A number of years ago a Baptist men’s group in the panhandle of far West Texas wanted to have a ladies night. They invited their wives and girl friends, and they invited me to be their speaker. They assigned me the following rather traditional topic: “The Woman Behind the Man.” They thought that was an appropriate theme for Ladies’ Night with the Baptist Men.
But the more I thought about the message, the more I considered the topic, and the more I studied the Scriptures, the more the assigned theme changed. As I made my partial survey of the Bible in my message, I had to do it under a revised heading: “The Woman Beside the Man.”
To be honest, I hardly knew where to start. When I began to study the Scriptures, I found so much about the contribution of women to God’s work. I also found a partnership and an equality between women and men throughout the Bible.
Let’s start this modest series of columns where I started on that snowy night in West Texas so many years ago: At the beginning. Let’s start in the Garden of Eden.
We cannot overemphasize the fact that both male and female were created in God’s image (1:27). This sets us apart from animal life. It says much about our relationship with God. It also says a lot about our relationship with one another. It has been well and wisely said that “The concept that all persons are made in the image of God is an idea of such transcendent importance that any differences between this person and that fades into nothingness by comparison.”1
Karl Barth was the influential German theologian. He called Genesis 1:27 a Magna Charta for humanity. What man is, woman also is. His uniqueness is no greater than hers, and no less. Both are in the image and likeness of God.
She is the woman beside the man.
Genesis 1:28 says God “blessed them.” He did not bless him. He did not bless her. He blessed them, simultaneously, identically, and equally. He blessed both male and female.
What is more, in the same verse, God charged both to subdue the earth and rule over its creatures. In 1:26 he said, “Let them rule,” or have dominion. Woman is to do this as well as man. God did not say to the female, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and to the male, “Subdue the earth.” He said both to both. Once again the equality is complete. The woman as well as the man has a role out in the world, and the man as well as the woman has a role in the home and family. And he did not say anything about either of them having dominion over the other, or anyone else.
When we turn to Genesis 2, we find that when Eve was created, God did not take her from behind the man. He took her from the man’s side. God took one of Adam’s ribs. He fashioned this rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. Woman was the same nature and from the same material as man. From the beginning she was not the woman behind the man. She was the woman beside the man.
God brought her to the man. And Adam said: This “is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23, NRSV). Genesis 2:20 calls her a helper as his partner (NRSV), a helper suitable for him. She was a helper corresponding to him. She was his mate. She was his companion. She was his partner. The man beside the woman and the woman beside the man.
We will discover this original pattern all the way through Scripture. (In fact, there will be many times when we will have to change our topic still more; often she will be the woman ahead of the man.)
Yours for God’s glory through CBE.
- F. J. Sheed, quoted in the Southern Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission Seminar Proceedings, Power in Church and Society (1981), 139.