In the nineteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus provides one of the most important keys to understanding Christian teaching on men and women in a passage where he discusses marriage and divorce. The passage, an exchange between Jesus and some Pharisees about the grounds for divorce, is sometimes overlooked in discussions about men’s and women’s roles. However, it contains some crucial principles, especially about how to interpret the scriptures wisely. This passage will be the starting point of the study of scriptural teaching on men and women.
The discussion begins when some Pharisees come up to Jesus “to test him.” They want him to answer a question about the law. Possibly they hope that they can force him to answer in a way that would embarrass him or lose him support. More likely they want to see where he stands on an issue that was much debated among groups of Pharisees and between Pharisees and other Jews. The discussion as presented in Matthew 19:3–9 follows:
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”
During the time that Jesus preached and taught, there were two main Pharisaic schools of interpretation of points of the law. The differences between the two surfaced in various issues, including the question of divorce.1 The school of Hillel allowed divorce for many reasons, almost “on any ground,” as some translations have it. The Mishnah records that the school of Hillel allowed a man to divorce his wife “even when she burns the food.”2 The school of Shammai, the stricter party, only allowed divorce for transgression of the marital laws. The controversy originated because the law contained a decision about divorce procedures (Dt 24:1–4), but did not state clearly the grounds on which divorce was permissible.
The matter of interest at this point is not Jesus’ position on divorce, but the way Jesus approaches the question. He begins his reply by referring to the creation account in Genesis 1 and he then adds a verse from the account of the creation of woman in Genesis 2. From these two verses he concludes that a man and his wife are no longer two but one and that divorce therefore violates the unity that God establishes when he joins a man and woman together. When Jesus’ questioners object that Moses allowed divorce and refer to a passage from Deuteronomy to prove their point, Jesus replies that the law they quoted was only given because of “your hardness of heart,” that is, as a concession to man’s obduracy and therefore as a protective measure for situations where hardness of heart is what normally can be expected. But he insists that divorce was not God’s original and highest intention. “From the beginning it was not so.”
Jesus appeals to “the beginning.” He appeals to creation and God’s purpose in creating.3 He thereby lays down a principle of great importance: To understand how God intends human life to be, we should look to God’s purpose in creating the human race. Behind this principle lies an understanding of how to approach “law” and the various teachings in revelation. Jesus indicates that when we consider God’s directives, especially those written in scripture, we should look to the intention behind the directives in order to observe them well. It is not enough to observe a directive “legalistically”; that is, it is not enough to merely apply the directive to our lives externally so that we behave in a way that somehow conforms to the law. Rather, we cannot observe a law well unless we understand God’s intention in giving the law and cooperate with that intention in our observance. We cannot deal adequately with the law on divorce in Deuteronomy by resorting to casuistic explanations of the grounds of divorce. We must first understand that God’s intention for the law of Deuteronomy was to deal with those who were hard of heart, not those who were inwardly committed to God’s perfect way.
The principle Jesus enunciates also teaches that a key place to grasp God’s intention for matters like divorce is the account of creation in Genesis. We can see God’s intention for the human race purely in his original creation of the first human beings. In other words, we have to go back to the first chapters of Genesis to understand some important elements of God’s purpose for the human race. In Genesis, we thus find the most helpful perspective for understanding men and women.
Other New Testament writers, especially Paul, followed Jesus’ lead. Most of the important passages on men-women roles in the New Testament refer back either explicitly or implicitly to the first three chapters of Genesis (1 Cor 11:2–16; Gal 3:26–28; Eph 5:22–31; 1 Tm 2:9–15). These passages clearly show the foundational importance of the creation accounts for understanding this subject in a Christian perspective. It is not possible to understand the New Testament teaching on men and women without understanding how it is founded on the creation of Adam and Eve and on God’s purpose as revealed in the creation of the human race. Therefore, this book’s study of scripture will start by looking at “the beginning.”
Despite the central role that the New Testament gives Genesis, many are tempted to bypass Genesis because it is difficult to interpret. Among these difficulties, the one that most commonly comes to mind is the issue of the “historicity” of Genesis. Did God actually create the world in six days? Did anyone like Adam and Eve really exist and were they the only parents of the human race? Did a serpent cause Adam and Eve to fall by persuading them to eat a piece of fruit? The very questions are enough to make a modern mind wary of Genesis. Memories of the Scopes trial and similar controversies make many Christians want to give Genesis a wide berth.
However, these issues raise questions about the truth value of Genesis that cannot be ignored if the book is so central to the New Testament teaching on men and women. Four main approaches to the truth value of Genesis and their implications for the study of men and women should be assessed:
- The beginning of Genesis is simply a myth or story with no truth value. This approach holds that at some point in the human past—in ancient Israelite or Babylonian or Iranian tradition—a story emerged about how things began. This story or myth was incorporated into Genesis. This story has no historical basis, nor does it have any truth value. The beginning of Genesis is simply an interesting view into primitive culture or is perhaps a notable piece of literature. It may even provide insight into some truth, but it is of little more value for this purpose than an ancient Greek myth of creation.4
- The beginning of Genesis is a symbolic story. In this approach, Genesis is held to have no historical basis. Adam and Eve never existed as real people. The events in the beginning of Genesis did not happen the same way Hitler’s invasion of Poland happened. They emerged out of Israelite tradition (or someone made them up) the way fairy tales emerge. But they came into existence for a purpose: to teach some things which were clearly true. The story of Adam and Eve is a dramatic presentation created or redacted by someone (the Yahwist) with a gift for storytelling who composed it to teach some truths about God and the human race, about men and women, about sex and marriage. Even though it is not historical, it is true in the most significant sense of “true.”5
- The beginning of Genesis is a historical narrative. This approach regards Genesis as a description of how things happened as much as, say, Churchill’s The Second World War. Some who hold this view might see some elements of the account as symbolic (the “apple” perhaps) or as presented in a dramatic way. But the main outlines, if not all the details, are basically a sober, historical account, as factual as any historical account. The beginning of Genesis is historically true.6
- The beginning of Genesis is a historical story. According to this view, the beginning of Genesis is not a normal work of history. Most of the material is an imaginative creation of the author or of some tradition. Yet historical facts are behind these accounts. The stories of the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve actually refer to events that happened. The events may be presented in dramatic form and the accounts may make use of symbolic elements, but the core of the story is historical. It concerns something that happened, albeit not in the way described. The story is written in a form that is primarily designed to convey the significance of the underlying event. It is somewhat like the Iliad or a historical novel. According to this approach, the beginning of Genesis is true in the teaching it gives and it also contains historical truth.7
Many of the issues raised by these approaches to the truth value of Genesis lie outside the scope of this book. This book deals with men’s and women’s roles in scripture. The primary concern of the book is with scripture’s teaching and directives to Christians about how to live as men and women. The issue does not necessarily involve deciding whether certain events in scripture actually happened (such as, did God “really” create Eve out of Adam’s rib, or did Jesus ever discuss divorce with a group of Pharisees, or did Jesus ever restore a withered hand instantaneously). These are important questions, but they are not directly relevant to the primary concern—the scriptural teaching on men and women. In other words, many of the questions that can be raised about the truth value of Genesis do not need to be decided here. But some of them do need to be dealt with.
