Adam, Eve and the Order of Creation


One of my blog mates recently called my attention to this quote from President Nelson in the Sunday morning session of General Conference:

We know that the culminating act of all Creation was the creation of woman!11

11 “All the purposes of the world and all that was in the world would be brought to naught without woman—a keystone in the priesthood arch of creation.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Lessons from Eve,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 87.) “Eve became God’s final creation, the grand summation of all the marvelous work that had gone before.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Women in our lives,” Ensign, Oct. 2004, 83.)

I found this statement quite fascinating. Let me try to explain why.

Many of you know my friend Bridget Jack Jeffries. She’s an evangelical Christian who graduated from BYU in classics (the same school and program I went through many years ago), and she has been active in online discussions of Mormonism. It was from her that I learned about the Christian concepts of egalitarianism v. complementarianism. (If this is a new topic to you, here is a good overview of both positions.) Basically, egalitarians believe that God created male and female equal in all respects (and thus allow female pastors, etc.), while complementarians believe that although God created male and female as equal in dignity, He created them distinct in role, with male having the role of leadership and women being subservient to men.

Jack just a few days ago posted the first in a four-part series of posts at her blog, Weighted Glory, explaining why she is an egalitarian. When she first moved to northern Illinois and was looking for a church, I remember that she hoped to find one that was egalitarian in orientation. Anyway, I recently read her post, and would like to highlight the following passage:

When people want to argue that women were created inferior to men, they usually turn to the second Creation narrative, where they argue that things like Adam’s naming of Eve (2:23, 3:20) or his having been created first (2:7) signal that he was meant to be in authority over Eve, but the text doesn’t actually say that. Rather, these interpretations ignore the weight of the remainder of the biblical evidence as well as the evidence from antiquity. The Mesopotamians, for example, had a creation narrative where men were created last, yet they still regarded men as superior to women, demonstrating the subjectivity of such interpretations (indeed, I have no doubt that had the biblical narrative had men being created last, hierarchists would be arguing that men were God’s “crowning jewel” of Creation, rather than the other way around!).

So Genesis 2 is a dominant text in complementarian thinking, and things such as Adam naming the animals (as naming is considered an act of domination) are taken to mean the man is given the role to lead. Another aspect of the chapter that is interpreted that way is the fact that according to that text God created the man first and the woman subsequently.

I had only recently read that when my attention was called to the snippet from President Nelson’s talk I quote at the beginning of this post, so it was fresh in my memory. And I found President Nelsons’ (and President Hinckley’s) take on the creation order quite fascinating.

We don’t use the terminology of complementarianism v. egalitarianism in the LDS Church. Presumably if we were to superimpose that vocabulary on Mormon thought and practice, we would be considered complementarian, since we do not ordain women to the priesthood and reserve the highest leadership roles to men. But President Nelson’s commentary on the creation order goes exactly the opposite direction of the complementarian argument. Rather than pointing to the man being created first as evidence of his primacy, he points to the woman being created last as the crown of creation, its culminating act: a “keystone in the priesthood arch of creation” and “the grand summation of all the marvelous work that had gone before.”

I’m not sure what to make of that. I imagine it in part is a reflection of the Mormon reading of Eve in very positive terms, against the grain of most historic takes on the account. But framing the creation order of the woman coming last in not only positive but positively effusive terms seems to remove that passage from one’s complementarian tool kit


  1. Feels like a pedestal to me. Whether we’re too inferior to be authorities, or too special to be authorities, at the end of the day we still aren’t authorities. Perhaps LDS complementarianism simply has a few different principles than the Evangelical version (hardly surprising, given our different theology and expanded canon).

  2. I would say that it’s still complimentarian. There’s a long tradition of enforcing gender division (and removing rights from women) by placing them on a metaphorical pedestal. Saying “Women are so wonderful that they should be kept from the messy business of politics” was part of the long reasoning for denying them the right to vote. Similar arguments kept them out of public spaces, masculine professions, religious leadership, etc. While it sounds nicer, holding Eve up as the best still has the practical effect of reinforcing our gender-based divisions within the Church.

