Recovering FROM Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Pt. 3: Genesis

obfuscate [ob-fuh-skeyt, ob-fuhs-keyt]

verb (used with object), obfuscated, obfuscating.

1. to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy. 2. to make obscure or unclear: to obfuscate a problem with extraneous information. 3. to darken.

To this, I would add: 4. Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1-3.” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds). Wheaton: Crossway, 1991. 86-104.

Ortlund writes (86), “My purpose in this essay is to demonstrate from Genesis 1-3 that both male-female equality and male headship, properly defined, were instituted by God at creation and remain permanent, beneficent aspects of human existence.”[1] From there Ortlund goes on in all sorts of wrong headed directions, butchering the text of Genesis 1-3, and asserting something which the text not only doesn’t support, but contradicts. Ortlund manoeuvres and manipulates phrases and redefines words in such a way to completely obliterate the meaning of the text, and cover up the actual picture which Genesis presents.[2]

As I said in Part 1, I admit I am not a scholar (technically Ortlund isn’t either, although he has a doctorate). Yes, I have Master’s degree, but I’m not an expert. However, I have taken enough Greek and Hebrew to know when something is off. I know when someone is inserting meaning which the text doesn’t support. And I also know to consult other experts. So, I’m not opposing Ortlund on my own skill, but I am simply echoing and summarizing what has been written by other leading Old Testament and linguisitics scholars (in this case mainly John Goldingay[3], Walter Brueggemann[4], Victor Hamiliton[5], Richard Hess[6], Philip Payne[7], and John Walton[8]).

In a recent sermon I suggested that the argument that Genesis 1 & 2 presents male headship over woman, and woman’s subordination to man’s federal headship is “absolute malarkey” (which got me quoted on the Junia Project blog). I stand by that comment. I continue to maintain that Genesis 1 & 2 presents male and female in a beautiful mutuality without hierarchy, without subordination (both ontological and functional). Man and woman are created to be partners and co-equals in the stewardship of creation, living out the image and likeness of God. That is what Genesis 1 & 2 presents. Ortlund sadly blurs and obscures this vision, and seeks to impose something very foreign onto the text. Genesis 3:16 introduces male headship as a consequence of sin. Sin placed enmity between male and female, and the two struggle for dominance[9], and man would impose headship on woman. Christ has come and been crucified and raised “to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) in which Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, and male and female struggle for advantage and privilege over each other. In the new creation however, that is in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no male and female” (Gal. 3:28). The Greek phrase “male and female” is different from the neither/nor of the previous 2 pairings, and is the exact phrase from the Greek of the Septuagint of Genesis 1:27:

So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

Notice a few things here in this verse. First God created humankind. The Hebrew word translated humankind (that’s the NRSV’s choice, which I think is a good choice) is hā-’ā-ḏām, which becomes the first male’s proper name in Gen. 4:25, but here is used with the definite article, so more literally “the human”[10]. Next “he created him“. Most translations have the plural “them” in both the second and third phrases. But in Hebrew the second phrase is singular, “him”, while the final phrase has the plural “them”. But does that mean “him” refers to the male human only (i.e. Adam but not Eve) and only in the next phrase is it male and female “he created them” (plural- that is Adam and Eve together)? Or, is the singular “the human” and “him” meant to refer to humanity as a singular whole, and the plural them to show diversity within the whole? The clue is in the following verses. The command is very clearly given to both male and female together. One command, one purpose, one project to be completed in partnership. And it was very good. Further supporting that is the explicit connection between ’ā-ḏām (without the definite article) and both genders in 5:2 (see more on this below).

In Genesis 2, the male by himself is in a state described as “not good” (Gen. 2:18) in obvious contrast to the statement about the creation as completed being “very good” (1:21). Humanity as solely male is incomplete, and does not fully fit the descriptor of humanity created in the “image of God”. Thus, the “him” in 1:27 likely refers to humanity as a unified whole, and hā-’ā-ḏām is a reference not to the single person Adam, but to humanity.

