By Richard M. DavidsonGenesis 1-2 constitutes the foundational biblical passage both for those who support and those who oppose women’s ordination. Does this passage uphold God’s ideal of the full equality of men and women, both in value before God and in egalitarian (non-hierarchical) male-female interrelationships, as those who support women’s ordination claim? Or does this passage present a creation order of ontological equality (in value before God) but of functional hierarchy (different roles involving female submission to male headship), as opponents of women’s ordination insist? In this blog, distilling some 30 years of personal research on this passage, I argue that Genesis 1-2 presents Adam and Eve not only as equal in worth before God (ontologically), but as equal partners without hierarchy (functionally).
A. Genesis 1 teaches us that male and female participate equally in the image of God, both ontologically and functionally. “So God created man [Heb. ha’adam ‘humankind’] in His own image, in the image of God created he Him; male and female created He them” (Gen 1:27).
This foundational passage (and its surrounding context) gives no hint of a divine creation hierarchical order in the relation of man and woman. Here man and woman are fully equal, with no subordination of one to the other. Both man and woman together are blessed and given the mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth; both together are given dominion over the earth, not the man dominion over the woman (Gen 1:28).
Contrary to those who claim that God’s naming of the human race “man” hints at male headship, the word ’adam, often translated “man,” is the generic term for humankind, and never means “man” in the sense of male gender in Scripture. Genesis 1 proclaims the fundamental equality of man and woman, in both value (made in God’s image/likeness, in outward resemblance and in character) and function or “role” (both together to procreate, subdue the earth, and have dominion over other created beings on earth).
The functional as well as ontological equality of male and female as part of the imago Dei is further highlighted by the analogy made with God’s own differentiation and relationship in contemplating the creation of humanity. It is hardly coincidental that only once in the creation account of Genesis—only in Genesis 1:26 with regard to the creation of humanity—does God speak of the divinity in the plural: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The explanation most consonant with both the immediate context and the analogy of Scripture identifies this usage as a “plural of fullness,” also termed a “plural of fellowship or community within the Godhead.” This plural “expresses “an intra-divine deliberation among ‘persons’ within the divine Being.” In describing the divine interrelationships (“let Us”) that form an analogy with human relationships (“male and female”), there is no indication of a hierarchy in the Godhead, no reference to the submission of one Person to the Other. Rather, the emphasis is upon the functional relationship of equality, in the deliberation and fellowship of equals.
B. Genesis 2 reinforces Genesis 1. Those who argue for a creation headship of man over woman use five main arguments to build their case:
- The order of creation (man first and then woman)
- The derived nature of woman’s creation (from Adam’s rib)
- God’s speaking to the man and not to the woman
- Woman created for the sake of man, to be his “helper”
- The naming of the woman by the man, indicating his authority over her.
Upon closer examination, none of these points proves a creation hierarchy of man over woman; in fact these very points serve to establish the functional equality, without hierarchy, between man and woman in creation. (1) In the narrative flow of Genesis 2, woman is created last as the climax, the crowning work of creation. (2) Her creation from Adam’s “rib” (literally “side”), not from his head (to dominate) or foot (to be ruled over), does not indicate her derived and thus subordinate role, but rather that she is “to stand by his side as an equal” (Gen 2:21-22; PP 46).
(3) God speaks to Adam as the one-time “head of the human family” (6T 236), “the father and representative of the whole human family” (PP 48). Adam’s personal name, ’adam, never again held by another named individual in Scripture, is the same word as “humankind”. This representative (not hierarchical) headship of the “first Adam” (1 Cor 15:45) was usurped by Satan (John 12:31) and was restored by the second (“last”) Adam (1 Cor 15:45). It does not serve to model male headship in general.
(4) The woman was created as man’s ‘ezer kenegdo (“helper comparable to him,” Genesis 2:18 NKJV), which in the original does not denote a subordinate helper or assistant; elsewhere in Scripture it is most often God Himself who is called ‘ezer (“helper”): Exod 18:4; Deut 33:7, 26; Ps 33:20; 70:5; 115:9, 10, 11. The word kenegdo in Gen 2:18 means no less than an equal counterpart, a “partner” (Gen 2:18, 22 NRSV).
(5) Finally, contrary to common assumption, Adam does not name the woman (and thereby exercise authority over her) before the Fall in Genesis 2:23. The “divine passives” in this verse imply in Hebrew thought that the designation “woman” comes from God, not from man. Adam does not name Eve till after the Fall (Gen 3:20), and even this “naming” does not exercise headship, but predicts the role of Eve as the mother of all living climaxing ultimately in her Messianic seed.In short, Genesis 2, like Genesis 1, contains no creation order subordinating woman to man or restricting her from entering into full and equal participation with man in any ministry to which God may call her. Genesis 1-2 present Adam and Eve as fully equal, both ontologically (in worth before God) and functionally (in their egalitarian partnership without hierarchy).
 For further detailed analysis, see Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007), 24-35; idem, “Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture,” in Women in Ministry (ed. Nancy Vyhmeister; Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1998), 260-264.
 For discussion of the various aspects of what the “image of God” includes, see Richard M. Davidson, “Biblical Anthropology and the Old Testament” (Third International Bible Conference, Jerusalem, Israel, June 16, 2012), 2-18.
 Gerhard Hasel, “The Meaning of ‘Let Us’ in Gen 1:26,” AUSS 13 (1975): 58–66; the quotation is from p. 64.
 Jiří Moskala, “Toward Trinitarian Thinking in the Hebrew Scriptures,” JATS 21 (2010): 258; see his critique of the various other views, 249–259.
 Hasel, “The Meaning of ‘Let Us,” 65.
 Some have taken Ellen White’s statement that the Eve was “to be loved and protected by him [Adam]” (Patriarchs and Prophets, 46) as indicating male hierarchical headship, but protection here implies greater physical strength, not hierarchy! A government leader’s body guards are protectors, but that does not make the leader subordinate to them.
 See Jacques Doukhan, The Genesis Creation Story (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1978), 46-47.