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 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.