RICHARD M. DAVIDSON The Theology of Sexuality in the Beginning

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                        IN THE BEGINNING:

                                GENESIS 1-2


                                        RICHARD M. DAVIDSON

                                               Andrews University



          The first two chapters of the Bible deal directly with the

question of human sexuality. Not only is human sexuality presented

as a basic fact of creation, but an elucidation of the nature of

sexuality constitutes a central part of the Creation accounts. These

opening chapters of Scripture, coupled with the portrayal of dis-

ruption and divine judgment presented in Gen 3, have been

described as of seminal character and determinative for a biblical

theology of sexuality. It has been correctly noted that a clear under-

standing of these basic statements is crucial, since here "the pattern

is established and adjudged good. From then until the close of the

biblical corpus it is the assumed norm.”1 In this article we will

focus upon the theology of sexuality in the creation accounts

(Gen 1-2), and in a subsequent article we will explore the theo-

logical insights on sexuality emerging from Gen 3.


                    1. Sexuality in Genesis 1:1-2:4a


          In Gen 1:26-28 "the highpoint and goal has been reached

toward which all of God's creativity from vs. 1 on was directed.”2

Here in lofty grandeur is portrayed the creation of man (ha'adam

= "humankind"):

          26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our

          likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and

          over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth,

          and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." 27 So


    1 Dennis F. Kinlaw, "A Biblical View of Homosexuality, in Gary R. Collins,

ed., The Secrets of Our Sexuality: Role Liberation for the Christian (Waco, TX,

1976), p. 105.

   2 Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, Old Testament Library (Phila-

delphia, 1961), p. 57.


6                  RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


          God created man in his own image, in the image of God he

          created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed

          them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill

          the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the

          sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that

          moves upon the earth."3


          It has been rightly observed that discussion among theologians

over this passage has largely focused on the meaning of man's

creation in the "image of God" and has almost entirely ignored the

further affirmation that humankind is created male and female.4 In

harmony with the concerns of this study we must focus in particu-

lar upon the neglected statement--"male and female he created

them"--without ignoring the question of the imago Dei and the

wider context of the chapter. The fundamental insights into the

theology of human sexuality which emerge from Gen 1:1-2:4a are

here discussed under seven major subheadings.


Creation Order

          In the clause concerning man's creation as male and female

(Gen 1:27c) we note, first of all, that sexual differentiation is pre-

sented as a creation by God, and not part of the divine order itself.

This emphasis upon the creation of sexual distinction appears to

form a subtle but strong polemic against the " 'divinisation' of

sex"5 so common in the thought of Israel's neighbors.

          Throughout the mythology of the ancient Near East, the sexual

activities of the gods form a dominant motif.6 The fertility myth

was of special importance, particularly in Mesopotamia and

Palestine. In the fertility cults creation was often celebrated as

resulting from the union of male and female deities: "Copulation

and procreation were mythically regarded as a divine event. Con-

sequently the religious atmosphere was as good as saturated with

mythical sexual conceptions.”7


    3 All English renditions of Scripture herein are from the RSV.

    4 Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female: A Study of Sexual Relationships

from a Theological Point of View (Grand Rapids, MI, 1975), p. 19.

    5 Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (New York, 1962), 1:27.

    6 Raymond Collins, "The Bible and Sexuality," BTB 7 (1977):149-151, conven-

iently summarizes the major aspects of sexuality (fertility, love-passion, destructive

capacity, sacred marriage) in the ancient Near Eastern myths.

     7 Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:27.


                    THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       7


In contrast to this view of creation as divine procreation, the

account of Gen 1, with its emphasis upon the transcendant God

(Elohim) and a cosmic view of creation, posits a radical separation

of sexuality and divinity. God stands "absolutely beyond the polar-

ity of sex."8 The sexual distinctions are presented as a creation by

God, not part of the divine order.


