I never meant to embark on a journey that very few women do.
And, honestly, I didn’t realize that that’s exactly what I was doing until I stepped foot into my first class during my junior year of undergrad. I walked in the door a few minutes before class started. As I looked around the room to find an empty seat I quickly noticed every eye was glued on me as I made my way to the only empty seat in the front row.
I had an overwhelming sense that I didn’t belong. Assuming I must be in the wrong class, I pulled out my course schedule only to find I was, in fact, in the right place. The professor walked in and his eyes looked just as confused as mine.
Was there something I didn’t know?
In a room full of 30 students, I was the only female.
This situation was highly unlikely. I went to a school with a 5:1 ratio of female to men. But there I sat for the rest of the semester in Introduction to Preaching.
It wasn’t even just the matter of me being the only female. That didn’t bother me too badly. But as I stood in the front of the room to teach the passage assigned to me, I received far more critique and criticism than anyone else in the course. My contributions to the class discussion were passively shrugged off by the rest of the students. I wasn’t overtly mistreated. I simply was not respected or taken seriously.
This was the semester I realized that the road I started on was one less traveled by females. And it was one that would require tenacity and endurance. This would not be the last class I enrolled in only to find I was the only female in the room.
It became clear that my presence as a female among the world of Christian leadership and academia was not taken as seriously as my male counterparts.
I would have to learn how to endure the drastically different reactions people had to Dale and I both being in seminary and working toward the exact same degree. For my husband Dale, the response is fascination and excitement. For me, the response is skepticism and concern.
Usually, the drilling questions that follow have to do with whether or not I had ambitions of becoming a pastor. Some of those questions are carefully worded. Others are not. A kind woman with an innocent smile once asked me, “What are you doing in seminary? You’re a woman.”
The role of men and women in church leadership was a highly contentious topic long before I ever experienced it. But this tension has become very real in my life. It’s one that I must wrestle with every day.
The role of men and women in church leadership was a highly contentious topic long before I ever experienced it. But this tension has become very real in my life. It's one that I must wrestle with every day. Click To Tweet
As I have faced unequal treatment within ministry and in my academic career, my prayer continues to be for me to respond and act in obedience to God.
One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard regarding this topic is this: “God never desires for his daughters to be elevated at the expense of his sons, nor for his sons to be elevated at the expense of his daughters.”
In the midst of our fallen world and the sin that lies within our own hearts, it becomes difficult for us to find the right answer.
Much to my surprise, this past semester in Hebrew Exegesis gave me far greater insights into this question than I ever had before. Genesis has a lot to say about the inherent value of not only men, but women too.
Women and Men Are Fully Equal
To suggest there’s any type of superiority of men over women in the creation account is to misunderstand the Hebrew text.
The large focus of Genesis 2 is the creation of woman as a companion for man. This companionship is not limited to marriage, but speaks generally to the role of men and women functioning alongside one another. Man and woman are fully related to one another by creation. Both are equally created by God.
Never do we see the creation of man as superior or of a better quality. So in pure essence of creation, man and woman are on the same level.
Some suggest that Genesis 2:23b shows a natural sense of superiority or authority over women. She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. But a closer reading of the text would show that Adam is not indicated as the subject of the one “calling” her woman.
In the Hebrew, the word “to call” (qara) is a passive verb. It doesn’t reveal the subject–that is, exactly who it is that’s doing the calling.
This is unlike when Adam named the animals back in Genesis 1. In that account, it’s very clear that Adam was the one naming the animals. This is significant, because the text makes an important distinction. Adam has dominion over the animals, so he actively names them. But the naming of woman is not stated actively, meaning that the language used avoids any implication that man has dominion or authority over woman.
Linguistically, even the words used to refer to man and woman point to full equality. Up until the forming of woman, man was referred to as Adam, which means earth. When woman is created, man is no longer referred to as Adam, but now as ish. The word for woman in Hebrew is ishah. These are actually the same word–just different forms of it.
The Hebrew words for man and woman express both the differences and the essential equality of man and woman.
The text makes it clear that woman is not a form of a lesser-man. But it also points to the two being uniquely formed.
Women and Men Are Different
In Genesis 2:18, woman is described as a suitable helper ‘ezer kenegedo. The Hebrew noun ezer means help. Unfortunately, our culture sees this word as hinting at a second class status. However, this word is used 19 times in the Old Testament and 16 of them refer to God. Therefore, to be called a helper does not indicate any form of dishonor or “less-than” connotations.
The word kenegdo is a compound preposition loosely translated as “like opposite.” What the Hebrew is explaining is that the woman is a companion who is different from man, but a positive counterpart.
The differences between man and woman aren’t negative. They don’t suggest a status of one over the other. It simply means the two are the same and different. They are not identical, but are still on the same level as one another. The two have different strengths and gifts that complement one another.
My Hebrew professor states it this way: “The role of helper is not confined to being a support at work or to bodily fit. But what the text has in mind is an encompassing correspondence: social, sexual, economic, intellectual, spiritual. All levels are involved, not only one or some of them.”
Genesis depicts God’s intention for women and men relating to one another. The two are meant to live, work, dream, succeed, and minister alongside one another as equals. There is no indication that man is superior to woman or even that woman is superior to men in the Genesis account. But they aren’t identical, either.
Genesis 1-2 give us light into what God designed in all of its perfection. The relationship between man and woman we see there is a relationship before sin ever entered the world.
This is God’s good creation. Man and woman are equal in status, value, and dignity. Yet they are different. The differences are part of God’s good creation that have been supplied for us to live the abundant life we were created for. The differences were never a negative aspect. They were never meant to lead to jealousy or distrustful leveling up.
Men and women should never feel the need to prove their worth or value to the other, but only for the likeness and differences of the other to be rejoiced and embraced.
This is God’s good creation. This is what our Savior is redeeming and restoring.