The basic foundation of the partnership of women and men in God’s creation and in the Church and its ministry is given in the opening chapter of Genesis. Here are found two fundamental perspectives, which should inform our thinking about persons and mutual relationships.
First, man ('adam), a generic term meaning the “human person,” is created in God’s very own image (Genesis 1:26–27; 5:1–2). This creation in God’s image includes the identification of persons as male and female. This mutuality of women and men carries no suggestion of male headship or female submission.
Second, this mutuality is confirmed by the fact that both the man and the woman together, without distinction, are charged with responsibility for all of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26, 28). This equal partnership between man and woman is also present in the retelling of the creation story in Genesis 2. Here the man is found in need of a companion, but none of the creatures God has created qualify (Genesis 2:18–20). Thus, God differentiates man ('adam) into man ('ish) and woman ('ishshah), persons of separate male and female gender identity. The point of such a provision of companionship is to relate the male and female persons as equals, indicated by the common designations ('ish/'ishshah; the same word root) and the common identity of bone and flesh (Genesis 2:23). This is climaxed with the concept of mutuality expressed in the “one flesh” language (Genesis 2:24).
Some have interpreted Genesis 2:23, in which the man ('ish) calls the “bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh” woman ('ishshah), as an act of naming that demonstrates the headship or authority of man over woman. However, that type of naming does not occur until after the Fall when “Adam named his wife Eve”(Genesis 3:20).
Genesis 2 also indicates that the woman partner with the man will be an appropriate “helper” (Genesis 2:18). The word “helper” ('ezer), when used of a person in the Old Testament, always refers to God (in 29 places) apart from one reference to David. The word “helper,” then, is not to be understood as an expression of submission and service to man; rather, the woman as helper serves God with man.
The woman and man sin together (Genesis 3:1–7). Although it does not show in English translations, the serpent addresses the woman with the plural “you.” Genesis 3:6 states that the woman “gave some [of the fruit] to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” The fact that the man was with her (a phrase sometimes omitted from English translations!) indicates that both partners are together involved in disobedience to God. This is also seen by the fact that it is after both ate that it is said: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened” (Genesis 3:7).
The statements of judgment for disobedience (Genesis 3:14–19) are descriptive ones of future realities, which involved a supremacy/subjection relationship between man and woman. These statements are not creation mandates; rather, the relationship of mutuality, partnership, and equality portrayed in Genesis 1:1–3:7 is now sadly marred by sin.