Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 What about women?

1 Corinthians 14:34–35

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Imagine for a moment that one of our pastors is preaching on Sunday when his wife rises from her seat and says in an audible voice, “I don’t see how you can teach this church after the way you treated me and the kids yesterday.” A lot of things might happen after that, but spiritual growth or worship are probably not among them! Something like this was going on during the church gatherings in Roman Corinth, and Paul was determined to stop it.

The first thing to remember about the women in Roman Corinth is that they lived in another time and culture. We have previously stressed the interpretive principle that a biblical text cannot mean today what it did not mean at the time it was spoken. So, our initial task is to determine what Paul was trying to achieve in Corinth. Only then will we be in a position to faithfully apply Paul’s instructions in our time and culture.

We have previously considered another highly-charged biblical passage about head coverings for women during worship (1 Cor. 11:2–16). There we found that a crucial cultural concern in Roman Corinth was shame and honor — whether those conditions applied to the individual, the community, the faction, or to the metaphorical “head” of the person involved. This cultural focus on shame and honor will also play a part in discussing women’s role in controlled speech during church gatherings in Corinth.

The very first thing we must say in sum about women speaking in church during the first century is that such speech was common. Concerning 1 Cor. 11:5, Garland says, “Paul affirms that it is quite permissible for women to pray or prophesy as long as they attend to their head covering.”[1] David Garland further draws attention to 1 Cor. 14:31, where Paul says that “all” may prophesy in turn. Most readers who give 1 Corinthians a close reading know that Paul was a brilliant man; the likelihood that he would contradict himself is zero!

So, what do we conclude? First, we say on the basis of 1 Cor. 11:5 and 14:31 that Paul not only permitted but encouraged women to speak when the church assembled. How then do we account for Paul saying “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34a)? Thiselton gets the ball rolling: “If we concur with Ben Witherington and others that what is at issue is not ‘speech’ as much as ‘abuse of speech,’ a probable scenario begins to emerge.”[2] We will now develop what “abuse of speech” is in question. Keep in mind that Paul had received a letter from Corinth as well as personal reports about what was going on there.

Yesterday we saw that in 1 Cor. 14:30–33a, Paul was dealing with specific restraints on wives who were in the process of sifting prophetic speech for soundness. In fact, we saw that 1 Cor. 14:29–36 all deals with restraints on prophecy and the evaluation of those messages for their faithfulness to Christ. The point is that the abuse of speech we are dealing with involved women who were sifting or discerning prophetic speech. You can see that this focus is much narrower than all-speech-by-women in church settings.

Thiselton[3] and Witherington suggest that the women in question were sifting the words of prophets by asking probing questions about their theology and lifestyle. This practice became particularly explosive — and disruptive to order — when wives cross-examined their husbands in a personal way that undermined their claim to be uttering prophetic speech. Such an exchange needs to take place at home (1 Cor. 14:35) not in church!

When Paul says, “It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35b), he brings honor and shame into the picture. This specific abuse of speech by certain women in relation to their husbands was shaming their husbands. Things got worse from there! Recall that: “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). By shaming her husband, such a woman was bringing shame on her head, and he in turn was bringing shame on Christ, and that was bringing shame on God.

Such conduct created many problems, all serious. First, it was not loving toward others in the manner of Christ. Second, it could easily give the community the idea that Christians were overturning public order and decency; that would be a serious blow to the spread of the gospel of Christ crucified. (Such a charge created a riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:21–41.) Third, such conduct utterly failed to communicate the love, order, sharing and reciprocity that reflect God’s own nature. A calamity like this could not be allowed to continue, and Paul stepped on it hard!

The practice of abusing prophets should not be surprising. Jesus told the people of Nazareth, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home” (Matt. 13:57). They demonstrated their appreciation of this insight by trying to throw Jesus down a cliff (Luke 4:29)! This teaching is repeated in all four Gospels and was a well-known concept among the churches. Such boorish behavior may be common, but it does not please God.

Thiselton convincingly argues that the Greek verb eper?ta? in 1 Cor. 14:35 (“they should ask their own husbands at home”) has a lot more punch than “ask.” Here the verb means “interrogate” or “cross-examine.”[4] For example, in Mark 11:29, Jesus interrogates the chief priests and scribes about how they can reject his authority and yet accept the authority of John the Baptist. There is an earnest, demanding quality about this Greek verb. A wife should speak such words to her husband at home, not in church.

