Bible Studies > BibleJourney > Genesis
> Issue 8
A Perfect Community: Genesis 2.4b-25
The function of this story was to equip the newly
redeemed children of Israel by helping them to comprehend that God was serious
about the covenant he had made with them at
Sinai. As you read this story you will see the name "Lord God." This name
is the covenant-making name for God that would have been well understood by
Israel. This story urged Israel to grasp that the God who created the world was
the very same God who had rescued them from their bondage in
] and who had made covenant with them.
In the garden there was a clear abundance for
They could consume at will with only one prohibition, a stipulation if you
please. It in not too difficult to see the lucid implications of keeping the
covenant stipulations. Adam and Eve had the abundance of the garden that was
freely theirs. God would bless Israel if they kept the stipulations gives to
them at Sinai. Adam and Eve were told not to eat of a specific tree. If they
did they would die. Israel was told that God would curse them if they broke the
stipulations of the covenant.
It is crucial and important to hear this story through
the ears of the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. It is helpful to think "in the
garden," "in the promised land" and see the parallels for God's newly redeemed
As a reminder, Moses
told these stories in
1-11 against the backdrop of
His job was to lead Israel on their way to the Promised Land. The second
backdrop was the covenant given to Israel at Mt. Sinai. It was Moses' job to
assist Israel to understand that the community that they were created to be
would work well within the covenant stipulations that God had made with them.
Some have suggested that in the mind of Moses (as well as one can know
another's mind, especially an ancient mind) there may have been an intention of
providing them with a new mindset, i.e., God-approved meaningful work. They no
longer need to make bricks for some mindless deity of another country (Egypt in
this case). It may also have been his intent to embrace the boundaries that
would be imposed on them by God because therein, true freedom is discovered.
Lastly, he may have wanted them to fathom that marriage was an honorable quest
and that God approved of them using their intelligence once they had entered
the land promised to their forefather Abraham.
Some Thought Guidelines about the
Remember, this story was first an oral presentation and
carried on orally for generations. So, the
2 storyteller conveyed to his listeners what transpired within God's
creation as told in
1.1-2.4a. The heart of the story steers those first listeners to believe in
the creation of human life by God. Humankind was no whim of some drunken deity.
Humankind was not created to be the slave of some aroused deity awakening after
a long sleep. A thoughtful God who had the interest of his creation in his
heart created humankind. The storyteller gives his audience a peek of what life
was like in this perfect garden of peace. Here are some insights to ponder as
- Look for the developing relationship between God
- Observe the relationship of man with the
environment that he was created to live within
- Notice the interpersonal relationship within the
first human community
Before humankind made the decision to disobey the one
prohibition that God had laid down, there were three flawless relationships
revealed by the storyteller.
- Vocation. The first created being
was given meaningful vocation to accomplish. He was to till and keep the
- Community. Male and female (the
first human community) found delight in the presence of God without any fear or
- Covenant. There was a relationship
that was established between God and the first male and female and between the
first male and female.
The story we are covering in this issue is the first
half of the complete story (Genesis
2.4b-25 is followed by
which is the conclusion of the complete story). This complete story is
masterfully told around seven scenes. Below is a guide to help you see an
overview of the whole story: a scene number has been applied along with the
text address, if it is narrative or dialog, and who the characters in the scene
are. It may be helpful.
God is the main character, man present but
God is the main character, man has a minor role,
the woman and animals are passive
The snake and woman
The man and woman
God, man and woman
God is the main character, man has a minor role,
woman and snake are passive
God is the main character, man is
The first and
seventh scenes are similar to each other.
- The only actor is God. Man is there but he is not
an active character.
- Several phrases, on the east, tree of life, garden
of Eden, till, and guard are found only in these scenes.
- An inversion occurs. Man is made from dust and
placed in the garden in scene 1 and man is driven out of the garden to go back
to dust from which he was taken in scene seven.
- Scenes two and six are played out with all four
characters of the story present. God is the main character (as he is through
all the stories of the
All the action within the scene took place within the garden. Both scenes are
concerned to present humankind as in relationship with all of creation.
