In September 2015, I was one of twenty-two people who presented a paper at The Gender Conversation, a one-day symposium organised and hosted by Morling College. It was a great day! Our papers were published in a book in 2016 which more recently has become available as an affordable e-book. (Videos of the speakers presenting their papers are also available, here.)
The following is my paper (with minor edits) published as, “Is a Gender Hierarchy Implicit in the Creation Narrative of Genesis 2.4–25?” The Gender Conversation: Evangelical Perspectives on Gender, Scripture, and the Christian Life, Edwina Murphy and David Starling (eds) (Morling Press/ Wipf and Stock, 2016), 29–40.
Is a Gender Hierarchy Implicit in the Creation Narrative of Genesis 2.4–25?
For much of its history, the church has used the second half of Genesis 3:16 as a definitive statement on the status of women. In this verse, God tells the first woman that even though she will desire her husband, he will rule over her. In recent decades, however, many Christians have looked again at this verse and have interpreted Genesis 3:16 as God’s prediction or description of what will happen in relationships between men and women, now that sin has entered the world. They recognise that this verse is not God’s mandate or endorsement of patriarchy.
Despite this revision of Genesis 3:16, some Christians maintain that a gender hierarchy, with men being in charge, is God’s will and design for society and marriage. They appeal to a reading of Genesis chapter two to support their view, and believe a gender hierarchy is implicit in the created order of the man being formed first and the woman second. I will argue, however, that the narrative in Genesis 2 does not imply a gender hierarchy but instead contains profound statements concerning the equality of the first man and woman.
While this paper mostly focuses on Genesis 2, I will begin with a brief look at what Genesis 1 says about men and women. I will also briefly discuss whether Paul believed that a gender hierarchy is implicit in the created order, or if he taught that the created order is somehow significant in human relationships. But I’d like to begin with a caution.
The first few chapters of Genesis contain important foundational truths about God and his world and our place in it. Genesis 1 and 2 tell us, in only a few words, the nature of humankind, including the purpose and function of men and women. As well as being sparing in detail, these two chapters are somewhat enigmatic. They raise more questions than they answer, and we all have our own ideas and pet theories about how certain things may have played out. We must stay with the text, however, and see what is actually being stated. We must allow the text to communicate what the original authors intended to convey.
Genesis Chapter One
The author of Genesis 1 tells us about God’s creation of the world, including his creation and commissioning of men and women. Here we read that God took the earth and that he made it into something beautiful and functional. Verses 26–28 tell us the purpose and function of humanity:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind (Hebrew: ’ādām) in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
“So God created humankind (’ādām) in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:26–28 NRSV)
There are several points about male and female humanity that I want to highlight from this passage. In these verses we read:
- both men and women were created by God in his image and likeness;
- both men and women were blessed by God;
- both men and women were spoken to by God and given certain commands:
- to procreate;
- to have dominion over the earth;
- to rule the animals.
These verses tell us that there was a differentiation between male and female humans at creation. There is no differentiation, however, in the status and purpose of men and women. According to Genesis 1, men and women are equal in being and equal in function. Both are commanded to procreate and both are commanded to rule over God’s created earth and the animals as his image-bearers and regents. Note that there is no indication that either men or women have a greater or lesser responsibility in obeying these commands. Note also that, while men and women are commanded to rule animals, nowhere in this chapter, or the next, does it say that some humans were to rule other humans. Thus, according to Genesis 1, men and women are also equal in authority. I won’t elaborate further on the statements in Genesis 1, but we need to keep them in mind as we look at Genesis 2.
It is unwise to conflate the different creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Yet, since we have these two accounts in the canon of Scripture, as well as a third, much abbreviated, version in Genesis 5:1–2, we should not read any of these passages in isolation. We should read these accounts with the understanding that the others bring. Furthermore, Genesis 1:26–28 is relatively straightforward in its message regarding men and women, Genesis 2 is less straightforward. One principle of interpreting Scripture is to use the clearer, easier-to-understand passages to help us understand the less clear passages. So, keeping Genesis 1 in mind, we turn to Genesis 2.