There is little question that similar conduct by men in Roman Corinth, if directed toward other men in a public meeting, would have been considered aggressive but acceptable. But for a first-century woman in Greco-Roman culture to speak in such a manner about her husband would create a scandal. This difference may or may not be fair, but a culture will have its way.

A far more important matter is that interrupting or contradicting a true prophet displeases God! Consider the clause that says, “[The women] must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor. 14:34b). Garland notes that “The problem is that he does not cite a text from the law, and no OT passage instructs women to be silent.”[5] However, what Paul likely has in mind is Numbers 12:1–15, where Miriam challenges Moses’ right to speak as God’s prophet on the grounds of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. God intervenes very sharply against this attack on his prophet, and Miriam is shut out from the camp for seven days, shaming her. The Lord explicitly mentions her shame (Num. 12:14). Moses is said to be humble, and this contrasts with Miriam’s self-promotion and self-assertion that she too could speak as a prophet. The parallels to Roman Corinth are plain.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 665.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1156.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1158.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1159–60.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 672.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:13–16 Using (what should be) common sense

1 Corinthians 11:13–16

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God.

Ever hopeful that the Corinthians will do what is needed on their own, Paul puts the ball directly in their court (1 Cor. 11:13). By “the nature of things” (1 Cor. 11:14), Paul means the way things are.

Paul knew that Roman custom for men was short hair, and that long hair or long hair styled in some way (e.g. braiding) was considered effeminate. For example, David Garland informs us that the forum in Roman Corinth has statues of men with long hair as part of the “Façade of the Captives.” “Their long hair is intended to send the message that these captives were weak, soft, and effeminate.”[1]

Roman women usually had long hair, and it was often considered a symbol of the wife’s relationship to her husband. Accordingly, Garland summarizes, “Taking this cue from nature, men do not need a cover [since they have short hair]; women do [since they have long hair].”[2]

As a final argument, Paul says all the churches follow this standard, and so does he (1 Cor. 11:16).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 531.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 531.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:7–12 Shame and honor in assembled worship

1 Corinthians 11:7–12

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. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

As we begin today’s lesson, it will be helpful to remember that the context of these verses is the church in Roman Corinth gathered for worship. Perhaps they met in the home of one or more of their wealthy members or in several other locations. We can expect that some curious non-Christians were sometimes present, perhaps even someone who reported their activities elsewhere. We will see that God and the angels are part of worship as well.

As before, a lot of attention will be given to head coverings and their social and theological meaning. In the previous lesson (1 Cor. 11:1–6) we learned that men were not to wear a head covering, but women must wear one. These conditions were dictated by social propriety and to protect the reputation of the gospel in the community. In 1 Cor. 11:7–12, we learn that even deeper theological reasons exist and get deeper into the framework of shame and honor.

It is important to know what this passage does not mean, and David Garland sets us on the path: “The logic is not, ‘This man stands before God uncovered because of his spiritual subordination to Christ, so the woman should stand veiled because of her spiritual subordination to her husband,’ as [some] contend.”[1]

A common failing of Christians today is that we do not appreciate the importance of creation and its impact on our life in Christ. But Paul’s key point is that the woman reflects the glory of man, not of God.[2] The whole reason Paul offers in 1 Cor. 11:8–9 is the order of creation with man created first (Gen. 2:7) and the purpose of woman’s creation (Gen. 2:22) in that she was created for the man. Paul argues that the gender differences God established in creation have an effect on how corporate worship is carried out; in particular, cultural customs are used to symbolize that difference in a way that gives honor to God. Since man is “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7), his head must remain open to plain view. To do so honors God. The woman should cover her head (1 Cor. 11:6b) so as not to dishonor her head (i.e. the man, 1 Cor. 11:3). How would she dishonor the man? The surprising answer is that the woman dishonors the man by glorifying him (“woman is the glory of man” 1 Cor. 11:7) in a setting of corporate worship where only God is to be glorified/honored.

