Does Genesis 1:26-27 Teach That There Was No Hierarchy in the Garden?

This past week I listened to a sermon by Bruxy Cavey from the Meeting House that was first in a series of messages meant to challenge the idea that God has given men the responsibility to take up the position of primary leadership both in the church and in the home (i.e. complementarianism).  In addition to introducing the overall series, this message was also meant to offer a positive case for an egalitarian understanding of scripture. 

In this post (and there may be more!) I want to focus on one of the main points that was used to argue that the overall teaching of scripture points towards egalitarianism, namely, that Genesis 1:26-27 teaches that God’s original design for creation did not involve any role differentiation between males and females in terms of leadership.  As Bruxy says, in Genesis 1:26-27 “there is no hint of gender differentiation when it comes to issues of authority and leadership”.

While this was certainly a very short part of his message, the point he was making here is a very common argument used to support an egalitarian understanding of the overall teaching of scripture.  John G. Stackhouse Jr., for example, says:

“Many scriptural clues, therefore, indicate that egalitarians are right: God originally intended women and men to be co-equal partners in stewarding the earth, without role differentiation, and he has never rescinded that mandate.”[1]

Once again this is a reference to Genesis 1:26-27.  According to Stackhouse, Genesis 1:26-27 teaches that God’s original design for creation did not involve any role differentiation in terms of leadership.  In this post I want to argue that regardless of what position one takes on complementarianism or egalitarianism, Genesis 1:26-27 cannot be used to make the point that Bruxy and others want to make from this passage.

Response

There are basically two main points I want to make in response to this:

(1) The first main point I want to make is this: Bruxy is actually right when he says that there is “no hint of gender differentiation when it comes to issues of authority and leadership” in Genesis 1:26-27.  Genesis 1:26-27 simply says (translation mine):

“And God said, ‘Let us make human beings [אָדָם, ādām] in our image, according to our likeness.  And let them rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the domesticated animals, the wild animals, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created human beings in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”

Note that the word אָדָם (ādām) in verse 26 does not mean “a man” or “a male” and is not used as a proper noun (i.e. Adam): it simply means “human beings” or “humanity”.  This can be seen, among other things, by the fact that the verb “to rule” in verse 26 is in the third person plural (i.e. “let them rule”), which clearly points back to the word אָדָם (ādām) as the implied subject.  Verse 26 clearly teaches that human beings in general, both male and female, have equally been given the responsibility to rule over the animals God had created.  Like Bruxy points out, Genesis 1:26-27 makes no distinction between males and females in terms of leadership roles.  So far so good.

2. The second main point I want to make is this: Genesis 1:26-27 simply does not comment one way or the other about the roles that males and females are supposed to play with respect to each other in terms of leadership.  In other words, Genesis 1:26-27 can’t be used by either egalitarians or complementarians to support their positions because this simply isn’t the topic of Genesis 1:26-27. 

The main point of Genesis 1:26-27 is to differentiate human beings from their fellow creatures.  Unlike the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the domesticated animals, the wild animals, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (notice the broad categories that are used here), human beings as a whole were created in the image of God.[2]  And because human beings were created in the image of God, God gave them the responsibility to rule over their fellow creatures.

But the emphasis in Genesis 1:26-27, as well as the parallel command in Genesis 1:28, is not on the fact that males and females have the responsibility to rule over their fellow creatures, though this is clearly a valid inference based on the fact that both males and females are created in the image of God and are included in the category of “humanity”.  The emphasis in Genesis 1:26 is clearly on humanity’s responsibility to rule over their fellow creatures: the fact that humanity consists of both male and female is clearly incidental to the main thrust of verse 26. 

This can be seen, among other things, by the fact that the categories of male and female are only mentioned after the initial statement about humanity’s responsibility to rule over their fellow creatures in verse 26.  In fact, the categories of male and female are mentioned in a completely different sentence in Hebrew and are not even the main thrust of verse 27 where they appear.  If the author wanted to emphasize the categories of male and female in verse 26, as opposed to the category of humanity in general, you would think that the categories of male and female would have been specifically mentioned in verse 26.  Again, this doesn’t mean that the categories of male and female aren’t implied in verse 26 or verse 28 – but it is clearly not the author’s emphasis. 