    But I think you’re right that in our narrative about Eve there is potential for something much grander. (For example, here’s some of my thinking on how we might consider Eve in relation to Christ:

  3. Melissa speaks the truth.

  4. Kevin ~ Thanks for the link and discussion!

    I really wasn’t doing any justice to Genesis 2 or the debate over things like creation narratives by cramming it into 1/3 of a single post in a long series. So much has been written and there’s so much to be said, I hope I can address it in more detail in a future post.

    As melissa pointed out in the first comment on this thread: telling women they’re the “crown glory” of creation can come across as “pedestaling” if this interpretation isn’t accompanied by equal treatment of women. I always thought it said a lot that evangelicals have a very low view of Eve yet many denominations refuse to ordain women, while Mormons have a very high view of Eve and still refuse to ordain women. This shows that the creation narrative isn’t the real driving force in these polities towards women; the interpretations and applications of them are highly subjective. It’s something else.

    I haven’t spent a lot of time on Mormon Studies lately other than working on my thesis, but I wish all my friends (and frenemies ;) ) in the Bloggernacle well! Peace.

  5. See I see this dangerously close to “women as a prize,” which I don’t believe President Nelson meant, but if he or any other person does not go on to explain how this theological opinion squares with women hearkening in the temple, then I just see it as designed as a 30-second feel-good video with a feeling that lasts about that long.

  6. I have tried several times to understand both Bruce R. McConkie’s and Russell M. Nelson’s assertion that the Three Pillars of Eternity (Creation, Fall, Atonement) are inextricably linked. It is abundantly clear that President Nelson refuses to understand even the rudiments of creation, and as such any conclusions he attempts to draw are at best suspect. Invoking Genesis 2 will, in my opinion, only make matters substantially worse.

  7. It is good to remember that the positive view of Eve narrative that is predominant in Mormon thought now is a pretty recent emphasis. The strongest recent incarnation seems to be heavily influenced by Beverly Campbell whose articulation of Eve is said to have had a profound impact on leaders such as Elder Oaks who have since preached it over the pulpit. Historically though it has been decidedly mixed. Brigham Young for example clearly taught a strong curse of Eve based hierarchy. It was Eliza R Snow during his regime pushed the Heavenly Mother narrative and even then she took the position that women were cursed through Eve to be without active priestesshood and subject to their husbands. She would talk about the removing of the curse as a future act that Zion should actively seeking. Sadly it was Brigham ‘ s very gender hierarchical view that got encoded deeply in the structure of the temple ceremony, something at odds with our seeking for a more egalitarian theology. This, to me, is the where Mormon theology has been stuck by the experiment into polygamy, an experiment Brigham charged into full stride. Just go back and thumb through Rodney Turner’s Women and the Priesthood which is a pretty good indicator of the theological zeitgeist of that era.

    I absolutely believe egalitarianism will be the future for Mormon theology and there is probably more seeds for us to work with than most Christian religions. However, it will take the hard work of trying to reconcile it with our past and tradition. This seems to be work that our leaders are not yet ready to do. This is why talks like Elder Nelson ‘ s feel pedalstalizing to me even as I don’t believe that is his intent.

  8. Frank Fourth says:

    Contradictionally, Mormons will go in both directions, sometimes at the same time, to get them where they want to go.

  9. The Adam/Eve narrative may mean something in a Judeo – Christian – Muslim world, but doesn’t explain man’s dominance over woman in the far east and in other cultures and places throughout history. I don’t think ancient Chinese rulers were worried about Adam naming animals or Eve coming last. It was all about physical strength and evolutionary biology. Maybe it’s time to quit worrying about historical nuances, and find out how God wants the sexes to interact today.

  10. Clark Goble says:

    If you’re coming from a mindset where men are dominate and women are inferior (let’s be honest – the standard view in most cultures until recently) then even if a text had women as superior there’d be strong tendencies to read it in a fashion that matched the cultural biases. In the same way now that our culture is far more egalitarian between the sexes we feel the pressure to read whenever possible in an egalitarian fashion.

    How to deal with scriptures that come out of such cultures is difficult and can be troubling. (For instance why does Mormon include so few women and never makes a woman the focus of his editing?) Even when a text is trying to be far more egalitarian (say the Gospel of Thomas where the text has Jesus making women male) does so in a fashion that just seems extremely sexist to our ears today.

