A Mediating Interpretation of Man’s Rule over Woman in Genesis 3:16 (Part 1)
Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. (Genesis 3:16)
In an earlier blog entry regarding Genesis 3:16, I argued that the Biblical basis for Adam’s headship before the Fall, based on proof texts provided by the Danvers Statement, was scant at best. Indeed, the Edenic narrative implies that male dominion over female occurred after the Fall. And even if that Headship had existed prior to the fall; in the general unity between spouses, it would have been a moot authority.
Article 3 of the Danvers Statement states:
Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin. (Genesis 2:16-18, 21-24, 3:1-13; 1 Corinthians 11:7-9)
There is nothing in the Genesis passages cited, which gives incontrovertible evidence that Adam ruled over the woman. The only possible argument comes from Genesis 2:18, where it is written “I will make him a help meet for him”. In Christian history, it has been argued that a help meet functions as lesser, subordinate role. However, helper or help meet has been referenced to God in relationship to man (Psalm 115:9-11, Psalm 33:20, Psalm 70:5 etc). I am certain that no theologian would care to imply the subordination of God to man; although many act as if that were the case. And although the grammatical sense of the Hebrew used in these other verses differ a shade, surely we would not want to base a doctrine on a linguistic inscrutability to most persons; an arguing over words.
My own skepticism against this pre-Fall Headship is based on the Edenic narrative. If as consequence of the Fall, the ‘curse’ upon women is that he will rule over you, it implies that that reality did not exist prior to the curse. Furthermore, Adam, as signature evidence of Adam’s dominion over birds and animals, named them. Adam named the woman only after the Fall; demonstrating a similar authority over her after.
Hierarchical order between spouses would lack any significant purpose prior to the Fall, in that there would have been general unity of mind and heart. It is a consequence of sin that division occurs; division of interests and division of opinion. Being of one spirit and mind (Philippians 1:27, 2:2, Romans 15:6, 1 Peter 3:8, 2 Corinthians 13:11 (“Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”), etc) is one element of the restoration of redeemed humanity; implying that that was what existed prior to the Fall.
Finally, I doubt that the dominion of male over female is so much a positivist divine curse or a divine ordinance. Rather, it would be a natural consequence of sin, in light of the divisive nature of sin and a pre-existing reality that women are the physically weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). As consequence of sin, power governs. And in that pre-Fall ordinance given to humanity (to both sexes) to rule the earth; in a divided cosmos, the stronger male will prevail. And outside of a fictitious race of Amazonian women, a Hellenist Greek male dystopia; every society on the face of the earth seems to confirm that reality.
I would also suggest that in terms of bidding for control, males are psychologically stronger than females. This is not to argue that males are psychologically superior. Rather, in that males are more willing to suppress their emotions in the name of control than females, females are more beholden to the emotions/passions/psyche. In a psychological war of attrition for control, males will most often or ultimately triumph; even if occasionally or for a time that may not be the case. The urge for control of one’s environment is greater in the male than the female. Only unless a female is willing to completely lose what is perceived as her femininity, she will be victorious (in general) in these psychological wars of attrition.
This is not a Scriptural argument. Rather, it is an empirical observation of overwhelming historical and sociological realities; at least in Western history. Men, who allow their women to dominate, tend to be disparaged amongst their own gender; and disrespected even by the women they allow to dominate them. Being perceived as weak, competitive males see opportunity to diminish such males in the pecking order. I don’t believe that this is a mere social construct; although the society among men will certainly reinforce this reality. Indeed, in light of the physical superiority of males over females in general, that empirical physical reality translates both internally (psychologically) and externally (socially) for the male to feel the need for dominance. Failure to govern his household becomes a matter of psychic and social well-being and sometimes existential survival.
Historical anecdotes demonstrate the dynamic. The last stable Roman Emperor before the Crisis of the Third Century, Severus Alexander was a man, whose household was overrun by his womenfolk (mother and wife etc). This led to perceptions of weakness and thus to his usurpation and assassination. The dynamic between French monarch Louis the 16th and Tsar Nicholas II and their assertive wives are other examples of perceived weakness leading to overthrow. The effete sensitivities of the Weimar Republic gave raison d’être and sustenance for the emergence of a barbaric and vulgar strong man, Adolph Hitler.
