#Mutality2012 What Genesis 1-3 Tell Us About Gender Equality


I have really appreciated the work that has gone into the past week’s #mutality2012 hosted by blogging wonder Rachel Held Evans (who gets mentioned here a lot). I have long followed the argument over gender and the church, and it is great to see such a well-placed site hosting such an important debate which should rank higher than it has often been granted. I have struggled all week for a hook or some idea which would allow a great post that was clever, cunning, and had that little bit of insouciance I seek in crafting a post, and to be honest as the week is ending I go nothing. No witty pop-culture reference. No saucy metaphor. No flippant show of disgust for those who treat our sisters like second-hand citizens. I feel like Peter before the beggar, and so since silver and gold have I none, allow me to add (or reformulate) a couple of concepts which I most feel a need to discuss in these concepts.

The first idea or image reflecting upon the flimsy waters of debate would be that of the Trinitarian God whom we serve.[1]  As we observe in scripture and is explained and expanded in the writings of the early church fathers, we, Christians, serve a God who is 1 divine unity of 3 distinct persons. The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit; yet all component persons combine to form 1 God so unified in purpose as to comprise 1 being. In them we find the Christian model for life. They personify unity in diversity: they are diverse persons with diverse actions and characteristics. They, also, personify diversity in unity: they work together in such union as to be thought of as 1 united person. Why make a fuss about some seemingly abstract concept as the Trinity.[2] We must because of the words of Genesis 1:

“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image,

                                                 in the image of God he created them;

                                                male and female he created them.”

Here we are told that humanity was created in the image of God. This means that many of the facts of God’s existence must be conferred on any discussion of who humanity is, and what it means to be fully human. Since the defining nature of God is this strange unity in diversity, and diversity in unity, so the nature of humankind is to be thought of in terms of unity and diversity. This ought to mean that we consider unity with one another not just some pipe dream or grand idea, but the full expression of who we are (and more to point whom we should be). We are both diverse and united. Just as no member of the trinity may pull rank on the other, so, too, no one human can hold dominion over another.[3]

Now there are some willing to argue and ask how we can rectify what I have just said with the second accounting of the creation in Genesis 2. Here that which was called male seems to be created first[4] and that which was called woman created second as an extra appendage helping meet some need that has arisen in that which was male. Much ink has been spilled over the differentiation of these passages, and we have not time for that now. Yet let us say this: throughout scripture there seems to be a pattern of telling many of its stories from multiple vantage points with each different retelling adding some detail to the accounting.[5] Here I believe we have an example of a birds-eye account being followed by a boots-on-the-ground accounting. The first tells the account from the standpoint of God; the second from the standpoint of his creation. There are many that prioritize the second telling and read it back into the first. That seems to be me bass-awkards. When this occurs I would would we prioritize the God view and situate the human view within it. This means that the words of God speaking his divine blessing over humankind be prioritized over the clumsy wonder of male at the appearance of an equal and opposite female. In fact the compositor of the passage seems coherent of the potential misunderstanding of the first male’s words with the explanation following this word:

                “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

The compiler of this passage is so deft in his (or her) aside that most of us in the church have missed the point even as it is expounded at any marriage ceremony. This statement points not towards the priority of maleness but to the previous theme of unity and diversity. That which is male, and that which is female are radically different; but in this divinely manufactured life event these diverse persons come together to and in so doing they reveal a unity reminiscent of their creator.

At this point we hit the wall of present reality. If this is how we were created; then why is such radical diversity and unity almost impossible in today’s world? As many in the church have answered, the problem is revealed in the next chapter of Genesis. Regardless of how one reads this passage whether as the telling of real, literal event,[6] or as a mythical accounting that is real in its attempt to elucidate important truths about our existence;[7] the point here is that something has happened. Something has broken the fellowship between creator and creature, and as this link has broken so has the relationships between humanity and God, humanity with each other, humanity with itself, and humanity with the other aspects of creation.[8] We have become estranged from each other, and ourselves (not to mention God). This estrangement has resulted in the following condition, as explained by God in the narrative:

“To the woman he said,

‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’”

There are other statements, but the point here is that the so-called secondary nature of woman exists not as some feature of creation-as-it-is-intended-to-be; but is a function of the estrangement between God and humanity. It is here that a second point is to be made,[9] and this entails focusing on the curse of the serpent. It is promised that although the serpent has bruised the heel of humanity; there is coming a day that humanity will crush the serpent under its heel. Most teachers of scripture argue that this promise most be said to be accomplish(ed) by the strange life, death, and new life of Jesus the Messiah.  In his time teaching (anywhere from 1 to 3 years sometime in the 20s ace), this strange man taught the God was beginning a new reign upon the earth, one in which that which was destroyed was being renewed. Christ taught that thisKingdom ofGod had come, was coming, and will come in fullness. In this way we, the followers of Christ, teach that in some ways the Kingdom life of God is real and present in today’s world, and in some other ways the Kingdom life has yet to be fully realized.

There is a tension to be lived within this ‘yet’ and ‘not yet’. Morphew and others have argued that we see this tension no more clearly than in the relations of humanity. Christ, himself, stated that His people would reveal the Kingdom by the love they share one with another. Further, Peter, the first leader of this newly comprised people of God, taught that in the events of their first Pentecost the prophecy of Joel had been fulfilled including a unifying of male and female; young and old. Paul, the first great theologian of the Church, stated that theKingdomofGodis to be seen in the renewal of the image of God within humanity. Here we see a dramatic turning back of the curse of Genesis 3, and hints of the way-it-was-always-meant-to-be as seen in Genesis 1 and 2. This new Kingdom people would reveal God as they revealed true diversity in unity, and true unity in diversity.

I have no salient picture or example to finish up my rather long-winded tract. My mind fails me. Yet this I know: when that which is male joins together with that which is female, and those two become one new entity that harbors no discord, but acts in unified purpose without ever entirely assimilating its component persons, we see God as He is. When two become one without hierarchy or concern for individual status, we become as like God. That is not a task to take lightly. God bless those who come together in unity, honoring each other, blessing other, and yes, submitting to one another. That is the mutuality we need in 2012 (and beyond).

FOR FURTHER READING:

Derek Morphew. Different But Equal: Going Beyond the Complimentarian / Egalitarian Debate.
J. Lee Grady. Ten Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Used to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage.
William Webb. Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.


[1] Here I am indebted to the work of Miroslav Volf and his work Exclusion and Embrace, particularly his chapter on the Trinity.

[2] Particularly one that has ironically contributed to much discord and disunity.

[3] Notice in the verse that dominion was given jointly to humanity (not over each other, but over the world in which they have been situated).

[4] And as such being given some priority of place.

[5] Here a glance at Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible, particularly the middle section in which he details the multivocality of scripture. One might also peruse NT Wright’s The Last Word.

[6] As most of the Church in most eras and places have.

[7] As has become more popular in the past 150 years.

[8] For an absolutely amazing deconstruction of this topic, see Theodore Runyan’s The New Creation, or Randy Maddox’s Responsible Grace.

[9] Here I am indebted to the work of Derek Morphew as he has interpreted and expanded upon the eschatological insights of G.E. Ladd, the missiological insights of Paul Hiebert, and the practical theology of John Wimber. Two books of note by Morphew: Breakthrough, and Different But Equal.

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