Men Ruling Over Women

Keep Calm and Subvert PatriarchyIn Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, they’ve hidden from God in their shame. God calls for them, they grudgingly come out, and God explains the consequences of their decision. Within this “curse,” verse 16 says:

To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” (NIV)

There are a few important points here:

  • The Hebrew text is in the indicative mode rather than the prescriptive mode. In other words, God is describing how it will be as a consequence of their sin, not how God wants it to be.
  • It is also reasonable to assume that like everything else in the curse, gender inequality was never intended as part of God’s design.
  • Further to that, the word translated as desire is a desire of manipulation or control, and the rule of men is one of tyranny. It is not about personal autonomy; it is about the inevitable power struggle where both want power more than they want to love each other. There shouldn’t be, but there will be. A quick look around our world and this is pretty common, not only in marriages.

So to wrap that up, why have husbands historically ruled over their wives, and really men over women in general? Because of sin. Gender inequality was not in the original design. This is supported by a few things about the story before this curse which suggest that God wants equality.

For one, we are introduced to humanity, both male and female equally, as bearing God’s image. Unless the female part of God is subordinate to the male part of God, we have to admit then that male and female were created equally.

We, all of humanity, is then given domain over the earth. There is no hint that men were given domain over women. It is simply stated that we are given domain over the earth together. If women have some of this domain, with no qualifier that she has this domain only when her husband or another man says so, we have to conclude that Eve was given just as much authority as Adam was.

Many also suggest that Adam was both male and female before Eve was drawn out from his side. This is supported by Adam’s exclamation in chapter 2 that Eve is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. In other words, Eve is not a brand new creation where God got some inspiration from Adam in his design. Eve is just like Adam (except obviously for a few physical differences). Basic logic rules for my fellow nerds: if A (Adam) is the same as E (Eve), then A cannot be greater than E.

So here’s the real question: do we knowingly choose to embrace sin and its consequences? No. Jesus frees us from sin and the separation from God and each other that it causes, but for some reason the church has decided to keep punishing itself with this particular consequence of the original sin, presumably because the men who have done most biblical interpretation are content having more of a voice and more authority than women. Galatians 3:28 is just one text that demonstrates how the results of the curse have been broken in Jesus, saying “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) Jesus changed everything and as his followers, we don’t want to fall back into the patterns of the curse.

It could be argued that this isn’t necessarily about structure. Some Christians believe in an approach called complementarianism where men are still “the head” of their wives, but it is clear in the New Testament that even if you take this approach, the man’s headship is one that is radically submissive where he loves his wife in such a way as to even give up every part of his life for her. Complementarians argue that these texts give men the “tiebreaker” when a couple doesn’t agree, but whether that is true or not, the texts are clear about the kind of tiebreaker that the man should be. Others, called egalitarians, suggest that there is therefore no need for the headship language since men are called to submit to their wives just as much as women are to men. In other words, the technical structure matters far less than that both men and women are seeking the human dignity of the other even at all costs to themselves. Theoretical structure isn’t the point; radical, equal love is.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.