Man and Woman in Exile (Genesis 3)

Article
12.11.2019

The only man and woman to live inside the conditions of Eden were Adam and Eve, but their fall led to their expulsion from the garden sanctuary. The exile of Adam and Eve meant the exile of manhood and womanhood. The reverberations of their rebellion spread throughout the world, leaving nothing untainted. After the Fall, we’re still embodied creatures bearing the image of God (Gen. 5:1–3; Jas. 3:9), but we now live in a sin-cursed world where its corrosive effects are evident, especially in our relationships. This article will explore three challenges that manhood and womanhood face in a fallen world.

AVOIDING RESPONSIBILITY

Before leaving the garden, Adam and Eve experienced firsthand what their sinful instincts sounded like out loud. God asked Adam, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen. 3:11). The obvious answer was yes, but Adam deflected: “The woman, whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). When God asked the woman what she had done, she answered, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13).

The man and the woman avoided taking personal responsibility for their choices. Instead, they shifted focus to someone else. Adam’s sin was particularly heinous. He shirked his responsibility and deflected blame to his wife, the very one he was commissioned to care for and protect. In God’s good design for complementarity, God commissioned husbands to care for their wives by pursuing and protecting their physical, emotional, and spiritual good. But here we find Adam acting not like a man but like a coward who was willing to see his wife suffer instead of owning up to his failures.

Not only did Adam point his finger at Eve (“she gave me fruit”), he also implicated the Lord (“The woman, whom you gave to be with me”). Doesn’t Adam realize that Eve is a precious gift and that God is a benevolent Father? Adam’s words despise both the gift and the Giver. Biblical complementarity upholds the value of the gift and the glory of the Giver.

In Genesis 3, Adam mistreated Eve; it’s where the root of the mistreatment of women can be found. Looking around at the culture around us, we see the malicious manifestations of Adam-like activity. The Fall provides the necessary explanation as to why relationships devolve into chaos and derision. Adam’s deflecting words did not fool God, but they did confirm a relational fracturing that carries to the present-day. In life outside the garden, men and women are suspicious and unloving toward one another; they blame-shift and accuse. Men in particular resemble their father Adam when they dishonor women and demean their character.

Adam used his wife to deflect blame and advance his own selfish purposes. If there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13), then blame-shifting is a failure to love because the person acts from self-preservation to sacrifice someone else.

DESIRING TO OVERCOME

As the Lord confronted Adam and Eve about their rebellion, he pronounced consequences. He said to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). Some interpreters have understood this to mean the woman’s continued desire for love, companionship, and intimacy in marriage.[1] The “desire,” then, would be positive. But is there an interpretation that has greater explanatory power? In a context of negative consequences for the serpent (Gen. 3:14–15) and the man (Gen. 3:17–19), the reader is prepared for the woman to hear about punishment.

In Genesis 4, God speaks to Cain with the same two words about desiring and ruling: “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). [2] Even though the particular Hebrew word for “desire” is rare, the context in Genesis 4:7 indicates that sin’s desire for Cain is to overcome him. So Cain must “rule over,” or overcome, sin instead.

When we see the pair “desire/rule” in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7, we can see how the Lord is probably speaking in the former context about consequences for the woman’s relationship with her husband. The Lord had just pronounced the experience of pain in childbearing, and so the consequences in 3:16 connect to the roles of mother and wife. An effect of the Fall on God’s good design is a wife’s temptation to dominate her husband. [3] This desire subverts the husband’s leadership and his God-appointed role as head of the family.

Corrupting God’s good design, the husband will “rule over” his wife (Gen. 3:16), which may indicate a domineering posture. [4] An authoritarian attitude is a failure to love. Some men unfortunately equate manhood with being macho and controlling. Domineering actions include physical abuse and emotional abuse. Such effects of the Fall are visible in our contemporary landscape. Women face threats of domestic abuse from authoritarian husbands. Complementarianism does not justify authoritarianism. In fact, authoritarian spouses make a mockery of biblical manhood. True complementarianism calls men to mortify the parodies of manhood. Masculinity is not toxic. Sin is toxic. Husbands must not be harsh with their wives (Col. 3:19) but rather live with them in an understanding and honorable way (1 Pet. 3:7).

On the other end of the spectrum, a husband may abdicate leadership and settle into passivity. When Eve ate the fruit, Adam “was with her” but failed to do what was right (Gen. 3:6). Spiritual abdication happens all the time. A husband and father might not lead his family to church. He might not disciple his family in the home. Adam hid from God because he was afraid (Gen. 3:8–10), and there are men still hiding today. From fear and insecurity, husbands and fathers might adopt a lazy mode of inhabiting the home. Godly headship gets sacrificed for convenience.

In a fallen world, the relationship between a husband and wife faces the corrosive effects of sin. Paul upholds God’s good and pre-fall design when he says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. . . . Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. . . . In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:22–23, 25–26, 28).

DEMEANING OTHERS

Men and women are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–28), yet the effects of sin upon manhood and womanhood include demeaning speech and behavior toward one another. Men and women speak with dishonor and disrespect to each other. They justify strategies of manipulation and deception. They condone and cover up verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. They wink at vile words or misogynistic actions.

Our culture is rife with the carnage of relationships and reputations that faced, head-on, what sinners can do to one another. What best explains our contemporary moment? What framework helps clarify the confusion around manhood and womanhood? The events in Genesis 3 show that manhood and womanhood has gone into exile, and recovering them is an urgent and ongoing task of Christians. The surrounding culture needs to see churches and families cherishing biblical complementarianism.

Sinful behavior from men or women is not rooted in biblical complementarity but is a distortion of it. Biblical complementarity dignifies God’s image bearers. To dishonor men or women or children is to dishonor to God. Biblical complementarity is associated with sacrificial love, humble service. It calls men to nurture and to care, to protect and to honor. Biblical manhood and womanhood must prioritize words and actions that dignify—not demean—others.

What sinful men and women need is to affirm and embrace the good design of God at creation. Defining manhood and womanhood has not been left up to us. When we ignore the wisdom of God and go our own way, we walk around in exile with the forbidden fruit still in our hands. The abandonment of God’s design is oppressive, not freeing. Contrary to the ancient world of the biblical authors, the biblical worldview upholds the dignity and value of women.[5] In fact, we will enable the maximum flourishing of both sexes when we trust that God’s ways are good and wise.

CONCLUSION

A complementarian vision of relationships will help men and women flourish in exile. Manhood and womanhood cannot be pursued and understood, however, without confronting the challenges that exist.

Some of these challenges go back to Genesis 3 itself. But the same chapter that shows us the root of our challenges also shines the light of hope. A seed of the woman will come to achieve victory over the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Through the pain of childbearing and in the fullness of time, the Lord Jesus was born. In Christ, we press on toward our certain future—men and women who are restored and resurrected that we might glorify God and enjoy him forever.


[1] See Andrew E. Steinmann, Genesis, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, vol. 1 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 71.

[2] The Hebrew word תְּשׁוּקָה appears only three times in the Old Testament (Gen. 3:16; 4:7; Song 7:11). When the word occurs in Song of Songs 7:10, it is the reverse of Genesis 3:16: the husband’s desire is for the wife, and the context in Song of Songs 7:10 is loving and intimate. In Song of Songs 7:10, the curse is reversed.

[3] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2001), 94.

[4] Ibid. For a different interpretation of “ruling,” see C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2006), 159–60.

[5] See Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 131–52.

By:
Mitchell Chase

Mitchell L. Chase (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor of Kosmosdale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is an adjunct professor at Boyce College and the author of several books.