Richard Hess has stated (and many complementarians agree on this specific assertion) “There is nothing in this first chapter to suggest anything other than an equality of male and female created together in the image of God.”[11] Even Ortlund will agree with this; “Moses doubtless intends to imply the equality of the sexes”(87). However, he then makes a strange assertion by saying “How may we understand the logic of God’s decision to describe the human race as ‘man’? Let me suggest that it makes sense against the backdrop of male headship… God’s naming of the race ‘man’ whispers male headship, which Moses will bring forward boldly in chapter two.”(88)[12] A couple of things need to be mentioned. First, as noted above hā-’ā-ḏām is not specifically male. The personal name is applied to the individual male, that is Adam, only after the fall (prior to that he is simply “the human”, hā-’ā-ḏām). With the definite article here in 1:27 it certainly does not carry any sense of male specificity, but simply means “the human” (or perhaps in this case humanity as a whole). Second, the same term (without the definite article, i.e. simply ’ā-ḏām) is again applied to both Adam and Eve in 5:2, “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them ‘Human’ [’ā-ḏām] when they were created.” Everything is plural, and the term ’ā-ḏām, as a title, is applied to both male and female. Thus, Eve is an ’ā-ḏām as much as Adam. Ortlund’s point obscures what the text really says. There is no whisper of headship here. Everything here supports the conclusion that Genesis 1 screams equality, even though the term equality may not appear. They equally share in the image of God, and are equally commanded to fulfil the role of stewardship over the earth.

Ortlund’s argument that “God did not name the human race ‘woman’… He does not even devise a neutral term like ‘persons.’ He called us ‘man,’ which anticipates the male headship brought out clearly in chapter two'”(89) is simply bizarre and frankly silly. Yes, God did not call all human beings collectively “woman” (Hebrew ’iš-šāh) but, in fact, he did not call them “man” (Hebrew ’îš) either. He called them “human” (’ā-ḏām). The attempt to imply that ’ā-ḏām is exclusively (or even predominantly) male is unfounded. The fact that Adam bears the name given to humanity says nothing of his headship. Especially since Eve is given the name which means “living”. By Ortlund’s logic, if females are excluded from or subordinated within the designation ’ā-ḏām in Genesis 1:27 & 5:1 because the male bears the name Adam, then males would be exlcuded from those designated “living”, since the female bears the name Eve. This would of course be completely foolish (especially since 5:2, which Ortlund ignores completely, explicitly includes both male and female under the label ’ā-ḏām, and 2:7 explicitly includes the male under the term “living”). Sorry Ray, your argument is simply invalid.

Now, Ortlund goes on to say that what was whispered in Genesis 1 is made explicit in Genesis 2. But this argument falls just as flat as everything he has already said. He begins his evaluation of Genesis 2 like this:

There is a paradox in the creation account. While Genesis 1 teaches the equality of the sexes as God’s image-bearers and vice-rulers on the earth, Genesis 2 adds another, complex dimension to Biblical manhood and womanhood. The paradox is this: God created male and female in His image equally, but He also made the male the head and the female the helper.(89)

First of all this, if true (it isn’t), is not something I would accept as a paradox. A paradox has the appearance of contradiction, but isn’t. Equal but also hierarchical doesn’t have the appearance of contradiction, it is contradiction. Two parties being equal but in leader-subordinate positions is contradiction.

But what’s more important is this: does Genesis 2 actually say that all males are in headship over women who are “helpers”? No. Absolutely not. My own impression is that this assertion is the result of a poor reading of Paul in 1 Cor. 11 & 1 Tim. 2 being read back into Genesis. When we read Genesis 1-3 on its own terms (which is absolutely the best hermeneutical practice for establishing the meaning of Genesis) before we compare with Paul (which we can only do after we’ve properly understood Genesis on Genesis’ terms and only then determine how Paul uses this text), it yields a meaning which is incompatible with Ortlund’s assertions.