- The scenes that include dialog are the third and
fifth scenes. They tell about the fruit of the tree, the prohibition, and its
- Finally, the middle scene (4) demonstrated the
human characters alone. Neither God nor the serpent was present. It seems that
God may well trust us after all!
To understand narrative stories we must remember a
basic presupposition: discover what it wants to say by remembering that it was
a story that was originally told orally. It appears that the intention of Moses
and other storytellers thru the ages was to share with their readers some basic
impressions about the Creator God who had delivered them from Egypt.
Some have taught that the focus of this story is about
the creation of the woman and the origin of love between male and female.
Others have wanted to press the importance of the consummation of marriage.
Still others see the whole story as two parts about crime and punishment within
the community of which the family is the basic unit.
More than a few have wanted to visit the comparisons
between the living space of the garden that God had prepared for their first
human parents and the living space of the land that God had prepared for
1.1-2.4a says little about how God created humankind: male and female. But
it does say something about the authority of God given to humankind. This story
2 underscores that humankind, male and female, are under authority.
It tells of the first harmonious community and
meaningful work. The second part of the story (Genesis
3) points toward the restoration of human life after its failure. The
storyteller contends that all gifts of humankind come from the hand of God.
There is a wonderful flow to the story. Adam and Eve, in an indescribable
setting, are working, eating, playing, enjoying the bounty of God, and visiting
with him daily. It is almost overwhelming, given our present circumstances, to
fathom the inexplicable generosity of God.
We now turn to the tidbits of the narrative as they
have been divided for us.
The story begins (2.4b)
by pointing out that there was no life, growth, rain, or anyone to cultivate
the soil. Against that background, God formed the first man. In
1 the authorial emphasis is on one majestic God, not many gods, who speaks
and creation takes place. The emphasis in
is more personal. The context turns from the galaxy to the garden.
What is significant in this verse is the repeated
emphasis of the phrase "the LORD God" (2.4-5,
What one might deduce from this recurring phrase is: that the sovereign Creator
1 was also the covenant-making Yahweh (LORD) of
2. It was important for this newly formed people of God to understand that
the God who made covenant with them was the one who formed humankind by a
Yahweh, which is translated LORD in our story, is the name that is commonly
connected with the covenant relationship between the Hebrews and God.
Elohim, which is translated God in our story, is comprehended by
the Hebrews as the creator of the universe. When the two names are combined in
a story as they are in this one, the emphasis of each name is in play. The
hearer would understand that the covenant God and the Creator God were in fact
the same God. The first humans, according to this story, had a relationship
with the same God that they, the Israelites, had. God was both Israel's
covenant partner and her creator.
The storyteller prepares his listeners for the creation
of the first human being. There is language of cultivation ("work the ground")
that anticipates the work of caring for the garden, which would be Adam's work.
As a reminder, Israel was journeying toward a land that God had promised when
they first heard this story. It may well have suggested that the land God had
promised Abraham would also be productive because of God's covenant with
God's work in creating human life involved fashioning the
first man "from the dust" and breathing life into him. In our text the word
"formed" is a word that described an artist. God is pictured like a potter who
was shaping an earthen vessel from clay. Not only is there a picture of God as
a potter but God as an animator as he breathed life into this first human
creation. This work of God is given in highly anthropomorphic (described or
thought of as having a human form or human attribute) terms. God is pictured as
an artisan who sculpts humankind.
Here are some words that are of interest that will
help you understand the meaning of the storyteller of this story.
Formed (Shaped). This verb, which is
a present participle of yasar means potter. Even though the text says that the
first human was created from "the dust of the earth," it may be that the image
of potter still lies behind this metaphor in the description of man's creation.
The word "formed" is an artistic inventive word that required skill and
planning. It suggests that the creation of the first human was not just some
afterthought as is described in other creation stories.
