Updated: Dec 2, 2022
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; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
- Genesis 2:22-25
Reorienting our thought to Christian marriage is hard. We are swimming in an ocean of un-Christian and anti-Christian thought and action. It’s important to hold that distinction before us because not every non-Christian is overtly or intentionally opposed to Christians. Some people simply prefer not to be Christian. Others are openly antagonistic to Christian faith Beyond that distinction, forefront in our minds and in our dealings with others should be a constant awareness that, however much an individual does not want to be Christian, our Father wants to draw every person into His love and grant them His light and life.
God desires that everyone be saved – without exception. Human beings have the freedom to reject God, but God never desires that we do so. His love is so large that He never ceases seeking every person, irrespective of where they are or what they’ve done. God loves and desires to save. I think we Christians have a hard time remembering that. I know we have a hard time acting like that. Human beings have dignity and worth to our Savior, so much so that He gave Himself even for those who laugh at Him and loathe Him.
I begin there because choosing to live in marriage as God intends means going against just about everything we are told and everything our society approves. As I read Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, it’s hard for me to imagine how we could recover our understanding of God’s intent for marriage, even as I generally understand what it is… perhaps because I generally understand what it is. Yet, in studying what God designed to be our blessing, the purity and goodness of it are a beacon of hope in a world gone dark.
That is what Christian teaching is – the correction of all the wrong-headed ideas of a lost humanity, of human beings separated from their Creator, by choice or by ignorance. That is who we were until He found us, and we want to live the life and hope that shine light into the darkness and call all people to salvation. The good news very often sounds like bad news if we don’t want to hear it when we are still enthralled with the glittering idols and false promises that look so good for the moment. Hopefully one day, the time will come when we recognize that we need the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, that time doesn’t usually arrive until our lives are worse news.
The same applies to Christian marriage, distinct from other forms of marriage. Contemporarily, relationships emphasize getting our needs met and not losing our personal autonomy and independence in the process. When seen in this light, we have the opportunity to see why so many relationships fail – or never really get started. When we are looking for what we get while simultaneously striving to hold onto ourselves, no relationship can be more than superficial, and with superficial investment, no relationship holds lasting value.
If Genesis 1 reveals the equality of male and female from God’s point of view, then Genesis 2 begins to show the distinction of male and female for the purpose of fulfilling the human vocation in creation. God charged human beings – male and female – with two tasks: first, be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, and second, subdue and rule over creation. In Genesis 2 the revelation of how these human tasks will be accomplished, as well as the mutual necessity of male and female in accomplishing them.
Before turning to the creation described in Genesis 2, let us remember how very little we understand about creation prior to the Fall. We have never seen sinless, fully alive human beings. Each one of us is born into a body of death, and each of us is corrupted by sin. What the original man and woman looked like is not what we look like. Even if their physical bodies were the same as our own (and they would have to be, since physical bodies descended from them), those physical bodies had no flaw, no corruption, no death. The interaction between God and the man, really between God and the woman and all the creatures and creation, is unclear to us, for we do not walk with God in open communion. Genesis 1 and 2 make clear that we are intended to walk with our Creator and to be able to talk to Him without the barriers of sin, evil, and death.
Genesis 2 is a multi-faceted textbook for understanding human beings, our relationship to our Creator, to creation, and to one another. Pulling out what applies only to Christian marriage is a challenge and requires skipping over so many other insights. Even then, this is still only an overview of their creation in Genesis 2, and we will return to these chapters and verses repeatedly in future blogs. To view male or female from God’s perspective, for example, needs a more in-depth look at each, plus the insights of additional passages of Scripture. Even so, we are going to look at the beginning contours of God’s amazing creative intent.
The account of the creation of the man in Genesis 2 starts to reveal some of the differentiation between male and female as God showed the man the garden He planted. A worker – a caretaker – is needed for creation to thrive and flourish, and God is establishing the man as His own governor over His creation. Even as God sets the boundaries of the man’s work, the magnitude of the task before the man is too great. He cannot do all that he needs to do if he is alone. The animals are then brought before the man to name.
