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.
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 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.
 This section is adapted from Mowczko, “A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew).”
 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.
 See Mowczko, “The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.”
 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.
 See here for more on 1 Timothy 2:12ff.
 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.
 For example, several Bible women, even if they feature in a narrative, are not named but identified by their relationship to a man. [More on this here.]
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.
47 thoughts on “Is a Gender Hierarchy Implicit in Genesis 2?”
Very interesting. When I first started to question headship my mother brought up that in the Garden God called on Adam and asked where he was, meaning Adam was the authoritative figure in the marriage and had more responsibility. I was just wondering if, because “Adam” means “humankind” or “mankind” or something maybe God was calling on both of them? The Bible says “And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” (KJV) but maybe the “him” isn’t supposed to be there? Just a thought I had.
I think it’s a stretch to suggest that ha’adam refers to the couple in Genesis 3:9, although I do think the couple are portrayed as an inseparable unit in Genesis 2 and 3.
It’s also a stretch to suggest that Genesis 3:9ff implies that Adam had more authority or more responsibility than Eve. Rather, God holds both Adam and Eve each accountable for their own actions (Gen. 3:11-13).
Genesis 2 and 3 is told with a spotlight on the first (hu)man, more so than on the woman, but this probably says more about the original author, the original audience, and their patriarchal culture, than it does about the authority of Adam and Eve. Genesis 2 and 3 is androcentric in most sections.
One section that is not androcentric is Genesis 3:1-7. The conversation between the snake and the woman contains allusions to images and ideas seen elsewhere in the archaic and ancient world. In these old cultures, snakes were associated with wisdom, with eternal life/resurrection, and with death (cf. John 3:14-15.) And snakes were frequently associated with a female figure, usually a goddess, in myths. (In some depictions of Mary you’ll see that this traditional iconography continues today.)
The creation narrative of Genesis 2 and 3 includes a few elements and perspectives that were not unique for its time and culture. One thing that sets the biblical creation accounts apart from the primitive myths of surrounding nations, however, is that it includes an account of the creation of woman, and this account is related in a remarkably positive way. In the biblical record, the first man and woman are truly portrayed as having an equal authority before “the fall”.
Thanks for the info, it was very helpful.
Marg, in the Vimeo list of videos, I presume your presentation is within the selection titled, “Gender, Scripture and Creation”. Thank you for posting the links to the videos.
Yes, it is. There were three of us who spoke on the general topic of “Gender, Scripture and Creation”, and we each responded to the other two speakers.
The book chapters are a very mixed bag. My favourite is the one by Michael Bird on the household codes, and another on the first women preachers in Australia, written by a lady who identifies as complementarian.
Superb and relatively short for how much you cover. Well done.
I think “naked and not ashamed” has direct implications on the marriage bed.
I think there is a reason the man is called out first by God in Gen 3:9, but it is not because he is in charge. I think it is because he is (the archetype of) a deliberate sinner, as contrasted with the woman, who is a deceived sinner.
The “naked and unashamed” bit is puzzling, especially as it is linked, by a pun, to the serpent’s intelligence. Also, I’m not sure we are meant to understand that Adam and Eve were having sex before Genesis chapter 4.
Yes, I’ve heard you mention the increased culpability of Adam before, but I’m keeping my options open on this. The text gives no hint of Adam’s motives or reasons for eating the fruit.
The text really does raise many unanswerable questions.
Yes, I agree there is a verbal wordplay in Hebrew linking the end of Gen 2 with the start of Gen 3.
My point on the marriage bed is not to claim that “naked and ashamed” implies they had sex at that point in the story; it is that being naked with one’s spouse is not a reason to be ashamed. I have read that there are some people that internalize the normal desire to be clothed in public so that this even extends to the bedroom with one’s spouse; for those people, this can be a liberating verse.
Ah, I understand.
On the man being a deliberate sinner, I do not think motives come into it. He was taught not to do something directly by God, but did it anyway.
Eve knew God’s command too, and disobeyed it.
I think the situation with the woman and God’s command is much more ambiguous. There are multiple ways to fill in out lack of knowledge, for example: (1) she added to the command after hearing it from the man, (2) the man added to the command when he told her, (3) God told her the command given to the man plus the added command, and there may be others.
