ESSAY
John MacArthur, Like Adam, Blames the Woman (Part 1)
POSTED
January 14, 2020

The evangelical community is caught in a controversy between one of its most influential members, pastor John MacArthur, and one of its rising stars, Beth Moore. For those who haven’t been following this fight, here’s the summary:

Beth Moore is a well-known public teacher and author on the Bible. MacArthur, who is firmly within the conservative wing of evangelical Christianity, was at a panel where he was asked to give two-word summaries of his views on various subjects. The interviewer asked him about Beth Moore, and his two-word summary was “Go home,” which was met with laughter and applause from the audience. He went on to say “there is no case that can be made Biblically for a woman preacher. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion.”

Whenever controversies between Christians arise, our default response should be to go back to Scripture. Rather than arguing endlessly over whatever dialect flashpoints we might find ourselves stuck in, we should consult the one certainty: the direct word of God. To his credit, MacArthur later clarified his criticism of Beth Moore on the basis of Genesis – unfortunately, his interpretation is highly dubious.


“What happened was, Eve got out from under the protection of Adam. She was vulnerable; she was deceived. Adam was not deceived, he basically ate willingly. Why? She sinned because she was deceived by Satan; he sinned because he couldn’t live without her. You understand that? She had become everything to him. And when the roles are reversed, the women are deceived, bad things happen; the men are made weak, worse things happen [… ] Adam was not deceived, Eve was deceived.

A rigorous study of the details in the creation of man and woman, and their eventual temptation and Fall, shows the error in pastor MacArthur’s thinking. Particularly, the way he has interpreted the relative sins of both Adam and Eve is refuted by a careful study of Genesis in its original language. Adam’s sin was not that he “couldn’t live without Eve,” it was that he failed in his primary duty, which was to guard her. That really downplays the sin of Adam.  If we look at the serpent's work in this context as the temptation of the bride brings out dimensions which are not clear when the context of the prior passage is ignored. The man and the woman were to cleave together, and the first thing that the serpent does after Adam lets it into the garden is to un-cleave them, isolate the bride, break up the team, and “put asunder what God has joined.” This is done through testing the bond between husband and wife. 

To understand the full extent of the Fall, and the relative culpability of Adam and Eve, we need to look first at the creation of woman. The declaration of Yahweh before the making of the woman is the only time in the creation account in which the state of affairs is declared to be lōʾ-ṭôḇ, “not good.”  There is a mostly consistent pattern in the acts of creation in which “God saw that it was good.” The text breaks this pattern two times. God declares the works of all the other days to be good, and He declares the work at the end of the sixth day to be ṭôḇ meʾōḏ, “very good.” 

The first exception to the pattern of declaring things good is on day two, the dividing or separating of the waters above from the waters below by the firmament. God does not declare this separation to be “good.” The second exception is the declaration before the creation of the woman that something is “not good.” But how can this be? How can something God made be declared not good? And what is it about the creation of the firmament and the creation of the woman that they have in common which denies them the judgment “good”? 

The answer is that both the not-declared-“good” of the second day and the declared-“not good” of the sixth day involve a separation. These paragraphs parallel one another in that neither situation is adjudged to be good and, in both situations, a bāḏal is present. Heaven is bāḏal'ed from earth. Woman, when she will be created, will be bāḏal'ed from Man. This makes the elements in the paragraph parallel as well: heaven parallel to Adam; earth parallel to his bride.

How is it that this idea that it is not good for the man to be “alone” or divided fit into the larger pericope?

The usual way the creation of woman and its association with the naming of the animals is flows something like this: Adam is alone. God doesn't want him to be alone. God shows Adam animals. Adam sees that animals come in pairs. He sees that he is missing a mate. God creates the mate and Adam is no longer alone. 

But there is much more going on. One of our most important clues is that before the creation of woman, every time God sets a division in the world, He names the things which result from the division. The names are tied up with division: This entity is allowed here; that entity is not allowed here. This entity is called “darkness,” and it has a place named “night”; this other one is called “light” and it has a different place called “day.” This one is called “sky,” and this one is called “land”; I (Elohim) have posted a guard to keep them apart and I've announced their names to my council and to the guards, with the instructions to keep the borders intact.

When one sets a guard, whose job is to let some things in and keep other things out, naming is part of the process.

The interpretation suggested by that clue is that Adam's duty to guard, šāmar, the garden has to do with priestly functions and ritual separations. But guard it from what? God gives Adam the job of guarding the garden, but when and how did God tell Adam what is allowed to enter and what is not? It would not be fair to tell Adam to guard the garden, and to hold him accountable should he fail, without telling Adam what or who is “on the list.” We have no verbal instruction from God recorded in the text.

Now, of course, the text doesn't need to tell us everything. But if it is a good text and “profitable for teaching,” (2 Tim. 3:16 NASB) it must at least tell us enough to make sense. The story of creating a guard makes no sense without something to guard against, which means that somehow God did tell Adam what to guard the garden against in order to fulfill his priestly responsibilities. So, then, how exactly did a just God justly tell Adam what his responsibilities would be? 

He guarded it against what would later be known as unclean animals. How do we know this? Well, we know which kind of animals God created. There were: behēmāh (cattle), and hayya haśāreh (living things of the field), and harem?eś harōmēś ʿal-hāʾār(movers who move on the earth).

When God told Adam to guard the garden, He did not leave His son without instruction. There already was a category of garden animals, and there were categories of non-garden animals. The only instruction which was needed was for God to bring the non-garden animals to Adam (perhaps as a special exception or more likely to the edge or gate of the garden) so he could study them and see the difference. Adam needed to know their names: field beasts, sneaking beasts, and beasts to ride.

So, we know what Adam was supposed to guard against, but what was he supposed to be guarding? What was the most valuable thing in the Garden? In the next piece in this series, we’ll examine how it is that Adam failed in his duty as protector of the garden, and how pastor MacArthur misunderstands Adam’s sin.

This post is continued, HERE.


Jerry Bowyer is Editor of Town Hall Finance, serves on the Editorial Board of Salem Communications, is Resident Economist with Kingdom Advisors, and is President of Bowyer Research. He holds a Sacred Theology Licentiate from the Collegium Augustinianum and a Bachelor’s degree from Robert Morris University.

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