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Men and Women in Ministry: Male Headship - Before or After the Fall

[I am dependent for the following, in large measure, on Wayne Grudem’s treatment of this issue in his chapter, “The Key Issues in the Manhood-Womanhood Controversy, and the Way Forward,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 19-68.]

Perhaps the most important argument put forth by Egalitarians is that the responsibilities of headship and submission in marriage were not part of the original creation but were imposed upon the race as part of the curse, consequent on human sin. They contend that since Christ came to redeem us from the curse and to reverse the effects of the fall, headship and submission should be abandoned. In other words, most egalitarians argue that Paul’s discussion in Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2 and Peter’s discussion in 1 Peter 3 and other similar texts do not reflect God’s original design for how men and women are to relate to each other either in the home or in the church. Male headship and female submission, they argue, were imposed on the race subsequent to and consequent upon Adam’s transgression. In Christ, and by virtue of the redemptive grace of the New Covenant, we are to strive to move beyond such distinctions in role and renew God’s egalitarian design for all people.

In the following I list 10 reasons why it is far more probable that male headship was part of God’s original design in the created order. That is to say, the evidence from Genesis 1-2 indicates that male headship preceded the Fall into sin. Sin, therefore, undoubtedly distorts the male-female relationship and leads both parties to pervert their God-given responsibilities. But sin is not the cause of male headship. The latter is not the penalty imposed on the race because of the former.

1. Adam was created first, then Eve (Gen. 2:7,18-23). See 1 Tim. 2:12-13; 1 Cor. 11:8. Note especially the text in Timothy and Corinthians where Paul grounds his exhortation concerning the male-female relationship in the order of creation. He could easily have linked it to the Fall, but does not. He explicitly links it with the original creation of male and female in the image of God.

2. Adam, not Eve, was the representative head of the human race. See 1 Cor. 15:22,45-49; Rom. 5:12ff.

3. God spoke first to Adam after the fall, suggesting that he was the one primarily accountable for what had happened (Gen. 3:9).

4. Adam named Eve (Gen. 2:23; cf. Gen. 1:5,8,10; 2:19,20,23).

5. God named the human race “man”, not “woman” (Gen. 5:1-2; cf. Gen. 1:27).

6. Eve was created as a helper for Adam, not Adam as a helper for Eve (Gen. 2:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-9).

7. The curse brought a distortion of previous roles, not the introduction of new ones (Gen. 3:16; cf. Gen. 4:7).

One aspect of the curse was the imposition of pain on Adam’s particular area of responsibility (Gen. 3:17-19).

A second aspect of the curse was the imposition of pain on Eve’s particular area of responsibility, namely, childbirth (Gen. 3:16).

Another aspect of the curse was the introduction of pain and conflict into the relationship between Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:16).

8. The salvation that comes with Christ in the New Testament reaffirms the creation order (Col. 3:18-19). Nothing in the NT suggests that male headship has been reversed by the work of Christ or that it cannot co-exist with full moral and spiritual equality between men and women.

9. From the beginning marriage was a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-32, citing Gen. 2:24).

10. We should also take note of the parallel between the relationship within the Godhead (Trinity) and the relationship between men and women (1 Cor. 11:3). Male headship is likened to the headship of the Father over the Son.

Once again, these are but summary statements that need elaboration. I encourage you to read Grudem’s extensive defense of each point in the two books I noted.