In any case we have Paul’s inspired interpretation.
1Ti 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve,
1Ti 2:14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was deceived, came into transgression.
Ezer seems to be used repeatedly to characterize a strong person coming to the rescue of someone in a weak position, right? It the modifier kenegdo, perhaps the implication is that this Ezer is an equal partner rather than a superior one. In any case, it’s hard for me to see her as inferior based on the word choice.
The words give no hint of inferiority at all. Any sense of inferiority or one-sided service on the part of the woman says more about the reader or commentator than the actual text.
Retha has pointed out that in a respected Afrikanns Bible translation kenegdo is plainly translated as sy gelyke which means “his equal”.
I have read on a few Jewish websites (sorry I can’t remember where to link them) that ‘naked’ really means something more like transparent, or innocent. As in they were without sin and were not ashamed. They had NO shame because they were without sin, they were transparent and innocent. It has nothing to do with the marriage bed or any sexual connotation but would be like naked, innocent children who do not know sin. Also, the command to be ‘fruitful’ is not about procreation, but rather about spreading the Word of God. << This would be like Jesus parable 'the fruit of the vine'. The 'multiply' applies to having children. Other than those two little things, I agree with 100%. And the little devil in me thinks that may be why males wanted to keep females UNEDUCATED – because a strong assistant similar to the male would have figured this out thousands of years ago 🙂
Yes, there’s a pun in the Hebrew text which links (and contrasts?) the couple’s “nakedness” with the serpent’s shrewdness. This suggests that the nakedness has something to do with naivety. (I mention this in an endnote.) Like you, I can’t see that their nakedness is associated with sex. I think we are in agreement on these points.
On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” is all about procreation. God says the same thing to the animals of the sea and sky as he does to the humans in Genesis 1:22 and 28 (cf. Gen. 8:17; 9:1, 7; 17:20, 35:11; etc).
Thank you for your reply and notes. I will do some more research on the last one. And mostly thank you for doing the bulk of the research. I enjoy your work so much. It has lead me to many ‘revelations’ during my journey.
You’re very welcome, Dee.
Great job, Marg! I wonder if you’ve interacted with John Walton’s “The Lost World of Adam and Eve,” yet? He makes several very provocative proposals, especially regarding “Eve’s” origin via divine revelation to Adam in a deep sleep, as if in a vision, instead of her coming about as the direct result of “surgery.”
Couple that with an idiomatic understanding of Genesis 2:7ff’s “formed of dust” (with Job 10:8-14 as a similar, literarily contemporary, description, where Job is NOT thereby claiming to never have been born by natural means, as well, to a regular human mother), and then consider his proposal that Genesis 1:3-2:3 is to be read as the first and definitive account, with Genesis 2:5ff NOT going back to “fill in more details” of the first account, but instead as sequentially carrying on the narrative of events which happened AFTER the first account was concluded, and you have an even stronger case for not confusing the “creation order” of Genesis 2:5ff with the details of Genesis 1:3-2:3. This makes Adam NOT the first human ever, but only the first human to have willfully violated a direct “Thou shalt not” command of God –without any recourse to claim of having been deceived. Later NT counterclaims which seem to be contrary to the original simultaneity of “male and female created in the image of God” in Genesis 1:3-2:3, Paul cites in rebuttal to those so arguing, pointing out that, even if such were the case, in the Lord, both men and women depend upon each other, and thus any supposed primacy is moot.
It’s an odd argument, this “man was made first, and is thus in authority” view, especially since the animals were made before man! If anything, the more explicit way to overreach the text is to hold that Eve was made last, tailor-made to meet an essential deficiency within males, and therefore superior… and I’m quite sure that was an awful lot like the heresy Paul had to confront in Ephesus! You don’t solve “heirarchical patriarchy” with “heirarchical matriarchy.” As for Walton’s view, it’s worth the read, though I don’t agree with every little detail, necessarily. He deals with the NT texts, as well, at length.
Some of these ideas surprise me. I’ve read a bits and pieces of a few of Walton’s works and listened to a few of his lectures, but I haven’t come across his “vision” idea. On the other hand, I think Genesis 1:26-28 and 4:12-17 indicates that God created more humans, other than Adam and Eve.
