© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

A. GENESIS 1:26-28

These verses clearly teach male/female equality:

1. Both male and female are created by God
2. Both male and female are created in the image of God.
3. Male and female are given the same blessing.
4. Male and female are given the same responsibilities.

While there is obvious differentiation [‘male’ and ‘female’], there is nothing in Genesis 1 that directly teaches male headship or male/female inequality.

These verses clearly teach male/female equality:

1. Both male and female are created by God
2. Both male and female are created in the image of God.
3. Male and female are given the same blessing.
4. Male and female are given the same responsibilities.

While there is obvious differentiation [‘male’ and ‘female’], there is nothing in Genesis 1 that gives even a hint of gender hierarchy.

Some older, and old-school, traditionalists deny this essential equality, teaching that females are ontologically inferior. They support this from Eve’s innate vulnerability to deception supposedly taught by Paul in 1Timothy 2:13.

B. GENESIS 2:18-25


1. Primogeniture: God made Adam first, therefore man is the head. The Old Testament confirms the authority of the firstborn.

2. Eve was made from Adam, therefore Adam is more important.

3. Eve was made to be a ‘helper’ for Adam, which infers gender hierarchy - male headship/female subordination.

4. Adam named Eve; this is an indicator of rule/authority, just as his naming of the animals is evidence of his authority over them.

5. God gave the Genesis 2:17 prohibition to Adam, not to both together. This points to male headship/authority.

Note: Some contemporary complementarians do not agree with some of the five above points.

1. It is very clear in the Old and New Testaments that ‘first’ does not automatically mean most important, and that neither does it automatically confer authority.

2. The fact that woman was created from man confirms essential equality, not inequality. The Genesis narrative depicts Adam seeing the woman as his equal – ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh’. Male headship is not stated here; it can only be seen in this chapter because of Paul’s statements. The creation of Eve from Adam supports the understanding of ‘head’ (kephale) as ‘source’.

3. In the OT the most common use of the word ‘ezer’ (‘helper’) is in reference to God as the helper of his people. It cannot therefore be understood to automatically indicate the subordination of the woman. ‘Helper’ does not infer subordination; rather it refers to a strong support. The translation ‘partner’ is preferred over ‘helper’. The woman, the helper, completes (complements) the man.

4. The Bible nowhere uses Adam naming Eve in support of gender hierarchy. The OT frequently records the naming of people or places, but as a promise/hope of things to come or a commemoration of things events – both point to the faithfulness of God. It is not an indication of power.

5. Genesis 2 does not connect the prohibition in verse 17 with male headship.

6. Jesus used Genesis 2:23, 24 to affirm the ‘functional “oneness”’ of male and female, not ‘hierarchical “twoness”’, when he grounded his teaching against divorce in the Genesis 2 narrative.

7. In Genesis 5:2, which is very similar to 1:27, both the male and female are called ‘adam’ by God. The word means something like ‘red earth’. In this context ‘Adam’, therefore, is a combined reference to ‘human’, and affirms male/female equality.

Note: Egalitarians tend to see Paul’s references to primogeniture & Eve’s creation from Adam as analogies applied to specific situations, rather than seeing Paul’s creation-based statements as universally relevant truth.

On #1 & #2:
While Gen 2 does not mention male headship, Paul uses these two complementarian points to affirm male headship [1Corinthians 11:8,9; 1Timothy 2:13]. Male headship cannot therefore be avoided here simply because it is not clearly specified. [It does not, however, define ‘headship’.]
Nor does woman’s creation from man indicate whether ‘source’ excludes or includes ‘authority’.

On #3:
True biblical ‘complementarianism’ is defined in this verse: two equal, but distinct, persons, each making the other complete. It is not about inequality, it is about necessary innate distinction or differentiation. [See 1Corinthians 11:11,12]. Further, if woman is God’s intended ‘helper’ for man, total exclusion of woman from all speaking/ leadership deprives the man of this God-intended help. It was not God’s intention for man to act alone.

On #4:
Genesis 2:23 gives the real reason Adam names Eve ‘woman’. [See also 3:20.]

On #5:
It is possible, even probable, that the complementarian inclusion of this fact is valid, but not their conclusions. Complementarians connect this fact with God addressing Adam first in Genesis three, and with Paul’s references to Adam as head of the human race. However to conclude authority/subordination/inequality from this fact is to confuse representation [and its associated responsibility] with superiority and authority. [Such a confusion of meaning is readily exposed by the fact that Jesus had to become fully human in order to represent us. Unless he shared our nature he was unqualified both to die as our substitute and to mediate for us in the presence of God. This is clearly attested in Philippians 2 & Hebrews 2.]

