Lance Pape and his wife, Katie Hays, were co-ministers at the West Islip Church of Christ on Long Island, NY. He started gal328.org in the hope that his young daughter might one day grow old and wise in a church that looks back on its practice of gender discrimination as a long, strange dream.

Man and Woman in Genesis 1-3
Six Common Misconceptions Challenged

Misconception #1
Adam was a male created in God’s image.

Challenge
The humanity (Hebrew: adam) created in God’s image was male and female.

“Let us make humankind (adam) in our image,” says God in Genesis 1:26. The poem that follows in verse 27 makes it clear that the humanity which images God is both male and female:

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 5:2 puts it this way:

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (adam) when they were created.


Misconception #2
The first woman was created to be the first man’s subordinatehelper.

Challenge
The first woman was “suitable” (NIV) for the first man because she was his equal.

In Genesis 1, God repeatedly affirms his creative work with these words: “It is good.” And in verse 31, after all God’s work, the author describes the whole of creation as “very good.” But in chapter 2, a retelling of the creation of man and woman, a complication is introduced. In Genesis 2:18 God declares:

“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

This text is often taken to mean that God created woman to be man’s subordinate. In fact, for many the operative paraphrase of Genesis 2:18 seems to be: “God saw that the man couldn’t take care of himself, so he said: ‘I will make him a helper to do his laundry.’” This take on the story betrays a low view of men and women alike. Far more importantly, it is discredited by a close reading of the text.

The word “helper” (Hebrew: ezer) does not imply inferiority or subordination. On the contrary, in the Hebrew Bible it is used almost exclusively to describe God. Thus, Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills–
from where will my help (ezer) come?
My help (ezer) comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

Likewise, 1 Samuel 7:12

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer (“stone of help”); for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

The use of “helper” (ezer) in other contexts suggests that, if anything, the woman was created as man’s superior. But, in light of the poem in 1:27, we are probably justified in concluding  that the woman was created as man’s equal.


Misconception #3
The woman’s creation from the man’s rib shows that she is derivative andsubordinate.

Challenge
The story of the woman being formed out of the man’s flesh is a testament to her equality with him. She is literally made of the same stuff.

Genesis 2:21-23 describes how woman was formed from man’s side:

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that 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;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”

Given our cultural context, we are predisposed to understand the “deep sleep” as a kind of anesthesia to prepare the man for major surgery. Of course this is an anachronism that would have been utterly foreign to the story’s author and first readers. Rather, the sleep emphasizes that the man had no agency in the creation of the woman. His role was as a source of raw materials. That she was taken from his rib shows that she is literally made of the same stuff and thus his equal. Or, to quote the delighted man upon their introduction: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Their sameness is further emphasized when he calls her woman (Hebrew: ishah) and says that she was taken out of a man (Hebrew: ish). They sound alike because they are alike.


Misconception #4
The woman was cursed by God because she sinned.

Challenge
The serpent and the ground were cursed. God’s address to the man mentions a curse, his address to the woman does not.

In response to the rebellion of the woman and the man, God makes three speeches: first to the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15), then to the woman (3:16), and finally to the man (3:17-19).

The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

In the first speech, God curses the serpent, saying that he will crawl on his belly in the dust and eat dust all his days. It is commonly assumed that in the second speech, God pronounces a curse on the woman. But this is not the case.

 

To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

There is no mention of a curse in the second speech–no reversal of the blessing God pronounced on the man and the woman (Genesis 1:28). So when people speak of the curse on women because of Eve, they are invoking a non-entity according to the text.

And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

In the speech to the man, a curse is mentioned. Interestingly, the curse is placed not on the man, but on the ground. Humanity will suffer as a consequence of the rebellion, but the blessing of 1:28 is not reversed with a curse. Rather, the ground itself will bear a curse because of them, and the result will be hardship and toil.


Misconception #5
God prescribed the subordination of the woman to the man as part of his good creation.

Challenge
“He will rule over you” is predicted by God as an unfortunate consequence of sin.

God doesn’t curse the woman. But what does he say?

To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

He talks about the pain she will experience in childbirth. And he says that, although her desire will be for her husband, her feelings will not be reciprocated. She will desire him, but he will rule over her. In other words, in the world they have made for themselves, he will take advantage of her orientation toward him and use it as leverage to control her. Now, the question is, is this what God intended from the beginning?

The answer clearly has to be “no.” Significantly, the first mention of gender hierarchy in the Bible comes in the context of a description of the consequences of sin. Furthermore, it is not a curse, or a sentence passed on the woman by God as a punishment for her sin. Rather, it is a description of the unfortunate consequence of the sin of the man and the woman.

Another way to say this is that the subordination of women to men is not “prescribed” in Genesis 3:16, but rather “predicted.”


Misconception #6
Because of sin, women are destined to live in subordination to men forever.

Challenge
In Christ, there is a “new creation” and a return to the equality and harmony between men and women God originally intended.

In 1 Corinthians 15:45, the apostle Paul describes Christ as the “last Adam.” In Romans 5, he explains how Jesus, acting in righteous obedience, reversed the cycle of condemnation introduced into the world through the sin of the first man. A concise summary of these claims can be found in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

In Galatians, Paul teases out the social implications, saying that human distinctions lose significance in light of the “new creation” (Galatians 6:15). The most concise statement of the transformed social order inaugurated in Christ is found in Galatians 3:28.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The new creation doesn’t erase differences of race, class, and gender: it renders them irrelevant. For those who submit to Christ’s transforming work, the old patterns of domination are giving way to the unity and equality God willed from the beginning.

 

For some of these insights, especially concerning the supposed “curse on women,” I am indebted to a lecture by Dr. Joy Fleming.