I’m always struck by the way even the best of us can easily impose on Scripture what we want it to say because of our cultural prejudices. Egregious examples are the libertarian, non-judgemental Jesus shown to be a parody of the rather more gritty biblical Christ in my last post, or the even more radical post-modern Jesus imposed only by interpretive contortions on the real person we find in history (satirized here).
A recent example I found was in a generally excellent apologetics work, rightly pointing out that what we see described in OT texts is not necessarily exemplary of revealed ethics even at the time. The author also reminded us that the ethics of Torah, as both the OT and the NT show, was always a provisional application of divine ethics to an actual, historical, situation, appropriate to what people could bear in their context. The applications changed over time, even within the Law.
Just as Jesus treats Moses’ provisions for divorce as a concession to Israel’s hardness of heart, noting that “From the beginning it was not so…,” this author points back to Genesis 1-2 to remind us that in the period before the fall, there was no sexual immorality or expoitation, no economic or social disparity, no warfare and so on. This is true, and when you think about it is a remarkable feature of the text, for it was written by author(s) from the Hebrew culture whose undoubtedly superior law (for the times) has been relativised by subsequent revelation, especially by Jesus. And yet the ancient biblical authors were able to describe a state of primordial righteousness even beyond their own best understanding.
In unpacking this, though, my author included amongst the moral virtues of “the beginning” the absence of “patriarchy”, pointing us to Gen 1:26-28. This touched a nerve in me, given the current one-size-fits-all explanation of our fashionable sociologists for all evils. “The Patriarchy” is a construct taken for granted by the great and good, that explains everything from the dhimmi status of women (such as Angela Merckel, Theresa May, Jacinda Ardern, Halimah Yacob, Ana Brnabić, Kersti Kaljulaid, Aung San Suu Kyi, Tsai Ing-wen, Sahle-Work Zewde, Mia Mottley, Paula-Mae Weekes, Viorica Dăncilă, Leona Marlin-Romeo, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Evelyn Wever-Croes, Hilda Heine, Erna Solberg, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Saara Kuugongelwa, Saara Kuugongelwa, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, or Hilary Clinton – all except the last their nations’ current leaders) to, of course, the Bible itself, said to be a product of such male-dominated “power structures” and therefore to be drastically revised. I wrote on the current obsession with the concept of power, too, here.
My author is the very opposite of an identity politician, but seems to have accepted unchallenged the postmodern definition of patriarchy as anything other than complete equivalence between the sexes. And it is indeed remarkable how the creation narrative presents the status of “mankind in God’s image and likeness” in terms of both male and female, calling both sexes to rule and subdue the world. We may view that either as meaning that both sexes image God equally, or that the image of God is only completely seen in the duality of male and female.
Nevertheless, Genesis 2, before the Fall, introduces significant differences between the sexes (and so does Genesis 1, in the sense of placing both genders under the “adam” heading). I explored those differences here, so won’t dwell on them now. But I think it is an example of an important biblical principle that “equality under God” does not eliminate all distinctions between people. God does not intend to create “equality of outcomes”. Or to put it another way, the reduction of inequalities to one dimension – that of power – is a demonic delusion we should resist.
A quick biblical demonstration of that. Despite the modern mindset in which “equality” is often taken as an axiomatic good, in the New Testament the word for equality, isotes, occurs only three times. The first two are in 1 verse, 2 Cor 8:14, in which Paul urges generosity on the wealthy Corinthians in contributing to the needs of the impoverished Judaean church on the basis of “equality”. But the context makes it clear he didn’t expect them to liquidate their assets and redistribute them uniformly, but to provide necessary relief generously. What he had in mind was “equity”, and “fairness” – much more dynamic and fluid concepts.
The other instance, also by Paul, in Col 4:1, tells employers to give their servants what is “just and equal”. Once more, there is no suggestion of establishing a communist cooperative – this is about proper, equitable, provision for the job: the “equality” leaves both the economic dependance and the master-servant relationship in place, though modified dramatically by Christian brotherhood.
All this set me to wondering how human politics might have played out if Adam and Eve had not sinned. It’s a counterfactual, of course, for God’s secret counsel included knowledge of the fall from eternity and the provision of Christ, “the Lamb slain from the creation of the world.” And C S Lewis is surely wise in the words he puts in Aslan’s mouth: “No one is ever told what would have happened.”
Still, it is reasonable to suppose that the world was set up to make obedience a viable option, or we would run up against one of those “deceitful God” scenarios. If I offer you $1m for achieving some goal, and you fail, there is something wrong if I say, “I knew you’d mess up, and I don’t have $1m anyway.”
So despite how little we know, we can say that Adam and Eve would have had children, for that was the creation ordinance of Gen 1, and also that they would have lived for ever, because that was the promise of the tree of life. I don’t speculate about what would happen when the earth was fully populated – the transformation of other worlds, perhaps (after all, the rule of all things is the new creation promise), or some other change.
But picture, if you will, Adam and Eve growing no older or weaker in physical strength, but yet growing in wisdom and experience (God being an infinite source of truth) amongst successive generations of sinless offspring, as the kingdom of God spread out from Eden into the challenges of subduing the whole earth.