Fundamental to the approach of this book is the view that the scripture is the word of God. Scripture is God’s revelation to the human race of what he wants people to know. Some of the questions connected with this view will be treated in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen. Moreover, there are many questions connected with interpreting the scripture, questions which must be answered in order to determine what God is saying and what Christians should do in response. Many of the issues and questions connected with scripture interpretation will be treated more fully in Chapter Twenty. However, at this point it is enough to say that believing that scripture is God’s word means believing that the teaching in it is true. Therefore, the teaching in Genesis is true.
Thus it is evident that the first approach to the truth value of Genesis is incompatible with accepting all of scripture as God’s word. The first approach, which regards the beginning of Genesis as a myth with no truth value, would not allow us to draw reliable teaching from the beginning of Genesis, since this view regards these chapters as just a story from a primitive culture. Many people also hold that the second and fourth approaches are also incompatible with understanding scripture as God’s word. They maintain that to regard these chapters as symbolic stories or as historical stories denies the historical value of the Genesis accounts and therefore denies the inerrancy of scripture which must be accepted if one is to believe that scripture is God’s word.8 To consider this point would go beyond the purpose of this book. This position concerns the historicity of the events in Genesis; the concern of this chapter is only with the teaching in Genesis on men-women roles. One need not decide the exact historical quality of the Genesis account in order to hold that the account of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3 contains true teaching and revelation about God’s purpose in creating men and women and about their relationship to one another. Thus, for the purposes of this discussion, approaches two, three, and four are all adequate approaches to the truth value of Genesis.
Approach one, then, is an inadequate approach for a Christian to take to Genesis because it does not allow us to regard the beginning of Genesis as God’s word. While few Christians would take approach one in the unembellished fashion it is presented above, a number of Christians hold a version of approach two that amounts to a similar position. They hold that if the events narrated in Genesis are not true history, any arguments or conclusions based on those events (like Paul’s arguments based on the view that God created Eve out of Adam) cannot be true. They might say: if the Genesis narratives cannot be taken literally, then teaching cannot be based on the events described in them. This position is simply a more subtle way of dismissing the teaching value of Genesis on the basis of considerations about the historical value of the accounts.
To be sure, there are significant difficulties in understanding what particular passages of Genesis are actually teaching about men and women; these difficulties will be examined. But the issues concerning the historicity of Genesis do not need further discussion. Whether symbolical story, historical narrative, or historical story, the accounts in Genesis do describe God’s creation of the human race in a way that teaches a great deal about God’s purpose in creation and about his intention for men and women.
Three passages in the beginning of Genesis are especially central for understanding the relationship of man and woman: Genesis 1:26–31 (the account of the creation of the human race), Genesis 2:18–25 (the account of the creation of woman), and Genesis 3:1–24, especially verses 16–19 (the account of the Fall). These passages occur in a larger block of material that extends from chapter 1 to chapter 5. This block includes the account of the creation and Fall and also a record of Adam’s descendants up to Noah, thereby setting the stage for the next great incident, the flood.
The first five chapters of Genesis are an introduction to the book of Genesis, in fact to all of scripture. The central concern of the Bible is the redemptive plan of God. This story of the old and new Israel begins with Abraham. Yet the whole history begins with a statement about the place of man in the universe and God’s purpose in creating man.
One major purpose of the first five chapters of Genesis is to attack the religions of peoples surrounding the Israelites, religions that tempted the Israelites. These religions involved star and animal worship and fertility cults. The beginning of Genesis teaches clearly that God created all of what might be called material creation, and he placed the human race over the living things on earth. Moreover, Genesis teaches that God gave sex to the human race as a means to create society, not as something that human beings are subject to. Finally, the beginning of Genesis teaches that man’s life as we see it is not functioning according to God’s original intention. The way things are is not the way things should be. Rather, the human race needs God to show it what human life should be like, and humans must rely on God to do something to make the right kind of human life possible.9
Thus a major focus of the beginning of Genesis are the roles and relationship of the sexes in human life. Genesis is very much concerned with marriage, sex, men and women, childbearing, and family life. It is not an exhaustive treatise on these social realities. But to limit the teaching of Genesis to “the fatherhood of God” and the unity of the human “family” as some do is to miss some of the major concerns of the book.10 When Jesus and the apostles detect in Genesis a statement about man and woman and their relationship to one another in the human race, they have found a major feature of the accounts.
Genesis 1:1–2:4a is the first literary unit in Genesis. It is an account of the creation of the visible universe. The materials in it are presented in an organized, schematic fashion. Unlike Genesis 2–4, which is presented in a predominantly dramatic form, Genesis 1 is more of a “doctrinal” presentation. Much of it does not concern the topic of this book, but the account of the creation of man concerns us a great deal. Some of the phrases in these few verses occur throughout the scripture and throughout Christian tradition. The teaching presented in these few lines lies behind much of the most important teaching and theology in the rest of scripture and in Christian tradition, especially in the area of men’s and women’s roles. The account of the creation of man in Genesis 1 is as follows:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after 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 earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And 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 . . .” And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.
Genesis 1:26–31 is primarily concerned with the place of the human race in the universe. The human race was created last, the high point of the visible creation.11 This section contains two key statements about the way God created the human race: God created man in his own image and likeness, and God created man male and female. It also contains two directions for the human race: It is to have dominion over the living things on the earth, and it is to increase and multiply, that is, to become a race or people. The two directions are derived from the way God created the human race—in his image and likeness, and as male and female.
Genesis 1:26 begins by stating, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and after our likeness.’” The terms “image” and “likeness” are important for the roles of men and women both because of what they say about the nature of the human race and because of later discussions by Christian teachers about whether woman is made in God’s image. The phrase “in our image and after our likeness” seems to be connected with the commission that mankind is to have dominion over the living creatures of earth. Genesis 5:3 gives some insight into the meaning of this phrase: “Adam became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Here the same phrase is used of a human father generating a human son. The similarity in usage indicates that when God formed the first man after his “image” and “likeness,” he created a being similar in nature to himself, a being who could to some degree carry on his own role and take his place.
God, then, created humans to be like him in some very important respects so that they could be his representatives and rule over part of creation. Man participates in God’s nature enough so that he is like God and can act on God’s behalf. God’s purpose involves giving the human race a very important role in creation and an ability to exercise God’s own authority in the way God himself would.