The First Human in Genesis Chapter Two
In Genesis 2 we are told that the creation of the first human in Eden occurred before the first woman was made. Throughout most of this chapter, this human is called in Hebrew hā’ādām. The English translation of hā’ādām as “the man” in many Bible versions gives the impression that this person was male, but hā’ādām more specifically means “the human.” The text does not elaborate on the sex of the first human before the operation mentioned in Genesis 2:21. His sex only becomes apparent afterwards when he is referred to as ’îš for the first time. (’îš is the Hebrew word often used for an adult male person.) Some suggest that we are meant to understand that this first human was an androgyne before the operation, having a male and a female side. Whatever the case, this person was alone, and this was a problem. So, God declares that he will make “a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:18 NRSV).
Naming the Animals
Immediately after declaring that he will make a helper, God does something that at first glance seems strange. According to Genesis 2:19, God makes the animals and brings them to the human so he can give them names. Some have stated that the act of naming the animals shows that the first human was granted with a special kind of authority which extended to having authority over the woman, despite the fact that God had not yet made her. Naming the animals cannot have been an example of a male exercising an exclusively masculine authority, however, because as we saw in Genesis 1 women were also given authority to rule the animals (Gen 1:26–28). Also, the act of naming in the Bible does not necessarily imply authority. For instance, Hagar, the Egyptian slave of Sarah, gave God a name, a significant name that has been recorded in Scripture (Gen 16:13–14). Yet it cannot be supposed that Hagar had authority over God just because she gave him a name.
The task of naming the animals may have been designed to highlight the fact that, as yet, there was no other creature that was like the human. Consequently, when the naming exercise was completed, the text states that the human had “not found a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:20 NRSV). Genesis 2 makes it clear that the woman is distinct from the animals. So, the presumption of some—that the human’s task of naming the animals also meant he was authorised by God to name the woman and thus have authority over her—is contrived and baseless. Nevertheless, Adam did give the woman the name “Eve” after the fall (Gen 3:20). Calling her ’iššâ (“woman”) to compare her to ’îš (“man”) before the fall (Gen 2:23) was not an act of naming.
The Removal of the Human’s “Side”
God solves the problem of the human’s solitude by making another human being. In Genesis 2:21, we read that God performed surgery on the first human and that he took something out of him. Traditionally this “something” has been referred to as a rib; however, the Hebrew word used here typically refers to a “part.” The corresponding Greek word in the Septuagint’s translation is pleura meaning “side,” a word mostly used in the context of the human body. A literal translation of Genesis 2:21–22 in the Septuagint reads: “[God] took one of his sides . . . And the Lord God built the side (pleura) which he had taken from Adam into a woman.” Again, this may suggest we are meant to understand that the first human had a male and female side.
When the first human woke, something of his was missing. Something had been taken out and had become an integral part in the making of the first woman. When he sees the woman for the first time, the man makes several statements, one of which is: “she was taken out of man!” (Gen 2:23d ESV). This losing of a significant body part to the woman makes the concept of the created order of man first, woman second, less clear cut and decisive.
A Helper for Him
This first woman was made to help the man. In English, the words “help” and “helper” can have a broad range of connotations. “Help” can refer to a simple, modest act, or it can refer to something much more significant and vital. The Hebrew word for “helper” used in Genesis 2:18 and 20 is ‘ēzer, and it is always and only used in the Hebrew Bible in the context of a necessary and powerful assistance.
‘ēzer is used twenty-one times in the Hebrew Bible. Apart from the two occurrences in Genesis 2, ‘ēzer is used three times in the context of people helping (or failing to help) in life-threatening situations; sixteen times it is used in reference to God as a helper. All of these texts are talking about a rescuing, powerful kind of help. In Exodus 18:4 we read that Moses named one of his sons Eliezer, which in Hebrew means “My God is my helper” (’elî = “my God”; ‘ēzer = “helper”). This verse explains that Moses gave his son that name because God had powerfully delivered Moses from Pharaoh’s sword. Despite the consistent use of ‘ēzer as having a vital and strong sense in the Bible, when used about the first woman, its interpretation has been unfairly diminished to fit with typically lowly cultural views of women.
When I first received my copy of the Septuagint, I was curious to see what Greek word the translators had used to translate ‘ēzer. Would it have the same vital and strong sense? I was delighted to discover that ‘ēzer had been translated as boēthos in Greek. Boēthos is a noun made up of two words which mean “cry out” and “run.” The cognate verb boētheō means “to run to the aid of those who cry out for help . . .” Boēthos and its cognates are used ten times in the Greek New Testament. There is nothing in these New Testament verses that imply servitude or domesticity. Rather, they all refer to a strong, rescuing, even a divine, help. Furthermore, boēthos and its cognates are used over one hundred times in the Septuagint where they also always have a strong sense. Considering the consistent use of boēthos, it is utterly unjustified to diminish the meaning when used to describe the first woman. She was made to be a vital and strong help for the man. Genesis 2 does not explain how she was to help the man, but presumably it was to alleviate the problem of the human’s aloneness and to partner with him in the joint commission given in Genesis 1: to procreate, to subdue the earth, and rule the animals together.
