The Role of Women – Genesis 2:18-22 (Part 2)

I had planned to move onto the debated passage of Genesis 3:16 with regards to my series on the role of women. But I wanted to share some brief thoughts connected to what I posted last week on Genesis 2:18-22. Last week, I was re-reading the end of Genesis 2, those last 8 verses (vs18-25) and something new came to me from vs23-24.

In the last post, I specifically shared how I believe there are 2 major pointers as to the equal roles of men and women that we can gather from reading Genesis 2:18-22, though I touched on a couple of other things.

1) The phrase ‘helper fit for’ (or ‘helper suitable for’).

It was interesting to note that the Hebrew word here for helper is ‘ezer, which is also used to describe God’s role with us. So the word is not really a ‘less than’ word. And in his Christian Theology text, theologian Millard Erickson points out that the phrase ‘fit for’ (neged in Hebrew) would be faithfully translated as either ‘corresponding to’ or ‘equal to’. Thus, the English translation would be: I will make him a helper corresponding to, or equal to, him. There is nothing inherent in this phrase, helper fit for, that denotes the female having a lesser role than the male (or the male having the authority over the female).

2) The formation of woman ‘out of’ man (or ‘from‘ man).

Secondly, by reading from the text that woman was taken ‘out of’ man, being formed from his rib, many see this as a pointer to the subordinate role of women. There could be the assumption that, if woman were to have equal status as man, then God would have formed her out of the dust just as He had formed man out of the dust. Yet, since God formed her after man and out of man, this shows a somewhat inferior status. But to conclude such is really reading our own presuppositions into the text. We are concluding what God has not communicated. In all reality, to note that woman had been taken ‘out of’ man is to recognise she, in fact, stands on equal footing with him. Such an action by God was a beautiful statement that man’s equal helper who corresponded to him would come from him.

Thus, I shared the conclusion that Adam’s words in vs23 describe his amazement that God had given him an ‘ezer neged (a helper equally suitable for him). He could, thus, exclaim, ‘This at last is…’ No animal stood as the suitable help-partner for him. None. But when he saw the woman, he knew that this one could stand with him and help him fulfil the great commission of Genesis 1:26-28.

She had come from his bone and his flesh. Thus, there was equality from the formation out of the one she would be covenantally joined to in marriage. And I’m sure many of us are familiar with the word play between man (ish) and woman (ishshah) in the Hebrew. Another pointer to the equality of relationship.

Woman and man are unique in many ways from one another, different in certain aspects. But nothing in the creation account of Genesis 1 or 2 tells us one is of higher status than the other. And this is interesting, because some utilise 1 Timothy 2:12-14 to show how what the ‘creation order’ teaches about who has the lead role with male and female. Ok, so we have looked in the creation passages. And nothing tells us one is subordinate to the other. Nothing. Thus, I believe something else is being taught in 1 Timothy 2, but, alas, I will come to that later.

Still, even more understanding came to me as I re-read vs24:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

The utilisation of the English word, therefore, tells us the statement in vs24 clarifies this whole thing through the marriage relationship. Therefore, when entering the covenant relationship of marriage, the man will leave his father and mother so they will become one flesh. Why? To hold fast to his wife. Why hold fast to his wife? Because she is the suitable-equal helper for him of which no other could fulfil. The two equals become one flesh, with the man cleaving and holding fast to the one that he knows is his equal partner. He is joined to his equal.

Now, of course I have used some words that are not in the text, such as equal. So one could argue I am reading such into the passage. But here is the approach I believe we need to take on this issue: We need to start from the reality that the two are equal unless we are told otherwise from the text. That is my starting point here. Of course, though this starting position is opposed to quite a lot of scholarship on Genesis 1 and 2, I still believe that neither chapters teach anything about who is inferior or who is superior. The communication is on the equality of the two sexes.

Thus, for me, the starting point is equality. And I can only move towards seeing one sex as having headship or authority over the other if the text truly communicates that. But I see Genesis 1 and 2, our only pre-fall texts (ok, besides the first few verses of ch.3), as communicating the equal standing of both sexes.

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The Role of Women – Genesis 2:18-22

I am slowly working my way through 9 major passages that I believe are central to the discussion about the role of women in both the church and the home. In my last article, I started off by looking at Genesis 1:26-28 and how the passage lays a kind of groundwork for the discussion.

After careful consideration of this particular Scripture, I believe that one can only conclude that God created both male and female equally, neither one inherently greater than the other in regards to certain leadership roles (or any role for that matter). Of course, the two genders-sexes remain unique and different, each having their own unique role of imaging our Creator. But Genesis 1 sets no precedence for either sex with regards to leadership, headship, authority, etc.

Now, it can easily be recognised that that passage is not as debatable as many others. It lays some important foundational groundwork in the discussion. But the greater disagreement between complementarians and egalitarians can start as one moves into the next chapter of Genesis, and particularly with regards to Genesis 2:18-22, which I quote below:

18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens 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. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 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. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

This passage can usually some to conclude something of this sort: Though men and women are both equally created in God’s image, the male gender is given the greater responsibility of headship and leading.

From this passage, it is obvious that Adam, the male, was created first. Then Eve, the female, was created. Genesis 1:1-2:3 gives an overall summary of the whole creation process, while Genesis 2:4-25 lays out some more specific details, especially in regards to the creation of the woman.