Genesis 1:27–28 states: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply . . .’” These verses add something of great importance to us—that God created “man” male and female. The text moves back and forth between the singular (“man,” or “the man”) and the plural (“them”) in a way that can be confusing. However, the shift between singular and plural is an indication of something important: The text is not just concerned with the first human being, but is concerned as well with the whole human race. The meaning of the word adam points to the same conclusion. Adam is the Hebrew word for “human” or “human being.” It can be translated “man” in English, but it can also be translated “human” or “human being.” Moreover, it can even be translated “Man” as in “mankind” or the “the human race.” Genesis 1:26 could be translated “Let us make Man (the human race) in our own image.” In other words, when Genesis 1 is talking about “man,” it is referring to the creation of the human race and not simply about one male human being “Adam” (although, as we shall see farther on, the two cannot be completely separated).
Therefore, Genesis 1:27–28 states that the two sexes are part of the way God made the human race, and that God made them that way for a purpose—so that they could have children and increase and multiply. Here the command to increase is linked with the creation of the human race male and female. Sexual differentiation, then, is part of God’s original purpose for the human race on this earth, and it is good. Both men and women are essential for a fully functioning human race. According to Genesis 1, God wants both men and women.
It is natural to draw a further implication from Genesis 1:27–28, namely, that God created both men and women in his image and likeness. This point is debated, and this debate will be considered in a later chapter. Here it is enough to make three observations. First, Genesis 1:26–31 is about the creation of the human race; the natural implication would be that everything that is said about “man” is true of every human being. Secondly, nothing in Genesis 1:26–31 indicates that women do not take part in the commission associated with being in God’s image, namely, having dominion over the living creatures. Rather, the fact that the commission is repeated in v. 28 following the statement about the human race being created male and female indicates that women share not only the commission but also the image of God which makes the commission possible. Finally, in Genesis 1:27, the phrase “male and female he created them” is an elaboration following on “God created man in his own image.” The progression would then be something like this: God created the human race in his own image so that it could have dominion over living things. Moreover, he created the human race male and female so that the race could increase and fill the earth.
Genesis 1 does not say much about the roles of men and women. The passage is not concerned with differences between men and women or with the implications of those differences. Those who try to make the case that Genesis 1 is upholding a view of man and woman that does not involve any differentiation in roles or subordination of woman to man are reading something into the passage that is not there.12 Since the passage does not focus on the differences between men and women in that way, interpreters exceed the bounds of evidence when they claim it represents some definite approach to the area. But that is not to say that the passage is irrelevant to a discussion on the roles of men and women. It states something that is crucial to keep in focus: The human race as a whole has a call within God’s creation and both men and women participate in that call. Both men and women are good and important to God. The passage also suggests that the difference between men and women cannot be understood properly without keeping in view the need for human reproduction. Genesis 1, in other words, is a foundation for all further consideration of the roles of men and women.
Genesis 2 contains a presentation of the creation of man that covers the same ground as Genesis 1:26–31, but in a significantly different way. Genesis 2 relates the story of Adam and Eve in narrative form. In so doing, it reveals a great deal about the origin, and purpose of the human race. Some view Genesis 2 as a second and parallel account of human creation. Some view it as primarily an account of the origin of the sexes, while Genesis 1 is an account of the origin of the species.13 Both views are basically correct and can be seen as complementary insights if not stated in too exclusive a way. For the purposes of this discussion, the most important observation is that Genesis 2 includes a much more developed treatment of the two sexes and their relationship. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that the central concern of at least verses 18–25 in Genesis 2 is the relationship of men and women. That concern continues in Genesis 3.
Chapter 2 of Genesis focuses on the creation of man in a way that chapter 1 does not. Genesis 2 begins with heaven and earth already created. From the literary point of view, the creation of man in chapter 2 begins the account, and man is the center of concern throughout. God gives man an occupation in Genesis 2. God entrusts him with the care of the garden, and with that responsibility he commands man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This commandment expresses God’s fatherly care: If man eats of the tree he will die. Eating of the tree, in other words, is dangerous. Nonetheless, God delivers a command and not just good advice. Man’s occupation and the commandment will become important in considering the Fall and the curses. Here we only need to see them as background to the creation of woman.
To understand Genesis 2 accurately, the term “man” must be studied more fully than was necessary for Genesis 1. In chapter 2 “the man” (“the human,” “The Man,” “The Human,” “Adam”) is the focal point, and some of the understanding of the chapter turns on discovering how the particular individual who was first created is presented. First, the Hebrew word ha-adam is normally translated as “the man” or “the human.” In those few cases where it is without a definite article, it can usually be translated as a proper name, “Adam.” “The man” can be understood as an individual or as an archetype of the whole human race. To get a feel for the difference in connotation, it is helpful to read through the account and substitute the words “the human,” “Mankind,” and “Adam” for the words “the man” (the most common translation of ha-adam).
Genesis 2 is talking about a man who was the first human being and from whom the whole human race descended. At this point he was the human race. Later on, his proper name was “Human” or “Man” (Gn 5:1, 3). The writers of scripture understood him as embodying in his person the human race, much as the man Israel embodied in his person the people Israel (cf. Heb 7:9). It would be possible to say that Human (Adam) was the archetype of the human race, but this could be misleading, because the Jewish mind saw the relationship much more realistically. The original father of the race was the race while he lived, and later on the race Israel could be seen as the continuation of the man Israel. The account of Human (Adam) is not an account of one human being among many. It is an account of the man who passed his nature and call on to his descendants, who affected their history by what he did, and who lives on in them as a people.14
Luke 3:38 provides a further insight into Adam and his significance. Luke 3:38 falls at the end of a genealogy of Jesus that begins, “Jesus was the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat . . .” and the genealogy continues back through David and Abraham to “Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” God appears in the genealogy along with all the other fathers. There is a great deal of theological significance in this verse, but now it is enough to note that the author of the verse saw something in Genesis that is sometimes missed because of cultural differences. In Genesis 2, God is treating Adam as his son. He creates him and gives him a place in life, especially by providing an occupation for him and getting him a wife. Genesis 2 concretely portrays what Genesis 1 states—that God created man in his image and likeness to have dominion over the earth. God places the man (Adam or Human) over his creation, just as a Jewish father would place his only son over his house. The man (Adam, Human) is descended from God, his creator, and represents him, acting on his behalf and according to his instructions.15
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gn 2:18–25)
In the course of Genesis 2, Adam names the animals and then his wife. Although there is some discussion, the consensus of scripture scholarship is that naming is a ruling function.16 Man’s right and ability to name follows from his position as ruler. His naming of the animals appears to be the narrative counterpart to the commission in Genesis 1 to rule the living creatures. God expresses Adam’s position over the animals by bringing them to Adam to receive names.