Ortlund’s first point is that gender is far more than anatomy. Not too many egalitarians (none that I know of) would make the argument that gender is nothing but anatomy. So I’m not sure what the point of making this assertion is. Yes, there are differences between genders. That is not the issue. The issue is the assertion that the differences between the genders place one inherently into a position of subordination under the other. Ortlund argues that males are by the design of God in creation given headship over women. This is the point egalitarians object to. Most complementarians will differentiate between ontological and functional subordination; that is that the genders are equal in value and dignity, but the leadership and authority role belongs to the male not the female. To put it another way, the leadership function or role is reserved for men to the exclusion of women. In Genesis 1 the only roles discussed are given to humanity as male and female. Genesis 1:28-30 reads:

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

The roles here are given to both men and women together. It is given to “them”. They are coequals and partners in the function of human beings living out the image of God in creation. So the question now is does chapter 2 present something different? The answer is of course, no it doesn’t.

The argument goes something like this (to crudely summarize and paraphrase Ortlund); Adam was created before Eve, he was given authority to name the animals, and he designated the female as woman, and gave her the proper name Eve, and Eve is described as a “helper”. Therefore the male has “headship” and the female is subordinate.

First, the male being created before the female in no way places him above her. Afterall, the animals, birds, fish, etc. were all created before humans, and they are explicitly placed under humans in 1:28. No such statement is made of woman. Also, throughout Genesis, we see repeated instances of God disregarding the cultural custom of primogeniture (the rights of the firstborn as having precedence over other children). Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim- that is every generation recorded in Genesis following Abraham- do not follow the pattern of the first being in authority over the others. Elsewhere in the Old Testament Moses has authority over his older brother Aaron (Ex. 7:7 states Aaron was 3 years older) and we see David as the youngest son becoming king. His son Solomon becomes king ahead of several older brothers. It is fairly obvious that God has a tendency to give leadership gifts and roles without any regard for birth order. Further, as Richard Hess has shown, several ancient creation texts describe woman as being created first, and man second. These same cultures which produced those texts were still highly patriarchal. There is no known connection in the ancient near east of sequence of creation resulting in authority of one gender over the other.[13]

Next, the fact that the male names the animals and gives the designation “woman” and the proper name “Eve” does not actually point to headship. First, man’s authority over the animals is because God gave that authority to humanity (not just to the male) not because he named them. Afterall, Genesis tells us that Hagar gave a name to God (Gen. 16:13).[14] Ortlund’s assertion that “God allowed the man to define the woman” (103) is unmerited. God defines the woman. Adam simply recognizes what woman is- that she is “from man” (’iš-šāh) and that she is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”- a phrase which is actually indicative of an equal, shared substance. He recognizes that she is of the same “stuff” as him. This doesn’t state, or even imply, a subordination of one to the other (more on this below).

As just noted, it is God who defines woman. She is created in God’s image (1:27, 5:1-2). She is given the same function within creation as the man (1:28-30). Finally, she is a “helper suitable for him”. This is probably the crux of the issue. What does the phrase “helper suitable for him” mean? Here’s Ortlund’s take:

The man was not created to help the woman, but the reverse. Doesn’t this striking fact suggest that manhood and womanhood are distinct and non-reversible? Doesn’t this make sense if we allow that, while the man and the woman are to love each other as equals, they are not to love each other in the same way? The man is to love his wife by accepting the primary responsibility for making their partnership a platform displaying God’s glory, and the woman is to love her husband by supporting him in that godly undertaking.(91)

