December 08, 2014

Atheist Bible Study: Genesis Chapter 2, Part 2
Gender in Genesis

The feminist in me is really ready to enjoy writing this post. Researching it was particularly enjoyable, for sure.

Today, we're talking about gender in Genesis 2.

Chapter 2 brings us to the creation of man and woman, unique and distinct from the very beginning. This has unique implications for interpreting gender and relationships.

Let's revisit our source material, shall we? We're looking at verses 18 through 25 today:

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."
2:19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.
2:20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.
2:21 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.
2:22 Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
2:23 And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."
2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh.
2:25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Woman's Role

Here, we first see the female-male dynamic, and from the very moment of her creation, woman's role is clear.

Woman's role is that of a helper. She was created specifically so that man would not be lonely, and her life existed solely so that she could fill that hole for him.

Woman was, then, a gift to man, and God prepared Adam to receive the gift of woman. As Blue Letter Bible puts it:

It was obvious to Adam that the animals came in pairs and he had no mate. Since God deliberately had Adam name the animals after seeing his need for a partner (Genesis 2:18), God used this to prepare Adam to receive the gift of woman. 2

However, just because she was created as a companion, and not as a person in her own right, doesn't mean that she was inferior to man. BLB goes on:

Not only was the woman to be a helper, but also she was made comparable to the man. She should be considered and honored as such. A woman or wife cannot be regarded as a mere tool or worker, but as an equal partner in God’s grace and an equal human being. 2

Bible Gateway makes this point:

God, as her Father, brought the woman to the man, as his second self, and a help meet for him. That wife, who is of God’s making by special grace, and of God’s bringing by special providence, is likely to prove a help meet for a man.1 

The Differences Between Men and Women

The differences between men and women are a key aspect of evangelical doctrines surrounding relationships and gender interactions.

The ideas that men and women are so different that they are very nearly unrecognizable as the same species underlies many purity culture teachings.

For instance, BLB points out a key aspect of marriage:

Marriage, in particular has a blessed “civilizing” influence on man. The most wild, violent, sociopathic men in history have always been single, never under the plan God gave to influence men for good. 2

It's true that marriage changes people, but this doctrine can also be used to underscore abusive situations. No, most people would never advise a woman to stay in such a relationship--but a lifetime of hearing that you are supposed to be a "civilizing" influence on your husband can leave you understandably open to believing that abuse is your fault. You have failed in your role as a wife.

Still, evangelicals argue that despite the focus on the differences between the sexes/genders, they are actually more alike than anything else.

BLB says:

God used Adam’s own body to create Eve to forever remind him of their essential oneness. As Adam came to know Eve he would see many ways that they were different, but he must never forget that they are essentially one and that they are made of the same substance. They are more alike than they are different. 2

Man's Headship Established

This passage is often interpreted as underlying the doctrine of the headship of man over households.

BLB puts it like this:

God brought Eve to Adam and created Eve out of Adam. He was first - the source and the head. She was created to be a helper perfectly suited to him. Thus the subordinate relationship of wives to husbands is found before the curse, not only after it. 2

Many times, we hear the idea of man's headship as a result of the curse following the fall--but many evangelicals actually believe it predates the curse, as seen here. Thus the idea of man as the head of the home is actually the natural order, not a result of the distortion of that order by sin.

BLB also says:

God has not ordained women to be helpers to men in authority (instead of being in authority themselves), except in marriage and in the church (1 Timothy 2: 12-3). 2

Equality of Men and Women

Are men and women equal, then?

Wikipedia says this:

A long-standing exegetical tradition holds that the use of a rib from man’s side emphasizes that both man and woman have equal dignity, for woman was created from the same material as man, shaped and given life by the same processes. In fact, the word translated “rib” in English can also mean “side”, “chamber”, or “beam”. 6 

BLB puts it like this:

There is a beautiful Jewish tradition saying God made woman, not out of man's foot to be under him, nor out of his head to be over him, but "She was taken from under his arm that he might protect her and from next to his heart that he might love her." 2

In this way, we come to the concept of separate but equal: men and women are different, created and appointed to different purposes, but they are equal in God's grace.

BLB says:

Adam recognized that though he and Even were one, she was not the same as him. He understood that two different people were becoming one. 2

 Woman, unlike man, is not really unique. As Bible Study Tools puts it:

In token of his acceptance of her, he gave her a name, not peculiar to her, but common to her sex… 1

So how equal this relationship is is questionable.

The idea of separate but equal is one that evangelicals really cling to--the idea that woman is safe, and not inferior, even though she is required to submit to her husband. As BLB puts it:

This does not mean there is to be no help from the man to the woman (though in many cases this is sadly true). It means when God looks down from heaven upon the family, He sees a man in leadership, good or bad, faithful or not, to the calling of leadership. A true leader will, of course, help those helping him. 2

This is a key point. It is expected that women will be submissive, and in return, men will take care of them. But this is only at man's discretion--woman is still expected to submit, even if he does not uphold his end of the biblical expectation.

