Chinese Theological Review 15

Women's Status and the Creation Stories in Genesis

Chen Kuanrong

Study of the Old Testament has shown that there are two creation stories recorded in Genesis; Genesis 1:1 through to 2:3, and Genesis 2:4-25, respectively. According to textual criticism by biblical scholars, the first creation story belongs to the Priestly tradition. It is part of Old Testament law, so it may be called a code; further, this part of the code was formulated and passed down by priests.

The second creation story belongs to the Yahweh tradition. Here God is called Yahweh, an earlier tradition than the priestly one, probably four hundred years earlier. The first creation story says that God created all things on earth in the first five days, and on the sixth day, God created human beings in God's own image, male and female God created them. God also bestowed upon them great blessings, saying: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have domination over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Gen. 1:28). This story tells us that male or female, we were both created in God's image. There is no first or last. Male and female were also equal in the work God entrusted to them; there was no difference in their work, nor any allocation of power. Instead God instructed them to work together.

The second creation story is described very vividly, and is often misinterpreted, thus becoming the basis for much discrimination against women. It says that God first made Adam, then made a garden, flora and fauna, and only in the very end created woman our of Adam's rib. Some people, then, in speaking about the relative position of man and woman, emphasize the sequence of creation events found here, thereby drawing the conclusion that woman is an appendage of man. They think women belong to a lower class, that must be lead by men, and that women should always work for men. However, as one Old Testament scholar points out, the arrangement of the story shows us that with woman's appearance, gender difference comes into the human world, making man a whole person. The creation of woman makes the world is perfect. Therefore, woman's creation was the peak of all God's creation, its quintessence. Although Eve came from Adam's rib, this does not mean that she was derived from or subordinated to Adam, just as Adam came from earth, but was not subordinate to it. The fact that woman was created from man's rib explains that they were both created from the same substance, and further, that they have an inseparable "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" relationship.

God's goal in creating woman was to make someone who would be a companion for man and also help him. The word "help" appears a total of 21 times in the Old Testament, and 16 of those times refer to God helping people. This demonstrates the fact that woman does not help from a subordinate position. But there are also those who take this "help" in context as a subordinate helping a superior, because God first brought the animals, which were lower than humans, before Adam, but found none suitable for the role. Thus, in this explanation, woman was finally created to fill the role of helper. We say it is precisely because the lower ranking animals were unsuitable that God finally created woman as an equal helper. In short, this story tells us that in the intention of God's creation, women are not second-class, but have the same value and position as men.

Now we will look at the way Jesus sees this issue. When the Pharisees tested Jesus, and asked him about men divorcing their wives, Jesus' answer contained this phrase: "But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'" (Mark 10:6-8). We note that Jesus' words are taken from the two creation stories, and are used here to make clear that husband and wife are one body, formed of equals. Jesus does not emphasize the order in which Adam and Eve were created, and is certainly not saying that woman came from man. Therefore, we should not over-emphasize order in creation, or seek biblical evidence for the idea that women are subject to men.

Not only does Jesus not discriminate against women, but teaches respect for them, and this is borne out in his life and teaching. Many feminist theologians emphasize Jesus' liberated attitude toward women. The gospels record that Jesus breaks through traditional ideas, making friends of tax collectors and prostitutes. He broke through ethnic discrimination and worldly prejudice to preach to a Samaritan woman. He didn't avoid taboo, but healed the woman with the flow of blood. And in his mercy, he released the woman taken in adultery. Jesus also believed that women's work was not restricted to the kitchen: he praised Mary for taking the better part. Jesus also broke through the tradition of rabbis accepting only men as followers, by calling many women to follow him, affording them very high honor.

His women followers did not disappoint Jesus. When everything was going well, they followed the Lord and served him. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, many male disciples ran in all directions for their lives, but the women boldly remained by Jesus' side in the face of the danger of persecution. Finally, when Jesus died on the cross, they tasted the bitterness and suffering of the cross with him. Reluctant to part with him to the very end they followed when he was taken to the tomb. Before dawn on the first day of the Sabbath, once again it was the women who were the first to go the tomb to see Jesus. For their following and service, Jesus blessed them: the resurrected body of Jesus first appeared to women, so that women were given the mission of spreading the good news that "the Lord is risen." Thus women were the first disciples to be sent out in God's mission, and women should take pride in this.

In the Old Testament, God is sometimes described using female imagery, for example, comparing God to a woman in labor (Is. 42: 13 14); or Proverbs (31:10-31) where God is compared to an ideal good wifel. In the New Testament, Jesus also uses female imagery for himself, crying out to Jerusalem " Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"(Matt. 23:37). Only a mother's love could describe his love for the people. In the patriarchal Jewish society of the day, then, the way Jesus treated women can be called a feminist liberation movement, advocating a glorious model of equality between men and women.

Let us look again at how Paul sees this question. When he speaks of a "veiled head" in his letter to the Corinthian church, he says: "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. ... Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man." (1 Cor. 11: 3-9). Here, Paul is drawing on the second creation story. Some people think that Paul gleans from this second creation story that Adam leads Eve, who has been subordinated in the order of creation, and that, furthermore, this order extends into the home and the church. Such a view holds that men are the head of the household, and should hold power in the church as well.

Although in some churches women can be ordained as deacons, elders, pastors, and even bishops, yet these ordained women must still fulfill their roles under the principle of male leadership.2 Those who hold such views are actually protecting their own power, and seeking biblical evidence to do so. There are two possible reasons for what Paul says to the brothers and sisters of the Corinthian church: first, the position of women may have already surpassed that of men in the church at Corinth; second, perhaps the women of the Corinthian church had already declared their authority. This is to say; the Corinthian Church at that time may have been led by women. These women lived in a society in which women were considered inferior to men and were trying to gain their liberation and freedom, and break though the traditional custom of women being veiled in the public places, thereby igniting debate in the church. Writing to the Corinthian church under these circumstances, saying that women should have their heads veiled, Paul's goal was to tell these women what sort of society the newly born church existed in; therefore, the women of the church should not should not put themselves too far forward, but try, as much as possible, to conform to the social norms of the time, and in this way avoid non-Christian censure of the church which would hinder the spread of the gospel.

Paul then changed tack: "Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman" (I Cor. 11:11). Men and women should be interdependent. As for who was whose source, Paul says, "For just as woman came from man," but after Adam all men "comes through woman"; and Paul goes a step further and points out "but all things come from God" (1 Cor. 11:12). In Galatians, Paul says that in Christianity there is no man or woman, we are all one (3:28). This is the most basic doctrine of and theological evidence for male-female equality. There may be many reflections of the male-centered society of the time in Paul's letters, but his general position is still to advocate for male-female equality.

To summarize, we can draw the conclusion that men and women's status is equal from the creation stories in the Bible. This conclusion is verified by the entire bible, as well as by Jesus' life and teachings, and the revelation given to Paul by God.

Nanjing Theological Review, 2 (2000): 42-43.

Chen Kuanrong teaches at Anhui Seminary.