“So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being.” (Genesis 2:21-22)
So, what do we have so far? God created humanity to serve as His kings and priests in His earthly creation. From the confines of a perfect and controlled environment (the Garden of Eden) where the physical and spiritual worlds merged, humans were tasked to bring the rest of the untamed earth under control (subdue) as Eden was and to maintain it (rule) on God’s behalf.
As God’s delegated kings, His vice-regents, humanity stood as a reminder to His creation of who its King is and His will. As God’s vice-regents, humanity was to rule and reign exactly as their divine King were He a human being. Humans are God’s image as to who we are and what we are to do.
Humans were also created to serve as God’s priests, representing the Lord to His earthly creation and vice versa. The Man and Woman were to oversee the Garden as a priest would care for God’s Temple, maintaining its operation and guarding it against defiling infiltration. Why? Because it was the place where “heaven met earth,” a place of holiness, set apart for God and humanity to live together. Eden was a sacred space, a holy place destined to expand until the entire earth was Edenized. Imagine a global Temple for the Lord God Almighty and His people!
As God’s delegated kings, the Subdue and Rule Mandate tells us what to do regarding earth and its creatures. As God’s priests, “work and watch” tells us how to carry out our Subdue and Rule Mandate once the land was tamed like Eden.
Was humanity created when the Adam was formed from the adamah (ground)? Well, technically, yes. But God’s design for humanity was incomplete at the Adam’s formation, and that’s the next foundation stone for the Subdue and Rule Mandate.
For those who claim that God created the Man to rule (have headship) over the Woman or that women were divinely designed to be a man’s submissive and subordinate support staff, the following will likely challenge their convictions (but hang in there, y’all). And for those who feel in their gut that this type of female subservience is wrong but can’t explain why – now you’ll know.
Foundation Stone #6: From One Being To Two – “Splitting the Adam to Create the Nuclear Family”
As we continue to lay a foundation for the Subdue and Rule Mandate, let’s zoom in to examine more details about humanity’s creation in Genesis 2. After creating the world, Man, and Eden, God tasks the Man with his priestly duty, and the Lord knows that caring for and protecting humanity’s home will require a helper. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him’” (Genesis 2:18, italics mine and following). So, God created from the ground (adamah) “every wild animal and every bird of the sky” (Genesis 2:19). What happens next is a foreshadowing of God’s Subdue and Rule Mandate for humanity that will be given after the Woman is created.
So God brought every species of animal and bird to the Man “to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal” (Genesis 2:19-20). What was going on here?
First, by naming the animals, the Man was exercising his fresh, vast, unhindered intellect by identifying the nature or the purpose of the creature God presented to him as he saw it. The fun part is that the Man-given name for each creature stuck, “And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19, italics mine). Why was that?
Because secondly, the event shows God sharing His authority over the earth’s creatures with the Man. Remember, naming an object not only identifies it but can also express authority or ownership over that object. As Creator, God alone has ultimate and complete authority over the earth and its creatures, including humanity (for God named him Adam, the Man).
By giving the Man authority to name earth’s creatures, God revealed His intent for humanity to possess and exercise His authority and power over the planet and its creatures. The fact that the Man-given name for each creature was allowed to stand demonstrates God’s affirmation of the Man’s design as His future vice-regent. Although the Subdue and Rule Mandate was not yet given, God began training the Man to function as His proxy.
But a significant component in God’s design was missing. “… But for the man no helper was found corresponding to him” (Genesis 2:20). I find a delightful aspect in this. God isn’t stupid or ignorant. He already knew no creature on earth was like the Man and that humanity’s king/priest functions would need additional human help to fulfill God’s tasks as Eden expands. It’s evident to me that the Lord knew the Adam would need a helper. But did the Man know that?
Could it be that as the creatures passed before the Adam in the Great Naming Parade, the Man realized 1) he’s unique, and 2) he’s alone because the creatures arrived in pairs. This idea of animals arriving in pairs is a reasonable assumption since all lifeforms were created ready to fill the earth. (Does that mean Noah’s Ark was a re-Genesis?) Assuming the creatures hadn’t started to reproduce, the Man may have questioned, “Why are there always two?” Perhaps somewhere during the process, the Man also thought, “There’s two of everything, but only one of me. There’s no creature like me. Why Lord?”
And here’s where my sanctified imagination kicks in. “Aha!” God says with a twinkle in His eye. “You’ve figured it out. Dumb, you’re not. You know, Man, after all that naming, you look tired. C’mon over here and lay down. I’ll have a surprise for you after your nap.” (See? Parents are all the same.)
God knew two things were required for humanity’s full king/priest function: reproduction and teamwork. He knew the Man would need the ability to reproduce himself because God intended humanity to “fill the earth” as Eden’s borders expanded and to keep the Garden under godly management (Genesis 1:28). Therefore, God needed to establish the means of human reproduction, and the Man required a perfect match as modeled by animal life to reproduce. Otherwise, God would have to keep forming people from the ground. This need is resolved when, after creating the Woman, the Man exclaims, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called “woman,” for she was taken from man” Genesis 2:23.