I see two different creation accounts written by two different authors in Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Genesis 2:4bff. (I like how the CEB and NRSV work out the division between the two accounts.) I agree, the second does not fill in the blanks of the first account, but both accounts must be considered when drawing permanent principles about humanity, etc.
I also agree that “man was made first, and is thus in authority” is a strange argument. It is also completely at odds with what Jesus and Paul taught about relationships and ministry. This argument fails to understand why Paul included a summary of Genesis 2 and 3 in his first letter to Timothy.
I’ll have to take a longer look at Walton’s work.
Walton is great.
He argues that the end of Gen 1 is Gen 2:3 and the start of the new section is Gen 2:4 in NIVAC Genesis. You might want to at least check out his argument, I find it compelling, but the essence is that toledot/generations is a start indicator, not an end indicator.
He has 3 books on early Genesis so far, 2 for general readers and 1 for scholars. The 2 Lost World books have many great insights and have greatly influenced the way I read these stories.
Thanks, Marg and Don, for the support.
Walton has more to him than most people give credit for.
I’ve begun working on an alternative theory for interpreting early Genesis, and while I think Walton may go looking too far in using other ANE pagan literature to interpret Genesis in some places, his overall point that there’s valuable cultural context and clues to the ancient, non-Jewish ANE mindset, and that the text of Genesis interacts with and often corrects it, is highly pertinent and valuable.
The Genesis 2:4 ‘toledot is a bit of an artistic enigma, wrapped as it is inside a chiasm, and may serve as both an end AND a start indicator.
A fairly recent Themelios journal went into the weeds of reviewing Walton’s proposals, and the near-miss critiques launched at them. It is worth reading, and I’ve begun a response to Dr. Richard Averbeck, the editor who penned this article. My comments are /marked off like this throughout the selected quotes; I have not yet cited them all by page.
Rather than hijack your thread, Marg, I’ll send the rest of this along to you and Don separately by email, once I can find your email addresses again.
This whole proposal is not as far out as you might think at first glance.
Guy, I’ve been thinking about the vision idea, and its beginning to sound plausible to me. I’ll have to find out more.
Walton’s basic point with regard to Eve’s “origin” is that an ancient reader would never have associated sleep with surgery (that’s a modern idea, and the result of carefully orchestrated anaesthetics. Therefore, we are free to explore further. The Hebrew words used to describe Adam’s “sleep” are more usually reserved for visionary experiences, during which God gives revelation– in this case, that Eve is “literally” (experientially) made from his “rib” or side, of his very body (and not just a bone, since he says “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” when she’s finally presented to him). He makes it entirely about a revelatory vision of who Eve is, rather than just a story of the “bodily manufacture” of Eve. As such, there is no requirement to believe in a “magical” procedure to account for her existence– the magic was all about who she was, his ‘ezer kenegdo.
If Walton claims that the Hebrew term for “deep sleep” in Gen 2 is usually reserved for visionary experiences then I’d say he’s wrong. It’s a rare word, and in 3 of its 7 occurrences it has no suggestion of visionary experiences, in the other 3 that is made clear by the context. So outside of Gen 2 it’s 50-50 and in Gen 2 the context doesn’t include any terms normally describing a vision!
Furthermore, I think the vision claim downplays the aetiological nature of Gen 1–11.
