What does the creation story tell us about gender differences?

15_gn02_25So let’s go back to the beginning.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

Two different sexes, both made in the image of God. (which shows us that we’re not talking about the physical image of God… but we won’t follow that tangent)

“the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.” (Genesis 2:7–8)
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)

In Genesis 1, “man” referred to both male and female. In Genesis 2, it refers to male. Paul saw significance to the order in which man and woman were created. (1 Timothy 2:13; Ephesians 5:23)

Man is put in the garden to work it and take care of it.

“The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”” (Genesis 2:18)
“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 closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”” (Genesis 2:21–23)

Woman is created as a “suitable helper.” She was the solution to the problem of man being alone. She was created as his complement, not as his servant. She fulfilled his need for companionship in a way which no animal could do.

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:6–7)

Again, worth noting that Paul saw significance in the fact that the woman was the one who was deceived by the serpent. (1 Timothy 2:14)

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”” (Genesis 3:8–9)

Here God apparently makes a mistake. Failing to remember the need to be gender inclusive, he calls to the man, even though the text emphasizes that the man and his wife were together.

It’s an important text. This is not a consequence of the fall; that comes in a moment. God held the man responsible for what was going on and expected him to answer for it. That was the order in Eden. Not domination. Responsibility.

“To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”” (Genesis 3:16–19)

Man had been given the task of working the garden. That task became more difficult. Could we not say that God did the same with the woman, making her appointed task more difficult? The next verse says that Adam called the woman Eve because she would be mother of all living things. Was that merely a consequence of the fall?

One consequence of the fall was the idea that man would rule over woman. It’s interesting to note that that’s precisely the leadership style that Jesus forbade for his followers. And it’s interesting that in the passages where Paul refers to the creation story, he doesn’t make reference to this point. That’s not why men are given the responsibility of leadership. That happened before the fall.

Creation paints a picture of equality. It also paints a picture of different tasks for men and for women.

Image from The Brick Testament

28 thoughts on “What does the creation story tell us about gender differences?

  1. guy


    “She was created as his complement” – i love this as a summary of the challenge of making a marriage work–seeing your spouse (in his/her differences) as complimentary to you rather than as a rival or opponent.

    i know this is a tangent, but i just wanted to add it for what it’s worth. When we talk about God making Adam’s task more difficult or God making Eve’s task more difficult, i just wanted to comment about the way, perhaps, we ought to understand that “making.” The effect of the Fall on the earth, on men and women (mortality, etc.) needn’t be understood as causally effected by God at the time of the Fall the motive for which was retribution. i think it’s more likely that all of creation was designed in such a way that certain consequences result from our actions.

    Imagine a father setting mouse traps in the house and then telling the kids over and over “don’t stick your fingers in there.” Then the kid sticks fingers in the trap–wham! Crying, pain, suffering. Then the father says “Now your fingers are going to hurt and throb and may be broken and you won’t be able to use your hand very well for a while.” The father is only pointing out the obvious and unavoidable consequences of what the child did. The father didn’t causally bring about those things out of the motive of punishment.

    i think Genesis 3 should really be read the same way. What we’re reading is being informed of the consequences that result from humankind cutting themselves off from God. But ultimately, the “wham” was in the trap, not in God’s telling.

  2. Wendy Cayless

    I disagree that women was created as a suitable helper or that women were created second. Genesis 1 tells us that men and women were both created in God’s image. The second creation account does not trump the first – it’s another account. That Paul quoted the second account does not negate the first….
    I really don’t understand that “men are given the responsibility of leadership” before the fall… what am I missing?

  3. Tim Archer Post author


    Neither account trumps the other. Both are inspired accounts. Please recognize that your disagreement is not with me but with both the writer of Genesis and with Paul.

  4. K. Rex Butts

    The woman was indeed created as a “helpmate” for the man but before we make too much of this term, we should keep in mind that the same Hebrew word is used in Dueteronomy 33:29 and Hosea 13:9 to describe the Lord as Israel’s helpmate. I doubt that term is meant to say that the Lord is subservient to Israel, just as it does not imply that a woman is subservient to man. In the later it simply means that man is in need of the woman and in the former, that Israel is in need of the Lord.

    Having said all of that, one thing we must keep in mind is that this was written to a patriarchal culture and so we must not make too much of the patriarchal emphasis. In other words, that God addresses the man and not the woman makes perfect sense in a patriarchal culture. It would seem rather strange to begin by addressing them both or addressing the woman first and so that the man and woman have different roles in the narrative does not equate to the conclusion that men and women are to always have different roles within society and the church. This is not to conclude that men and women should have or should not have different roles; it’s just to say that I don’t think we can firmly draw such a conclusion from the creation-fall narrative.

