Landing the Plane on the Pre-Fall Male-Female Relationship

One of my preaching profs would remind us regularly that “landing the plane” was one of the most important aspects of preaching. In other words, know when and how to end it. I’ve now spent over 15,000 words, a third of my overall thesis, making a case against the hierarchist’s claims about creation. It’s time to land the plane.

Landing the Plane


The Shattering Consequences of Sin

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Romans 6:23.


It is my contention that the writer of Genesis had a vision of the Garden of Eden that was very different from the world he saw around him. He saw the way men and women fought each other for control. He saw the devasting consequences of sin.


God gave the writer of Genesis a vision of another way to live as men and women on earth. It was a beautiful vision of equality, mutuality, and interdependence, where men and women didn’t feel compelled to control each other. His conclusion was that sin had destroyed that idyllic male-female relationship.


Hierarchists point out that the consequences associated with the fall of mankind do not represent ontological change, but rather an intensification of that which already existed. [107]


The serpent already walked the earth, but now he would be forced to crawl. The woman already experienced pain in childbirth, but now her pain would increase. The man already toiled the ground, but now the hardship of his toil would increase.


These are changes in degree, not essence.


Therefore, the hiearchist would argue, before the fall, the man already had authority over the woman. After the fall, his authority increased into domination. According to the hierarchist, sin only warped that which already existed.


The problem with this interpretive approach is that it fails to take into consideration the difference between the personal and interpersonal consequences of the Fall.


The personal consequences were certainly an intensification in the work of each character. The ramifications were not of kind, but rather degree (the serpent is lowered to the ground, the woman’s pain increases, the man’s toil increases).


The consequences to the relationships, however, were a difference in kind. The relationships changed – they were not simply more difficult than before — they were fundamentally different.


For instance, after the Fall the serpent and woman no longer spoke to each other, and their offspring would bite and stomp at each other. There is no indication that this was the case before the fall.


By the same token, the fall fundamentally changed the relationship between humankind and God. It is not that humankind is now just a little more separated from God compared to before the fall.


Before the fall there was no separation; after the Fall there was an insurmountable separation.


The separation is new and different. The relationship between the male, the female, and God, changed.


In fact, God had to send his Son, Jesus, to reverse the otherwise irreversible impact of the fall on the male-female to God relationship.


Likewise, the relationship between the man and the woman fundamentally changed. It’s not that the man-woman relationship was characterized with strife before the Fall, and after the Fall there was an intensification of the strife.


On the contrary, there was nothing that separated the man and woman before the Fall (they were one flesh, naked without shame).


There was no indication of any strife in the relationship until chapter three. Nor was there any indication that the woman was subordinate to the man.


Therefore, the male domination found in Genesis 3:16 is completely new, in stark contrast to the pre-Fall relationship.


Not coincidentally, the work of Jesus does not reverse the personal consequences of sin. The serpent still crawls on the ground, the woman still suffers in childbirth, and the man still toils at work.


The work of Jesus reversed the ramifications of sin on broken relationships.


The serpent biting at mankind, and the seed (singular) of Eve crushing the serpent’s head; the breach in the relationship between mankind and God; and the male-female relationship personified with control and domination – these are the things that Jesus dealt with on the cross (as I will show when we get to the New Testament analysis).


The Difference a Day Makes

There are several things that the narrator reported on the heels of the consequences that serve to affirm the nature of the consequences as I have described them.


1. The man named the woman (Gen. 3:20). The man was exercising his newfound authority over the woman by naming her. As mentioned above, the tone of this naming scene follows the traditional formula in contrast to the poem the man sings in Genesis 2:23.


2. Her name, Eve, was related to her child-bearing work. She was the mother of all living things. It was also a balancing reminder that although the man now ruled over the woman, he was still dependent on her for life.


3. God made clothing for Adam and Eve. God was both taking care of them, and reasserting his authority over them. [108]


4. The hierarchy, for the first time, is solidified and made clear in the way that God addressed the male and female. As he provided clothing for them he referred to them as “Adam and his wife” (Gen. 3:21). And in the banishment scene, he addressed the man exclusively (Gen. 3:22-24).


This kind of patriarchal address is nowhere to be found in the pre-Fall narrative. The relationship and role differentiation had fundamentally and dramatically changed.


Reductio Ad Absurdum

In conclusion, both creation narratives portray a pre-Fall relationship of equality, mutuality, and interdependence between the man and woman. These qualities were only intensified in the marriage relationship.


The Fall narrative confirmed those qualities by painting a stark contrast between the pre-Fall and post-Fall male-female relationship.


That notwithstanding, Culver concludes that “male ascendancy in most affairs is not a legal ordinance to be obeyed; it is a fact to be acknowledged.” [109] His absolute assurance on this issue is shared by most hierarchists.


Ortland, for instance, echoes Culver’s conclusion: “Her (Eve) calling was to help Adam as second in command in world rulership.” [110]


It is important to note that the hierarchist believes that male leadership was encoded into the male and female at the moment of creation. Therefore, the inevitable conclusion is that the male should always take the position of leader in every aspect of life – family, church, and society.


The roles that God created the man and woman to fill are irreversible. Therefore, according to the hierarchists, the woman should, in every instance, fill the role of second-chair.


I commend Culver and Ortland in that they unashamedly follow their thesis through to its only logical (and I would argue, absurd) conclusion: the man is the ruler of creation, and the woman as his subordinate is only a helper in all things. [111]


This is the only logical conclusion to their main thesis. If Hierarchists are correct in their interpretation of Genesis 1-3, then women should never have any role in society that would place them in a position of authority over men.


