The following is a preliminary set of thoughts that were triggered in my mind today late in 1996. .
Why, apart from historical/cultural limitations, does the Bible seem to send a mixed message with regard to woman, including NT references to woman being in subjection, even though the message of equality of all believers is emphatically supported in the Bible, and unparalleled respect for women shows up both in the ministry of Jesus and in the book of Acts? Is there any way to read certain NT passages, especially those that appeal to Genesis and the deception of Eve, as anything but a cultural anomaly and an embarrassment?
I believe if we take our cue from Jesus’ own method and read said passages as parable, there is something here for us. Ken Sheck suggested in a recent post that references to Woman represent a spiritual condition that is like Eve. The woman Eve represents humankind in a particular state. To find out what that state is, we have to go back to the Genesis story.
There we find that God put Adam in the garden, and gave him instructions for its care, including the permission to eat from every tree in the garden, except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After this, Eve was formed out of Adam’s rib, and later the serpent tempted her. In the temptation story, we find that not only did the serpent twist the import of God’s instruction, but Eve herself, when repeating the prohibition, got several details wrong. These included an expansion of the prohibition against eating the fruit of the tree to a tabu about even touching it (logic at work here; if God told Adam that he would surely die if you eat the fruit, aren’t you in some danger even going near?); also, a conflation of the Tree of Knowledge with the Tree of Life, and expansion of the prohibition apparently to include both (God had allowed Adam to eat freely of every tree, including the Tree of Life; but Eve applied the warning to “the tree that is in the midst of the garden”, which could have been either one).
“And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
“And the LORD God commanded the man saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”
But Eve, in Genesis 3:2-3 remembers it differently:
“And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree [there are two; she only speaks of one] which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”
Well, what is the essence of Eve’s spiritual condition here? It is simply this: her knowledge of God, and therefore of God’s will, was second-hand. God had instructed Adam directly, but Eve wasn’t around yet; and relying on second-hand knowledge, she was deceived, *even before she had sinned*! She was relying on what she remembered about what God had said to someone else, apart from her own experience. Contrast that now to what Jeremiah says about the people of the New Covenant (Jeremiah. 31:31-34):
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them even unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Notice that in the old covenant, God was a husband to the people of Israel. The law written on tablets of stone was second-hand information, transmitted by human agency, and their understanding was therefore imperfect, as was their obedience. But in the new covenant, he doesn’t say he will be their husband; he says he will be their God. Here everyone is in the position of Adam, having first-hand knowledge, a personal relationship not mediated through information imperfectly transmitted by memory, but based on a new spiritual reality, his law written on the heart.
So where an apostle says, “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to usurp authority over a man,” is he talking about distinctions of anatomy, or is it that “a woman” in the biblical context is someone with mere secondhand knowledge, without that personal, intimate relationship with God that is the birthright of all God’s people under the new covenant, both male and female, Jew and gentile, Greek and barbarian. Taken literally and in the flesh, this distinction between man and woman is contrary to the gospel and to most of the New Testament; but taken as parable, in keeping with Jesus’ own chosen method of teaching, it points up the superiority of new life in Christ over legalism and literalism, of dynamic relationship with the living God in a living community over disputations about the proper interpretation of texts.