The beginning of it all: idyllic, peaceful, and perfect. The animals, nature, and mankind, male and female, live in harmony. So far, so good. Both male and female, according to Genesis 1:27, are created equally in God’s image:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The only mention in Genesis 1 of any sort of hierarchy is in verse 27, where God says to the humans:
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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
Things are pretty direct and uncomplicated so far. The creation of water, light, animals, and plants leads up to the crowning achievement, a creation made in the very image of the Creator, man and woman, who are charged with caring for the rest.
Enter the second creation story. This one gives us more details about the creation of man and woman, and it is also where things get a little more complex. While Genesis 1 makes no mention of the order in which creation of gender occurs, chapter 2 states that adam is initially made alone, realizes he is lonely, and so God makes him what has been translated as a “HELPER” suitable for him (verse 20) out of adam’s own flesh (his rib, to be exact).
I’ll get to the word “helper” next, as I think it’s one of the most important issues within this text. But right now, there’s an interesting little side note, just food for thought. This idea is covered more thoroughly here, but here are the major ideas:
- We don’t see the proper noun “Adam” until Gen. 4:25. The references before then to “adam” are better translated as humanity.
- Many scholars believe that this “adam” or mankind was split during the creation of Eve. Before then, the two genders were literally “one flesh.”
From the linked article:
The Hebrew word used is “zela” which often means “a component, or more often, a side-wall” (alternatively, a chamber), indicating that more than simply a rib was taken. Many scholars believe that the entire female essence was removed from man and fashioned into a woman. This would mean that the “mankind” in chapter 1 could have been an undifferentiated or androgynous person, with the blessing of male and female being a declaration in anticipation of the separation of the sexes in Genesis 2.
Strange idea, right? But I think it’s important to acknowledge the facts of the language here and take it for what it is. And it’s also pretty fascinating if you think about it. If mankind was made in God’s image, as Gen. 1 states, then it’s not so far-fetched to believe that the same oneness of the godhead would be present in adam, as well.
EVE AS HELPER
OK, now we can move on to 2:18:
And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
The word “helper” comes from the Hebrew “ezer kenegdo.” Many people look at verse 18 and think that because woman is a “helper” to man, that automatically makes her subservient, a step down the ladder from the male counterpart. That’s because in today’s culture we think of phrases like “Daddy’s little helper,” or see movies like The Help and view the word through that lens.
But where else do we see the same word in scripture? Surprisingly, it occurs 21 times in the Old Testament, usually referring to God Himself as a help to Israel against their enemies:
- Gen 2:18 – “a helper who is just right for him”
- Gen 2:20 – “no suitable helper was found”
- Exo 18:4 – “My father’s God was my helper“
- Deu 33:7 – “Oh, be his help against his foes!”
- Deu 33:26 – “who rides across the heavens to help you”
- Deu 33:29 – “He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.”
- Psa 20:2 – “May he send you help from his sanctuary”
- Psa 33:20 – “He is our help and our shield”
Clearly, the word ezer does not indicate a weaker, subservient role. Jay Guin explains this idea further in his e-book Buried Talents:
In current English, “helper” carries the connotation of a subordinate – even a child. Thus, if I were drowning, I’d call out, “Help!” But I wouldn’t refer to the person who rescued me as my “helper.” My rescuer truly helped me, but calling him “helper” would be too condescending – even belittling. But these thoughts are utterly foreign to the Hebrew ‘ezer. There is no condescension in the Hebrew word at all, so that “helper” (or “help meet,” as in the KJV) is truly a clumsy translation to modern ears. In other verses, ‘ezer is used in the sense of “rescuer” or “liberator.” The word is also used in the sense of “one who fights alongside against a common foe.” “Comrade” or “ally” would come close to the sense in many contexts. Thus, the psalmist sings that God is Israel’s help, not a mere helper – but an ally so powerful that Israel must prevail.
Many scholars, then, believe that complement is a better word than helper to truly convey the idea the original language calls for. It also expresses the one flesh idea much more effectively.
SO THAT’S THAT
So far, we see no conclusive evidence from Genesis 1 and 2 that men and women are #1 and #2 in a hierarchy. Everyone seems to be straightforwardly equal and happy.
Where we DO see it is coming up next, in the tragic fall of mankind. Women’s subjection is identified as the result of sin and a curse comes into effect…