Women in the Text: Creation Order 1 (Updated 2020)

Listen to the article or read below.

When I originally wrote this post in April 2011, I was at the beginning of a journey that led me to egalitarianism and culminated in my MDiv degree (and Lord willing a ministry position). Since then, my understanding of this topic has not only grown in depth, but in breadth as well. I’ve re-written much of this post, but kept to the same points as the original post.

Does the order of creation determine different “roles” for men and women?

The affirmation of this question is the basis of the complementarian theological position. Because Adam was created before Eve, there are three implications that are taught by complementarians. The following is from the Danver’s Statement, a summary statement by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The Scripture passages used to support these Complementarian assertions are found in Genesis 1-3, 1 Corinthians 11, and 1 Timothy 2. As a continuation of this series looking at the implications of the creation order, this post will focus on the implications found in Genesis 2. Does Genesis 2 teach that woman is different, yet equal to man? Does God establish different masculine and feminine roles at Eve’s creation in Genesis 2? Was man designated the leader of the woman in Genesis 2?

In the beginning…

In Genesis 1, God creates distinct male and female humans. He unifies them in purpose and role. He calls them to rule and populate. No distinction in gender roles is found there, only equal authority and equal obligations to care for God’s creation and to reproduce. Some argue that it is the feminine role to reproduce (bear children) and the masculine role to rule, but read the verse for yourself, and you will find no such distinction. Both men and women participate in ruling and in reproduction. Genesis 2 will not contradict this summary truth found in Genesis 1.

Although there is a wonderful simplicity to this summation at the end of Genesis 1, you can see it holds the truth of the completed creation of humanity found in chapter 2. Genesis 1:27 foreshadows Genesis 2:22 with the words, “He created him, male and female he created them.” Humanity was not fully created until woman was pulled from the side of man. Together, they are rulers of creation and progenitors of the human race.

“Him” becomes “Them”

Genesis 2 elaborates the story of the creation of humanity by explaining the specific ingredients of man: the dust of the ground and the breath of God. God then splits these exact ingredients in the man to form woman. Some interpret this story literally, believing in the existence of a pair of humans from which all humans descend. Others believe the story to be more like a mythic parable, revealing eternal truths in story form. I don’t believe it really matters whether Adam and Eve were literal people. I do believe that the author wrote the story, guided by the hand of God, to teach specific truths to correct common thinking in the ancient world. This key teaching is found in verse 24.

So, a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife. They are one flesh. Genesis 2:24 Author’s translation

Two separate people can become one because the woman was pulled from the side of the man. Unity is the main point of elaborating the creation of woman from man. One flesh or unity is the recognition that both the man and woman have an identical source that unites them. Because woman was taken out of man, she is the same as him. She is the perfect mate. Unlike the other animals, her “ingredients” are the exact same as his.

The Same Exact Stuff

Once upon a time, there was a three-year-old who wanted a sandwich just like his mother’s sandwich. So, the mother went to the fridge and began to fix a new sandwich for her son.

“No!” The child began to wail. “I don’t want that.”

The mother was confused, but patiently said, “I thought you said you wanted a sandwich?”

Her son pointed at her plate and said, “I want the same sandwich as you.”

“Honey, I am making you the same sandwich. Look, it has mayonnaise, ham cheese, lettuce and tomato. It’s the same kind.”

“No!” The child began to wail. “Its not the same! I want the exact same.” He pointed again at the mother’s sandwich.

The mother sighed, trying to decide if this was worth the fight or not. Deciding to keep the peace, she picked apart her sandwich, cut the bread and formed a new one with the exact same ingredients taken from her own lunch. She put one side back on her plate and the other on a new plate for her son.

He looked at her with immense joy. “Yes, now its exactly the same.”

Just like this simple story, Genesis 2 teaches that the origin of ingredients matter. In the little boy’s mind, having a “second” sandwich fixed from the first one did not mean the second sandwich was inferior. In fact, it was the exact opposite. The “exact” sandwich was only worthy because it shared the “exact same” essence. It was his mother’s sandwich he wanted to share.