Subordinate, Suitable, or Similar?
Despite the strong sense of the Hebrew and Greek words behind the English word “helper,” some maintain that the first woman was not the equal of the first man. The Hebrew and Greek words which qualify the word “helper”—words often translated into English as “suitable to him” in Genesis 2:18 and 20—indicate, however, that she was his equal.
The Hebrew word used here (technically, a prepositional phrase) is kĕnegdô. The Hebrew lexicon Brown, Driver, and Briggs translates Genesis 2:18 as “I will make him a help corresponding to him i.e. equal and adequate to himself” (italics added). The Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon notes that kĕnegdô “is often used of things which are like one another.” Thus, the word has the sense of “similar.” The first woman was a helper or strength, equal and similar to the first man.
The prefix of kĕnegdô, the inseparable preposition kĕ–, has a somewhat similar range of meanings to the Greek preposition kata and, in Genesis 2:18 of the Septuagint, kĕnegdô is translated into Greek simply as kata. Kata often has the meanings of “according to” and “corresponding with.” In verse 20, however, the translators of the Septuagint chose to use a different Greek word, homoios, to translate kĕnegdô. Homoios means “similar” or “having the same nature.” It seems that the translators chose to use two different words, kata and homoios, to express the breadth of meaning of kĕnegdô. This is a helpful translation choice.
The ideas expressed in kĕnegdô are of similarity, correspondence, mutuality, equality. There is not the slightest sense of subordination here. The idea of similarity continues with the man’s description of the first woman. When he sees her for the first time he doesn’t remark on their differences, he comments on their profound similarities and kinship: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh . . .” (Gen 2:23a).
There is nothing whatsoever in the expression ‘ēzer kĕnegdô that implies a subordination of the first woman or an authority of the man over the woman. Instead, ‘ēzer kĕnegdô has the senses of strength and similarity. Each of the creation accounts in Genesis chapters one, two, and five, highlight the similarity and equality of men and women.
Paul and the Created Order
The first woman was made to be a helper for the first man, but does this mean that God’s will is that she, and all women, are to serve and provide unreciprocated assistance to men? There are Christians who claim just that, and they usually cite 1 Corinthians 11:8–9 to support this notion: “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man (cf. Gen. 2:21-22). Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man” (NRSV). These are true statements; however, this is not Paul’s last word on the subject.
1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is written as a chiasm and should be read as such. The statements in the first part of the chiasm must be read with the corresponding statements in the second part. The corresponding verses of 8–9 are verses 11–12 which state, “Nevertheless [or, except that], in the Lord, woman is not independent of man nor man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman (cf. Gen 4:1); but all things come from God” (NRSV).
Rather than insisting that women were created to unilaterally serve or assist men, Paul writes that men and women are mutually dependent on each other (1 Cor 11:11). And rather than placing an importance on the created order, Paul nullifies its significance by pointing out that even though the first woman’s source was the first man, every other man since has been born from a woman (1 Cor 11:12). Paul did not advocate for a gender hierarchy or gender “roles” based on the created order; he advocated for mutuality and equality between the sexes.
In 1 Timothy 2:13–14, the created order is mentioned once more in the Bible. These verses tell us what we already know from Genesis 2 and 3, that “Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Tim 2:13–14 NRSV). I suggest these verses contain a correction to a twisted version of the creation of Adam and Eve that was being taught in the Ephesian church. There are several indications in 1 Timothy that the heresy in Ephesus involved a misunderstanding of the Old Testament and may have had some similarities with some later Gnostic heresies (e.g., 1 Tim 6:20; cf. 1 Tim 1:3–4; 4:7).  The Gnostics were fascinated with the creation accounts and their myth-like elements, and their own elaborations on creation were a far cry from the biblical accounts (cf. 1 Tim 1:6–7). The correct information given in 1 Timothy 2:13–14 is not a reason for disallowing a woman to do something that neither a man nor a woman should do: namely, to teach in an unacceptable manner (as indicated by the Greek word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12.)
