The first three chapters of Genesis lay out a biblical foundation for ideal living.
But how should these passages be interpreted in light of events that question the roles and power of women?
This subject has been a point of contention, with many citing the first chapters of Genesis as God’s plan for male and female relationships.
Males and females are said to be created in the likeness of God, which begs the question: In what way is humankind made in God’s likeness?
Traditional interpretations recognize that men and women are equal in ability but not in roles.
However, the structure in Genesis 1:27 emphasizes God’s inspiration given to humanity: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
God’s original intent for humanity was equal partnership. To be made into the image of God does not mean power or dominion over each other; rather, it is the invitation of a shared relationship with God.
Together, male and female are created to govern creation, to reveal the image of God collectively rather than individually.
An equal sense of responsibility is clearer in chapter 1. However, the second creation story is often interpreted as prescriptive of the female being in a submissive, rather than a shared, role.
In chapter 2, Adam was specially crafted first by God’s hands, while Eve is drawn from his rib. This leads some to assume that men have ordained leadership roles in the family.
However, Eve is formed after no suitable “ezer” (helper) is found. This word denotes one who is well-suited for the task at assisting, not one who submits because of inferiority or as a complement to their leader.
If this word refers to submission, how should one interpret this passage in reference to God: “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and ‘ezer’ and your glorious sword” (Deuteronomy 33:29).
While the second creation narrative has often been used to assert that women are to be submissive to men, a more suitable reading highlights their togetherness.
This emphasis is clearer in the Hebrew after God fashioned Adam his helper: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘isha’ (woman), for out of ‘ish’ (man) this one was taken” (Genesis 2:23).
Holding to a submissive interpretation becomes more complicated in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit.
Eve’s punishment to submit to her husband is often understood as a clear commandment for women to submit to men.
Because this is a punishment for disobeying God, Eve’s command to submit to Adam should not be understood as God’s approval of this new social structure, especially because both are uniquely fashioned in God’s image.
Genesis 3 shows that sin alienates people from God and each other. What was once a perfect image of God’s likeness spread onto earth’s canvas is now marred with the blemishes of sin, causing unity to become separation and for peace to be traded for blame.
This chapter must not be read as a picturesque reality of God’s purpose for humankind because it is far from that world. Rather, it is the pronouncement of what is to come: relationships distanced from God’s once perfect reality.
We must not willingly accept this broken system but continually strive for the original and divine intent: a world of shared authority, a world reshaped into God’s likeness.
Too often the question asked is this: “Who wields the power and authority between man and woman?”
The creation story asks, “How can we best reflect God’s image together?”
Editor’s note: This article is part of a new series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. Learn more about EthicsDaily.com’s “Emerging Voices” and “U:21” series here.