In the same way, Genesis 2 frames the creation of woman as a matter of origin. The man shares his “exact stuff” with woman. Not only does she share the same dirt, but more importantly, the same life breath from God making her a living person.

The man said, “This time she is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she is called ‘woman,’
for out of ‘man’ she was taken.

Genesis 2:23 Author Translation

Woman as a rescuer or an assistant?

But why create another person? Genesis 2:18 is the second key teaching in this ancient story. Woman was created because man needed help.

Also the Named God said, “The man alone is not good. I will make compatible help for him.” Genesis 2:18 Author Translation

In 1979, the cargo ship John F. Leavitt was sailing to Haiti when it encountered a huge storm with 20 foot waves. It lost its entire load of lumber, and was in danger of losing the lives of its crew as well. Over the course of 24 hours, it became apparent they needed help. They radioed for Coast Guard assistance. Three helicopters arrived on the horizon to rescue the crew of the Leavitt. Two pararescue men jumped from the airships to the water to board the ship and aid the nine crew members to safety in the hovering helicopters. It was not good that these nine crew members were about to drown at sea. The Coast Guard was sent to help them.

In the same way, woman was made to help the man. The man was the only thing in all of God’s creation that was not good. Man by himself was in peril. The Hebrew word, translated in English as help, is ezer. This word is used 21 times in the Old Testament and every single time it is used in context of trouble and the need for deliverance. Read through the other verses ezer is used. Ezer is not inferior help like a servant or maid, but superior help, like helicopters and pararescuers! The ezer is deliverance. In fact 16 of the 21 times ezer is used in the Old Testament, it is referring to God himself. For instance, Psalm 121:2 says, “My help cometh from the Lord.” (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, paragraph 34)

Why did the man need help? Because he was alone, or literally in the Hebrew “by himself.” He needed another. Some explain that his problem was loneliness. He needed relationship, since as a creature created in God’s image, he was made to commune with others. Its a valid explanation. I see something more sinister at work in the garden connected to God’s command to the man to “guard” the garden, not to eat from the forbidden tree, and the presence of the snake. But, regardless of why the man needed help, he did. There is a lesson we need to take to heart in the simple fact that women are needed alongside men for things to be good. It is not good when men are alone.

Even though ezer describes God more than not, in Genesis 2:18, ezer is not superior help, but appropriate help. The word ezer is modified by the word kenegdo. This word is translated into English as suitable, corresponding or like. In the old King James version, it is translated as meet, which in its original sense nails the correct meaning of kenegdo. It means to “meet someone halfway,” “to encounter,” or “to come together from the opposite direction.” The type of ezer God would make for man would be like the man, but standing opposite of him.

Kenegdo is an important point to the ancient author. We know this because he tells a story immediately following his declaration about making appropriate help, kenegdo ezer. God begins to form creatures from the ground to see what the man would call each one. Thus the man gave each a name, but none of the creatures God formed from the ground were appropriate help for the man. Even though the man was also formed from the dirt, they were not like him. Like the little boy who did not want another sandwich made with the same ingredients from the fridge, the man did not find appropriate help in the creatures God formed from the dirt. He needed help that was exactly the same as he was.

From the sleeping body of the man, woman is given life.

The modern English reader of this part of the story, most likely has a different image in their mind’s eye than the ancient reader did. This is due to the translation of the word “rib,” which is not rib in Hebrew, but “side.” We moderns imagine a rib being taken out and reformed as a new human, but the picture for an ancient Hebrew reader was of taking her out of the man from the side of his torso, perhaps like a splitting.

I confess, my imagination runs wild with the possibilities if we take this to be a literal explanation. She was taken out of him. Was she in his body to begin with? Was this first earthling a male/female hermaphrodite now split apart? This was Plato’s explanation of love between soul mates. He believed every person was split in two at birth and then spent the rest of their lives searching for their other half, and only those who found their soul mate would find a true union. The idea of a united original male/female earthling is not as uncommon as you might think, leading to some pretty modern conclusions about the equality of the sexes.

Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eliezer said: “When God created Adam, he made him an androgynous being, for it says, ‘male and female He made them’ in the same creature (Genesis 5:2).” It seems that the sages there were quite troubled by this concept, because it could lead to the inevitable conclusion that men and women were created equal! (Genesis 2 Essays, Admiel Kosman, page 4)

Regardless of the literalness of the story, the point is the same. God built the woman through the side of the sleeping man. The first man shared his life with the first woman. This is a foundational truth that intrigued Paul in the New Testament. In this story, he saw the gospel. The man was put into a deep sleep so that his bride could be pulled from his side. In the New Testament, we see that it pleased God to put his Son “to sleep,” so His bride – His Body – could be given life through Him! Because this truth was foundational to the church, the creation order was a sticking point with Paul. Not because it taught that man was hierarchically over his wife, but that a man should share his life and his literal body with his wife even to the point of dying for her, just as Christ shared his body and died so that the church might have life. There are no gender roles found in this original story, but if you look closely, you’ll see the gospel, like Paul did.

The man is charged with unity.

What ramifications for men and women do we see resulting from the woman’s elaboration from man in Genesis 2? How does God want man to respond to this helpful gift of woman? Man must leave his parents (Curiously, if you read this story literally, he didn’t have any!) and join his wife. Man leaves. The Hebrew uses the word ish, which can mean either “man” or something generic like “each” depending on context. In this context, because it includes ishah – woman, I think ish most likely is gender specific to males. The man is the one leaving and joining with his wife. God wants man to join his wife after leaving the family of his childhood. The wife (ishah) isn’t required to leave her family.

Many commandments are promulgated in masculine terms, though meant equally for both sexes, but in this instance the case is different: One man and one woman stand before the Almighty, on the very occasion of their differentiation into two sexes, and God enunciates a law as lying between those two just formed, which indicates for all time the duty of husband to wife, not of wife to husband. (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, paragraph 44.)

Forgive me for harping on this. But this is the only gender role, or husband role I can find explicit in Genesis 2. Man has an obligation. What is it? To leave his parents and be united to his wife. It could be argued that there is little evidence that men in the ancient Hebrew world actually practiced this. Jesus restates it in the New Testament, so its not a passing suggestion. It indicates a primacy of the marriage relationship that needs to be the focus of the man.

Men should leave the paternal family.  The husband does not have the right to carry the wife home to his tribe. He is to leave his tribe and go to her. Even though they are two people, they are one flesh. The husband is charged with unity. Genesis 2 does lay a responsibility at the husband’s feet. But its not authoritative. Its unifying.

Why aren’t we teaching men this? How to properly leave their family and unite with a woman (and even her family)? How did family units get centered around the man’s family and kin? Ah yes, Genesis 3 is right around the corner and the world will change before it even starts.

Genesis 2 reveals that woman was created second after man, not to establish a hierarchy of gender relations, but because God was teaching that men and women are equal in substance. They both share the exact same stuff, a little bit of earth and a little bit of heaven. Woman was created because man all by himself is in need. It is not good. The world needs both men and women! Woman is “compatible aid” to solve the problem and provide rescue. Man’s duty is not with his paternal family, but to his wife. They are two different and equal beings unified into one through marriage. They are both asked by God to rule His creation and procreate.

They stand before him together, man and woman.

23 thoughts on “Women in the Text: Creation Order 1 (Updated 2020)

  1. I had some lovely sexism in the workplace this week. It went: “He changed his name to hers when they got married. So I called him a vagina.” Haha, really? And there are some Christians who, while not putting it in those terms, think exactly the same.

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  2. Also, isn’t it true that Adam was referred to in gender neutral language until Eve was created, implying that Adam was BOTH genders, then separated into two “halves” (another translation of “side”)? I haven’t researched that.

