He will rule over you–descriptive or prescriptive?

One of the verses used to justify the relegation of women to “second-class” citizenship within the church comes in Genesis 3. As a result of the fall, God curses Satan, women and men. To the woman, God says:

Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. (verse 16).

This verse has certainly proved true (descriptive) down the ages. Here are several illustrations of the attitudes of men towards women throughout history.

Plato and Aristotle

“If we spend our lives in wrongdoing and in cowardice, afterward Zeus will send us back into this life as women.” (Plato)

“The male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject.” (Aristotle)

What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.   (St Augustine)

Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.     (Clement of Alexandria)

If [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth–that is why they are there.     (Martin Luther)

“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler the universe who has not created me a woman.” (Prayer recited every morning by traditional Jewish men)

These are only a very few of many quotes I could have used. They demonstrate an attitude towards women that has haunted the female half of the human race down the centuries.

In ancient times, women were regarded as property and subservient to men. Even today,it’s often still a man’s world. In some nations, baby girls are more likely to be aborted or left to die at birth. Even here in the West women still make less money than men for doing the same job. Women are more likely to be physically abused or sold into slavery. In many nations girls receive less education than men and are regarded as inferior.

But is this what God wanted (prescribed) or is Genesis 3:16 a description of the result of the Fall? In Genesis 1 and 2, there is no evidence of hierarchy of the man over the woman. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve shared dominion.  The subordination of women was the result of sin. It doesn’t reflect God’s intention for how men and women should relate together. For Christians, the New Covenant should reverse the effects of the Fall to the original goodness of the created order. Jesus died on the cross to free us from the effects of Adam’s sin.

What do you think?

 Photo Credit: Image Editor (Creative Commons)

16 thoughts on “He will rule over you–descriptive or prescriptive?”

  1. It seems to me that this part of the curse belongs in the same category as the rest of it. We are free from the rule of the curse, but not quite from the effects. Within our families, these effects should be waning as the presence and culture of the Kingdom of God takes over. As my wife and I become more submitted to the Lord, we are freed to submit and minister to one another.

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    1. Tim, I like what you share here. The culture of the world is still under the effects of the curse, but as representatives of the Kingdom of God, we are free.

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  2. CS Lewis considered the early chapters of Genesis to be myth, used by God to teach certain truths, but nevertheless not literal history. Many christians to day, including me, believe the same. It therefore makes little sense to me to try to apply an ancient myth to the present day, just as it would make little sense to apply the Levitical laws on moulds in houses today. And so I think “he shall rule over you” is certainly not prescriptive, and only descriptive of the situation at the time.

    I hope I am not being too provocative, but I really believe this matter of the role of women illustrates a mistaken view of Biblical teaching. Most christians say they believe the Bible is authoritative for faith and practice, but very few actually live that way. Rather, on matters like this, we know what we feel is right, and so we find scriptural justification for it.

    I believe we need a new paradigm. God is not revealed by scripture alone, but by the Holy Spirit, working through scripture and through all aspects of life. Instead of worrying about the exact meaning of old covenant passages and finding passages that support the equality of women in ministry, I believe we should all be praying together for the Spirit to show us how he wants us to understand scripture today. Then the Bible would cease to be a fixed, ossified book, but a living book whose meaning is continually refreshed by the Spirit. (And I believe that is already what is happening, we just are unwilling to recognise it and name it yet.)

    And I believe the Spirit is already giving us his answer about the role of women – equality is already happening – in small ways and in some places, but more is coming!

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    1. UnkleE,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      I’ve also come across the view that the early chapters of Genesis are myth to explain creation and the origins of man–that it becomes history when specific names (rather than Adam–man and Eve–woman are used.) I’m not sure what I think on this but have a lot of sympathy for it. It enables a greater understanding of some of the scientific evidence too without in any sense taking away from God as creator.

      I also agree with your somewhat pragmatic approach to what God is doing in many areas including women. The problem is that some people, including women, just cannot get over the challenging Scriptures. “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” For some people, these Scriptures are a barrier to their ability to step out into their full calling as women, or for men, “allowing” women to take strategic roles.

