Buried Talents: Genesis, Part 1

The most important scriptures dealing with the role of women are found in Genesis. In a number of places, Paul refers to the Creation accounts as the basis for his teachings regarding women (see 1 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Cor 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

Other times he refers simply to the “Law,” but we understand that Jews refer to the first five books of the Old Testament as the Law — not just the Law of Moses (found primarily in Leviticus and Deuteronomy). In fact, there is nothing in the Law of Moses commanding that women be subject or even submissive to men. Therefore, we take it that Paul is referring to the Creation accounts.

Because of this, the key to finding the truth of the matter is Genesis 1-3. We must first look to Genesis and find out what God’s plan for men and women really is. Only then can we look to Paul’s references to these accounts and determine the point that Paul was intending to make. We can certainly figure that Paul understood these account accurately. And we must interpret the New Testament to be consistent with the Old Testament. We don’t choose a position, find verses that seemingly support our position, argue that Genesis must say the same thing since these verses refer to it, and then ignore all that contradicts our view.

Rather, we start at the very beginning. We read the Genesis accounts for the truths that really are in them. And we rigorously apply those truths to every passage that deals with men and women. We will not find a contradiction, but we may find some surprises.

Genesis 1. Genesis 1 and 2 describe the world as it was before sin entered it. We study Genesis 1:26-28 first:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

This passage describes God’s final creative act, occurring on the sixth day. What does it tell us about men and women?

1. Both are created in God’s image.

2. Both have the rule over the Creation.

3. God made man male and female.

4. Man (that is, male and female) is to be fruitful.

So far as can be told from this passage, there is no distinction between men and women. The passage deals with the authority of man (male and female) to rule God’s Creation, but does not give the male authority to rule the female. Not only is the female not declared to be inferior to the male, both are declared to be made in God’s image.

Genesis 2 contains a more detailed account of the creation of woman.

(Gen. 2:16-25) And the LORD[1] God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Now, what does this teach us about males and females?

1. The male is incomplete and inadequate by himself. It is “not good” for him to be alone. Indeed, the only part of creation declared “not good” is Adam — until God’s creation of Eve to complete the creation of man.

2. Neither God Himself, who walked with Adam in the Garden, nor any of the animals were helpers suitable for Adam. The lesson is that man’s helper could neither be superior (God Himself) nor inferior (an animal), but rather must be flesh of his flesh.

3. God chose to make woman out of a rib. First, this teaches us that woman and man are the same flesh. God certainly could have made woman from scratch, just as he did man. But God chose to teach a lesson by making her from the identical material as Adam — Adam himself.

The Jewish rabbis have taught since before the time of Christ that God’s choice of a rib is also significant. God did not make woman from Adam’s head, as though she were to rule over him, or from his feet, as though to be in subjection to him, but from his side, to be close to him. We frequently teach this lesson in our wedding ceremonies.

Moreover, the ideal of “one flesh” is eternal as well. In the case of Adam and Eve, it means that the two were of literally identical flesh. But for us, it must mean that the husband is required by God to recognize his wife as a part of himself. He must love her as though her body were his body. He cannot treat her as an inferior or as a part of his domain.

5. Adam called Eve “woman” because she “was taken out of man.” In the Hebrew, the words for “woman” and for “man” — “adam” and “adamah” — are very similar, and Adam’s choice indicates and emphasizes the similarity between man and woman.

After Eve was made, Adam referred to her as ishshah (woman or wife) and to himself as ish (man or husband) (Gen. 2:23). Again, the similarity of the names indicates their unity and similarity. In fact, Eve wasn’t called “Eve” until after the Fall (Gen. 3:20), with the new dissimilarity of the names indicating the new barrier between husbands and wives.

6. God made man before woman. Some argue that woman is subordinate to man because Adam was made before Eve. But cows and birds were made before man, and yet man (male and female) is plainly given rule over all that was created before them (Gen. 1:26). Being made second does not in and of itself indicate subordination.

Rather, the lesson is that the male was incomplete — not good — until the female completed the Creation. In other words, the Creation order is from incompleteness toward increasing completeness, and hardly from superior to inferior.