Walton’s claim is not as clumsy as that. “We need to examine the word ‘deep sleep’ (tardema, from rdm). The noun occurs seven times and the verbal root from which it is drawn another 7 times. We find that the sleep the word describes could be used in three different sorts of circumstances. 1. When someone is unresponsive to circumstances in the human realm induced by something in the human realm (Sisera’s exhaustion and warm milk, Judges 4:19, 21; horse and charioteer in the sleep of death, Ps 76:6; sloth brought on by laziness, Prov 19:5; cf. Prov 10:5) 2. When someone is unresponsive to circumstances in the human realm and equally unresponsive to deity (Saul, 1 Sam 26:12; faithless Israel, Is 29:10; Jonah, Jon 1:5-6) 3. When someone has become unresponsive to the human realm in order to receive communication from the divine realm (Abraham, Gen 15:12; Eliphaz, Job 4:13; Daniel, Dan 8:18; 10:9; cf. Job 33:15) Michael Fox adds the insight that the word pertains to ‘untimely sleep or stupefaction, not to normal sleep at night.’ In all three categories, this sleep blocks all perception to the human realm. In each of these passages there’s either danger in the human realm of which the sleeper is unaware, or there is insight in the visionary realm to be gained. Pertaining to the latter possibility, it is of interest that the Septuagint translators chose to use the Greek word ekstasis in Genesis 2 :21. This word is the same as the one they used in Genesis 15:12, suggesting an understanding related to visions, trances and ecstacy (cf. the use of this Greek word in Acts 10:10; 11:15; 22:17). This interpretation is also evident among the church fathers (Ephrem, Tertullian). For the Vulgate, Jerome chose the Latin word sopor, which refers to any sort of abnormal sleep, including that which comes about in trances. From these data it is easy to conclude that Adam’s sleep has prepared him for a visionary experience rather than for a surgical procedure. The description of himself being cut in half and the woman being built from the other half (Genesis 2:21-22) would not refer to something he physically experienced but to something he saw in a vision.” –The Lost World of Adam and Eve, by John Walton, IVP Academic, 2015; pp. 80-81.
–As for the aetiological purpose of this narrative, this interpretive approach shifts the focus away from “material origins,” as Walton is wont to say, and towards Eve’s ontological identity. One might make the case that an unwarranted interpretive ideology has hijacked the true aetiological purpose of the narrative.
I am an evolutionary creationist so I really like Walton’s insights on the “splitting of the Adam” as this frees us from needing to read it as a material formation event.
Don, It seems to me that 2:4b at the very least belongs to the second creation account and its consistent use of “YHWH Elohim” in reference to God. And the “toledot” may preface the second account rather than conclude the first account.
Wrapped as it is, inside of a chiasm, the ‘toledot may serve as BOTH conclusory (Gen 2:4a) AND introductory (Gen 2:4b). In any case, the point Walton is trying to make is that the text is taking pains to prevent the kind of recursive, “Let’s go back to fill in some details to the previous account” kind of interpretive approach that most traditionally take upon starting into Genesis 2:5ff, and instead making it clear that Genesis 2:5ff is sequential to the first account– and here’s where the insight is easily lost– the Adam and Eve story is LATER THAN (much later than, in my estimation) the story of God creating mankind “in His image, male and female.” That means that the unquestionably egalitarian account of Gen 1:26-27ff is the controlling one, and that the Adam and Eve story cannot be construed as “the human origins story”– that was in a previous chapter– but as “the human fall” story, from innocence in a garden to willful rebellion, self-referentialism, and its consequences. I find too much energy being spent on “introductory, or conclusory” questions regarding the ‘toledot, and not enough to the implications it brings, no matter what, to how we must interpret Genesis 2:5ff as sequential to, and thus later than, maybe much later than, the human origins story.
Especially, by the way, to the “pre-human, physical-only, origins story” hinted at by Genesis 1:26– the “mankind” that pre-existed God’s making of humanity “in His image” in Genesis 1:27ff. The “creation versus evolution” controversy is based on confusion at this very point; our physical origins are NOT simultaneous with our spiritual origins– God created that part, as a de novo innovation, that made us different in kind, not just in degree, from pre-human animals.
Obviously, if toledot acts as a staring delimiter, then it also acts to end the previous section of text without the toledot. NIVAC Genesis by Walton spends quite a few pages showing first that toledot is a delimiter in Gen and then that it is a starting delimiter, as he see it (and I agree).
My take is there are 3 Creation stories in Gen (1:1, 2:4, and 5:1 and other Creation stories elsewhere). Each should be understood first on its own and then compared and contrasted with others. Any time there are multiple stories about something, the possibility exists that one can find concordances and also dissonances between the different stories.
I think the 1st and the 2nd Creation stories have dissonances and that this is a big clue as to how they are to be understood in terms of genre. The author/compiler of the 2 stories knew this and still put them adjacent, resulting in the sum being greater than the parts.
P.S. I see there being 2 flood stories in what is commonly thought of as THE Gen flood story, the 2 texts in this case is intermixed, but can be untangled with some effort.
