“So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
(Genesis. 1:27 & 2:21-23, NRSV)
The book of Genesis begins with two accounts of creation: chapter one is an overview of the entire creative process, while chapter two focuses attention upon the position and relationship of man and woman to God in the created order. Attempts have been made by scholars of higher criticism to demonstrate that these two accounts are of different sources, and that each teaches an independent “myth” about the origin of humankind. A case of how important this is to our study is found in Paul K. Jewett’s book Man as Male and Female. In the book, Dr. Jewett finds the Genesis two account to be faulty on two counts: 1) man is created first, and 2) woman is made, in part, from the man (ie. from Adam’s rib). Jewett sees this as a myth rooted in the male dominated patriarchal culture of the Hebrews. Instead, he prefers the account in chapter one: specifically, 1:27 which provides a basis in creation for ontological equality between man and woman.
I do not find these to be mutually exclusive. It is improper to pit chapter one and two against each other as if the first is inspired and the second isn’t: both are Scripture, and all of Scripture is God breathed (II Timothy 3:16). I take the position that the two accounts are in harmony and explain each other. Primary to any idea that we have about woman concerns her worth. What is the basis of that worth: man, or God? Is she merely an afterthought in the mind of God, or some sort of plaything or helper for man? Or is she, as man is, created In the Imago Dei (the image of God)?
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our Image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule..,. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26a, 27, NASB).
In this passage of scripture we can plainly see that humankind, in both its male and its female aspects, is stamped with the indelible Imago Dei. With classic Hebrew parallelism the human author makes clear the divine intent. The first line “in the image of God He created Him” is clarified by the synthetic parallelism of the next line “male and female He created them”. Both man and woman are commanded in verse 28 to “be fruitful,” “multiply and fill the earth,” and very importantly God commands both to “subdue” and “rule.” God entrusted both men and women with the responsibility to increase in goodness, in number, and to rule and subdue the earth. Woman is not an afterthought in the mind of God, nor is she secondary in importance. Woman is charged with the same responsibility over creation as man.
An important question to ask is, how is this dual leadership over the earth supposed to be achieved practically? Is there a hierarchy where the man is to be above the woman, or is the relationship supposed to be side-by-side, or equalitarian? In reading the extra-biblical sources for this essay the author has discovered that most of the writers who favor an equalitarian relationship place major emphasis on Genesis 1:27, while those who favor a hierarchical relationship emphasize Genesis two and its Pauline application and interpretation in the New Testament. However, as we have indicated earlier, this dualism is not appropriate. Whereas Genesis one gives a general overview of God’s creative process and plan ending with the crown of His creation, humankind, chapter two focuses upon the last act of creation.
Man and Woman are given special attention by their Creator, “Then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living *being…. Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone; I will make Him a helper **suitable for him…. But for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.’” (Genesis 2:7, 20b-22, NASB, *soul and **corresponding to).
In this more detailed account the focus is upon God’s great care in preparing the crown of His creation. In chapter one God speaks everything into existence, but He is said to “create” man. In chapter two that careful and brooding sculpture of man and woman is detailed: Man is formed from the dust, and woman is “built” from “a part” of man. In 2:7 man is made a “living soul” when God breathes into him “the breath of life.” This could be understood (as I believe it should) to mean “the spirit of life” since the Hebrew word for breath, wind, and spirit is the same. This helps us to understand in what way human beings are made in God’s image: we are inherently spiritual beings since He brought man and woman to life directly with His Spirit. This moves beyond a quantitative existence, although that is involved (ie. Genesis 6:3 “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever…”). It speaks of a quality of existence apart from and above the animals. Although the attention is placed upon the creation of Adam when the Scripture addresses this unique inspiriting from God, both male and female persons have a spirit since, as Genesis 1:27 makes clear, both are made in God’s image. The Genesis two account does not explicitly state that god breathed into woman but the fact that 1:27 indicates both are made in the image of God, and that 2:18 gives God’s intent to make a helper suitable for, or corresponding to, him, and that we are shown in 2:19-20 that nothing in the whole of creation is found to correspond to him gives us overwhelming evidence within the chapter that this is the case. It Is implicit to the entire passage that she shares all that he shares when being created.
