A Match Made in Heaven

Biblical Worldview

Many women have the impression that the Genesis account of Adam and Eve imposed a humiliating, subservient role on women. Is this really the case?

You only have to look at the starry sky or a butterfly’s wings to see evidence of our Creator’s design.1 God’s indelible imprint exists on all of His creation. Yet one aspect of creation, His crowning work, is worthy of special study: the making of man and woman, which the Creator pronounced “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The psalmist exclaims, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:3–6).

Understanding God’s design for males and females is central to understanding His plan for our lives. The modern confusion regarding gender identities shows the devastation that can result from ignoring God’s perspective. The Bible provides specific, clear, and abundant guidance on the noble purpose for each sex from the very beginning.

Joint Rule Over the Earth (Genesis 1:26–28)

In the opening words of the Bible, where God describes the creation of the universe, He includes the special role of “male and female.” At the climax of the creation of the earth and all that is in it, “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion . . . over all the earth . . . .’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .’” (Genesis 1:26–28).

Striking! At the very outset, God announces His intention to make humanity—male and female—in His own image. As a matter of fact, in verse 26, He declares His intention and purpose for creating humanity with two unique and different sexes: to have dominion over all the earth as His representatives.

That the man and the woman are created in God’s image signifies more than likeness. It also conveys the notion of representative rule, both of them exercising dominion over the earth together. The truth that “image” conveys representative rule is embedded in ancient Near Eastern culture, where the public display of the ruler’s image (for example, on a coin) signified the person’s rule.

In verse 27, the narrative switches momentarily from prose to poetry for emphasis, each of the three lines registering an important point: (1) humanity has God as its source; (2) humanity bears resemblance to God; and (3) humanity exists in the plurality of male and female.

Ruling the earth is a joint function of the man and the woman, as indicated by the fact that God made humanity in His image as a plurality (“male and female He created them,” v. 27), along with the plural pronouns them at the beginning of verse 28. God’s blessing of humanity and His mandate applies to both the man and the woman, expressed in a series of five imperatives: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Bearing God’s image as His vice-regent, the man and the woman together exercise dominion over the earth through procreation. Neither the man nor the woman can fill the earth and subdue it without the other and without further offspring. It is abundantly clear that fulfilling the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” takes both a man and a woman. In this way, Scripture reminds us that procreation is at the very heart of God’s creation purpose for humanity as male and female, within the confines of marriage.

The Man’s Leadership and the Wife’s Role as His “Comparable Helper” (Genesis 2)

In Genesis 2:4, the narrative returns to the creation of humankind, providing additional and important details. Genesis 2:7–8 describes how God formed the man from the dust of the ground, breathed life into him, and placed him in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:15–17 records God’s command to the man to work the garden and His gracious permission for him to eat from every tree except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The woman is not present to hear the command (she hasn’t been created yet!), so it’s the man’s responsibility to take leadership and pass on God’s command to her at a later time.

In Genesis 2:18 we are given more detailed information regarding God’s purpose for creating the woman and her design in relation to the man: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.2 The Creator was about to make a special companion and soulmate for the man (more on that later). Yet rather than record this creative act (the creation of woman) immediately, the following verse describes how God first brought all the animals to Adam so he could name them! In this way, God was leading the man through a process of understanding, helping him to realize that he needed a counterpart—human but different—with whom he shared the image of God and could exercise representative rule through the procreation of offspring.

In verse 20, then, the same phrase recurs, “not found a helper comparable to him.” After the temporary letdown resulting from this declaration, verse 21 narrates how God took decisive action: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.” So we see that the woman’s creation wasn't man’s idea; it was an act of divine grace. In fact, the man didn't contribute anything at all to the entire process. While created first, he had no part in the creation of the woman, except for providing one of his ribs, and not even that by his own choice.

Verse 22 elaborates, “Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.” We’ve already seen that God created humanity male and female. Now we see the process by which God fashions the man and the woman: they are products of separate acts of divine creation. The man (Hebrew ādām) was formed from the ground (Hebrew adāmāh), signifying that humanity is part of creation at large; then the woman (Hebrew ishah) was created from the man (Hebrew ish) signifying their intimate bond and the man’s ultimate responsibility and leadership for the relationship.

Indications of Man's Leadership in Genesis 1–2

  • The name for humanity is the same as for the male (ādām). Genesis 1:27; 5:2
  • God created the man first. Genesis 2:7
  • The man was the recipient of a divine command before the creation of the woman. Genesis 2:15–17
  • The man was put in the Garden to work and name the animals. Genesis 2:15, 2:19–20
  • God created the woman for the man and from the man. Genesis 2:18, 2:21–22
  • The woman was called the man’s “comparable helper.” Genesis 2:18, 2:20
  • The man named the woman. Genesis 2:23

At this the man exclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), joyfully affirming what God had done in creating the woman. And the man was given the privilege of assigning the woman a name derived from his own (ish, ishah; Genesis 2:23 ; see Genesis 3:20), another sign of his leadership in the relationship (see chart above).

What! Am I Supposed to Be Your “Helper”? (Genesis 2:18, 2:20)

Let’s now take a closer look at the term “helper comparable to him.” “What?” you may say if you’re a woman reading this. “Am I supposed to be his helper?”