Dust. In the stories of creation that
come from Egypt and Mesopotamia, man is created from clay sometimes mixed with
the blood of a slain god. In the Gilgamesh Epic (1.34) the goddess Aruru
created Enkidu from clay. The creation of man from clay was a commonplace idea
outside of the Old Testament. Within the Old Testament man's creation from
clay/dust is eluded to many times (Job
It becomes evident that Genesis 2 storyteller was taking ancient ideas of man's
creation and giving these old ideas their own distinctive flavor. The intended
meaning of the passage is to suggest that humankind was formed by the
Creator-Covenant God and that he was made of a substance that was also created
by God, not a substance that was commingled with God (i.e., blood of a slain
Breathed Into His Nostrils the Breath of
Man is a God-shaped piece of earth that has the gift of life
given by God himself through his very own breath. The word "breath" conveys the
idea of being personal and warm. It pictures the face-to-face encounter that
God had with his first created human. It is the picture of the intimacy of a
kiss. With God's breath the first man came to life.
Blew (Breathed). This word suggests a
large puff of air not unlike the amount of air that it might take to start a
fire. God's breath affirmed that his creation had come to life. Today's English
Version translated this phrase as: "and the man began to live." The
Contemporary English Version says, "and the man started breathing." It is not
the possession of the "breath of life" that made the first human different from
the animals as is so often posited. Animals are described in the same terms (Gen.
1.29). It is the image of God in which humankind is created that marks
humans off from the animals.
A Small Digression: The
world of Platonic philosophy is a great hindrance to the modern reader of
Scripture. The King James Version (KJV) translation of "living soul" is steeped
in problems. The NIV translation is: "living being." The word that is being
translated is the Hebrew word nepes. The KJV mistranslation mixed with
the Greek philosophy of Plato makes the word nepes take on a completely
different meaning today than the one implied by the Hebrew storyteller.
The range of meaning for nepes is much broader
and would include words like life, person, self, appetite, and mind. There is a
distinct difference between the Hebrew way of thinking about nepes (soul
in KJV) and the Platonic, or even later Hellenistic, opinions about the human
Early Greek language viewed nepes as united
with the body and considered it as the inner person. Platonic thought saw
nepes as preexistent and separated from the body. Thus one has probably
heard or prayed the prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my
soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take."
This is certainly not a Christian prayer but a Platonic philosophical prayer.
The nepes was the immaterial core in this way of thinking that would
live on after physical life. Salvation for the Platonic Greek was the escape of
the soul from the body. Even in the Hellenistic period of the Jews, Philo stood
as a proponent of Greek thought and continued the Platonic idea of a bodiless
soul. This dualistic dichotomy can also be found in the Jewish apocrypha and
Maccabees 1.20; 26-28;
of Solomon 9.15,
This Platonic idea of an abstract sense of soul that
can and does separate from the body is not a part of the Hebrew thought form.
2 man does not possess a nepes but rather he becomes a nepes.
one finds the words nepes mot which means a dead body that is in
contrast with a live body.
The Hebrew word nepes is more common than the
Hebrew word for spirit. However, in the New Testament, Paul gives priority to
spirit over soul (spirit: 146 times and soul: 13 times). In the
Hebrew thought, which was Paul's way of thinking, soul is the human life force:
while for Paul, spirit has taken on this meaning. It is through spirit that God
and humankind have fellowship.
Thessalonians 5.23 Paul differentiates the soul and body from the spirit,
the soul and body constitute the person as a living being, while the spirit
indicates the higher capacities of the person in relationship with God. This is
not Greek dualism. Paul did not believe that there was a preexistent soul as
was believed by Greek philosophy. It is fair to say from a biblical perspective
that you do not have a soul, you are a soul.
The mythological stories of the ancient Near East gods are
often presented as living in a garden full of fertile herbage, abundant water,
and beautiful stones. In our story, God does not live in the garden he created.
The garden is pictured as the place where he meets and fellowships with his
creation. The word translated as "garden" does not typically refer to vegetable
gardens but orchards or parks that contain trees. In literature Eden has been
identified with "paradise." This is a Persian loan word that meant a royal
park. It should be noted that while God does not take up permanent residence in
the garden, the garden is an archetypal sanctuary that prefigures the
tabernacle of later Jewish history. Water, trees, gold, gems, and cherubim
adorned the later tabernacle (Ex.
25.17) and the temple (1
41-47). These symbols suggest that what was most important about the garden
was that God was present therein. In the cool of the day he would walk and talk
with Adam and Eve (3.8).
