And so there’s this responsibility that’s given first to Adam. But it’s more than just for Adam to take care of an to cultivate the Earth. and because of that calling it’s not good for him to be alone. It actually requires men and women, male and female together to do that. And so this understanding of our differences is precisely in the context of the big vocation that God gives us to do. And so the first thing is that Paul draws out is the order of man first then woman well it does say something about the different responsibilities and that man is called to be the leader.
So we know that Adam can’t cultivate the earth alone. He can’t do it all by himself. Yet the leadership of Christianity is overwhelmingly masculine. Somewhere between 80-90% of churches have exclusively male leadership. They have exclusively Adams serving alone. Sure, all of them are married, as it’s the rule, but women do not serve alongside them as functionally equals. Women have a different role and it’s not leading. Men – like Adam – are servant-leaders, who single-handed, by themselves, have the final decision, teach, run the Church, that sort of thing. Women – like Eve – are strong helpers who submit and clean the house and raise the kids, but mostly submit. Is that what God says is good? Also, the idea ‘man is first, therefore he’s the leader’ is distinctly complementarian. Funny thing about that, Jesus doesn’t say that the leader is first. I remember hearing my pastor’s wife lament that she would ‘lose’ her sons to God at age thirteen, her influence over them would disappear, but at least she would always have her daughter. At the time I thought it a strange thing to say as the Bible doesn’t indicate that’s what happens – but it’s the unfortunate result when reading the Bible through the lens of gender that you have to ask: “At what age do boys become men and it is inappropriate for women to teach them?”
And then verse 18 is speaking and saying here’s what it looks like for a woman that she is a helper suitable for the man. Now what does that mean? Well it doesn’t mean something subservient. It doesn’t mean somebody who is lower. Because the helper is one who precisely has some kind of strength, some kind of gift that they bring to supply what is lacking in the person that they are helping.
Women have traditionally been defined as ‘the weaker vessel’ thanks to 1 Peter 3:7. Here ‘strong’ or ‘suitable’ just isn’t the right word anyway. The Greek uses the phrase ‘ezer kenegdo‘ – ‘ezer’ can mean ‘power’ or ‘strength’ and ‘kenegdo‘ means ‘as in front of him’ some use ‘according to’ or ‘corresponding to him (as an equal and adequate to himself)’ or ‘fit to’. Adam needed someone who was just like him. Not someone to boss around, not somebody to be bossed around by. When it was just the man, he was missing something that he couldn’t provide for himself. When the woman was presented to him – what did the man say? “Here is woman, now we may procreate and have children!” “Here is woman, now I will have someone who must always obey me!” “Here is woman, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she’s just like me!” Like and equal aren’t always the same, but sometimes they are.
And the reason why I know that helper itself doesn’t mean anything subservient is because God describes himself as a helper. Deu. 33:29 God says: “I”m Israel’s helper, I supply what Israel is missing which is their life and their salvation and I’m a helper.” And it’s that vision of helping precisely from your strength what the other person needs that’s the responsibility, that’s the calling that God sets out for the woman. So what does that look like? There are differences, we’re created equal, we’re equal in value and in dignity but we have different responsibilities and authority as leader and as helper. And the key for us to see this that Jesus is the one who shows us both parts. Jesus himself shows us what it means to be a leader and what it means to be a helper. And the model for what we are to be as men and women is actually in the same place it’s in the life of Jesus. That he is shown to be the leader and the helper that is our example.
Sometimes the problem isn’t in the theory, but in practice. Like every time I help someone move or am otherwise lending a hand, I’m never the one calling the shots. Whomever is being helped is the one directing the helpers in the way they should do something or where to go or in what order to get it done. Looking at what this guy is saying, we have two kinds of people, leaders and helpers. leaders and helpers have different responsibilities and different levels of authority. Obviously, leaders have more authority than helpers, and that must mean that because leaders have more authority, they have authority even over their helpers. Oh, and by the way, leaders are always men and helpers are always women. But don’t worry, they’re totally equal. Let’s not forget that they have different responsibilities. Leaders have the responsibility to lead. Helpers have the responsibility to help. You are, after all, what you do. So that must mean that leaders must lead even over their helpers. But don’t worry, they’re totally equal. Also, ‘different responsibilities and authority’ is distinctly complementarian. What the idea of complementarianism boils down is that men have authority that women do not have. Men ‘complement’ the women’s lack of authority by having the authority they lack. Men use that authority to be the leader, they lead their families and their churches. Women lack the authority to lead, so men must lead them. It’s not a ‘complement’ in terms of: “I’m short, I need a tall person to reach the item on the shelf.” or “I’m tall, I need a short person to get into this small space.” or “I’m weak, I need a strong person to open something.” or “I’m strong, I need a weaker person who can handle this delicate thing without breaking it.” It’s never clearly define what men lack that women are ‘strong’ in. So the simple solution is: “Don’t think about it too much – just focus on Jesus.” Because most people realize that if you think on it, you start to see cracks, flaws, holes and the answer just don’t fit or make sense.
We see Jesus as the strong helper precisely in the way that he submits to his father: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:6-8. I think this is significant.
What’s wrong with John 5:18: “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” That whole chapter is this epic Father/Son revelation where Jesus keeps on laying it thick – emphasizing the oneness between the two of them. There are verses that go either way – but we have to be careful about emphasizing some over others. Also, if we’re consistent, God lacked something that only Jesus as the strong helper was equipped to provide. Jesus also lacked authority, so he needed God as his servant-leader over him. When these parallels are carried out to their natural conclusion, they seem to turn the Bible upside-down, inside-out.
Jesus submits in the most dramatic way possible as a servant who dies a shameful death on a cross. And so the reason we know that to be the one who submits, to be the helper isn’t something of lower dignity, of lower purpose is because Jesus does it. He’s in the very nature of God and yet he uses his equality with God as a gift, as a way to serve and it’s through his submission the Bible tells us that precisely that’s how God glorifies him. Ultimately to the glory of God the Father. That’s the pattern that the Bible gives us for what it looks like to be that strong helper who submits. It’s Jesus.
Now we have a split-Jesus-in-two problem. We’ll see it more profoundly as he moves onto the servant-leader aspect, but at the moment, Women must submit like Jesus submitted, but women must not lead like Jesus lead. Men must lead like Jesus lead, but not submit like Jesus submitted. It’s the King Solomon solution; we’re just left to ask each other: “Which half of Jesus do you want? The servant leader or the strong helper?”