The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Paul, Genesis and Gender


How did St Paul read the creation story?

There are a couple of ways of reading the two creation stories in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. Actually there are probably quite a few ways, but I’m interested in two ways just now. I’ll call these two ways the “literal” way and the “didactic” way, as one of these ways treats the creation stories as primarily serving the function of recounting literal history just like modern historians do, and the other way treats the main function of the creation stories as teaching truths about God, God’s relationship to human beings and our place in the world, using the story as a medium of doing so.

Here’s an example of how these two different methods play out. In the second account of the creation of human beings, in Genesis 2, God made a man and then he said that it is not good for the man to be alone, so God would make a companion for the man. Then God made the animals in order for the man to have a companion and Adam named them all. After making the animals God saw that none of them was suitable for the man, so God put the man to sleep and made a new person out of the man’s side, and she is a suitable companion. The man names her woman, and all is well.

The literal method would say that the reason the passage is written this way is that this is just what happened. In spite of the order of creation in Genesis 1 (where God made animals and then God made the human beings), the meaning of Genesis 2 is that these things happened, one after the other, in the same way that the events described in a newspaper account happened as they are written. How did God not realise that, say, a hippopotamus would not be a suitable partner for a human man? Or a giraffe? Or a rat? Good question! But in any event, after God created all the animals and realised that they wouldn’t fit the bill, he then created a woman. This time God got it right, and the woman was a suitable companion for the man. Just as well; we can only imagine how the man was feeling as he named the animals, thinking that one of them was going to be his mate! The didactic method, on the other hand, would say that the meaning of this account is not that these events happened in this order. After all, God knew quite well that mice and frogs would not make suitable companions for men. The point of this passage is that firstly women are better than animals (and yes, there are plenty of cultures where this did need to be stressed) and they are equal on the “chain of being” to men, being made from a man and being “comparable” to a man (which simply means that they are like men as a complement or mirror image). Men do not complete each other, and animals do not either. Using this method, we see the earliest biblical teaching on human sexuality, with homosexuality and bestiality treated as deviations. It’s not that men and women are meant for each other because these events unfolded in this way. Rather, the story is depicted this way because men and women are meant for each other, as a means of declaring that this is so. So this account is not there to give us a history of early humanity, but rather a theology of humanity.

Having hopefully given a clear indication of how these two methods of reading early Genesis differ, let’s skip forward to the first century AD and the writings of an early Christian interpreter of Genesis, St Paul. One of the more notorious things that Paul said was that women should not have authority over men in the church (in this part of his letter, St Paul is discussing the characteristics and roles of teachers and leaders in the church):

I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. It was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

1 Timothy 2:12-14

Men were created first? So what? How is this an explanation of anything about gender roles in Corinth or anywhere else? What is Paul getting at?

Firstly, I am aware of the often fierce responses to what this passage apparently says, and the revisionary ways of interpreting it, coupled with the accusation that the church historically has gotten it wrong when it comes to the roles of men and women in the church. I am also aware of the line of argument that really Paul is not volunteering his own view here, but is reacting against a local but mistaken and extreme view on men and women, so that his statements here, read outside of the first century Corinthian setting, would be taken out of context if we sought to apply them today. I maintain that these reactions are as much a product of the culture in which they flourish as the “outdated” views to which they react. However, my point here is not whether or not these objections are correct. My point is to focus on Paul’s use of Genesis because it is an example that can help us to see what method of reading Genesis he was employing.

Consider the possibility that Paul was using a literal method of interpreting the story of the creation and fall in Genesis 2 and 3. If this is so, then he is saying that women shouldn’t have authority over men in the church because on the timeline, a particular man appeared before a particular woman, and that particular woman sinned before that particular man. Chronological priority brings about authority. Really? In what world could this be construed as a valid argument? Imagine justifying a claim like this to someone who isn’t a Christian: “Adam existed before Eve did, and that makes him a leader.” Wouldn’t you be embarrassed to reason this way?

But what if Paul is not using a literal method, but a didactic one instead? What if he is treating the story of creation and fall as though it was written the way that it was, not so that we would know the blow-by-blow history of early humanity, but so that the writer could use the narrative to highlight theological claims? If this is the way Paul is treating early Genesis, then point is not that the man appeared first and therefore women in church shouldn’t have authority over men – as though that could ever be a serious argument. If Paul is using the didactic method, then the point is that the man came first in the story because of the intended authority relationship between men and women. The man doesn’t just name the animals because hey, everything needs a label. In fact human beings have not yet named all the creatures that exist. Instead his being depicted as naming them is the author’s way of expressing his authority over them. And although the woman is regarded as his complement, comparable to him, in the narrative she was created after him and for him and named by him, not (if Paul is using the text in a didactic way) to explain what happened and in what order, but to teach us something about the relationship between humanity and animals and men and women. In what order did men and women actually appear? Well that’s not really the point of the narrative in early Genesis, says the didactic method.

