When I originally wrote this post in April 2011, I was at the beginning of a journey that led me to egalitarianism and culminated in my MDiv degree (and Lord willing a ministry position). Since then, my understanding of this topic has not only grown in depth, but in breadth as well. I’ve re-written much of this post, but kept to the same points as the original post.
Does the order of creation determine different “roles” for men and women?
The affirmation of this question is the basis of the complementarian theological position. Because Adam was created before Eve, there are three implications that are taught by complementarians. The following is from the Danver’s Statement, a summary statement by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
The Scripture passages used to support these Complementarian assertions are found in Genesis 1-3, 1 Corinthians 11, and 1 Timothy 2. As a continuation of this series looking at the implications of the creation order, this post will focus on the implications found in Genesis 2. Does Genesis 2 teach that woman is different, yet equal to man? Does God establish different masculine and feminine roles at Eve’s creation in Genesis 2? Was man designated the leader of the woman in Genesis 2?
In the beginning…
In Genesis 1, God creates distinct male and female humans. He unifies them in purpose and role. He calls them to rule and populate. No distinction in gender roles is found there, only equal authority and equal obligations to care for God’s creation and to reproduce. Some argue that it is the feminine role to reproduce (bear children) and the masculine role to rule, but read the verse for yourself, and you will find no such distinction. Both men and women participate in ruling and in reproduction. Genesis 2 will not contradict this summary truth found in Genesis 1.
Although there is a wonderful simplicity to this summation at the end of Genesis 1, you can see it holds the truth of the completed creation of humanity found in chapter 2. Genesis 1:27 foreshadows Genesis 2:22 with the words, “He created him, male and female he created them.” Humanity was not fully created until woman was pulled from the side of man. Together, they are rulers of creation and progenitors of the human race.
“Him” becomes “Them”
Genesis 2 elaborates the story of the creation of humanity by explaining the specific ingredients of man: the dust of the ground and the breath of God. God then splits these exact ingredients in the man to form woman. Some interpret this story literally, believing in the existence of a pair of humans from which all humans descend. Others believe the story to be more like a mythic parable, revealing eternal truths in story form. I don’t believe it really matters whether Adam and Eve were literal people. I do believe that the author wrote the story, guided by the hand of God, to teach specific truths to correct common thinking in the ancient world. This key teaching is found in verse 24.
So, a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife. They are one flesh. Genesis 2:24 Author’s translation
Two separate people can become one because the woman was pulled from the side of the man. Unity is the main point of elaborating the creation of woman from man. One flesh or unity is the recognition that both the man and woman have an identical source that unites them. Because woman was taken out of man, she is the same as him. She is the perfect mate. Unlike the other animals, her “ingredients” are the exact same as his.
The Same Exact Stuff
Once upon a time, there was a three-year-old who wanted a sandwich just like his mother’s sandwich. So, the mother went to the fridge and began to fix a new sandwich for her son.
“No!” The child began to wail. “I don’t want that.”
The mother was confused, but patiently said, “I thought you said you wanted a sandwich?”
Her son pointed at her plate and said, “I want the same sandwich as you.”
“Honey, I am making you the same sandwich. Look, it has mayonnaise, ham cheese, lettuce and tomato. It’s the same kind.”
“No!” The child began to wail. “Its not the same! I want the exact same.” He pointed again at the mother’s sandwich.
The mother sighed, trying to decide if this was worth the fight or not. Deciding to keep the peace, she picked apart her sandwich, cut the bread and formed a new one with the exact same ingredients taken from her own lunch. She put one side back on her plate and the other on a new plate for her son.
He looked at her with immense joy. “Yes, now its exactly the same.”
Just like this simple story, Genesis 2 teaches that the origin of ingredients matter. In the little boy’s mind, having a “second” sandwich fixed from the first one did not mean the second sandwich was inferior. In fact, it was the exact opposite. The “exact” sandwich was only worthy because it shared the “exact same” essence. It was his mother’s sandwich he wanted to share.
In the same way, Genesis 2 frames the creation of woman as a matter of origin. The man shares his “exact stuff” with woman. Not only does she share the same dirt, but more importantly, the same life breath from God making her a living person.
The man said, “This time she is bone of my bonesGenesis 2:23 Author Translation
and flesh of my flesh;
she is called ‘woman,’
for out of ‘man’ she was taken.
Woman as a rescuer or an assistant?
But why create another person? Genesis 2:18 is the second key teaching in this ancient story. Woman was created because man needed help.
Also the Named God said, “The man alone is not good. I will make compatible help for him.” Genesis 2:18 Author Translation
In 1979, the cargo ship John F. Leavitt was sailing to Haiti when it encountered a huge storm with 20 foot waves. It lost its entire load of lumber, and was in danger of losing the lives of its crew as well. Over the course of 24 hours, it became apparent they needed help. They radioed for Coast Guard assistance. Three helicopters arrived on the horizon to rescue the crew of the Leavitt. Two pararescue men jumped from the airships to the water to board the ship and aid the nine crew members to safety in the hovering helicopters. It was not good that these nine crew members were about to drown at sea. The Coast Guard was sent to help them.