But that’s just it, Don; read sequentially, Gen 1:3-2:3 and Gen 2:5ff, don’t have rreconcilable details, especially when you don’t try to force th second account to be recapitulatory. There’s no need to say that “the author/compiler put them together anyway” because they do not cover the same ground. The plants “of the field” mentioned in Genesis 2 are deliberately farmed crops, not the plants from Gen 1. The two opening accounts end up telling a sort of parable about the emergence of irrigation farming and animal domestication from the first hunter-gatherer lifestyle mandated by the instructions in Gen 1:28ff, which by the way, contained no legal demands or prohibition. “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” is the hunter-gatherer mandate of Gen 1. By the time we get to the Adam and Eve story, however, a very different mandate is given, which is at odds with the first; “stay in the garden, to work it and to keep it” just so happen to be the same verbs used later to describe priestly service. Adam and Eve, privileged to live in a garden paradise God has provided for them, and to “walk in the cool of the evenings” with His very Presence, are given every advantage as priests to get to know God’s character and intentions towards them– yet Eve, whose guilt is at least partly mitigated by her shorter tenure with Him, is tempted at the very point of her weakness– “Did God really say…” (the account never clarifies whether God spoke His command directly to her) “you shall surely not die; for the Lord knows that if you eat of the fruit, you will become like Him, knowing good from evil” (go ahead and doubt God’s character and intentions–I have, and I’m not dead; see?). Eve, thus decieved, eats; and Adam, whose silence during the whole affair belies the seeds of a hidden agenda, eats along with her– choosing her over God, rather than refusing, and interceding on her behalf with God instead. The narrative flows logically and sequentially, with no need to resort to “genre gymnastics” to explain what are actually non-existent tensions (which are only imposed on the text by a non-sequential, recapitulative, reading– of course such an approachresults in artificially imposed dischronologies! It’s past time to abandon it!).
I agree that thinking that Gen 2:4ff is happening during day 6 of Gen 1 requires too big a leap without somehow fudging the text. However, I think one can go further.
In Gen 1, the birds are created/bara on day 5 and humans on day 6. In Gen 2, every bird is formed/yatsar after the human and then named by the human/adam. To me, this says that at most one story can be chronological without somehow fudging the text. I find this freeing as I read both of these stories like parables.
Collins addresses the “birds and animals after man in Genesis 2” dischronology argument with a section in his book on Genesis 1-4 that lays out his justification for using a pluperfect “had formed” construction in the ESV for the verse in question. Whether this amounts to fudging the text, I’ll let you decide. There is at least one other interpretive possibility, however, that would draw a distinction between the ‘bara of Genesis 1 referring to the “de novo” speciation of birds, with ‘yatsar commenting instead upon their evolutionary development and their being presented to Adam in all their variety, to be named by Adam. It need not be an account of their full-blown, primary “creation” at all, and thus not an impediment to seeing both accounts as chronological, and unconflicting in their details– witout fudging the text.
I think the ESV is tainted in its translation of gender verses and I think you agree. “had formed” is another example of the ESV stretching things so the text will fit as they desire as far as I can see. No one reading the Gen 2 text standalone as a story would think that was what it was saying.
I think there are many ways to try to faithfully read the text as no one is a infallible interpreter. I read them like parables that recapitulate Israel’s story and therefore not as prehistory. I know there are many others that make other choices.
We are material and immaterial. God formed Adam from the dust of the earth (material) and then breathed life (immaterial) into him. Does anyone else think that maybe God used part of man (XY) to make woman (XX)?
Genesis 2 says that God took part of the (hu)man and built a woman (XX) from the part. If Genesis 2 is relating a historical event, and I’m not sure that it does, the (hu)man may have been XY or XXY. The Bible, written by ancient people, doesn’t provide genetic information.
It makes more sense to read Genesis chapters 2-3 as an inspired and significant foundation “myth” (it certainly contains several myth-like elements) that provides many important truths for the people of God to live by.
There is no need to resort to “myth” in the face of this genetic puzzle, just as there is no need to do so when confronted with the miracle (processes unexpected according to the normal operations of nature) which would have had to be involved in the birth of Jesus, as a human male, to a virgin young woman. The genetics involve symmetrically similar problems between these two scenarios. The proposal that Eve was NOT actually fabricated using cells from Adam’s body has already been presented; but, even using a theory of “surgical” origination, there are sperm cells in every male which are haploid “female”. Given that normal genetic processes can produce such variations, no theory of ahistory for Genesis is necessary.