The standard interpretation we often hear is that God formed the Woman from one of the Man’s ribs (Genesis 2:21-22). However, the Hebrew word for “rib” (tsela) also means “side,” which makes more sense when we see the Woman as the Man’s perfect counterpart. With this understanding, God “split” the Adam, separated the halves, and filled out both halves to create two independent beings of the same adamah-based flesh, designed to work cooperatively as one team.
And with the splitting of the Adam, we have the first nuclear family! (Thanks. I couldn’t resist.)
Now, after that bit of silliness, let’s dive deep into the text. Be prepared. This might really stretch your theology.
It’s important to note that even though the Woman was not initially present with the Man in a physically separate state, she was present as part of the pre-separated Man, at least potentially and perhaps more than that. I say this because she wasn’t created by God directly from the ground as the Man was, but she was still made from the same adamah just as much as him.
As individuals formed from two halves of the same substance (Genesis 2:22), the Man and the Woman were perfectly matched, body and soul. His material was her material, and his nature was her nature. Everything that was part of the Man was split and shared with the Woman when God separated and shaped her from the Man.
So, although not physically formed as an independent being, the Woman “existed” in a potential state within the Man when the Adam received God’s command to “work and watch” Eden. Therefore, when the Woman was physically formed from the Man, she not only shared the same raw materials as him, but she also shared the same “image” and was responsible for the same priestly commission God had given Man.
But there’s more to the Woman than just her shared substance and priestly job description, and it’s found in God’s primary purpose for her creation – to be the Man’s perfect counterpart.
Foundation Stone #7: Woman, the Man’s Perfect Counterpart
For this foundation stone, let’s refresh our memories. “The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found corresponding to him” (Genesis 2:20). Being the Man’s “corresponding helper” is the Woman’s primary purpose, and she was to match perfectly to the Man, something for which no other creature on earth could qualify. What better way was there to make a perfect helper for the Man than to split the Man and create two whole beings from the two half-beings? By God doing so, they were precisely identical in substance and nature.
The Hebrew words for “helper…corresponding to him” are revealing. The Woman’s purpose was to be the Man’s ezer kenegdo. Ezer means “a help,” and kenegdo comes from a Hebrew combination of k’ (as/like) and neged (in front of, in sight of, opposite to) (NAS Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary).
The idea of an ezer kenegdo for the Man is a being that is entirely complementary to him and one that could equally and cooperatively assist him in his God-given tasks. The man needed a complementary and compatible helper to labor alongside him as he worked and watched over their homestead (Eden) and subdued and ruled the rest of creation. Since no other creatures on earth were made in the image of God, nor human in its physical being (Smithsonian), no creature on earth qualified as a perfect counterpart to help the Man. Therefore, the Man stood unique among God’s living beings on earth. He needed a helper according to his uniqueness, a perfect counterpart, to do the same work as he on the divine King’s planet.
The phrase ezer kenegdo as “counterpart/helpmate” implies the meaning of “shared strength.” The late Dr. Dwight Pryor put it this way, “Professor David Noel Freedman believes this has a dual meaning translated helper… or power/strength. He translates it as ‘I will make him a power/strength equal to man.’ Ezer kenegdo can be rendered ‘One who is equal to and adequate for in every respect’… ‘A strength/power equal to him.’ Adam was looking for his counterpart, an equal helper, a match for his strength.”
The result? The Man and Woman shared equality in their essential natures. They were equally responsible for reproducing and exercising dominion over the earth with priestly oversight over Eden while remaining equally bound to God’s will/law in executing their duties. As Giles puts it, “The first word of this phrase is commonly translated ‘helper.’ A helper can be a superior, an equal or a subordinate. Many instances of ‘ezer in the Bible refer to God as helper, a superior coming to the aid of a subordinate.” As the Man’s superior, God could not qualify as a helper corresponding to the Man. Since the world and all its creatures were subordinate to the Man, no creature on earth could be his ezer kenegdo. The Woman, however, was the Man’s equal, perfect, and complementary counterpart.
To be complementary is to “form or serve as a complement; completing” (The Free Dictionary). In other words, to bring together all the elements for a designated whole and unified set. Complementary also denotes “offsetting mutual deficiencies or enhancing mutual strengths.” The only way the Man could have a helper that completed him and corresponded to his strengths and deficiencies was for the helper to be made from him.
The Woman was designed with strengths and deficiencies that could blend with the Man’s in contrasting and complementary ways to complete the design of the original single human being.