Now, of course, this leads to the question: why is the author’s emphasis so important?  The reason why the author’s emphasis is so important is because it shows that his main concern in this passage is not the relationship between males and females in terms of leadership: his main emphasis is on the relationship between human beings and their fellow creatures in terms of leadership.  The author actually doesn’t say anything at all about the inner workings of humanity’s leadership over its fellow creatures.  He doesn’t say anything at all about whether or not there is any hierarchy within that leadership (e.g. a General Staff might be in charge of an army but the generals still have different ranks and play different roles – bad illustration for people from the Meeting House, I know).  And he doesn’t say anything at all about differentiation of roles in other spheres of life (e.g. the responsibilities of fathers and mothers in raising children is clearly not covered under the command in verse 26).  Why is that the case?  Because Genesis 1:26-27 was never meant to address these issues.

Let me give one quick example to illustrate my point.  It could just as easily be said that there is no hint in Genesis 1:26-27 that there should be any role differentiation between children and parents when it comes to leadership and authority.  Parents and children are clearly included in the category of “humanity” and, therefore, both have the responsibility of having dominion over their fellow creatures.  While it is true that this passage doesn’t even hint at any differentiation in roles between parents and children, this doesn’t mean that the author believed that there shouldn’t be any differentiation in roles between parents and children.  This is simply not the topic of Genesis 1:26-27: Genesis 1:26-27 was meant to deal with humanity’s relationship with its fellow creatures, not the roles parents are supposed to play with respect to their children. 

While it is possible that the author of Genesis 1:26-27 may have had an egalitarian view of the relationship between males and females in terms of leadership (which, by the way, doesn’t seem very historically plausible given the patriarchal culture that the author of these verses came from – regardless of how one dates the book of Genesis), there would be no way to know whether or not he actually held this position if Genesis 1:26-27 were the only piece of evidence we had to go by.  Genesis 1:26-27 is about humanity’s relationship with its fellow creatures, not the inner workings of the relationship between males and females in terms of leadership.   

Conclusion

It should be clear that Bruxy, as well as others who make this same argument, has read way too much into the meaning of Genesis 1:26-27.  Genesis 1:26-27 simply does not say anything about the roles that males and females are supposed to have with respect to each other in terms of leadership: it was written to show that human beings, were created in the image of God and it was written to indicate that humanity as a whole is supposed to rule over their fellow creatures.  Again, the author of Genesis 1:26-27 may have had an egalitarian view of the relationship between males and females (which, again, seems historically implausible) or he may have had more of a complementarian view of the relationship between males and females (which seems far more likely).  But the reality is that Genesis 1:26-27, by itself, doesn’t actually tell us anything about the author’s views on this issue one way or the other.

Mark Steven Francois (Ph.D., The University of St. Michael’s College)


[1] John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender, Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 36.

[2] I have an article in the Gospel Witness about what it means for human beings to be created in the image of God coming out soon.  Once it is out, I will post a link to it.

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Bad Anti-Calvinist Analogies: Accepting Someone’s Offer to Pay Off Your Gambling Debt (Leighton Flowers)

This morning I listened to a podcast episode by Leighton Flowers (Soteriology 101: Feb. 4, 2019) that was critiquing a review by Sean Cole of John Lennox’s book Determined to Believe?  Around the 43 minute mark I noticed a really bad analogy that was given by Leighton Flowers to support the idea that because someone is commanded to do something (in this case, accept the message of the gospel) that they must have the ability in and of themselves to be able to do that thing.