  • I have not said anything here about which method of reading the early Genesis narrative is correct.
  • I have not said anything here about whether or not St Paul is correct.
  • I have tried not to say anything here about which view of gender roles within the church is correct.

I have views on all of those matters (and I do think they matter), but I have not gone into them because that would be beside the point that I am trying to make now. Regardless of what view you take on any of them, what I have suggested here is that if Paul is using a literal method of reading early Genesis, then his argument does not make sense and is vulnerable to just the sort of ridicule that people have leveled against it. On the other hand, if Paul is using a didactic reading of early Genesis, then even if you disagree with what he appears to be saying, you should grant that his argument is easier to understand (even if you do not accept it). That is the issue here.

Glenn Peoples

PS. Please don’t seize the opportunity here to brush over the actual point that I have tried to make and use this post as a doorway into the never-ending arguments about “women in ministry” (a catch-all label for a cluster of arguments about gender roles in the church). This post is about different ways of reading Genesis, and how one example of Paul’s use of Genesis can shed light on which method he was using. Behave.


God died


Dave Ramsey and poor choices


  1. What about the literal-didactic method? God worked in history thus to show what is the case about the world.

    Taking it out of Genesis temporarily, consider Jesus calming the storm. You would say that the literal way of reading the text is that Jesus spoke to the storm and it stopped. The didactic method would suggest Jesus has authority over nature and the author of the story is proving a didactic point about Jesus’ authority. Following a pure didactic way the story of the storm may not even be true.

    The literal method sees God’s activity as intentional, thus it is a literal-didactic method. Did God tell the Israelites concerning the sacrifices in Leviticus, yes. Were they expected to do them, yes. Was it to show the necessity of faith and point to Jesus as per Hebrews, yes.

    There is no contrast with literal vs didactic in Genesis. God created a world in a certain way to teach certain truths. He intended man to work and rest so modeled this, not because God needs days to create or a day to rest (cease); for our sake. Paul takes the didactic message from creation because he sees it as history, a history God was careful about making.

  2. Bethyada, there is a contrast between the literal and didactic functions of a text. What you’re proposing isn’t that they are really the same, but rather that they can both be used for the same text, with the former method serving as the basis of the latter (e.g. Jesus calming the storm).

    The Gospels are ancient biography, set in known history, so are treated as purported history whatever the narrative teaches us. Whether or not this true of early Genesis is clearly not quite so settled (!), but the point to make here is that if these accounts were written with a didactic purpose in mind, then the question of whether or not they are an example of historical reporting certainly becomes less vital – something all the more worthy of consideration given the absence of witnesses.

    Seeing the creation narratives as having a didactic rather than a historical purpose also addresses the obvious differences between the two accounts of the creation of humans and animals, in chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1 is doing something different from chapter 2, so the fact that its narrative is not compatible with that found in chapter 2 actually doesn’t matter.

  3. Jason

    God brought the animals to Adam to name them, thereby demonstrating his authority over them. Adam also named the Woman, both Woman and later Eve, the mother of all living. He was exercising authority over her, although obviously not the same as the authority he had over animals. By being deceived and taking of the fruit Eve had rebelled against her husband’s authority. Just as in one man all men fell, in one woman all woman fell. Paul would have been relying on his audience having a high context understanding of his references.

    How long did it take God to realize that no beast could be a helpmeet for the man? Given it’s God he knew before forming a few representative animals for Adam to name. How long did it take for Adam to realize that among the beasts he had to name, beasts of the field, fowl of the air, and the cattle, there was nothing like himself? Probably a few hours, maybe less depending on how quick he was on the uptake.

    However, as pointed out the book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes where we read an absolute prohibition on women having authority over men into the text, the Ancient Near Easterner would probably have read a general guideline.

  4. Ian Elsasser


    I would say both Genesis 1 and 2 have other than a literal thrust to them. Genesis 1, for example, is structured around verse 2, “formless and void” or “uninhabitable and without habitants” which is then remedied in the rest of the chapter, first dealing with making it habitable (days 1-3) and then creating inhabitants (days 4-6) with mankind (not the WWE wrestler from the 1990s…remember, he was created on the 8th day!) as the pinnacle, becoming the physical representations over the rest of the created order (the sense of image is both physicality and regal). Genesis 2 also portrays mankind’s regal role over the created over but with its own elements in, as you have said, a didactic manner. So, I fully agree with you.