A Duality from the Beginning

          Secondly, it may be noted that God created the bipolarity of

the sexes from the beginning. The popular idea of an ideal andro-

gynous being later split into two sexes cannot be sustained from

the text. Gerhard von Rad correctly points out that "the plural in

vs. 27 ('he created them') is intentionally contrasted with the

singular ('him') and prevents one from assuming the creation of an

originally androgynous man."9 The sexual distinction between

male and female is fundamental to what it means to be human. To

be human is to live as a sexual person. As Karl Barth expresses it,

"We cannot say man without having to say male or female and

also male and female. Man exists in this differentiation, in this

duality."10 Whether or not we agree with Barth that "this is the

only structural differentiation in which he [the human being]

exists,"11  the sexual distinction is certainly presented in Gen 1 as a

basic component in the original creation of humankind.


Equality of the Sexes

          A third insight into the theology of human sexuality stems

from the equal pairing of male and female in parallel with ha-'adam

in Gen 1:27. There is no hint of ontological or functional super-

iority or inferiority between male and female. Both are "equally

immediate to the Creator and His act."12 In the wider context of

this passage, both are given the same dominion over the earth and

other living creatures (vss. 26 and 28). Both are to share alike in the

blessing and responsibility of procreation (vs. 28). In short, both

participate equally in the image of God.


   8 Ibid.

   9 Von Rad, Genesis, p. 60.

   10 Karl Bath, Church Dogmatics, 3, 2 (Edinburgh, 1960):286.

   11 Ibid.

   12 Helmet Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex (New York. 1964), p. 7.


8                  RICHARD M. DAVIDSON



          A fourth theological insight will serve to bridge our discussion

from "male and female" to the imago Dei. In Gen 1:27 the generic

term for humankind (ha'adam) includes both male and female.

"The man and the woman together make man."13 The holistic

picture of humankind is only complete when both male and female

are viewed together. Such a description points to the individuality

and complementarity of the sexes, and will be more fully developed

in Gen 2.



The existence of the bipolarity of the sexes in creation implies

not only wholeness but relationship. The juxtaposition of male

and female in Gen 1:26 intimates what will become explicit in

Gen 2: the full meaning of human existence is not in male or

female in isolation, but in their mutual communion. The notion

of male-female fellowship in Gen 1 has been particularly empha-

sized by Barth, who maintains that the "I-Thou" relationship of

male and female is the essence of the imago Dei. For Barth,

Gen 1:27c is the exposition of vs. 27a. and b. Man-in-fellowship as

male and female is what it means to be in the image of God.14

Barth's exclusive identification of the sexual distinction with

the image of God is too restrictive. Our purpose at this point is not

to enter into an extended discussion of the meaning of the imago

Dei.15 But it may be noted that the Hebrew words selem ("Image")

and demut ("likeness"), although possessing overlapping semantic

ranges, in the juxtaposition of vs. 26 appear to emphasize both the

concrete and abstract aspects of human beings,16 and together indi-

cate that the person as a whole--both in material/bodily and


   13 Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (London, Eng., 1926), 1-2:61-62.

   14 Barth's discussion of this point extends through major portions of his Church

Dogmatics, vols. 3/1, 3/2, and 3/3. See the helpful summary of his argument in

Jewett, pp. 33-48.

   15 The literature on this subject is voluminous. For a survey of views, see

especially Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary (Minneapolis, 1984)

pp. 147-155; G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids, MI, 1962),

pp. 67-118; Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God's Image (Grand Rapids, MI,

1986), pp. 33-65; and cf. Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality

(Philadelphia, 1978), p. 29, n. 74, for further literature.

    16 See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Hebrew and English

Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford, 1953), pp. 854, 198 [hereinafter cited as


THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       9


spiritual/mental components--is created in God's image. In his

commentary on Genesis, von Rad has insightfully concluded with

regard to Gen 1:26: "One will do well to split the physical from the

spiritual as little as possible: the whole man is created in God's


Von Rad has elsewhere further elucidated the meaning of the

imago Dei in terms of mankind's dominion over the earth. Just as

earthly kings set up images of themselves throughout their king-

dom as a "sign of sovereign authority," so in the context of Gen

1:26-28 man is God's representative--his image--to uphold and

enforce his claim as sovereign Lord.18  If the image of God includes

the whole person, and if it involves human dominion over the

earth as God's representative, this, does not, however, exclude the

aspect of fellowship between male and female emphasized by Barth.