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    1. “23. Please read Genesis 1:26-28, and with it, Genesis 5:2. We find that at the first the name “Adam” belonged equally to male and female. God said: “Let US make man [or “Adam,”–it is the same word] in our likeness;” and the story proceeds,–“In the image of God made HE HIM, male and female made HE THEM.” Please note that in the second clause, man is spoken of as both singular and plural.”
      http://godswordtowomen.org/lesson%203.htm

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  3. What do you make of the fact that the command to not eat the fruit of “that” tree was given only to Adam, with the assumption that he was supposed to pass on the command to Eve?

    Kay, I’m not trying to oppose you at every turn. I really do agree with most of this post. I’ve heard the rescue-helper word before (and I heartily agree – what would my husband do without me??), and I know full-well that nothing in the creation story indicates Eve as a lesser being. And, I agree that we are a team, together carrying out the creation mandate to subdue the earth and fill it with Imago-Dei’s.

    I will have to read more about the idea of Adam being gender neutral. That’s interesting, and might change my perspective a bit. As for the “leaving and cleaving”, where do you see the man being united to her family? I just see him uniting to his wife. Maybe you’ll deal with this in a later post.

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  4. It pleased God to put his Son to “sleep,” so His bride – His Body – could be given life through Him!”

    My favorite thing about reading egalitarian material is the beautiful, radical picture it gives of Christ and the church. Thanks for this!

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  5. A general comment. As much as we women might try to assert ourselves and commend ourselves, I believe there is no doubt that God set up the patriarchal system. The disciples (New Testament) called and commissioned, eventually to be honored in the construction of Heaven will be men; the geneologies God gives throughout Scripture are listed by fathers; in fact, women weren’t even allowed past the outer court in the Temple; and there’s more, as you well know. Of course, that doesn’t mean God didn’t use and honor a woman (Deborah, Mary, etc.), but they were listed biblically more as the exception (not that they won’t be equally honored in Heaven). Man’s role on this earth (the Old AND New Testament pretty much says so) is going to be more visible, more predominant, it seems, than the woman’s. Heaven will truly be the great “equalizer.” And, yes, you argue that women have been given “equality” in Christ, but much of that most women (American women are truly blessed) won’t see til Heaven – in my opinion. As Creator and Lord, He made us women for His good pleasure and His glory; in this world, it won’t be the position of honor, but neither was our Lord’s as a suffering Savior. Any earned honor will have to come AFTERWARD.

    My two cents….

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  6. “I believe there is no doubt that God set up the patriarchal system.”

    Only if when God said, “he shall rule over you” to the woman, He meant, “He should rule over you.” And if that’s what He meant, why did He not say to Adam, “See that you rule over her”?

    Patriarchy (male rule) is a result of the Fall. Just as thorns and thistles multiplied in the fields, male humans became inclined and desirous to rule over women. It was not so in the beginning– just as K. Bonikowsky said, God said, “Let THEM have dominion.”

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  7. “The geneologies God gives throughout Scripture are listed by fathers.”

    This is because that’s how the people of that day thought. There is a theological principle called “accommodation.” It means that God’s dealings with humanity are always a condescension, a bringing of things to our level. His ways are higher than our ways– so He deals with us where He finds us. Just because people did things in certain ways in the Bible, does not make them God’s divine mandate.

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  8. “women weren’t even allowed past the outer court in the Temple.”

    But when Christ died, the veil in the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom, giving complete access to all of us. There is no “outer court” in the Temple above, which is made without hands. Christ is our only High Priest, all believers are “priests and kings,” and we all have access to the Holy of Holies. Israel’s kingdom was based on externals. The Kingdom of Heaven is based on salvation for all through Christ the Messiah. We are ALL to become as “little children” to enter there. This means no special status based on who we were born as or what our body parts are.