    What is important to highlight is that the texts themselves contain clues for us to cipher the proper way they are to be understood and interpreted: theologically, not literalistically.

  5. Nathan

    Not taking Gen 1 & 2 literally threatens the very core of Christianity. If it wasn’t really 7 literal days did Jesus really rise from the dead? Did the bush really burn? Did the donkey really speak? Did Moses’ staff really become a snake? Did Jonah really spend 3 days in the belly of a whale?

    It’s a slippery slope people! 😉

  6. Oh shush. 🙂

  7. The way I see it, you could argue that any reference to the OT by Paul or Peter or Jesus is didactic and therefore says nothing of the factual basis of what they are quoting. Can you give an example of a didactic interpretation in the NT that one cannot apply what you are claiming is the case for Genesis?

    I am happy to address the literal issues you raise from Genesis but I did not think this was the point of the post.

  8. Sure, bethyada. Here is the first one that came to my mind:

    Jesus said (my paraphrase) that because David went into the Temple and took food meant for the priests when he was hungry, that shows that Old Testament laws need to be treated humanely. David was an example of someone who did this, and by doing it, he set an example.

    But Adam, simply by appearing first, is not on that basis in a position of authority. otherwise we end up with the strange argument that I referred to in this post: That those who were there first are therefore in authority. But that’s simply not true.

    So there is a difference between an instance where Jesus appealed to the actions of an Old Testament person and this reference to Adam. One makes sense as an historical piece of evidence. The other does not.

  9. Yet I don’t see how David has to be literal, could it not be a fable? People argue the fableness of Jonah yet Jesus pointed to a parallel based on an event.

    Paul elsewhere argues concerning Adam’s death and relates this to Jesus’ life yet Enns (I think) claims this is didactic and Adam did not die in anyway different to those who came before him, if Adam even existed. Though if you are happy with Jesus’ use of David then I guess you are find with Paul using Adam’s death.

    In terms of created first, this is in the context of humans. Paul knows they are imago Dei so the order of creation of animals or plants is irrelevant. Next, your argument about didactic assumes that creation order is of no importance, though could it not be of an importance that you are failing to see? If so then Paul is doing what Jesus did with David. A good argument for order relating to role or authority comes from the concept of primogeniture.

  10. Kenneth

    @ Jason, how was Adam able to name all the beasts and birds in the garden within a day?

  11. JP

    Genesis 2:19 recaps how things are done, but doesn’t say anything in particular about in what order they where done in relation to other events.

    Saying somethings literal doesn’t imply that it’s linear… First I baked a cake, then asked Sue what she likes, then I baked a pie. I asked Sue what she likes, she doesn’t like the cake I make, so I made her pie.

    The second sentence doesn’t contradict the first, even when both are taken literally, despite the order being different.

    How did God form the animals? Out of the Ground. This is all literal actually takes this passage to mean as this is all this passage actually says. Adding clauses to scripture to force a passage to be liner when it is not stated to be is not at all literal. It is in fact anti-literal, as it does not follow the strict meaning of the words but draws from what is implied (but not stated) by their order.

    I have not said anything here about which method of reading the early Genesis narrative is correct.

    But you (literally) have, as you said one reading is self-contradictory. Furthermore you misrepresented what that stance actually says (strawman, yeah yeah) by misrepresenting or not understanding what its core term means.

    It was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
    Men were created first? So what? How is this an explanation of anything about gender roles in Corinth or anywhere else? What is Paul getting at?

    It’s typically inferred that he’s not merely talking about order of creation but referencing the fact that Eve was created from Adam. Adam in the image of God and Eve from Adam. Being created from something and for something gives that something a degree of authority. Same can be said about God, merely being created by God and for God gives God a degree of de-facto authority.

    It is not Gods sole source of authority over man, nor mans sole source of authority over women. It is not enough to give unlimited authority. It is a case for some authority.

    That’s not just some esoteric ‘what Corinthians would have assumed he meant’ thing but pretty much what Catholic and Protestant scholarship through the ages thinks he meant. How can you have a serious discussion about this without at least acknowledging that?

    In that case he is using the literal account of Genesis but simply not re-writing the whole dang thing in his letter becasue it’s assumed he audience knows it. You can draw a lot of content in a small phrase by referencing something your audience already knows about.