Much understanding of both the complementarian and egalitarian view is wrapped up in the word ‘helper’ found in vs18 and 20 (help meet in the older KJV). Not only that, but because God created woman out of man, by using one of man’s ribs, many times complementarians can deduce that this is a pointer to the subordinate role of woman to man.

But what of this word ‘helper’ in vs18 and 20?

Helper Fit For

In this verse, the full phrase we need to look at is ‘helper fit for’ (ESV), or in other translations, ‘helper suitable for’ (NIV). The word translated as helper is the Hebrew word ‘ezer. Interestingly enough, this word is actually used many times to describe God’s role with us (see Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalm 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11). And, of course, God is our ‘ezer, our helper! Thus, we should not see the word ‘helper’ as describing a subordinate role here. Millard Erickson summarises this Hebrew term with these words:

‘This would suggest that the helper envisioned in Genesis 2:18 is not inferior to the one helped. Rather the helper is to be thought of as a coworker or enabler.’ (Christian Theology, p546)

The second part of the phrase we are considering contains the words ‘fit for’. In referencing the well-known Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Erickson points out that the phrase ‘fit for’ (neged in Hebrew) would be faithfully translated as either ‘corresponding to’ or ‘equal to’. Thus, the English translation would be: I will make him a helper corresponding to, or equal to, him. Do you see that there is nothing inherent in this phrase to teach who has the lead role amongst the two sexes?

As I stated above, many people will read Genesis 2:18-22 and conclude this: Because woman is man’s ‘helper’, and because she was take ‘out of’ man, being formed from his rib, she is therefore called to a subordinate role to man and cannot take on any leadership-headship role.

But a more faithful understanding of this passage is this: Woman is referred to as a helper corresponding to, or equal to, man. Not only that, but the picture of this specific helper role is strengthened significantly when we realise this word is used quite a few times in describing God’s helper role with us.

Out Of

Next, by reading from the text that woman was taken ‘out of’ man, being formed from his rib, many will see this as a pointer to the subordinate role of women. There could be the assumption that, if woman were to have equal status as man, then God would have formed her out of the dust just as He had formed man out of the dust. Yet, since God formed her after man and out of man, this shows a somewhat inferior status.

But to put such a restrictive conclusion on God’s formation of woman is reading our own presuppositions into the text. In contradistinction to such conclusions, to note that woman had been taken ‘out of’ man is to recognise she, in fact, stands on equal footing with him. Such an action by God was a beautiful statement that man’s equal helper who corresponded to him would come from him. God would grace man with someone of equal standing with him, corresponding to him, since she would be formed from him. This is why Adam could proclaim with excitement and wonder:

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. (Genesis 2:23)

He was filled with awe at the glorious wisdom of God to make his equal helper out of him. Not only that, but we already saw how both male and female carry the same responsibilities as laid out in Genesis 1:26-28.

Thus, we must conclude that Genesis 2:18-22 does not teach us that women hold a subordinate role to men across general roles or leadership roles. On the contrary, it teaches the exact opposite – men and women, created equally in God’s image, are partners of equal standing.

Naming the Animals

One argument that could arise from complementarians in pointing to the lead role of the male is that Adam alone was given responsibility for naming all the animals (Genesis 2:20). But, what we must note is that woman had not yet been created in the Genesis account. How do you have superiority over another when that person had not yet been created?

As a summary, Genesis 1 has already established that they both had the same mandate to be fruitful, multiply and rule. But, in the more detailed account of Genesis 2, we see that woman had not yet been created when God gave this specific responsibility to man.

Now, we could try and conclude that this means man has a slightly greater responsibility. But this must be proven from the text. And such proof takes a lot of reading into the text. We are not told that, because man got to name the animals, he is thus given a lead responsibility over the woman. It’s not in the text. Matter of fact, after the detailed process of naming the animals, we find these all-important words: But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

Thus, as we saw above, God was about to create an ‘ezer out of man that would be the perfect partner for him in fulfilling the purposes of God. Woman would come out of man, which I said emphasises not her subordination but her equality with her husband. This is the one that would be completely suitable for standing with the man in all he did to fulfil the original responsibility of Genesis 1:26-28. And they did it together.

Therefore, we cannot lean on the argument that Adam’s responsibility of naming the animals was proof of who has leadership or authority over the other. Such a notion fails to be found in the biblical text. We need to let go of that argument.

The Reference in 1 Timothy 2:11-15

The forever debated passage states:

11Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Specifically, we read in vs13 that Adam was formed (or created) first, then Eve. But this does not lay out any precedence for who has the headship role. Does it?

Ah, but one might say, ‘The greater context in 1 Timothy 2, mainly vs11-15 as a whole, shows who has headship and authority, does it not?’

Well, that is the great question to consider. But I believe this passage is greatly misunderstood. Not that I have every single answer, for many a great theologians and scholars have come to similar conclusions but via quite different paths in exegeting the Greek, considering the cultural context, etc. But I believe this passage does not communicate what we think it communicates by simply reading black ink on white paper via our own prescribed lenses. Genesis 1:1 might be a little easier to approach than 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

But, suffice it to say, I will pick up this passage in a few articles down the line to consider in detail what I believe it actually teaches. So be patient with me. For the next article, I shall specifically look at Genesis 3:16.