    I’m fine just saying the form Gen 2 took is problematic in a lot of ways.

    That said, it is interesting looking at the traditional Mormon reading of Gen 2 where effectively Eve is the hero of the story and gets Adam to do what he was supposed to do but wouldn’t. The fall isn’t a curse as such but is more a quasi-curse that’s really a blessing. Further I think it important to always remember that as problematic to our ears the way Eve is created in Gen 2, the important creation is Gen 1 where man and woman are created simultaneously and both are equally in the image of God. (Which is easy of course to read as there being a mother in heaven)

  11. Elder Nelson’s and President Hinckley’s statements are both probably nothing more than genuine gestures of support for the Church’s recent attempts to appease women and make them feel “special” without actually doing anything to make them equal within the Church hierarchy. We certainly would not have heard statements like these from Brigham Young, who was very clear on the subservient nature of women. So, at least it’s a positive development. Who knows where it might lead, eventually.

  12. First of all, EmJen said it well. Secondly, it seems to me that individuals within the church are either complementarian or egalitarian, and they both have access to the open mic. In this case, I consider it to be Nelson’s complementarian views behind it. Otherwise why not say that humans were the crowning achievement of creation? Instead, it’s like saying “Gee you look pretty today. How about another one of those delicious sandwiches?”

  13. Just once before I die I want to hear a woman explain that the whole purpose and meaning of creation would be brought to naught without man–a keystone in the motherhood arch of creation.

  14. Clark Goble says:

    Rah, certainly 19th century views weren’t quite as egalitarian as we would have wished. However in context I think we have to keep in mind who Brigham and Eliza thought Eve was and what the purpose of their fall. Likewise the idea of Eve doing a positive thing goes back at least to Brigham Young (say JD 10:103 or better JD 13:145 “We should never blame Mother Eve, not the least”)

  15. “the motherhood arch of creation” FTW. :)

  16. It is apparent from our creation narratives that women were created by, from, and for men. I would prefer to have had some sort of assurance that women participated in the creation in some way, played an active role, and were more than just the final product.

  17. I agree with Melissa as well; it’s just pedestalism in a vain attempt to try and ease the pain. Course, I also think the currently predominant discourse on how clever/heroic Eve was to be pedestalizing as well. If we’re going to have complementarism, we’re going to need the complement to Priesthood, rather than trying to rationalize its absence by trying to make motherhood fit the bill.

  18. I have asserted before, and assert again, the Genesis story is a metaphor for the real biological creation. Humanity was in the garden of Eden as hunter-gatherers where we could live without effort, finding food without much effort, growing in nature. As we became more intelligent, natural food was insufficient to support the growing population that intelligence created, so we had to become farmers and live by the sweat of our brows, as it were.

    How did we become more intelligent? By sexual selection. Who did the selecting? Not men, of course. So women, by their choices, de facto, drove us from the garden of Eden.

    To me the real question is: “How does the sexual selection Choice play out in the modern world?” This is the real struggle, who is to decide about sex and children, among other questions.

  19. Clark,

    Brigham was if not anything a pragmatic theologian. When it suited his purpose his theology could sound more egalitarian. When it didn’t, well it didn’t. We expect too much coherence in the theology of our leaders, I think.

    That said I don’t think it is possible to credibly argue that Brigham ‘ s temple theology as found in the liturgy he penned and interpretive lecture at the veil he desperately tried to leave the church with before his death is egalitarian in any way. Women are priestesses to theor husbands. In Brigham’s ceremony they covenant obedience to their husbands and only covenant to their husbands. This hierarchy was SUPER clear in both the ceremony and his interpretation of it. It remains clear even after the changes which is even more clearly seen in the live versions. We can proof text his other opportunistic statements because they fit with what we now believe and want to believe and maybe we should for the good of our church. There seeds there we can nurture. I believe we should but to be successful we are going to have to pull out some deeply rooted weeds.