    Again, you’ve understated Paul’s ‘literal’ style case becasue you seem to not understand what ‘literal’ actually means and entails. To be fair, it’s a grossly misused term.

    Also, didactic does not equate to allegorical, as you seem to think it does. What you’re talking about is actually an apologue, a didactic that is always a fable.

    Weather something is didactic or not has no bearing whatsoever on weather something is literal, allegorical, or an outright fable. The terms have nothing to do with each other. It’s like you’re asking weather Pauls writing was three or orange. There is no valid comparison\contrast between the term didactic and the term literal. They’re not terms on the same axis of meaning.

    You’re asking if Paul was being literal or allegorical concerning Genesis, either way he was being didactic.

  12. JP

    Hmm, my quote tags got eaten. Should’ve bothered to preview. Oh well.

    • For future reference, JP, the correct tag is blockquote (enclosed in greater than and less than signs).

  13. Jason

    Kenneth, how many animals did Adam have to name?

    Beasts of the field (probably a subset of beasts of the earth referred to in 1:25), fowl of the air, the cattle. Not insects, not marine creatures. That cattle and beasts of the field are distinguished from each other tells us that “beasts of the field” did not include every land animal, otherwise the category of “cattle” would be redundant. Given context it’s possible that “cattle” might refer not just to the bovidae, but to any beast of burden including horses and camels.

    We also know, for example, that over 300 species of pigeon/doves could have been descended from an original small population of pigeons. One pigeon would have been sufficient to represent that entire genus.

    There are about 11,000 known vertebrate land dwelling, non-marine, non-amphibian species, but as in the case of the pigeons there wouldn’t need to be that many to start with. Whilst invoking a 300 to 1 ratio would be overkill, we could allow 4 to 1 on average to bring it down to about 3000 kinds of animal. If it took Adam 5 seconds to come up with a name for each animal (and since what he was doing was an exercise in authority, not creating a taxonomic system his names didn’t have to be any more complicated than “dog” “cat” “elephant” or local language equivalent) that would be just over four hours constant work, or eight hours if he was in the union.

  14. JP

    Thank you.

  15. Kenneth


    What about all the species of animals that have gone extinct? They would have had to be in the garden as well wouldn’t they? because there would have been no animal death, there is an estimation that up to 5 billion species have existed on the earth, and we know only 10 million to be alive today, now of course Adam would have not needed to name most of those species, but it would mean far more than 11’000 that he would have needed to name, in fact apparently 99.9% of all species that have ever lived are extinct, so we would have to drastically increase the number of animals that Adam would have had to name. Lets look at these figures:
    Vertebrates make up 3% of the species we know today, of those we know about 10’000 species of birds and 5’000 species of mammals ( i assume those would be the “beasts of the field”), so lets say overall around 4’000 kinds
    However those are just the species around today, let’s say we take the lowest estimate of species that have lived upon the earth- 1 billion using the same ratio of invertebrates to vertebrates today approx 3% of those would be vertebrates so thats about 30 million vertebrates, the portion of that that would be just land dwelling, non-marine, non-amphibian species would be about a third so that would be 10 million species, that would mean about 3 million extra kinds he would need to name- all in one day.
    And Adam spending 5 seconds naming each one would be a little unrealistic- wouldn’t he need to observe these animals to give them names? I imagine Adam would have took his job seriously, I can’t imagine Adam spending only 5 seconds in naming each animal, he would have had to observe them and deliberate on the proper names he would give to each animal, the hebrew name for lion is derived from the root that means “in the sense of violence” and Adam named some of the predatory birds using a Hebrew word with the meaning “bird of prey.” This means that Adam had to have observed these animals to give them these names, this is the reason why I hold to a less literal interpretation of the genesis days, it just doesn’t make much sense to me, especially when you take into account that Adam was also cultivating the garden.

  16. Mark

    Here’s your problem Glenn.

    Now you’ve upset the progressives because you’re allowing Paul to speak without drowning him out with condemnation or revision of his dreadfully old-fashioned views about the church.

    And you’ve also upset the fundamentalists because you’ve implied that reading the creation stories in the Hebrew Bible (of which, you have dare to point out, there are two) like a modern history might not be the right way.

    No friends on the left. No friends on the right. How does it feel? Good luck getting a teaching job!

  17. JP

    (Blockquote seems to not function the way I’ve phrased it, Q does but it’s rather weak, so I’m just going with italics for quotes)

    So, approximations multiplied by further estimates and approximations creates unrealistic numbers.

    Good for that.

