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Topic 4: “Natural precedence by birth”: What does this mean?


Some would hold that the male has “a natural precedence by birth,” i.e., the male has dominance and headship over the woman because he was created prior to the woman.  Note the following comments from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod found in its 1985 document on “Women in the Church.”

◆ “He is the ‘first-born’ and hence would have a natural precedence by birth” (CTCR WIC, page 23).

◆ “Second, the man is designated as Adam (v. 20), which is also the term used to describe the race.  That the man is given this name suggests that he occupies the position as head of the relationship” (CTCR-WIC, page 23).

◆ “The creation of man as the first in sequence is integral to the narrative structure of Genesis 2″ (CTCR-WIC, page 23).

A response: Creation chronology or order or derivation does not imply subordination or inferiority or “natural precedence.”  There is no internal evidence or suggestion in these Genesis 1 and 3 texts that God ordains  a hierarchical priority because of gender or creation sequence.

(A) The birds and beasts, the creeping creatures and the crawling ones, all were created before the woman, indeed, also before the man.  Yet they do not have “natural precedence” or superior worth over humanity.

(B) Since humankind was created after the animals and is the crown of creation, one just as logically could infer that woman, created after the male, is superior to the male.

(C) Humanity’s source is the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7); yet we would not argue that humanity is subordinate to the dust.  That woman’s source is the man’s rib does not, likewise, suggest inferiority or subordination; derivation does not imply subordination.

(D) Genesis 1:27 implies a simultaneous creation of male and female, or at least a creation in which precedence and priority are not issues.

(E) In Genesis 2, the inspired writer uses exactly sixteen words in Hebrew to describe the creation of the male (Genesis 2:7) and later exactly sixteen words in Hebrew to narrate the creation of the female (Genesis 2:21b-22) (Dennis, Sarah Laughed: Women’s Voices in the Old Testament, pg. 13).  The equal number of words suggests the writer’s careful balancing of the male and the female as persons in parity.

(F) In Genesis 2, the male is incomplete – in need, alone – until the woman is created.  The direction of the text is not from superior to inferior, but from incompleteness to completeness (Dennis, pg. 16).  The creation of woman is the climax of the account.

(G) That God is not concerned with “temporal priority” is indicated in that he held each one (man, woman, serpent) responsible for what each did.  God did not accept the finger pointing and blame casting.  See also Romans 5:12-14, in which Paul shows his concern is not with “priority” (“Who sinned first?” – finger pointing: “It’s his/her fault!”) because instead of citing Eve, he cites Adam as prototype for all humanity.

(H) “Did God believe (long before there even was an ancient Middle Eastern mind-set) that the first born ought to have special privileges?  Did God regard primogeniture as something of a universal law operative even at creation?  Is this likely?  Is this consistent with Scripture?” (Groothius, Good News for Women, pg. 220).

(I) Esau, the first-born, lost out to Jacob, and this was within the purview of God’s intent and plan (Genesis 25:23).  Birth order does not suggest divine mandate, nor does creation order.

(J) 1 Corinthians 11:11 (“In the Lord…woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman”) suggests temporal precedence is not a New Testament issue.

(K) What happens in Scripture when either a person or a group insists on “being first” or when they perceive it to be some sort of divine right?  “If any one would be first, he must be last of all, the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).  Luke 14:7-11 suggests that God operates in a different economy than we who “would be gods” do.

(L) Are we reading back into the Genesis account material and emphases that are not there, and saying more than Scripture itself says?  The CTCR’s “natural precedence by birth” is a conclusion unwarranted by exegetical examination.