Saturday, 5 January 2013

Rethinking Adam and Eve Today

Just back from a break in Yorkshire, here's a piece that was published in the Church of England Newspaper just before Christmas. They offer 'turns' to various evangelical organizations, and this particular time it was Reform's go.
Rethinking Adam and Eve Today
One issue raised by the defeat of the Measure to introduce women bishops is the need for evangelicals to think more carefully about the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, and particularly the situation before and after the fall.
In a 1975 article (‘What is the Woman’s Desire?’, Westminster Theological Journal, 37:376-83), Susan T Foh explicitly rejected the suggestion that ‘before the fall, man and woman were equal and that neither ruled’ (378). Yet for many evangelicals today, that is precisely the view to which they adhere, with the accompanying belief that the gospel restores relationships between men and women, both in the home and the Church, to this pristine condition.
Over against this ‘equality without rule’ is then set ‘hierarchy’ with all its negative connotations. ‘There is no hierarchy between the sexes,’ we are told, ‘in Genesis 2.’
And of course literally that is true: there is no ‘priestly rule’ of one person over another. But is it fair to say that there was a simple interchangeability? Certainly the Apostle Paul does not seem to think so. Rather, he detects what we might call a ‘non-reversible asymmetry’: ‘For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man’ (1 Cor 11:8-9, NIV).
Identical twins would be both symmetrical and reversible. You could swap one for the other and it would make no difference. Adam and Eve, however, are ‘asymmetrical’ (he is a man, she is a woman) and their relationship one to the other is not ‘reversible’.
Careful thought, furthermore, suggests a number of consequences to this. For example, Adam is older than Eve and has already experienced things she has not. Hence we may presume that he would have shown her round the Garden, rather than the reverse, that he would have informed her of God’s mandate and command, to which she would have listened, and so on. Similarly, Adam named the animals on his own authority, whereas Eve would have used the names he had given.
More fundamentally, as the Apostle indicates, Eve’s very life derives from Adam’s. In the beginning, nephesh (living being) came from the substance of the ground. Adam is nephesh from aphar (dust), the animals are nephesh from adamah (ground). Eve, however, is uniquely nephesh from the nephesh of Adam. He is the source of her life, not the other way round. And as the Apostle observes, she is made ‘for’ him, not he for her. 
All these factors suggest (at very least) that Adam would have exercised an initial lead which Eve would have followed. And whilst a fallen creature might indeed use this as an excuse for domineering, would not Adam have loved Eve by showing her how she would become his ezer, or ‘strengthener’ (2:18)?
Non-reversible asymmetry therefore need not be pernicious. Indeed it is what we find in the Trinity, where each of the ‘asymmetrical’ persons has a ‘non-reversible’ relationship with the others.
But the Apostle also reminds us (Ephesians 5:31-32), that just as Genesis 3 contains the proto-gospel (3:15), so Genesis 2 contains a proto-ecclesiology (2:24), for Adam and Eve’s ‘non-reversible asymmetry’ reflects that of Christ and the Church. And this has two further implications.
The first is that the non-reversible asymmetry of husband and wife indeed has implications for relationships in the household of God (eg Eph 5:21,33 cf 1 Tim 3:2-5). The second (suggested by J V Fesko, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary) is that we should adopt a ‘Christological’ reading of Genesis 1-3 as a whole. And that will be increasingly important in the coming debate about gender and sexuality.

UPDATE: "Genesis 3 contains the proto-gospel" should be followed with (3:15) NOT (3:16) as originally posted.
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