At one point in the podcast episode, Leighton Flowers made it clear that there definitely are some scenarios where a command to do something doesn’t necessarily entail the ability to do so.  One of the examples that he gave was a person’s inability to pay off a gambling debt.  The fact that a person isn’t able to pay off their gambling debt doesn’t mean that they still don’t have an obligation to pay off that debt.  And the fact that they can’t pay off that gambling debt doesn’t mean that they won’t be held accountable if they don’t pay off that debt.  So, in some cases, obligation doesn’t necessarily entail ability.

So far so good.  But then he went on to outline a different analogy that, according to him, is much closer to what happens when a person is offered the message of the gospel.  But it’s a really bad analogy!  He said that when is invited to accept the message of the gospel they aren’t being asked to do something that lies outside of their ability (like paying off an enormous debt that they couldn’t possibly ever pay off): when a person is invited to accept the message of the gospel they are simply being invited to accept a free gift.  Paying off a debt and accepting a free gift are two totally different things.  This is what he said:

“Your inability to pay off your sin debt in no way hinders you from accepting the benevolent offer, the appeal of God, and the Father’s gracious provision.  Suppose someone tried to convince you that one’s inability to pay off their debt, their gambling debt, that equaled an inability to accept help when it was offered.  Would you believe them?  Think about that for a second.  This gambler’s inability to stop gambling and to pay off his debt – that proves somehow that he was unable to accept the offer of his benevolent father willing to pay off his debt if he would go into rehab.  Those things were the exact same inability.  Would you believe them?”

In other words, there definitely are some things that we are obligated to do that we don’t have the ability to do.  But accepting a free gift – like salvation, for example – isn’t one of those things.  Passive acceptance of a gift is different from actively working for something that is impossible to reach.

Sounds good right?  On a certain level it does sound good.  Accepting a free gift is clearly different from working toward an unreachable goal.  They definitely are two different things.  But, in the end, it’s still a really bad analogy.  Repenting of your sins, believing in Jesus, and committing your life to serve him – which is what a person needs to do to be saved – is nowhere near the same thing as accepting someone’s offer to pay off your debt if you would simply be willing to go into rehab.  There are a number of different problems with the analogy but let me point out what I think is one of the biggest problems with the analogy. 

One of the biggest problems with this analogy is that accepting the message of the gospel doesn’t just require you to accept a free gift (assuming that going to rehab equals repentance in this analogy): it requires you to accept certain facts as being true.  Or, to put things more bluntly, it requires you to accept certain non-self-evident facts as being true. 

  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe in the existence of God.  (Now, of course, the Apostle Paul would argue that the existence of God should be self-evident to everyone!  But we can leave that aside for the moment.)  
  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe the Christian God is the right God. 
  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe in the historical existence of Jesus. 
  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe that Jesus was crucified. 
  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe that the crucifixion of Jesus, somehow, makes it possible for you to be forgiven by God. 
  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. 
  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe that Jesus is the one that God has appointed to be king and judge of the living and the dead (i.e. Lord and Messiah). 
  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe in the Christian version of the afterlife. 
  • Accepting the message of the gospel requires you to believe that Jesus was more than just a human being but that he is God-in-human flesh.  (Now, of course, it is debatable whether or not believing this is a prerequisite for being saved or simply an inevitable belief that someone will come to if they are genuinely saved.)

The list could go on.  And what’s interesting is that it was precisely this factual information that was often the stumbling block for people accepting the message of the gospel in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:21-25).

But it should be clear that accepting the message of the gospel is nowhere near similar to accepting a father’s offer to pay off a gambling debt.  The scenario envisioned by Leighton Flowers would make more sense if we were talking about the rich man in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus being offered a way to get out of Hades after he died and was already in Hades (Luke 16:19-31).  Imagine there was a way for him to cross the chasm between Hades and the place of comfort where Abraham and Lazarus were.  If the rich man had the opportunity to cross over that chasm and leave that place of torment he clearly would have done it.   In fact, he would be foolish if he didn’t!  But the reality is that the rich man had information in Hades after he died that he didn’t have while he was alive.  Or, to put things a different way, the reality of experiencing Hades convinced the rich man that the things he had access to and should have believed while he was alive on this earth were a reality (see Luke 16:31).  But I think it should be fairly clear that if he knew then (i.e. while he was alive) what he knew now (i.e. while he was in Hades) that he would have made different choices in this life.[1]