Perhaps we can better understand this reasoning by saying that in corporate worship the attention should be on honoring/glorifying God, but the beauty of women (by creation) is such that they attract attention belonging to God. When that happens, the shame attaches to their husband (her metaphorical head) or to the men gathered for worship. What can the woman do? She can behave and dress in a way that does not draw attention and symbolize such intent by wearing a head covering.[3] Symbols in our culture are different, but the principle stands.

The man and the woman are not taking their respective actions — men without head covering and women with one — for any personal advantage, as Anthony Thiselton points out: “’Paul’s main point is that man and woman are both the glory of another and therefore both have an obligation not to cause shame to their “heads.”’”[4]

The foregoing is difficult enough, and 1 Cor. 11:10 adds more mystery by mentioning angels. First, Thiselton argues that what we have here is a continuation of the issue of “assertive autonomy . . . versus self-control” that we have tracked earlier in the letter (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23).[5] This means the woman should use her freedom and authority in Christ for the good of others and especially for her metaphorical head; that behavior manifests self-control and love. As to the angels, Thiselton reminds us that both Jewish and Christian traditions teach us “that Christians worship the transcendent God of heaven in company with the heavenly host.”[6]

We began with the assumption that Paul had received a report that women might be asserting their freedom in Christ in a damaging way during corporate worship. Although he has focused a lot of attention on women and how they should use their freedom, he does not by any means back off of his assertion that “in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1 Cor. 11:11). He adds an additional statement in verse 12 that shows how dependent man and woman are on each other. While Paul has said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28), it is also true that creation order limits this new freedom, “because everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:12).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 523.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 523

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 523.

[4] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 837, quoting Judith Gundry-Volf.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 839.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 841.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:2–6 Sending social cues to others

1 Corinthians 11:2–6

2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head — it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

Introduction

The church has had two millennia to interpret 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, but has struggled to do so for lack of knowledge about social conditions in Roman Corinth. As a result, the passage has been understood using the social assumptions existing in the world of the interpreters, an approach with ruinous results. Since the Protestant Reformation, starting about 1517, the dominant view — based largely on medieval customs — has been that the biblical text centered on the subordination of women to men and the need to strictly regulate the participation of women in worship. That interpretation has recently been challenged.

The last twenty years have brought deeper understanding of conditions in Roman Corinth and the wider Roman Empire. This development has also enabled an improved understanding of the possible meanings for the Greek noun kephal?, meaning “head, source, preeminent, foremost.” This word occurs ten times in 1 Corinthians, and nine of those instances occur in verses 3–10; it is clearly a crucial word.

Before we begin explaining the passage, keep in mind that shame and honor were central to Greco-Roman culture. Personal appearance can affect shame or honor. In light of subjects in our passage, Anthony Thiselton reminds us that people make an intentional statement by their appearance: “Clothes and hair or beards play a role in a [system of symbols] which speak volumes about self-perceptions of gender identity, class identity, a sense of occasion, and respect or indifference toward the perception of others.”[1] Google the word “hippie” for an example of how this works.

In particular, during the first century in the Roman Empire, both men and women had to dress carefully or face consequences:

Certain male attire and hair-styles were deemed effeminate and overtly sexual, while appropriate head coverings for respectable Roman women served as protection of their dignity and status as women not to be “propositioned”. . . . “Respectable women did nothing to draw attention to themselves” . . . . A woman who went out . . . unveiled forfeited the protection of Roman law against possible attackers who were entitled to plead extenuating circumstances.”[2]

Other customs defy our expectations: “It was men, rather than women, on whom a woman’s clothing most reflected.”[3] So, if a woman dressed provocatively or wore her hair in an unusual style, it brought shame to her husband and perhaps to his patron — and in our case to Christ!

In the commentary which follows we will continue to stress the views of Anthony Thiselton for one major reason: he argues that the same themes that Paul has developed earlier in 1 Corinthians are applied in 1 Cor. 11:2–16. Paul will address both “rights” of female freedom and “rights” to male headship in the context of public worship. Thiselton explains that Paul once again calls for love to counterbalance rights for the good of the church and the spread of the gospel.[4]

What is often ignored in 1 Cor. 11:2–16 is the relationship between God and Christ. In particular, Thiselton highlights the idea that “’the relationship between man and woman is thus in some sense paralleled by that between God and Christ.’”[5] Clarifying this, he says, “The God-Christ relation has nothing to do with self-glory or the affirmation of the self at the expense of the other . . . it is not an involuntary or imposed ‘subordination,’ but an example of shared love.”