The garden created by God for humankind was full of
all that was needed to sustain life. It was an extravagant place to live, full
of trees that produced delightful tasting fruit and brought pleasure to look
Two trees are crucial to the narrative presented by the
storyteller. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has correctly observed that the middle of
Adam's life was not himself but the very presence of God. The tree of knowledge
as prohibition signified that man's limitation as a creature is in the middle
of his existence, not on the edge (Creation
and the Fall: A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1-3, Revised
Edition. 1959). Man's pursuit of eternal life given by the gods was a common
storyline of Near Eastern folklore. However, in each story the human fell short
of achieving eternal life. The Gilgamesh Epic shows the hero finding a plant
that would produce eternal life only to have the plant stolen by a great water
The two trees in this story have been variously
understood. Wisdom would suggest a pause to be reminded that speculation about
the "tree of knowledge" was in fact what led Eve to error. After all the
speculation about the meaning of the "tree of knowledge," we should note that
in the story of this first human couple they broke covenant with God. This was
surely a lesson here for the Hebrews at Sinai who had just received the
Covenant from God.
In the story the two trees are given a special
importance: one is a tree of "life" while the other is the tree of the
"knowledge of good and evil." There are only a few occurrences of the tree of
the "knowledge of good and evil" and to the "tree of life" (see below for
references). Humankind created by God was not dependent for his life coming
from this tree because he had already been given life (man was "a living being
before the "tree of life" [2.9]).
What humankind was dependent upon was a proper relationship with the Creator
The trees that were created by God in this garden
produced fruit that was edible. The two trees in the story have produced an
endless amount of discussion. When we read "of good and evil" we're reading a
merism (a theory that holds that the whole can be explained through the nature
or functioning of its parts). This clever use of a figure of speech told the
listener that the things that protect life and destroy life would be
experienced in the forbidden fruit if it were eaten.
On one hand, the tree that is forbidden by God for
Adam to eat is called the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and only
occurs two times in the story (2.9,
In the next story in Genesis (chapter
3) this tree is mentioned seven times but never by the same name that it is
called in the story we are studying (2.4b-25).
On the other hand, the "tree of life" is known in several other places in
We may suggest that the tree named "the knowledge of
good and evil" did not produce knowledge of good and evil but rather produced
death when eaten. The prohibition not to eat was the necessary boundary to the
freedom that God had entrusted Adam with. To say no to God's command is to say
no to life. To say no to God's boundaries is to become bound. To say yes to his
boundaries is to remain free.
The "knowledge of good and evil" means the ability and
power to determine what is "good" and what is "evil." This knowledge is God's
prerogative alone. He never delegated moral autonomy to any of his created
A Small Digression: The Tree of the Knowledge
of Good and Evil
The story of "the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil" is only found here in this story (Gen.
2.4b-25). For that reason it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to
discover its significance. The following lists some of the suggestions of how
to understand this phrase:
- The tree is a description of the consequences of
obeying or disobeying the commandment of not to eat.
- The tree means moral discernment. It meant knowing
right from wrong.
- The tree meant sexual knowledge. The theory
believes that because humankind was naked before the disobedience and were
unashamed and after the disobedience they were ashamed, the tree should be
understood as sexual knowledge. Second, The ideas that "know" should be
understood as sexual because of its sexual meaning in
Third, an appeal to other Old Testament passages where "to know good and evil"
may refer to the sexual urge both before it develops (Deut.
1.39) and after it has faded (2
Sam. 19.35). Fourth, because, it is believed, that in the Gilgamesh Epic
that Enkidu, who was created to be Gilgamesh's opponent, acquired wisdom to
become "like a god." This "knowledge" came after a week of cohabitation with a
harlot. Finally, the whole scene is set in a garden that suggests fertility in
the ancient mindset.
- Two factors should be taken into consideration
before taking this thought as the meaning. First, if one is going to be
consistent, this theory must apply sexuality to God because
states, "the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil." Second, if
the phrase were to be understood as sexual awareness, then why would God wish
to outlaw its possession when the idea of sexual knowledge is already in the
garden before the disobedience (2.24)?