The creation of woman from the rib of man is the central action of Genesis 2. This is sometimes referred to in a mocking way, when men say that women are nothing but a rib. However the meaning of the rib in the account is not disrespectful. Among some Arabs today, a man will speak of a close friend as his “rib,” meaning that his friend is very close to him, almost part of him, using “rib” in a way similar to the Genesis account. The word in Hebrew could even mean “side” or “flank.”17 The image certainly indicates closeness of relationship, and calls to mind the saying that woman stands at man’s side.
Even more clearly, the “rib” indicates that woman is made from man. The context of Genesis 2 shows that the overriding significance of the mode of the creation of woman is that woman is the same kind of being as man, not a different and inferior species. After God creates Adam and places him in the garden, he brings the animals to him. Adam names them, and as they go through all the animals they do not find one fit to be a helper for man. Therefore God creates woman out of man’s side to be a helper fit for him. The clearest point to be drawn from the building of woman from man’s rib is not any inferiority on woman’s part but quite the contrary. The “rib” indicates the sameness of nature between man and woman.
God takes the new creature to the man, and when the man sees her, he recognizes her as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. He then calls her “woman” because she was taken out of “man.” In the context it is clear that the man is very enthusiastic for God’s new work. After a long search for an appropriate partner, at last a creature appears who will do. The man seems to recognize immediately that woman was made from him and that this is the reason for her fitness: She is from his own flesh and bone.
There then follows a statement which is not a continuation of the words of Adam but a theological conclusion from what has happened and a summary of its significance, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his woman (wife), and they become one flesh.”18 This statement is important in scripture. It recurs in the marriage teaching of Jesus and Paul as a foundational statement that explains the nature of marriage. To “cling to his wife” (or “to cleave to his wife”) and to “become one flesh” describe the marriage relationship. The word “clings” or “cleaves” indicates a committed personal relationship. It does not mean weak dependence, as the English word “clings” suggests.19 Elsewhere in the Old Testament the word is used to describe the way human beings relate in loving faithfulness to God. Some have suggested that the idea of man cleaving to woman is the remnant of a matriarchal social system in early Israel. Such a suggestion is linguistically possible, but by no means linguistically necessary nor proven, and the trend of scholarship increasingly discounts the view that there was an earlier matriarchal social order in Israel.
Both “cleave to his wife” and “become one flesh” are phrases which describe the establishment of a new committed relationship. The New English Bible translates the verse in a helpful way, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife and the two become one flesh.” The transition indicated by this verse can be seen most clearly by considering the social situation that it is referring to. A son is his parents’ flesh and blood, and he lives as part of his parents’ household. He is one with his parents, because he has come from them and lives with them. When he marries he takes on a new relationship. He becomes more related to and more one with his wife than with his parents. He leaves the “one flesh” which is his parents and joins with a woman to create a new “one flesh.” He may leave his parents behind by literally moving away and moving into a new house with his wife. If he were to move to another city, he may leave his parents behind, but he would be unlikely to leave his wife behind. In the Genesis account, this social fact is explained by the original creation of woman out of man. Something was taken out of man when woman was formed, and hence it is natural for a man to find a woman that he can join to himself, becoming one flesh as a foundation for creating a family.
The core of the passage provides a necessary perspective for understanding Genesis 2:18, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.’” Just as in Genesis 1 the creation of man and of everything else is good at its completion, here the creation of man is not yet completed and hence the Lord God is not satisfied. Something more is needed.
Some modern interpreters view man’s aloneness as meaning “loneliness.”20 Man needs a companion, a woman to talk to and share his life with, someone to give him ego support. In this view, the real companion for a man is one woman with whom he can be especially intimate and share his “real self.” Such interpretations proceed from a modern view of companionship marriage that was undoubtedly foreign to the author of Genesis 2, as well as to the writers of the New Testament. The view that the ideal fulfillment of the need described in Genesis 2 is the modern approach to companionship in marriage may possibly be held on other than simply exegetical grounds, but it is a historical anachronism to read such a view back into the account and hold that Genesis propounds such a view. Man’s aloneness was not good, but Genesis does not see the solution in one intimate partner for personal sharing. Rather, man needs a human society to live in, a household and a people. To use the description in Genesis 1, the man needed more people to fill the earth and rule over it, and he needed to be able to increase and multiply.
The establishment of the first family was the solution to the man’s need for social life and for a race to fulfill his commission. Hence, the man needed a wife with whom he could beget children and with whom he could establish a family. In creating woman and coupling her with the man, God created one flesh that could be the source of a family. The New Testament interprets “one flesh” in terms of sexual intercourse (1 Cor 6:12–20). While it would be a mistake to regard one flesh solely in terms of sexual intercourse it would be an even greater mistake to miss the reference to family and reproduction and concentrate instead on the modern idea of companionship. One reason that animals will not do as a partner for man is their inadequacy for reproductive purposes. The man needs someone with whom he can live and establish a household. Implicit in this, especially for the first man, is the need for sexual relations and reproduction.
Genesis 2:18 describes the man’s problem as being his aloneness, but it describes the solution as being “a helper fit for him.” This phrase is important for understanding the relationship of woman to man, especially in marriage. The phrase sums up much of what has been said in the last two paragraphs. Genesis does not describe woman as a companion to man but as a helper to him. As von Rad points out, the phrase is not a romantic evaluation of woman.21 Rather, it presents woman as “useful” to man. The use of the word “useful” here does not suggest that Genesis teaches that man should approach woman as “a thing” or “use her,” nor that he should not love her and care for her. But in an age when many writers tend to idealize deep interpersonal sharing relationships and read them back into Genesis, it is important to point out that the writers of scripture approach personal relationships with a certain practicality and common sense. A man’s wife is supposed to “do something” for him, just as he is supposed to “do something” for her. If she does not do what she is supposed to do for him (and if he does not do what he is supposed to do for her), deep interpersonal sharing will not make the marriage a good marriage. Genesis describes her part in the marriage as being a helper to the man in the work of establishing a household and family.
The idea of being a “helper fit for man” also includes another important feature—woman’s correspondence to man. The Hebrew word for “fit” in this context implies a similarity between man and woman. She is a helper who corresponds to him, who is of the same nature as he is, unlike the animals. A horse is a helper to man because it carries burdens and draws a plow. But a horse cannot be a helper who corresponds to him. The woman was created to be the man’s partner, another human being who would live with him and help him. The phrase “fit for man” clearly stresses woman’s sameness and community of nature with her husband.22
In some ways, the term “complementarity” best sums up the relationship between the man and the woman in Genesis. “Complementarity” implies an equality, a correspondence between man and woman. It also implies a difference. Woman complements man in a way that makes her a helper to him. Her role is not identical to his. Their complementarity allows them to be a partnership in which each needs the other, because each provides something different from what the other provides. The partnership of man and woman is based upon a community of nature and an interdependence due to a complementarity of role. That partnership and sameness of nature, both of which together make possible the creation of a race or people, are the central concerns of Genesis 2.
