Genesis 2 gender roles lightstock_102522

Complementarians are Christians who believe that God has instituted certain, 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] 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, not just men.

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” 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). [More on Adam naming the animals and Eve here.]

The Creation of Eve

Genesis 2:4-25 is the only creation account that 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] For this reason, it is hard to justify the very commonly held belief that the first human being in Genesis 2 was 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 he was 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 man 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, though not certain, that the first human in the Genesis 2 story was androgynous and was the source for the first male and the first female human being. 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. [More on this 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 woman.

The whole purpose of the Creation of Eve narrative in Genesis 2:21-24 is to emphasise the equality of husband and wife. To read it any other way is to miss the point and distort its meaning! . . . 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 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). (From my article A Suitable Helper .)

Complementarians have missed the point of the Creation of Eve narrative and, instead, have they 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 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.

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 spoke to Eve while her husband was with her, and they both at the forbidden fruit.

The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”: A Response to Mary Kassian

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 explain her reasons for saying that that the first sin was violating a “created order”. She actually makes numerous unfounded assertions in her book without revealing her reasoning behind them.

Both Adam and Eve are confronted and individually questioned by God about their disobedience (Gen 3:7-13,16-19). They are each held accountable for their own actions. Both Adam and Eve are punished and must deal with the consequences of their sin. At this point in time, they still appear to be completely equal—equally culpable.

The Curse

Chapter two of Kassian’s book is cheerily entitled, “Born Cursed”.[15] 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.”[16] While this changed state of relationships is true, Jesus Christ came into the world precisely to deal with this situation.

Kassian (1990:30) acknowledges 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”.[17] 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 hinges 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.”[18] (1990:31) I, however, cannot find any evidence of male authority or female submission, either stated or implied, in Genesis 2.

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[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 some prominent Sydney Anglicans.

[2] See chapter one of John Piper and Grudem, Wayne (editors), 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, Tit. 2:5 and 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. Mary Kassian is the 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, he simply called 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).

[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 Old Testament scholars who state 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 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”. [More on this 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. [A short article on 1 Corinthians 11:9 is 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 11:3 and in 1 Timothy 2:13. See footnote 13.

[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 11:2-12. (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 in Christ. [More on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.]

[14] Complementarians assert that Eve violated “the created order” of male primacy and leadership, and 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] There is nothing in Genesis 3 which indicates that either the man or the woman, or mankind in general, was cursed. Only the serpent and the soil were cursed. Nevertheless, humankind now live in a world marred by sin.

[16] Kassian acknowledges that the relationship between the first man and woman was one of “unity and equality” before the fall. (Kassian 1990:29, underline added.)

[17] See Matthew 19:30, 20:16, 25-26; Mark 9:35, 10:31, 41-45; Luke 13:29-30, 14:11, 22:26; etc. [More on Jesus’ teaching on leadership and community here.]

[18] 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.

© 7th of May 2010, Margaret Mowczko

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