- The tree meant omniscience, the ability to be all
knowing. The two trees are a literary device called merism that takes a pair of
words and puts them together to say something is whole. As an example, the
phrase "heaven and earth" means the whole universe.
- The tree meant wisdom. God revealed his law in the
garden by giving the command to not eat of the tree at the pain of death. Since
God gave the law, it is reasoned, it cannot be added to my humankind. So when
Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge they gained human wisdom over divine
- The tree suggested moral autonomy. If this view is
correct, what is forbidden to humankind is the power to decide for them what
may or may not be in their best interest. There are decisions that God has not
delegated to humankind. This final interpretation has the benefit of having the
best understanding of
that says, "the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil." Man
indeed has become like God when he makes himself center and the only frame of
reference for life guidelines. When man attempts to act autonomously, he is
very much attempting to be godlike.
Trying to discover the exact location of Eden is
impossible, given the only information we have is in
2.4ff. The storyteller tells us that God planted a garden (God is pictured
as a gardener) in the east, in Eden (2.8).
The name Eden is used for the region as well as the garden's name (2.10-15).
Four rivers were connected to the garden: the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and
Of these four, the Tigris and the Eupharates are known rivers. This clue would
suggest a location somewhere in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). The Pishon and
Gihon rivers defy absolute placement. For the teller/writer of this story, Eden
was a place that God blessed with an abundant supply of water. The rivers were
not mentioned as locators, but as a picture of the abundance given by God to
The narrative ending at verse eight is now picked up in
verse 15. God took the man that he created and placed him in the garden to take
care of the garden by working in it. To "work it" means to cultivate the soil
in a religious sense, this kind of work is used as a "service" to God (Numbers
3.7-8). In a similar fashion to "take care of it" means to do the work of
"guarding it". This word is commonly used in legal text for observing religious
command and duties (Lev.
18.5) and is also used for the Levitical responsibility of guarding the
tabernacle from intruders (Num.
1.53). Here again the storyteller may be making an interplay between the
tabernacle and Eden.
Work is a gift from God. It is not a cursed condition.
In the Mesopotamian accounts of humankind, humans were created for the sole
purpose of working to supply food for the lazy gods. In contrast to these
ancient stories, God provides for his creation, not vise-versa. And part of
that provision was honorable and meaningful work. Eden was not a paradise in
which humankind could pass his or her time being idle with uninterrupted bliss
where there was no demands on his or her daily schedule.
The story continues with a rehearsal of God's bountiful
provisions for his human creation. Humankind could eat of any tree that was
desirable. "Free to eat" is a strong affirmation that indicates the provision
of God for the first couple was plentiful and to be enjoyed liberally by them.
All earthly goods and pleasures were at man's disposal, except this one tree
that was forbidden.
There was only one prohibition. Human life, along with
the entire natural world, also had its boundaries. The command here is like the
commandments given through Moses in the Covenant stipulations. God addresses
the first man personally (thou in KJV, you in NIV). Freedom does
not have any meaning without prohibition. The boundary that was given to the
first couple was given in only one command. "You must not eat," is set in the
form of the Covenant stipulations given by God through Moses. The command has a
curse attached. This also is a characteristic of the Lord-Servant Treaty. The
death sentence demonstrated God's seriousness about accessing the tree. The
verse is not concerned with the immediate execution of the death penalty but
with ultimate death. It could be translated "you are doomed to die." Some
believe that the withholding of death from the first human couple is an
indication of God's grace on them.
The primary lesson is related to the people of God
under Moses. God prepared mankind with a specific design and gave them the
capacity for moral responsibility. He set them in the Garden to be obedient
servants, warning that before them was life or death, depending on whether they
obeyed the commandment.
28 sets forth for Israel all the instructions parallel to the motifs of
2:8-17: obedience to the commandments of God results in life and blessing,
while disobedience will result in death.
There is no equal in the literature of the ancient Near
East to the creation of woman found in our story. An elevated view of woman was
not widely held in the ancient civilizations and Israel failed at times to give
proper recognition to honor women. This account of the act of creating a woman
demonstrates that God very much intended woman to be equally as important as
For the first time in our story the storyteller
suggests that there is something that is "not good." In a search for
companionship man could not find a corresponding companion. The text
demonstrates that God does not create woman because man complained about his
situation. At no point does the man offer God any grievance about his
circumstances. It is God alone (the hero of all stories in the Bible) who makes
the judgment about the unsuitability of man being alone. God did not consult
his creation on this matter. God evaluates and rectifies the situation. His
remedy is to provide a helper who is not inferior or superior but equal.
