Representation In The Writings Of Paul: Part Three

[Note: The previous parts of this series may be found here and here.]

Having examined, at least briefly, the way that Paul uses representation when it comes to matters of ethnicity and political identity, it is worthwhile to ponder the complicated uses that Paul uses when looking at representation as it relates to the story of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. From the single story of the temptation and fall of mankind, Paul makes a variety of points that simultaneously deal with the relationship between men and women and also the way that the church relates to Jesus Christ. The lack of understanding of what Paul is discussing with regards to this idea of representation have led these verses both to being misused as being especially targeted against women (when the reality is far more interesting) as well as being neglected as a sign of Paul’s supposed misogyny and thus viewed as being irrelevant to contemporary and supposedly more enlightened times. In order to set the context of what Paul has to say regarding the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it is worthwhile to place before our eyes the relevant passage in Genesis 3:1-24: “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall [f]bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

It is not our point today to discuss this passage in the immense detail that it deserves, but it greatly helps our ability to understand the various uses that Paul made of this chapter of the Bible throughout his writings if we keep Genesis 3 in our attention. After all, when Paul makes symbolic use of the events of this chapter, in order to understand what Paul means by using these symbols, we need to understand the original story to begin with. Genesis 3 seems to have played an important role not only in the symbolism of Adam and Eve, about which we will focus our attention here, but it also appeared to have informed his views on a great many subjects besides the relationship between men and women as well as between the church and Jesus Christ. Since those relationships are our main focus, it is worth mentioning only briefly that a remez of Genesis 3 appears to be behind one of Paul’s harsh statements about labor, in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.  For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.  Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.” Here we see a deliberate pointing back to the curse that was placed on the ground that made Adam’s life, and the life of every man who followed after him, more difficult than it had originally been intended by God. Because of Adam’s sin, Adam being representative of mankind as a whole and men specifically as a sex, it was the responsibility of men to labor and eat their bread by the sweat of their brow, through honest and often toilsome labor. Paul sought to set an example that men should not be freeloaders but had the responsibility to work, and so he clearly points to the obligation that Christians have in being hardworking and orderly people by referring back to the fact that we all live under a curse in a world that is full of the effects of sin. This reality that we live with the repercussions of the sins of our original ancestors who represented all future generations of humanity in the Garden of Eden and did a bad job of it is at the basis of how Paul uses Genesis 3 to discuss the relationship between the sexes as well as the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church whom he sacrificed His life for and purchased from slavery to sin through His own body and blood. Representation is at the basis of Paul’s understanding and use of Genesis 3 throughout his writings.

The most contentious of these uses of the story of Adam and Eve in his writings is, without a doubt, 2 Timothy 2:11, which tells women to learn in silence with all submission, with the following verse and its prohibition on women teaching or having authority over men in the church. In order to understand what Paul was getting at, it is worthwhile to quote the entirety of 2 Timothy 2: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.  Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.  Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” When we look at the entirety of 2 Timothy, we may see that the discussion of the authority of men and women within the Church and within marriage are related to general issues of authority and order. The goal of Christians is to live lives of peace and quite in all godliness and reverence. This requires that we not live our lives in noisy and anarchical rebellion against authorities on earth and in heaven. This is admittedly a difficult challenge in the present day and age, but it has always been a challenge, as Paul’s words indicate. Let us not forget that the king for whom Paul asked the brethren of the time to pray for and give thanks for was the wicked and corrupt Nero, who would later put Paul and many other early Christians to death and may have even started to actively persecute believers with imprisonment and gruesome death as this passage was being written and sent to believers. Paul was commanding an attitude on the part of believers of longsuffering and patient reverence for wicked and corrupt and abusive authorities far beyond the experience of virtually any contemporary believers, especially those of us who live in constitutional regimes. In that light, it is instructive that Paul here continues what he did in 2 Thessalonians by pointing out that the authority of men over women in the church and in marriage was a matter of God’s design (for Adam was created first) as well as the results of Eve being deceived, for we see Satan’s attempt to influence mankind by disrupting the proper authority that husbands are to have in their households when he approached Eve first rather than Adam. The threat of that anarchy, which we see the results of contemporary society, could only be dealt with by affirming the vital importance of believers in respecting and revering proper authorities in the home, church, and society at large.

