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Genesis and “the Created Order”: Understanding 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 (Part 4)

Recap and Introduction

In this series, we are attempting to understand the difficult text of 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 – a text relevant to debates about the equality of women and their roles in the church. In part 3, we examined 1 Corinthians 11:7. We saw that, rather than saying women are inferior to men, Paul gives women an additional glory. In other words, they have a unique beauty and honour. Paul comes to this conclusion on the basis of Genesis 2. And, it is that basis that we will examine today.

Let me remind us of the text we’re trying to understand. Paul writes,

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (NIV)

In verses 8 and 9, Paul gives two pieces of support for his assertion in verse 7. His first argument is that “man did not come from woman, but woman from man.” This is a reference to Genesis 2:21-23 where God forms Eve out of Adam’s rib or side. It has to do with the source of the man and woman.

His second piece of support is that “neither was man created for [or, on account of] woman, but woman for [or, on account of] man.” As indicated, the Greek prepositional phrase that is translated “for” in this verse (dia + an accusative) could be more literally translated as “on account of” or “because of.” It indicates cause. And, this also refers back to Genesis 2 (particularly verse 18).

Having made these observations, we can draw them together with our conclusions from the previous post to ask the following question. How does Eve’s “source” and “cause” in the Genesis narrative support Paul’s contention that woman is the glory of man?

“Bone of my Bones”

Let’s start with verse 8 and the source of the woman.

As I’ve already suggested, Paul is referring to Genesis 2:21-23. In the narrative, God makes the woman out of “the rib” or side of the man. Then, when Adam sees the woman for the first time, he declares, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken from man” (Genesis 2:23, emphasis added). As we can see, the Genesis account itself emphasizes that Eve is taken “from man.”

In fact, one could even describe Adam as “glorying” in it. Notice that Genesis 2:23 is Hebrew poetry. This poetry contrasts with the narrative prose that surrounds it. For this reason, commentators have often seen an element of amazement in Adam’s response. For example, Victor Hamilton describes Adam’s response as “an exclamatory outburst concerning his helper.”[1]

In other words, Adam is amazed because of the woman’s appearance and how it reveals that she was taken “from man.” Adam ascribes glory to the woman precisely because of her source!

We can pair this initial observation with a second. Unlike the woman, Adam is formed out of the dust (Gen 2:7). All the wild animals and birds were also formed out of the ground (Gen 2:19). Out of all the creatures, only the woman did not come from dirt!

In light of all this, it is not hard to understand why Paul says what he says in 1 Corinthians 11:7-8. He’s simply reading the Genesis text. Woman is the glory of man because she comes “from man.”

“A Suitable Helper”

In 1 Corinthians 11:9, Paul gives a second reason why woman is the glory of man: the cause or reason for her creation.

If we read Genesis chapter 2 looking for the reason the woman was created, we’ll find it in verse 18. It says, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (NIV).

When we hear the word “helper,” we often think of someone in a subordinate position. You might have a leader and helper in a Sunday School class, for example. As a result, we might assume that Eve being Adam’s helper makes her subordinate in some way.

However, there’s a different way we can conceive of the relationship between a helper and the helped. If someone is in need, then a helper may have some expertise or power that the first person needs. My father often helped me with science in high school, but he wasn’t my subordinate!

This second view is the way the Hebrew word for helper is typically used in the Old Testament. It is primarily used in contexts where God is Israel’s helper! (See Psalm 115:9-11 for an example.)

And this second type of relationship seems to be the case in Genesis 2. In the first half of Genesis 2:18, God acknowledges that the man’s solitary state is not good. He has need of a helper – someone who can help him work and care for the garden as God commanded (Gen. 2:15).

(The need for a helper may also be connected to the command to “be fruitful” in Genesis 1:28. The suitable helper likely needed to be a reproductive partner and a practical help in the garden.)

Regardless, the bottom line is this: according to the Genesis story, Eve was created because Adam was not able to fulfill his calling on his own. He needed a woman to help him.

And this is why, Paul says, woman is the glory of man in 1 Corinthians 11:9. She was created because of the man’s need for a companion to accomplish his calling. The reason for her creation signifies her unique honour or glory.

The “Created Order”

In debates about the equality of women in ministry and the home, one often hears talk of the “created order.” The idea is that the subordinate role of women was built into creation from the very beginning. 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 is often cited as evidence for this view (for example, see the “Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” Affirmation 2).

But, as we have seen, nothing could be further from Paul’s intention in this text. Paul is drawing from the Genesis text, but he is not doing it to advocate for a creational hierarchy of men over women. In 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, Paul is drawing from the Genesis text to defend the unique glory it ascribes to women.

In next week’s post, we will revisit 1 Corinthians 11:10. If Paul believes women ought to have authority over their head (as I have argued), then why does he mention angels?

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (1990), pg. 179.

Nathan Drover is the lead pastor at Perth Andover Baptist Church. He lives in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick with his wife Sabrina. Nathan is passionate about biblical studies, the unity of the church, and seeing both men and women live out their calling for God's glory.


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