Finally, I want to look at the last statement in Genesis chapter two. The statement that the first couple were naked and unashamed has baffled me. Why did the author choose to make this particular point? Perhaps this point is connected with the social construct called honour-shame which was, and is, pervasive in patriarchal cultures. The honour-shame dynamic typically allows only men to gain honour for their family, usually through public acts of bravery or benefaction. Women, on the other hand, must stringently maintain the supposed virtue of “shame” by being sexually chaste, so as not to bring dishonour to their family. This “shame” is not like embarrassment but is supposedly part of a virtuous woman’s demeanour in honour-shame cultures. In such cultures, honour is more valuable than life, and few things are more ruinous than a “shame-less” woman. The more patriarchal the culture, the more women are covered up in shapeless clothing, silenced, and hidden at home guarding their chastity and preserving their shame. Elsewhere in the biblical texts, there is evidence that honour-shame was part of society, but in Genesis 2:25, despite the man and the woman being completely uncovered, there was no shame. This lack of shame is connected to innocence and naivety, but the lack of shame may also have been because there was no patriarchy. Sin had not yet entered the world, and the man was not yet ruling or exercising authority over the woman.
Genesis chapter two says nothing whatsoever about the first man having more authority than the first woman, let alone having authority over the woman. Rather, the remarkable language in Genesis 2 is of similarity, affinity, and correspondence between the couple. There is sexual differentiation, but there is no mention of a differentiation in roles in either chapter one or two of Genesis, and there is no hint that the woman was subordinate to the man.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul played down any significance of the created order and pointed out that, while the first woman came from man, every other man has come from a woman, and all have God as their source. Paul also taught that, for those who are “in the Lord”, man is not independent of woman, nor woman of man. Just as the first man needed someone to help him to fulfil God’s commission, we continue to need each other. Men need the help of women, and women need the help of men. This mutual, reciprocal service and assistance, as well as our shared origin, makes for true complementarity, a complementarity without a gender hierarchy.
 Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (RBMW), edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, is a volume containing twenty-six chapters written by twenty-three authors who believe in a gender hierarchy in marriage and in the church. Nineteen of the essays include the argument that the permanent subordination of women is based on the created order given in Genesis 2. Affirmation 3 of “The Danvers Statement,” included in RBMW, states “Adam’s headship [i.e., authority] in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin.” The authors of “The Danvers Statement” provide Genesis 2:16–18, 2:21–25, 3:1–13, and 1 Corinthians 11:7–9 as the Bible verses which they believe support their view of male authority. While some of the narrative in Genesis 2 and 3 is told with a spotlight on the first man, I will contend that the text nowhere indicates that the first woman is in any way less than him in status, function, or authority before the fall.
 Walton, Genesis, 84.
 See N. T. Wright’s Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis for his comment that animals and aspects of plant life, as well as humans, were created as male and female.
 In the culture of the Old Testament, rulers of vast empires erected images of themselves in areas where they were not physically present. These images represented “their power and rulership over far reaching areas of their empires.” Hess, “Equality With and Without Innocence,” 81. As God’s image-bearers we are representatives of God and his dominion, even though he is not “physically” present.
 For example, Raymond Ortlund writes, “God charged the man with naming the creatures and gave him the freedom to exercise his own judgment in each case. In doing so, Adam brought the earthly creation under his dominion. This royal prerogative extended to Adam’s naming of his helper.” “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship, Genesis 1–3,” 92.
 The Hebrew word ṣēlā‘ is used forty-one times in the Old Testament, but it is only translated as “rib” and “ribs” in Genesis 2. See George Wigram, “צלע [ṣlʿ].”
 Bauer/Danker, “πλευρά [pleura],” 824.
 Genesis 2:18–20 (twice); Exodus 18:4b; Deuteronomy 33:7; 33:26; 33:29a; Psalms 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:17; 115:9–11 (three times); 121:1–2 (twice); 124:8; 146:5; Isaiah 30:5; Ezekiel 12:14; Daniel 11:34; Hosea 13:9.
 Perschbacher, “Boētheō,” 72.
 Matt 15:25; Mark 9:22–24; Acts 16:9; 21:28; 27:17; 2 Cor 6:2; Heb 2:18; 4:16; 13:6; Rev 12:16. 30
 Cf. Mowczko, “Every verse in the Septuagint that contains ‘boēthos.’”
