The story of humanity begins with two people placed in a garden. The couple is given everything they could possibly need to thrive. They are given the world: invited to expand the garden and add to their number with children:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. –Genesis 1:27-30
Despite all they had been given, the couple had their eye on one tree in particular, a tree that represented the radical Other, the Holy God, living among them. And it was that one tree, the singly unattainable, off-limits element that they sought after. With all of the restrictions that it would bring down upon them, they left the abundance and freedom of their God-given lives and took hold of the one thing that God warned them was safe for Him alone to handle.
We still do this. We still take our eyes off of the abundant freedom and the world-wide kingdom God has for us to live in, and we fix our eyes on that which limits us and inhibits us. We create structures and rules God never meant for us to live by, and worse, we compel others to live by them. God has given us limits for our good, yes, but He has given us abundant liberty to know Him and become who He made us to be, yet we trade that for easy parameters and arbitrary definitions. We are upset that God didn’t give us a clear prescription for how we should divide up humanity, so we concoct up our own.
As we look at this opening text, may be tempted to reduce the story to a single point: the original sin. We might do what these first two humans did: we look to place blame. We look not at our own part in misunderstanding, in failure. We look at the others. Perhaps we take these two people as an idyllic example of masculinity and femininity: adding to the text concepts and ideas that are simply not there. Regardless of how familiar we are with these passages and how familiar we are with the prevailing narratives and interpretations that are applied to it, let’s commit to seeing a few things with fresh perspective.
The creation and purpose of woman, the “helper …”
Our English language limits us in this because we see “helper” and we think of Eve as a utility. Adam couldn’t do all the work, so he needed a co-laborer, or even a servile laborer. But this is not what Scripture means by “helper.” Carolyn Justis James, in her book, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women:
What about that pesky label, “helpmeet” (or “helper suitable”)? Too long have we languished under these insufficient terms. These translations fall far short of the real meaning of “ezer-kenegdo” found in Genesis 2.
“Kenegdo” indicates that the woman is a match for the man – like the South Pole to his North Pole, literally “as in front of him.”
“Ezer” refers to a strong military ally. If you look through the rest of Scripture, ezer is used twice for women (both in Genesis 2), three times to describe those Israel turned to for military aid, and sixteen times to describe God as helper of his people Israel in a military context.
We need to embrace this God-given role for women. The ezer-kenegdo is no passive calling. Women are called to be strong and valiant battling our Enemy alongside our brothers. God wants us to be women of valor. The vision for mankind is of alliance, a unity out of many, a dynamic partnership in which everyone throws themselves wholeheartedly into the work God has given us to do. This is a vision that all people in every place at every time can embrace, not just North American white upper-middle-class suburban women. The parable of the talents applies to men and women equally. Woe to us if we take the gifts and talents God has given us and bury them in the ground.
The “suitable” element can also trip us up because the emphasis is on Adam’s loneliness. It isn’t good for Adam to be alone because God Himself is not alone. As a trinity, God digs fellowship, and He wants Adam to have that same blessing. In that sense, Adam’s aloneness speaks more to the human condition than to man’s condition in particular. If Eve had been created first, she, too, would have been alone.
This oversexualized interpretation is often where Eve is objectified, in the way that women are often seen as an outlet for the stereotypically sexualized “needs” of men (we’ll come back to this issue another day, but for now we’ll say men are people, not penises). Eve is suitable as a partner because she is human, of Adam’s kind. None of the created animals could commune with or partner with Adam in the same way. She is sexual, as is her mate, but she is more than that, as sexuality is but one part of what it means to be human.
The egalitarian view can fall short here when it minimizes the fact that Eve is particularly paired with Adam. She is not his Platonic “twin flame,” a romantically comedic notion (that just. won’t. die.), but she is his partner, specifically suited above all creation to be his match. As a metaphorical type of womanhood, Eve does represent for us the feminine nature of God, though as a human being, she possesses both masculine and feminine hormones, attributes, and qualities. Both Adam and Eve represent God’s image as individuals, but they also represent Him as a pair.
The complementarian view also frequently fails to see Eve for all that she is. She is not just a sexual partner, she is a human companion, friend, and in a sense, a sister. This relationship is not just a prototype for a marriage union, it expresses God’s intentions for all human interaction. Jonalyn Grace Fincher writes:
…brother/sister closeness is supposed to be the model for how to interact with those of the opposite sex (1 Tim 5:2, Mark 3:35)… I’ve found an advocate, an apologist, for the third way of male female relationships. Dan Brennan a blogger, speaker and visionary on cross-gender friendships writes in his book Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions (2010), that male and female friendships are not fated to inexhorably slip into a romantic ghetto. If you like books that stand on the shoulders of a well-read author, you’ll love Brennan’s ability to pull from hundreds of books on cross-gender friendship. He is careful in thinking, passionate and (the best!) practices his ideas. Brennan is close with women besides his wife. He has me convinced of something I touched on in Ruby Slippers: that men and women are made for each other–beyond marriage. Men and women were designed to have physical, emotional, spiritual closeness without romantic entanglement. This ought to be very good news for unmarried people, but it also points back to the purpose of following Jesus: to love each person, male and female, as nearly and dearly as we can love our brothers and sisters. The kingdom of God is a place where there is no barrier between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but we are all one. This means we can recognize the beauty and attractiveness, power and sensuality, significance and vulnerability of each person…
I would argue that on this, complementarians aren’t complementarian enough. In making everything gender-related about marriage (or prospective marriage), and everything marriage-related about sex, we oversexualize human interaction and risk falling into “sin management” with regards to our own sexualities rather than looking for a way to live holy as sexual beings. We are risk-averse and avoid intimate friendships with people on the basis of gender or sexuality, without ever maturing to the point where such relationships are no longer just “temptations,” but an opportunity to glorify God through fellowship and community.
God took a rib…
Much is made of the process by which Eve was created. Secular feminists find it demeaning and considering how it is often presented, I understand that. Respected Bible commentator Matthew Henry once wrote, “Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.” Yeah, I don’t know about all that. It’s a neat story? Maybe too long for a cross-stitch project. But it’s not the text, so we need to be careful.
So, what does the text actually say?
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.Then the Lord God made a woman from the ribhe had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. –Genesis 2
First we know that Adam was asleep. He contributed a rib, but God did all the work. As in Adam’s creation, Eve is created entirely by God’s hand and without the intervention of another creature. In this moment, God is alone with His newest creation, the woman. She isn’t subject to Adam. He’s unaware at this point of her existence. She’s with her God. God even brings her to Adam and makes the introduction. Could you imagine? God as your Yenta?
In this, we see Eve as similar to Adam in species and kind: human. But different as woman, and unique as an individual, separate from her soon-to-be husband. This is why the one flesh command becomes important. Their marriage is not a reunification of man and rib, Adam and the extension of Adam. The union is made beautiful because it is the communion of two individual people choosing to live together and serve one another.
When Adam gives Eve the name, “woman,” he is conveying a paradoxical truth that she is different, but the same. She is a complete human person in her own right. Paradoxes are often uncomfortable for us and we can seek to relieve the tension by emphasizing the sameness or differences between the sexes. But it’s both. It’s a wonderful AND that allows us to embrace the individual in front of us for who they are.
Are there any preconceptions you had about Eve that were challenged by this post?
Does understanding her story change the way you see yourself? Your brothers and sisters? How so?