“Eve was not taken out of Adam's head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him."--Matthew Henry
Since a Christian woman's identity and function are irreversibly intertwined with the idea of gender roles, we must examine what gender roles are: what do they entail? Do they enforce limitations? Are they all-time binding? What was God's original intent for the sexes?
To adequately examine biblical gender roles, we must take a holistic look at scripture and start at the very beginning. So, what do Adam and Eve tell us about gender roles? Well, I'm glad you asked. :)
Genesis is a fascinating book for many reasons, but the tale of the first man and woman is especially telling. The Creation account portrays the ideal purpose and function of man and woman. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve's failure overshadows their brief time living in God's ideal--in perfect unity and harmony with Him, each other, and all of creation. As a result, we glorify the altered relationship between man and woman that came as a result of the fall and hold it up as God's ordained model. One of the greatest misconceptions about the creation account is that a divine gender hierarchy which places women "under" men was seamlessly instituted from the moment Eve was created. This is simply not so.
The Fall instituted a plethora of consequences---a deteriorating creation, death, separation from God, rampant sin, and the dominance of men over women (“a man will rule over his wife...”). Since this ugly change is part of the curse, we must conclude that male domination or gender hierarchy was NOT part of God's original plan and did not exist between Adam and Eve prior to the fall, since it is an explicitly new development existing because of sin. The Good News of the Gospel is that Christ, the second Adam, came and died to restore all of us, men and women alike, to God's original design.
Biblical Scholar Phyllis Trible notes that:
"The Fall created an inequality in the family relationship that had not existed before. And if Christ has become a curse for us (Gal. 3:13), then that curse of inequality is undone in Him."
God reveals the terms of His ideal plan in Genesis 1: 26-28. Keep in mind that the word "man" here is not synonymous with male, but mankind and humanity.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
Notice that God commands BOTH Adam and Eve to rule the earth and over all creation. God didn't say, "Adam, you are to rule and Eve, well, you can go do some dishes, maybe fold a little laundry..." They were both called to rule, complementing each other, supporting each other, serving each other, sacrificing for the other, and deferring to each other.
Alas, sin stripped humans of this inheritance. The implications of the fall, that mankind would be stuck with a sinful nature, indicates the stronger would inevitably exploit and dominate the weaker and more vulnerable. This is not exclusive to gender, but hierarchies also developed between races, the wealthy and poor, the powerful and the weak, and so forth. When God declares that "a man will rule over his wife," in Genesis 3:16, it’s important to make the distinction between description and prescription, between what will happen and what should happen. All sorts of horrible consequences came about because of the fall: death, separation from God, murder, rape, incest, oppression, abuse, perversion, etc. None of these are God-ordained, but the unfortunate consequence of free will (sorry Calvinists!). And all of which, Christ came to redeem. He bore the curse of the fall, took it upon himself to free us from lives of sin and restore humanity to God's original design, a relationship with our Creator and spiritual equality among His people. We won’t come fully into that until Christ returns, but it begins now.
John Temple Bristow, a new testament scholar, elaborates on the realities of the Fall:
If this kind of marital relationship, far from being divinely ordered, is the product of sin and the curse, then it is to be avoided rather than commended. It is characteristic of marriage outside of God's grace. To prescribe this kind of relationship is to advocate living under the penalty of sin imposed upon Adam and Eve, as if Christ brought nothing new to marriage relationships."
Part of the redemption we find in Jesus is "the great reconciliation." Our spiritual place has been restored with God and each other. Just as we are no longer alienated from God through Jesus' death on the cross, we are no longer under the curse that creates the dysfunctional hierarchies between races, socio-economic classes, and the sexes. Yet, we are hesitant to claim and live out humanity's original calling that Christ paved the way back to.
Redemption is a multidimensional, beautiful truth of the gospel that invades every area of our lives.
Next post: "Eve, The Help Meet", which will explore who Eve is and why she was created.