However, man and woman are far from identical. There is an important difference in the way each is created, and there seems to be present a further differentiation between them in their focus for carrying out the divine mandate from 1:28 to rule the earth. To begin with, in creating humankind God chose to make man first. Additionally, Adam was the only human for long enough that he began to experience loneliness (1:18). From this we observe an important principle of human nature. A person is created to be in relationship. Humans are designed for relationships with other humans. A man is designed to relate to God and to be in an intimate relationship with a woman. A woman is designed to be intimate with a man and to be in relationship with God.
God moved to the next step in His plan for humankind, creating its other half: woman. God could easily have made another man from the dust of the earth. Perhaps God could have made Adam a male friend to “correspond to” him. That is not what God chose to do. Rather, in His plan the Lord God chose to make another person like the man, and yet quite different. This difference is more deeply rooted than obvious physical characteristics. There is also a deeply rooted spiritual difference between man and woman in God’s design. In His creative purpose God made woman, not separate from but out of man. This is highly significant: God formed the man first and allowed him to realize he cannot be fulfilled alone. Then, from the man’s side God made a person who would be capable of relating with him in the most intimate of ways. She comes from the man and is capable of becoming one flesh with him again through sexual intercourse. We hear the man rejoice, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). The God inspired author of Genesis makes further application to us: as a result of the spiritual and emotional union between man and wife “a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (physical union) (Genesis 2:24).
The woman comes to fulfill God’s stated purpose to give man a “helper” (1:18). This is not a word which refers to an inferior. In fact, the context makes this clear. All of the animals were brought to Adam and he named them, but none was found which fit or “corresponded to” him. Grammatically the Hebrew word ezer (helper) means someone who helps from a position of strength* In the Old Testament the word is used 17 times to refer to God as our helper, and three times to refer to a military ally (Clouse and Clouse, p. 183). So, the helper is strong not weak. If that were not so, how would they offer any real assistance?
There is the sense in which the one who is helped begins an action or is primary in that action. Even when God is our helper, it is we who are responsible for carrying through. But that does not make God inferior to us in any way, does it? God’s function in a helping act is different than the person He is assisting. It is supportive. The one being helped is focused immediately upon the task at hand, while the helper is focused upon the one whom they have determined to help. I believe this is a most fundamental difference between the masculine and the feminine. The difference in the focus of man and woman is a result of God’s design and purpose. While both are responsible equally to fulfill the divine mandate to rule the earth, and both are equal in every way from God’s evaluation of worth, each has a special, God given calling and gift so they may work together to accomplish God’s will .
The man’s focus is in accomplishing God’s command directly: he is task oriented. The woman’s focus is to nurture and sustain the relationships that strengthen and support them. In this way man and wife accomplish God’s will together. Thus, the man follows God’s plan with woman’s nurturing strength to support him, and woman follows God’s plan through supporting man in his responsibility to implement and administer that plan itself. One focus is not more important than the other, but both are seen to further the most worthy goal of maintaining a close relationship with God. This does not preclude a woman or man from filling the function of their mate, rather it emphasizes that God created and gifted each to achieve His will by focusing on equally important tasks or issues.
Unfortunately the relationship between God and humankind was broken and His intended focus for each was distorted. In Genesis chapter three we are greeted with the tragedy of the human race* Both the man and the woman were tempted in their area of weakness and succumbed. Further, the consequences pronounced upon their sin are in line with their differing functions in the created order. The traditional curses of Genesis chapter 3:14-19 are not so much curses, as natural results of the fall that must be endured by humankind (Clouse and Clouse, p. 40).