Egalitarians and contemporary complementarians agree that these two chapters affirm male/female equality – in essence, in blessedness and in the two responsibilities of filling the earth and ruling over the created world.

Historically traditionalists have found ontological differences here, including female inferiority.

Egalitarians usually limit the male/female distinction/differentiation to physical (and psychological) differences, denying any differentiation in role or function. This denial is based on a restricted application of Paul’s use of two facts from these chapters to affirm male headship – the fact that Adam was created first, and the fact that the woman was created from the man. [The Bible student/teacher has to decide when Paul’s use of the Old Testament is a limited, culture specific analogy, and when it is trans-cultural.]

Genesis 2, while clearly affirming equality, gives more definition to the distinction that was deliberately mentioned but not defined in Genesis 1. While Genesis 1 defines the man and woman as they stand as equals before God and before the created world, Genesis 2 defines them as they relate to each other. From the Genesis 1 and 2 text, however, there is nothing, other than the physical differences, that enables us to define any key component or the extent of the biblical male/female distinction.

One thing is quite certain: that whatever the status or description of the male/female distinction in Genesis 1 and 2 it was neither threatening nor diminishing to either the male or the female, nor was it confrontational, divisive or competitive. The sense of being personally threatened, of being personally diminished, and the divisions and the competition [power struggle] only began in Genesis 3. In the perfection of Genesis 1 & 2 the male and the female each sourced their identity and their significance in God alone, not in their mutually dependent relationship to each other. God was their all in all. [This is perhaps in Paul’s mind in 1Corinthians 11:11,12. See below.] There was absolutely no need, nor any awareness of any need, to compete with each other in order to preserve personal identity and significance.


1. Some complementarians say Eve’s desire for the fruit was actually her desire to dominate the man.

2. God addressed Adam first [3:9]. This means that God held Adam as the one in authority, accountable/responsible.

3. ‘...your desire will be to your husband...’ [3:16b] is understood by complementarians to mean that the woman desires to usurp the man’s headship role.

4. ‘... and he shall rule over you.’ This is understood by complementarians to be a clear factual statement recording the divine intention/command for male authority. It is prescriptive not descriptive.

Some complementarians see the male rule as necessary to keep the female, with her (supposed) innate vulnerability to deception, under some sort of control.

Some (traditional) complementarians understand ‘rule’ as ‘dominate/subjugate’.

5. Genesis 3:16 is a disruption of the God-intended male headship/female submission that was part of the order of creation, not the beginning of male/female hierarchy.

1. According to the text, Eve desire was to be ‘like God, knowing good and evil’, so the complementarian view cannot stand.

2. God also rebuked Eve and held her accountable for her action. In the Bible ‘first’ is not a prescription of superiority or authority; it simply describes the sequence of events. In fact those who think of ‘first’ in terms of hierarchy, superiority and position are rebuked by Jesus.

3. ‘...your desire will be to your husband...’ Egalitarians limit this clause to refer to sexual desire, connecting this with the child-bearing reference in the previous clause.

4. ‘... and he shall rule over you.’ Egalitarians reject any thought of ‘divine intention’ prescribing/commanding male/female hierarchy, seeing it rather as descriptive of the ‘gender dysfunction’ resulting from sin. Because of its connection with the previous clause some egalitarians retranslate this to ‘and it shall rule over you’ [which is an equally correct translation] – expressing their understanding that together these two clauses refer to the female being ruled by sexual desire for the male. They compare this with the similar construction in Genesis 4:7.

The word translated ‘rule’ is masal, (rule, reign), not the harsher words used of the joint male/female dominion over the earth in 1:26,28: radah (tread down, subjugate, have dominion) and kabash (tread down, conquer, keep under).

On #1:
The egalitarian point is valid.

On #2:
Paul’s teaching in Romans 5 and 1Corinthians 15 supports the complementarian view that God held, and continued to hold, Adam responsible/accountable. This representative function, however, does not automatically infer a ‘gender hierarchy’ that involves female subordination or inferiority, male rule or superiority.

On #3 & 4:
Both arguments on 3:16 seem to do less than justice to its significance in the Genesis context. Verse 16 stands in stark contrast to 2:25 – ‘they felt no shame’ - and it has already been experienced in the destructive self-awareness of 3:7, the self-focused guilt of 3:8,10 and the self-centred, self-justifying attitude of 3:12.

I would suggest that it is both descriptive and prescriptive: both the unavoidable and inevitable impact of severance from God and God’s judgment on the sin that chose that severance. It is part of the ‘you shall surely die’ of 2:17. It is both an expression of the fall and judgment on the fall. It is not a command to the male; it is simply stating how things will be.

