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.
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.
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: “
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
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.
At this the man exclaimed, “
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.