The curse of patriarchy and the hope of new creation

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What impressed me most in Daniel Kirk’s discussion of the place of women in the story of God was his argument that the church is called actively and concretely to realize in the present a future new creation in which it will be unnecessary for the man to rule over the woman.

There are two main parts to the argument, and it is interesting that they more or less side-step Paul’s teaching on the matter. Whatever pragmatic reasons there may have been for restricting the activity of women or requiring them to be submissive towards their husbands, they do not invalidate the ultimate and overruling hope, which is that in the new creation the curse of patriarchy will no longer be operative. If that is the case, then the church is under some eschatological pressure to make that a visible reality in the here and now.

The curse of patriarchy

The first part of the argument is that the rule of the man over the woman is a consequence of the fall, part of the punishment of the woman, along with pain in child-bearing:

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)

Eric Greene took issue with this in a comment, arguing that “he shall rule over you” is not punishment but a sign of the “mercy of God within judgment”:

God restores Adam to rightly rule over her, for Adam had miserably failed to protect his wife from the serpent; then God rekindles her heart’s desire for him.

There is, however, nothing in Genesis 1-3 to indicate either that prior to the fall Adam was supposed to rule over Eve or that he should have protected her from harm by fighting in manly fashion against the serpent. That is simply reading a modern neo-patriarchal mythology back into the text. I blamed Mark Driscoll (see this recent post by David Fitch on the much discussed spat between Driscoll and Justin Brierly), but Eric attributed the argument to James Jordan’s Trees and Thorns. Eric notes the precise parallel with the warning to Cain Genesis 4:7, but I don’t see that it helps his case:

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

The words for “desire” and “rule over” are the same in both texts. The parallelism strongly suggests, on the one hand, that the “desire” of the woman for the man is not to be understood positively—in the postlapsarian world the woman and man are at odds with each other in much the same way that sin and Cain are at odds with each other; and on the other, that Adam must “rule over” because of sin, implying that where there is no sin, there is no need for any “ruling over”. Paul puts forward a similar argument in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 with regard to Christ and kingdom: once the final enemy has been destroyed and there is no more death (cf. Rev. 21:4), there is no need for further subjugation, so the kingdom is handed back to God.

This tension between the damaging “desire” of the woman and the domineering response of the man may partly account for Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12-15. The woman is not to teach but to learn, because Adam was formed first and was not deceived, but “the woman was deceived and became a transgressor”.

The verb authenteō in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not mean “have authority over” but something more like “perpetrate, author, exert an influence over”, often with negative connotations—you perpetrate a crime. Paul’s point, I think, is that the woman is likely to be deceived by false teachers (cf. 2 Tim. 3:6-7) and will then in turn mislead or have a damaging influence over the man. But this is a problem not of authority but of formation, and we no longer live in a world in which the woman is unformed or uninformed.1

Signs of new creation

Secondly, we must suppose that a central reason for the existence of the people of God is to prefigure the final victory of the creator God over everything that is contrary to the goodness of creation—in other words, that the church is meant to anticipate a new creation from which the consequences of the fall have been erased. I have argued elsewhere that within a more limited apocalyptic framework the New Testament churches functioned as advanced signs of the coming transition from the age of classical paganism to a new age in which the God of Israel would be glorified amongst the nations and Christ would be widely confessed as Lord. The same argument works for the post-apocalyptic church on the creational level.

The church is a sign in the present of the future renewal of creation, and it will be a much more effective sign of a coming world in which it is no longer necessary for the man to rule over the woman if it acts that reality out and does not merely pay lip service to it. Jesus did not only proclaim the coming restoration of the people of God,he enacted it concretely through exorcisms, healings, the rehabilitation of sinners, and carefully staged prophetic performances such as the entry into Jerusalem and the action in the temple.

There are, naturally, limits. The extent to which new creation may be anticipated in the life of the church is necessarily circumscribed because sin still crouches at the door, creation still waits to be “set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). But what I like about the eschatological argument is that it allows us both to acknowledge the social problematic and to give a compelling theological reason to bring a new egalitarian reality into existence.