The tragedy unfolds as the Serpent tempts Eve who succumbs and gives the fruit to Adam to partake. After he sins, both their eyes are opened, and they seek to hide from God. The first pair failed in their collective responsibility (to be obedient to God), and perverted their special gifts. Eve was supposed to help nurture their relationship so that they would be whole and strong to do God’s will. Instead she disobeyed God’s will and helped Adam to sin. She became an idol, and the man willingly bowed to worship. Adam should have focused on doing God’s will, ensuring that they kept His command and pursued His purpose. Instead, he failed to disagree with the serpent or correct his wife’s sinful decision — which he clearly knew to be wrong (Genesis 2:17), and was likely responsible for sharing with his wife (Genesis 3:2-3).
When God pronounced judgment and the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sins follow a familiar pattern. The result of Eve’s sin is the fall of woman in the area of relationships. The result of Adam’s sin is the fall of man in the area of doing the work.
Eve is told that two major consequences will abide as a result of her sin: 1) the pain of childbirth will be increased, and 2) although her desire will be for her husband he will rule over her. I do not believe the multiplication of pain in bearing children refers to physical birth alone, but to the whole responsibility of the mother in raising children from bearing them in her body onward. From this we are not to infer that the husband’s responsibility to raise their children is lessened. Rather, the mother will be naturally primary, and her responsibility will be painful at times. The second part of the curse (or result of the Fall) is that her relationship to her husband will become one of subordination. Whereas the intent of God was for the man and woman to rule together, with the woman providing the emotional and relational strength and the man providing the specific direction to achieve God’s purpose, now the man will extend his natural dominance over his wife.
Adam’s consequence for following his wife into sin is complication in achieving the divine mandate to subdue the earth. Now the ground will be cursed and his work will be frustrating and unfulfilling at times. Work itself is not the curse, since in 2:15 God gave Adam responsibility to tend the garden. Instead, the curse makes man’s work in following God’s will and achieving any intended purpose more difficult. This is true because man has chosen independence from God by virtue of putting self will above God’s will. This was Satan’s sin, so man is now deformed into the likeness of God’s supreme enemy. Now there is an ongoing civil war between what the man knows to be right and what he desires to achieve for himself.
This same civil war is present in the woman as well: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16b), The woman’s natural empathy for the man will now be perverted as a result of their fall, and a selfish desire for him will seek to replace it. She wants to possess him, and to control him. “That’s my man.” This is further frustrated by his natural strength and dominance over her. Prior to the fall the woman’s gift was to unselfishly give strength to the man by providing emotional and relational support to him out of love for God, and a love for her husband with a view to enabling God’s overall purpose on the earth to be accomplished. Now woman will battle with a sinful tendency to seek fulfillment of her desires first, and suffer frustration when the man wields his strength and authority in the relationship to achieve his desires and goals instead. Competition replaces consideration; selfishness replaces love. The woman is designed to empower and enable the accomplishment of God’s will, but now she is driven to seek self will, or her understanding of her family’s good above God’s will, which is the only true good. This is not God’s perfect plan. It is the sinful arrogance of people, beginning with Adam, and Eve, which has attempted to thwart the plan. However, God was not taken by surprise; in fact, from the beginning He made a way for man to return to the intent of creation. Thanks be to God, it would be through Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:15, Romans 7:25).
In summary, the creation account teaches us that both man and woman make up humankind. God created both man and woman in His own image with inestimable and equal worth. God intended for both man and woman to participate in achieving His will for them and the earth: in that they would each be involved with being fruitful, multiplying, filling, ruling and subduing the earth. Together they were to fulfill that purpose and each was given a special gift and focus through God’s design of their gender specific natures: the woman from her gift in nurturing and maintaining their relationships, and the man in determining goals for achieving and maintaining God’s will and plan. There is no sense of male domination until the Fall, at which time domination becomes a sad consequence — a reality easily observed throughout human history. Finally, the consequences of their sin also followed the difference in their natures.