Prompted by reading the chapter in Daniel Kirk’s Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? on the place of women in the story of God, I recently set out my view i) that andrarchy (in this context, mandated rule by the man) is a consequence of the fall; ii) that it is therefore an aspect of the fallenness of humanity, of our bondage to sin; and iii) that a “new creation” people should not perpetuate this state of affairs unless there is very good reason for doing so—particularly in view of the fact that western culture has mostly thrown off this unjust arrangement over the last hundred years.
The argument is quite straightforward. Nothing is said prior to the expulsion from the garden about the subordination of the woman to the man. The question of “rule” arises only in Genesis 1:26, where the man and the woman together are given “dominion over” all living creatures. Part of the judgment pronounced against the woman, however, is that “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). The important parallel with Genesis 4:7 makes it clear that this “desire” is a bad thing—a negative and destructive disposition towards the man—and that conflict is foreseen between them.
What makes me come back to the matter here is that I heard the argument put forward at the weekend that “rule over” in Genesis 3:16 refers to a domineering and unjust rule, not to the sort of Christlike leadership that Paul appears to advocate in Ephesians 5:25-33. The curse is therefore understood not as the imposition of andrarchy but as the corruption of a good and original andrarchy. This, I imagine, is the standard complementarian way of dealing with the text.
The problem—apart from the fact that there is no mention of a good and original andrarchy in Genesis 1-3—is that the word mashal does not have this negative connotation. For a start, “domineer over” is an inappropriate translation in Genesis 4:7: it is right that sin should be mastered, which must have a bearing on how we read Genesis 3:16. But also broader usage does not support the argument. Consider, for example, the following passage:
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” (Judg. 8:22-23)
The word mashal is used four times here without negative connotations, including with reference to the rule over God over his people. Admittedly, kyrieuō in the Septuagint is more likely to convey the idea of domination but not in every case. Abimelech goes to his family and says, “Which is better, that seventy men, all sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you or that one man be lord over (kyrieuein) you?” (Judg. 9:22 LXX). He is not offering to domineer over his family.
So I think the argument stands. The rule of the man over the woman is a consequence of the fall, part of the curse against the woman, not an aspect of the original created relationship. If we are happy to let Christian women use painkillers in childbirth and Christian men to use tractors in the field, it is difficult to see why we would insist that men should still rule over women.
Paul, on the other hand, was stuck with patriarchy, just as he was stuck with slavery. It would have done more harm than good to the fledgling Christian movement to have attempted to overthrow the social order. Under those conditions, it was right to teach women to submit to their husbands and men to exercise their socially constructed authority in a Christlike manner. But most of us are not under those conditions.