The issue of the role of women in society is as old as the Biblical story of humankind itself. So, let’s revisit the creation account for a good starting point in our discussion. It contains some intriguing insights.
Unfortunately, most translations of the account of creation and the fall will not give you a faithful representation of the full meaning of what was being said, due to different translations of the same words, and haphazard capitalization of the noun “adam”. The word “adam” may be translated as “Adam” in one place, “man” in another, or “mankind” in the third, according to translators’ biases.
So, I will take NKJV for a starting point, and give you an straight translation from the original language in square brackets. Please feel free to verify this with your favorite interlinear or original language Scripture text.
27 So God created man [adam] in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
The word “adam” derives from the word “adamah”, or earth. Literally, it means “that which is made of earth”, or “earthly human”. Hebrew lacked capitalization and punctuation the way English language has it today. So, let me simplify this:
27 So God created the earthly human in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
You see that the account is not describing Adam the man. Rather, it’s describing male and female collectively. Therefore, the masculine pronoun “him” is not a reference to the man, per se. Rather, it’s a reference to the unity of male and female.
The word “image” (“tselem” in Hebrew, “eikon” in Greek) is something that is meant to faithfully represent the original. An example would be an icon, or a photograph. So, both male and female collectively have a God-appointed function to be a divine image-bearer in the world. Any deviation from that is bound to skew God’s reflected image, so it’s very important for us to uncover and be mindful of that original blueprint.
Here’s a recap of the initial creation account, a few chapters later:
1 This is the book of the genealogy of Adam [adam]. In the day that God created man [adam], He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind [adam] in the day they were created.
Again, let’s get a bit more literal here:
1 This is the book of the genealogy of earthly human. In the day that God created earthly human, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them “Adam [earthly human]” in the day they were created.
You see that Adam was a shared name for both male and female. (Only after the fall did Adam give a separate name “Eve” to his wife (Genesis 3:20). Incidentally, being separate in personal names marked the beginning of the systemic fracture of their union.)
That’s idea of a shared name and identity is a very important Biblical idea. Both men and women are of equal value before God, and they collectively reflect his image. Also, both of them are referred to as “adam”, or “earthly human”, or “man”. It’s similar to when we use the word “mankind” to refer to “humankind”. In the same fashion, the Bible often uses the word “man” to refer to both male and female, as you see here. The biblical term “man” doesn’t belong to man alone. It was a shared designation, and it was hijacked for exclusive use only much later down the road.
And that gives us one important intimation as to the nature of God. Many of you might find it strange to think this way, but God is not a biological male. He is a person who encompasses both male and female characteristics. Again, please don’t think biology or sexual activity. God doesn’t possess sexual organs, he is a spirit. (The only exception to that was Jesus’ roughly 33 years on earth in a human body.)
Yes, God is our Father, and it’s a masculine term, but his love and nurture encompasses what we should ideally get from a functional two-parent family. Almost 2,000 years ago God entrusted the expression of his feminine, nurturing side to the church. Before that it was Israel. Invariably, either one is referred to as the “bride”, “wife”, or “mother”.
Let’s revisit this passage one more time:
2 He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them “Adam [earthly human]” in the day they were created.
The word “male” in Hebrew is “zakar”. The Hebrew root word means “to remember”. Additional meanings are “to call upon [as in worship]”, and “sharp”.
The word “female in Hebrew is “neqebah”. It comes from a root word “naqab”, which means “to pierce”, “to bore through”, “to designate”.
These words, aside from obvious biological connotations, carry a beautiful message of God (usually pictured as a male) who is the giving side, and humankind (usually pictured as a female), who is the receiving side.
Additionally, the union of the male and of female carries the idea of “remembering” and of “piercing”. This, I believe, is a masterful messianic prophecy fulfilled by Jesus on the cross. The original image of God was remembered and restored by Jesus through his being pierced on the cross.
As to the role of woman relative to man, here’s what the Scripture teaches:
18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
The Hebrew word for help is “ezer”. It’s frequently used in the Old Testament to denote the kind of help that God himself provides. This was not meant to say that the woman is to be a man’s helper in a sense of a domestic servant for her overlord. Rather, the passage talks about that the man couldn’t go it alone in the world as a person, and the woman’s personhood was that help to fill that void, and to complete the image of God. Her help was in that she completed him to be what God wanted humankind to be. In wasn’t so much in what she did, but who she was. What she did was meant to flow out of that God-given identity.
God’s mandate for humankind was to dominate and subdue the earth. Their assignment was to start from the garden and Eden and expand from thereon out:
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man [adam] in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
The dominion over this earth was not a male-only venture: “let them have dominion”. Humankind’s dominion was a collective one. I can’t emphasize this point enough: it was let THEM have dominion. It was to be a joint venture between God, men, and women. That was the original design. Women were part and parcel of it. And in that dominion, male power was to be constrained by and tempered with female compassion.
Satan expresses his dominion like a roaring lion seeking who to devour. His mode of operation is crushing brutality and control. In contrast, Jesus is not just a lion. He was both the Lion and the Lamb. He was a perfect blend of majesty and beauty, of strength and meekness. His mode of operation was, and is, God’s restorative and healing power working through agape-love.