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Saying this, it is incomprehensible, why the moment when male acquired dominance matters in this debate between egalitarians and complementarians (both soft and hard). There is no evidence that Christ Himself overthrew this existing hierarchy and chain of command. Acknowledging the universal realities of raw male physical superiority, the greater drive within males to control and command, the willingness for males to set aside their passions/emotions in quest for such control and command, the divisiveness of sin and the problem of a conflict-resolution or decision-making between a marital commonwealth of two; the New Testament merely ordained the best possible structural framework and ethos to operate within this universal objective reality.
Besides, the principles of the New Testament only apply to those who willingly convert to Christ. (“For, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” – Romans 10:4) The principles and ethos of New Testament grace, differs from the principles and ethos of Old Testament justice. In that the purposes of the respective Covenants differ, each require different principles to achieve each purpose. Biblical covenants, like all contractual agreements, are only relevant to those who willingly enter them. The Old Mosaic Covenant governed the Hebrews, whose forefathers acted on behalf of the Jewish race. The New Covenant only governs those who individually enter into Covenant (via conversion/regeneration). However, that whole complicated discourse is beyond the ken of that which is being discussed here.
Thus, this discourse largely has applicability only within the Christian community; although it will have resonance without. My only concern here is about keeping social peace and order within the marriage. Without great experimental experience and interest in church governance to date, I cannot offer useful insight into those matters, beyond that of intellectualist understanding.
The manner, by which spouses arrange their conjugal affairs, should be a matter between themselves. Whenever an external body strongly interferes and intrudes into marital affairs, whether that be the extended family (paterfamilias), ecclesiastical organizations or civic authorities, it devastates the health and welfare of the Estate of Marriage and the raison d’être of contracting (covenanting) marriage; regardless of the merits of the interference. Why would any person, let alone a man, wish to enter into an arrangement in which independence and legislative control of affairs within that arrangement are being increasingly stolen from them?
On this basis alone; by feminist appeals to the state to become an active member of the marital union and thereby tilting the relationship; feminism becomes a Shiva, Destroyer of marriage; even without consideration of all the other travesties and atrocities that feminism introduces into the Estate.
Any assertions made here are counsels to be accepted or rejected at the reader’s own discretion. Premised on the promise found 2 Peter 1:3, 5-9; in proportion to that which we practicably adopt the wise counsel of God, our lives are made fuller and productive (but not necessarily happier and more successful in the worldly sense). If any counsel found here conforms to that Wisdom, its practicable understanding and application will thereby benefit the person.
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I dismiss its characterization of complementarianism as a complement of marital roles. We must excavate toward a deeper and nuanced comprehension and divine purpose. Complementarianism should be thought more in terms of a complement of endemic natural psychological proclivities, to which certain functions in marriage are better suited by the respective genders, based on those natural proclivities and capacities.
Neither Scriptures nor experience supports the notion of rigid categorical roles. In the Old Testament, especially by deconstructing The Wife of Noble Character (Proverbs 31); it is evident that so-called males roles, supposedly cast in rigid iron by old line complementarians, were very often performed by women, although to lesser degree; and by this hypothetical wife, who the Bible deemed noble.
I believe that the initial differences between the sexes are far more radical than is understood or acknowledged. (The proof of that is a work in progress). However, I also believe that those initial endemic psychological proclivities are mutable and are supposed to be mutable. Spouses are supposed to learn from each other. One of the elements of sanctification is to discover, accept, celebrate, embrace, mitigate and incorporate into ourselves that of the Other; in order to become the fullness of Christ.
Christendom, and in particular, the Evangelical Church has no sound rational foundation to justify the wisdom of God with regard to denigrating same-sex relationships and marriage. The Catholic-based arguments, which derive more from a Roman Stoicism than a Jewish Prophet; that of the Procreative Imperative, are simply not credible. The answer lies in demonstrating that the differences in inherent gender proclivities are radical indeed. There is much existing scientific and sociological evidence, let alone historical anecdote, to substantiate that assertion. Furthermore, I would assert that there is a gender-based deficiency in each gender’s inherent gender proclivities, to which a spouse of the opposite sex mitigates and fulfills; but also teaches so that the Other can become the fullness of Christ; the fullness of humanity.