The sexual differentiation of male and female (vs. 27c) is not

identical to the image of God (vs. 27a-b), as Barth maintains, but

the two are brought into so close connection that they should not

be separated, as has been done for centuries. The synthetic par-

allelism of vs. 27c, immediately following the synonymous paral-

lelism of vs. 27a-b, indicates that the mode of human existence in

the divine image is that of male and female together.19

The aspect of personal relationship between the male and

female is further highlighted by the analogy of God's own differen-

tiation and relationship in contemplating the creation of humanity.

It is hardly coincidental that only once in the creation account of

Genesis--only in Gen 1:26--does God speak of himself in the

plural: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." There

have been many attempts to account for this use of the plural, but

the explanation that appears most consonant with both the imme-

diate context and the analogy of Scripture identifies this usage as a

plural of fullness. The "let us" as a plural of fullness “supposes

that there is within the divine Being the distinction of personal-

ities" and expresses "all intra-divine deliberation among 'persons'

within the divine Being."20


BDB]: cf. N. A1V. Porteous, "Image of God," IDB, 2:684-685; von Rad, Genesis,

PP. 57-58.

    17 Von Rad, Genesis, p. 58.

    18 Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:1-16.

    19 See the argumentation for this point in Jewett, p. 45, and passim.

"See Gerhard Hasel, "The Meaning of 'L .et Us' in Gen 1:26,'' AUSS 13

(1975):58-66;-the quotation is from p. 65. Cf. Derek Kidney, Genesis: An Introduction


10                RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


The juxtaposition of the plurality of the divine "let us" in vs.

26 with the plurality of the "them" (male and female) in vss. 26-28

is not without significance. Karl Barth appears to be right in his

contention that a correspondence or analogy is intended "between

this mark of the divine being, namely, that it includes an I and a

Thou, and the being of man, male and female."21 The statement of

this correspondence "preserves with exceeding care the otherness of

God,"22 precluding any notion of the bisexuality of God, and yet at

the same time underscores the profound importance of the personal

relationship and mutuality of communion in human existence as

male and female. Just as there takes place in the divine being

deliberating over humankind's creation--"the differentiation and

relationship, the loving coexistence and co-operation, the I and

Thou"23--, so the same are to be found in the product of God's

crowning creative work.



It is clear from Gen 1:28 that one of the primary purposes of

sexuality is procreation, as indicated in the words "Be fruitful and

multiply." But what is particularly noteworthy is that human

procreativity "is not here understood as an emanation or manifesta-

tion of his [the human being's] creation in God's image." Rather,

human procreative ability "is removed from God's image and

shifted to a special word of blessing."24 This separation of the

imago Dei and procreation probably serves as a polemic against the

mythological understanding and orgiastic celebration of divine sex-

ual activity. But at the same time a profound insight into the

theology of human sexuality is provided.

Procreation is shown to be part of the divine design for human

sexuality--as a special added blessing. This divine blessing/com-

mand is to be taken seriously and acted upon freely and responsibly

in the power that attends God's blessing.25 But sexuality cannot be


and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL,

1967), p. 52.

    21 Barth, 3/1:196.

    22 Trible, p. 21.

    23 Barth, 3/1:196.

    24 Von Rad, Genesis, pp. 60-61.

    25 The Hebrew word for "bless" (berak) in Gen 1 implies the power to accom-

plish the task which God has set forth in the blessing. See Josef Scharbert, "'117


THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       11


wholly subordinated to the intent to propagate children. Sexual

differentiation has meaning apart from the procreative purpose.

The procreative blessing is also pronounced upon the birds and

fish on the fifth day (vs. 22), but only man is made in the image of

God. Gen 1 emphasizes that the sexual distinction in humankind is

created by God particularly for fellowship, for relationship, between

male and female. This will become even more apparent in Gen 2,

where the motif of relationship dominates and procreation is not

mentioned at all.


Wholesomeness and Beauty

A final insight from Gen I into the theology of human sexu-

ality emerges from God's personal assessment of his creation.