I consider that the principle of the fifth commandment – to honour father and mother – would be natural to the whole human race. Progenitorship, even in our fallen world, still counts for much, except when the relationship is completely disrupted – and even then, reconciliation with estranged parents or children is seen as an important goal.
Small children honour parents because of their power and authority, as well as natural love, but we know that in adulthood more subtle things are at play too. We will often have achieved greater wealth, power and influence than our parents, and certainly will end up physically stronger as they age. Yet, other things being equal, we respect their inevitably longer experience of life – as well as our irrefutable dependance on them for our being. There is a respect of gratitude, and of reverence, and love, as well as that owing to power. Even “authority” is significantly different from “power,” for I can choose to obey rules and rulers even when I have the option of going elsewhere – it is the boundaries that make fruiful relationships of all kinds.
In terms of being progenitors alone, then, Adam and Eve would be, in some sense, still “king and queen” of the human race, under God whose Eden-like presence all would still enjoy. But Adam would still be the federal head of the race, a role he gained by his original calling and creation, not by the Fall. In some sense, just as he represented Eve in his accountability for her sin, he would still represent the entire race before God. Whatever that might, or might not, mean in practice, it is a position of dignity entirely separated from that modern idea of “power”.
A sinless Adam would, then, on the two counts of being the first father of all, and the federal representative of all, still be appropriately regarded as the patriarch of the human race – just as a sinless Eve, as the mother of all living, would be its undoubted matriarch. And there would be no inequity in that fact, even though both would have a unique position not shared by those of us of the 24,000th generation. Perhaps we would have our own unique roles in the same kind of ways we do now. To have a place in the world and an inheritance in the kingdom is a privilege, and I will feel no resentment in finding in the next life that Paul, perhaps, remains an apostle, and I am not. Why should we resent differences in kind and degree, since our differences are our unique gifts from God?
That brings us to the gender issue I started with in discussing “patriarchy.” Unlike some postmoderns, I cannot imagine seeing King Adam and Queen Eve viewing their own relationship in terms of relative power. Or not uniquely so. Although the Fall may have affected male work and female labour, we are not told our general biology has changed. Eve might well still need to ask Adam to reach a high fruit or, nowadays, unscrew a tough jar-lid, and that would obtain throughout the world, with the same occasional exceptions as today: somewhere in Adam’s world would certainly be a champion female arm-wrestler. But Eve might still prefer to organise the supper invitations.
I don’t believe the natural creation changed significantly at the Fall, and the words “rule” and “subdue” in Genesis 1 have a physicality to them that suggests Adam’s descendants would be taming a wild frontier, not filling seats in a bureaucracy. The significant gender bias towards aggression in males, controlled and directed towards lions and rivers rather than wives or enemies, would be as important in a sinless world as in ours.
In fact, our unfallen race would have no reason for the present denials of the gender differences in personality, denials which an influential minority are successfully imposing on our fallen society now. It seems those differences are now known to be greater, not less, than psychologists thought when I was studying the subject back in the 1970s, as this study shows (although this is an American study, such findings are mirrored across all cultures). As the release says:
In an article recently published in the online journal PLoS ONE, Italian cognitive psychologist Marco Del Giudice and his collaborators compared the personality traits of men and women in a sample of over 10,000 people and found huge differences. Women scored much higher than in men in Sensitivity, Warmth, and Apprehension, while men scored higher than women in Emotional Stability, Dominance, Rule-Consciousness, and Vigilance.
To me, this even casts an interesting light on the Fall story itself. Were I the serpent, I too would have started my deception with the more apprehensive partner (opposed to “self-assurance” in the study) who also was more warm and sociable (opposed to “reserved”). A mere creature telling a dominant (opposed to “deferential”) male what do do is more likely to get a kicking, especially if rule-consciousness (opposed to “expediency”) and vigilance (opposed to “trustingness”) were in the mix – as, given this study, they were overwhelmingly likely to be when God’s rule was challenged.
Nothing in the personality study suggests why Adam should have passively taken and eaten fruit from Eve, though it might account for why Scripture regards his sin as heinous, and hers as the result of somewhat mitigating deception. Together they should have achieved better.
But my point is that the glory of the first couple was that they were different, and I would expect those differences to have been fruitfully reflected in the social and political structures of our hypothetical “sinless world order.” When Eve was taken from Adam’s side, it wasn’t that his “feminine side” was removed, so that he would only be fully human again together with his wife. It appears, rather, that Adam-as-male needed the companionship and support of a new mix of qualities to be found only in the new creation of Eve-as-female. Either could function alone – but to do so would not be good, for individuals or for society.
Neither would it be good to seek to eliminate the differences between not only male and female, but young and old, and no doubt a whole raft of other differences in individual attributes not disclosed by crude psychological studies about gender… and not accounted for simply by the differences displayed in our sinful tendencies!
I think, therefore, that our “sinless” society might show a lot more gradations and complex hierarchies, in all kinds of ways, than our utopian imaginings might expect. Who wants to be just another harp-player on a cloud anyway? And they would be interesting, character-forming and affirming differences – but never exploitative.
If I’m right about that, then I don’t expect to find a bland uniformity in the new-creation Kingdom, come the return of Christ, either. The biggest difference might be that Jesus will be undisputedly the king, and his Church – rather mystically – the queen.