    Grace and Peace,


  5. guy


    Do you think there are relevant hermeneutical differences between patriarchal emphases making sense to predominantly patriarchal cultures and, say, heterosexual emphases making sense to predominantly heterosexual cultures?

    i’m honestly not trying to “catch” you or anything like that. Just want to try to think out the differences or entailments carefully.


  6. K. Rex Butts


    Perhaps so but I’m not entirely sure what you are asking. As for my earlier comment, I’m just wanting to avoid making too much out of a passage that was never intended to explicitly address the current theological questions regarding gender and Christian ministry.

    Grace and Peace,


  7. Tim Archer Post author


    I hope I didn’t make “helpmeet” sound like any sort of subservient term. I said, in fact, “She was created as his complement, not as his servant.” If I understand the term, it refers to the needed solution to a certain situation or problem. The woman supplied what was lacking in man’s existence, a fit companion.

    Grace and peace,

  8. guy


    Good, yeah i vague.

    So suppose someone told you, “Since Genesis (or another other relevant narrative) was written to a predominantly heterosexual culture, we can’t make much out of any heterosexual emphasis we find there. So you can’t use the passage to tell me that the God intends heterosexuality by design based on that passage. It was just written the way it is because it would’ve made the most sense to a predominantly heterosexual culture.”

    Do you see this move as parallel to your own? (Why/why not?)


  9. K. Rex Butts


    Ok, I think I understand what you are asking and my reply is that drawing such a conclusion about heterosexuality is still somewhat tenuous if the passage in mind is not intended to specifically address that issue. That is not to say that whatever conclusion we draw cannot be done without any good reasons; it’s just to say that I think we should be cautious in drawing conclusions that stem from questions the text is not addressing. I hope that helps explain and I appreciate the dialogue and question.


    I understood the point you were making in my first comment. The first paragraph was more in response to the concern/comment Wendy made. The second paragraph was intended to further the conversation along with the hermeneutics we bring to this passage (which it has done).

  10. Wendy Cayless

    Another thought about “helpmeet”… what do you do with single women (and men for that matter)? Their role (in society, the family, the workplace, church) is seriously diminished in the primary role of women is one of being a helpmeet to the opposite gender.

    Phoebe is not depicted as a helpmeet. Nor Junia, Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, Martha, Huldah, Deborah, Miriam….

    And, what does one do with LGBTQI people? Are they excluded from being designed in the imago dei?

  11. Tim Archer Post author


    I guess the argument could be made that “helpmeet” is the primary role. That thought hadn’t occurred to me.

    As for the initials (don’t know what all of them mean), I don’t believe that they are living in accordance with the image of God. I don’t really want to run with that tangent here, but I don’t accept alternative lifestyles as godly lifestyles.

    Grace and peace,

  12. K. Rex Butts


    The categories of people you mention are all valid questions but the questions are beyond the intended scope of the passage. We live in a broken world where not everyone has a helpmate but that does not take away from the fact that God, according to the Genesis creation narrative, created men and women to need each other (although in a patriarchal culture the point is only addressed to men in need of women but it’s safe to assume that women are in need of men as a helpmate too).

    One thing I try to keep in mind when reading the Genesis creation-fall narrative is that it is making a theological point about the origin and purpose of creation. Because the medium of communication is both theological and narrative, the text cannot be reduced to mere propositions that stem from analyzing the text as though it were meant to be a scientific or sociology text. That is to say, I believe the primary point of the text is a reminder of who created and why creation exists and in particular for human-beings, what it means to be the lone creature bearing the image of God among creation. We learn about that through narrative that is addresses a general concern of a newly liberated Israel who’s self-understanding has been marred by 430 years of Egyptian tyranny and pagan ideology (yes, I read the narrative in light of the Exodus event). So we shouldn’t expect it to directly answer every contemporary question or be concerned that it doesn’t.

    I hope that helps explain some.

    Grace and Peace,


  13. K. Rex Butts

    One other quick thought…

    All people are created equally in the image of God and all people are also fallen creatures in need of redemption. We all bear the image of God and we all, as fallen creation, fail in different ways to reflect that image. Thanks be to God that in Jesus Christ, we are being redeemed and restored to reflect that image again which is the image of Christ.

  14. Tim Archer Post author


    As I said at the very beginning of this series, I struggle with how much the Bible was shaped by its culture and how much it shaped that culture. Did the Jews not eat pork because of the Law or did the Law forbid it because they didn’t eat it?

    I have studied anthropology and cultural studies (masters in intercultural communication, for what it’s worth). I teach a seminar called “Christ and Culture” where we look at how culture affects our understanding of biblical passages. I know that the Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum.

