Biblical understandings of human gender: Part Three: Gender in a fallen world

This is not the first post in this series, so to understand “where I am coming from you might read these (if you have not) first:

In Parts One and Two I considered Genesis chapters One and Two asking what they taught us about God’s designs for gendered humanity. In Part Three we’ll move on to the next chapter (Gen 3) to consider “Gender in a fallen world”.

Martin van Heemskerck via Wikimedia Commons

On my reading this chapter begins:1


The man and his wife were both naked,2 and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:25)

So as we start to read the account of the fall/first sin we do so reminded that humanity is gendered (while I do not think their nakedness is a hint that their sin is sexual, I do think it draws attention to their gendered state).

Right at the start the smart talking serpent addresses himself to the woman. This choice, to speak to the woman rather than the man has been the subject of both serious and lighthearted discussion. Is she the target because she is weak, or because being stronger she will persuade the weaker male? But in fact the choice of the woman is only strange, and in need of comment, if we assume a society (like the ones we live in) where wives should be subordinate to their husbands.3 You take my point, I hope, commentators across the ages have felt that the serpent “ought” to have spoken first to the husband, but the narrator makes no such assumption. The choice is not remarked or commented in the text, because the narrator is aware that we have just heard Gen 1 & 2, and know that such a hierachical view did not describe human gender relations in this world still functioning as its creator designed it.

As we know, the woman and man sin.4 The snake has also sinned, since sin is rebellion against God, and not merely breaking his commands.5 Therefore, they and indeed the whole creation that they represent, recieves consequences. Among those consequences of sin the woman is told: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”6 Thus rule by one gender over the other is seen here as a consequence of human sin, just as the way in which weeds make farming bane as well as pleasure is a consequence of that sin, and neither is part of God’s design for the world.

  1. You may choose to follow Stephen Langton and consider this the last verse of the previous chapter, in this case ch.3 is not as strongly introduced by the gendered nature of humans, but still the verse sets the scene for ch.3. Or you may think of it as a bridge between episodes, like the ones TV soaps offer, in which case it still introduces ch.3. [Such bridges are common in biblical narrative, Ruth chapters 1 & 2 are linked and separated by 1:22 which summarises ch. 1 and links to ch.2 with its mention of the barley harvest.]  []
  2. Nakedness is a motif of Gen 3, and the serpent’s cleverness puns with it for he was ‘arum. []
  3. I know, you can argue  that contemporary Western society does not assume that. Argue away! Most humans today, and across history, and certainly the firsdt hearers of this story, do live in such societies. []
  4. Yes, she sinned first, having been the one involved in the conversation about the fruit, but the simplicity of “she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” [Gen 3:6b] makes clear there is little possibility of extra blame or “weakness” involved here. []
  5. The woman and man rebel perhaps as well as break the command because their motives for eating include: “as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” []
  6. The claim that her “desire” is for some form of ruling over him seems difficult to sustain, the other two uses in Scripture of the word are clear, in Song 7:11 it refers to the man’s desire for his bride, and in Gen 4:7 to sin’s desire for Cain, like a wild beast desiring its prey. However, if Gen 3:16 does express a consequence of the fall that woman will desire to master man it equally and clearly expresses that man’s mastery over woman is such a consequence. []