Examining Passages from Genesis Used to Support Patriarchy in the Church

Last time, we discussed biblical passages from the New Testament epistles used to support Christian patriarchy; today we will look at passages from the first chapters of Genesis. I chose these passages because they are specifically referenced in the 1988 Danvers Statement by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Genesis 3, 1 Timothy 2, and Christian Patriarchy

The Temptation of Eve

Advocates of patriarchy use two New Testament passages that reference Genesis in regard to a woman’s role in church and family. The first is 1 Timothy 2:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived.

The author does not allow women to ‘teach or to assume authority over a man’, so in today’s patriarchal churches women are also forbidden to teach or assume authority over men. They are allowed to teach women or children—but not men. This is a strict (and demeaning) doctrine.

The reason given for this is that Adam was created first and that Eve, not Adam, was the one deceived into eating the forbidden fruit—referencing Genesis 3:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”…

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked…

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”…“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

I suggest, however, that advocates of patriarchy face two enormous problems in appealing to these passages in Genesis and 1 Timothy. To begin with Adam and Eve never existed; the story of Adam and Eve does not describe historical events but is a beautiful piece of literature reflecting on the human condition, so it is problematic to develop doctrines on the assumption (based on a presupposition of inerrancy) that these stories record historical events.

The story has patriarchal elements because it reflects the patriarchal culture of the time in which it was written, but it is not a mandate for us today.

One might point out that using Genesis 3 in this way is simply following the lead of the author of 1 Timothy, which brings up the second enormous problem. The author of 1 Timothy shared his opinion based on the customs and culture of HIS day and that is no mandate for us either. Claiming that his opinion is the eternal word of God involves the same false assumption of inerrancy we spoke of earlier.

We do not know who wrote 1 Timothy; it was likely not Paul but a follower of Paul. However, Paul did write the next passage.

Paul, Genesis, and Christian Patriarchy

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

This passages references Genesis 2:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”…So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

The same problems that apply to the previous section apply to this one: the story of Adam and Eve does not describe historical events, and Paul’s opinion does not constitute God’s principles for all time. Paul has a lot of deep and important insights, but even if Paul thought Adam and Eve were historical he would, in this case, be mistaken. Paul is not inerrant, and his writing does not represent patriarchy as God’s plan for men and women.

If you did not read the previous post on passages from the New Testament used to support patriarchy, you can go there now.

The Danvers Statement

The Danvers Statement on Christian patriarchy was written as BIBLICAL DISTINCTIVES BETWEEN MALES AND FEMALES and signed by a large number of patriarchal Christian leaders. You may wish to read the four-page statement to understand its tone, assertions, arguments, and the way biblical passages are used for support.

I consider this statement to by fairly standard for those patriarchal believers who prefer to call themselves complementarians and wish to distance themselves from more extreme fundamentalist patriarchal believers. But, while there are differences between the two groups, both are patriarchal—and very harmful.

We will talk about those differences next time.

Articles from this series: Harmful Christian Patriarchy

See also:

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22 Responses to Examining Passages from Genesis Used to Support Patriarchy in the Church

  1. Pingback: The Alleged Biblical Basis for Christian Patriarchy | Jesus Without Baggage

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  3. kertsen says:

    Remember throughout history long before Christianity women have been dominated by men. Charles Darwin believed men were superior in nearly all respects and he says so in the Descent of Man. We are tribal by nature and men led the tribe being larger and stronger , they hunted being more violent by nature. Not only that there has always been a pecking order and that is still with us today.
    The writers of Genesis knew man was in charge so they fitted the story around the facts implying man was placed in charge from the beginning. This is not just in the church as women’s liberation points out forcefully. The apostles were men but Jesus had to be more than a man hence the virgin birth. Women are only just beginning to contest the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Kertsen, you are right of course. Women have been dominated by men throughout history, including the time of Jesus and his followers. We can see Jesus opposing that but even today there are many believers trapped in patriarchal thinking. We have made progress but not nearly enough.

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  4. sheila0405 says:

    This was so well articulated. I’m looking forward to reading the next post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Paz says:

    Thanks Tim! The Goodness of God needs to be found through mutual respect in our minds and hearts today. We need to continue to try to learn from the great spiritual writings of the past while carefully not take passages out of context, by considering the time, place, culture, era, etc. Therefore become more AWARE whether the messages “speak” to us in ways which are consistent with and for the betterment of ourselves, others and our present world!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. There are other passages that help us understand Paul’s views on women. I’m thinking of his writing that in Christ there is no more Jew or Greek, servant or free, male and female. Also, there are many women that Paul discipled and put into leadership positions in the early church. Anyone that is interested in these, can do a simple google search for colleagues of Paul in his mission trips. Paul’s teaching of the Gospel is oriented towards preaching a radical inclusivity of people into God’s kingdom. This includes women. And it follows in Jesus’ teaching as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Luther, I agree! Anyone who says that Paul bars women from leadership must consider Pricilla at the very least, and then the many women he greets in his letters.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Paz says:

      Paul is also one of our greatest teachers on the complexities of spirituality and human nature. His words of encouragement clearly show the depth in Paul’s understanding of the inner conflicts we all struggle with, between life in the Spirit (law of God) and the weaknesses of the flesh in our human nature.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: How Does Complementarian Christian Patriarchy Differ from Fundamentalist Christian Patriarchy Since Both are Very Harmful? | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. michaeleeast says:

    Tim,
    I’m afraid I don’t believe that the story of Adam and Eve is true literally or metaphorically.
    These are retrospective attempts to explain our experiences. I don’t believe that we are punished by God in the way that Genesis suggests. As for Paul, his writings should not be holy scripture at all. And his words should not be given authority above those of Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Michael, I agree with you. I also think the story of Adam and Eve was written as a reflection of our common human experience rather than as an historical event. And while I consider Paul’s writings to be very useful, they should NOT be given some sort of authority as though he was guided by, or speaking on behalf, of God himself. Certainly not above the words of Jesus.

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