However, we need intimate access (and respect for that which constitutes the Other), in order to know the nature of these deficiencies that the other opposite sex gender provides and can teach. If however, one’s intimacies are with one who already generally possesses that which we possess in a same-sex relationship, we deny ourselves intimate access to that knowledge and its practicable application. Indeed, rather than mitigate the endemics excesses of one’s gender, same-sex relationships will tend to exaggerate those excesses; just as would a marriage of two misers. And it is for that amongst many reasons that reliable statewide surveys in gay-friendly Scandinavian jurisdictions show that same-sex relationships have a far greater failure rate than opposite-sex relationships.
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However, my concern is more about the inherent structural threat to peace and order within the family, posed by the egalitarianism model of conflict resolution and decision making.
I am a serious lifelong student of history, including political theory aspects of it. And in that study, I encounter occasions where the body politic was constructed with political bodies of equal weight. The dual-monarchy of Sparta and the dual consulship of Republican Rome are such examples. These arrangements often led to protracted political deadlock and acrimony. Canadian Confederation was largely a means to overcome decades-long protracted political deadlock between Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario) legislatures.
In politics, there are often periodic changes (i.e. elections), which give hope of an overcoming such impasses. Roman consuls were re-elected every year. And political power was so widely dispersed that a malfunctioning dual-consulship was not the end of world. And if a serious threat did occur, the Romans arranged temporary dictatorships to work around such impasses. The dual-monarchy of Sparta was not so fortunate. Sparta denigrated into class warfare, corruption, chaos, military weakness and paralysis under the rival monarchs. It required a revolution by Lycurgus toward military communism to give temporary renewal to the state.
A revolving door of office holders can alleviate impasse and ensuing acrimony in a political situation. And the scope of concerns decided at a political level can be limited. And despite the cartoons, political proponents do not share intimacy.
But what hope is there in an equal democracy of two spouses; to make prudent decisions in a timely fashion; to prevent spawning an accumulation of bad blood between husband and wife in constant conflict and acrimony? Will this not eventually lead, after many decades, to a loss of goodwill and intimacy and lead to strife and alienation; making the temptation of adultery and divorce inviting?
I grant that some ‘egalitarian’ marriages can survive and thrive. However, that might be a product of extraordinary nobility of character and grace in its participants. Or the spouses have an unusual level of similar perspective. One or the other side might be rather apathetic about those issues which divide. One party might be so fearful of losing the other that they are willing to perpetually succumb, while pretending that a true egalitarianism is in place. Or, life is just one sweet bowl of cherries, with few traumas to test the relationship.
What is readily evident in these last 50 to 75 years is that as feminist egalitarianism has progressed, rates of marital (and non-marital) separation have similarly escalated. One has to be truly obtuse not to see the overall causal correlation, or believe that love conquers all in one’s individual case. There is no viable systematic conflict-resolution mechanism in face of the existential reality of conflicting interests and opinions between spouses. The reality is that decision-making tends to become a battle-of-wills, war-of-attrition, in which after many years and decades, even the one generally victorious in these battles has been psychologically scarred and exhausted. He or she wants out.
It is a structural formula for almost guaranteed divorce or a cool hollow shell of an unsatisfying marriage. In proportion to the strength of conviction in the spouses or the extent of their differences (immediate or future as each spouse’s presuppositions lead to further widening chasm of worldview); so is there increase in these detrimental outcomes.
I marvel at how advocates of this model can ignore the obvious problem; or how gullible one can be to be fooled by supposedly scientific sociological surveys or specious arguments; or how lacking in psychological insight, such that one cannot see how existentialist fantasy must eventually run aground on the shoals of existential reality!
Evangelical egalitarian, Rachel Held Evans might cite her bevy of selected sociological surveys of happiness1, to which the smallest of cursory inspection of the studies and of the researchers she cites, easily exposes their rank biases.2
We dwell in an era of extensive and rancid intellectual dishonesty, worthy of scathing contempt. I have more trust in the intellectual integrity of a 19th Century homosexual scholar (i.e. John Addington Symonds – “A Problem in Greek Ethics”), who as best as I can tell, esteemed fidelity to true scholarship over personal and sociopolitical self-interest than I do most modern theologians; let alone the secular liberal and the LGBT lobby, who do not even pretend to pursue truthfulness; and as often as not don’t even believe in the existence of Truth or the ability to ascertain it.
