Conway is right that to describe the woman as a helper does not indicate inferiority. She has strengths that match the man’s weaknesses, and vice versa. They will have to work as a team, but this does not rule out the possibility of the man having a primary responsibility or servant leadership in the relationship. We are getting a one-sided picture from Conway, even if the woman pays a higher price than the man in the task of being fruitful and multiplying.
Chapter two of Discovering Biblical Equality is on “Gender in Creation and Fall” and is authored by Mary L. Conway. Much of her exegesis and interpretation represents a fair treatment of the text. Nonetheless, she summarises the teaching of Genesis 1–3 as follows:
In Genesis, before the fall, there was mutuality, equality, and harmony between men and women. Incorrect understanding and false teaching were influences contributing to the sin of Adam and Eve, although deliberate disobedience was certainly a major factor. The fall destroyed the mutuality and harmony between men and women, resulting in millennia of male domination in both the church and in marriage. In Christ, that consequence is undone, and the mutuality and harmony of marriage is potentially restored . . . if the church allows it (52).
So, neither male nor female has a leadership role in relation to the other sex or a responsibility that differs from that of the other sex in marriage. In the following essay, we shall consider features of Genesis 1–3 that suggest differences in leadership roles and responsibilities, although the term “domination,” in a negative or patriarchal sense, need not be invoked in any way.
We shall evaluate in particular Conway’s treatment of ’adam, the image of God, helper, the enticement by the serpent, and the consequences of human rebellion.
As Conway observes, the Hebrew term ’adam must be interpreted properly. She is correct to explain that “the Hebrew lexis ’adam is most often a nongendered/collective term for a specific human or humanity in general, male and/or female, unless its meaning is restricted by context” (36). In Genesis 1–5, this term shifts in usage from referring to humanity in general, to referring to the primal or archetypal man to use as a proper noun, i.e., Adam. Normally when this term has no article, it is used as a name. She does not refer to the definitive study by Hess that details this usage, which would have been helpful. In 3:17 she follows a note in the apparatus of BHS to articulate the noun, although absolutely no witnesses support this in the entire textual tradition.
The Image of God
Anyone attending to the text in Genesis 1:26-27 ought to affirm as Conway does, as well as all complementarians, that both male and female are made as the divine image and neither is inferior to the other — both are equal in being (ontology) and worth before God.
To explain “being made in the image of God,” Conway appeals to Middleton’s work as definitive proof that the implications of being created in Yahweh’s image are functional: “the imago dei refers to human rule, that is, the exercise of power on God’s behalf in creation” (38). She rightly rejects the claim that being male and female defines the image of God. She could have strengthened her position by reference to our work in Kingdom through Covenant. Two clauses at the end of Genesis 1:27 are marked by discourse grammar signals as comments or explanatory footnotes that prepare the reader for the commands in v. 28. Also note the chiastic structure:
God created mankind in his image
according to his likeness:
A in the image of God he created him
B male and female he created them
B’ be fruitful and increase in number
and fill the earth
A’ and subdue it
and rule over the fish/birds/animals
Binary sexuality, i.e., duality of gender, is the basis for being fruitful, while the divine image is correlated with the command to rule as God’s viceroy. These observations from the discourse grammar of the narrative are crucial. They are decisive in showing that the divine image is not to be explained by or located in terms of duality of gender in humanity.
Nonetheless, significant further light has been cast on the image of God since the work of Richard Middleton was published. A merely functional interpretation is inadequate; we must view humanity in holistic terms as the divine image. The image describes not only function, but also human ontology and structure. In particular, it describes a covenant relationship between God and humanity on the one hand and humanity and creation on the other. The former portrays humanity as obedient sons and daughters while the latter depicts humanity in terms of servant kingship or leadership. Understanding the divine image as entailing a covenant relationship means that this applies not only to the human-God relationship, but also to the relationships in the human family. Not only in the Bible, but all across the ancient Near East, familial relationships were considered covenantal. This is why family language is used in international treaties (where the partners are called “father” and “son”). I have also shown from Genesis 2 that the image of God assigns the role of priest to humanity and that Adam must give leadership in this role.
The image of God means that humanity is not only connected to God but must reflect him. Later revelation of the economic doctrine of the Trinity shows equality among the persons of the Godhead but also different roles in the economy of salvation. Why shouldn’t we expect this in the human family as well?
With regard to “naming” in Genesis 1–3 Conway asserts: “that the man (ha’adam) names the woman, as he previously did the animals, however, is also not a sign of the man’s superiority or dominance. Naming in the Old Testament is an act of discerning a trait or function or ability that already exists in the person being named, not a sign of authority over that person” (48). Her examples from Genesis 16:13 and Judges 8:31 are not particularly persuasive. She does not account well for the context of Genesis 1–3. In Genesis 1, God names entities and structures created on Days 1–3 while Adam names entities filling the structures created on Days 4–6.