“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”1
Matthew Henry so succinctly describes woman and her nature and value. What is woman? What is God’s purpose for her? In the wake of feminism and gender identity issues, it would do us well to go back to the beginning.
In Genesis 1 God embarked on His six-day creation act. The final creative work was the creature, man. The Hebrew word for “man” can be translated “mankind” or “humankind.” Since the human was made lastly in the creation week, what does that tell us about our position or authority as it relates to the rest of creation? This new creature was to be set apart from the rest of the creation. It is the crowning achievement. It is not an animal or a fish or a bird. The human is given special recognition.
Ray Ortlund says of this unique human creature,
First, God says, “Let us make man . . . .” In Genesis 1:24 God had said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures . . . .” By the sheer power of His spoken will, God had caused the living creatures to emerge from the earth “by remote control as it were.” In the creation of man, however, God Himself acted directly and personally.2
Mankind is a special and unique being. However, we don’t see any mention of a woman until almost the end of Genesis chapter 1. The statement “male and female created he them” is not yet speaking to any sort of hierarchy between the two kinds of humans (Genesis 1:27). Indeed we don’t even really know yet how there came to be two. Rather, in the very first statement in the Bible about women, God very poetically states the nature of the male and female together, not their roles just yet.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God created he him;
male and female created he them.
Each of these three lines makes a point. Line one asserts the divine creation of man. We came from God. Line two overlaps with line one, except that it highlights the divine image in man. We bear a resemblance to God. Line three boldly affirms the dual sexuality of man. We are male and female. Nowhere else in Genesis 1 is sexuality referred to; but human sexuality, superior to animal sexuality, merits the simple dignity given it here. Further, Moses doubtless intends to imply the equality of the sexes, for both male and female display the glory of God’s image with equal brilliance; “. . . . In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This is consistent with God’s intention, stated in verse 26, that both sexes should rule: “. . . . and let them rule . . .”3
The second chapter of Genesis is a recap of the first chapter, giving us added details about the creation that God had made. God tells us about the series of events in the creation of the woman. In Genesis 2:18 there is something lacking in Adam. He was alone. In a roundabout way, the incompleteness in Adam implies that the woman who is about to be created has something lacking in her too. The human race is dependent upon both the male and female as we can see in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.
After the declaration of Adam’s need, God did something special for him. He forms another creature from the same essence as Adam.
Matthew Henry beautifully says,
The man was dust refined, but the woman was dust double-refined, one remove further from the earth. That Adam slept while his wife was in making, that no room might be left to imagine that he had herein directed the Spirit of the Lord, or been his counselor, (Isa. 40:13). He had been made sensible of his want of a meet help; but, God having undertaken to provide him one, he does not afflict himself with any care about it, but lies down and sleeps sweetly, as one that had cast all his care on God, with a cheerful resignation of himself and all his affairs to his Maker’s will and wisdom. Jehovah-jireh, let the Lord provide when and whom he pleases.4
After parading all the animals in front of Adam, and his seeing their inadequacy for his specific need, God then brings her to Adam as if to say, “What do you think about this one?” Adam’s first recorded words (Gen. 2:23-24) were to give her the name “woman” and to express his amazement that he was not alone anymore. She was like him. The female was the only part of God’s creation that was on Adam’s level, that was equal to him, that corresponded to him. The animals could help him and perform what they could for him, but only the woman could fulfill the man’s need. And it is only one woman who does that for the man in a marriage, not multiple women.
