I Peter 3:7 “...Live with them...as heirs together with you of God’s gracious gift of life.”
Last week we asked the question, “What is marriage?” It is many things, depending on culture, custom, location, ethnicity, etc. But in each and every case, whether the marriage is a love match or arranged, warm or cold, good or bad, peaceful or painful, cheerful or chaotic, marriage is a relationship. In future weeks we will look more closely at what that means. For today, let's discover what scripture says about what the man's and woman's relationship was meant to be.
On our quiz from the first week of this series, I said that this statement:
”When God made male and female (a couple), God made one to be the leader and one to be the helper” was false. Some of you are still wondering about that. So then, does God have a plan for man and woman in marriage? YES!
Today, let’s go back to the Garden of Eden and start finding out about the biblical account of how God created male and female! But when we do, look for biblical principles—truths that stand in any time, any place, any culture. And again, can I request that for now you put books, tapes, ideas aside? Can we just look at scripture carefully, using good hermeneutics?
Good biblical “hermeneutics”means good principles of interpreting scripture. Always interpret a passage:
• in agreement with its context.
• in light of what it meant to the original hearers.
• considering the events and customs taking place when it was written.
• in the light of other scripture.
• without using an obscure passage to make a point, ignoring more clear passages.
• according to the best usage of the original language (which is NOT English)
• putting scripture above social teaching.
There are more hermeneutic principles, but these are a few that will be important to us over the next few weeks. Allow me to share a story that illustrates bad hermeneutics.
Some years ago I went to a women's conference along with several women from this church. Some are here today and may remember this. One of the most popular workshops was about husband/wife roles. I did not attend, but I heard plenty about it in the van on the way home. I grew disturbed and sad as I listened to happy, enthusiastic women tell how they had learned about "God's plan." God, the Bible said, made man to "have dominion." Men were designed to rule. That was the main point of the workshop. If we women did not allow the men to have dominion, we were demeaning them and undermining their God-given role as leaders in our homes. There were some good things shared, but mixed with helpful things was a damaging seed of error. Men were made to lead--it was an integral part or how God had made the male nature. Every man would step up and provide godly leadership, given encouragement. As Christian wives it was their job to go home and discover the ways in which they had robbed their husbands of this divine mandate. I listened in silence. They were too excited to notice. It was not a time for correction, but later when the excitement of discovery had dimmed in the light of real life, I was able to take some of those women to Genesis and read the workshop's text (Genesis 1:26). Careful reading and simply paying attention to the context was revealing, and surprising!
Did you know that there are two separate creation accounts in Genesis? The first account is a sort of summary or overview. Much of the language people are familiar with regarding marriage stems from the venerable King James Version. This is the passage the workshop leaders used, so we will start there.
Genesis 1:26-28 KJV
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Now we'll go to the New International Version
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.“ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
In the first creation account, God creates the male and the female together as "man" --humankind--in God's image. Who has dominion? "Them." Both genders are given rule over creation. At this point there is no suggestion of power, position, hierarchy or defined roles.
The second creation account adds detail to what we already know. It is found in Genesis 2:7, 18-24, and once again we will start by reading the King James Version. These words are familiar to most of us from wedding ceremonies.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul….And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam…and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh…And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
There is a “word” we hear and read a lot when Christians talk about marriage. HELPMEET…or even worse…HELPMATE. Helpmeet comes from pushing the noun and adjective found in the KJV together in to a sort of hybrid word. Helpmate apparently came into usage because a lot of people really don't know what "meet" means, but it sure sounds a lot like "mate" and this is about man and woman, so...
And when I see an educated person tossing these words around, being the word lover that I am, I get a little grumpy.
“Meet” is a word we no longer use. It means “suitable” or “corresponding to.” So a “help meet” is a help that is suitable. Here is another example from the KJV, Matthew 15:26 " But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs."
That is a strange statement, but for now let's leave the verse alone except to note the usage of "meet" as "suitable" or "fitting."
Let’s move on from ancient English--and made up words--and see what some newer translations say:
a helper who is like him HCSV
a helper who is just right for him NLT
a helper complimentary to him TAB
a helper suitable for him NIV
And the two I think express it best in English:
a helper as his partner NRSV
a help who is like unto himself DV
Nowadays, the words helpmate or helper usually imply a subordinate or an assistant. Let me give you an example from life. Last week, my secretary, Honey, and I came up with a plan. Honey had a good idea. It would save the church some money, be fun to do, add to our worship experience. She shared the idea with me, and I loved it. So I will be Honey's helper on this project, and we hope you will like the result.
Now, be honest. Who is leading and who is the assistant?
So is the woman, as the man's helper, made to be an assistant? Do the men do the important stuff and women get to help out? Martin Luther thought so, among others. Last week we read, “A woman must never seek to begin anything, or to end anything, without the leadership and counsel of a man. Where he is, she must be, and must bend before him as one whom she must reverently fear and to whom she must ever be subject and obedient.”
BUT….let’s remember another hermeneutics principle. Lets look at the Hebrew!
Those two words, “help meet” or “suitable helper” are from two wonderful Hebrew words, EZER KENEGDO. Ezer is used many times in the Old Testament, but never for a subordinate or a lesser being. Always for a strong help! EZER is most often used for GOD! Is God an assistant, or beneath us in a hierarchy of command? Here are a few examples:
Psalm 118:7 "The LORD is with me; he is my helper (ezer)"
Psalm 33:20 “We wait in hope for the LORD; who is our help and our shield.
Psalm 20:1-2 “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; May the Name of the God of Jacob protect you. May He send you help…”
Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
But what about that adjective, KENEGDO? The word the King James Version translated "meet" or "suitable" is NEGED (or depending on usage,KENEGDO),"counterpart to, matching, corresponding, like."
So put together, EZER KENEGDO means: “one who is the same as the other and who surrounds, protects, aids, helps, supports.”
The same as? We know men and woman are different. But the creation account emphasized that the woman was like the man, suitable in every way, figuratively standing right beside him. One writer described it as, "eye to eye, vis a vis, a matched pair." This couple illustrates the ‘eye to eye’ relationship of the man and his “ezer kenegdo”.
Because of this passage from Genesis, I have a bumper sticker on my car that says PUT WOMEN IN THEIR PLACE: Right Beside Men.
Can you hear the joy in the male’s exclamation, "Ah, at last! This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”? Not, "Someone for me to rule over." Not, "Someone under me in the order of things." Not, "At last, someone to follow my lead."
AT LAST, someone LIKE ME!
We often hear that “God’s plan is a chain of command.” So far, scripture does not say this was God’s plan. God’s plan was that the man and the woman were made to rule together. The woman was made to be a strong help—the man’s partner in every way.
What happened to this beautiful plan? Did God institute a chain of command where the man rules and the woman is subordinate? Did God curse mankind? Will it ever get better?
And why are Adam and Eve wearing those ridiculous fig leaves?
Find out next week as we continue in Genesis!