According to vs. 31, when "God saw everything he had made"--

including the sexuality of his crowning work of creation--"behold!

it was very good." The Hebrew expression tob meod ("very good")

connotes the quintessence of goodness, wholesomeness, appropri-

ateness, beauty.26  The syllogism is straightforward. Sexuality

(including the act of sexual intercourse) is part of God's creation,

part of his crowning act. And God's creation is very good. There-

fore, declares the first chapter of Genesis, sex is good, very good. It

is not a mistake, a sinful aberration, a "regrettable necessity,"27 a

shameful experience, as it has so often been regarded in the history

of Christian as well as pagan thought. Rather, human sexuality (as

both an ontological state and a relational experience) is divinely

inaugurated: it is part of God's perfect design from the beginning

and willed as a fundamental aspect of human existence.

It is not within the scope of this study to draw out the full

range of philosophical and sociological implications that follow

from the theology of human sexuality set forth in Gen 1. Perhaps it

may suffice to repeat again the central clause--"male and female

created he them"--and then exclaim with Emil Brunner:


brk" TDOT, 2:306-307; Hermann W. Beyer, "eu]loge<w, eu]loghto<j, eu]logi<a, e]neuloge<w, TDNT, 2:755-757.

    26 BDB, pp. 373-375; Andrew Bowlings, "bOF (tob)," in R. Laird Harris, Gleason

L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old

Testament (Chicago, 1980), 1:345-346 [hereafter cited as TWOT].

    27 Harry Hollis, Jr., Thank God for Sex: A Christian Model for Sexual Under-

standing and Behavior (Nashville, TN, 1975), p. 58. (This is Hollis' phrase, but not

his view.)


12                RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


That is the immense double statement, of a lapidary simpli-

city, so simple indeed that we hardly realize that with it a vast

world of myth and Gnostic speculation, of cynicism and asceti-

cism, of the deification of sexuality and fear of sex completely



2. Sexuality in Genesis 2:4b-25


In the narrative of Gen 2:4b-25 many of the insights from Gen

I into the theology of human sexuality are reinforced and further

illuminated, while new vistas of the profound nature of sexual

relationships also appear.29


Creation Order

The accounts of creation in Gen 1 and Gen 2 concur in

assigning sexuality to the creation order and not to the divine

realm. But while Gen 1 does not indicate the precise manner in

which God created, Gen 2 removes any possible lingering thoughts

that creation occurred by divine procreation. In this second chapter

of Scripture is set forth in detail God's personal labor of love,

forming man from the dust of the ground and "building"30 woman

from one of the man's ribs.


Androgyny or Duality from the Beginning

Some recent studies have revived an older theory that the

original ha'adam described in Gen 2:7-22 was "a sexually undiffer-


    28 Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt (Philadelphia, 1947), p. 346.

    29 Weighty evidence presented by several recent seminal studies points to the

conclusion that the first two chapters of Genesis do not represent separate and

disparate sources as argued by proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis. See

especially Jacques Doukhan, The Genesis Creation Story: Its Literary Structure,

Andrews University Seminary Doctoral Dissertation Series, vol. 5 (Berrien Springs,

MI, 1978). Doukhan's literary/structural analysis shows that instead of comprising

multiple sources, Gen 1-2 provides a unified dual perspective on Creation-and on

the God of Creation. In Gen 1:1-2:4a we find the picture of an all-powerful,

transcendent God (Elohim) and a cosmic view of Creation. In Gen 2:4b-25, God is

further presented as the personal, caring, covenant God (Yahweh Elohim), with

Creation described in terms of man and his intimate, personal needs. From this

unique dual perspective of infinite/personal God and cosmic/man-centered creation

emerges a balanced and enriched presentation of the divine design for human


    30 See below, pp. 16-17.


THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       13


entiated earth creature,"31 or "basically androgynous: one creature

incorporating two sexes."32 But such an hypothesis is not supported

by the text. According to Gen 2:7, 8, 15, 16 what God creates before

woman is called ha’adam "the man." After the creation of woman,

this creature is denoted by the same term (vss. 22-23). Nothing has

changed in the makeup of "the man" during his sleep except the

loss of a rib. There is no hint in the text of any division of an

originally bisexual or sexually undifferentiated being into two

different sexes. It should be concluded that ha'adam, "the man"

formed before woman, was not originally androgynous, but was

"created in anticipation of the future."33 He was created with those

sexual drives toward union with his counterpart. This becomes

apparent in the man's encounter with the animals which dramati-

cally points up his need of "a helper fit for him" or "corresponding

to him" (vss. 18, 20). Such a need is satisfied when he is introduced

to woman and he fully realizes his sexuality vis-a-vis his sexual



Equality or Hierarchy of the Sexes

The one major question which has dominated the scholarly

discussion of sexuality in Gen 2 concerns the relative status of the

sexes. Does Gen 2 affirm the equality of the sexes, or does it support

a hierarchical view in which man is in some way superior to the

woman or given headship over woman at creation.  Over the cen-

turies, the preponderance of commentators on Gen 2 have espoused

the hierarchical interpretation, and this view has been reaffirmed in

a number of recent scholarly studies.34 The main elements of the

narrative which purportedly prove a divinely-ordained hierarchical


   31 Trible, p. 80.

   32 United Church of Christ, Human Sexuality: A Preliminary Study of the

United Church of Christ (New York, 1977), p. 57.

   33 C. F. Kell, The First Book of Moses (Grand Rapids, MI, 19-19), p. 88.

   34 For examples, see Samuele Bacchiocchi. Women in the Church: A Biblical

Study on the Role of Women in the Church (Berrien Springs, MI, 1987), pp. 31,

71-79: Barth, 3,1:300: 3 2:386-387; Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ: An

examination of the Roles of Men and Women in the Light of Scripture and the

Social Sciences (Ann Arbor, Nil, 1980), pp. 23-28; Jerry D. Colwell, "A Survey of

Recent Interpretations of Women in the Church" (Unpublished Master's Thesis,

Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, 1984); Susan T. Foh, Women and the Word of

God: A Response to Biblical Feminism (Phillipsburg. NJ, 1979). pp. 61-62: S. H.


14                          RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


view of the sexes may be summarized as follows: (a) man is created

first and woman last (2:7, 22), and the first is superior and the last is

subordinate or inferior; (b) woman is formed for the sake of man--

to be his "helpmate" or assistant to cure man's loneliness (vss. 18-

20); (c) woman comes out of man (vss. 21-22), which implies a

derivative and subordinate position; (d) woman is created from

man's rib (vss. 21-22), which indicates her dependence upon him

for life; and (e) the man names the woman (vs. 23), which indicates

his power and authority over her.

Do these points really substantiate a hierarchical view of the

sexes? Or is Phyllis Trible correct in asserting that "although such

specifics continue to be cited as support for traditional interpreta-

tions of male superiority and female inferiority, not one of them is

altogether accurate and most of them are simply not present in the

story itself."35 Let us look at each point in turn.

First, because man is created first and then woman, it has been

asserted that "by this the priority and superiority of the man, and

the dependence of the woman upon the man, are established as an

ordinance of divine creation."36 But a careful examination of the

literary structure of Gen 2 reveals that such a conclusion does not

follow from the fact of man's prior creation. Hebrew literature

often makes use of an inclusio device in which the points of central

concern to a unit are placed at the beginning and end of the unit.37

This is the case in Gen 2. The entire account is cast in the form of

an inclusio or "ring construction"38 in which the creation of man

at the beginning of the narrative and the creation of woman at the

end of the narrative correspond to each other in importance. The

movement in Gen 2 is not from superior to inferior, but from


Hooke, "Genesis," Peake's Commentary on the Bible (London, Eng., 1962), p. 179;

James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI,

1981), pp. 206-214; Edmond Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament (New York,

1958), pp. 156-157.

    35 Trible, p. 73.

    36 Keil, p. 89.

    37 For discussion of this construction, see especially the following: James

Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," JBL 88 (1969):9-10; Mitchel Dahood,

Psalms, AB (New York, 1966), 1:5; Phyllis Trible, "Depatriarchal-izing in Biblical

Interpretation," JAAR 41 (19'73):36.

    38 Muilenberg, p. 9.

THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       15


incompleteness to completeness. Woman is created as the climax,

the culmination of the story. She is the crowning work of creation.

