Much ado has been made about the fact that Genesis 2 tells us the man was created before the woman. Some say this Adam-before-Eve-ness, along with his role in naming her and her status as his helper, means that Adam was created to be in authority over Eve. Others note that Eve is Adam’s bone-of-bone, flesh-of-flesh, in-his-face help, so the point of the Genesis 2 narrative must not be hierarchy but equality.
Then there are a few, not as many for sure, who think Eve’s comparison to God (who is so often called our helper in Scripture) in the context of Adam’s forsaking of his parents to cleave to his sweetie (something no proper Israelite would approve of), means that she is supposed to be the leader of the family.
While each of these perspectives brings up interesting points, I’m not convinced that any of them gets to the heart of the matter, to the beauty of it all. The unstated messages in this plotline are mixed and a definitive, explicit statement of intent seems to have gone missing. Maybe God wasn’t trying to settle our debate.
And perhaps verse 24 offers a clue to what he might have been getting at instead.
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24, NIV)
Oh, so the Genesis 2 account explains why we have marriage: it’s not good for the he-human to be alone and the animals just aren’t going to meet his existential needs but the she-human fits the bill perfectly. That makes sense. Fine. But all of this becoming-one-flesh sounds an awful lot like an equal partnership, which leaves us with the question we started with: Why was Adam first? And what are we to make of the fact that he was?
We lose this in our English renderings, but the words translated “leave” and “unite” here are the Hebrew words that are used over and over in the Old Testament of Israel’s responsibility to “forsake” those things that would separate them from the Lord and instead “cleave” or “cling” to Yahweh. A native speaker would have picked up on this right away and made the connection between human marriage and the divine-human “marriage” God has always longed to have with his own “bride.”
That’s how language works: the meaning of a word may be neutral, but its most common associations come to mind nonetheless. Like when we know “enable” means “empower,” but what pops into our head is “make it possible for someone to continue in their dysfunction.” It just arises unbidden in our cranium.
Something along these lines would have gone through those ancient minds as they listened: Oh, so this relationship between a man and a woman is a picture, a foreshadowing, a lesser drama of the relationship God desires to have with us. It is to be permanent, exclusive, passionate and worth abandoning everything else to obtain.
From eternity past, or at least some point in the past, God in his heart desired a “bride,” a someone or some ones enough like him that his connection with them would be deep and meaningful and powerful. We know this not only from Genesis, but also from the numerous places throughout Scripture where God describes himself as husband and bridegroom and his people as wife and bride.
God also knew that the beauty, the riches of what he longs to experience with us would be hard for us to comprehend. So he hard-wired into our very essence our own experience of longing and pursuit and oneness, that we might sense and yearn for that which is so very much greater.
So Adam was first not because he’s better or deserves more respect or is just a little more human, but because in this eternal representation he reflects who God is to humanity. Which means that Eve reflects who humanity is to God. Neither represents the more important reality since, in this case, they are naught but reflections. In the real world, where all of us pass our everyday lives, Adam is no more godlike than Eve and Eve is no more human than Adam. Genesis 1, which we were supposed to read before we got to Genesis 2, makes that clear. (For my understanding of Genesis 1, see my post The Importance of Being Human .)
Yet so that we might comprehend who the Lord of the universe desires to become in our own small lives, God gave to the one who would reflect that side of the equation the opportunity to take the lead in providing, protecting and pursuing. That is why it is Adam who forsakes his parents and cleaves to his wife, for he demonstrates the way God takes the initiative with us, pursuing and wooing and winning our devotion. We should never think we started our love affair with God, for he is the one who desired it, planned it, made it happen.
Pursuit is not all that Adam represents. Before Eve came on the scene Adam was given two things: responsibility for the garden and the prohibition against eating from a certain tree. Working the garden is an act of provision and communication of the command is an act of protection. Adam’s activity reminds us of the way God provides for our needs and protects us from harm.
Then there’s Eve, who as the object of Adam’s devotion and culmination of his desire reflects humanity, the object of God’s desire, the beauty of his beloved. Who also by her designation as helper calls to mind the way human beings are to help God by stewarding the earth for his glory. Of course God doesn’t truly need our help; for reasons of his own he determined to involve us in this endeavor.
It is also Eve who bears the children, who nurtures them within her body, whom Adam calls “life-giver” because she would become the mother of all the living. Why did God give to humans the responsibility to provide him with children? Only when human beings bear and nurture children, both physically and spiritually, does God’s family expand. He could have managed things another way, but he chose not to. And to Eve God granted the honor of reflecting this human role of multiplying life.
Yet none of this was given as command or rule, as the way male and female humans must always interact. Nowhere does Genesis state that only men must pursue and provide and protect, although it may very well be in their nature to do so. Neither does it say women must wait to be pursued, provided for and protected. Nor does it state that because they are the helper, women get to do all the dirty work. Helper is a noun, not a verb.
The story of Adam’s firstness is a love story, a human love story that was intentionally crafted to point us toward a more perfect, more beautiful, more satisfying love. It was never intended to be a cudgel forcing women and men alike into impossible roles and unreasonable expectations.
Let’s not lose sight of the beauty of it all.
 I do not accept the interpretation that views the first ādām as an androgynous being that is later divided into two beings, male and female, for several reasons including: the pronoun shift from singular to plural in Gen. 1:27; the process of creating the male and female is not described as division; the self-understanding of the ādām, who implies the being who named the animals in Gen. 2:19 is the same person who speaks in 2:23; the description of the iššā (woman) as being taken out of the iš (man) not the ādām.
 A literal translation of ēzer kenegdō is “help-as-in-front-of-him.” See Umberto Cassuto’s A Commentary on Genesis Part 1, p. 127.
 In a patriarchal society it is the woman who leaves her family when she gets married.