Sending social cues to others

The fact that Jesus Christ is our Lord and that his interests determine how we should live is crucial in understanding our text. It is also vital to remember what Paul taught about equality in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We have every reason to think Paul taught this in Roman Corinth as well. The women heard his voice and tried to adjust.

Thiselton relates that Paul seems to have received a disturbing report about women’s conduct during worship: “’Some of the women, acting in the freedom and power of the Spirit, have begun to remove their head coverings and loose their hair when they prophesy as a sign of their freedom in Christ.’ In other words, they want to give [social] expression to their freedom and equality.”[6] Even if Paul did not receive such a report, this is the kind of situation he is addressing. Like the issue of eating meat offered to idols, this new issue plays freedom in Christ against the effect on others, both others inside the church and outside. Which side will Paul take? Answer: the very same side he took before — freedom in Christ must be limited by love for others and concern for the reputation of the gospel.

Paul begins by praising the fidelity of the Corinthian church to the traditions he had taught them (1 Cor. 11:2), but he immediately begins a theological argument designed to deal with the issues described above (1 Cor. 11:3). Here in verse three we encounter that troublesome Greek noun kephal?, translated “head” by the NIV. Thiselton criticizes this safe choice as misleading us: “The problem about translating kephal? as head in 1 Cor. 11:3 remains that . . . in English-speaking contexts ‘the head’ almost always implies leadership and authority, as in headmaster, Head of School, Head of Department, head steward. . . . The equivalent assumption in first-century [Corinthian] contexts would be to [understand] head not as authoritative leader in charge, but as one who is ‘prominent, foremost, uppermost, preeminent.’”[7] We cannot make the mistake, made for centuries, of understanding this word according to our cultural context or any recent one; we must understand it first in Roman Corinth! Then we will better understand how to apply it today.

So, using this Corinthian point of view, Thiselton translates verse 3 like this: “However, I want you to understand that while Christ is preeminent for man, man is foremost in relation to  woman, and God is preeminent in relation to Christ.” You may think that nothing much has changed, but consider how shame and honor modify the picture. Christ behaved in such a way as to bring honor — or its equivalent, glory — to the preeminent One, God. Man is responsible to behave in a way that brings honor to his Lord, the preeminent Christ. The woman is to behave in a way that brings honor to man, the foremost of the two genders by creation (see verse 8).

How do we know that we are on the right track? Perhaps the biggest clue is the frequent mention of “dishonor” or “disgrace” (verses 4, 5, 6) — the equivalent of shame — in the immediate context. In addition, Paul soon switches to discussing “glory” (verses 7 below and 10:31 above), since that is the equivalent of honor.

Verses 4–5 will help take the next step in the argument. Obviously, Paul deals first with men and then with women on the subject of head covering. We now know that Roman customs dominated Roman Corinth, and one Roman custom was for men to worship with head coverings. Usually, the men in Corinth would pull the top of their toga up over their heads to form a hood when making a sacrifice in an idol temple. Paul forbids the Christian men to follow this practice. David Garland says that following the pagan practice would shame Christ, who is the metaphorical head of the Christian man.[8]

Did you catch the subtle shift related to “head”? Verse 4 says, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his [anatomical] head covered dishonors his [figurative] head [i.e. Christ].” As Christians, all of us are bound within a set of relationships. Our actions reflect not only on us but on our mate, our church and our Lord, and those actions bring either honor or shame!