While equal in identity to their humanity (in God’s image) and task (as co-priests and co-rulers), they were made different via gender and other undescribed aspects. And despite the obvious differences, Adam recognized her God-given design and singular compatibility. “To meet Adam’s need for a true partner, God takes the initiative by creating the woman. The making of the woman by God from Adam’s rib, more precisely from his ‘side’ (tsela), affirms that the woman, like Adam, is directly created by God. On seeing the woman, Adam jubilantly exclaims in Hebrew poetic form, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (’ishah), for she was taken out of man (’ish)’ (2:23). The words ‘flesh of my flesh’ reflect biblical ideas of kinship, shared status. Adam recognizes another human being like himself, a person made of the ‘same stuff’ as he is. He does not name her but jubilantly exclaims that she is ’ishah/woman having been taken from ’ish/man and thus his counterpart. These are the customary words in Hebrew to differentiate man and woman; neither term is a personal name… What Adam says on seeing the woman implies the substantial equality of the sexes and their God-given differentiation as man and woman, not the subordination of the woman” (Giles).
I like that. The Man took one look at the Woman and said, “She’s the right stuff for me!”
So, after the Man named all the creatures on earth and no being was found that could qualify as a corresponding helper for him, God’s wise solution was to split the Man in half (Genesis 2:21) and fill out the missing sides to create a perfect counterpart, with each “half” endowed with “offsetting mutual deficiencies or enhancing mutual strengths.” The Man’s words recognized the Couple’s God-designed interdependence. The Man’s shout in Genesis 2:24 reveals that it’s in the Man’s and Woman’s nature to be drawn together by this instinctive recognition of essential sameness.
The pre-divided Man reflected God’s image as fully as a limited human being could in his single unique being. Therefore, can we also suppose that when God divided the Man, His image was also “divided,” shared between the two persons, and differentiated to an extent? Of course. As to God’s functional image, the Man and Woman were to function together as God’s vice-regents. As to God’s substantive image (His traits), the Man and Woman also shared those like no other living beings on earth could.
I believe this unique sharing and instinctive recognition of God’s image separated between the Man and Woman is what draws the “Two Halves” together to form one couple and not just their perfect similarity of physical nature. Since the Man and Woman are called to be creators after the image of their Creator, then the two “half images” are required, perhaps instinctively compelled, to rejoin in the sexual union to create more of God’s imagers. This rejoining of the Two Halves reinforces the necessity for the Man and Woman to work side by side to reproduce and fulfill their mutual subdue and rule task as God’s vice-regents. Therefore, it can be said that God’s image was most clearly seen in human form when the Man and Woman worked together in harmony as priest-kings before God under the guideline of His will, at least in the beginning.
This understanding solidifies the idea that God intended for the Man and Woman to subdue and rule as a team. The Lord originally designed them as co-equal, complementary partners, working in absolute unity as if the Adam had never been split.
Unity is a powerful thing! God recognized the immense power of unity (Genesis 11:6), and Jesus made the unity of His followers the focal point of His Last Passover prayer (John 17:20-26). It’s amazing to realize this unity principle goes back to human creation!
To put it as a picture, the Man and Woman were not only equal to each other, but they were as distinct and complementary as balanced weights on either end of a barbell. The Man and Woman were created “together” (though not simultaneously), showing that they shared a primary identity as having been formed in God’s image (Carlson-Theis). They were also equal in their nature and task to “work and watch” and “subdue and rule.” Along with the command to exercise dominion, God gave the Couple equal authority to rule conjointly as God’s vice-regents (Giles).
The scriptures are clear. No, God did not create the Man to rule (have headship) over the Woman or that women were divinely designed to be a man’s submissive and subordinate support staff. Oh, don’t worry. That reorientation will come, and for the “headship” people, it’ll get them rethinking their conviction.
It should be clear by now that God’s original design for the Man and Woman was for them to work side by side, shoulder to shoulder, in an equal and complementarian way. Since the Couple was the fullness of all humanity at the time, this applies to their relationship and God’s design for all future human beings produced from the Couple. Therefore, we’re safe to say that before God’s plan and purposes were corrupted by sin, His intention was for all of His people to subdue and rule the earth side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Humanity was designed to be a civilization of co-equal vice-regents, cooperatively extending God’s rule throughout the earth as Eden expanded and as people exercised dominion over the entire planet and its creatures.
However, human beings were never commanded nor intended to rule over one another.
Yes, the Man and Woman were to rule over God’s earthly creation, not each other. Only God has the right to rule over human beings by Him being the Creator. And as humanity’s Ruler, the divine King had only three commands for the Couple to follow. Were they faithful to do so? That’s our next foundation stone for the Subdue and Rule Mandate.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, What Does It Mean To Be Human?, humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics. “Although secular science generally points to the similarity between humans and primates and concludes the human race is related to the other hominids (“The human evolutionary tree is embedded within the great apes”) it is clear human beings cannot interbreed with other species to produce human-animal hybrids and cannot mix genetic code naturally without the assist of modern gene-splicing technology.”
Pryor, Dwight. The Ministry of Women in the Church and Synagogue.
Giles, Kevin. The Genesis of Equality, Part 1.
The Free Dictionary, thefreedictionary.com/complementary.
Carlson-Theis, Christiane. Man and Woman at Creation: A Critique of Complementarian Interpretations,
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts