Egalitarian writers often claim that male headship did not come about until after the Fall, and is, accordingly, a consequence of the Fall.
This view goes back at least as far as Chrysostom, who represents God as addressing the woman thus:
‘In the beginning I created you equal in esteem to your husband, and my intention was that in everything you would share with him as an equal, and as I entrusted control of everything to your husband, so did I to you; but you abused your equality of status. Hence I subject you to your husband.’ (Homilies on Genesis)
Gilbert Bilezikian (Beyond Sexual Roles) writes of Adam and Eve:
Instead of meeting her desire and providing a mutually supportive and nurturing family environment, he will rule over her.… The clearest implication of this statement [Gen. 3:16], conferring rulership to Adam as a result of the fall, is that he was not Eve’s ruler prior to the fall.
And Rebecca Groothuis says:
In fact, there is no mention of either spouse ruling over the other—until after their fall into sin, when God declares to the woman that “he will rule over you” (3:16). This is stated by God not as a command, but as a consequence of their sin.
Goldingay (Old Testament for Everyone) offers his view:
‘The two creation stories contained no pointers toward male “headship” in the sense that men or husbands are supposed to exercise authority or leadership over women or wives. But the audience of Genesis knew that patriarchy was a reality of life. Genesis here tells them how this came to be. Male authority or domination was not God’s design but a consequence of a breakdown in relationship between humanity and God, between humanity and the animal world, and between human beings and one another. From now on, the Bible will assume the reality of patriarchy and of male headship, but it begins by noting that this came about only as a result of those various breakdowns of relationship.’
It should be noted that Kevin Giles (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women) argues at length against such ‘inferences’. (His target is not Grudem directly, but the Kostenbergers, God’s Design for Man and Woman). Giles urges that Genesis 1 ‘unambiguously’ teaches that man and woman ‘have the same status, dignity, and authority’, and that there is nothing in chapter 2 that would contradict this. In my view, Giles’ work is characterised by misrepresentation of the work of those he opposes, and of misplaced confidence in his own interpretations.
In her book The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth (Brazos Press, 2021), Beth Allison Barr maintains that male headship dates back only as far as the Fall, and is therefore itself a sinful human invention, rather than a divine institution.
Alice Mathews is quoted as saying:
‘It is in Genesis 3:16 (God speaking to the woman) where we first see hierarchy in human relationships. . . . Hierarchy was not God’s will for the first pair, but it was imposed when they chose to disregard his command and eat the forbidden fruit. . . . Adam would now be subject to his source (the ground), even as Eve was now subject to her source (Adam). This was the moment of the birth of patriarchy. As a result of their sin, the man was now the master over the woman, and the ground was now master over the man, contrary to God’s original intention in creation.’
Astonishingly, Barr claims that…
‘Everyone already knew that patriarchy was a result of the fall.’
‘Stanley Gundry, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, states this matter-of-factly in a 2010 essay.’
Well, Stanley Gundry is not exactly ‘everyone’! What Gundry actually states in his essay (available here) is that patriarchy is, in his own judgement,
‘mere accommodation to the reality of the times and culture; it is not a reflection of the divine ideal for humanity. …patriarchy is not the divine ideal, and that restoration of what originally was is coming once again.’
This is a far cry from a claim for, or evidence of, the notion that ‘everyone already knew that patriarchy was a result of the fall.’
Here are a few voices that demonstrate the absurdity of Barr’s claim.
Martin Luther clearly believed that male headship existed before the Fall:
‘If Eve had persisted in the truth, she would not only not have been subjected to the rule of her husband, but she herself would also have been a partner in the rule which is now entirely the concern of males.’ (Lectures on Genesis)
So celebrated a commentator as John Calvin could write:
‘This form of speech, “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband,” is of the same force as if he had said that she should not be free and at her own command, but subject to the authority of her husband and dependent upon his will; or as if he had said, ‘Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes.’ As it is declared afterwards, Unto thee shall be his desire, (Gen_4:7.) Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude.‘ (Emphasis added)
Andrew Willett (1608):
‘The woman should have been obedient to man before, but out of a loving society, so as to be made partaker of all his counsels, not of an urging necessity as now: whereby the woman, in respect of her weakness, depends on her husband not only with her will for her direction and for the provision of things necessary, but she also often endures against her will the hard yoke of an unequal commander.’