We may point out here that isolation (individualism)
is not a high value for human beings. Community was the solution that God
created. The focus of the story was to establish the equality of personhood.
The term "helper" defined the role that the woman would play. The word means to
"help in the sense of aid and support." There is nothing in the word or in the
context of the garden story that would suggest that the woman is a lesser
person because her role differs from man.
She was created to help the male achieve the divine
commission to "be fruitful and increase in number." What the male lacked, the
female possessed. The woman made it possible for the man to achieve the
blessing that he otherwise could not achieve alone and the man made it possible
for the woman to achieve the blessing that she would not achieve alone. The
compound-prepositional phrase "matching him," like opposite him" is found only
here. It is to express the notion of complementarity rather than identity. It
is the mutual support that companionship provides. The creation of humankind,
male and female, is egalitarian.
The picture of God introduced by the storyteller is
God as sort of a divine zookeeper. As he created the animals he brought each
one to Adam who had been given the task of naming. The storyteller helps us to
see the obedience of this first human as he followed through with the task that
was given to him. The names of the animals are not disclosed. The giving of
names does not suggest that Adam had authority over the animals or Eve that he
named, as has sometimes been espoused.
20-24 examine the idea of companionship within marriage. Let's note from
the outset that the husband and the wife were created to complement each other.
The words "suitable helper" (2.20b)
could be better translated "a helper matching him that supplied what he
lacked." Diversity complements each other in a community. It seems to me that
there are too many believers who want every believer to be a clone where
everyone must think alike, talk alike, believe alike, etc. Boring! This doesn't
exactly fit the pattern of God creating diversity.
The union between husband and wife should be
understood as permanent. One must note the text says that God created only one
Eve for Adam, not several Eves, or even another Adam or several Adams. This
would have taught the Israelites that God disapproved of polygamy (Lev.
17.17) and homosexual practice (Lev.
18.22). The man was to leave his father and mother (neither of which Adam
had, one might note) and cleave to his wife. Elsewhere in the Old Testament
these terms are covenant terms. When Israel forsook God's covenant, she "left"
him. And when Israel was obedient to God's covenant she, "cleaved" to him.
2.24, the Israelites are learning that from the beginning marriage was a
covenant. The language of the storyteller is covenant language.
We are told that God created the woman from the side of
man. Remember, a narrative creation of a woman story was not in the stories of
the ancient world. God created two earth creatures that would bear his image.
One was a male and the other was a female (1.25ff.).
The first story said nothing about how God created male and female or when he
created them (simultaneously or sequentially). This text says that God made a
woman from the side (sela) of man. In almost all the translations "rib" instead
of "side" is preferred by the translators. The passage says that the woman was
created from an undesignated part of the body of the man rather than from one
of his organs or from a portion of his bony tissue. This was certainly not a
modern operation complete with scars. God puts Adam to sleep and when he awakes
he receives another gift from God.
The storyteller says that God "built" the woman. "Built"
is used only here and in
in the Hebrew Bible. It is a word that is used of the creative activity of God.
Working with clay (dust) God is potter: working with body tissue, God is
builder. Eve becomes the first creation that was created from another living
being. Eve was not taken from Adam, only the raw material to make her was
In the story so far only God has had a speaking part. When
Adam names the animals there is no recorded speech from him. For the first time
in Scripture the words of a human being are recorded in direct discourse. He
spoke in reflection to the gift presented to him by his friend, God. The words
he spoke indicate that he immediately recognized that she was made of the same
stuff of which he was made. A good translation of
23 might be: "At last here is one of my own kind." The phrase "bone of my
bone and flesh of my flesh," could be understood as a covenant statement of
loyalty. It might serve as the biblical counterpart to our modern marriage
ceremony that states: "in weakness (flesh) and in strength (bone," which means
that circumstances will not alter the loyalty and commitment of the one to the
The storyteller introduced the origin of family, the
fundamental institution of the ancient Hebrew life. It is by no accident that
the covenant language of the Old Testament between Israel and God is husband
and wife. The present story should not be viewed as a paradigm for all
man-woman relationships in society. It is about husband-wife relationships. To
apply this story universally to order social contexts, such as government,
education, or commerce, would make it say more than the storyteller intended.
