Creation Ordered Maternally? John H. Yoder Thinks So!

John C. Nugent, in The Politics of Yahweh:  John Howard Yoder, the Old Testament, and the People of God, (26-29) summarizes Yoder's fascinating argument for God's maternal ordering of the world at creation and the Fall impacted this ordering.  What do you think? 

Adam, Eve, and the Fall of Leadership

Yoder's convictions about the social implications of the Fall are illustrated in two works in which he explores the dramatic change it brought in the relationship between men and women. In these essays' Yoder explores the possibility that primeval society was meant to be structured matriarchally.  This means that women were supposed to be in charge and that being in charge entails serving those in your care not
lording it over them. Before sin's dominance, as after sins demise, leadership involved looking out for the best interests of others and giving your life for them, like Christ leads the church. Yoder's case for this vision involves innovative exegesis of both Genesis 1-3 and 1 Timothy 2.

According to Genesis, the woman was made in a special creative act that filled a gap in the original creation, thereby crowning it. The man could not live without the woman and learned to relate to her in
a unique dependency. It was the man who was called to leave his family and build his life around his wife (2:24). The woman's prominence was supported by the fact that Edenic culture depended upon what
ancient Israelites would have recognized as women's work (gardening and gathering) and not men's work (hunting and fighting). The man's superior physical strength would have,given him little leadership ad-
vantage in a peaceful world, whereas the woman's superior nurturing ability would have bolstered her credentials. Moreover, the sought after characteristics for leaders in the new creation made possible by
Christ - gentle, hospitable, prudent, temperate, devout, continent, and servant-like - are more characteristic of women than men. So when the serpent approached the woman, it was not because she was physically or intellectually weaker, but because she was easily recognized as the decision-maker. As the temptation played out, the man simply ate what the woman set before him without questioning or resisting (3:6).  The divinely announced consequences of the Fall in Genesis 3 support Yoder's case. Throughout the Fall's consequences, one sees a reversal of things as they were in the prelapsarian state: the highest of animals is demoted to the lowest, the joy of birth is eclipsed by the pain of labor and the shadow of death, the master of creation is effectively its slave, and the ground that gave life is now the turf that receives death. It is thus a fitting reversal that matriarchal servant leadership gives way to
patriarchal domineering lordship.

It is to be expected, then, that when Christ came to reverse that relersal, domination would be denounced and women would be uplifted, which leads to the final component of Yoder's case. A cursory reading
of 1 Tim 2:11-15 leads one to believe that even after Christ, women had no business leading over men, but that is not how Yoder reads it. Yoder assumes what is commonplace among New Testament scholars today:  that verse 12 constitutes evidence that women in Ephesus were usurping authority and domineering over men in the church. Such worldly behavior was inappropriate for both men and women and appears to have been a problem for both. Yoder also offers an explanation as to why first-century Christian women would have behaved this way. He argues that some women whose lives had been transformed by the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ were misusing their newfound freedom in ways that were bad for them, their congregations,and the church's witness. Before Christ, their place was silence and acquiescence in public assemblies; after Christ they began clumsily exploring the boundar-
ies of their newly acquired dignity to speak out in public and exercise genuine influence on the community's direction. With little experience and training in spirit-led group discernment, some women defaulted to certain male leaders.

Paul's answer to this problem was not to reverse the liberating gospel of Christ, but to remind these women that domination does not come from Christ but has its origins in the Fall. He recounts Eve's transgression (vv.13-14) in order to warn them that they must not exercise the social restoration that Christ won for them by aping domineering leadership that is born of sin. Rather than transcendingbthe Curse of Eve, the reverse domination they were pursuing only reflected its mirror image. Paul spares them this fruitless detour by suggesting that their lost leadersh1p is best restored. albeit only partially, through childbearing (v.15). When women bring children into this world, even male children, they are given the opportunity to rule like Christ by serving the best interests of those children who are placed in their charge. According to Yoder, such maternal leadership was no downgrade from a first-century perspective, but up-ward movement toward the way of Christ.  Paul's pastoral critique of female domineering in 1 Timothy should not therefore be considered a putdown, for the domineering to which
they were drawn does not restore what women lost the way that loving motherhood does.

In part two, we return to evaluate this provocative reading, but for now it is important to note how deeply the Fall had impacted both the relationship between males and females and the specific form that
leadership takes in a fallen world. Not only did womankind fall into subservience, but leadership itself fell into dominance. This same Fall negatively impacts the leadership that humans exercise over the nonhuman order.


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