It should be clear, then, that willingness to accept the message of the gospel isn’t just about accepting a free gift versus rejecting a free gift: a big part of it has to do with either accepting or rejecting certain facts as being true.  Now, obviously, the answer can’t simply just be that we need better apologetics to convince people that the facts are true so they can make a decision one way or the other – even though apologetics is really important and has been very instrumental in bringing a lot of people to saving faith in Christ.  What we need is the Holy Spirit to open up eyes that are blind (2 Cor. 4:3-6).  What we need is the Holy Spirit to remove the veil (2 Cor. 3:15-16).  What we need is the Holy Spirit to open up the heart (Acts 16:14).  Both Calvinists and Arminians should be able to agree on this (see Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities).  In the end, the only difference between Calvinists and Arminians on this point should be how far the Holy Spirit takes a person – part of the way to saving faith in Christ (i.e. prevenient grace) or all of the way (i.e. irresistible grace).

But it should be clear that the Holy Spirit is needed, not only to help a person become willing to accept the message of the gospel, but also to convince them that the facts proclaimed in the message of the gospel are true.

Mark Steven Francois


[1] Of course, Jesus goes on to say that there is enough information in the Law and the Prophets for people to make the right decision.  And he says that if they don’t believe the Law and the Prophets, they wouldn’t even believe it if someone were raised from the dead.  So, in the end, the problem is more than just lack of information.

Syriac Alphabet Tracing Sheet – West Syriac (Serto)

Classical Syriac Grammar

I have just added a tracing sheet for the Syriac alphabet in the West Syriac (Serto) script (see below). This script is an important script to learn since several important resources, most notably Payne Smith’s A Compendious Syriac Dictionary, are written in the West Syriac (Serto) script. My free online grammar of Classical Syriac, including resources similar to this, can be found at https://markfrancois.wordpress.com/syriac-grammar/.

Practice Sheet 1.8 – Alphabet Tracing Sheet – West Syriac (Serto)

The Classical Syriac Alphabet: The Names of the Letters and the Sounds They Make

This video gives the names of the letters of the Syriac alphabet in the Estrangela script and how they are pronounced. The pronunciation of the names of these letters and the sounds they make will vary depending on whether or not we’re using a West Syriac pronunciation or an East Syriac pronunciation. The pronunciation used in this video is close to the pronunciation used in East Syriac, though it reflects a pronunciation that would have been used at an earlier stage of the language. In other words, the pronunciation used here reflects the pronunciation that is generally given in fully vocalized East Syriac texts. For help learning how to write each letter, look for the tracing pages at https://markfrancois.wordpress.com/syriac-grammar/. Enjoy!

עֵ֫זֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo), Genesis 2:18, and R. David Freedman: “A Power Equal to Him”?

This is the second video in a series on the meaning of the term עֵ֫זֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ
(Ezer Kenegdo) in Genesis 2:18. This video deals with the suggestion made by R. David Freedman that the term עֵ֫זֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo) doesn’t mean “a helper that corresponds to him” but “a power equal to him”. While Freedman focuses on both parts of the term עֵ֫זֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ, the focus here will be on the meaning of the term עֵ֫זֶר (ezer). Enjoy!

Mark Steven Francois (Ph.D.)

Eight Important Things to Know About the Syriac Alphabet

In this video we take a look at eight important things to know about the alphabet that is used in Classical Syriac:

1. It is descended from the alphabet used in Imperial Aramaic.

2. It is distantly related to the English alphabet.

3. It originally comes from in or around the city of Edessa.

4. It can be written in three different scripts.

5. It is written from right to left.

6. It is a semi-cursive script.

7. It was originally written without a full system of vowels.

8. It has twenty-two letters.

For my free online grammar of Classical Syriac, click here.

Mark Steven Francois (Ph.D.)