Friday, May 12, 2006

The Role of a Woman--in the Fall and in the Church

Amy, a commenter over at Neil's blog, believes that the Bible is hostile to women, and that this (in part) stems from the fact that it blames Eve for all the sin in the world.

My original comment was this: Amy, the Bible doesn't "blame women for everything." If you read the account of the Fall (Gen 3), you'll see that in fact, while Eve was deceived by the serpent, Adam was the one who willfully sinned, and Adam is the one through whom sin entered the world"

Amy's response was this: And I can see how it can be easily read that way, but the bible tells on itself.
1 Timothy
2:13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

So what I'd like to do is go through the account of Genesis 3, and then fast-forward to its significance in 1 Tim 2:13-14, which was a passage Amy cited as supporting her assertion.

    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’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 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.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 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. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

    And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

    The Lord God said to the serpent,

    “Because you have done this,
    cursed are you above all livestock
    and above all beasts of the field;
    on your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
    I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
    he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

    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.”

    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;
    thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
    By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
    till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
    for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”

    The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

    Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen 3:1-24, ESV)

So where is the blame laid here? Well first, let's be clear that each party bears responsibility for their actions. That is why God pronounces individual judgments on the serpent, on Eve, and on Adam. But notice it says that Eve was deceived (which is exactly the same thing the verses Amy quoted from 1 Timothy said). Implicitly, though, we see that Adam wasn't deceived. He ate the fruit knowing full well he was doing the wrong thing. Finally, we see in Adam's judgment, not only the problems with the ground, but also the pronouncement of the curse--death.

As I mentioned previously to Amy, I think it's interesting to see the result of this sin. When God confronts him, Adam says "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Who is Adam really blaming here? God! He's saying "God, you're the one who gave me this woman, and that's why I sinned." It is the typical response of someone caught in wrongdoing--trying to blameshift.

Ok, so does the New Testament support the idea that the sinful nature of people came from Adam? Before we go to Timothy, let's stop off in Romans, another of the Apostle Paul's letters.

    Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned — sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

    But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

    Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:12-21, RSV)

It's clear from Romans 5 that all of us have an inherited sin nature, and that nature comes from our first father, Adam. And yet all of us, like each individual in the verses from Genesis, still bear responsibility for our own sin, including its consequences.

So where does 1 Timothy fit in? This is a letter written by Paul to his young protege, Timothy, instructing him on how to be a church leader--a pastor. He gives lots of practical advice with theological underpinnings to it.

Let's look at the part Amy quoted from in context:

    I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Tim 2:8-15, ESV)

Paul's point to Timothy is to outline the different roles within the church. After encouraging people to pray for the salvation of all kinds of people (2:1-4), Paul encourages men about the good deeds they should do. Then he continues by encouraging women to focus more on their good works than on their appearance.

Then he discusses the woman's God-given role, and gives the reason for it, and finally, once again he encourages women to continue in good works of faith, love, and holiness. (Side note: Commentators are mixed on what "saved through childbearing" means--I can only tell you what it doesn't mean--it doesn't mean that my wife has secured her place in heaven by giving me 5 children.)

This is a difficult saying. More liberal churches have found a way to set it aside, by simply dismissing it as being for that day and time. More conservative churches take it literally, and as a result women in those churches may not hold teaching positions in areas where men are present. I hold to the latter view, and think it is more accurate interpretation of the passage. In our church, women may teach other women, and may teach the children, but may not teach a Sunday School with men, nor may they hold the office of pastor or elder.

Paul tells Timothy that there is a significance in the order of creation, that there is a significance that Eve was deceived, and that as a result, Paul does not allow women to teach men. This is the part where I would presume that someone like Amy, a self-proclaimed atheist and feminist, will become angry. In fact, I'm almost sure of it. For Amy, God doesn't exist, and religion is just man's way of exploiting women.

But God ordered things a certain way, and a part of that order was that men would be responsible for leading in the church. Why did He do this? I could speculate on why, but I'm not sure how productive that would be. I would rather simply stand on the fact that God ordained that it be this way, and endeavor to be as faithful as possible to what He ordained.

Does this make women inferior to men? Some might say yes, but I don't think so, unless you twist the Scripture and make it into something it isn't. It doesn't say women can't teach, and it doesn't say they can't understand; it merely prescribes limits within the specific setting of the church. Anything else is not faithful to Scripture.

Libbie the English Muffin writes about gender and leadership issues here and here, and responds to a critique in the comments here.

Verses marked "RSV" are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Cliff said...

I find your account of scripture to be mostly accurate. Anything that I see that I don't agree with is miniscule and not worth arguing. Thank you for defending the value of women in the eyes of God. Good job.

BugBlaster said...

Good job on this, Matt.

Dan B. said...

Good job, indeed, Matt. The world has a twisted view of equality, meaning that men and women should be able to do the same things, when the glory of God's plan is that He has ascribed different functions and roles for each sex. This, as you said, does not make them any less equal in the eyes of God or in the eyes of one another, if viewed scripturally.