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Did God Assign Gender Roles & Hierarchy to Adam & Eve? Part 1 - Before the Fall

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Chan Pei Ling

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him...” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18, 24)

For the first time, God referred to His creation as “not good”. Something was amiss. God had sensed in the man a gaping void, a loneliness that none of the animals around him could fill. So God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep and through him, created a woman. God completed His creation with the union of the first couple – a happy ending.

Not surprisingly, Genesis 2:18-24 is one of the most commonly-quoted scripture on marriage as it conjures a vision of two flawless beings busking in love and living in utter bliss in God’s perfect garden

However, the story doesn't end here. This same passage has been a source of contention as well. It states that the woman was created as a helper for the man – a term that many modern women would find demeaning and offensive.

Are women created to meet men’s needs? Why would a perfect God do that? Could Moses, the author of the Pentateuch and revered patriarch of the Israelites, have written this verse in favour of men?

How are we to make sense of this? Is there something that is ‘lost in translation’?

Understanding ‘Ezer’

In our modern world, the word ‘helper’ usually refers to a worker that performs mundane tasks in the workplace or at home - like a clerical assistant or a domestic worker. The person is hired to carry out the instructions of a superior – not to give opinions or partake in making important decisions.

Undeniably, the term ‘helper’ connotes subordination & servitude, which is worlds apart from the meaning of the original Hebrew word ‘ezer’.

‘Ezer’ is a combination of two root words, ‘rescue’ and ‘strength’. It appeared 21 times in the Old Testament –16 times to describe God’s strength as He came to the rescue of those who cried out to Him in distress.

Here are some examples:

Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. (Deuteronomy 33:29)

God is my helper and my ally, the sustainer of my soul (my upholder) (Psalm 54:4 AMP)

And in Exodus 18:4, as a testimony of God’s deliverance, Moses named one of his sons, “Eli’ezer”, which means “God is my helper”.

So what does it mean when the scriptures use ‘ezer’ to describe the first woman?

It means that God has designed the woman to be a source of strength and a representation of God’s provision and deliverance to the man.

In newer versions of the English Bible, revisions were made to Genesis 2:18 to capture the meaning of ‘ezer’ when used in this context:

I will make the woman to be an authority corresponding to him. (ISV)

I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him. (NET)

God had created the woman to be “corresponding” to the man, to be his match. Only then can his need for companionship be fully met. One other fact in the Creation story supports this notion. God took a rib from the man to make the woman, signifying that they are meant to live & work side-by-side as equal partners.

Here’s a quote from Matthew Henry, a 17th-century church minister who garnered respect for writing a full commentary of the Bible and contradicting many of the traditional teachings of his time:

“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.”

Equal & Complementary To Each Other

It makes perfect sense that God completes His creation with this divine union of a man and a woman – each uniquely created in His image to live in & walk with Him – to work in partnership as entrusted stewards of all His creation.

This concept of unity and equality is likewise presented in Genesis 1:26-28, where God created male and female in His image and likeness and gave them the commission to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it...”

Now, that doesn't mean that men and women are the same. We are certainly not identical but are in fact complementary – each with our unique characteristics and strengths – and thus able to meet the needs of the other.

Herein lies the inexplicable power of a marriage, where two equal and complementary beings come together to serve and love each other, becoming “one flesh”, using their God-given intelligence and abilities to raise a family in the Lord and administer to others.

A well-respected Christian author highlighted the following in an article on the topic of women’s role: “In Genesis 2 especially, we are told of the similarity and mutuality between the man and woman. The concepts of gender roles, different responsibilities, leadership or submission, are simply not brought up before the Fall.”

Read more about 'Did God Assign Gender Roles & Hierarchy To Adam & Eve?

Part 2 - After The Fall

Readings On ‘Ezer’ & Other Related Topics:

  • Does Adam have authority over Eve since he named her? Read more.

  • Find out more about the word ‘ezer’ from the experts. Read more. And here too.

  • Women’s role and prominent women in the Old Testament. Read more.

Chan Pei Ling

Pei Ling is a mother of three and a freelance consultant in the media industry.

She and her husband Danny have spent almost two decades serving as youth mentors in the Central Christian Church.

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