This story simply does not address these institutions as important as they may
be. The most that the reader/hearer can understand is that the couple was equal
to each other but different from each other. Their sameness does not mean their
"For this reason" is not an explanation of the words that
are just prior in the text. "For this reason" describes the consequences of
God's charge for the human family to "be fruitful and increase in number."
Marriage and family are the ideal for carrying on this mandate given to the
first couple by the Creator God.
There are some insights about marriage offered from
this passage. First, marriage is monogamous. It is a covenant relationship
shared by male and female. Second, it is clearly heterosexual. Sexual identity
was instrumental in defining marriage. An abolishment of sexual boundaries
would have threatened the identity of this foundational community. Without
proper sexual identity limits, a family would cease to exist. Thus, adultery
and promiscuity overstep the boundaries of another's household. Incest resulted
in confused lines of family relationship. Homosexuality could not produce "be
fruitful and increase in number." Sexual relations with animals were detested
because that revoked the distinction between God's created creatures.
We must constantly remind ourselves that in the Old
Testament marriage is a metaphor for the relationship between God and
To leave a father and mother in the ancient world and
cling (be untied) to one's wife would mean to sever a loyalty to one entity and
commence one's loyalty to another entity. This story can also be understood as
a call to Israel to leave the other gods and cling to her one God:
Yahweh-Elohim. What may be said about this verse is that marriage is a covenant
rather than an ad-hoc, temporary or expedient substitute for something
When the first couple is joined in covenant they
become one flesh. The storyteller has not let us in on any information about
procreating roles in this story. While this verse may have to do with sexual
union (the most often interpretation of the verse), it rather has to do with
solidarity of union. It is a rather nonwestern way of doing math: two equals
The conclusion to our present story explains that
nakedness was not a shameful condition in the first human family. How utterly
appropriate! The idea of "felt no shame," would indicate that it was simply a
normal condition. The idea of nakedness might be transitional for the next
story in which the storyteller has a play-on-words in the Hebrew language
between naked and crafty, which describes the nature of the serpent. But alas,
we must await that lesson.
It is always important to apply what you have learned.
Pause at this point and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to meditate on and
put into practice some or all of the following.
- How does viewing God in different roles help you
get a better grasp of who he is?
- If art was important to God, why has it become so
unimportant to the Western Church?
- What do you think about the concept of the
wholeness of man rather than some foreign Greek dualism of the anthropology of
- How much of your thinking life is filled with Greek
- How does Greek dualism cause you to view God?
- How does the concept of worker with God inform your
- How does your concept of freedom register with the
following idea of freedom presented in this story: Freedom is only found within
rules. When you break the rules thinking you become free, you actually become
- Why do you think that many believers suffer with
the illness of "fear of not enough," when God is the God of "enough?"
- How does the subject of "equality" between male and
female cause so much "heat" in conversations between believers?
- How does one Adam and one Eve fly in the face of
today's popular sexuality?
- Why does the subject "nakedness" cause believers to
run for cover?
Read the following Dictionary Articles from
Easton's Bible Dictionary, or the International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia. Easton's is about a century old, therefore, some of
the information is not current with newer Bible Dictionaries. ISBE is
about seventy-five years old. You might read the articles off-line in a number
of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would
Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try
The Revell Bible Dictionary now out of print but still
can be ordered from amazon.com. One of these should suit your personal
Copyright © 2002, Winn Griffin.
All rights reserved. BibleJourney: An Almost Weekly Bible Study is a service of
SBL Ministries. Unless otherwise stated, scripture quotations are from the
International Standard Version (ISV) of the Bible®. Copyright
© 2001 by The ISV Foundation, 2200 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA
92705-7016. Used by permission of
Press, Inc. All rights reserved internationally.