If a hierarchy of the sexes is not implied in the order of their

creation, is such indicated by the purpose of woman's creation, as

is suggested in a second major argument for the hierarchical

interpretation? Gen 2:18 records the Lord's deliberation: "It is not

good that the man should be alone; I will make him ‘ezer kenegdo

[KJV, "a help meet for him"; RSV, "a helper fit for him"; NASB,

a helper suitable to him"; NIV, "a helper suitable for him"]."

The Hebrew words ezer kenegdo have often been taken to imply

the inferiority or subordinate status of woman. For example, John

Calvin understood from this phrase that woman was a "faithful

assistant'' for man.39 But this is not the meaning conveyed by these


The word ‘ezer is usually translated as "help" or "helper" in

English. This, however, is a misleading translation because the

English word "helper" tends to suggest one who is an assistant, a

subordinate, an inferior, whereas the Hebrew ‘ezer carries no such

connotation. In fact, the Hebrew Bible most frequently employs

ezer to describe a superior helper--God himself as the "helper" of

Israel.40 The word can also be used with reference to man or

animals.41 It is a relational term, describing a beneficial relation-

ship, but in itself does not specify position or rank, either superior-

ity or inferiority.42 The specific position intended must be gleaned

from the immediate context. In the case of Gen 2:18 and 20, such

position is shown by the word which adjoins ‘ezer, namely kenegdo.

          The word neged conveys the idea of "in front of " or "counter-

part," and a literal translation of kenegdo is thus "like his

counterpart, corresponding to him."43 Used with ‘ezer, this term


    39 John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI, n.d.), 1:129.

    40 Exod 18:-1; Deut 33:7, 26; Ps 33:20: 70:5; 115:9, 10, 11.

    41 Isa 30:5; Hos 13:9; Gen 2:20.

    42 R. David Freedman, ''Woman. A Power Equal to Man,” BARev ( 1983):56-58,

argues that the Hebrew word ‘ezer etymologically derives from the merger of two

Semitic roots, ‘zr, "to save, rescue," and gzr, "to be strong," and in this passage has

reference to the latter: woman is (reated. like the man, ''a power (or strength)

superior to the animals.

    43 Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testament

Libros, 2d ed. (Leiden, 1958), p. 591.

16                          RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


indicates no less than equality: Eve is Adam's "benefactor/helper,"

one who in position is "corresponding to him," "his counterpart,

his complement."44 Eve is "a power equal to man;"45 she is Adam's


As a third alleged indication in Gen 2 of male superiority and

female subordination, it has been argued that since woman came

out of man, since she was formed from man, therefore she has a

derivative existence, a dependent and subordinate status. That her

existence was in some way "derived" from Adam cannot be denied.

But derivation does not imply subordination! The text indicates

this in several ways. We note, for example, that Adam also was

"derived"-from the ground (vs. 7)--but certainly we are not to

conclude that the ground was his superior! Again, woman is not

Adam's rib. It was the raw material, not woman, that was taken out

of man, just as the raw material of man was "taken" (Gen 3:19, 23)

out of the ground .47 What is more, Samuel Terrien rightly points

out that woman "is not simply molded of clay, as man was, but she

is architecturally ‘built' (2:33)." The verb bnh "to build," used in

the creation account only with regard to the formation of Eve,

"suggests an aesthetic intent and connotes also the idea of reliability

and permanence."48 To clinch the point, the text explicitly indi-

cates that the man was asleep while God created woman. Man had

no active part in the creation of woman that might allow him to

claim to be her superior.

A fourth argument used to support the hierarchical view of the

sexes concerns the woman's creation from Adam's rib. But the very

symbolism of the rib points to equality and not hierarchy. The

word sela can mean either "side" or "rib."49 Since sela occurs in


   44 Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:149.

   45 Freedman, pp. 56-58. Freedman notes that in later Mishnaic Hebrew keneged

clearly means "equal," and in light of various lines of biblical philological evidence

he forcefully argues that the phrase ‘ezer kenegdo here should be translated "a

power equal to him."

    46 Ibid, p. 56; Gen 2:18, NEB.

    47 Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, p. 101.