However, even someone like John Piper, a self-proclaimed Complementarian, has a difficult time avoiding the logical conclusion of his thesis.


Piper, speaking of the different roles that God created men and women to fulfill, writes that the “differentiation is traced back to the way things were in Eden before sin warped our relationships. Differentiated roles were corrupted, not created, by the fall. They were created by God.” [112]


According to Piper, the roles that men were created to play were that of a benevolent leader, provider, and protector.


However, Piper understandably struggles to explain the application of his thesis. He is hard-pressed to explain how a woman is to play the subordinate role when she is in a position of leadership in the secular world.


Piper admits that “some roles would involve kinds of leadership and expectations of authority and forms of strength as to make it unfitting for a woman to fill the role.” [113] He is reticent to offer a list of prohibited jobs for women but rather appeals to a set of criteria based on two continuums: Personal versus Non-personal; and Directive versus Non-directive leadership. [114]


According to Piper, a woman is allowed to take a job that offers non-personal, non-directive leadership. He offers the example of a city planner who designs the traffic patterns of a city’s streets and thus exerts a non-personal, non-direct influence over male drivers.


Because her leadership is non-personal and non-directive she is in no danger of emasculating the male drivers she is influencing.


On the other hand, Piper suggests, a female drill sergeant or baseball umpire is out of the question. [115] These would be examples of personal and directive leadership over men. Piper strongly suggests that women should avoid any position that would place them in a personal and directive role over a man.


Piper writes, “to the degree that a woman’s influence over a man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order.” [116]


Piper offers women who find themselves in these positions some helpful suggestions for making the best of a bad situation.


If they absolutely must direct men they should do it in a way that maintains their femininity and the man’s masculinity, which includes “culturally appropriate expressions of respect for his kind of strength, and glad acceptance of his gentlemanly courtesies.” [117]


Based on Piper’s criteria, women should avoid positions such as CEO, CFO, Coach (of any men’s team), Store Manager (unless all the employees are women), Military Officer, School Principal (unless all the teachers are women), Bank President, Factory Manager, Federal Judge, and certainly President of the United States (the most powerful position in the world!), just to name a few.


Of course, Piper points out that there are plenty of other things women can do. [118]


Ultimately, Piper must take the same stand as Ortland and Culver (although he is much more thoughtful and diplomatic about it). His foundational thesis will allow him no other conclusion.


Piper writes, “The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal, directive leadership of a female supervisor.” [119]  He appeals to J. I. Packer, who suggested that “’a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary puts strain on the humanity of both.” [120]


These attempts by the hierarchists to force a male headship over the female population at every place in society are unbiblical, and therefore, unnecessary.


Although the male and female were undoubtedly created with distinctions, the pre-Fall creation narrative seems unconcerned with them. [121]


The specific roles played by the man and woman before the Fall are never explicitly mentioned. Attempts to define those roles from the meager evidence provided by the narrator depend completely on the interpreter’s a priori assumptions.


The most natural conclusion is that the creation accounts were not formulated to tell us anything about the roles that the man and woman played – only that they were equally created by God to live in God’s creation under God’s authority. [122]



The absence of any explicit role limitations before the Fall signals that God never intended for the man or woman to be limited in their creative and authoritative endeavors. This would mean that men and women are free to play any role they feel called to in society and the church.


The reductio ad absurdum argument shows that the hiearchists’ interpretive claims about creation, taken to their only logical conclusion, force them to relegate all women to only certain non-authoritative roles in all of society.


If not, then they must explain why women can hold any role in society, but not in the church. Their attempts to do so range from contradictory to comical.


My NEXT BLOG ARTICLE begins our examination of the roles of women in the Old Testament.







107. Piper, RBMW, where Ortland writes, “… as Genesis 1-3 goes, so goes the whole biblical debate” (p.95). He concludes, “Male-female equality and male headship, properly defined, are woven into the very fabric of Genesis 1-3” (p.111).

108. Brueggemann, Genesis, p.50.

109. Culver, WIM, p.41.

110. Piper, RBMW, p.108.

111. See Piper, RBMW., p. 51 for Ortland, and Culver, WIM, p.37 for Culver.

112. Piper, RBMW, p.65.

113. Ibid., p.51.

114. Ibid., p.51-52.

115. Ibid., p.52

116. Ibid., p.52.

117. Ibid., p.52.

118. Ibid., p.53.

119. Ibid., p.52

120. Ibid., p.52.

121. One of the main arguments for hierarchists is that the man and woman were created equal, but distinct and those distinctions were to fill certain distinct roles. Some would say that they were created “separate but equal” (which we all know from history is always “separate,” but never “equal.”) There is no doubt they were created distinctly in that they were created “male and female,” however, the pre-Fall narrative never mentions anything about roles. There is nothing in the narrative to suggest that the woman was limited to certain roles. The narrator seems completely unconcerned about such matters before the Fall.

122. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, p.51. Brueggemann points out the difference in the Garden of Eden before and after the Fall when he writes, “In God’s garden, as God wills it, there is mutuality and equality. In God’s garden, now permeated by distrust, there is control and distortion. But that distortion is not for one moment accepted as the will of the Gardener” (emphasis is the author’s).  He goes on to conclude that, “The far agenda (by which is meant the one that is likely intended by the narrator) is how to live with creation in God’s world on God’s terms.”