The general consensus of the Early Church Fathers was that the parade of animals for naming was God’s way of showing the man that he ruled over the animals and birds and could not find his equal among them. In this, the man was learning who he was in relation to the other creatures, but his education would have made his need for an equal even more noticeably acute. What is interesting is that God responded to the man’s need for help by increasing his need, making less able to fulfill the task assigned.
The creation of the woman is distinct from the man in several ways. She was not formed from the dust of the ground but taken from the side of the man. Whereas God breathed the soul into the man, the woman received her soul as part of the man. This doesn’t conflict with Genesis 1 because the image of God is one – singular – expressed in male and female. That image is variously understood as the intellect, the nous, the soul, or the spirit. Moreover, the word used for the woman’s creation is tsela, translated rib. The first known translation of tsela as rib occurred in the third century B.C. Yet, the Hebrew word tsela, actually means side or flank. Of the 40 times the Hebrew word is used in the Old Testament, this is the only instance in which tsela is translated as rib rather than side or flank. A rib is a rather small part of the body, while tearing off the man’s side would have left him almost helpless. Rendering the world side makes more sense of the man’s response to the woman, “Bone of my bones… flesh of my flesh…” Likewise, the urgency of his need is seen in that the man leaves his father and mother and joins to his wife.
God is truly amazing in His wisdom. We bring no innovation He has not foreknown and for which He finds Himself unprepared. In other words, we have no new idea that God did not know first and fully. The creation of man and woman in Genesis 2 is the image of mutual need. The man was shown the whole of creation as his responsibility, then made him too weak to do it alone. The woman was created for him to help him, and she was created out of him.
Together, they were charged with being fruitful, but the woman is the one who bears fruit. The man cannot. However, the woman cannot do so either without the man. The charge God gave to the man and woman in Genesis 1 is fulfilled by the explanation of their creation in Genesis 2. If they are to be the same, then establishing distinctive male and female imaging in Genesis 1 is unnecessary. In our creation, God never intended inequality, never intended the competition and struggle for power between the man and woman. In fact, He created human beings to make inequality ultimately impossible. He gave the male and female two tasks, neither of which could be accomplished alone.
In the differentiation between the two, He defined distinct responsibilities and capacities, though all were and are necessary for the care and continuation of creation. Moreover, while the distribution of physical traits foreordained some of the roles we see throughout history, physicality is not the totality of either human being. Both human beings are made in the Image of God, and God is not physical except in the Son’s Incarnation. Thus, the image of God in the intellect, the soul, and the spirit of male and female would be essentially the same. Only after the Fall does the physical design of the man and woman impact the soul of the human beings. Only in sin do men and women take on roles that put them at odds.
We live in a time and place where everything has been reduced to the physical. A people who understand only physical and/or material existence cannot see the glory of creatures made in God’s image as male and female. But this reductionism diminishes the majesty, beauty, and dignity of the Image of God within us. Well-meaning Christians in this milieu also ask that the physical and/or material world be sufficient to the reality and wonder of bearers of God’s image. Yet, the body is not capable of imaging the spirit, truth, and love that introduce the unknowable and infinite Holy Trinity.
By collapsing of the spiritual world into the physical world, we cheat ourselves of our own depths of being, of our own potential, and of our significance in God’s saving activity. Only by working with God in the redemption of our true humanity living as His children do we begin to discover that we really are fearfully and wonderfully made. Only by submitting to God in our re-creation when we are born of the Spirit do we begin to see the heights that are possible for human beings to reach.
This is true for marriage also. Only by embracing the whole of the human being, including the spiritual reality of soul and mind, is it possible to overcome the competition between man and woman. When we strive to make equality mean “sameness,” we lose the equality of the image of God in both male and female, even as we fail to make male and female the same.
God does not desire for male and female to live in conflict and struggle. He desires our blessing, and in Jesus Christ, God’s redemption of marriage is revealed.
Pray about these matters. Look for the lies the world tells. Ask to be shown what is true and right. The Spirit will reveal it to you. Then, seek to live a life of truth and purpose that glorifies God.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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