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Viewpoint: Headship of Adam or Headship of One (Adam + Eve)?


The “headship principle” has been much discussed as the Adventist Church considers the ordination of women. In a 76-page paper for TOSC titled Evaluation of the Arguments Used by Those Opposing the Ordination of Women to the Ministry, Dr. Angel Rodriguez considers methodology and hermeneutics as he carefully goes through all the arguments from the creation to the New Testament to passages from Ellen G. White. First he discusses Genesis, saying, in part:

We search in vain for clear evidence in favor of a pre-fall headship in Genesis 1-3. We could not find it. Although our friends firmly believe that it is there, they are in fact unintentionally importing it into the text from their reading and interpretation of other biblical texts. This reflects a serious weakness in their argument and hermeneutics. In the kingdom of God leadership, or if you prefer “headship,” is based on loving and disinterested service to others and not, for instance, on being created first. The suggestion of a pre-fall headship of Adam over Eve creates more theological and doctrinal problems than it seeks to solve and is incompatible with the law of love and service that rules the cosmic kingdom of God.

In sections examining the New Testament, Rodriquez looks in detail at the primary texts used to support headship, including verses in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians 11:2-17 “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” and 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 which deals with “disruptive speech by both men and women in church” and the verse that forbids women from speaking in church. He demonstrates how the context of of the passages, among other things, show that they are not really about headship.

Sakae Kubo calls Rodriquez’s paper a “complete and comprehensive refutation of the headship theory.” He says that everyone interested in a full discussion of this topic should read the paper.

Here we present Sakae Kubo’s examination of the headship principle and arguments against it.

In the recently concluded Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), those opposing the ordination of women leaned heavily upon the headship argument. The headship argument maintains that God granted headship of Adam over Eve at creation. That this was done at creation before sin entered the world is a very important point for proponents of this argument. They want to maintain that headship was given to Adam before sin entered into the world and therefore is not like slavery or circumcision, which could be supplanted. In other words, because it was instituted before sin entered into the world, it is an eternal principle that can never be changed.

This means that the headship principle must still be in effect today. Applying this to the matter of women’s ordination means that women cannot be ordained because man still holds the headship role. Women being ordained and holding the office of pastor would mean that women would have a headship role in churches. Thus if the headship principle still holds we cannot ordain women today.

There are several serious problems with the headship principle.

1.The first and most important is that we do not have a clear statement that Adam was given headship over Eve at creation.

If God clearly instituted a male headship principle at creation, we would expect to find it clearly stated in Genesis. However, the fact that there is no discussion at all regarding this matter indicates that it is not made clear and is, therefore, questionable.

What we find clearly stated in Genesis is the following: a. God created both male and female in his image (Gen 1:27).  b.  God gave headship (dominion) to man and woman over the creatures of the earth (Gen 1:28). c. In the second account of creation (Gen 2:1-25), man is created incomplete needing a helper as a partner (Gen 2:20-23).  d. Having found a helper as a partner, they become one flesh (Gen 2:21).

That is all we find stated in Genesis.  Nothing is stated — or even hinted at — concerning the headship of Adam over Eve. It seems to me that the claim that the headship principle was instituted at creation cannot be maintained. 

So how do those who argue it find support for their position? Since it is not clearly stated, they infer it. It seems to me that their conclusion results not from their inference, but their inference comes about because of their conclusion. In other words, because they believe in the headship theory, they make the inference to support it.  

One inference is that Adam is in the position of headship because he was created first (Paul had to infer this also since there was no clear statement of headship he could refer to.)  However, the animals were created before Adam and yet Adam is given dominion over them. Thus priority in creation does not imply headship. Besides, though created first, he was imperfect until his helper-partner was created.  

Let me quote from their summary regarding their inferences and see how unconvincing they all are:  “Male headship in Genesis 2-3 may be briefly summarized and confirmed by Adam’s priority associated with: 1) Creation and Establishment in the Garden, 2)  The Forbidden Tree Test, 3)  Communication, 4)  Naming, 5) Marriage 6) Nakedness, 7) Apprehension 8)  Indictment and Interrogation,9)  Accountability (heeding his wife), and 10) Death Sentence — Romans 5:12, and 11) Expulsion from Garden.”  

Male headship is based on all of these inferences.  All of these inferences would be unnecessary if there was one clear statement of headship. On the contrary, it is because there is no clear statement that all of these questionable inferences have been developed.

2. Clear support for headship supporters comes from Paul instead of Genesis; Paul refers to Genesis and supports his contention also by inference.

If the claim is to be sustained that headship was established at creation, then we should find our support for this claim clearly in Genesis. However, much of the support for their position is found in Paul. 

We must be very careful how we use Paul, since we would not use Paul to support slavery or certain practices. For example, regarding the qualifications of church offices, he says that an elder must “not be a drunkard.” And with regard to a deacon, that he should not be a person “indulging in much wine.”  Today we would say that he should not indulge in any wine.  

Or regarding slavery: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything,. . .” (Col. 3:22).  