    In modern terminology we’d be talking about naming genus at best, more realistically family or even in some cases order… The modern species classification is sketchy at best given the rare instance of fertile Lygers or mules or such. When you’re pulling numbers like those above you’re first of all talking about things that are by and large not actually observed in any capacity, and secondly talking about dubious distinctions. That is, it is not possible to tell weather or not two extinct creatures of the same genus are in fact a sperate sepceise because it is not possible to breed them and test outcomes…

    Regardless most literalist theory’s would in fact go as high as the ‘family’ taxidermic designation. That is, Feliade, Caniade ect… As works post Edward Blythe maintain that animals specialized into genus and species due to adaptation after creation anyway…

    It’s paragraphs like those above that remind me that people don’t usually understand what they beleive in (in this case, 5 billion species, going with big numbers without actually thinking about how such numbers came about) or what they’re actually against (Blyths work on natural selection in relation to creation is 150 years old, and it’s solution to this particular topic is entirely unchallenged). Very rarely do such troublesome things as facts or history have any actual play in the battle for minds, opinions, and souls that goes on in this war for humanity we call life. People grossly overestimate how self-aware they are on a regular basis. Your opinions are based in the assumptions you make and the groups and ideologies you take for granted to be true.

    the hebrew name for lion is derived from the root that means “in the sense of violence” and Adam named some of the predatory birds using a Hebrew word with the meaning “bird of prey”.

    It is not actually implicit that Adam spoke Hebrew… Contrarily these events are well before Babel and it is unlikely he spoke anything like it. Even the naming of ‘woman’ doesn’t really challenge this, as female is astoundingly often a compound of something feminine and a word for man. Even English works like this, fe-male, womb-man. I doubt its universal, but it works across an astounding number of languages.

    this is the reason why I hold to a less literal interpretation of the genesis days, it just doesn’t make much sense to me,

    This is indeed the reason why you beleive what you beleive. One set of dogmas you hold conflicts with the assertions you beleive a literal view of Genesis makes. Your dogmas are what is ‘sense’ to you, as far as you see the dogmas of a literal Genesis are not compatible with that. In so far as that is your stance because you understand both dogmas it is a good one. In so far as you don’t actually understand where your dogmas come from or what a literal genesis dogma actually means your stance is very bad. It seems you at least do not understand the ‘literal Genesis dogma’ in this context, and I expect you don’t well understand the ‘5 billion species dogma’ either. Though you may, and if you do more power too you.

  18. Jason

    Thank you JP.

  19. JP

    You’re welcomed Jason. I should have cut it down a few points though, usually I’m more concise then that, and thus get my point across better. I’ll try a shortform.

    The short of it is that Canus Lupus Familiars is a product of the Canine family, and a specialized type of lupin family. While your typical dog cannot breed with your typical wolf (and are thus a different species) everyone, Creationist, Evolutionist, Hindu, says that said dogs where domesticated from said typical wolves and did not preexist wolves in any way shape or form.

    If Adam simply named the progenitor of the canine family his job is done. Same for other families of animals. There are many orders of magnitude less families of animals than there are genus or species. Even if you belie there are 5 billion species, this has no bearing on Genisis 2:2, as there is nothing like 5 billion families of animals. Last I saw there was 5,404 in the kingdom Animala, but it’s been a while since I looked it up. I expect many of those are not in the umbrella of things Adam actually named. Anyway, even if you accept 5K, the number isn’t unrealistic.

  20. Hello Glenn.

    As a progressive Christian, it goes without saying that I opt for the didactic view 🙂
    It is amusing than many creationists defending the literal views are staunch Calvinists.
    If they really took the text at face value, they would become very quickly open theists!

    Though I don’t want to dive into the topic, I think that Paul (or should I say the unknown writer of the Letter to Timothy) was clearly wrong on women in that context.
    As progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser put it, the notion that women are inferior to men with respect to preaching (or other intellectual tasks) has been empirically refuted.
    So it looks like to be a nice example why the Chicago version of inerrancy should be given up 🙂

    Best wishes from Europe.

  21. Interesting Lotharson. As a progressive Christian you think that Paul used Genesis right, but was wrong about women. 🙂

  22. Hello Glenn, many thanks for your answer!

    It is important to note that I believe Paul was an extraordinary man of God who I defend against the critiques of Christianity.