    I think we have to give weight, however, to the idea that the Jewish culture was shaped and affected by their relationship with God. It wasn’t a perfect culture, but it was called to be different from surrounding cultures in many ways.

    So we wrestle with that tension: to what degree was their culture patriarchal because God wanted it that way and to what degree do their writings reflect the patriarchal culture that men developed on their own?

    Grace and peace,

  15. K. Rex Butts


    That’s a great question that I don’t have an answer for. However, I know that the Jewish culture was not the only patriarchal culture in the Ancient Near East civilizations. So how did those other cultures become patriarchal? That’s also a question that I don’t have an answer for.

    I’ve written a paper on the Genesis creation-fall narrative, and preached/taught from it on numerous occasions and the more I study it the more questions I have for which I don’t have any answer. :-)

  16. James W

    This quote sums up the problem exactly:
    “So we wrestle with that tension: to what degree was their culture patriarchal because God wanted it that way and to what degree do their writings reflect the patriarchal culture that men developed on their own?”

    Thus, the way that we read the Bible really hinges on what we think about God. Which is, of course, itself a circular problem. What do I know about God? And how do I know it? Is it only what’s found in Scripture? Or is Scripture one witness to God among many? So, if the starting point of your theology is a picture of God that would create the world with an inherent biological hierarchy, then that allows you to read these texts as reflective of God’s intention for creation. If you begin, instead, with a view of the full equality of all people in God’s image, then we have to view these texts as culturally determined.

  17. Tim Archer Post author


    I would say that our goal is to try and overcome whatever starting point we have. That is, our first task is to identify our viewpoint and then do what we can to minimize the influence of that viewpoint while reading the text.

    I believe that the Bible is the main witness among many, the primary voice that needs to be heard. The validity of other voices is gauged alongside the one that we know to be true.

    Mine is a conscious decision to trust the Bible as the Word of God.

    Grace and peace,

  18. Paul Smith

    I’d like to address a comment made by Rex way back up yonder at 1:00 pm. Rex, if you’re still around maybe you can answer. Rex made the statement that in a patriarchal culture it only would make sense that God would address the male first. Point taken. But, that being the case, why then does God censure the serpent first (and quite extensively), then the female (briefly), and then spend the greatest amount of time and specificity on the male, Adam? If God is truly as misogynistic as many feminists make him out to be, he would have barely touched on the serpent, would have exonerated the man and then would have excoriated the female. In contrast with the serpent and Adam, Eve comes off pretty light, actually. Likewise, while Paul refers to Eve as being tempted first in the garden (in those texts where he discusses male spiritual leadership), it is *Adam* that Paul condemns for human sin according to the letter of Romans. So, Paul does seem to turn the whole “cultural” and “patriarchal” argument on its head.

    Or, am I just missing something here?

    (BTW, I’ve enjoyed the conversation here)

  19. Wendy Cayless

    Tim, I don’t want to sidetrack the discussion but being LGBTQI does not necessarily mean that if you are lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex that you are not living a celibate life. Plus there are many LGBTQI people who are in heterosexual relationships, even though it goes against their nature (because that is the only way they believe they can fit in or honour God or they were in denial about their sexuality and/or gender identity when they married).
    I guess I’m curious how LGBTQI people read the Genesis creation accounts. I would immediately they would find them alienating – which reinforces for me that the Torah is a product of a specific culture in a specific time.
    Also, the Genesis creation accounts are about the nature of God (Father, Son, Spirit) and the purposes of God. God created humankind for relationship. With one another and with God. Humans reflect God in that God is triune. The emphasis is on relationship and community. To use the creation accounts to proscribe gender roles (which dont reflect the diversity of human experience anyway – my LGBTQI point) ‘s to miss the point somewhat.

  20. nick gill


    I don’t read the text in Gen 2-3 as Adam having permanent responsibility for leadership. Adam was created first, but the animals were created before him. If Paul is asserting that order of creation suggests order of responsibility, then there are some serious questions left unanswered.

    So what is we take the story as is? Adam was created first; God told Adam about the tree before Eve was created; Eve’s answer to the serpent is different from the command God gave Adam; Adam “was there with her” when the serpent attacked.

    Adam’s responsibility was to teach Eve what God had told him, and to fulfill his role in guarding the Garden from the intruder. Adam did not teach Eve well; therefore, she was deceived.

    Now, when we look at the passage where Paul introduces Adam, Eve, and creation order, what is the imperative? What command is given?

    Women are to learn. Why? Because Eve was deceived because her partner didn’t uphold his end of their shared responsibilities.

