There are some distorted messages being presented today about what happened in the Garden of Eden. For example, some are teaching that from the beginning of creation God ordained men to have authority and women to be under that authority. Here are some myths that lead to this misinterpretation of scripture:
Adam named the animals in Eden; this means that he had authority over them. Adam named Eve; this means that he must have had authority over her also.
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’.” (Genesis 1:27-28, NKJV).
Though Eve was not present when the animals were named (Genesis 2:19), male and female both had “dominion” over them. Adam named the animals and had authority over them. Adam did not have authority over the animals because he named them. Eve shared authority over the animals, even though she did not name them. Naming does not equal authority. As noted in a previous post, assuming that the man alone had authority over the animals is a contradiction of the biblical text. (It is also important to note that Eve was given her name after sin entered the world as described in Genesis 3.)
Eve was created to be Adam’s “help-mate.” This means that she was designed to be his subordinate assistant, and to follow his lead.
The expression “help-mate” does not occur in the Bible. It is a misunderstanding of the old English language used in the King James translation. Eve was a “help” that was “meet” for Adam. The term “help” (ezer in Hebrew) used in Genesis 2:18 comes from root words meaning “power” and “strength”, and is used repeatedly of God as a rescuer in the Old Testament. The term translated as “meet” (kenegdo in Hebrew) was an adjective used to modify the noun “help” and carries the connotation of being comparable. As explained here, a better translation would be that God gave Adam “a strength corresponding to him”.
God made Adam, the man, before he made Eve. Being made first, chronologically speaking, is a clear indication of authority.
The creation order for living things on earth, according to the Genesis account, proceeds as follows: aquatic life, birds, livestock, creatures that move along the ground, wild animals, mankind–male then female (Genesis 1:20-27, NIV). In this order of creation, animal life is made before humanity. If chronology equals rank, human beings should be subject to the animals. If, on the other hand, we assume that humanity should have dominion over the animals because we were created last, and are therefore the pinnacle of God’s creation, the woman would be God’s crowning achievement and should have dominion over all.
Assuming that the chronological order of creation equals rank, however, is not an idea that can be found in the Bible. It is merely a human assumption, one the Apostle Paul challenges in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12, NKJV).
“In passing through ‘helpful’ animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s ‘helper’ in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.”[i]
Before the creation of Eve, Adam is introduced to the following groups of animals: “livestock, the birds of the air, and all the beasts of the field” (Genesis 2:20, NIV). Which group of animals are we supposed to look to understand how women should relate to men? Thankfully, the Bible does not tell us that Adam’s relationship to livestock (or any other group of animals) gives us any indication of how men and women are expected to relate to one another. This myth is yet another example of human assumption.
Adam’s mistake in the Garden was letting Eve usurp his leadership role. This is why it is important for men to “step up” and fulfill God’s call on their lives to be leaders in the church and in their homes.
“Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Jesus, Matthew 23:10, NASB). Jesus’ words about leaders are a stark contrast to the current rhetoric about male hierarchy in the church. Adam’s mistake was not about leadership but about disobedience.
Throughout the Genesis account Adam and Eve are depicted as equals.
They are equally created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), they are given equal stewardship of all creation (Genesis 1:26). In Genesis 1:26 and 28, God tells both Adam and Eve to “rule” over the other living creatures. God never instructs Adam to rule over Eve. The first mention of any kind of authority dynamic between men and women occurs only after humanity has fallen into a sinful state (Genesis 3:16).
One would have to read a lot into these texts to come to the conclusion that God’s original design was for Adam to be in authority over Eve. The bottom line is that male hierarchy was not intended in creation as God’s original plan for men and women or for husbands and wives.
[i] Piper, J. & Grudem, W. Editors (2006). Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (p. 87). Wheaton, Illinois, Good News Publishers.