    Otherwise, I must say I think you truly do an amazing job with your ministry.
    I greatly enjoy RethinkingHell (and hope this will have an impact on the Church of Rom too) and like your philosophical defense of our faith.
    I particularly appreciated your humourous computation of the likelihood that Dr. Richard Carrier really exists.
    I reject Bayesianism when applied to philosophical questions because the probabilities seem to be nothing more than subjective brain states whose value cannot be connected to the real world.
    However I think it is possible to consider the frequentist probabilities of historical events, even though their actual computation might require extremely strong approximations and I’m going to develop this approach in the future.

    Given the extreme influence of Carrier, I regret the fact that there are so few Christian scholars out there who expose his dubious conception of probabilities.

    Since I am not a mathematician but a computational scientist not specialized in that area, I’d be be very glad if you could tell me if you know interesting (blog?) articles of people criticizing the mathematical methodology of Carrier.

    Lovely greetings in Christ.

  23. Wow Lotharson. For someone with so much respect for Paul you sure make him out as if he were a bit of a dingbat. He, not you, had several “culturally conditioned false beliefs”? He just couldn’t seem to figure out that homosexuality wasn’t really a sin or what role women should play in Church? Poor deluded Paul. It’s too bad you weren’t alive back then to show Paul the truth about the things of God. Maybe you could have taught him how to properly take scissors to his bible and get rid of all the things that made him feel sad.

    Oh, also, your argument about women being inferior at preaching is completely besides the point. It has nothing to do with anything as far as I can tell. What strawman are you debating?

    Dr. Glenn, brilliant article. Great stuff. 5 stars.

  24. Chris W

    Hi Glenn,

    This is an interesting article. A few points I would make in response:

    1) Quite often, when NT authors quote the Old Testament, they mention part of a verse in order to bring the entire surrounding passage to mind. For example, when Jesus was on the cross he exclaimed “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and in doing so he intended to bring to mind the whole of Psalm 22. Verse 24 of that psalm reads “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.” It is no coincidence that soon after Jesus spoke these words, God vindicated him by tearing the veil of the temple, shaking the earth and raising the dead, almost as if to say “I have heard you and have not forsaken you”.

    Likewise, when Paul alludes to man’s creation before woman in 1 Timothy 2, he is calling to mind the entire narrative of Genesis 2, one in which Adam is formed and given the special task of serving and keeping the garden prior to the creation of Eve. Since the garden is a special kind of sanctuary where God is present in a unique way, this gives the man a sort of authority over the woman in the unique sphere of ‘sanctuary keeping’. Paul is addressing a similar context in 1 Timothy 2, one which involves leadership and authority in the ‘sanctuary’ which in the New Covenant is the people of God.

    2) Another text which could be mentioned is 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul again alludes to Genesis 2 in a seemingly unusual way. The theology of image which Paul refers to can be better understood in the context of the entire penteteuch, one in which Israel is God’s image-bearing people (his son), a people which is being progressively glorified and exalted in order to become like the stars of heaven (think of Joseph’s dream, where his brothers are the stars of heaven, linking back to the promise given to Abraham). So as the “Glory” of man, woman represents man’s glorification, which is not fully accomplished prior to the resurrection (glorification of man), which is why she covers her head in worship. The man, on the other hand, is the image and glory of God, so he covers his head, since God the Son has been glorified in his resurrection. This is not to say that women are not made in the image and glory of God, only that as the special glory of man, they possess a unique vocation.

    3) There are many places where the NT authors refer to the Genesis narrative, treating it as historical narrative. For example, in Jesus’ teaching on divorce he refers to Adam and Eve as historical persons and in Paul’s discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he refers to Adam literally being formed from the dust of the ground. So I think a good case can be made for Genesis 2 as historical narrative.

    4) Taking Genesis 2 as historical narrative would not necessarily lead to a young earth view, since Genesis 1 could still be interpreted in a more ‘didactic’ fashion. I think this is reflected in Tim Keller’s approach. Of course you have the serpent to deal with in Genesis 3, but to me that is no more problematic than Balaam’s donkey talking back to him.

  25. Chris, when Jesus cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it is true that the saying was like a “doorway” to the Psalm as a whole. But the comparison to Paul’s explanation is very strained. For one, Jesus isn’t actually explaining anything – he is simply identifying with the forsaken person of Psalm 22, which opens up all the other things that are said about that person.

    If you’re right, then there was actually no significance in Adam being made first, but only in his more general role of the keeper of the garden. But to go back to your example of Jesus and Psalm 22: You were saying there that because Jesus identified with one particular feature of the Psalmist, we can therefore apply the other features as well, from the wider context of Psalm 22. If we use a similar method in 1 Corinthians, then Paul would be saying that because there’s a similarity between male/female relations in the church and male/female relations in the Garden – namely that men were made first – therefore we can draw connections in other ways, based on the wider context in Genesis, namely that men are the keepers of the sanctuary.

