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Topic 21: “…and she shall be called Woman”: What does this mean?


This is a brief study of interpreting Genesis 2:22-24 (NRSV): “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’  Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh”

◆ “Third, Adam immediately begins to exercise his authority by naming the animals (vs.10).  He also names his wife ‘woman’ (v.23)” (Commission on Theology and Church Relations (LCMS), “Women in the Church” (Sept. 1985), pg. 23).

That the man says, “This one shall be called Woman” is not exercising authority over his wife

[1] “… and she shall be called Woman …“: “Woman” is not a personal name, but a gender identification.

(A) “She shall be called woman” is God’s designation, not the man’s, just as woman’s “being taken out of man” is not man’s doing, but God’s.

(B) “Woman” is not a “name” as is “antelope,” “anteater,” or “aardvark,” which are designations of types of animals over which humans do rule.  “Woman” is not a different “type” of humanity but speaks of a sexual differentiation from the male, not from humanity.  The male’s understanding is that here is someone like him (and unlike the animals), yet differentiated sexually.

(C) “… and she shall be called Woman …“:  Naming someone usually implies dominion over that person.  Here we find something different.  New nouns are used to describe the man and the woman: “The man (ish) calls the new creation woman (ishsha).  He does not employ the technical naming-formula here, for ishsha is not a proper name.  Instead, this Hebrew pun recognizes sexual differentiation and not subordination.  The similarity between the Hebrew words emphasizes the equality of woman and man.  Thus, man acknowledges before Yahweh and in the woman’s presence the equality of the partnership between the couple.  Woman and man relate in like mutuality” (Gritz, Paul, Women Teachers and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus, pg. 56).

(D) “While an official act of ‘naming’ takes place in Genesis, there is a distinctive formula that is followed.  It includes the specific verb, qarah (“call”), followed by the noun, shem (“name”).  This formula is followed in 2:19-20 where the man names the animals; it appears in 3:20 where the man names (or more correctly renames) Eve; it is employed in 5:2 when God names the two of them “Adam”; and the formula appears in Genesis 4:17, 25, 26; 5:3, 29; 11:9, and so on.  But in [Genesis] 2:23, the formula is absent: the noun shem does not appear” (Fleming and Maxson, quoted in Groothius, Good News for Women, pgs. 128-129).

(E) The naming “Eve,” by the man comes later (Genesis 3:20) and after the Fall.  Before the Fall they shared a God-given name, adam (Genesis 5:2) (Groothius, page 128).

(F) Therefore, the context suggests the relationship here is not subordination/headship, but  partnership and companionship.

[2] The particular way in which woman should be “a helper fit for him” (2:18) or “a helper as his partner” (NSRV) is defined by listening to the context.

( A) She is not described as being a helper by bearing children, mothering, being subordinate, or serving at the male’s beck and call.

(B) She is a “partner suitable for him” precisely because he recognizes ([2:23] “…this, at last!, is …”!) she is like him; unlike the animals which he has sorted through and named but which he found wanting, she is able to be in human companionship with him.

◆ “Certainly women can teach Sunday school, and, I might add, they made excellent teachers.  And women can surely lead topics in their own groups.  But, you see, the real point at issue has to do with the relationship between women and men.  Paul insisted that women should not domineer over men, and he referred to God’s act of creation to prove his point.  In other words, in God’s creative scheme He gave a submissive role to women” (A District President writing on women’s suffrage in the church: Lutheran Witness, March 1968, pgs. 21-22).

◆ “… it is a very specific kind of subordination – the kind that makes one person (sic) out of two” (CTCR-WIC, page 24, quoting Clark, Man and Woman in Christ, pg. 28).

(C) “[vs 23]…Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.'”  God gave a partnership, not dominant/submissive roles, to males and females.

(1) “Creation from the man’s rib shows an affinity between man and woman such as is not possible between humans and animals.  The affinity is expressed poetically in the jubilant cry of v. 23, with is word play on ‘man’ (“‘ish”) and ‘woman’ (“‘ishah”)” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, footnote on Genesis 2:21-23).

(2) “Man’s joy in the first wifely ‘thou’ (observe the threefold enraptured ‘this one’) is quite elemental and knows nothing yet of the ‘supra mundane facts'(Eph., ch. 5), which are adumbrated in this mystery of marriage'”  (Von Rad, Genesis, pg. 82).

(3) “When comes this love ‘strong as death’ (S. of Sol. 8:6) and stronger than the tie to one’s own parents…it comes from the fact that God took woman from man, that they actually were originally one flesh.  Therefore they must come together again and thus by destiny they belong to each other…They ‘were…naked, and were not ashamed.”  That inexplicable split in human nature did not yet exist…” (Von Rad, pg. 82-83).

(4) Peter Lombard: “Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his slave, nor from his head to be his lord, but from his side to be his partner.”

(5) “… that women should not domineer over men” does not equate with or imply, on the other hand, “a submissive role” on the part of the woman or that men should domineer over women.

(6) Why, in God’s paradisal world, should either dominate? The other (biblical) option is partnership (“bone of my bones”).

(7) Note Ephesians 5:21: mutually submissive is God’s intent.

(8) “Woman was created not to serve Adam, but to serve with Adam” (Groothius, pg.32).

Genesis 2:18-25 does not speak of domineering or subordination, but of unity and partnership.