Did God Assign Gender Roles & Hierarchy to Adam & Eve? Part 2 - After the Fall
Updated: Aug 11
Chan Pei Ling
In Part 1, we learned that God had created the first man and woman to be equals. In the garden, the two of them lived, worked and ate together as stewards of God’s creation. There was no hierarchy in this first family.
This harmony, however, was short-lived. The woman fell for the serpent’s ruse and ate the forbidden fruit. She offered the fruit to the man and he ate it too.
God soon discovered their acts of disobedience and meted out punishment to them for disobeying his commands:
Genesis 3:16-19 (ESV)
To the woman He said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
And to Adam He said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
This passage foretold the sorrowful state that humankind would descend into as a result of Adam and Eve's disobedience.
Adam would endure tremendous hardship as he scavenged the land for food, and eventually face death. As for Eve, she would experience extreme pain during childbirth. And as if that was not enough, her relationship with Adam would be filled with conflict, as said in verse 16b, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you”. The same verse is translated, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you”, in the NIV version.
Regardless of which version we use, this verse is rather profound. What does it really mean?
From Harmony to Conflict
“Your desire shall be for your husband”
Christian author John Piper enlightens us with his explanation:
When it says, “Your desire shall be for your husband,” it means that when sin has the upper hand in woman, she will desire to overpower or subdue or exploit man. And when sin has the upper hand in man, he will respond in like manner and with his strength subdue her, or rule over her.
Doesn’t this explain the perennial struggle between men and women?
Each gender knows the weakness of the other and tries to subdue and exploit the other for their own desires. In general, men are physically stronger and exert power over women through physical violence. Women, on the other hand, gain control by using manipulative words and men’s weakness of lust.
Sadly, the desire to control and exploit the opposite gender is deeply ingrained. We see it being played out countless times in society, within our families and even in the pages of the Bible.
From Equality to Hierarchy
“... he shall rule over you”
In the past (and even now), Christendom had used Genesis 3:16b to support male dominance. The verse “he shall rule over you” was construed as a mandate for husbands to rule over their wives, and men to dominate in almost all facet of society - at home, in the workplace and even in the political arena.
Could this verse (and this verse alone) be used to support their stand?
Clearly, this passage of scripture wasn’t describing what a model marriage should be, or how a society should be run. On the contrary, it predicted how humankind would depart from the model relationship of equality that God had first designed.
An article from John Brown University explains:
The hierarchy that now exists is a symptom and effect of the fall. God speaks to Eve in Genesis 3:16b, saying that, “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” See, this subjugation of the woman wasn’t how God planned it for us. Satan marred the original design, and patriarchy is the result. Read more.
The Fall had brought about a change in the marital relationship. The man became the dominant member, with the woman in a subordinate position. In fact, a bizarre account of male dominance and bigamy was recorded in the very next chapter of Genesis, where a descendant of Cain, Lamech married two wives and boasted of murdering a young man (Genesis 4:19-24)!
The patriarchy, where men played the dominant role in the family and in every facet of society became the social order in both the Old and New Testament. The domination of men over women is not God’s original design for us, but a part of the fallen world that we live in - a world that our saviour Jesus came to redeem.
As God’s beloved creation, should we be striving towards God’s original vision of marriage, or the standards of the fallen world? I think the answer is very clear.
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Chan Pei Ling
Pei Ling is a mother of three and a freelance consultant in the media industry.
She and her husband Danny have spent almost two decades serving as youth mentors in the Central Christian Church.