BLB also puts it like this:

No one walks into a room and seeks the most uncomfortable seat. The natural concern we have for ourselves causes us to take care of ourselves. In a healthy marriage relationship the husband realizes the essential union he has with his wife, that he cannot bless her without blessing himself and he cannot mistreat or neglect her without mistreating or neglecting himself. 2

But again, we are relying on men to self-police this concept, and women to submit regardless. And this doctrine, too, is rooted right here in Genesis.

This idea is also carried over into the New Testament. From Ephesians 5:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,
27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
30 For we are members of His body,[d] of His flesh and of His bones.
31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."
32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

But is this equal?

Evangelicals argue that yes, it is.

BLB says:

We only see “helping” as a position of inferiority when we think like the world thinks. God considers positions of service as most important in His sight (Matthew 20: 25-28). 2

It's only because of our perception that we see being relegated to the position of helper as inferior. This idea is a common one among evangelical Christians.

1 Peter 3:7 says:

Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

This verse is often justified, though, as not referring to actual weakness, but rather to the differences between men and women.

Marriage and the Family

This chapter also establishes the proper family order.

It begins with, as mentioned above, the man:

In reference to the marriage relationship, God created woman to be a perfectly suitable helper to man. This means God gave the plan and agenda to Adam, and he and the woman together work to fulfill it. 2

It also establishes the importance of the parents over the children, as Bible Study Tools explains:

See how necessary it is that children should take their parents [sic] consent with them in their marriage; and how unjust they are to their parents, as well as undutiful, if they marry without it; for they rob them of their right to them, and interest in them, and alienate it to another fraudulently and unnaturally. 2

Blue Letter Bible also explains:

Many want to believe that the monogamous, two-parent family was invented in the 1950’s by American television icons Ozzie and Harriet, but Adam and Even are the original family. This is God’s ideal family. This isn’t polygamy. This isn’t concubinage. This isn’t the keeping of mistresses. This isn’t adultery. This isn’t homosexual co-habitation. This isn’t promiscuity. This isn’t living together outside of the marriage bond. This isn’t serial marriage. This is God’s ideal for the family, and even when we don’t live up to it, it is still important to set it forth as God’s ideal. 2

Here, then, again, we have the beginnings of multiple key doctrines, from the nuclear family, to the headship of man, to the headship of parents over children--all here, in the second chapter of Genesis.\

We also see the seeds of sexual restriction here, as BLB shows:

In this sense, there is no such thing as “casual sex.” Every sexual relationship at least begins a one-flesh bond. The bond will either be something beautiful (like the beautiful dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) or it will be something grotesque (like Siamese twins). 2
Thus, the one-flesh bond forms a theological basis for sexual behavioral norms too.

Symbolism of the Relationship Between Man and Woman

Oftentimes, nonbelievers and progressive Christians have trouble understanding why evangelical Christians cling so tightly to this idea of the family.

It's especially apparent as we see sweeping changes in attitudes towards same sex marriage. But again, it's here in Genesis. I don't want to steal ole Ken Ham's thunder, but so many answers really are found in Genesis.

You see, the marriage relationship described here isn't just taken literally--it's also seen metaphorically, as representative of the relationship between believers and Christ. As our friend at BLB explains for us:

The Apostle Paul sees that in the love and union between Adam and Eve, God was giving us a greater picture of the relationship that He desires to have with us. He calls this union a profound mystery—Christ and the church. It is important to remember that for the Christian, Jesus is not only their Savior, their healer, their brother, and their friend…but He is also the groom awaiting His bride, the Church. Both Old and New Testaments portray God as a jealous God (Ex 20:5, James 4:4-6). This is a holy and just jealousy expressed by a husband eagerly desiring the attention of a wayward wife. 2

Thus this idea isn't just literal, and "attacks on traditional marriage" aren't just changing a social structure--they are threatening an actual symbolic representation of the relationship believers have with Christ himself.

Wrapping It Up

Here, we've seen the seeds of such a wide variety of doctrines. It really is mind-blowing--just take a look:

  • headship of man
  • differences between the sexes
  • marriage
  • symbolism of marriage relationship
  • parent's leadership over children
  • role of women
  • sexual norms
It really is amazing.

I'd like to apologize for how long it took to get this up, but I do hope it is worth the wait.

I did not do much in the way of rebuttal here because I'm actually looking to tease out several longer, more in-depth posts on the topic over the coming weeks. These are some of the doctrines that I personally found most damaging, and I'm looking forward to exploring them in more depth.

Anyway, I'll be working on chapter 3 on Thursday when I am off, so look for it early next week.

Until next time!


1  “The Book of Genesis: Chapter 2”

2  David Guzik. “Study Guide for Genesis 2: Creation Completed; Adam in the Garden of Eden”

3  I Gordon. “Genesis Chapter 2: Trees, Seeds and Wives”

4  Henry, Matthew. “Commentaries for Genesis Chapter 2”. Bible Gateway.

5  “Yahwist Narrative”

6  "Genesis creation narrative"

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