Richard Steele, Puritan:
‘The effects of a husband’s love to his wife are to be seen in his behaviour towards her; that is, in the mild use of his authority.—This God hath, in his wisdom, invested him withal at his creation, (Gen. 2:23,) and not divested him at his fall. (Gen. 3:16.) The light of nature gives it to him; (Esther 1:22;) and the gospel hath nowhere repealed, but confirmed, the same. (1 Cor. 11:3.) And none but proud and ignorant women will ever dispute it.’ (Puritan Sermons, Volume 2)
The 19th-century commentators Jamieson, Fausset and Brown:
‘The husband, as the head, is naturally invested with superior right and authority, for “the woman was created for the man,” as an helpmate, and consequently dependent on him (1 Cor. 11:9). But these have been greatly increased since the fall, and the propriety or equity of this penalty to which woman was subjected consisted in this, that as it was while acting independently and apart from Adam she attempted to shake off her allegiance to God, she was, besides being bound by the primary law of obedience to God, brought also under the additional law of submission to the yoke of her husband. In every age of the world’s history woman has been found in a state of subjection; in all heathen countries she has been the slave of man, as throughout the East at the present day she is his property—his possession by purchase. Man exercises a lordship over the weaker sex, and although in Christian nations, where the sexes are more generally restored to their just and proper relations, a wife is raised to a position of greater dignity or honourable equality in rank and privilege, yet even there women are often doomed to bear much from the will, temper, or caprice of imperious husbands; and while the spirit of Christianity is wholly averse to lordly authority, the Gospel rule still is, so long as sin remains in the hearts of believers, “Let the wife see that she reverence her husband,” “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord.”’
Recent commentators Waltke and Fredriks:
‘Male leadership, not male dominance, had been assumed in the ideal, pre-Fall situation.’
Another recent commentator, Gordon Wenham (WBC), refers to the pre-Fall situation and asserts:
‘In that woman was made from man to be his helper and is twice named by man (Gen 2:23; 3:20) indicates his authority over her.’
Distinguished Bible scholar Craig Blomberg appears to allow for both views:
‘For those who see hierarchy in Genesis 2, what was intended to be fully harmonious will now deteriorate into seduction and tyranny. For others, here is where relationships of authority and submission first appear. “To love and to cherish” has degenerated into “to desire and to dominate.”’ (EDBT, art. ‘Woman’)
Kenneth Mathews can go so far as to affirm that the idea that male headship pre-dated the Fall is the traditional view, while the opposing interpretation is more recent:
‘Whereas traditionally the woman’s submission to her husband was accepted as an ordinance of creation that was corrupted by the fall and which can only be restored through the Christian gospel, new voices propose that Eve’s submission was an altogether new state resulting from sin.’
The idea that male headship pre-dates the Fall cannot therefore be regarded as a theological outlier, as Barr appears to think.
As to substance, it is Wayne Grudem who offers the most detailed rationale for pre-Fall headship that I have seen. He draws our attention to:
- The order: Adam was created first, then Eve (note the sequence in Genesis 2:7 and 2:18-23; 1 Timothy 2:13).
- The representation: Adam, not Eve, had a special role in representing the human race (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49; Romans 5:12-21).
- The naming of woman: Adam named Eve; Eve did not name Adam (Genesis 2:23).
- The naming of the human race: God named the human race “Man,” not “Woman” (Genesis 5:2).
- The primary accountability: God called Adam to account first after the Fall (Genesis 3:9).
- The purpose: Eve was created as a helper for Adam, not Adam as a helper for Eve (Genesis 2:18; 1 Corinthians 11:9).
- The conflict: The curse brought a distortion of previous roles, not the introduction of new roles (Genesis 3:16).
- The restoration: Salvation in Christ in the New Testament reaffirms the creation order (Colossians 3:18-19).
- The mystery: Marriage from the beginning of creation was a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32-33).
- The parallel with the Trinity: The equality, differences, and unity between men and women reflect the equality, differences, and unity in the Trinity (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Grudem, Wayne. Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism (p. 72). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.