Thursday, July 19, 2012

"A Time to Learn": What Genesis 3:16 Really Says

I recently wrote concerning Abraham's implication that God was not as good as Abraham in His judgment upon Sodom. I said there that one comes to find out that God was actually, not merely equal to, but better than Abraham, as Abraham would have saved ten people only, but God saved a single one. I think much of Scripture is like this. We want Scripture to agree with us, as what it says seems to be less than we are, but if we approach in faith, rather than in doubt, we often find that God is better than we are. He thinks better thoughts. He does better things. We are often like teenagers thinking we know better than our parents. We think we know what God should think and do, because if He's enlightened like we are, He'd think and act according to what we consider appropriate thinking and behavior.

In view of this, I was reading Rachel Evans rant against complementarians today, and was struck at this very first assumption upon which everything else (not only of what she says, but her entire view concerning the redemptive hermeneutic she seems to be employing) seems to rely.

After Adam and Eve disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, the once harmonious relationship between the pair is mired: “Your desire will be for your husband,” God tells the woman, “but he will rule over you.” These words are part of a curse. And no matter how you interpret Genesis 1-3, this curse is as evident in today’s world as it was in the world of the biblical writers. 

For egalitarians, the teachings and example of Jesus point to a new way of healing, equality, and mutual submission within male and female relationships. There is to be no more power struggle, no more “ruling over” one another. But, as we have discussed at length over the past year, for modern-day Christian patriarchalists (sometimes called complementarians), hierarchal gender relationships are God-ordained, so the essence of masculinity is authority, and essence of femininity is submission. Men always lead and women always follow. There is no sphere unaffected by this hierarchy—not even, it seems, sex. 

 First, one should note that the New Testament passages that deal with roles are not dealt with here. I'm not saying that she doesn't have a view on them, but I've yet to see any exegesis here. There seems to be more assumption than exegesis (i.e., if Gen 3:16 relates a curse, then even those passages in the NT must be accommodating to the culture rather than Christ's ideal for His covenant community, since Christ would not be teaching us that His ideal is for us to be under the curse). 

I've discussed 1 Corinthians 11 before, and noted (as have many other scholars) that Paul is attempting to correct just this kind of misapplication of an overrealized eschatology (modern liberals seem to be guilty of such across the board and it explains their entire interpretive grid of life and the Scripture). The fact that Paul taught ideas such as Galatians 3:28, which resides in the context of who can be saved and through what means salvation is possible, gives the interpreter room to go hogwild with it and dismiss all structures of authority (of course, those who do so function much like atheists in a world that assumes that logic is transcendent and bases itself off of Christian presuppositions--the pomo philosopher that wants to wipe out all hierarchy usually calls the police when he's in trouble, tells his kids to obey him, and wants someone to keep the peace in society in general). 

In any case, if the assumption that Genesis 3:16 relates a curse in the clause traditionally translated as "but he will rule over you" is false, and if instead it relates God's ideal for the husband-wife relationship in this world, then everything else falls down flat. Hence, no egalitarian or feminist is going to acknowledge what I say after this point, no matter what. But I'm concerned about what the Scripture says, not what a host of modern evangelicals and liberals have made into a comfortable tradition where majority rules in biblical interpretation. So here it goes.

There are three things that work against the egalitarian view of this passage: (1) The role of the woman evidenced in the pre-cursed state in Genesis 1-2, (2) the idea that the promise rather than the curse given to the man is given through the woman, (3) the parallel phrasing used in 4:7.

1. The role of the woman in the precursed state is one of submission to the man. Genesis 1 tells us that the man is made male and female and commanded to be fruitful and multiply, fill up the earth and rule over it. Genesis 2, then, breaks down that picture and tells us that the man is king and is incapable of accomplishing this task without a human helper. This human helper ends up (surprise surprise) being female. Adam is the king of the garden and those creatures made after him are named by him in order to relate his authority as king (remember that Gen 2 is written in this context, not a context where the king shares authority with his queen). The problem God has in Genesis 3, when the woman has taken upon the role as the head of the garden (which is why this conversation is between her and the visitor, and not her husband who is with her and the visitor), is that the man has "listened to the voice of" his wife (3:17). This is the means through which the deception to eat the tree has taken place. It would be odd, then, to suggest that God was now saying that it is wrong for the man to rule over the woman (note that there is no negative connotation in the word l#m "to rule." That is usually read into the word by modern readers, but ancients would not have read it that way). 