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  9. Sorry to keep posting on this, but I did some more research on the exclusion of women from the Temple Court. What I found out was that it was not so in the First Temple– the Temple of Solomon. I found nothing whatever in the Scriptures about women being excluded from the Court of the Israelites in Solomon’s temple, where the people gathered to witness the offerings. It was in Herod’s Temple that there was a special court only for male Israelites, then an outer court for the women, and then an even more outer court for the Gentiles. This was never part of God’s commands for the Temple. It was added later by men. Here is a link to a website with diagrams:

    http://www.bible-architecture.info/Jerusalem.htm

    If you will look in 1 Kings 8:22, it says that at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, he stood “in the presence of all the congregation of Israel.” How could he have done that if half the congregation was in a separate, excluded court? The passage says nothing about women not being there, or about women being excluded from coming into the Israelites’ court.

    The treating of women as second-glass worshipers was never God’s plan. In fact, it was to a woman (and a Samaritan woman at that!) that Jesus revealed the truth that “God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him worship in spirit and truth.”

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  10. Interesting site, Kristen. You may be right about Herod’s Temple being the only one that delineated a “woman’s court”; however, it is well-known that God designed that only men (priests) were allowed into the Holy Place to serve; maybe Herod’s Temple designated that distinction further in its temple – I don’t know.

    I briefly did some of my own checking to reference places in Scripture where God’s COMMANDS (sorry, I don’t know how to italicize on here for emphasis) differentiated between men and women in service, sanctification, purification, etc. These are just some of the places found in the Old Testament: Ex. 34:19; Lev. 12; Num. 2:1-2; 3:40; 5:11-31; 8:19; 11:16; Deut. 36:6-10. In my reading and study, as Kay said above, “I believe patriarchy (Male authority) was practiced in biblical times.” However, I believe further that God DID command – or at least, commend – this practice for the Israelites. Whether or not it was to a fallen world and people matters not. At this point in His dealings with man/woman, He commanded and endorsed this type of leadership (patriarchal). After all, He Himself referred to Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” And, yes, though He could’ve referred to Himself as the God of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel/Leah, He chose rather to identify Himself with the MEN – patriarchs. It’s good, too! – though harder to understand and accept for women in our American culture.

    Could this system (patriarchal) allow women to fully obey and please God? Of course! And isn’t that what our goal as godly women should be anyway? Did it – and will it – entail some suffering along the way? That, too. For those times we have I Peter 2:19-23 to give us hope and motivation. Is it fair? As my mother (every mother?) said many times, “Life is not fair!” For that, we’ll have eternity!

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    1. Linda said: “Could this system (patriarchal) allow women to fully obey and please God? Of course! And isn’t that what our goal as godly women should be anyway?”
      Linda, you say this system could allow women to fully obey and please God. We should avoid systems that “could allow” (or could not allow) women to fully obey and please God. We should encourage everything that would allow (would, not could) allow them to fully obey God.
      How, under this system, could she be allowed to obey God, if God wants a woman to do something that the patriarchal system does not allow?
      Why do you call something good if it does not allow a woman to follow the Spirit?

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  11. Linda,

    Being male wasn’t the only restriction for priests. They also had to be Levites, of the household of Aaron, and they had to be without any external handicaps or blemishes, and they had to follow rigid cleanliness laws. If you are saying that God was deliberately instilling patriarchy into the people, then He was also deliberately instilling lesser status for the handicapped, as well as stratification of society based on who your daddy was.

    I do not believe this was the case. I believe God was restrictive about the priesthood in order to show His otherness and the separation between Himself and humanity based on His holiness. The priestly restrictions were physical pictures of something spiritual– and Christ came to bring the spiritual. We are no longer under the Law. Now we are to “regard no one any longer according to the flesh.” 2 Cor 5:16.

    Men and women were differentiated in the Law because of their specific situations. God didn’t cause the way women were viewed and treated in ancient times. He accommodated the weaknesses of the society He had to work with. The Law worked within those restrictions. What looks discriminatory to us was often protective, when viewed through the lenses of that culture.

    Accommodation means that God knew He could not refer to Himself as “the God of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachael, because the Israelites would have scorned Him. It certainly doesn’t mean He wasn’t their God too, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Hagar called Him “the God who sees me.” As a slave woman, she wasn’t used to the idea of being taken specific notice of by God! But God saw Hagar and made special provision for her.