Elisabeth Elliot says,
The animals are there, fellow creatures with us of the same Creator-God, fellow sufferers, mute and mysterious. “But for the man there was not found a helper for him.” God might have given Adam another man to be his friend, to walk and talk and argue with if that was his pleasure. But Adam needed more than the companionship of the animals or the friendship of a man. He needed a helper, specially designed and prepared to fill that role. It was a woman God gave him, a woman, “meet,” fit, suitable, entirely appropriate for him, made of his very bones and flesh. You can’t make proper use of a thing unless you know what it was made for, whether it is a safety pin or a sailboat. To me it is a wonderful thing to be a woman under God — to know, first of all, that we were made (“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”) and then that we were made for something (“The rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”) This was the original idea. This is what woman was for. The New Testament refers back clearly and strongly to this purpose: “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9). Some texts are susceptible of differing interpretations, but for the life of me I can’t see any ambiguities in this one.5
The word “woman” means simply “a female human.” Although the man and the woman are distinct creatures with differing purposes, they stand together before God as He talked with them and communed with them in the garden. The race of man is male and female. In God’s wisdom, He decided not to create just one kind of human but two kinds of human. Equal but different.
Genesis 2:24-25 introduces the institution of marriage. It is interesting that there is no mother or father to leave at this point, so why is that mentioned? God is setting a precedent. He wants it this way and not another way. It is important to note that although there were only two humans on the entire planet at this time, Adam states that they shall become one flesh. It is specifically a coupling. That is, there is no other option other than two that are made into one. To put it negatively, several do not become one. Also one flesh is not made from any other coupling than the man and his wife (singular). This speaks volumes against marriage in any other configuration.
According to Genesis 2:24-25, there is something different about the relationship between the first couple and their relationship to any other couple. That is, they are also so equal that it is described as being “one.” They are not merely partners, as if it were just two people working together side-by-side. Oneness is much more than that. The man and the woman are sharing their existence just as they did before the woman was formed, in and around and through and for and with each other. This is not enough for some feminist writers, though. They lament that fact that even though God refers to males and females together, the whole race is referred to as “man” rather than “woman.” One reason for God’s terminology here is that man arrived first. The name man is merely descriptive. Man is what the human is. It wasn’t woman until God took her out of him.
There is a hint of hierarchy even in this though, and that is what has feminists and egalitarians scrambling to take this passage out of context. Many views of womanhood (feminism, Islam, Mormonism, many cults, Patrocentrism, egalitarianism) believe that the curse on the woman after the Fall resulted in woman’s subordination to man, and so they have to make the sinless creation to be without hierarchy. So if the Fall resulted in subordination, then redemption is a restoration of equality of the sexes. But we have seen in just these few verses that is not the case. The status as Helper Suitable for the man is established before the Fall as a part of God’s very good creation. Subordination does not mean inferiority, and that is true in any leader-follower relationship. Feminism especially cannot seem to understand that truth. Even within the Godhead itself, Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father (John 5:30). Furthermore, the Spirit comes from the Father as well and does His will (John 15:26), yet the equality within the Trinity is undeniable in Scripture. At this point, the end of Genesis 2, the Fall of Man has not happened yet. This is part of God’s “very good” creation. God really did make Eve to be a helper suitable for Adam, and He made Adam first on purpose. Adam was not made a helper for Eve, nor were they made simultaneously. This was all the way it was supposed to be!
In Genesis and in other passages, men are given a leadership role simply by virtue of being a man. The first woman’s role was to be a helper on par with the man, a complement to him, and this is by virtue of simply being a woman. When these roles are performed correctly and harmoniously, the original glory of God’s very good creation is re-created and re-invigorated. And conversely, when the roles are abused or neglected or distorted, the nobility of God’s purpose in us is hindered.
God created a Woman. “And God saw every thing that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Gen. 1:31.
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, vol. 1 (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, nd.) 20.
- Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1–3,” Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Crossway Books, Kindle version) 2177-2180.
- Ortlund, 2191-2197.
- Matthew Henry, 19-20.
- Elisabeth Eliot, Let Me Be A Woman (Wheaton: Tyndale House, Kindle version) 13.
I am glad to reprint Rebekah Schrepfer’s article from her blog MostlySensible.com. Rebekah is our oldest daughter and wife of Aron Schrepfer, Pastor of Pioneer Peak Baptist Church in Palmer, Alaska. Rebekah is also the website coordinator for the Aletheia website.