Q&A: Male and Female Authority

Male and Female Authority

Question

I am curious about the argument that Adam and Eve had unequal authority. In Genesis 1:28 God clearly gave both the male and the female the mandate to fill, subdue, and rule. It seems that the testimony of Scripture is that God raises up leadership not based on worldly standards of order, like being the first born (e.g., Jacob, Joseph), or even gender (e.g., Deborah), but based on his sovereign will. Is it possible that Eve did not get to help name the animals simply because she had not been created yet? I know that Adam was also given the authority to name Eve, but why does authority in that particular situation become generalized?

Answer

Yes, in Genesis 1:28 mankind as a whole was the mandate to fill, subdue and rule, meaning that mankind as a whole has authority over the earth. But of course, we don't discern from this, for example, that children have authority equal to that of their parents. It is significant that both Adam and Eve are given this authority, and I don't want to downplay the importance of that. But at the same time, we should not conclude from this fact alone that men and women have equal authority in all areas. Genesis 1:28 addresses the authority they have over creation, but not the authority they possess with regard to their relationships with one another. That authority is described in Genesis 2.

Scripture provides us with numerous examples of people who are raised into offices of authority. And yes, sometimes it shows us that unexpected people receive authority, such as Jacob, Joseph and Deborah. But these are the exceptions to the normal pattern revealed in Scripture. The overwhelming majority of people raised to offices of authority are male, and most are firstborn. Moreover, the Law gives greater blessings and honor to the firstborn males (Exod. 13; Num. 27; Deut. 21:17), and greater authority tends to accompany this greater blessing (e.g., family/clan leadership). These facts should lead us to expect that the normal pattern should be male leadership, but also to understand that this is not to be an inflexible rule (cf. Num. 27:8).

With regard to naming the animals, it is possible that Eve did not participate in naming simply because she was not yet created. However, one then should ask the question: Why didn't God create Eve earlier so that she could participate in the naming? One implication of history might be that Adam's authority was greater, so there was no need to involve Eve. The Bible does not make this point explicitly, but it does seem to imply it in certain ways.

Normally, the naming of the animals is understood to be a means by which God demonstrated to Adam that Adam was incapable of fulfilling his commission of multiplying and ruling without some help. The animals are all paraded by him, and he realizes that none of them can help him do his job. Therefore, God creates a woman who is a fitting partner to help him multiply and rule. I think this is an accurate summary of what we find in Genesis 2. But one implication of this is that the mandate of Genesis 1:28 was originally given to Adam alone, while Eve was brought in subsequently in order to help Adam. This is not to say that Eve is not also under the mandate, but only to point out that Adam has primary responsibility and Eve has consequent responsibility by virtue of her relationship to Adam.

And of course, there is the fact that Adam names Eve, demonstrating authority over her in a way similar to that by which he named the animals. This does not imply that Eve's authority is no greater than the animals' authority, but it does imply that Adam's authority is greater than hers. It is also significant that Adam names Eve twice, once before the Fall (Gen. 2:23) and once after it (Gen. 3:20). This indicates that his authority over her was rooted in creation, and that it was not destroyed by the Fall.

The reason that Adam's authority over Eve in that particular situation becomes generalized is that the prelapsarian creation was perfect. It represented God's ideals for creation. It was not just a rough draft; it was the pinnacle of God's creative expression, representing his perfect will. This is the idea behind all creation ordinances and mandates. Simply put, Scripture encourages us to understand the prelapsarian model in broad terms rather than narrow, finding many ways to conform our lives to its perfection rather than applying its principles only to very narrow circumstances (cf. the strategy of the WLC in applying the Ten Commandments).

For instance, God commanded a weekly Sabbath rest based on the pattern of creation (Exod. 20:11), and Paul argued for male elders on the basis of creation (1 Tim. 2:12-15). Similarly, Paul taught that God's attributes are evident to all mankind through the creation (Rom. 1:20). These are all broad rather than narrow applications of the creation model.

In light of this, we should look to the pattern of creation to provide us with basic models to emulate in our own lives. If Adam had authority over Eve in God's perfect order, then we should assume that everyone who is like Adam (i.e., a husband) has authority over everyone who is like Eve (i.e., the wife of said husband). This authority is limited, and has mutual elements. But the basic concept of a husband being somewhat higher than his wife on the authority ladder seems to be on fairly solid footing when we look at Adam and Eve. Moreover, Paul seems to have affirmed this kind of thinking in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 when he followed up his mention of Adam and Eve with his argument that a man should be the ruler/manager of his household. In short, the pattern is not based on worldly values but on divine values.

Now, even though I am a complementarian, I do not affirm everything that goes by the name of "complementarian" these days. I think many complementarians have underrated the authority of wives relative to their husbands, as well as the roles of women in the church. But I do agree, in binary terms, that a husband has greater authority than his wife, and that women should not be ordained to the office of elder. I think these points have solid footing in the creation account.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.