Here in lies the problem. This depends on a contemporary and English understanding of the word helper. The English term “helper” is sometimes used in a very different way than the Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:18 & 20. In English we can think of helper as a side kick, a supporter, or perhaps like a support animal for those with disabilities. This meaning is within the range of meanings for the English word. The Hebrew word, however, carries no meaning of a subordinate position. Words derive their meanings from the way they are used. The word dog in and of itself means nothing until it is applied to a specific type of animal. We know what “dog” means because it is used in connection with canines. The Hebrew word translated as helper is used in a way which does not support Ortlund’s assertion. The word is ‘ê-zer. In both 2:18 and 20 it is paired with kə-neḡ-dōw usually translated “suitable for him” (but more accurately is should read something more like “corresponding to him”). So does ‘ê-zer kə-neḡ-dōw refer to a subordinate person? No. ‘ê-zer is used 19 times in the Old Testament outside of Genesis 2. Of those 19 uses, 16 use the word ‘ê-zer to refer to God.[15] Certainly David does not mean to say “YHWH is my subordinate helper”. The remaining 3 occurrences refer to military rescuers or protectors.[16] So, if ‘ê-zer in Genesis 2 carries a sense of subordination, it is the only example of the word being used in that way. The word frequently carries a sense of strength or might or protection.[17] There is no basis on which to conclude that ‘ê-zer in Genesis 2 implies any sort of submission or subordination of the woman. Ortlund has imposed a meaning on the word which no Hebrew author employs. The word was not used to describe a person in a subordinate role by the ancient Israelites, and it ought not be read that way by us.

Here’s John Walton on ‘ê-zer:

The word “helper” is common enough as a description of someone who comes to the aid of or provides a service for someone. It carries no implications regarding the relationship or relative status of the individuals involved. In fact, the noun form of the word found in this verse as used elsewhere refers almost exclusively to God as the One who helps his people. If we expand our investigation to verbal forms, we find a continuing predominance of God as the subject, though there are a handful of occurrences where people help people. In this latter category we find people helping their neighbors or relatives (Isa. 41:6), people helping in a political alliance or coalition (Ezra 10:15), and military reinforcements (Josh. 10:4; 2 Sam. 8:5). Nothing suggests a subservient status of the one helping; in fact, the opposite is more likely. Certainly “helper” cannot be understood as the opposite/complement of “leader.”[18]

When the words are paired together ‘ê-zer kə-neḡ-dōw is a powerful phrase indicating that though there may be differences between the two parties, the person described with this phrase is by no means subordinate to one on the receiving end of the help. ‘ê-zer on it’s own often (but not always) reflects a position of strength. Woman is “a helper corresponding to [or “in the front of”] him”- that is one who assists in a way which reflects an equal standing, and equal authority. kə-neḡ-dōw clarifies that ‘ê-zer refers to an equality of position. In spite of complementarian assertions to the contrary, ‘ê-zer kə-neḡ-dōw carries absolutely no sense of subordination. This is simply a misreading of the text by importing a usage and meaning for these words which is simply foreign to the Hebrew text (the Greek translation also).[19] It just doesn’t work. Headship is not there.

When the man sees God’s newest creation he recognizes her as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. He is fully aware immediately of the shared substance between the two- “She is made from the same stuff as the man… The relationship involves a mutual commitment of an ’iš and an ’iššāh, two people who are the male and female version of the same kind of being and thus belong together.”[20] Genesis says that in marriage the two become one flesh. That is, God made two people out of one, and in marriage the unity is reflected in two becoming one flesh again. In other words, the pair operate as a single unit, a partnership, a harmonious singularity of one mind and purpose. In such a union, there is no place for subordination.

