An Unimportant Doctrine? – Part 1

I have very good and close friends who are “egalitarian” in their views about gender roles and the Bible. Some of these friends are wiser and smarter than I am. And though I love to hang out and discuss theology, and even love hearing some of these friends preach in their churches, we disagree on this topic. One of my friends, a pastor, is particularly articulate and passionate about this issue. He doesn’t think an egalitarian position is an unimportant doctrine. He thinks it’s important. And though some would suggest that the way to get along with brothers (and sisters) we disagree with is to relegate controversial doctrines to the realm of the unimportant, I don’t think that’s wise.

I have had a number of moving experiences over the past couple of weeks while preaching through Genesis 2-3. Even though I’m pretty firm in a complementarian understanding of the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, I have found myself more and more reticent to speak up on the issue. From 2011 until the end of 2012, while serving alongside the staff at Gateway Baptist Church, I was quite happy to keep my complementarianism to myself and not rock the boat at Gateway. Because the Gateway staff and elders were very clear: along with the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, they are firmly egalitarian. It’s even a qualification for incoming pastors to the denomination that they must subscribe to the “Cultural Statement” which boldly states that, “Women and men are recognized as equal servants in the work of the Lord.” By which they mean that there is no distinction in the roles of women and men in the church. []

The thing is, I like getting along with people. I like to feel like I’m being tolerant and gracious; easy-going and easy-to-get-along-with. So I was moved over and over again while studying Genesis 2 and 3, that the issue of gender roles is by no means an unimportant doctrine. And while I’m glad that I’m on good terms and have healthy friendships, not only with Gateway Baptists, but also with a number of egalitarian friends, I’m convinced more than ever that this issue matters. It’s worth contending for—seasoned with love and grace and humility!

Here are some of the things I observed in Genesis 2 and 3, and you decide if you also think this is a matter of doctrinal importance.

  • In Genesis 2:18, we read, “Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Gen 2:18 ESV) The word “fit” in Hebrew is “kenegdo” which is the preposition, “k" meaning “according to” + the noun which functions like a preposition, “neged” meaning “facing, in front of, or opposite” + the 3rd person masculine suffix, meaning “his”. So the word means something like, “according to his opposite” or more loosely, “to match him” or as the ESV puts it, “fit for him”. Two things are obvious from this: Woman was not inferior to man—she was not one of the animals under his rule. No helper was found for Adam among the animals so God made woman out of man’s own DNA to fit him, match him: complement him. That implies distinctiveness, but distinctiveness within equality. Genesis 1:26-27 are crystal clear that the kingly mission of humanity over all Creation is one appointed to both genders together: “male and female he created them.” Nonetheless, as Genesis 2 zooms in to provide more narrative detail about the creation of humanity, Adam is created first and Eve is made from him to complement him as “a helper” in their mission. Adam has headship.
  • We see the same headship implied in Gen 3:9, after Adam and Eve sinned, when they are hiding from God and verse 9 reads, “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" (Gen 3:9 ESV) When they had sinned, God did not call out to the man and the woman together. He called out “to the man”. And when God calls, the Hebrew word for “you” in verse 9 is singular. God is holding Adam responsible for what they both had done because Adam was the head. Equal in personhood, value and dignity as created in God’s image, but distinct in role within the relationship.
  • Genesis 3:17 takes this headship responsibility further: “And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; (Gen 3:17 ESV) Now that is taken by some to mean that men should not listed to their wives. That’s just stupid. What it does mean is that when Adam was faced with a decision to either heed his wife’s voice or heed God’s Word (“…of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’”), he failed in his headship role precisely because he listened to the wrong voice. The headship role for husbands is to lead their wives and children with God’s Word. Not with inherent authority as a macho-man, but with delegated authority by pointing to, teaching from and reminding from the prime authority of God’s Word.
  • The original sin illustrates what goes wrong when men fail to lead their wives and children to love, learn and listen to God’s Word:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?"
2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,
3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’"
4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die.
5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Gen 3:1-6 ESV)

  • Here comes the serpent to deceive the woman into doubting God’s trustworthiness (“Did God actually say…?”), and God’s love and goodness (“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it…”). In verses 2-3, Eve misquotes God’s earlier commandment (given in 2:16-17), which she must have learned from Adam! She had not yet been made when God told Adam not to eat of that tree. So Adam taught her about God’s Word. And then in the moment of crisis, when the serpent is leading her astray, where is Adam? Verse 6: “…she also gave some to her husband who was with her…” He was standing right beside her the whole time. And Adam who is supposed to be his wife’s nurturing and protecting head, who is supposed to be the one to remind her of God’s Word and encourage her to love and trust God, what does he do in the hour of her greatest need? Nothing.
  • The original sin that brought death into the world did not happen because a woman was tempted to disobey God. The original sin that brought death into the world happened because her husband failed to take responsibility as the head in their relationship to nurture and protect her with God’s Word.
  • And that sin that brought death into the world also separated mankind from our God and plunged us into perpetual rebellion and death. But that’s not all: it deeply twisted the design of God for our relationships as men and women in marriage. It introduced two gender-role pathologies:
    • Feminism: Genesis 3:16b says, “…your desire shall be for your husband…” This doesn’t mean woman will have sexual desires for men. It doesn’t mean women will be attracted to men. It doesn’t mean women are cursed to want to be a help and a support to men. How do I know? The same Hebrew words translated “desire for” are also used in the next chapter, in Gen 4:7. God is talking to Cain who is about to murder his brother, Abel, and God says, “sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Either Cain would learn to rule over sin, or sin would rule over Cain. That’s what “desire for you” means in this context. Likewise, Eve was told by God that her desire would be for (or the Hebrew can be translated “against”) her husband, but he would rule over her instead (Gen 3:16b).
    • Male Domination: This is a double-sided pathology. God told Eve that she would want to rule over her husband, but that he would end up ruling over her… dominating her.
  • Therefore, both chauvinistic male domination (abusing the God-given role of nurturing and protecting headship in order to become an abusive, domineering bully or dictator), and feminism (refusal to accept the protecting provision God appointed in the form of husbandly headship and striving to rule instead) are results of the first sin.

As I said, I was moved as I saw these things more clearly. I’ve neglected the importance of this issue.

An unimportant doctrine? How can it be unimportant, or secondary, when it is deeply entwined with the doctrine of original sin? How can it be a matter not worth disagreeing over when God’s design for gender roles is established before the Fall, and the two most pervasive pathologies in gender roles today are described immediately following the Fall?

One of my friends serving in the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada has indicated that he more or less agrees with the idea of complementarianism (c.f. Gen 2:18b) in marriage and in the home, but not with a distinction of gender roles in the leadership of the church. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

1 Comment

  1. Sir,

    Nice, thorough essay.

    The topic is extremely important in these last days…

    [content edited by admin]

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