    But this can’t work that way, because there is no such comparison to make: Men in the church were not made first. I don’t see a parallel between the two examples (Jesus and Paul). Paul is calling out a particular feature of the creation story and attributing significance to it, telling the reader that because of that feature, some general truth follows. In fact I think he drives home the point twice by referring to two specific features in the Genesis story: Man was created first and woman sinned first, and therefore we should do XYZ in the church. Paul isn’t just saying that men or women in the church are broadly like Adam and Eve in their experiences, which is more like what Jesus was doing. he’s saying that we can learn something from the fact that Adam was made first.

    The theology of image which Paul refers to can be better understood in the context of the entire penteteuch, one in which Israel is God’s image-bearing people (his son), a people which is being progressively glorified and exalted in order to become like the stars of heaven (think of Joseph’s dream, where his brothers are the stars of heaven, linking back to the promise given to Abraham).

    You are getting that from “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” It does sound like a flight of fancy and certainly nothing in the text of 1 Corinthians 11 suggests this. Are you aware of any commentators who make this argument? And the comparison is a faint one in any event, since Paul doesn’t actually pinpoint a biblical passage or event, as he does in 1 Corinthians when speaking of the order of the creation of men and women.

    Regarding point 3), you say that there are passages in which NT authors took the account literally. But each of your examples seems to not show this. Yes, Jesus referred to Adam and Eve, but you say ” he refers to Adam and Eve as historical persons,” which obviously begs the question. In fact if the creation account serves only the didactic role that I am suggesting, then Jesus’ use of it makes perfect sense: The message is that man and woman were meant for each other to become one flesh. And yes, Paul refers to Adam, but then you add in your own claim, saying that “he refers to Adam literally being formed from the dust of the ground.” Literally? Well, in the story yes, he was literally formed from the dust, but that hardly makes the story literal history. To use a trivial example: When I tell the story of the three little pigs, I describe a wolf literally blowing a house down. But that doesn’t mean I think the story is history. If the creation story serves only a didactic role, then yes, man is made from the dust. He is physical, mortal, part of creation.

    In other words, just showing that people in the NT used the creation story for a didactic purpose (as you correctly note that they do) does not tell us whether they regarded it as literal history or as didactic revelation.

    4) See, you’re prepared to take Genesis 1 as didactic and not literal. Imagine if I said that this is impossible, because when God gave the ten commandments he said that God made the earth in seven days, proving that he meant it as literal history? Incidentally, I think the serpent and Balaam’s ass are quite different. In the creation story, the serpent is simply able to speak and deceive people because he is “more crafty” than the other animals. But in the story of Balaam’s ass it was a divine miracle: “the Lord opened the mouth of the ass” (Numbers 22:28).

  26. Chris w


    Imagine if Eve had been formed first. In that scenario, she would have been appointed as sanctuary-keeper and Adam would have been formed from her. So the significance of Adam being formed first can only be grasped by seeing what that entail in practice in the Genesis narrative.

    Regarding the second supporting statement in 1 Tim 2, that the woman was deceived, this occurred because Adam failed to do his job of ‘keeping’ the garden. Paul is reminding his audience that the man was the Primary sanctuary-keeper and that things go wrong when we fail to follow God in this.

    Regarding 1 Corinthians 11, we need to understand what the terms ‘image’ and ‘glory’ mean in a biblical context if we are to understand Paul’s argument. I think Jim Jordan makes some similar points in his reading of 1 cor 11. In the Corinthians passage, Paul uses a different argument, namely that the woman ‘came from’ the man. This better fits the context, since ‘glory’ sometimes means ‘shining out from’ something in the bible. Woman comes from man, therefore she is man’s glory.

    Regarding the ‘dust of the ground’ stuff, there are many passages which teach that we are dust, alluding to the creation story. You make much of these sorts of passages in your defence of physicalism, and rightly so. Your account of Genesis 2 would regard Adam’s formation from dust as merely part of a story designed to make a didacticall point, yet the biblical writers see great significance in the fact that Adam was formed from dust, and declare that we are all dust on this basis!

    Regarding the fourth point, I personally take a six day creationist view, I am merely raising the possibility that one’s could take gen 2 as a historical account and not genesis 1. I think it would be possible to maintain that the snake was more crafty before the fall than after. The fact that the snake lost this craftiness in the fall would be a powerful testimony to the danger of sin, the serpent being forced to crawl in the dust and be hunted by humans.