  21. Tim Archer Post author

    Nick, that doesn’t address Genesis chapter 3. When the couple sinned, God sought out Adam. Not both. He sought the man. Largely because of what you said: man failed in his leadership responsibility.

    And man was specifically given dominion over the animals in that story, so that part of the argument doesn’t hold up.

  22. Nick Gill

    man was specifically given dominion over the animals in that story

    Right, so Paul could hardly be asserting that creation order = order of authority, when the Hebrew Scriptures so clearly teach that nothing could be farther from the truth.

    When the couple sinned, God sought out Adam. Not both. He sought the man. Largely because of what you said: man failed in his leadership responsibility.

    Hardly would have been just for him to call out Eve for failing to uphold a command that was given before she existed. You’re reading a level of universality into the narrative that isn’t necessary.

    You seem to be asserting that God called to Adam because he created Adam to be the perpetual ruler and leader and authority over Eve, the animals, and the cosmos.

    I’m asserting that God called to Adam because he sat there like a bump on a log while the Garden, which he had been charged to guard (Gen 2:15, where the same word is used as in the duties of the cherubim in 3:24), was being attacked. Further, I would assert that that responsibility as guardians came upon both of them because Eve, even though she had not yet been formed, came out of Adam in the same way that Levi paid the tithe to Melchizedek (Heb 7:9-10).

    The general command of guardianship and the specific command about the tree were given to Adam — Adam failed to teach Eve — Adam is held responsible for failing to uphold the command. The additional of an unstated universal, timeless role of leadership is not necessary to explain the text — therefore Ockham’s razor slices it away.

  23. Tim Archer Post author


    This may not apply to you. I have heard that man’s charge to be a steward of the garden is illustrative of our role as stewards of creation. You seem to take that merely as a specific command given to Adam. Care to expound on that?

    If we regard everything said to Adam and Eve as merely specific to them, then we are left with NOTHING from before the Fall, no guidance as to what God expects of us.

    Hardly would have been just for him to call out Eve for failing to uphold a command that was given before she existed.

    Hardly would have been just? God did exactly that… he held Eve responsible for failing to uphold that command. There’s no need to disregard what the story actually says: both sinned, both hid, God sought out Adam.

    BTW, Eve had been taught. She knew the command. We can infer that Adam was nearby when she was tempted, but I don’t think the text actually says that. God never relieves her of responsibility for her failing.

    Beyond the rules of parsimony, we also have the rules of consistency. Seeing Adam as family leader is consistent with the rest of Scripture.

    Grace and peace,

  24. Nick Gill

    I have heard that man’s charge to be a steward of the garden is illustrative of our role as stewards of creation. You seem to take that merely as a specific command given to Adam. Care to expound on that?

    The commands in Genesis 1 are given to “male and female.” Those include exercising God’s benevolent delegated sovereignty over all of creation — the stewardship of which you speak.

    The command in Genesis 2 to guard and tend the Garden is, like the command about the fruit, uttered to Adam. As you’ve noticed, that doesn’t absolve Eve of ultimate responsibility (from the Hebrew point of view she was there in Adam just as Levi was in Abraham when the tithe was paid to Melchizedek), but the primary responsibility was to the one who heard the command.

    And I’m not arguing that Eve wasn’t taught — I’m arguing that Eve was taught poorly — why else does she tell the serpent something different than what God told Adam?

    We can infer that Adam was nearby when she was tempted, but I don’t think the text actually says that.

    Now, you’re certainly free to argue that “who was there with her” is a reminder to the audience that Adam had been created and hadn’t left the Garden for some reason… but that seems awfully redundant.

    Beyond the rules of parsimony, we also have the rules of consistency. Seeing Adam as family leader is consistent with the rest of Scripture.

    Scripture which was received by a people with a particular male-centric worldview. It is our job, as you’ve said, to wrestle with whether the text is *establishing* Adam as family leader (which nothing in Gen 1 or 2 plainly asserts, nor is it required for a solid understanding of the passage) or whether our male-centric worldview has *trained* us to read the text that way when it was not God’s creational intent for males to, now and forever, lead females.

  25. Tim Archer Post author

    Yep, I was wrong about the text not saying Adam was there. Strike that.

    All of this comes back to whether the Bible shaped Hebrew culture at all or was merely a reflection of it. It’s hard for me to accept that the Bible was nothing more than a mirror for the culture it was addressed to. Seems like an awfully low view of Scripture to not recognize its power in shaping a people.

    Reminds me of a friend of mine who was talking about one of the publications that was popular in the 1990s. He summarized it this way: “Finally the Bible says what we always wanted it to say.”

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