Bone of My Bone, Flesh of My Flesh!

September 18, 2012

Slowly but surely we are doing the biblical work to seed our marriage curriculum for use in PCUSA circles. In my last post we observed that the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 emphasized different elements but had at least three features in common: they each announce a likeness that empowers human beings for meaningful existence, they each identify human sexual distinctions to be foundational, and they each differentiate humans from the rest of the creaturely world. In Genesis 1 we observed that there is no differentiation between male and female with regard to their being in the image of God or to their having dominion over the earth. It also should be noted that there is no such thing as a human being apart from a man or a woman. As we unpack Genesis 2 in this post, keep an eye out for these elements.

7 Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.  8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  9 Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.  21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  23 Then the man said,
           “This at last is bone of my bones
                        and flesh of my flesh;
           this one shall be called Woman
                        for out of Man this one was taken.”
24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.  25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

In this vivid and delightful passage, we gain some insight into God’s intention for the sexes in relationship to him, to the rest of creation, and to each other. In relationship to God, each has a unique and special connection because God (like a potter) fashioned and shaped each one. In relationship to the rest of creation, these human beings were distinctly different. Yes, they were “creaturely” like the animal realm, but no animal could be a partner for Adam. In fact, human beings were given dominion over all animals. In relationship to each other, what is the mystery that enables two people to live together in harmony? The question has been whether God created a hierarchy between Adam and Eve to facilitate this harmony. Four arguments have been offered , but each is problematic:

1. Woman is created after the man (and is therefore subordinate to him). Remember in Genesis 1 there was no mention of a delay between creation of man and woman, despite the fact that the account is presented generally as a chronology. This Genesis 2 account employs the Hebrew ring construction, where the central and most important element appears at the beginning and the end.  The man at the beginning and the woman at the end are seen to be parallel and equal in value as the apex of God’s creation. No subordination is implied.

2. Woman is taken from the man (and is therefore subordinate to him). Woman is created using the rib of man (while man was formed from dust). Was man subordinate to the dust from which he was made? Surely not! So it would be illogical to conclude that Eve is subordinate to Adam because his rib was the starting point of God’s sculpture. Further, as the chapter unfolds the emphasis is on the identical substance of the two and therefore an essential unity, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” What is really important to remember is that God hand-fashioned both. Adam didn’t make Eve, and his rib didn’t either. Adam was asleep and was of no help to the creation of his mate. “God made . . .” in both instances.

3. Woman is named by man (and is therefore subordinate to him). This one is interesting and perhaps a fine point can be put on it. In the majority of cases in the OT, naming implies authority over. But the standard formula contains the verb “to call” and the noun “name,” as in Genesis 4:25, “she bore a son and called his name Seth.” Here in Gen. 2:23b, only “to call” appears (without “the name”), and “the woman” (Heb. ’ishah) is never used here or later as a proper name, but only as indicating human gender. It is a play on words, adding an ending to the word for “the man” (’ish). It seems to me, from the text, that the point here is not the act of naming but the identification within God’s creation of human kin totally in sync with Adam’s own being. And note, after the Fall, Gen. 3:20—where Adam “called his wife’s name Eve”— does contain the typical naming formula. We’ll talk about that when we get to Genesis 3.

4. Woman is created as “helper” for man (and is therefore subordinate to him). The phrase there in Gen. 2:23 employs two words, “help” and “in front of.” These words point to an understanding of the pair complementing each other, filling in the gaps of the other. An exploration of how the designation of “helper” (ezer) is used in the OT yields nineteen examples: three are in reference to man helping another (and not so well, it turns out in the context, e.g. Isaiah 30:5), and fifteen uses refer to God as the helper of Israel (e.g. Exodus 18:4, Psalm 121:2). If anything, Eve coming along as a helper to Adam would indicate her superiority; but this option is cut off by the complete phrase “a helper standing eye to eye,” a counterpart.

As husband and wife, the pair stand eye to eye (:20), of the same substance (:23), forming a union of “one flesh” (:24) in complete openness and intimacy (:25). This summarizes God’s design for marriage from the creation accounts. Adam and Eve both identify with God as their direct Creator and as human beings are of the same substance. Their sexual differentiation is essential for their relationship to each other. And they are uniquely suited to each other in a way they cannot be to animals.

But something happens next, and it is not good. In the post to follow, we will see what impact the Fall had on the relationship between Adam and Eve.


One Response to “Bone of My Bone, Flesh of My Flesh!”

  1. Jodie Says:

    Hi Mary,

    There is a way of thinking that says the Scriptures are divine revelation, and Paul took the approach that the revelation is finally completed through the Spirit with the coming of Christ (I Cor).

    In his completion of this revelation Paul tells us this Genesis passage is really about Christ and the Church. It always was.

    (I’ve mentioned this before, without getting much traction).

    But as I read your post, I thought how well it all fits! And what a fascinating Christology it presents! Right down to the wound in His side as he “slept” on the cross, out of which God created the Church. Flesh of His Flesh, and Blood of his Blood.


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