  20. Without even realizing the subject of this article, I cringed at the keystone metaphor. Did he just say that women are building materials? Did the priesthood build a doorway and then, realizing it was going to collapse in on itself say, “Sweethearts, would you mind holding up my arch for all eternity?” I guess that’s the same thing as the rib theory. Men created Eve to fill a gap.

  21. But Jesus was a man, so… #trolling

  22. Coming over to say that mormonisms response to critiques of complimentarianism is combing it with pedistalization. (But 20+ people have beat me to it). We haven’t always viewed Eve as a hero. Women’s submission used to be linked to Eve’s curse in Mormonism. Now that we no longer believe it yet we still require women’s submission, we respond by elevating women’s role above that of men. Voilá. The pedestal. Angelic, aren’t we?

    An easier way:

    LDS complimentarianism=gender roles and separate but equal

    Egalitarianism=no gender roles; do what fits your individual strengths and circumstances. Men and women are generally different, but it shouldn’t be used in limiting how they serve.

  23. Thanks for the link to the definitions. I had thought of myself as a complementarian, being familiar with academic-type writings on complimentary/maternal feminism.

    But I do NOT believe in subservience of women, so I do not fit the definition of complementarianism in the OP. I guess I will avoid that label.

    One factor is that LDS “leadership” is not dictatorial, but rather about (1) stewardship (doing the Lord’s will rather than one’s own) and (2) “servant leadership,” a model that garnered a lot of attention in business management studies in the 1980s and is still used in some corporate settings. It is exemplified in that Christ never used his priesthood for his own benefit but always to help others.

    Another factor is the biological reality that the Creator stuck us with. Can we please recognize that the burden of childbearing is different for men and women? So why do men and women get the same about of leave when a baby is born or adopted?

    When you get down to it, a lot of so-called “egalitarianism” is really male-normative. It is allowing women to do the things men have always done and recognizing that type of accomplishment, while still ignoring the contributions of women who do what women have typically done. Thus we call it “not working” when a mother cares for preschoolers at home, cans and freezes food she raises in a garden, sews and mends clothing, does household renovations.

    In some places, “egalitarianism” is cited for the reason that all women are forced into a male-normative mold for workplace participation. Requiring them to be employed 40 hours a week if they want benefits (rather than allowing part-time options with pro-rated benefits), insisting on only fulltime enrollment in college programs, not providing for the tenure clock to be stopped for pregnancy, and so on.

    Thus among my younger female colleagues, it is an oft-repeated “fact” that a woman cannot have more than one child if she wants to be taken seriously in the workplace. Because I had more children than that and do not regret spending some seasons at home fulltime, I have women coming up to me regularly, admitting that they would like to have another child, or spend more time with the child they have, but their spouse or employer is not the least bit supportive. They do not seem to be living a more egalitarian life, just boxed into a different corner.

    I would not oppose increased participation for women in whatever way in the church. But I love that the church is one of the few places that recognizes the contributions of women and that raising a family is an act of discipleship for those who are asked to do that.

  24. Brigham Young also taught that Eve was our Heavenly Mother, the mother of our spirits. This was the logical “next step” in the Adam-God doctrine. The Mormon focus on sex, gender, marriage, family, etc…is really nothing more than esoteric and occultic beliefs reworked for a crowd of practical Yankees with dirt under their fingernails.

  25. “But framing the creation order of the woman coming last in not only positive but positively effusive terms seems to remove that passage from one’s complementarian tool kit.”

    Not at all.

    Consider that the creation of woman, since she came after man, represents the sexual nature of our species, as opposed to asexual nature. As sexual beings we need one another to persevere into the future. Integral from that is the nature of human infants: helpless, needing adult care. Thus we see that we are social creations.

    Consider social as having the existence of an “I” and a “Thee,” of persons, of identities, of wills.

    In this light, complementarity–as we objectively do exist as a species–is a cornerstone of human identity itself, of civilisation itself, of free will and therefore, joy.

    Do we really pine to be cloned creatures, each and every one of us from the same mold? That’s the alternative to complementarity.