7. God made woman to be a suitable helper. This concept is far too important to be passed over lightly. Many within the paternalistic and hierarchalist schools of thought consider this verse the linchpin of their position. It is, they contend, God’s designation of Eve as a “helper” that makes women subordinate to men for all time.

We’ll consider the meaning of “helper” in the next post.

8. Adam named Eve. Many argue that this fact shows the authority of the male over the female, and for evidence, they refer to such passages as God’s renaming Abraham and Paul or Jesus’ renaming Peter. But there are at least these objections to this interpretation –

First, God and Jesus were renaming individuals, the renaming being symbolic of a changed relationship. Eve was not being renamed in 2:20. This was the original naming. Moreover, it hardly indicates man’s authority over woman. I mean, Adam said,

(Gen 2:23-24) The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Plainly, the point being made by Adam and Moses in v. 24 is the essential unity of the husband and wife.

Second, Adam didn’t name her “Eve”; he named her “woman.” It was not a proper name at all. 

Third, he didn’t name her “Eve” until 3:20, after sin had entered the world, the Curse had fallen on Creation, and husbands had been given rule over their wives in 3:16. His renaming of her is indicative of a changed, fallen relationship. Her name (CHAVVAH in the Hebrew) is now no longer similar to Adam’s name. They are no longer as close as before. No longer are they Ish and Ishah. They are Adam and Chavvah.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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0 Responses to Buried Talents: Genesis, Part 1

  1. Alan says:

    There seems to be a preoccupation with the question of inferiority. Maybe that is relevant to paternalists as you've defined them (I'm not sure I've ever met one meeting that definintion…) But for the rest of us, it strikes me as a straw man argument. It certainly is not necessary to believe in the inferiority of women in order to hold the conviction of male headship in the church.

    So far as can be told from this passage [Gen 1:26-28], there is no distinction between men and women.

    Agreed.

    2. Neither God Himself, who walked with Adam in the Garden, nor any of the animals were helpers suitable for Adam. The lesson is that man’s helper could neither be superior (God Himself) nor inferior (an animal), but rather must be flesh of his flesh.

    The lesson is that his helper needed to be a female human. Neither inferiority, nor superiority, nor equality is addressed by the text. It sounds like this passage is being used to answer a question that is not even contemplated in the passage.

    The Jewish rabbis have taught since before the time of Christ that God’s choice of a rib is also significant.

    This marks the beginning of an unwarranted extrapolation from the text. There is no inspired scripture teaching that the relationship between man and woman has anything to do with God's use of Adam's rib. We cannot draw doctrinal conclusions from uninspired speculation.

    6. God made man before woman. Some argue that woman is subordinate to man because Adam was made before Eve.

    The apostle Paul would be one who makes that argument:

    1Ti 2:11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
    1Ti 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
    1Ti 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

  2. Nick Gill says:

    That is certainly one way to read Paul's passage.

    It is a way that, as Jay pointed out, would elevate birds and cattle to positions of authority over humanity, but it is one way to read the passage.

  3. Alan says:

    > It is a way that, as Jay pointed out, would elevate birds and cattle to
    > positions of authority over humanity

    We shouldn't ignore the obvious meaning of scripture merely because we can imagine a way to take it to a ridiculous extreme.

  4. Joe Baggett says:

    You know this is a phrase I heard a lot growing up in the good ol' cofC "The plain meaning of scripture" or the obvious meaning of scripture. There are two realities about this idea. One is common sense is only common to those who have something in common. Regardless of how much we hate to admit it our approach to scripture is mostly based on our culture, experience, and education. We look at scripture through those lenses where we know it or not. So without our presupposed ideas of CENI, "we speak where the bible speaks and are silent where it is silent”, “We do not go beyond what is written”. The realty is these are all man made doctrines within themselves and are based upon the era of reasoning of the second great awakening. So when applied these man made doctrines they led us to ask certain questions as we study scripture whether we knew it or not. The worst result of this phenomenon was that it led us to grab and pull scriptures out of context to fit together so those questions could be answered. For instance the doctrine that communion must be taken every Sunday only on Sunday is based on the question of, “what are the authorized days and ways we should observe the Lord’s Supper?” It presumes that God has a perfect little way for everything the church is to do (and to really be pleasing to Him this must be discovered and followed to the very detail) and so asks all the questions from that presumption before ever opening the Bible.

