written by Dr. Ken Cuffey, President and Professor of Biblical Studies
Last week we began to ask about the framework for understanding and discussing marriage that the opening chapters of Genesis lay out for us. My sense is that in these stories of origins the Scriptures lay out basic principles that hold true all through the Bible and history beyond, and across cultures, for so many areas. Patterns of God’s purposes for the individual, of his design in creating each one of us, of his love and desire to be in relationship with us, of our sin and the way that our self-centeredness builds a barrier with God that God himself determines to deal with and reach out to save us from. The text lets us know why certain things are as they are. Our quest is to discover what first principles there might be in Genesis 1-3 that determine how we understand marriage and discuss the institution in today’s changing cultural climate. What do these chapters intend to tell us that is to be valid for the long term across cultures and circumstances?
That the narrative of Genesis 2 is of towering importance is clear from the following features of the text:
- This is the only part of the account from Genesis 1 that gets an expansion, even meriting its own chapter.
- This gives us a unique window into what the narrator believed were the most important points to make about humanity’s original creation.
- The plot ends with the human exclaiming a poem (2:23). This is the first time we hear a human speak in the entire Bible, as well as a change in the genre to poetry.
- The story is closed out with a comment from the narrator (2:24). This is the first time that we hear this in the unfolding narrative of the Hebrew Bible.
In Genesis 2, of course, the story slows down and focuses in on one aspect: the creation of humans from “day 6″ of chapter 1. In particular it takes the hint from 1:27 of the importance of our being created male and female as a clue to our being in the image of God and expands on this in story form. In telling of making humans, the text highlights the creation of the first couple as part of God’s creative genius. What principles can be drawn from this narrative that are to be understood across generations and cultures? As our first try at establishing a working foundation for discussion, I suggest that we listen to the text in its enunciation, or implying, of the following principles:
First, notice that God takes the initiative to fill the void that he has made Adam aware of with an animal parade. Adam doesn’t solve this on his own. He is passive while God tailor makes the woman and brings her to him.
Second, for the first time in the story, God breaks the pattern of pronouncing all that he has made “good” and labels the man’s aloneness as “not good.” Over and over in Genesis 1, God would step back and survey what he made, and call it “good.” When humans were placed into the picture, it merited a “very good.” Now suddenly the reader is startled to hear God say that the man being alone is “not good.” The Garden is full of other beings, full of life. However, the man seems to need a being of the same category as himself—a human, not an animal. How will God break the sad prospect of the man staying alone? He will introduce the other gender: the woman.
Third, both partners are distinguished from each other.
- Material: God makes Adam from the dust and breathes his own breath into him. God fashions the man’s rib into a woman.
- Purpose: God entrusts the man with the care of the Garden, a portion of the creation God has made. The woman is to join the man in tending God’s creation.
- Location: God puts Adam in the Garden. God brings the woman to the man.
- Moral responsibility: God instructs the man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The woman is not present when this command is received.
Fourth, both partners are seen as sharing in certain commonalities, making their similarity and sameness appear.
- Material: Both are linked in their origins—she comes from his rib.
- Purpose: Both are expected to work in the Garden.
- Location: Both are in the Garden, and are the only humans there.
Fifth, verse 24 envisions marriage and directly describes the relationship. One woman and one man are to be united. Their being “one flesh” at least includes sexual union between a male and a female, along with other means by which the partners are brought into oneness in other ways. The union of a male and a female has the potential to reproduce. You notice that the narrator depicts the couple who are parents to the groom—another male and female pair. Their offspring form the new couple of the next generation. So this union of a male and a female is necessary for the continuation of the institution of marriage throughout the generations.
Sixth, God makes both partners of the first couple for each other.
- Both are of the same species—they are human.
- Both genders are represented—there is a man and a woman.
- There is one of each and only one.
Without question there is much more that can be said on Genesis 2 and the first married couple. But this is a blog, and of necessity must be shorter (cryptic?), so I will leave you this week to ponder the question of what might be the implications of these basic principles laid out for us in Genesis 1-2 for our understanding of marriage, and for the contemporary marriage debates.