This is precisely what Paul is getting at when he calls on all Christians to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21) and the ensuing commands to husbands and wives flow directly from the command to be mutually submissive- for both to willingly and lovingly subordinate themselves to each other (a command he gives to all Christians in Galatians 5:13-14 & Philippians 2:1-4). The instructions to the husbands call on them not to exercise authority, but in love to deny their culturally granted rights as patriarchs. He says love as Christ loved the Church. Christ surrendered the privileges he has for the sake of the Church (Philippians 2:5-8). Men are therefore to surrender the rights which culture assumes men have as head of household. Paul even encourages young widows to remarry and oikodespotein (1 Tim. 5:14) which is usually rendered “manage the household” (NRSV, NIV, ESV or even the more problematic “keep house” in the NASB). But this is head of house language. Literally, it means rule the house(hold). Odd. If the woman, as helper is subordinate to the man, Paul has reversed things. We’ll come back to that though when we deal with Schreiner’s work in RBMW on 1 Cor. and Moo’s work on 1 Tim. (and my friend Nick Quient is working on a guest post on Eph. 5, which I’m excited about).

So, to conclude, nothing in Genesis 1 & 2 provides any basis at all for assuming male headship as part of the created order. No such notion is present in the text. It has to be read into it from outside. Ortlund has clearly fallen into eisegesis- reading a previously held assumption into a text where it doesn’t belong. He assumes from the get go that women are subordinate, and it is because God has made it so, and he obfuscates and manipulates the text to try to make it fit his assumption. But in Genesis women are not said to be under male authority until 3:16, which is part of the effect of sin. Sin places women under men. Why would we continue to uphold that? As already noted, sin creates enmity and competition between the genders- a competition which God says women will end up on the losing side of.  J. Richard Middleton says this:

since both male and female are made in God’s image with a joint mandate to rule (Gen. 1:27-28), this calls into question the inequities of power between men and women that have arisen in patriarchal social systems and various forms of sexism throughout history… We also find the origin of male power over women (3:16b), something that was not part of God’s original intent (in either Gen. 1 or Gen. 2). As a consequence of human sin, death has begun to invade and destroy God’s design for the flourishing of earthly life.[21]

But thanks be to God, that in Christ the power of sin is being destroyed. We have been transferred from the darkness into the Kingdom of God and his Son, in which men and women are restored to unity and equality, and the leadership of humans is done through the gifting of the Spirit which is poured out on all people.


[1] Ortlund defines male headship as “In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction.”

[2] I assume the best until I have reason to believe otherwise. So I don’t mean this to say Ortlund is being intentionally and knowingly deceptive. I assume he does sincerely believe these things to be true, and simply can’t see past his assumptions to see the actual meaning of the text, so he is perpetuating wrong readings of the text as a result.

[3] John Goldingay. Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1: Israel’s Gospel. (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2003)

[4] Walter Brueggemann. Genesis (Interpretation). (Louisville: WJK, 1982)

[5] Victor Hamilton. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (NICOT). (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) & Handbook on the Pentateuch. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982)

[6] Richard Hess. “Equality With and Without Innocence”, Discovering Biblical Equality. Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds). (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2005), 80-95.

[7] Philip B. Payne. Man and Woman, One in Christ. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009)

[8] John H. Walton. Genesis (NIVAC). (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001)

[9] E.g. Hamilton (Genesis, 202) writes regarding 3:16, “Far from being a reign of coequals over the remainder of God’s creation, the relationship now becomes a fierce dispute, with each party trying to rule the other. The two who once reigned as one attempt to rule each other.” and again “quite clearly Genesis sets subordination of the woman to the man not in the context of creation, but in the context of the fall.” (Handbook, 29). Similarly, Brueggemann (Genesis, 51); “In God’s garden, as God wills it, there is mutuality and equity. In God’s garden now, permeated by distrust, there is control and distortion. But that distortion is not for one moment accepted as the will of the Gardener.” (italics original). Goldingay (Old Testament, 106): “neither Genesis 1 nor 2 suggests that one sex has authority over the other… the linking of hierarchy and authority with disobedience (Gen. 3:16) retrospectively supports the view that the story’s implicit vision is an egalitarian one… The two have the same metaphysical status or role.”

