The Whole Christ

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17)

Are Men and Women Created Equal?

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Are men and women created equal? Seven points for consideration below, mostly based on Genesis 1-3.

  1. The Image of God

Genesis 1:26-27 teaches us that humanity is made in God’s image. Here is the passage:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

The “image of God” theme seems to be related to the idea of having dominion over all creation. Just as God is sovereign over all that has been made, humanity has been appointed to rule with Him. However, this does not tell us whether men and women are created equal, it simply tells us that humanity as a whole (men and women included) is made in God’s image.

If this seems difficult to understand, consider the nation of Israel. The whole nation is referred to as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” in Exodus 19. And yet not all Israelites were ‘holy’ or ‘priests’ in the full sense that the descendants of Aaron were (Exodus 28). And as we shall see, men bear the image of God in a more prominent way than women.

  1. The Task of Dominion

Before Eve was created, Adam was given the task of naming all of the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). In performing this task, Adam was fulfilling his role as “the image of God”, since earlier in Genesis 1 we saw God giving names to His creations, names like “heaven” (for the sky) and “day” (as in daytime). In naming the animals, Adam was claiming his territory, since humanity was given the task of having dominion over all creation (as we saw in the previous passage). However, after Eve was created, Adam also gave her a name (Genesis 2:23), suggesting that he had a kind of authority over her. The task of dominion was therefore given to humanity in a patriarchal manner.

  1. Eve as Helper

In Genesis 2, Eve is created as Adam’s “helper”. But what does this mean? Sometimes, this is understood in the context of the main task given to Adam earlier in the chapter, that of “working and keeping” the garden. However, the key issue was not that there were not enough workers, but rather that the man was alone (verse 18). When we turn to Genesis 1, we find that humanity is to “be fruitful and multiply”. In studying the animals, Adam would have discovered that each male had a matching partner, able to bear offspring. This is why the woman was created, to bear children. 1 Corinthians 11 refers to this: “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (verses 8-9). The woman was created as a partner for the man’s sake, to bear children for him, children that might “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1).

  1. Name of Humanity

In Genesis 1, humanity is given a name, “Adam”. In Genesis 2, we find that there is only one person who bears this name, the first man, “Adam” (same Hebrew word). A different name, “Eve”, is given to the woman. Given how significant names are in the bible, this suggests that Adam represents humanity in a way that Eve does not. We can see this understanding reflected in Romans 5 when Adam (and not Eve) is referred to as the head of humanity, even though both Adam and Eve are the first parents of humanity.

  1. Tasks in the Garden

In Genesis 2, God gives specific tasks to Adam within the garden of Eden, the first sanctuary where God would walk amongst humans (eg. Genesis 3:8). He also made it clear to Adam that the fruit from the tree of knowledge was forbidden. All of this was revealed to Adam prior to Eve being created. And after Adam had permitted Eve to eat of the fruit and then eaten some himself, God came and challenged Adam first, then Eve. He did this because Adam was the one given primary responsibility over the garden-sanctuary. The Apostle Paul applies this to worship services in 1 Timothy 2, arguing that just as Adam was created first to lead in the garden tasks, so too must men lead worship services in the new covenant (1 Timothy 2:11-14), since in corporate worship the church becomes a holy sanctuary like the garden of Eden.

  1. The Fall

It is sometimes argued, on the basis of Genesis 3:16, that patriarchy comes as a result of the fall. However, this argument cannot be sustained. Here is the passage in question:

“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Given that this passage follows a curse on the woman, it is often suggested that this passage is also a curse. However, for a woman to “desire” her husband is not sinful. Neither is it wrong for a man to “rule over” his wife, since it says in Genesis 1 that God, in His wisdom, appointed the sun and moon to “rule over” the day and night, using the same Hebrew word. So it could be that this passage is a promise that God would sustain the patriarchal relationship which was instituted before the fall. An alternative is that this passage is part of the curse and that although both the “desire” and the “rule” were originally good, they have become corrupted by sin (compare with Genesis 4:7). However, in either scenario, you have an affirmation of patriarchy in some form.

Another feature of Genesis 3 worth noting is the way that the curses are applied. The curse on the woman is applied to her womb, where she bears children. However, the curse on the man is applied to the land (which now bears thistles and thorns), where he labours. This suggests, once again, that the man is the one primarily given to dominion tasks, whereas the woman is the one primarily given to bearing children, so that humanity can fill the earth. The man bears the image of God more directly, the woman more indirectly.

  1. Flesh and Bone

However, there is one important sense in which men and women are created equal. After the woman was created, the man exclaimed:

“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.” (Genesis 2:23)

Both men and women share in the same flesh-and-bone humanity. Both share the same glory and dignity as human beings given a special vocation to participate in God’s rule, albeit in differing ways. And all of this is set within the context of the first marriage. Matthew Henry puts it well:

“That 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.”

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