If 3:16 is understood as a prescriptive command so also must 3:17-19 be understood as a command.

Regardless of whether God addressing Adam first can be interpreted as confirming male headship, Paul grounds his contrasts between Adam and Christ and ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’ [Romans 5; 1Corinthians 15] on what happened in Genesis 3. This fact makes the complementarian argument here closer to the truth than the egalitarian argument. But Paul’s teaching in these chapters gives no hint of gender hierarchy or male rule. His reference is purely to the representative identity, responsibility and function of both Adam and Christ. The ‘in Adam’ reality began here in Genesis 3. The ‘in Christ’ reality begins when an individual person is united to Christ (and his death and resurrection) through faith by the Holy Spirit. This raises a very important question: to what extent does the ‘in Christ’ reality remove/dissolve the ‘in Adam’ reality? And what is the implication of this for our perceptions of male/female roles in the church? [Galatians 3:26-29 should be considered here.]

But a second truth has to be included: that Genesis 3:16 refers to the way things are in a now fallen world. Although Christians are ‘in Christ’ we are not yet enjoying the full reality of that: we still sin; we still live in a sinful, suffering, cursed world; we still die physically. It is not the same world as Genesis 1 & 2. Although we have as believers returned to God neither our faith nor our obedience are perfect. The believer is caught in the already/not yet tension caused by sin, that is so evident in Romans 7:13-25, and the already/not yet tension caused by suffering, that is addressed in Romans 8:17-39. In this context, where we are already members of the kingdom of Christ but not yet experiencing the final reality of that kingdom, ‘law’ is still necessary to prevent chaos and preserve life. In this overlap of the ages somebody must ‘rule’ in a way that was totally unnecessary pre fall when God was perfectly obeyed, and in a way that will be totally unnecessary in the eternal state when God is perfectly obeyed. It appears quite clear in 3:16 that God states that that ‘somebody’ is the male. [But it is also quite clear elsewhere in Scripture that other males are also subject to whichever males are ruling.]

If we look at Genesis 3:16 in the context of the perfection and absence of any defined ‘gender hierarchy’ in chapters 1 & 2 it is easy to understand why egalitarians use the word ‘dysfunction’. The entrance of sin, the severance from God, generated dysfunction at every level of human relationships, including the male/female unity expressed in 2:23. But the egalitarian application of ‘dysfunction’ is misplaced in its exclusive focus on sexual desire. The bottom line is that God was previously the one who ruled, and he ruled over both of them with a perfect rule. But now that God and his rule have been discarded all the woman has left is the man, and the man’s rule will never be for her what God’s rule was – strong, unfailing, utterly trustworthy. And now the man has to fill for the woman the place previously filled by God ... and it is beyond him. The woman is constantly unsatisfied and disappointed: what she expects of him he cannot provide. He is not God, he cannot be for her all that God was. The man is constantly frustrated by his knowledge of the woman’s expectations and his knowledge of his own inadequacy. He is not God, and he cannot fill God’s role, regardless of the tempter’s promise.

These frustrations of both the female and the male are here as part of the ‘curse’. Given that Jesus came to redeem us from the impacts of Genesis 3 it is important to consider to what extent both the man and woman are released from Genesis 3:16 by the redemptive work of Christ, both as a given of salvation, and also as redemption from this aspect of the curse of Genesis 3 is worked out in our Christian lives. If there is any sense in which this ‘male headship’ is still in place, and I believe there is, then the onus on Christian women is to relate to that headship with redemptive grace so that men are liberated from its unbearable frustrations; and the onus is on Christian men to exercise that headship with redemptive grace so that women are liberated from its unbearable dissatisfactions and disappointments. John Stott asks an important question: which male/female distinctives ‘are due to creation (and therefore to be preserved), and which to the Fall (and therefore to be overcome)? [p264, Issues Facing Christians Today].

This leads to an important question: If we look at Genesis 3:16 in relation to the following verses describing the curse on the ground and the resulting difficulty of survival we find a significant problem for the complementarian position on this verse: If it is okay to ease the heavy load of the male, described in Genesis 3:17-19, by constantly improving farm machinery, pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, irrigation systems, etc, and if we ease and try to minimize the woman’s pain in childbearing described in 3:16a, why is it not also okay to ease the burden of the female described in Genesis 3:16b? What gives anyone the right to leave this particular suffering as it stands when we spend millions of dollars relieving the other sufferings described in this context?

This question is intensified by the fact that nowhere are Paul’s directives about male headship in 1Corinthians and 1Timothy based on Genesis 3:16.