 For example, Raymond Ortlund writes “So, was Eve Adam’s equal? Yes and no. She was his spiritual equal and, unlike the animals, ‘suitable for him.’ But she was not his equal in that she was his ‘helper.’” “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship, Genesis 1-3,” 91. With Ortlund’s statement in mind, John Walton comments on the Hebrew word for “helper”: “Nothing suggests a subservient status of the one helping; in fact, the opposite is more likely. Certainly ‘helper’ cannot be understood as the opposite/ complement of ‘leader.’” Walton, Genesis, 176.
 Brown, “נֶגֶד [neged]; corresponding to,” 617. On page 226 of A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, William L. Holladay (ed.) (Leiden: Brill, 2000), kĕnegdô is defined as, “like his counterpart = corresponding to him.”
 Kata often has the meaning of “according to,” etc., when it occurs with an accusative noun or substantive, as it does in Genesis 2:18.
 Bauer/Danker, “ὅμοιος [homoios],” 706. LSJ has several definitions for homoios including “resembling,” “the same,” “of the same rank or station,” and notes that the word is used in geometry of equal angles. Liddell/Scott/Jones, “ὅμοιος [homoios],” 1124–1125.
 Gesenius comments that the translation of kĕnegdô in Genesis 2:18 and 20 of the Septuagint is “well rendered”. Gesenius, “נֶגֶד [neged].”
 Walton writes, “Given all the lexical data and the fact that Adam refers to woman as taken from his “bone” and “flesh,” it is more likely that the text portrays God as taking a handful of bone and flesh out of Adam’s side to use in the construction of Eve. Another suggestion goes so far as to suggest that Yahweh divides Adam in half, making one half (side) the woman.” Genesis, 177.
 “What God had intended then was to make a ‘power’ or ‘strength’ for the man who would in every way ‘correspond to him’ or even ‘be his equal’.” Kaiser, “Genesis,” 94.
 Cynthia Long Westfall summarises the sense of authentein (from the verb authenteō).
In the Greek corpus, the verb authenteō refers to a range of actions that are not restricted to murder or violence. However, the people who are targets of these actions are harmed, forced against their will (compelled), or at least their self-interest is being overridden because the actions involve an imposition of the subject’s will, ranging from dishonour to lethal force.
Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ, 292.
 Cf. Wieland, The Significance of Salvation: A Study of Salvation in the Pastoral Epistles, 74–78.
 The Hebrew word translated as “naked” sounds like the Hebrew word translated as “intelligent” or “shrewd” in Genesis 3:1. This pun seemingly contrasts the couple’s naivety with the snake’s craftiness.
Bauer, Walter, “ὅμοιος” and “πλευρά”, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, revised and edited by F.W Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 706 & 824.
Brown, Francis, “נֶגֶד”, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 617.
Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “Appendix 2, The Danvers Statement”, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 477– 482.
Gesenius, Friedrich Wilhelm, “נֶגֶד”, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, English translation by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1857)
Holladay, William L. (ed), “נֶגֶד”, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 226.
Hess, Richard S., “Equality With and Without Innocence”, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds) (Leicester, UK: InterVarsity, 2004), 79–95.
Kaiser, Walter C., “Genesis”, Hard Sayings of the Bible, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred Brauch (eds) (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 87–136.
Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott, “ὅμοιος”, A Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition, revised by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1996), 1124–1125.
Mowczko, Margaret, The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (2011)
____________ Every Verse in the Septuagint that Contains the Word “Boēthos” (2012)
____________ A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew) (2009)
Ortlund, Raymond C., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship, Genesis 1-3”, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 86–104.
Perschbacher, Wesley J., “Boētheō”, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1990), 72.
Piper, John and Wayne Grudem (eds), Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 1991.
Walton, John H., Genesis (The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001)
Westfall, Cynthia Long, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016)
Wieland, George M., The Significance of Salvation: A Study of Salvation in the Pastoral Epistles (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2006)
Wigram, George V., “צלע”, Englishman’s Hebrew Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament (1923) <http://biblehub.com/hebrew/strongs_6763.htm>
Wolters, Albert, “A Semantic Study of authentēs and its Derivatives”, Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1/11 (Spring 2006): 44–65.
Wright, N.T., Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis, conference paper for the symposium ‘Men, Women and the Church’, St John’s College, Durham, UK (September 4th 2004)
“Husband and Wife …” by Prixel Creative via Lightstock
The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell
All my articles on Gender in Genesis 1–3 are here.