Home > Miscellaneous > Man, Woman, and Authority

Man, Woman, and Authority

From another writing project in which I deal with a handful of arguments for male authority over women from this text:

Genesis 2.18-23

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
   And flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
  because she was taken out of Man.”

Sometimes interpreters will use Genesis 2 to argue for men’s position over women in the hierarchy of Creation. The attempt to demonstrate this comes from a flawed understanding of the purpose of this chapter and an ignorance of Genesis 1. God has already outlined the hierarchy of Creation in Genesis 1. This chapter is not designed to speak to the issue.

Still, there are some who use chapter 2 to posit male authority over females. These arguments which place men over women are common enough it is worth the time to address some of them directly.

In Genesis 1, it looks like male and female were created at the same time. However, in chapter 2 Adam was created before Eve. As one who has been alive in the world for longer, it would make sense for Adam, with his more expansive knowledge of the world, to have a position of authority over her. God deliberately created man first because He wanted men to always have a position of leadership over women.

The main problem with this conclusion is its presumptiveness. There’s no reason in the text to assume being made first put one in a position over others. In fact, were one going to use the order of creation as a way to figure out God’s original design for hierarchy, the exact opposite would have to be concluded. We already know humans are over the rest of creation and humans were created last. The creatures with the highest authority are those created later. If woman was created last of all, then God must want her to have dominion over everything which came before, including man.

Eve is called Adam’s “helper.”  When the ESV (and many other translations) use the word “helper” to describe Eve’s relationship to Adam, they are not intending to communicate the idea of some sort of hierarchy. When modern readers perceive Eve to be Adam’s subordinate because of the use of the term helper, they are reading their experiences into the text.

The assumption of some readers that to call someone a “helper” is to subordinate them is not without reason in our modern context. It is common in the work environment to refer to less skilled people as a “helper.” Children who aid in cleanup or who are being kind to younger children are also called “helpers.” A helper is  someone who is there to be of assistance to the person who is in charge. We often use “helper” to refer to someone who is in a position of subordination.

The word for helper in the Hebrew text carries no such connotations. The Hebrew word for helper is Ezer. This word is most often applied to God. God helps humanity out sometimes, this certainly doesn’t make him a subordinate. Using similarly shallow arguments to those seeking to prove patriarchy, it would be very easy to conclude Eve must be Adam’s superior, since the same term applied to her is also applied to God. The text is not trying to say anything about a hierarchy at all.

The process of Eve’s creation is another event some use to conclude that God designed men to be in a position over women. Adam slept and then God used his rib to create Eve. She is a part of Adam’s body. Adam is the originator of Eve.

Only a small logical step is required to propose that Adam has rightful authority of Eve. She owes her very existence to him. He owned the rib from which woman was made, so he should have some continuing rights of ownership. Adam obviously has authority over his own body and Eve is simply a separated extension of his body. As one created from someone else, it is reasonable to conclude Adam is above Eve in the hierarchy of creation.

Yet, we find ourselves only able to use these verses to justify a hierarchy between man and woman if we ignore the preceding text. Adam wasn’t created out of thin air either. He originated from another substance – dirt. Is dirt over man in the hierarchy? Quite the opposite, the earth is the very thing over which man is to rule. In the interest of a consistent application of the hierarchal hermenuetic, if man was created from the substance over which he had dominion, then it must be that woman is supposed to have dominion over man.
Or perhaps interpreting Genesis 2 as if it is trying to tell us something about an authority difference between men and women is the wrong way of reading it altogether.

Categories: Miscellaneous
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