The partnership between man and woman as people with the same nature is the central focus of Genesis 2. However, a further question arises: Is there any subordination in that partnership? The term “subordination” has been chosen for this discussion because, despite some of its English connotations that cause confusion, it is one of the best translations of a Greek word (hypostassō) commonly used in the New Testament to express this aspect of the husband-wife relationship and of other similar relationships. The meaning of this word as it is presented in the New Testament will be one of the major concerns in later chapters. The English word “subordination” means literally “ordered under,” and its Greek counterpart means almost the same. The word does not carry with it a notion of inferior value. A subordinate could be more valuable in many ways than the person over him or her. Nor does the word carry with it a notion of oppression or the use of force for domination. The word can be used to describe an oppressive relationship, but its normal use is for relationships in which the subordination involved is either neutral or good.
“Subordination” simply refers to the order of a relationship in which one person, the subordinate, depends upon another person for direction. The purpose of this order is to allow those in the relationship to function together in unity. Subordination is a broader concept than obedience and command. As will be seen, subordination usually implies a form of obedience. A person can give some commands to a subordinate and expect obedience, but to place the emphasis on obedience is to narrow the meaning of “subordination.” A person could be subordinate without ever having to obey a command. People can subordinate their lives or actions to another in many ways: by serving another, by observing and cooperating with the other’s purposes and desires, by dedicating their lives to the cause the other is upholding, or by following the other’s teaching. The more that love and personal commitment are part of subordination, the more these other elements will be present along with whatever obedience is asked.
Although the account in Genesis 2 concentrates on the sameness of nature between the man and the woman, the account also portrays a subordination in their relationship. To be sure, there is no explicit statement that the woman has to obey the man. Nor is there a point at which the man gives the woman a command. But there is an overall sense of her being subordinate to him in God’s creation of the human race. There is a clear sense of partnership in Genesis 2, but within that partnership exists a real subordination.
The first indication of the presence of subordination is that the man is the center of the narrative of the creation of woman. He is the first formed. Then God provides him with all that he needs for life: an occupation, land and wealth, and a wife. Woman is created to be a helper for the man. She is created from him and brought to him. He is the one who names her. To say that man is the center of concern does not necessarily mean that woman exists only for the sake of man and is only desirable for her helpfulness to man. But it does mean that her life is oriented toward his in such a way that direction for her life comes through him. In the narrative, then, the woman’s role is understood in relationship to the man, which indicates some kind of subordination.23
Secondly, it is the man who is called “Man” or “Human” and not the woman. He bears the name which is the designation of the whole race, and, as was pointed out above (see footnote, p. 19), he keeps that name even after woman is formed and he is no longer the only human. What we meet at the end of Genesis 4 is Human and his wife. Feminists today strongly object to using “male” terms to refer to groups that include men and women or to an individual of indeterminate gender (for example, using “Man” or “Mankind” as the term for the human race). Here there is a similar linguistic situation: The term for the human race in Genesis is the proper name of the man who is half of the first human couple. Some object to such usage on the ground that it makes men seem more important than women, or at least makes men the part of the human race that is most important to take into account. In the modern world such an argument has something to recommend it. But the goal at this point is not to deal with the modern world, but to interpret an Israelite document that was written millennia ago. Part of this interpretation involves understanding the significance of the document’s language. Genesis clearly uses the word “Man” or “Human”—the term for the race—as a name for the male partner (Adam). He is the embodiment of the race. The woman (Eve) is the mother of all human beings, but she was not the embodiment of the race. Rather, she was woman (wife) to the man who was the embodiment of the race. That too indicates a kind of subordination.24
Thirdly, man is created first, before woman. He is the “first-born” and hence would have a natural precedence by birth. There are possible objections to this view. Precedence by birth is something that holds between children born of the same parents. Furthermore, there are instances of the younger son being chosen over the elder. Yet the choice of the younger is clearly an act of special election, normally an act of God’s sovereignty. Moreover, in scripture the principle of the precedence of age applies more broadly than just among children of the same parents, and the narrative structure of the account puts the fact of the man’s coming first as an important part of the narrative. In Genesis, woman is created out of the man and for him. The New Testament sees this precedence as being of decisive importance. According to Paul, woman’s subordination to man is grounded in man’s being created first (1 Tm 2:12–13; 1 Cor 11:8–9).
There are other indications that the woman is subordinate to the man. He is the one who names the animals. He also names the woman. God speaks to him and apparently leaves him to pass on his commands to her. This order continues into chapter 3. God holds the man accountable for the original transgression (3:9). He continues to hold him accountable after the “curse” (3:21), even summing up the Fall in terms of what happened to the man. The man gives his wife a new name (3:20). The most normal reading of the account would indicate that the woman is subordinate to the man throughout chapters 2 and 3.
The nature of that subordination needs to be understood more clearly in order to grasp what is being taught. The subordination in Genesis 2 is difficult to understand because it is an expression of a social structure that is increasingly foreign to modern Western society. In Genesis 2–3 and in Israelite and early Christian society, the man functioned as “the head” or “the representative” of the woman. The family or household was seen as the basic unit of the people. The Israelite people as a whole was seen as a collection of tribes which in turn were seen as collections of clans which in turn were seen as collections of families. The basic unit of the people was not an individual human being, but a social grouping—the family or household. The woman’s role was primarily within this basic social unit, the household. The man’s role was to govern the household and represent it to others. He related the household to other households and to the people as a whole. In a real social structural sense, he summed up the household in his own person. When he took a wife to himself, she left her father’s house and became part of her husband. His children likewise were seen as a continuation of him or his house.25
Many contemporary writers discuss the social organization of Israelite society with hostility, because such a structure allegedly oppresses women. This view will be considered at various points in this book, especially Chapter Three. Here the social structure of Israelite society from which Genesis arose needs to be understood as a safeguard against the error of reading contemporary values and social structures into Genesis—a mistake made by more than one modern interpreter.
In Israelite society the woman did experience real subordination to her husband and a certain anonymity in her life. She was part of the man’s family. On the other hand, it is a mistake to look at her as being his property, as some do. There was a genuine reciprocity in the relationship. His family was not simply something he ruled over for his own benefit or pleasure. It was an extension of his own person; he cared for the family and identified with it personally. He governed the family as the head of it, not as the conqueror of it. Moreover, it was not so much his family that it was not hers as well. His life was the center of attention and the woman’s life received direction from his life, but not because her life was unimportant but rather because as the head his life set the direction for the whole family. She was called by his name and considered part of him not because she was of no value in herself, but because the family was structured around him and he represented it in its relationships to the rest of the people. The key to understanding the relationship between man and woman is understanding that the relationship was formed around the family unit and the husband was the head of that unit.
There is a subordination in Genesis 2, but it is a very specific kind of subordination—the kind that makes one person out of two. According to Genesis 2, woman was created to be a help to man, not to be a servant or a slave. She was created to be a complement to him, making a household and children possible. He in turn protected her, provided for her, and considered her part of himself, a partner in life. He was the head of the relationship, head of a relationship that was “one flesh.”