In different ways Paul’s teaching aims to accommodate the eschatological potential to the complicating circumstances of a deeply patriarchal culture. That is what is going on in 1 Timothy 2:12-15. Ephesians 5:22-33 is a another example: a wife should submit to her husband because that is how the world is, but the husband should not be overbearing but should love his wife sacrificially. It’s an excellent compromise, and if we have good reason to think that because of sinful social structures the anticipation of eschatological freedom would cause more confusion than hope, more heat than light, then perhaps renewal still needs to be deferred.

But whenever churches persist in maintaining such accommodations without the contextual warrant, they risk becoming a testimony to the power of sin rather than a sign of God’s future. Churches that maintain patriarchal structures are a sign to the world of an old creation. Churches that—in Christ, we must stress—transcend the age old, sinful conflict between the “desire” of the woman for the man and the rule of the man over the woman are a sign to the world of new creation.

  • 1See my discussion of this in Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul, 136-173; and “What Eve did, what women shouldn’t do: The meaning of AUTHENTEŌ in 1 Tim. 2:12”, Tyndale Bulletin 44.1 1993, 129-42).
Marc Taylor | Fri, 12/28/2018 - 16:35 | Permalink

The article reads, “There is, however, nothing in Genesis 1-3 to indicate either that prior to the fall Adam was supposed to rule over Eve or that he should have protected her from harm by fighting in manly fashion against the serpent. That is simply reading a modern neo-patriarchal mythology back into the text.”

 Adam was to rule over Eve. She was created as his helper (Genesis 2:18). Furthermore, Adam named her “Woman” (Genesis 2:23). The right to name demonstrates authority over the individual as seen in 2 Kings 23:34 and Daniel 7:1. Finally, the commands from God in Genesis 2:16-17 were directly given only to Adam and as such when he and Eve both sinned it was Adam whom God went to first even though Eve was the first to have sinned. This only makes sense if Adam had authroity over Eve both before and after the Fall.

@Marc Taylor:

Marc, thanks for reading…

1. The meaning of ʿezer is not “helper” in the sense of a subordinate assistant. The ʿezer is typically one who brings help or succour at a time of dire need or vulnerability, which is why the ʿezer is often God. It may, therefore, just as well denote an equal or superior. The woman is an equal (unlike the animals) who rescues Adam from his aloneness.

2. In 2 Kings 23:34 Pharaoh Neco changes the name of Eliakim to Jehoiakim. In Daniel 1:7 the chief of the eunuchs gives Daniel and his friends new names. Both these situations involve foreign interference. The superior foreign power is in a position to rename, but this does not demonstrate that naming was regarded in itself as an exercise of authority. Cogan and Tadmor suggest that “The change of name may have been connected with an oath of loyalty sworn to the new overlord, not unlike the practice attested for the kings of Assyria” (2 Kings, The Anchor Yale Bible, 1974, 304). This is entirely different to situation in Genesis 2.

I point out in this post that “naming in scripture is a way of determining the essential character or identity or purpose of something or someone”. And further:

One person names another not because he or she has authority over the named person but because he or she is the right person to identify or determine the essential significance of the named person. This is where the “privilege” comes into it. Adam names the woman because he is in the best position to understand the significance of the fact that she was created not from the earth as a different species but from his own bone and flesh.

3. The command was given to Adam because only the ᐣadam existed at that point. The priority of the ᐣadam in the story is important: the man-without-the-woman was given a command; then the woman was deceived by the serpent. Paul makes a play on this distinction in 1 Timothy 2:13-14:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

The issue then, it seems to me, is not the authority of the man over the woman but the “education” of the man and the relative ignorance and naïvety of the woman, who is easily seduced by deceiving intruders. In a patriarchal culture, this makes sense, but in a world where women are as well educated as men, there is no reason to distrust women teachers.

@Andrew Perriman:

Hi Andrew,

 I am not sure if a foreign interference applies to God in that He changed both Abraham’s and Sarah’s name as well *Genesis 17:5, 15.

 You asserted, “The command was given to Adam because only the ᐣadam existed at that point.” God could have simply waited to give the command after Eve was created.

In your original post you affirmed, “Churches that maintain patriarchal structures are a sign to the world of an old creation.” On the contrary, these are commands given to the NT church for it to obey.