    One question I would pose to you is, if gen 2 is merely didactic, then what do you make of Paul’s argument about Adam and Christ in Romans 5? Would you still regard Adam as a historical person?

  27. Chris W

    Another question: If Genesis 2-3 are merely didactic, then what stops us from extending this to the rest of Genesis, and perhaps even the Pentateuch as a whole? Since there is no natural break in the text between Genesis 3 and 4, or between Genesis 11 and 12 (or anywhere else in Genesis, as far as I can see), on what basis would you make such a division between ‘didactic’ portions and ‘historical’ ones, such that an original reader of Genesis could tell the difference between the two styles?

  28. Chris, just to pick up on your thought about the “dust”: Yes I did talk about man being made from the dust in that blog, but notice how I added that we’re not literally made of dust. We’re not. I tried to explain why the imagery is appropriate as a didactic tool, presenting human beings as frail and mortal, fashioned from natural elements.

    As for the last comment – that invites some controversy. 🙂 I don’t think there’s an obvious rule that there needs to be some sort of clear, announced break from or didactic writing into a more historical approach. It all serves a teaching role, after all. it might be preferable to some of us that things are much more obvious, but little follows from that. For what it’s worth however, I see a much more natural move from Genesis 11 to 12 than you appear to, but offering any sort of remotely satisfying treatment of an issue so large should never be attempted in a comment thread, obviously. But that’s the best candidate for a move into “history” that I can see.

  29. Chris w

    I see what you mean about the ‘dust’ thing, but I’m struggling to see how a Jew under the old covenant would have come to the conclusion that you do. As for the transition between Gen 11 and 12, well, I think that’s where Wenham would insert a break as well, he refers to everything prior to Abraham as ‘proto-history’, or something like that. My issue with that would be that the ‘these are the begettings of’ pattern occurs both before and after that point, and also that there are historical genealogies.

    But it’s been good to discuss the issues. I hope you can see now that there are ways of interpreting those new testament texts which is consistent with a historical interpretation of gen 2-3. Even if you are not personally convinced that they are correct!

    Ps. Looking forward to your next post on physicalism. The last one was a great summary of the biblical teaching.

  30. Well, there are always ways – I always saw that. Whether or not they are plausible ways is the issue. 🙂

  31. RossN

    A plain reading of scripture (OT and NT) leads one to a YEC position. The only(?) reason that modernists are searching for alternative ways of reading the text, is that they assume that scientists have more or less proved an ‘old earth’. If this was true, I could see the appeal of trying to “have your cake and eat it too”.

    Scientists however are often not objective and have to tow the ‘party line’, unfortunately.

    There are plenty of reasons, apart from the scriptures, to believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Here are 101 reasons for starters

  32. “Scientists however are often not objective and have to tow the ‘party line’, unfortunately.”

    Ross, I don’t share you view in the above comment, but this caught my eye. Are you suggesting that unless a person is totally objective or disinterested, we should doubt or reject what they say?

  33. sayre

    Hi Glenn,

    As you know – I’m a great fan! Without making this awkward, I feel like you’ve given me permission to think and honestly “work out your salvation” in a way I did not feel I had permission to before. Back on topic…

    I do agree with you that Paul (and indeed, Jesus, and other NT writers) seem to be making didactic points when they reference the earlier chapters of Genesis. Probably also when they reference Jonah. I do keep myself a little guarded that we don’t just slap a label “didactic” on anything we don’t think is literal.

    So with that in mind – is there any way to know you are right in the way you differentiate between didactic, literal, literal-didactic, or “other” genres of literature?

    Being soaked in the western culture, it took me decades before I realised that face value literalism was not the default hermeneutic to be applied to scripture, and perhaps it wasn’t back in Jesus day either. I’d like like a little test to know that when I reach a conclusion that the writers is making a didactic point – that I’m not too far off base.

    God bless, chin up, and keep going.

  34. Sayre, I wish there was an easy method! Basically you’ve just got to settle on the view that, as best you can tell, makes best sense of all the data available to you – so it’s an inductive process. In this case for example, that would include scientific data, data from the history of biblical interpretation, data about what, as best you can tell, is a plausible understanding of what purpose a passage would be serving if it’s not intended as literal history, New Testament data (e.g. how is Paul using this text in his own context? Does it make sense? I have argued that one particular method of reading Paul really doesn’t make sense of what he is doing).

    Is there a way to know with certainty that the view you arrive at is correct? Probably not, but even a view that isn’t certain can be a lot more plausible than the alternatives. 🙂

    And thanks!

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