I originally wrote this post in May 2011. I was on a journey out of Complementarian Theology because of a dissonance in their interpretations of certain Bible passages with the general teachings of the New Testament. Since then, I’ve earned a Master of Divinity degree. In this update, I did a big overhaul of the original post because I have more understanding of the subject and the historical positions taken on it.
In the first and second posts on the creation order, I examined the creation story in Genesis with “ignorant eyes” to see if God had hard wired gender roles into humans at the very beginning. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) teaches that God established the man to be the leader at creation, not woman. The Danver’s Statement says that “Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14).” Since God established this hierarchical order before sin entered the world, complementarians teach that men and women should follow certain behaviors and fill limited roles to please God, because that is the way they were created to behave. They believe that we fulfill God’s created purpose for humanity if the men lead, provide and protect the home and church; and the women do not have authority over the men.
After removing my bias of years of complementarian teaching, I found nothing in Genesis 1 and 2 to indicate God created the man to be the leader over the woman. In this post, I continue with the temptation found in Genesis 3. I ask that you do as I did, and remove your assumptions. The goal is to observe the man and woman in their perfect state before the fall for evidence that they were instinctively following their “God-given” roles. If God established the man to be the leader of the woman, and it was hardwired at creation before the fall, then it should be evident.
We should not assume what we don’t know.
There are a lot of things in Genesis 3 that we don’t know. It may be helpful to list these out. In doing so, we can begin to understand where our assumptions and speculations about the text are hiding. It is our assumptions about this story that determine our beliefs about the roles of men and women today.
We don’t know how the woman knew about God’s command not to eat the knowledge fruit.
In the first verse of chapter 3, the crafty serpent approaches the woman and asked her about God’s instructions about the trees in the garden. God told the man, before he took the woman out of him, that he could eat of all the trees except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If he ate that fruit, he would, without a doubt, die. While talking with the serpent, we learn that the woman knew about this command as well. She said to the snake, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” How did she get this information? Why does she add the bit about not touching it?
- Possibility 1 She “remembered” by existentially being a part of the man when he received God’s warning. Then she exaggerated “eating” to “touching” herself.
- Possibility 2 The man told her exactly what God said and she exaggerated “eating” to “touching” on her own.
- Possibility 3 The man told her, but HE exaggerated “eating” to “touching,” and she was just saying what she had been told.
- Possibility 4 God re-told the command to the woman after taking her from the man, but God added “do not touch it” at this time.
We have no way of knowing. Anyone who reads motive into this part of the story is making assumptions. I lean toward the fourth possibility because in verse 22, God said that he didn’t want the man to “reach out his hand” and take from the tree of life and live forever. This indicates that “do not touch” falls within the parameters of “do not eat.”
We don’t know why the woman made her own decision to eat the fruit.
The serpent outright lied to the woman by telling her that she would not certainly die. He then suggested that she could become like God if she ate, and this might be a reason why God told her not to eat. She studied the fruit and was convinced that it would be good to eat, that it looked good and that it would be able to make her wise. So she picked it and ate it.
Later, when she was questioned by God why she ate the fruit, she responded that the serpent had deceived her. She believed his lies. Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book Talking to Strangers that all humans are really bad at detecting lies. As a species, he says, “we tend to default to truth; our operating assumption is that people we are dealing with are honest.” (pg. 72-73) A person who is deceived does not know they are being duped. The first woman believed the serpent was telling her the truth and she thought eating the fruit was right. But, why didn’t she run it past the man since he was with her? Why did she make her own decision?
- Possibility 1 She was rebelling against her God-ordained instinct to follow the man’s leadership.
- Possibility 2 She was exercising her own freedom to choose.
- Possibility 3 She assumed the man would have spoken up if he disagreed with her, since he was standing right beside her.
We have no way of knowing. Anyone who assumes that she was acting in a sinfully domineering way by taking the lead in eating the fruit is not only making assumptions, they are placing the first sinful act at this point in the story. Some do teach that the woman usurping-her-role is the first step in the fall. The problem with this teaching is that it makes sin not about woman rebelling against God, but about woman rebelling against man. It places man in God’s place. This is called idolatry. Because of this, I lean toward possibilities 2 or 3.