And science is no less subject to these flaws of pandemic human dishonesty. And in proportion to the personal and sociopolitical stake a researcher or his/her sponsors have in any given issue, the more likely the dishonesty. Sociology or any of the soft sciences are rampant and rancid in ideological bias; usually tilted toward the secular liberal kind. T
And the scientific method permits the ability to disguise that dishonesty inside the methodology, which is more difficult to detect than rational fallacies. And peer review is a weak check in those academic disciplines in which there exists hegemony of pre-existing assumptions and biases; in which academic and sociopolitical politics plays huge part in employment and promotion. Those who do not tow the party line find themselves soon on the fringes.
There still exists a small minority of researchers who retain a scrupulous fidelity to the pursuit of intellectual and scientific integrity. And there are qualities to their research that betray their carefulness. But in a society in which 75% of more college/university graduates admit to academic cheating in undergraduate work, how can one expect that they will suddenly change their spots upon graduation?
Furthermore, is a superficial, simplistic measurement of subjective happiness a proper measurement? In the midst of my madness and spiritual gauntlet, doing the dishes without psychological distress would have been bliss. If one’s expectations of marriage are low, one might easily declare the marriage a happy success.
In Evans own blog, she admits the rarity of irreconcilable differences of opinion affecting the decisions between her spouse and her.
Dan and I are often asked by complementarians how, without a hierarchal structure, we make difficult life decisions together. “When push comes to shove,” they ask, “who gets the final call?”
We never really know how to respond to this question because, frankly we don’t do a lot of “pushing and shoving” in our relationship. We’ve never reached the great hypothetical impasse that folks seem so curious about.1
It is difficult to judge the testimony of a self-interested party or know the inner dynamics of that relationship from afar. Be it granted that egalitarianism can survive and thrive. But is it hardy against more strenuous circumstances?
There are many ways in which to alleviate the inherent structural problems of an egalitarian model of marriage. For instance, the spouses can designate separate spheres of decisional influence. But those spheres will eventually touch and conflict. More importantly, the tangential direction that one spouse directs their areas of concern may become counterproductive to the direction of the other. This was a notable problem in President Carter’s administration; one department pulling while another was pushing and leaving outsiders not knowing what direction, the administration was going.
Or the extent to which both parties surrender their autonomy may be a narrow and shallow limited partnership. Egalitarian marriage can survive but it exists as a less than intense and all-consuming and psychologically unsatisfying relationship. (“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” – 2 Corinthians 9:6)
But for the most part, the psychological logic of the egalitarian model will lend to acrimonious schism, once the initial flush of conjugal love fades. There is no systematic method to resolve differences. Ad hoc, negotiated compromises can be made. But not all decisions allow place for compromise. Can a wife be half-pregnant?
In division and acrimony, children will quickly detect the parental schisms and play one parent against the other. Even outsiders might be able to exploit their situation. It is structurally, a formula for dysfunction.
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This blog entry seeks to demonstrate the ‘curse’ on the woman (male dominance) was more a product of natural consequences of sin than a positivist punishment by God. And it seeks to show that structurally, the egalitarian model of marriage will naturally lend to acrimonious strife and disorderly lawlessness and chaos in the household.
The next entry will look at the complementarian model and how it is depicted by complementarians themselves. Although subscribing to the model, I do find fault with many constructions of it. The issue is less about submission of wife to husband than deference in order to achieve a scrutable, reliable and orderly method of resolving conflicts; of constructing a peaceful social order within the household. However, having established an orderly authority within the family, to which all give due respect; that authority has wider latitude than complementarians seem to be granting it.
© Copyright John Hutchinson
1. Rachel Held Evans, 4 Common Misconceptions About Egalitarianism, accessed http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/4-common-misconceptions-egalitarianism on May 13, 2013.
2. Dennis J. Peato, “Empirical Data in Support of Egalitarian Marriages and A Fresh Perspective on Submission and Authority”, Evangelical Theological Society, April 23, 2004, accessed http://www.godswordtowomen.org/Preato3.htm on May 13, 2013.