Genesis 2–3 is about the man-woman relationship. It is most concretely about the man-woman relationship in marriage, the husband-wife relationship. However, because the narrative concerns the beginnings of the human race, Genesis 2–3 is about more than the husband-wife relationship. It is about the man-woman relationship throughout the whole people. As we shall see over and over again, the scriptural teaching on men-women relationships primarily focuses on marriage because the marriage relationship is foundational to men-women relationships in the whole people. The pattern in the broader community is an extension and reflection of the pattern in marriage. Moreover, the unity of husband and wife is meant to be a model for the greater unity of the whole people.
7*There are, to be sure, many questions connected with even this statement: questions of the relation of Old Testament teaching to New Testament teaching, questions about how one knows what is “the teaching of scripture.” Scripture, after all, contains teaching that is attributed to Satan or God’s opponents as well as teaching attributed to God or unattributed. There is, in addition, the question of whether some of the material might not simply be the presentation of someone’s opinion rather than divine revelation. The statement in the text about the truth of the teaching of Genesis is simply intended as a recognition of what it means to say that this material is part of scripture.
8*The following quote from a discussion on what scripture teaches about women illustrates the position under consideration. The passages under scrutiny are 1 Corinthians 11:7–16, 1 Corinthians 14:26–35, and 1 Timothy 2:9–14. After offering some reasons for not taking the passages very seriously today, the author writes:
But aside from these, each of the three passages refers back to the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 11 the reason given for the ruling is that woman was created from and for the sake of man. In 1 Tm, we read that a woman ought not to speak because Adam was created first and Eve sinned first. This takes us all the way back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible . . .
In the second chapter of Genesis (which was actually written earlier than the first chapter) we find the whole Adam and Eve story, which most people now take as a “myth” or poetic way of explaining theological truth—in this case the teachings of the fatherhood of God and the fact that we are all one family. In this second chapter we read that Eve was created from Adam’s rib.
Our class also discovered that there are many aspects of this second creation story we cannot accept literally. Yahweh-God fashioned man from dust before he caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, and only later did he fashion all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven, and last of all woman.
Yet Paul here uses only the second version of creation in Genesis. And unless we can accept the whole second story literally, we have no basis left within the epistles themselves for believing the sections on women are anything more than customs. (Arlene Swidler, Woman in a Man’s Church [New York: Paulist Press, 1972], 34–35)
The author seems to be aware of at least the first three approaches to the truth value of Genesis described above, and she seems to prefer the second—that these are symbolic stories without historical basis. When she sums up the teaching of the first chapters, she gives an inadequate summary, as the exposition in this book will reveal. But here the problem is the way she deals with Paul. She notices that Paul bases his teaching on the events in Genesis. Then she dismisses the truth value of the events in Genesis because they cannot be accepted “literally.” Having rejected the Genesis account, she rejects Paul’s teaching as well. Her approach fails to take into account the point that even if Genesis is a poetic way of expressing theological truths, it is a poetic way of expressing truths. Whenever someone dismisses a teaching drawn from or based on Genesis because the accounts are not “literally true” or “historically true,” they are undercutting the reliability of what is taught in God’s word. If this author were consistent in her position, she could scarcely hold the theological “truth” that God is our Father on the basis of the Genesis account. The story of God’s molding man from the dust of the ground and breathing life into him is certainly no less dubious than Paul’s argument concerning men’s and women’s roles. In other words, if a person takes the approach of viewing Genesis 2–3 as a symbolic presentation of theological truths, then surely all of the teaching built into the symbolism, not only some of it, should be taken seriously.
The same misunderstanding can be found in professional scripture scholars. See J. M. Ford, “Tongues—Leadership—Women,” Spiritual Life 17 (Fall 1971): 186–197.
9*The units of this section of Genesis could be outlined as follows:
- Genesis 1:1–2:4a—the creation of the visible universe
Genesis 2:4b–4:26—the creation and “fall” of mankind
- Genesis 2:4b–2:25—the creation of man and woman
- Genesis 3:1–24—the transgression of man and woman
- Genesis 4:1–26—the consequences of the transgression
- Genesis 5:1–32—the record of the descendants of Adam
We are only concerned with three segments of a longer section, the segments with most relevance for men-women roles. Many of the wider concerns of the beginning of Genesis go beyond our purposes here.
11*There are many interpretations of the use of the plural: “let us make man . . .” Some have suggested that it is merely a grammatical concern—because the word used for God (“Elohim”) is plural, so is the pronoun (“us”). Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading (New York: Doubleday, 1977), 53, mentions this approach, but considers it unlikely. Von Rad (57) prefers the notion of God’s addressing his heavenly court (as in Gn 3:22). Cassuto (55) regards it as the “plural of exhortation” (as in a person’s exhorting himself, “Let’s go!”). Others consider it to be the royal “we” often used by kings of the time in speaking of themselves. Vawter, On Genesis, 53, mentions this notion. Some of the church Fathers saw implicit reference to elements within the Godhead—the Trinity—here. (See Ambrose in De Paradiso, Fathers of the Church Series, vol. 42 [New York: Fathers of the Church Inc., 1961], 253).
12*There has been considerable discussion over the significance of the terms “image” and “likeness.” Some contemporary scholars, including von Rad (56) and Vawter (New Catholic Commentary, 175) suggest that “image” (tselem) implies an exact copy, while “likeness” (demut) means resemblance—indicating perhaps that man was created as a copy of God’s nature in some ways, but also with some differences. He could manifest God’s nature, but he himself was not God. Von Rad also points out that, as powerful kings of the time would erect images (the same word: tselem) of themselves in their distant provinces as representing themselves, so man is placed on earth in God’s image, as his representative and sovereign emblem. Some see man’s dominion over the rest of creation as an integral part of his being in God’s image (Vawter, On Genesis, 57), while others see man’s dominion as a consequence of his being in God’s image (von Rad, 57). Still others have seen “image” as man’s rationality or his freedom (D. Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall [London: SCM Press, 1959], 35). Various church Fathers have also considered the meaning of “image” here, and have suggested that it involves dominion over nature (Chrysostom), capacity to love (Gregory of Nyssa), capacity for friendship (Basil), creativity (Theodoret), or capacity for sanctification (Cyril of Alexandria).
12†The words “male” and “female” (zakar and neqaybah) are simply the Hebrew terms for gender difference, and can apply to animals as well as to human beings. These are the most specific terms in Hebrew for designating sex differences.