    48 Samuel Terrien, "Toward a Biblical Theology of Womanhood," in Ruth T.

Barnhouse and Urban T. Holmes, III, eds. Male and Female: Christian Approaches

to Sexuality (New York, 1976), p. 18.

    49 BDB, p. 854. Numerous theories have been propounded to explain the meaning

of the rib in this story: e.g., J. Boehmer, "Die geschlechtliche Stellung des Weibes in

THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       17


the plural in vs. 21 and God is said to take "one of " them, the

reference in this verse is probably to a rib from Adam's side. By

"building" Eve from one of Adam's ribs, God appears to be indi-

cating the mutual relationship,50 the ''singleness of life,"51 the

''inseparable unity”52 in which man and woman are joined. The

rib "means solidarity and equality."53 Created from Adam's "side

[rib]," Eve was formed to stand by his side as an equal. Peter

Lombard was not off the mark when he said: "Eve was not taken

from the feet of Adam to be his slave, nor from his head to be his

ruler, but from his side to be his beloved partner."54

This interpretation appears to be further confirmed by the

man's poetic exclamation when he saw the woman for the first time

(vs. 23): "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"! The

phrase "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" indicates that the

person described is "as close as one's own body."55 It denotes

physical oneness and a "commonality of concern, loyalty, and

responsibility."56 Much can be deduced from this expression regard-

ing the nature of sexuality, as we shall see below, but the expression

certainly does not lead to the notion of woman's subordination.


Gen 2 and 3," Monatschrift fur Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums 79

(1939):292, suggests that the ''rib'' is a euphemism for the birth canal which the

male lacks; P. Humbert, Etudes sur le recit du Paradis (Neuchatel, 19,10), pp. 57-58

proposes that the mention of the ''rib" explains the existence of the navel in Adam:

and von Rad, Genesis, p.. 89, finds the detail of the rib answering the question why

ribs cover the upper but not the lower part of the body". Such suggestions appear to

miss the overall context of the passage with its emphasis upon the relations/tip

between man and woman.

    50 Westermann, p. 230.

    51 Collins, p. 153. It may be that the Sumerian language retains the memory of

the close relationship between "rib" and "life," for the Sumerian sign it signifies

both "life'' and "rib.'' Sec S. N. Kramer, History Begins at Sumer (Garden City, NY,

1959), p. 136. This is not to say, however, that the detail of the rib in Gen 2 has its

origin in Sumrian mythology. The story of creation in Gen 2 and the Sumerian

myth in which the pun between the ''lady of the rib'' and "lady who makes live”

appears (ANET, pp. 37-41), have virtually nothing in common.

   52 Keil, p. 89.

   53 Trible, ''Depatriarchalizing.” p. 37.

   54 Quoted in Stuart B. Babbage. Christianity) and Sex (Chicago, 1963), p. 10. A

Similar statement is attributed to other writers as well.

    55 Collins, p. 153.

    56 Walter Brueggemann, "Of the Same Flesh and Bone (Gen 2:23a),'' CBQ 32


18                          RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


The last major argument used to support a hierarchical view

of the sexes in Gen 2 is that in man's naming of woman (vs. 23) is

implied man's power, authority, and superiority over her. It is true

that assigning names in Scripture often does signify authority over

the one named.57 But such is not the case in Gen 2:23. In the first

place, the word "woman" (‘issah) is not a personal name, but only

a generic identification. This is verified in vs. 24, which indicates

that a man is to cleave to his ‘issah ("wife"), and further sub-

stantiated in Gen 3:20, which explicitly records the man's naming

of Eve only after the Fall.

Moreover, Jacques Doukhan has shown that Gen 2:23 contains

a pairing of "divine passives," indicating that the designation of

"woman" comes from God, not man. Just as in the past, woman

"was taken out of man" by God, an action with which the man

had nothing to do (he had been put into a "deep sleep"), so in the

future she "shall be called woman," a designation originating in

God and not man. Doukhan also indicates how the literary struc-

ture of the Genesis Creation story confirms this interpretation.58

The wordplay in 2:23 between 'is (man) and 'issah (wo-man) and

the explanation of the woman's being taken out of man are not

given to buttress a hierarchical view of the sexes, but rather to

underscore man's joyous recognition of his second self. In his

ecstatic poetic utterance, the man is not determining who the

woman is, but delighting in what God has done. He is saying

"yes" to God in recognizing and welcoming woman as the equal

counterpart to his sexuality.59

In light of the foregoing discussion, I conclude that there is

nothing in Gen 2 to indicate a hierarchical view of the sexes. The

man and woman before the Fall are presented as fully equal, with


    57 For examples of the oriental view of naming as the demonstration of one's

exercise of a sovereign right over a person, see 2 Kgs 23:34; 24:17; Dan 1:7. Cf. R.