  26. Rebecca Dalmas, are you familiar with the “straw man” concept? Because that’s what you’re using, or else you are working from a completely different definition of egalitarianism than the rest of us. Over and over and over again I see people believing that the only alternative to gender roles is some sort of science fiction-ish suffocating sameness, and that’s just not true. Egalitarians want equal opportunities for everyone regardless of their sex, race, etc. I’m quite happy to look “feminine” while I enjoy hobbies & activities that are widely considered “masculine.” I’d love to be able to baptize my children or even act as a witness to their ordinances. That doesn’t mean you have to look just like me, dress like me, and like all the same foods/music/tv shows as me (my tastes are pretty weird anyway). You’re safe from those fake egalitarian conformist bogeymen – they don’t exist as a serious movement.

  27. Melissa,

    Kevin Barney was talking about creation, and so was I. Whatever artificial social order you prefer, we are biologically created as sexual complements. Furthermore, this nature of humanity naturally leads to society, to identity, to personal will, and to civilization itself.

    Pretty awesome, even glorious.

  28. Quoting EmJen:
    “…but if he or any other person does not go on to explain how this theological opinion squares with women hearkening in the temple, then I just see it as designed as a 30-second feel-good video with a feeling that lasts about that long”

    I know I’m coming late to the game, but I wanted to suggest one thought and two not-so-quick reads:

    Thought: Rather than considering only the order in which Adam and Eve were created, consider the order in which everything was created. There is, perhaps, a pattern there.

    Reference 1: Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, Chapter 5 “Patriarchy and Matriarchy”:

    Reference 2: V. H. Cassler, Ruby Slippers on Her Feet: Reflections on the OrdainWomen Website, SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 1 (Spring 2013):



  29. Naismith, thank you for your comment and for pointing out the economic feminist intersectionality that is so often overlooked. As to the OP, I disagree with the assertion that we are a complementarian religion. If anything, our doctrinal view of women falls far more in line with radical feminism or even more so with the emerging new wave of maternal feminism. I believe maternal feminism is the philosophical platform that best represents the overlap in the venn diagram up top – one that recognizes divinely empowered women with distinct roles and responsibilities in building Zion and who lead from a framework of abundance and humility.

  30. Kevin, I was reminded of this post two Thursdays ago while walking thru temple square on what may have been the most gloriously beautiful day and evening of the year. As I was staring up at the various phases of the moon depicted in granite, a nearly endless of parade of what turned out to be new mission presidents and their wives passed me on their way to a private performance of the Tabernacle Choir. I must first confess my bias concerning Hugh Nibley and a recent rereading of the link above only reaffirms my perception that his writings are an impenetrable mix of extraordinary nonsense that even a Joseph Campbell would have a hard time connecting the dots. But on this sentiment I agree completely: The temple is a scale model of the universe. One might hope that the instruction given there would accurately depict the creation story, and whether one perceives the story as literal or symbolic, there are irreconcilable problems with the current presentation. I’ve reread SteveP’s 7 part series on Death, The Fall, and Darwin which really does try to address glaring problems in the Creation – Fall – Atonement paradigm. With the recent publication of the women’s essays, it’s becoming increasingly clear that very deep difficult questions hinge on our understanding and interpretation of the creation act itself.

    We tend to forget that our religion really was founded by a cosmological mystic which was turned over to a regimented bureaucrat and that we find ourselves saddled with a combination of both of their views of eternity. Some aspects of their models may have been novel for the 1800’s, but the rest of the world has leapfrogged ahead in their understanding of creation so much so that it is now much more instructive and inspiring to watch 20 minutes of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life than it is to go to the temple.

    It is claimed that thru priesthood power that the heavens and the earth were created. While various discussions have raged over women’s current roles, their past participation in ordinances, and their future, something remarkable happened recently that is in my opinion quite extraordinary. People started creating (simulating really, but with unprecedented accuracy and in sufficient detail) their very own universes. And some of those people are women. I’m quite certain this will bring no solace to those looking for changes in theology, doctrine, or practice. But do take seven minutes of your life to watch this act of creation keeping in mind all the various implications.

    I think of those new temple presidents, their wives, and the responsibilities they inherit. The temple is a place of instruction about creation, and the tools at their avail are not only outdated and flatly wrong, but in many cases incredibly damaging. Mormons deserve better. Mormon women deserve better. We are, after all, cosmologists.