In the same way, woman was made to help the man. The man was the only thing in all of God’s creation that was not good. Man by himself was in peril. The Hebrew word, translated in English as help, is ezer. This word is used 21 times in the Old Testament and every single time it is used in context of trouble and the need for deliverance. Read through the other verses ezer is used. Ezer is not inferior help like a servant or maid, but superior help, like helicopters and pararescuers! The ezer is deliverance. In fact 16 of the 21 times ezer is used in the Old Testament, it is referring to God himself. For instance, Psalm 121:2 says, “My help cometh from the Lord.” (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, paragraph 34)
Why did the man need help? Because he was alone, or literally in the Hebrew “by himself.” He needed another. Some explain that his problem was loneliness. He needed relationship, since as a creature created in God’s image, he was made to commune with others. Its a valid explanation. I see something more sinister at work in the garden connected to God’s command to the man to “guard” the garden, not to eat from the forbidden tree, and the presence of the snake. But, regardless of why the man needed help, he did. There is a lesson we need to take to heart in the simple fact that women are needed alongside men for things to be good. It is not good when men are alone.
Even though ezer describes God more than not, in Genesis 2:18, ezer is not superior help, but appropriate help. The word ezer is modified by the word kenegdo. This word is translated into English as suitable, corresponding or like. In the old King James version, it is translated as meet, which in its original sense nails the correct meaning of kenegdo. It means to “meet someone halfway,” “to encounter,” or “to come together from the opposite direction.” The type of ezer God would make for man would be like the man, but standing opposite of him.
Kenegdo is an important point to the ancient author. We know this because he tells a story immediately following his declaration about making appropriate help, kenegdo ezer. God begins to form creatures from the ground to see what the man would call each one. Thus the man gave each a name, but none of the creatures God formed from the ground were appropriate help for the man. Even though the man was also formed from the dirt, they were not like him. Like the little boy who did not want another sandwich made with the same ingredients from the fridge, the man did not find appropriate help in the creatures God formed from the dirt. He needed help that was exactly the same as he was.
From the sleeping body of the man, woman is given life.
The modern English reader of this part of the story, most likely has a different image in their mind’s eye than the ancient reader did. This is due to the translation of the word “rib,” which is not rib in Hebrew, but “side.” We moderns imagine a rib being taken out and reformed as a new human, but the picture for an ancient Hebrew reader was of taking her out of the man from the side of his torso, perhaps like a splitting.
I confess, my imagination runs wild with the possibilities if we take this to be a literal explanation. She was taken out of him. Was she in his body to begin with? Was this first earthling a male/female hermaphrodite now split apart? This was Plato’s explanation of love between soul mates. He believed every person was split in two at birth and then spent the rest of their lives searching for their other half, and only those who found their soul mate would find a true union. The idea of a united original male/female earthling is not as uncommon as you might think, leading to some pretty modern conclusions about the equality of the sexes.
Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eliezer said: “When God created Adam, he made him an androgynous being, for it says, ‘male and female He made them’ in the same creature (Genesis 5:2).” It seems that the sages there were quite troubled by this concept, because it could lead to the inevitable conclusion that men and women were created equal! (Genesis 2 Essays, Admiel Kosman, page 4)
Regardless of the literalness of the story, the point is the same. God built the woman through the side of the sleeping man. The first man shared his life with the first woman. This is a foundational truth that intrigued Paul in the New Testament. In this story, he saw the gospel. The man was put into a deep sleep so that his bride could be pulled from his side. In the New Testament, we see that it pleased God to put his Son “to sleep,” so His bride – His Body – could be given life through Him! Because this truth was foundational to the church, the creation order was a sticking point with Paul. Not because it taught that man was hierarchically over his wife, but that a man should share his life and his literal body with his wife even to the point of dying for her, just as Christ shared his body and died so that the church might have life. There are no gender roles found in this original story, but if you look closely, you’ll see the gospel, like Paul did.
The man is charged with unity.
What ramifications for men and women do we see resulting from the woman’s elaboration from man in Genesis 2? How does God want man to respond to this helpful gift of woman? Man must leave his parents (Curiously, if you read this story literally, he didn’t have any!) and join his wife. Man leaves. The Hebrew uses the word ish, which can mean either “man” or something generic like “each” depending on context. In this context, because it includes ishah – woman, I think ish most likely is gender specific to males. The man is the one leaving and joining with his wife. God wants man to join his wife after leaving the family of his childhood. The wife (ishah) isn’t required to leave her family.
Many commandments are promulgated in masculine terms, though meant equally for both sexes, but in this instance the case is different: One man and one woman stand before the Almighty, on the very occasion of their differentiation into two sexes, and God enunciates a law as lying between those two just formed, which indicates for all time the duty of husband to wife, not of wife to husband. (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, paragraph 44.)
Forgive me for harping on this. But this is the only gender role, or husband role I can find explicit in Genesis 2. Man has an obligation. What is it? To leave his parents and be united to his wife. It could be argued that there is little evidence that men in the ancient Hebrew world actually practiced this. Jesus restates it in the New Testament, so its not a passing suggestion. It indicates a primacy of the marriage relationship that needs to be the focus of the man.
Men should leave the paternal family. The husband does not have the right to carry the wife home to his tribe. He is to leave his tribe and go to her. Even though they are two people, they are one flesh. The husband is charged with unity. Genesis 2 does lay a responsibility at the husband’s feet. But its not authoritative. Its unifying.
Why aren’t we teaching men this? How to properly leave their family and unite with a woman (and even her family)? How did family units get centered around the man’s family and kin? Ah yes, Genesis 3 is right around the corner and the world will change before it even starts.
Genesis 2 reveals that woman was created second after man, not to establish a hierarchy of gender relations, but because God was teaching that men and women are equal in substance. They both share the exact same stuff, a little bit of earth and a little bit of heaven. Woman was created because man all by himself is in need. It is not good. The world needs both men and women! Woman is “compatible aid” to solve the problem and provide rescue. Man’s duty is not with his paternal family, but to his wife. They are two different and equal beings unified into one through marriage. They are both asked by God to rule His creation and procreate.
They stand before him together, man and woman.