Paul next deals with the women in verse 5. Since a woman whose head was uncovered would be saying non-verbally that she was sexually available or a prostitute, neither of which should be said during worship of God, she would dishonor her head. Verse 5a, accordingly, implies, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her [anatomical] head uncovered dishonors her [figurative] head [her husband, the men of the church, and ultimately Christ].” Garland agrees when he says, “As ‘Christ’ is the implied referent for ‘head’ in 11:4, so the ‘man’ is the most likely referent for ‘head’ in 11:5.”[9]

What about the reference in verse 5b about “having her head shaved”? There are many possibilities — none of them favorable for the woman — but Thiselton says, “[Being shaved] may allude to the status of one convicted of prostitution . . . but for the most part the loss of a woman’s hair is taken to denote the loss of her femininity.”[10] Surprisingly, both of these ideas survive to modern times. After the Nazis were thrown out of France during World War II, the loyal women of France cut the hair off all the women who had collaborated with the Nazis — and often shaved their heads — to shame them in public. Verse 6 simply repeats the ideas of verse 5 by adding some rhetorical force, perhaps suggesting the behavior of the women was more in need of correction than that of the men.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 800–01.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 801.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 802.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 799.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 804, quoting M. Hooker.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 830, following R.B. Hays, First Corinthians, 183.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 817.

[8] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 517.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 522.

[10] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 829.

What about the “Jesus’ wife” papyrus?

Sigh. It seems that a month cannot go by without some new ‘discovery’ about Jesus. The latest tempest in a teapot is the announcement by a Harvard scholar that a small papyrus fragment dated in the fourth century and written in an Egyptian dialect of Coptic contains the phrase “My wife” in a statement attributed to Jesus. Details may be found here.

When these events occur, you can usually get a sane, scholarly take on the matter from Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, at his blog. You can always find a link to his blog on my blogroll. In this case, Bock says it is way too early to reach any final conclusions about the facts related to this papyrus fragment, but the unanimous testimony of the early church was that Jesus did not have a wife.

Since the papyrus fragment ends at the phrase “My wife,” there is little context to work with. It is likely a metaphorical reference to the church as the bride of Christ, similar to what we see in Ephesians 5.

A brief biblical refutation of the idea that Jesus had a wife has been published by Jesuit priest James Martin. It is a good article to send to anyone concerned about this matter.

In any case, this papyrus fragment is nothing to get excited about. After all, newspapers have to print something so as to give bloggers like me fodder for comment (smile).

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:21–23

Genesis 2:21–23
21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
(NET Bible)

A really big moment!

In 1970 an obscure Australian student said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”[1] Really? If true, that would mean it is good for woman to be alone, even though we already know it is not good for man. That seems an unbiblical conclusion, to say the least!

God was not compelled to create the man and woman for close companionship with each other. Why did he do so? How does God’s creative intention affect us in our attempt to please him?

The “deep sleep” which God brings upon Adam (Gen. 2:21) occurs rarely in the Bible, and it is not well understood. The standard Hebrew lexicon says it “is not only an unusually deep sleep . . . but also a sleep which marks an event as one of the high-points of the actions of Yahweh.”[2] The creation of woman is one such high point; others are the making of a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:12), revelations from God to Daniel through an angel (Dan. 8:18, 10:9), Jonah’s sleep during the great storm (Jon. 1:5), and a famous encounter of David and Saul (1 Sam. 26:12). The mystery remains as deep as the sleep. But in Genesis 2 we can understand why Adam needed deep sleep!

The NET Bible bravely deviates from saying God used one of the “ribs” (KJV, ESV, RSV, NASB, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) from the man to make the woman (Gen. 2:21b). Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton says, “Gen. 2:21 is the only place in the OT where the modern versions render this [Hebrew] word as ‘rib.’”[3] They do so due to the power of the King James Version in setting people’s expectations in familiar passages. NIV 2011 only had the courage to put the correct translation in a footnote.

Instead of following the pack, NET offers “he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh.” In support of this choice the NET translators say: “Traditionally translated ‘rib,’ the Hebrew word actually means ‘side.’ The Hebrew text reads, ‘and he took one from his sides,’ which could be rendered ‘part of his sides.’ That idea may fit better the explanation by the man that the woman is his flesh and bone.” The argument is convincing.

Using a verb suitable for a potter, God fashioned Adam from the earth (Gen. 2:7). In Genesis 2:22 the language figuratively shifts to that for a builder when God literally “builds” Eve from the tissue taken from Adam. Then, in what must have been an unforgettable scene, God presents the woman to Adam.

In Genesis 2:23 — Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” — Adam sounds awestruck, does he not? By expressing his words in poetry, the author captures the emotion of the moment. The phrase “at last” conveys Adam’s relief in finding his companion from the vast array of life he has examined.

