Introduction to “Called by God, Compelled to Serve”
The purpose of this blog series “Called by God, Compelled to Serve” is to answer the questions: Can women be called by God to serve in leadership positions in the church at large? If not, why not? If so, how should they respond? In these blog postings, we’ll take a look at some of the controversial passages in the letters attributed to Paul. We’ll address the literary, social, historical, and cultural context of those passages in order to do our best to understand what those passages meant for the original audience and what they might mean for us today. We’ll also look at how Jesus is portrayed in his interactions with women in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and will discuss the potential ramifications of the words and actions of Jesus on how we view and interact with women in ministry today.
Part One: Genesis 3.16
We’re beginning this series with the creation stories in Genesis 1-3, with an emphasis on Genesis 3.16 because many of the New Testament passages that are used today in order to support the idea that women should or should not serve in leadership positions in the church refer back to Genesis 3.16 in some way, shape or form.
The Creation of Humanity in Genesis 1 and 2
In a nutshell, here is a summary of the creation of humanity stories in Genesis 1 and 2:
Genesis 1.26-31 tells us that God made both male and female in his own image. God blessed them, told them to be fruitful and multiply, gave them rule over all the animals, and gave them every seed-bearing plant and fruit-bearing tree as food.
Genesis 2.4-25 explains that God made man from the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life into him. God then created a garden in Eden and placed the man there so that the man could work it and take care of it. God told the man that he could eat from any tree in the garden, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because physical death would be the consequence or result of eating from that tree. Then God decided that the man needed a helper…a partner. Before God created woman, he let the man name all the land animals and the birds of the sky…and then God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, took one of the man’s sides (or ribs), and made a woman from his side/rib. God brought her to the man, who named her “woman” because she was “like” him. An aside then uses the creation story of the man and the woman as a basis for a man and woman coming together in marriage to become “one flesh.” Both the man and the woman were naked and felt no shame.
In summary, Genesis provides two versions of the story of the creation of humanity. In Genesis 1, both man and woman are created as equals. In Genesis 2, man and woman are created either as equals or as woman being complementary or subordinate to man, depending on how one interprets the word הַצֵּלָע (MT-Hebrew)/ πλευράν (LXX-Greek) in Genesis 2.22 (it can also be found in Genesis 2.21), which can mean either “side” or “rib” in Hebrew and means “side” in Greek.
Choices and the “Fall of Humanity” in Genesis 3
This then leads us to Genesis 3.1-24, with an emphasis on verse 16. The serpent had a conversation with the woman about the tree in the middle of the garden. The woman was deceived by the serpent, ate the fruit, and gave the fruit to Adam, who ate from the fruit in blatant disobedience to God’s command. Unfortunately, their choices led to the dissolution of perfect community.
Both the man and the woman heard God as he was walking in the garden, and they hid. When God asked the man where he was, the man answered that he was afraid because he was naked. The man blamed the woman for his disobedience, and the woman admitted that she gave in to the deception by the serpent.
Genesis 3.14-19 explains the consequences for the choices Adam and Eve made. For our intents and purposes, we will focus on verse 16, which states:
To the woman he said, “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.” (NIV)
The author of this passage describes both the physical and relational consequences of the woman’s decision. First, the woman would have increased pains in childbirth (which means that she would still be able to give birth to new life). Second, her relationship with her husband would be strained such that being “one flesh” as understood in Genesis 1 and 2 would take a lot more work, as it was no longer second nature. The flawless communion the man and woman had in Genesis 1 and 2 was now broken and a power struggle between the man and the woman would begin.
In Genesis 3.17-19, Adam’s consequences result from his disobedience to God’s command. The ground would be cursed, and Adam would have to painfully toil in planting, growing, and harvesting food…and because of Adam, death became a reality for humanity.
Questions for Discussion
The Genesis stories of the creation and fall of humanity lead to two questions…Our answers to these questions will most likely influence how we view and understand the role of women both in the marriage relationship and in the church.
1) Did God originally create:
man and woman as equals
OR woman to be subordinate to man
OR woman as being complementary to man?
To take it a step further…
2) Is the idea:
that man and woman are equals
OR that woman is subordinate to man
OR that woman is complementary to man
a result of the deception of Eve and the disobedience of Adam?
What do you think?
© Alaine Thomson Buchanan 2014