What does this mean? To begin with, the expression clearly conveys that the woman is congenial to the man in a way that none of the animals are (vv. 19–20; cf. v. 23: “bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh”). The woman is God’s perfect provision for the man in his need for companionship (v. 18). If you had asked Eve, she probably would have said the same about Adam. He was exactly what she needed!

But what does it mean for the woman to be the man’s “helper”? It’s often been noted that the same expression is applied several times throughout the Old Testament to none other than God himself. Although God takes on the role of helper only temporarily to come to the aid of a given individual (in contrast to the woman who is said to be the man’s helper permanently), the fact that God can be said to be a “helper” lends great dignity and value to this role. Since God is clearly not inferior to anyone, whatever the term “helper” entails, it’s certainly not inferiority.

With regard to God’s mandate for humanity to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28), the woman is the man’s fitting partner in both procreation (becoming “one flesh” with him, Genesis 2:24) and the earth’s domestication (Genesis 1:28; in fact, domestication is facilitated in large part through procreation, because Adam and Eve certainly couldn’t subdue the earth all by themselves). The woman’s role is distinct from the man’s, yet both of their contributions are absolutely vital. While assigned to the man as his helper and thus placed under his overall care, the woman is his partner in ruling the earth for God.

Husband and Wife Become “One Flesh” (Genesis 2:24)

In verse 24, finally, Moses explains how in marriage a man leaves his parents’ home, is joined to his wife in matrimony, and becomes one flesh with her, establishing a distinct family unit and creating offspring through procreation. What does it mean for the man and the woman to become “one flesh”? As Raymond Ortlund Jr. points out, becoming “one flesh” means a lot more than sexual relations: “It is the profound fusion of two lives into one, shared life together, by the mutual consent and covenant of marriage. It is the complete and permanent giving over of oneself into a new circle of shared existence with one’s partner.”3

The narrative of the creation of the man and the woman concludes with the statement, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (v. 25). At this juncture, all is well in Paradise. In this idyllic state, the man and the woman are completely innocent, obediently resting in God’s word, trusting in Him and depending on His care and provision, and their union is close, trusting, and intimate. Together, they exercise dominion over the earth in keeping with God’s purpose and design. And as the man is entrusted with the care of his wife, he must exercise this responsibility in an atmosphere of self-giving love, unbroken trust, and perfect unity. God’s original design was truly “very good,” in every sense of the word.

Dr. Andreas Köstenberger is senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and author of numerous books on a variety of biblical and theological topics, including God, Marriage, and Family.
Dr. Margaret Köstenberger serves as adjunct professor of women’s studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is the author of Jesus and the Feminists and coauthor (with Andreas Köstenberger) of God’s Design for Man and Woman, which will be available in the summer of 2015 through biblicalfoundations.org and biblemesh.com.

How to Make Heavenly Matches Work Here on Earth

by Owen Strachan

1. Celebrate the unity of your humanity. The Scripture gives us the basis for the dignity and worth that we naturally crave but cannot find in our fallenness. The sexes are not in competition in the biblical design. Neither the man nor the woman is better than the other. Both equally bear the image of God. This means that men and women, husbands and wives, must continually treat one another with respect and kindness.

Speak graciously to one another. Do not undermine your loved one in conversation. Build a life together that pulses with love and happiness grounded in shared dignity and worth.

2. Celebrate the diversity of your sex. It is easy to get frustrated with the opposite sex when you’re constantly around one another. Why won’t he pick up his socks? Why can’t she stop crying? We all know these tensions. As God sanctifies us through His Spirit, we will see that our differences are not detrimental, but designed. In other words, we should revel in the uniqueness of manhood and womanhood. Men aren’t idiots; women aren’t shrews.

Husbands, be gentle and patient with your wives. Wives, build up your husbands. All of us: remember that manhood and womanhood each uniquely displays God’s glory.

3. Joyfully practice headship and submission. Men are called by God to be leaders of women and children in the home. They do not have this role because of superior gifting, but because their headship images the very authority of God. They must be self-sacrificial leaders, just like Christ, the head of the church (Ephesians 5:22–33). Women are called to find joy in the role of helper to their husband. Their submission images the very obedience to God the gospel produces.

So, men need to pray for courage and wisdom to exercise Christlike leadership, and women need to pray for grace to exercise churchlike submission. The glory of God is in this domestic structure.

4. Remember that every minute matters. One-flesh union is a big concept, but it is supposed to be a practical reality. All around us, people are watching our homes and marriages. How do we speak to one another? Do men forgo golf to play with their kids? Do wives support the leadership of their husbands? Are children valued, disciplined, and trained in the faith?

Every minute matters. Every day is an opportunity for doxology. Let’s give God maximum glory in our homes.

Owen Strachan is the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, a professor of theology and church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College, the author of Risky Gospel, and coeditor of the forthcoming Designed for Joy (Crossway).

Answers Magazine

July–September 2015

This issue focuses on five powerful evidences that confirm creation and leave unbelievers without excuse.

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  1. This article is adapted from chapter 1 of our book, God’s Design for Man and Woman (Crossway, 2014).
  2. The Hebrew phrase is ezer kenegdo, which literally means “helper corresponding to him” (k = “like,” negd = “corresponding,” o = “to him”). The first term ezer conveys more the sense of subordination, while kenegdo stresses the woman’s congeniality to the man.
  3. Ray Ortlund, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” chapter 3 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 101.


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