2. It seems that, although the woman suffers because of the man's shunning of his responsibility to watch over the garden and all that is in it, the promise of deliverance is through the woman. What this means is that, although there is a possibility for both parties to drop the ball again, God seeks to save through her. This is evident in His words to the serpent in 3:15, where He pits the serpent and his seed against her seed. She is also not condemned to death directly, but instead is told that even though she will have pain in childbirth, she will still be a giver of life (and so she becomes "mother of all the living," or Eve "life" herself). So where the man is promised death (and the woman being under his ownership, along with everything else he owns, will undergo death), the woman is promised hope through her giving of life in the procreation of covenant children who will fight the serpent and his children who become chaotic agents. In this way, there is sort of a prophet pattern going on, where both salvation and judgment are side by side in the same passage. What this means is that, although there is a possibility of struggle and pain, what God tells the woman here is not the curse, but the hope in this world given to fight the total annihilation the curse would bring upon mankind.

3. In support of the above, the clauses, rather than conveying God cursing the woman to a life of imprisonment under the man, convey a threat and a warning of what must be to overcome it. In other words, the phrase is parallel to that in 4:7, where God warns Cain of a threat and the necessity to overcome it. In that passage, God states,

 . . . sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.

In Hebrew, the last two clauses in each episode look like this:

Kb l#my )whw Ktqw#t K#y) l)w

   wb l#mt ht)w wtqw#t Kyl)w
Notice that the two phrases are virtually identical with only the exception of differing pronouns. In the Cain and Abel episode, it is sin's desire that is at issue. It desires Cain. In what way? Well, it seems that the adversative indicates that it desires to rule over him (the negative connotation is found in the disrepute of the subject and its personified and imagined intentions, not the word itself, as Cain must now master it, which has positive connotations because of its subject and what his intentions should be). But look at the final clause then. This is a type of jussive command, not a prediction of the future. God is not saying what will be, but what must be, what God desires to happen, if the threat is to be overcome. 
In the previous episode, it is the woman who desires for the man. Like that in the Cain-Abel pericope, the desire is "for" perhaps indicating an intention to possess, and hence, to rule over its desired object. Hence, the threat to the promise of deliverance through procreation and preservation of human life through the order of the family, the recreation of the garden preserved through the relationship of husband and wife, is the woman desiring to rule over the man. What God then relates to the woman is that in order to overcome this threat the man must rule over her. Hence, the text should actually read as follows.

"I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children; [the promise preserved through difficulty]
Yet your desire will be for your husband, [the threat to the promise being fulfilled]
 But he must rule (i.e., be king) over you." [the need that must be met in order to preserve the promise]

Hence, God is relating what He wants to happen by telling the woman that the man must rule over her rather than vice versa. Chaos, rather than the order that is welcoming toward human life, will thrive if the condition of the man ruling is not met. Hence, as with Cain, God expresses what is good, not what is evil for human beings. Or to put it another way, God expresses the road to liberation, not the road to oppression by stating that the man must rule over the woman. This restores the paradisal state on earth that is inviting toward fruitfulness and human life.

Now, I could argue a lot more from the context, but this is the bare bones of it. The question is whether one wants to see it or whether one wants to see something else. The answer really isn't that the text isn't addressing role issues either, as it is in fact discussing sex and human coupling as the means for procreation and overcoming the threat of chaos in this world.

If this is all true, then the idea that the roles are a result of the curse is false. The women who are practicing a redemption hermeneutic are mistaken. And those arguing for the annihilation of gender roles are arguing a case for chaos rather than creation and order, against life and for death, against God and for the devil. Hence, you can see why not many people are going to like the above and try to work around it. Of course, most liberals and emergings, such as Rachel Evans, don't believe the Bible is inspired in the same way that orthodox Christians have always considered it, nor do they often believe in even a more robust form of inerrancy, so they may not simply care if the above turns out to be true. 

Regardless, the Scripture is set down for our good, to liberate us from chaos, not to fling us into oppression. And to apply the pomo paranoia (i.e., everybody's trying to oppress me) to this issue is so easy simply because one can apply it to anything. That's the beauty of an indoctrinated paranoia. It reminds me of the comedian George Wallace talking about his grandfather who saw racism everywhere, even on what shelf the stockboy at the grocery store used to stack the white rice and black olives. 

Of course, such things in Scripture work to display our submission to Scripture over our culture. If the text really is countercultural, then one who is offended at such biblical ideas (even to the point of denying their presence in the text) evidences a lack of humility to learn something different than our culture from God. And that's the true oppression here. It exists in cultural fortresses that hide our rebellion and lack of faith, so that we can argue why we're still faithful even while rejecting that in which we are called to have faith. Strange that God thinks so much like everyone else in our culture, isn't it? Or maybe He thinks better than we do. Maybe we just need to give Him the chance to think better than we ever could.

1 comment:

  1. btw, I should probably point out that Rachel's argument implies anarchy, not just any form of egalitarianism. There are other types of egalitarianism that are much closer to something biblical. Hers just isn't it. As I said before, she can make this statement in a comfortable society built on the norms of hierarchical and authoritative roles, but the world for which she is arguing is found all over the globe. And they are worlds of terror that go far beyond the loving relationship of a complentarian couple.