13*One should note here that the Hebrew adam and the Greek anthrōpos have a similar set of meanings, but the English word “man” is used somewhat differently. “Man” is commonly used for “human” in a way in which anēr (in Greek) and ish (in Hebrew) are not. (See adham in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], 75–87.) Thus, in English, the common word for the male (“man”) is also a common word for the human race (in a manner unlike Greek, with its anēr [male] and anthrōpos [mankind]). There is presently an attempt, connected with the feminist movement, to revise the English usage. However, in this chapter, we will commonly retain the word “man” for intelligibility. Often, by retaining the term “man,” an exegetical point can be made more clearly.
14*There is an alternate interpretation to the one presented here offered initially by Karl Barth in this century (Church Dogmatics, vol. 3, trans. J. W. Edwards et. al. [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1958], 194f.) and recently proposed by Jewett, 33–40. It has not been one normally held by scripture scholars. Barth suggests that, rather than the phrase “male and female he created them” being a second statement concerning the creation of mankind, it is an explanation of the fact that man was created in God’s image. In other words, the image of God in man is their maleness and femaleness, and that in their sexual differentiation they are related together communally. Others in the modern world will also see the image of God in man as being their community or interpersonal relationships. This is an increasingly popular view, as there is an attempt to refocus many aspects of Christian teaching around categories of interpersonal relationships. In terms of theology, there may be something to be said for these interpretations of the image of God. However, the following observations are important. First, the reason for such an interpretation would be theological rather than exegetical. The structure and sense of the passage would indicate that “male and female he created them” is a second and further statement of God’s creation in his image and likeness. Second, the New Testament, in teaching about God’s image in man, teaches about it primarily in ethical terms, that is, both men and women come into God’s image when they manifest in their lives love, kindness, compassion, humility, etc. Third, the notion is a modern preoccupation and is to be found neither in Christian tradition nor in the New Testament. Until the twentieth century, all interpretations of the image of God have understood it as residing completely in each human being. This is not to deny that the “image of God” includes an orientation to other people, but it is not the actual interrelating among them that has been seen to be the image of God.
15*Some interpreters, in noting the difference in literary form between Genesis 1:1–2:4a and Genesis 2:4b–25, hold that we have here two different views of the roles of men and women. According to this view, chapter 1 presents man and woman as truly equal, whereas chapter 2 presents man as superior. These interpreters feel that we are therefore justified in choosing which of the two approaches we think best to hold.
As has been pointed out, such a view rests upon an overinterpretation of Genesis 1. But even more importantly here, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2–4 were put together by an author who obviously saw no fundamental incompatibility between them. He saw Genesis 2–3 as building on and explicating the material in Genesis 1 or at least presenting a complementary, not contradictory, approach. We ought to credit the author with some understanding of the central meaning of materials he was putting together.
Further, those who accept the authority of the scripture as the word of God will accept as authoritative the scripture as it has been written down, canonized, and presented to us. It is the text of scripture as we have it from the hands of the final author that is authoritative, not a scholar’s reconstruction nor the original source as contrasted with the currently available book. The authority of scripture does not rest on the inspiration of the original source (the original source was not necessarily inspired), but on the inspiration of the author of the current book.
Some scholars hold that the author of the “priestly” sections of Genesis is also the book’s general editor and is the final editor of the Pentateuch. See a survey of the scholarly discussion of sources in Vawter, On Genesis, 17–24. Were one to take such a view, then the author of Genesis 1 would be seen to have written it as an introduction to all of Genesis (especially chapters 1–5), with chapters 1 and 5 serving as a framework for the Yahwist’s account in chapters 2–4. Those holding such a position should have no difficulty in understanding Genesis 2 as an explication of what was written in Genesis 1.
16*It was probably the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Old Testament, which introduced the translation of “Adam” as a proper name for ha-adam. This was the translation of the Old Testament used by the New Testament writers. The Septuagint translates ha-adam as “Adam” both in places in which there is a definite article and in places in which there is no definite article (adam). Sometimes, however, it translates ha-adam by ho anthrōpos.
18*The rabbis, probably after the time of Jesus, interpreted the original Adam as androgynous. They said that the original created being was both man and woman together. Then, to provide for the human race, woman was taken out of man and made into a separate being. It is unlikely that this view was in the mind of the writer of the Genesis account. This is a rabbinic interpretation (not a Christian one) and developed late, probably under the influence of Greek thought (as exemplified in Plato’s account in the Symposium  of the origin of man and woman and sex). Such an interpretation could lead to the distorted view that neither men nor women are human in themselves. However, it does highlight a truth that is integral to both chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis: Both men and women are part of the human race and the human race is not complete without both. For discussion of the rabbinic interpretation see Batey, 271–272; Strack/Billerbeck, vol. 1, 802.
18†“Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” calls to mind the term “my own bone and flesh” (in some freer translations [e.g., NEB] the term is often idiomatically rendered “flesh and blood”) which is used commonly in scripture to denote a family relationship (Gn 29:14; Jgs 9:2; 2 Sm 5:1; 19:12–13; 1 Chr 11:1). The phrase also seems to refer directly to “the rib” of the man from which his wife was made (see Cassuto, 135–136).
19*According to the etymology used in the text, “woman” (ishshah) comes from the word “man” (ish). Although some modern interpreters believe that ish and ishshah are not etymologically related (cf. W. Brueggeman, “Of the Same Flesh and Bone,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, October 1970, 532–542) this makes no ultimate difference from the point of view of what is being said by the etymology given in the text. The author’s underlying intention in offering this etymology is not in any case nullified.
This word for man first appears at this point in the account, and is a word that is used only for male human beings, men rather than women. It could also be translated “husband,” just as ishshah could be translated “wife,” there being no terms in Hebrew meaning only “husband” and “wife.” Probably the chief significance of the names at this point in the account is to show that woman is called by a term that comes from man’s name, just as woman herself is taken out of man.
Some modern proponents of the androgyny view of the original creation say that this is the first point at which man appears; hence man also gets a new name from the process (see P. Trible, “Eve and Adam: Genesis 2–3 Reread,” Andover Newton Quarterly, March 1973, 251–258; some of the rabbis who held to the basic androgyny view may also have held this view, see Batey, 271ff.). This view is an overinterpretation of the text. The text does not say that man gets a new name, nor even that ish is a new term for him. Moreover, the term “the man” (Adam, the human) continues as the name for the male human being even after woman is created. In fact, much of the significance of the narrative depends on the identity of the man who was alone earlier and the man who is presented with the new creature and who calls her woman.
19†Among those who mention the theory of “early matriarchy” are Cassuto (137) and von Rad (83). Modern anthropologists are in general agreement that no known society has ever been “matriarchal” in the sense of women as dominant in the society. (See Chapter Seventeen, p. 425. Cf. Rosaldo and Lamphere, Women, Culture and Society [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971], 2–3.) Some allow for the possibility that v. 25 points to an early matrilineal society, although C. Vos (Woman in Old Testament Worship [Delft: Judels & Brinkman, 1968], 45) calls this “debatable.”
