Concept: In her essay, Rev. Lindsay Armstrong points out that the church has been responsible for perpetuating sexism through its teaching and theology. In this lesson, participants will explore an alternative reading of a well-known Biblical narrative in order to experience Armstrong’s claim.
Setting: This lesson is intended for an adult small group or education class.
Time: The lesson is intended for a 60 minute session, but may be adjusted to meet your needs.
Objectives: At the end of the lesson, the participant will:
Preparation: All participants should have read both Armstrong and Trible’s essays prior to the session.
Materials: Copies of Armstrong’s essay, copies of the excerpt of Phyllis Trible’s “Eve and Adam: Genesis 2-3 Reread,” pens/pencils, paper, Bibles, whiteboard and dry-erase marker
Opening: Greet participants as they enter. Ask the participants to remember the story of Adam and Eve. Have someone recite the story from memory. Ask the participants to remember what they have been told this story means. Write their answers on the white board.
Presenting: In Armstrong’s essay, she lists poor Biblical exegesis and theology as a main factor in opposition to women’s leadership in the church, and cites the story as Adam and Eve as a prime example of the misuse of scripture. Have a volunteer read Genesis 2:7-3:24. Ask a participant to summarize the main points of Trible’s essay.
Exploring: Divide the participants into groups of 4 or 5 and ask them to answer the following questions:
Responding: Ask the participants to return to the large group and look again at the comments they made at the beginning of the session. What changes would they make? Armstrong proposes that the current obstacles to women’s leadership in the church can be traced to our understanding of Scripture. Ask the participants to imagine that Trible’s essay were the dominant interpretation of Genesis 2-3 in their church. In what ways would the church be different?
Closing: Invite the participants to share prayer requests with one another. (If you have a large group, ask the participants to divide into smaller groups). You may either decide to pray for the group or ask the participants to pray in their small groups. Close by praying the Lord’s Prayer together. Distribute copies of the essay by Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, or arrange to have it sent to participants electronically.
On the whole, the Women’s Liberation Movement is hostile to the Bible, even as it claims that the Bible is hostile to women. The Yahwist account of creation and fall in Genesis 2-3 provides a strong proof text for that claim. Accepting centuries of (male) exegesis, many feminists interpret this story as legitimating male supremacy and female subordination. They read to reject. My suggestion is that we reread to understand and to appropriate.
Ambiguity characterizes the meaning of ‘adham in Genesis 2-3. On the one hand, man is the first creature formed (2:7). The Lord God puts him in the garden “to till it and keep it,” a job identified with the male (cf. 3:17-19). On the other hand, ‘adham is a generic term for humankind. In commanding ‘adham not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Deity is speaking to both the man and the woman (2:16-17). Until the differentiation of female and male (2:21-23), ‘ adham is basically androgynous: one creature incorporating two sexes.
Concern for sexuality, specifically for the creation of woman, comes last in the story, after the making of the garden, the trees, and the animals. Some commentators allege female subordination based on this order of events. They contrast it with Genesis 1-27 where God creates ‘adham as male and female in one act. Thereby they infer that whereas the Priests recognized the equality of the sexes, the Yahwist made woman a second, subordinate, inferior sex. But the last may be first, as both the biblical theologian and the literary critic know. Thus the Yahwist account moves to its climax, not its decline, in the creation of woman. She is not an afterthought; she is the culmination. Genesis 1 itself supports this interpretation, for there male and female are indeed the last and truly the crown of all creatures. The last is also first where beginnings and endings are parallel. In Hebrew literature the central concerns of a unit often appear at the beginning and the end as an inclusio device. Genesis 2 evinces this structure. The creation of man first and of woman last constitutes a ring composition whereby the two creatures are parallel. In no way does the order disparage woman. Content and context augment this reading.