Saturday, March 12, 2016

Inbox: The Original Order Was Equality

One of the great joys of blogging is receiving feedback from our readers. I mean that sincerely.

We love comments: wildly enthusiastic comments, bitterly hostile comments or comments anywhere on the continuum between them. The readers I enjoy engaging with most make an effort to moderate my views or qualify my interpretations with other scriptures. Right or wrong, that’s always welcome. If something I’ve written strikes you as goofy, ill-considered or off base, chances are there are ten other people (at least) out there reading the same post and thinking exactly the same thing.

An unknown commenter is looking to modify my views on equality, so let’s revisit the subject.

Ancient History

The post in question is this one from back in January 2014. Unknown says:
“Your conclusion leave[s] out the rest of the verse: Your desire shall be for your husband and he (the husband) shall rule over you — how could this translate into the woman trying to ‘control’ the husband? This curse was not the ‘order of God’, it was a curse. The original order was equality. Now the woman will look to men to please her instead of God. She will put her trust in men.”

Leaving Out the Rest of the Verse

Unknown says I’ve left out the rest of the verse: Your desire shall be for your husband and he (the husband) shall rule over you.

If true, that’s worth correcting. We certainly don’t want to ignore context.

However, the post in question is actually Part 6 of a lengthy series on Bible study techniques inferred from scripture itself. Posts 3, 4 and 5 in the series all deal with this very same verse. So far from leaving out an explanation for my interpretation of “Your desire shall be for your husband”, some might object that I’ve done the opposite and beaten the subject to death. In Part 3, I listed every proposed explanation of the meaning of “desire” that I could dig up on the Web, including this one from Wendy at Practical Theology for Women. It seems pretty close to the position Unknown takes in his/her comment, which is that under the curse, “women will look to men to please her instead of God”. They will put their trust in men instead.

In Part 4, I did a word study of the Hebrew t’shookah, translated into English as “desire”.

In Part 5, I went further in to the meaning of “desire” and looked extensively at the only other two uses of the same Hebrew word in scripture. I concluded that the wording of Genesis 4:7 is particularly relevant to illuminating our understanding of what “desire” really means. I then pointed out the obvious inadequacies in three of the offered interpretations, including Wendy’s.

So forgive me if I don’t revisit all that, but feel free to do so if the subject interests you. I most certainly didn’t forget to address it. Genesis 4:7 shows us why “desire” is best understood as the wife trying to “control” the husband, becoming the de facto authority figure in the partnership. I stand by that interpretation as the best and most faithful one I’ve yet to find for the verse.

The Curse

Unknown then goes on to say, “This curse was not the ‘order of God’, it was a curse. The original order was equality.”

I prefer to think of the “desire”/“rule” aspect of husband-wife relations as a consequence rather than a curse. To the best of my knowledge God did not specifically curse the man, the woman or even their relationship in Genesis 3. He cursed the serpent. He cursed the ground because Adam listened to the voice of his wife. But to say that God cursed either the man or the woman is to say more than scripture does.

Still, regardless of whether a wife’s tendency to wish she had her husband’s God-given authority is specifically held to be part of the curse or simply something with which all women may occasionally struggle (and some with good reason), when we use a word like “equality” — a word that, at least in connection with marriage, is never used in scripture — we had better define it precisely or we will end up talking past each other.

If the original order was “equality”, what does that mean exactly?

Equality vs. Power Dynamics

Is the ability to exercise identical authority what Unknown means by “equality”? Without further information, it’s difficult to say.

To most moderns, equality is about the ability to exercise power. It means being able to impose your wishes on others as often as the wishes of others have been imposed on you. It means getting a seat at the table and calling some of the shots. Equality means increased autonomy and self-determination. When we disagree, equality means that at least 50% of the time we do things my way. In the logic of progressives, equality even has a measurable historical component: if my ancestors exercised power over yours, “equality” demands that you exercise power over me for some indeterminate period in order to balance the scales of fairness. “Equality” demands inequality.

Some Christians, for example the folks at What the Bible Says, frame marital relations as a sort of ongoing power struggle, using red flag terms like “dominance” and “superiority”. They tell us, “There is no hint that God intended in the beginning for either male or female to have superiority. Masculine dominance came later”.

But scripture does not use such language to speak of the relationship between husband and wife. It speaks of headship and authority, not superiority or dominance. 

So what did happen at the beginning anyway?

Well, men and women were equally created in the image of God; that’s what the first chapter of Genesis teaches us. It is also indisputable that men and women alike are loved by God. We can even point to many verses, as Unknown has done, that indicate that in the person of Jesus Christ, God has revealed that he loves women just as he loves men, despite living in a society that was culturally male-dominated. He had male disciples and he had female disciples. None of that is contestable.

But it is also evident, notwithstanding the nonsense currently spouted by progressives about gender identity, that despite both sexes being in his image, men and women are observably and measurably different from one another: genetically, physically, intellectually, emotionally and otherwise. Both sexes have readily observable strengths and weaknesses. So having an awareness that an intrinsic equality of the sexes exists before God does not tell us much about how to carry out our responsibilities as men and women in Christian homes. Our innate equality before God as human beings does not in any way address the issue of whether we are to responsibly and lovingly exercise God-given authority or graciously and willingly submit to it.

And it was not intended to.

Jesus and Authority

Despite having both male and female disciples, it is evident the Lord Jesus made use of them in very different ways. He sent men out on more than one occasion to authoritatively proclaim the kingdom of God and to work miracles, yet there is no record that he sent women to do these things, though he could certainly have done so if he had considered that different forms of service constitute some sort of inequality. 

Authority and equality are two very different things, though Christians muddle them regularly.

In the sense scripture uses the word it is possible to be entirely “equal” while being in complete submission to authority. To decline to have my say. To never lay claim to rights I believe are mine. To retain intrinsic worth without insisting on self-determination. In fact, this sort of attitude is most desirable in the believer.

The model for this sort of submissive equality is the Lord Jesus himself, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”.

This too is something that has been explored elsewhere on this blog, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it. This recent post addresses, among other things, the question of whether submitting to the Father’s authority makes the Lord Jesus in any way inferior to him (hint: it doesn’t).

Was Equality the Original Order?

So back to our question: was “equality” God’s original order? IC points out that one possible reason we don’t see a lot of authority being exercised in Eden may be the lack of conflict in a world that had not yet fallen. As he puts it, “Who needs an order of authority when no one is ever disagreeing?”

But Paul goes further when telling Timothy why, in the church at least, a woman is not to exercise authority over a man by teaching him:
“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.”
Paul’s second reason for male authority in the church has to do with the Fall of Man, but his first does not: “Adam was formed first”.

It seems there was a sort of authority in the original human relationship. All was not “equal” in the sense some use the word. Before Eve transgressed there remained an uncontested authority in her marriage; an authority to which Eve happily submitted until the day she encountered the serpent in the Garden.

So it’s not God but the serpent that raises the subject of equality for the first time in human history as if it is some sort of unmitigated and undisputed good. “You will be like God,” he says.

Finally equal! Whee! Never mind the fact that, unlike in the case of the Lord Jesus, there would most definitely be robbery involved.

Equality was not the original order. In fact, equality of the sort progressives covet has never existed and never will. Inequality of authority is neither evil nor is it a mere consequence of the Fall. It exists in eternity within the Godhead. It is modeled in the world through Christian marriage.

This is for our good, not for our harm.

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