[10] Hess writes that in the description of the creation of the male in Gen 2, “the term man (adam) here always occurs with the definite article, ‘the man’. In Hebrew, a definite article is never used with a personal name. Therefore, adam in this context is a title, not a name.” Equality, 83. The same pairing with the definite article happens in 1:27.

[11] Hess, Equality, 82.

[12] On a side note, Ortlund shows some bizarre exegetical assertions here. First that Moses is the author of the text, which is indicated nowhere in the text itself. Genesis is anonymously written. But also, he writes of Gen. 1:27 “Moses shifts from prose to poetry” (same is asserted regarding 2:23), which is bizarre since Genesis chapters 1-11 is all poetry. Ortlund seems to not understand the genre of Genesis.

[13] Hess, Equality, 85-86.

[14] See Goldingay, Old Testament, 109. He writes “contexts need to determine whether naming is a sign of authority (Hagar names God). There are no such implications in the context of Genesis 2:23, though they might be there in the context of Genesis 3:20, given the talk of ruling in 3:16.”

[15] Those references are: Ex. 18:4; Deut. 33:7, 26, 29; Ps. 20:3; 33:20; 70:6; 89:20; 115:9, 10, 11; 121:1, 2; 124:8; 146:5; Ezek. 12:14. (both this list of citations, and the one below are taken from Payne, Man and Woman, 44 n. 65.)

[16] Those references are: Isa. 30:5; Dan. 11:34; Hos. 13:9.

[17] See Payne, Man and Woman, 44.

[18] Walton, Genesis, 176. See also Hess, Equality, 86.

[19] The Greek of the LXX suggests that it was understood to mean “corresponding to him” in 2:18, and a different word (homios meaning similar to) is used in 2:20. These two read together strongly suggest that kə-neḡ-dōw was not understood to mean one over the other, but two persons with some differences who never the less partner as equals.

[20] Goldingay, Old Testament, 107. It is often noted that the woman is made from the side (usually understood as rib, but the Hebrew word simply means side part) not the head or the foot. See Ibid., 108-9.

[21] J. Richard Middleton. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014. 52-53.

5 Comments on “Recovering FROM Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Pt. 3: Genesis

  1. On the woman being the “helper”, it could as easily be argued that women aren’t the ones who need help; men are. That means they are like kids who need an adult to help them until they’re ready to do things on their own. Good thing women are around to be the adults.

    Either this way or Ortlund’s way, it doesn’t square with Scripture as a whole, especially life under the new Covenant where we’re told there is no distinction between men and women, Jews and non-Jews, etc.

  2. Although shady in their Biblical interpretation, Piper and Ortlund would agree well with Aristole, Plato and many Greek philosophers who were open misogynist. It’s horrorfyingly ironic that modern mainstream Christianity is still bent on interpreting the Bible through a Greek lens, instead of a Hebraic understanding.
    Thanks for retracing a few Hebraic roots.

  3. Very comprehensive analysis, guided by the Holy Spirit and the LORD’s unsearchable wisdom. Please continue to follow His guidance as He directs you in taking further steps with this teaching to change long-standing attitudes to women in His Church.
    Num.6:24-26 on you and yours in His love.

  4. I am enjoying your writing on the subject —i hope and pray that those who are comp/pat will see that they are in error. But as with many i write to they defend it to the end saying they are obeying God’s commands and that I am in the wrong.
    And those who endorse a certain person as having the truth sure can find ways to protect their champion —i was over at the bill gothard site who actually says they are there to defend their hero –of curse i wrote my 2 cents and this was the reply to me—————————————————————————-“Bill has sought to faithfully study and teach God’s principles from His Word. “Patriarchy” is normally a slur to speak ill of the male-lead order God set up in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. “Legalism” is normally a slur for those that have standards stricter than we feel is necessary. Some of that may feel like micromanagement, but it is straight out of the Bible. Those that long to see the Kingdom of God come, and His will done, on earth as they read it in Scripture are drawn to Bill. Others find Bill very offensive. But . . . he will never change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s