Genetics is not a reason why I suspect the Genesis 2-3 story is a foundation myth.
Jews in the Middle Ages wrote down many things in their deep analysis of the text, this is long before the advent of modern science, so they cannot be accused of conforming to it. They figured out just from the Gen text that something unusual was going on and therefore taught that the stories should not be read as history.
I agree with Marg that given all the clues the best genre classification for the early Gen stories is Creation/Origins myth (as a way to establish foundational truths); that is, they can be read as similar to parables. However, them’s fightin’ words to many.
Great article. I wrote something similar in my first blog on the word “head”. I argued that in Genesis, Adam wasn’t giving himself authority over Eve when he named her and declared her the flesh of his flesh bones of his bones as some comps have claimed. He was in fact declaring her a suitable mate who was like him coming from the same flesh. Also some think Eve giving Adam the fruit from the tree of knowledge was her taking over his leadership, and Adam gave up his leadership to her when he listened to her. In reality he failed because in giving in to Eve, he disobeyed God, and Eve’s sin was she listened to the serpent and went against God too. Many use this to justify sexist ideas in which women is easily misled and things fall apart when a women takes the leadership role and how Adam ruling over Eve was a consequence of sin making husbands to rule over their wives part of the new order when in fact that was the curse that some husbands will dominate their wives but God’s order was equal standing with no power plays. Once again love everything you write. God Bless.
People really have read some unfounded things into Genesis 2 and 3, with the aim of bolstering men and diminishing women. It’s all quite sad and it’s got to stop.
Marg – thank you so much for all this. A pedestrian question, sorry. When you refer to God, what pronoun do you choose to use?
I always use masculine pronouns such as “he”, “his”, or “him” (even for the Holy Spirit, unless I’m writing in Greek).
I acknowledge the inadequacies of most languages, gendered or not, when it comes to pronouns for God. We need a divine, non-gendered pronoun. (I believe one of the Chinese languages has a special pronoun for divinity.)
More on the problems with masculine pronouns, here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/masculine-pronouns-english-bible/
Thanks Marg. This is a stumbling block that, once we resolve with a divine, non-gendered pronoun that is known culturally exactly to whom that refers, will help a lot of people…
My first language is English, but I learned Spanish as an adult and speak it at home with my family. I am now learning Turkish. Spanish marks all its nouns and adjectives as either masculine or feminine. There is no neuter option. Even the word “Dios” (God) is a masculine word, and any adjective that one might use to modify it will have to be masculine in order to be grammatically correct. In other words, not just the pronouns but the entire language system would need to change in order to take gender away from words for God. Now in Turkish on the other hand there is no gender at all–not even in the pronouns! So, problem solved when it comes to pronouns for God! But, the culture nevertheless finds a way to be just as patriarchal as the rest of us.
I went to Princeton Seminary where the convention is to just say “God” instead of using pronouns. I think it’s a good habit because it helps to remind an English speaker that God is not a man. But …the habit is not helpful for people who speak other languages that have different grammatical systems. Another important point to note is that monotheism, with its central idea that God is personal but does not have a body and therefore does not have gender, arose amid speakers of Semitic languages, which even extend gender to verbs!
It seems to me that a better approach is to emphasize that it is our equal relationship with God–not our identity with God’s gender–that provides the basis for our equality before each other. Even if God had a gender this would still be true. As an analogy, suppose a woman (I use a woman as my example because giving birth is the closest analogy to creation that I can think of) has two children, a boy and a girl. She can truthfully and legitimately say, “I love you both and you are both equal to me.” The girl can’t say to her brother, “I have the same gender as mother. Therefore I am higher.” This is because it is her relationship as a child of her mother that gives her her status, not any physical quality that she has in common with her mother.
Even though I still tend to avoid saying “he” and “him” when I talk or write about God in English, in my opinion changing our pronouns around is not going to do much when it comes to our pursuit of equality in the church.
Thank you for your blog. I found your explanation regarding “ezer” and “kenegdo” especially interesting. I have never heard the phrase “corresponding to him” explained the way you presented it and I plan to do more study on it. I can see how easy it is to project our current understanding of words into Scripture when it may be saying something entirely different.