women. [I have written about “the Created Order.” See here.] […]

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