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Home > Bible Studies > BibleJourney > Genesis > Issue 8

BibleJourney: Genesis

Issue 8

ISSN 1535-5187

A Perfect Community: Genesis 2.4b-25
by Winn Griffin, D.Min.


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 Mt. 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 Egypt [ Map ] and who had made covenant with them.

In the garden there was a clear abundance for Adam and Eve. 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 people.

As a reminder, Moses told these stories in Genesis 1-11 against the backdrop of polytheism. 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 Story
Remember, this story was first an oral presentation and carried on orally for generations. So, the Genesis 2 storyteller conveyed to his listeners what transpired within God's creation as told in Genesis 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 you proceed.

  • Look for the developing relationship between God and man
  • 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 garden.
  • Community. Male and female (the first human community) found delight in the presence of God without any fear or shame.
  • 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 3.1-24 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 passive




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 passive

Some Observations
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 Bible). 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 consequences.
  • 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!
Observing the Stuff

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 Israel.

Genesis 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 in Genesis 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.

Interpreting the Stuff

Genesis 2.4-7
Genesis 2.4
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 Genesis 1 the authorial emphasis is on one majestic God, not many gods, who speaks and creation takes place. The emphasis in 2.4-7 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, 7-9, 15-16, 18-19, 21-22). What one might deduce from this recurring phrase is: that the sovereign Creator God of Genesis 1 was also the covenant-making Yahweh (LORD) of Genesis 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 special design.

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.

Genesis 2.5-6
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 them.

Genesis 2.7
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.

Behind the Scenes

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 10.9; Isa 29.16; Ps 90.3; 104.29). 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 god).

Breathed Into His Nostrils the Breath of Life.
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 Soul
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 soul.

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 Pseudepigrapha (4 Maccabees 1.20; 26-28; 2 Maccabees 6.30; Wisdom of Solomon 9.15, 15.8).

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. In Genesis 2 man does not possess a nepes but rather he becomes a nepes. In Leviticus 19.28 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.

In 1 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.

Genesis 2.8-17
Genesis 2.8
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 Kings 7; Ezek. 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 at.

Genesis 2.9
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 serpent.

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 (2.8) before the "tree of life" [2.9]). What humankind was dependent upon was a proper relationship with the Creator God.

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, 17). 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 Scripture (Prov. 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4; Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14-19).

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 beings.

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:

  1. The tree is a description of the consequences of obeying or disobeying the commandment of not to eat.
  2. The tree means moral discernment. It meant knowing right from wrong.
  3. 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 4.1. 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.
  4. 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 3.22 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)?
  5. 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.
  6. 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 law.
  7. 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 3.22 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.

Genesis 2.10-14
Trying to discover the exact location of Eden is impossible, given the only information we have is in Genesis 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 Euphrates (2.10-15). 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 his creation.

Genesis 2.15
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 (2.5, 3.23). 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.

Genesis 2.16-17
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. Deuteronomy 28 sets forth for Israel all the instructions parallel to the motifs of Genesis 2:8-17: obedience to the commandments of God results in life and blessing, while disobedience will result in death.

Genesis 2.18-25
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 her counterpart.

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.

Genesis 2.19-20a
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.

Genesis 2.20b-24
Verses 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. 18.18; Deut 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. Already in Genesis 2.24, the Israelites are learning that from the beginning marriage was a covenant. The language of the storyteller is covenant language.

Genesis 2.21
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.

Genesis 2.22
The storyteller says that God "built" the woman. "Built" is used only here and in Amos 9.5-6 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 taken.

Genesis 2.23
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 verse 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 other.

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 exactness.

Genesis 2.24
"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 Israel.

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 else.

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 one.

Genesis 2.25
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.

Doin' the Stuff!

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 man?
  • How much of your thinking life is filled with Greek dualism?
  • How does Greek dualism cause you to view God?
  • How does the concept of worker with God inform your beliefs?
  • 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 bound.
  • 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?
BibleHandbook: Resourse Stuff!

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 recommend New 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 One of these should suit your personal needs.



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Copyright © 2002-2019, 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 Davidson Press, Inc. All rights reserved internationally.

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