20*In one of his footnotes (p. 18, n. 25), Vos suggests that since the man cleaves to the woman, and since it is usually the lesser who cleaves to the greater, this verse could be seen to point to some superiority on the part of woman. (He attempts a similar formulation with the term for “help” in v. 18.) His observation is in line with an overall attempt to discover elements of man’s subordination to woman in this passage. This suggestion is a very recent one, undoubtedly inspired by the feminist movement, and is not widely held outside of feminist circles. It seems clear from the context of the passage that the man’s “cleaving” to the woman refers to the establishment of a personal relationship, and has no special reference to subordination. See Brueggeman, 540: “The latter term cleave, davaq, when used of interpersonal relations, as in any context, is clearly a covenant term.” See also Feuillet, 178.
21*The point being made in this and the next two paragraphs is an exegetical point about Genesis 2 and an attempt to distinguish what is said in Genesis 2 from some modern approaches to marriage that have been described as companionship marriage. The term “companionship” here is potentially ambiguous. “Companionship” could mean simply living together and helping one another. In this sense, Genesis 2 contains the idea of companionship in marriage. The wife was to be part of the human society of the man, the one who most consistently was part of his household and associated with his person. However, modern notions of companionship marriage frequently go beyond such a notion to the ideas that the wife was someone the man should talk with a great deal, share his feelings with, spend much of his leisure time with, etc. To read such a notion back into the Genesis account is an anachronism. Evidence from comparative social history in traditional societies as well as from Israelite society would indicate that the man in Genesis 2 was not seen by the author in such a way. The husband was probably not being urged to talk to his wife a great deal, much less share his feelings with her (a very modern notion), nor was he expected to spend a great deal of leisure time with her or even work along with her. These were all things he would probably do with his son or other males. That is not to say that the man was not expected to love his wife or be around her. Rather, the point is that the modern notion of companionship marriage proposes a different pattern of interaction than the author of Genesis 2 would have envisaged. The discussion in Chapter Eighteen on the changes involved in the transition from traditional society to technological society is helpful background here. Edward Shorter, in his book The Making of the Modern Family (New York: Basic Books, 1975) traces the recent rise of companionship marriage and romantic love, and clarifies the difference (see esp. 15–17). These remarks, of course, do not address the question of whether modern companionship marriage might not be an improvement.
22*It must be admitted that the family focus for “helper” is not explicitly referred to in the text. On the other hand, the overall context of Genesis 2–4 would indicate that reproduction and family and household life are a major concern. The traditional interpretation of the sense in which woman is to be a help for man is warranted both by a sense for the overall narrative and by the social history that was its background. Some more recent attempts, like that of Jewett (124) to say that the word applies to a larger partnership with man in all of life are clearly interpretations placed on the text rather than in any way being given by the text. Such an observation does not necessarily negate the view that woman should be a partner of man in all of life. Rather it simply indicates that the focus of the text is probably on household and family life.
24*Recently there has been some emphasis on the part of feminist authors that the Hebrew word used here (ezer) does not necessarily imply subordination of any sort. The word is often used of God as a help for human beings and in such a situation does not by any means imply that God is subordinate to human beings. The word is, in short, similar to the English word “help” which also does not necessarily imply any subordination. The psalms speak of God as our “help” in English as well as in Hebrew. But the observation about the word ezer is only a first step in looking at the phrase in which it occurs. Indeed, to focus on the word by itself, without considering its context in the phrase and in the passage, is not very helpful. The actual phrase says that God created woman to be a help for man; that is, the purpose of her creation was to be a help to the man. Taken in its context, there is clearly some sort of subordination indicated by the phrase as a whole. The sense of this subordination will be explained more fully in the next section.
25*For a helpful discussion here, see Kline, 84; Vos, 18n24. Some feminist interpreters today would prefer to say that being created out of man cannot indicate subordination to him. After all, it is argued, Adam was created out of the earth, and if woman’s being created out of man indicates her subordination to him, then Adam’s being created out of the earth would indicate his subordination to the earth—which is patently absurd. It is actually the objection itself which is absurd. Man was “made” from the earth, but he was not “taken out” of it in the way that woman was “taken out” of man. Woman’s creation is much closer to “generation” and the whole principle of subordination by precedence is a principle of “generation.” It is by no means applied to the material from which something is made. Probably more relevant in this context is the fact that involved in his creation was man’s receiving God’s breath into him.
25†For helpful observations here see Vos. See also Vawter, On Genesis, 75. Trible (254–255) makes an objection concerning this point, holding that the man’s naming of the woman is not really parallel to his naming of the animals. Much of the weight of her argument rests on a distinction between “calling” the woman and “calling the names” of the animals. This, too, is a creative, new, feminist interpretation of the passage. However, it is one that is not well substantiated in the text. It is difficult to see that the distinction in the phrases can bear the weight which she tries to put upon them. Trible also attempts to distinguish between woman’s being called ishshah, a common name (recognizing sexuality, but not specifying person), and her receiving a proper name (which doesn’t occur until Gn 3:20). She asserts that the first naming was not of the same kind as the naming of the animals. However, it makes no sense to suppose that the man gave proper names to all the animals either. It is far more likely that he gave them common generic names (their species name, so as to identify them) than that he composed proper, personal names for each animal.
26*Some interpreters take two elements in Genesis 2 as signs that woman was not subordinate to man before the Fall. The first is the phrase that man cleaves to the woman, a phrase that could easily connote some kind of subordination of man to the woman (for example, see Vos, 18n25; also Jewett, 127–128). As indicated above (pp. 19–20), however, the phrase “cleaves to his wife” indicates the formation of a committed relationship, not subordination, and in its context refers to forming a new family unit. The second possible pointer is woman’s placement in creation. She is created last. Hence it is possible to view her as the climax of creation, as some have recently held (see Trible, 251; Vos, 18n25; John A. Bailey, “Initiation and Primal Woman in Gilgamesh and Genesis 2–3,” JBL, June 1970, 143). However, this view is not sensitive to the different literary structures of Genesis 1 and 2. The view is based upon a correct understanding of Genesis 1, where the creation of the human race last is the climax of creation, but it misapplies this principle of superiority to Genesis 2, where the literary structure is very different. In Genesis 2, the woman’s being created last has nothing to do with the climax of creation. Nor, to be sure, does it indicate her inferiority. As Cassuto points out (135), the model for the creation of woman is probably a father finding a wife for his son. She is brought to the man last after a search to find a partner who is truly fitting for him. Though not the climax of all creation, the making of woman in the narrative is the climax of all those animals created in the search for a proper partner for man. Her place last indicates her excellence as his partner, not her superiority to him. In fact, if her creation last were an indication of her superiority, the man would be inferior to the animals as well as to woman.
27*See, for example, gune in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:781. There is, to be sure, a way in which the woman “belonged to” the man. But to use the term “property” with its modern meanings is surely misleading. The Israelite man did not view his wife as a thing, but as his woman.