Concerning the phrase “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” Hamilton says:

[The phrase] speaks not of a common birth but of a common, reciprocal loyalty. Thus when representatives of the northern tribes visit David at Hebron and say to him, ‘we are your bone and flesh’ (2 Sam. 5:1), this is not a statement of relationship (‘we have the same roots’) but a pledge of loyalty (‘we will support you in all kinds of circumstances’).[4]

The next important issue is whether the fact that the man names the woman means he has authority over her. We agree with the NET Bible Notes, which answer no:

Some argue that naming implies the man’s authority or ownership over the woman here. Naming can indicate ownership or authority if one is calling someone or something by one’s name and/or calling a name over someone or something (see 2 Sam. 12:28; 2 Chron. 7:14; Isa. 4:1; Jer. 7:14; 15:16), especially if one is conquering and renaming a site. But the idiomatic construction used here . . . does not suggest such an idea.[5]

The reader is already aware that almost every verse in the early chapters of Genesis is awash with thorny issues of interpretation and theology. We have only begun to face the challenges of this amazing book!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Irina Dunn, a student at the University of Sydney (Australia) in 1970.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) tardemah, deep sleep, q.v.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 178.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 180.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:23.


Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:18–20

Genesis 2:18–20
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”
19 The LORD God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found.
(NET Bible)

What the man can’t do without

Throughout human history the relationship between man and woman has been discussed through the perceptual grid of power. The relationship has been called “the war of the sexes.”

Why was woman created? Was competition between sexes part of God’s design? What kind of relationship did God intend between the first man and woman?

“Against the sevenfold refrain of ‘and God saw that it was (very) good’ in chapter 1, the divine observation that something was not right with man’s situation is startling,”[1] says Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham about Genesis 2:18. Consider that this is God’s evaluation, not Adam’s; Adam has not figured it out yet.

The word “alone,” an adjective in English, translates a Hebrew noun which means “solitude.”[2] A more literal rendering could be “The-man-in-his-solitude is not good” (a rough translation). Why is this situation negative? First, there is no way for the man to be fruitful and multiply as God intends (Gen. 1:28). Second, the need for companionship is more fundamental than many recognize. For example, solitary confinement is widely regarded as extremely stressful and can even produce mental disorders.

The contemporary social history of the United States makes it difficult to translate the word offered as “companion” at the end of Genesis 2:18. The King James Version of the Bible (1611) gives the last phrase as “an help meet for him.” This phrase led to the development of “helpmeet” and then “helpmate.” These derived words are based on a misunderstanding and obscure the actual meaning of the author.

The words of the Bible may be used in many ways; not all such ways are fitting. Some, not guided by the love of Christ, have used the word “helper” (NIV, NASB, ESV) or the phrase “help meet” (KJV) in a way that demeans wives and women in general. Primarily to avoid such distortion, the NET Bible uses the translation “a companion for him who corresponds to him.” Similarly, the New International Version (2011) offers “a helper suitable for him.” A word study will further clarify the crucial word.

Word Study (“companion” or “helper”)

The Hebrew word ‘ezer, translated by NET as “a companion for him” in Gen. 2:18 means: “help, assistance.”[3] The NET Bible Notes say: “Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English ‘helper’ can have. In the Bible, God is frequently described as the ‘helper,’ the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs.”[4] Exodus 18:4 and Deuteronomy 33:7 provide examples.

Hamilton adds: “The verb behind ‘ezer is ‘azar which means . . . ‘save from danger,’ ‘deliver from death.’ The woman in Gen. 2 delivers the man from his solitude.”[5]

The Missing Person

In light of the above analysis, the NET Bible made a wise choice with “a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

One by one God creates “every living animal” (Gen. 2:19) and brings them before Adam. Wenham says: “This hold-up creates suspense. It allows us to feel the man’s loneliness.”[6] Adam examines each living animal and names it. But while the animals exist as male and female, nowhere is there found a fitting companion for the man (Gen. 2:20). Presumably Adam has learned what God said at the start: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 68.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000)  bad, solitude, q.v.

[3] HALOT, ‘ezer, help, q.v.

[4] NET Bible Notes for Gen. 2:18.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 176.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 68.