      When it comes to the Old Covenant, a concept I’ve recently found helpful is the letter from the elders in the church in Jerusalem when asked about keeping all the Old Covenant laws. Their reply was basically, people are free from these laws except that they should not eat meet sacrificed to idols, etc. To me this deals with all kinds of issues, including tithing.

      And you’re right. Equality is coming. I believe one of the next moves of the Holy Spirit will be to see women empowered to co-labor alongside men in the Kingdom.

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  3. I very much like what William P Young said about this. He spoke about the fall and the place of women at the House2House conference in 2008, it’s on disc 3 of the conference set and well worth watching again if you or any of your readers have a copy.

    Amongst a whole lot of other stuff he pointed out that the woman has always been in a healthier place than man. When Yahweh questioned the woman she pointed to the snake and said, ‘He deceived me and I ate’, she spoke the truth. When Adam was questioned he hurled an accusation against Yahweh, ‘The woman you gave me…’.

    Eve says that the she and the serpent did it. Adam says that the Lord and Eve did it.

    And where did they look for their sense of worth and significance after the fall? They could no longer find it in the Almighty. Eve looked to Adam (at least she looked to another person). Adam looked to the ground, the soil from which he could raise crops.

    She is in a fundamentally better place. Men have such a lot to answer for, we still get our sense of worth from what we do (for the most part). Women find it mostly in relationship. Far healthier.

    And I’d just say to unkleE in passing. I agree with you that the story of the fall is just that – a story. But what a potent story! Just like the story of the good Samaritan, it’s packed full with truth.

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    1. Chris, I remember that conference well too, and especially Paul Young’s teaching on the passage in Genesis. Ideas I’d not come across before. I think I will post this comment as a blog post! Thank you!

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      1. How sad. The Bible Is 100% truth. It’s clearly about Structure and obediance. Not superiority. Without either, well just look at society today and you can see the results

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      2. AND FOR THOSE WHO TAKE THE POSITION OF SUPERIORITY WOMAN WAS CREATED FROM OUR RIB, NOT OUR HEAL. WE ARE THEIR PROTECTOR.

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  4. I take the view that in general the NT gives us the last word on OT situations and teachings. Paul’s radical teaching of the new creation and transformed reality after the Resurrection & Ascension, and the expansion of the Kingdom, makes all things new. In short, I agree totally with you, Felicity. God bless you!

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  5. It is descriptive. I’m not sure it’s even a curse (any of it). In my opinion, it’s all descriptive; God explaining to the woman and the man (and the snake, for that matter) what will be the result of their actions that day.

    And those quotes make me so angry. These are the men who have shaped the church in so many, many ways, and yes — we are all fallen, all of us broken — but seriously, that is hard to take.

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  6. Sometimes I feel so confused about my feelings of inferiority about being a woman. These quotes remind me that there is a reason for my feelings. There are real spiritual attacks on the truth of God’s Kingdom, i.e. “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.” (Clement of Alexandria)

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  7. Those quotes were so absurd, for a split second I actually found them…funny. I’m a female MD in Germany planning on specializing in OB/Gyn. Although I respect Martin Luther for what he did here, for the quote “die in childbirth” he gets a “Herr Luther, sie machen Witze!” (You are joking!) I don’t think we as women ever need to feel angry, insecure, or inferior anymore-we are way too valuable to our Father and His church for that.

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    1. Hi Trying, interesting that you’re an MD too. I was in family practice in a former life. Sadly these quotes were just the tip of the iceberg. There were far worse ones around but they tended to be very OBGYN specific!

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      1. Oh my- probably good you didn’t share them! 😀 I unfortunately can’t promise I wouldn’t have actually laughed however! Thank you so much for your ministry and example for us, Felicity.

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      2. I had a neat experience this weekend along these lines- I had the Chance to give a presentation in a big legacy church in our area presenting a ministry I’m involved in. I was a nervous wreck. My amazing husband drove me there, stood in the back of the church rocking our youngest one (8 month old), waited for me afterwards while people asked a bunch of questions…each time our eyes met he just gave me the “we got this” look. That man will always have my respect and submission! 🙂

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