Or on veils: “but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled  disgraces her head — is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil” (1 Cor 11:5-6). 

Or on women’s participation in church:  “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for  a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor 14:34-35).  

In these matters Paul was a man of his time, as was Abraham when he took Hagar to have a child, David when he was a polygamist, and Philemon when he had a slave. At the time of Paul we know that women were in a very subordinate position, and Paul’s comments reflect this. Therefore, we should not use Paul to support the role of women today.   

But the headship supporters quote from Paul, especially I Timothy 2:11-14:  “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”  

If there were a clear-cut headship principle stated in Genesis, Paul would have quoted it here to support his contention.  But he does not quote a Genesis text; he instead does the same thing headship proponents do — he infers.    

Paul’s point here is to show the inferiority of women to men. He has done what any normal person would do. However, we have already shown the fallacy of using the priority of creation as a point of superiority. And in regard to the second point, it seems that Adam’s sin was greater because he was not deceived but he knowingly sinned.  At any rate we should discount Paul’s support in this matter because he was a man of his times regarding the subordination of women, and we should note that he does not quote a Genesis text but infers inferiority..

3. If the headship principle was already in force at creation why was it repeated when sin came in?

The proponents of the headship theory consider it very important that headship was granted at creation.  They recognize that headship was granted when sin came in but they want to establish its beginning at creation. 

However, if male headship was already in force, it is difficult to explain why it should be repeated again as a result of the entrance of sin.  There would be no need to mention this since it would be all the more needed at this time. It is very strange that it should be mentioned at this point, and it seems to me it is a real problem for those who maintain that it was already established at creation.  What headship proponents should note is that here the headship principle is clearly enunciated.  If it was established before sin entered, why was it not  stated as clearly there?

4.  Headship limited to males is too arbitrary since it requires leadership qualities.

There are several other problems with the headship principle. First, headship requires leadership qualities and such qualities are not necessarily limited to males. Thus, it seems quite arbitrary that headship should be limited to males. Although in male-dominated societies, it still would be difficult for a woman to take a leadership role, instances do arise when a woman’s leadership becomes necessary. 

During the time of David, we have the story of Nabal and Abigail in 1 Sam 25. Abigail is described as an intelligent woman and Nabal as surly and mean.   David and his men had protected Nabal’s flocks and had asked for some recompense. Nabal rudely refused but one of his men told Abigail what had happened; she immediately gathered a great amount of food, bread, wine sheep, raisins, and figs to give to David and his men.  She approached David and apologized for her husband, describing him as wicked and foolish,  and warned him not to avenge but to let the Lord take care of the matter.  Clearly Nabal had the headship legally, but Abigail in fact had the real headship qualities.  In this case headship was only a formal affair; the real headship belonged to Abigail as is evident by her actions.

We also have the example of Deborah. 

In our time we have the example of Ellen White.

5. Headship based on leadership qualities is difficult to maintain as an eternal principle since great changes invariably take place in societies.

It is claimed that headship is an eternal principle and valid for every time and place, but it becomes a difficult principle to maintain when society undergoes changes such as we see taking place today. Since male headship is such an arbitrary thing, it is very difficult to maintain when the development of women in various types of skills such as leadership, financial management, academic achievement, and professional capabilities have taken place.  In other words, headship qualities are no longer the sole property of the male sex. Today in Western societies we find women in all positions of leadership. And in the home, headship takes on various forms. It is what I would call the headship of one: by having become one, a couple together takes the headship position. They share it by having the person with a strength in a particular area take the headship in that area — there is no one head but a sharing of headship according to abilities.

6. The Adventist church with the woman prophet goes against the male headship principle.

In the Adventist church male headship would be a real problem if we truly enforced it since we have a woman as a prophet who was as God’s spokesperson more authoritative than the General  Conference president.  The headship principle cannot be strictly maintained in such a case.

 7. There is no clear statement regarding the application of the headship theory if valid to other areas besides the home

Assuming that the headship principle is valid, there is no clear statement that this headship principle can be applied across the board even in a church situation. It would clearly apply if valid to the home situation but nothing is said about its validity in regards to church or other types of positions, such as education, politics, business, professions, etc.  Again we have to infer this.  

8. Jesus was more interested in service than in headship and authority.

Jesus obviously was not interested in a position of authority, or headship, considering it a secular concern; he wanted us to concern ourselves with service (Mk 10:41-45). In this respect, headship is gained not by arbitrary appointment but by willing service. He said that those who are concerned about headship are like the Gentiles. Jesus said: “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be a slave of all. for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45). 

Unfortunately in the discussion of headship by its proponents the emphasis has been upon authority and power, characteristics Jesus said were of the Gentiles (non-Christians), rather than on humility and service.

Sakae Kubo, in his long career beginning in the 1940s, taught at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University, served as Dean of the School of Theology at Walla Walla University, as President of Newbold College, and as Vice-President and Academic Dean at Atlantic Union College.

Image: Detail from Domenico Zampieri’s Dieu réprimandant Adam et Ève.

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