    Life isn’t fair, you say. True– and God accommodates that fact in His dealings with His people. But He is just, and He did not decree the injustices we experience. Patriarchy is an injustice. It is not of God; it comes from the Fall.

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  12. I don’t believe scorn from this sinful world ever hindered or discouraged God from ordination of His purposes. I Cor. 1:27-28. The Fall of man did not surprise, nor occur outside of God’s ultimate will. Patriarchy does not HAVE to be an injustice when enacted lovingly and for the glory of God. However, women do continue to feel the effects of this sin-cursed world (according to the will and decree of God in Gen. 3), as do men, and the earth itself.

    Kristen, as you probably know, your whole last paragraph begs for a much-too-long theological discussion. I imagine that very theological discussion would reveal the foundation for our disagreement – though friendly – on this very topic. Suffice to say, if God decreed the injustice His Son experienced (Is. 53:10; Heb. 12:2), why not decree the same opportunity (for ultimate joy) for His disciples? God’s ways ARE higher than ours, as Joseph himself discovered (Gen. 50:20).

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  13. Linda,

    Yes, I think we do have fundamental theological differences. I believe God decreed His Son to suffer, but that doesn’t mean He decreed injustice. He delivered His son to sinful men– He didn’t command the men to sin. Jesus said it was God’s will that He be betrayed, but also said “woe” to the man who betrayed Him.

    God permits us to go through persecution and oppression. This does not mean oppression is His ideal will, or that He is pleased with it.

    You say God is not hindered by human scorn– and yet God is concerned with communicating with humanity, and thus with how people think of Him. Moses asked God what the Egyptians would think if He destroyed the Hebrews in the desert.

    The ancient Middle-eastern cultures considered women to be property. If God had revealed Himself as the God of Sarah instead of Abraham, they would not have taken Him seriously. It would be as if He had revealed Himself as the God of cows and sheep instead of the God of Israel. Sad but true.

    But what the Bible describes is not the same as what it commands. Before the Fall, nothing is said about male rule. After the Fall, the Bible describes a state of male rule as an existing fact. But it does not set forth a “divine right of males.”

    But this is probably as far as we can go with this. We will have to agree to disagree.

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  14. Kristen, I do understand where your viewpoint comes from. I debate that side from time-to-time myself. It IS hard to truly understand how God’s will is never sin, and that nothing will happen outside of God’s ultimate will, and yet He uses sin to accomplish His will. Will have to wait for Heaven to fully comprehend, I think!

    One statement of yours and Bible verse together epitomizes this paradox: “God permits us to go through persecution and oppression. This does not mean oppression is His ideal will, or that He is pleased with it.”

    Yet God says in Isaiah 53:10: “It pleased the LORD [not man’s ultimate plan, but the Lord’s] to bruise him [Jesus]; he hath put him to grief…and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

    Two sides – two methods of dealing with man (Adam and Eve who were perfect AND Adam and Eve – and children – who are fallen) – yet BOTH methods are the perfect will of God.

    Too difficult for my mind to truly comprehend! What an Amazing God!

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  15. Linda,

    Suffice it to say that I don’t agree with you, because God’s decree for His Son to suffer was a unique thing, a plan for our salvation, and does not translate to His will for humanity. Also, though He delivered His Son to cruelty, and that was His will, the cruelty itself was the responsibility of those who committed it.

    God did not decree that man should sin against women during the entire course of this planet’s history, and that He was pleased with that. Christ’s suffering had a definite, limited scope and a specific purpose. The subordination of women has neither of these characteristics.

    We are probably going around in circles at this point, though. God bless.

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  16. Here’s how I sum it up:

    I believe slavery was practiced in biblical times, but that does not mean we MUST practice slavery to be biblical or godly. Yet, “biblical” slaveholders actually taught that exact sentiment.

    Times have changed, praise God!!

    I believe patriarchy (Male authority) was practiced in biblical times, but that does not mean we MUST practice patriarchy to be biblical or godly. Yet “biblical” complementarians actually teach that exact sentiment.

    Times are changing, praise God!!

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