The key problem I have with Complementarian Theology is that it gives man authority over woman that only God should have.
Why don’t know why the man didn’t stop his wife.
After the woman observed the fruit and decided to try it, she gave some to the man who was with her. The man was there when the serpent spoke to her, saw that she was falling for a lie, and watched her put the forbidden fruit in her mouth. Why didn’t he stop her? Or, at least, ask her a few questions?
- Possibility 1 He was being passive and not taking the leadership responsibilities God gave him as the man. He let her take the lead.
- Possibility 2 He witnessed the serpent’s deception of his wife, and in full understanding, rejected God’s word, siding with the snake.
- Possibility 3 He chose his wife over obedience to God’s command. He loved her so much, he was willing to join her fate at his own expense.
We have no way of knowing. When I originally wrote this post, I leaned toward possibility 2. But after much discussion with my husband, I have joined his opinion that the man wanted to please his wife, and he ate because he loved her more than God.
We don’t know why their eyes were opened after the man ate the fruit.
After the man ate, both of their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. Why didn’t they know shame after the woman ate?
- Possibility 1 The man held the responsibility for both of them. It was his disobedience that sealed them both in sin.
- Possibility 2 They were considered a unit, as chapter 2 explains, and it was their combined action that is important.
- Possibility 3 The nature of her sin was different than his. She was deceived and in her naivety, she didn’t know that lies existed. She thought she was doing the right thing. But, unlike the woman who was duped, the man knowingly chose to follow the words of the serpent, not God’s. He is the one who truly sinned in full awareness of the act, and so his defiance and arrogance affected them both.
- Possibility 4 The fruit isn’t literal fruit, but a euphemism for sexual intercourse. “Eating” the forbidden fruit was a joint activity.
We have no way of knowing. I do not believe that the man had responsibility for the woman. I do not believe that their biological sex had anything to do with why sin “counted” when the man ate and not the woman. I could argue convincingly for possibilities 2, 3 and 4. When I first wrote this post, I thought the sexual aspect was a bit ludicrous. But since my seminary studies, I now believe that there is a strong possibility that sexual intercourse was what was in the author’s mind. That would require the participation of them both. The reasons for understanding the “Knowing Tree” as sex and the problems with that, will have to go into another post.
We don’t know why God addressed the man first.
The man and woman sewed together leaves to cover their nakedness and hid when they heard God in the garden. God called to the man, “Where are you?” Even though the man was called to account first, we do know that God required the woman to give an account of her actions as well. The man did not speak for her.
- Possibility 1 The man had the greater responsibility because he was the leader of the woman. He was responsible for both his actions and hers.
- Possibility 2 God had to start with someone. The man was the firstborn, and God started with the one with the most experience, the one who should know better.
- Possibility 3 The man was the one who sinned, not the woman. Since the woman was deceived, she did not carry the culpability that the man faced.
We have no way of knowing. It is not evident, without a lot of assumptions, that the man held greater responsibility, hence he was called to account first. We do know that his answer to God pointed to the woman as the problem, and that he remained silent about the snake involvement. Instead, he implicated God as the one who gave the woman to him. The woman’s answer, in contrast, pointed to the true culprit. The serpent is the father of lies and the one who was to blame for the temptation. God did not allow the serpent to speak, but instead named the enemy of the serpent: the woman, not the man. Woman named the serpent as the problem, whereas man named the problem… woman. It seems this is still the problem today.
I ask a lot of questions in this post. I say “we have no way of knowing” many times. And I think that is the point. We infer and assume because the text does not give a lot of reasons. It is heavy on implications, but short on specifics.
Those who espouse complementary teaching like to say that the man was shirking his responsibility by passively allowing the woman to decide what to do with the fruit; that she was revealing her aggressive desire to dominate. But this is not written in the text. It is assumed. Take away this assumption and I believe the myth that hierarchy was established in the creation order crumbles.
And it needs to crumble. Complementary Theology places man in the place of God by teaching that the first sin wasn’t disobeying God, but woman defying man’s leadership. Man blamed the woman, and Complementarian teaching continues to do so today.