    Just because a scripture may be obvious and plain to you doesn’t mean it is to everyone else. There are many people who are honest educated devout seekers of God and because of their culture, experience and education they don’t presume the same questions we do about the Bible.

  5. Alan says:

    I honestly believe that 1 Tim 2:11-13 is not ambiguous. It takes quite a bit of ingenuity to get it to say something else. Quietness; full submission; not permitted to have authority over men. She must be silent. It's just not complicated.

    OTOH, the explanations on the other side of the issue are quite complicated. The sheer number of words required to get it to say something else should be a clue about what is happening.

  6. Joe Baggett says:

    Alan it too believe that it is not ambiguous. Here are just a few of the presupposed ideas as it relates to how we have interpreted these verses and others related to it.

    1. That these instructions were and are globally pertinent.

    2. That the culture of the persons and persons and the background that the instructions were written are irrelevant.

    3. Finally that this instruction is a part of the gospel. This is something that Jesus died for rather then specific instruction that was intended for one church or persons with specific problems.

    So now even though it expressly says that women are to remain silent on all occasions. The Greek word there means absolutely silent not a word. We interpret and apply that to mean women can only sing in unison with other men at the assembly and be pleasing to God by following this pattern.

    I am sorry in the mind God gave me I can not accept this idea or doctrine.

  7. Alan says:

    I think a lot of people come to these verses having previously decided that they cannot accept this idea or doctrine.

    How we understand the scriptures is of great importance, not just on this topic but many others also. I suspect that most of us are not consistent in how we do that. On some topics we take the scriptures as timeless doctrine, and on others we take it as culturally limited. Which way we treat a particular topic is a product of our preconceived ideas on that topic. In effect we become our own standard, deciding which scriptures are right and which ones are wrong.

  8. Joe Baggett says:

    Alan, I was raised in the "church of Christ". I am the son and grandson of missionaries, preachers, Sunset school of preaching instructors and so on. I was taught from a very young age that these scriptures could only mean one thing and must be applied in only one way. So I did not approach these scriptures with the attitude of which ones I was going to accept or ignore. Rather through years of asking more questions and experiencing the results of the traditional teaching, attitude and application decided that there were other things to consider. Finally realizing my own bias and being able to identify where it came from, I have changed my approach to studying the Bible.

  9. Nancy says:

    WARNING: this reply is written by a woman.

    "In effect we become our own standard, deciding which scriptures are right and which ones are wrong."

    Now here's a phrase I heard many, many times growing up the in the CofC. You forgot to include the last part "and we aren't safe to decide these things."

    I haven't read Jay's book on Buried Talents (I will), but it just occurred to me today that the title of this series is a nod to his understanding (true understanding) of the parable. I may have missed that somewhere in one of these posts (there is a lot to take in on this site.) I'm sure you men were a little quicker on making that connection.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Alan,

    The paternalist position is very far from a strawman argument in these parts. In fact, F. Lagard Smith's Men of Strength for Women of God is considered definitive by many.

    Of course, most arguments based in Genesis dealing with inferiority equally apply re hierarchy. There is simply no evidence of a divine plan for a hierarchy before the Fall.

    Re the reference to Adam's rib, I respectfully disagree. First, the text itself is a highly compressed narrative. It fails to answer lots of obvious questions. The details that are preserved are surely preserved for a reason.

    Second, why would the rabbis see this in the story when they were so very sexist themselves? Only because it's there.

    Third, why do we teach this very lesson in our weddings? Because it's true.

    Is it, by itself, definitive? No. But it is, as we lawyers say, admissible and probative.

    I'll be getting to 1 Tim 2.

  11. Alan says:

    Jay,

    I guess my point is that there is nothing in Genesis that answers the question between complementarian and egalitarian. And either side can point to "admissible and probative" evidence there.

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