We should note, though, that Paul’s use of Genesis 3 was about far more than simply men and women and their relationship with each other. Having already alluded to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for believers and the way that women enduring the suffering of childbirth in obedience of the command for mankind to be fruitful and multiply allowed for salvation to enter the world through the birth of Jesus Christ to the (presumably young) virgin Mary, it is worthwhile to note that Paul does not view only women as having a special propensity to be deceived, as one might be led to believe by looking only at 2 Timothy 3. When Paul again addresses the issue of Eve serving as a representative in 2 Corinthians 11:1-4: “Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me.  For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.  But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” It is familiar for us to think of the Church as the Bride of Christ, having read the gorgeous account of John in Revelation 16 as well as the sayings of Jesus Christ regarding the issue in the Gospels. Yet Paul deepens this metaphor by viewing the Church as a second Eve, being betrothed to one Man (namely Jesus Christ), but being mortal and subject to being deceived by the trickery and the wiles of the Devil, who had been successful in deceiving Eve in the beginning. While Eve was a representative of women in the church as well as in marriage, the entire church was in the role of Eve with regards to Jesus Christ. Paul had already spoken to the Corinthians about Christ’s relationship to Adam as a second Adam bringing life to humanity instead of death in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22: “ For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. ” He had similarly told the Romans in Romans 5:12-14: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” By explicitly pointing to Adam as a type and forerunner of Jesus Christ, and to the contrary behavior of Jesus Christ as one who gave life (instead of death) and who sacrificed Himself for the Church (instead of trying to pass off the blame to the woman as Adam did in the garden), Paul also draws upon the same relationship between Eve and the Church as a whole. The first woman, Eve, is symbolic of all women when one is looking at authority within the family or the church, but of all mankind when one looks at the relationship between believers and Jesus Christ.

The result of this complex representation is nonetheless straightforward enough. We learn spiritual realities through physical analogies. We are all subject to the authority of God and Jesus Christ, and always will be. Even if we are granted eternal life and entrance into the Kingdom of God as kings and priests, we will never cease to be subject to them. There is no universe where we will be the ultimate authorities. Only those who obey God and follow His ways and develop His character and revere and honor Him will enter into His Kingdom. No rebels will be allowed there. Where is it that we learn to respect authority? We learn it as human beings in the relationships that we have as human beings, where some people represent God to other people. This matter is discussed in more detail in the various household codes that draw specific spiritual insights from these human relationships. As this matter has already been discussed elsewhere, I do not intend to copy that lengthy discussion here. It is worth quoting Ephesians 5:22-33, which reads: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Paul explicitly points out that every marriage between believing men and women is to mirror the relationship that Jesus Christ has with the Church as a whole, men as well as women. Women are to submit to their husbands, honor them, respect their authority, be subject to them (another nod to Genesis 3). Similarly, men are to sanctify and cleanse their wives, sacrificing themselves for the well being of their wives, loving them just as faithfully and ardently as Jesus Christ loved the Church. Both responsibilities are intensely challenging and neither one is done particularly well in the contemporary age. Nonetheless, this relationship between men and women is not the archaic and obsolete misogyny of Paul against women but rather a mirror of an eternal spiritual reality in which we as part of the Church will always be subject to and submitting ourselves to the authority of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our rebellion to godly order in the family and in the church mirrors our society’s overall rebellion against the authority of God and Jesus Christ in our lives and conduct. In order to live as God commands, peaceably and decently, we must honor and submit to authority both in the home and in the outside world at large, and both physically and spiritually. Similarly, if we wish to be authorities whom God will commend and not condemn, we must demonstrate the self-sacrificial love and concern that God and Jesus Christ do with regards to humanity and the Church as a whole and also recognize that we are to God what those we are in authority over are to us, and we cannot expect God to be merciful to use if we have been harsh to others, just like we cannot expect God to make us authorities over others if we have been rebellious against those whom God has placed over us. The physical is always a representative of a higher eternal and spiritual truth in Paul’s writings, and ought to be so in our lives as well.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, E Pluribus Unim, History, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Representation In The Writings Of Paul: Part Three

  1. Pingback: Representation In The Writings of Paul: Part Four | Edge Induced Cohesion

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