Abba, "Name," IDB, 3:502.

    58 See Doukhan, pp. 46-47, for substantiation and further discussion of these

points. For other lines of evidence disaffirming man's authoritative naming of

woman in Gen 2:23 in contrast to his authoritative naming of the animals in Gen

2:19-20, see especially Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, pp. 99-100, and

Gerhard Hasel, "Equality from the Start: Woman in the Creation Story," Spectrum

7 (1975):23-24.

    59 See Barth, 3/2:291; Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, p. 100.

THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       19


no hint of a headship of one over the other or a hierarchical

relationship between husband and wife.


Sexuality as Wholeness

Both the first and second chapters of Genesis affirm the attribute

of wholeness in the human sexual experience. But in Gen 2 we

encounter a twofold amplification of the meaning of sexual whole-

ness. First, Gen 2:7 articulates a holistic view of man. According to

the understanding of anthropology set forth in this verse, man does

not have a soul, he is a soul. He is a living being, a psychophysical

unity.60 There is no room in such a view for a Platonic/Philonic

dichotomy of body and soul. Excluded is the dualistic notion of the

ascetics that the body is evil and therefore all expressions of the

body pleasures--including sexual expressions--are contaminated.

The holistic view of man presented in Gen 2:7 means that human

sexuality cannot be compartmentalized into "the things of the

body" versus "the things of the spirit/soul." The human being is a

sexual creature, and his/her sexuality is manifested in every aspect

of human existence.

The meaning of wholeness is also amplified in Gen 2 with

regard to the differentiation between the sexes. Whereas from Gen 1

it was possible to conclude in a general way that both male and

female are equally needed to make up the image of God, from Gen

2 we can say more precisely that it is in "creative complemen-

tariness"61 that God designed male and female to participate in

this wholeness. Gen 2 opens with the creation of man. But creation

is not finished. The man is alone, he is incomplete. And this is

"not good" (vs. 18). Man needs an ‘ezer kenegdo--a helper/ bene-

factor who is his counterpart. Thus begins man's quest to satisfy

his God-instilled "hunger for wholeness."62 Such hunger is not

satisfied by his animal companions but by the sexual being God

has "built" ("aesthetically designed") to be alongside him as his

complement. Adam in effect exclaims at his first sight of Eve, "At

last, I am whole! Here is the complement of myself!" He recognizes,


   60 Stephen Sapp, Sexuality, the Bible, and Science (Philadelphia, 1977), pp. 5-6.

   61 Terrien, p. 18.

   62 Sakae Kubo, Theology and Ethics of Sex (Washington, DC, 1980), p. 19.

20                RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


and the narrative instructs us, that "man is whole only in his

complementarity with another being who is like unto himself."63


A Multi-dimensional Relationship

Closely connected with "complementary wholeness" is the idea

of relationship. If Gen 1 whispers that human sexuality is for

fellowship, for relationship, Gen 2 orchestrates this fact with a

volume of double forte, and the melody and harmony of the nar-

rative portray richness and beauty in the relational symphony of

the sexes.

According to Gen 2, the creation of Eve takes place in the

context of loneliness. The keynote is struck in vs. 18: "It is not

good that the man should be alone...." The "underlying idea" of

vss. 18-24 is that "sexuality finds its meaning not in the appropria-

tion of divine creative powers, but in human sociality."64 Man is a

social being; sexuality is for sociality, for relationship, companion-

ship, partnership. In principle, this passage may be seen to affirm

the various mutual social relationships that should take place

between the sexes (as is also true with the "image-of-God" passage

in Gen 1); but more specifically, the Genesis account links the

concept of sociality to the marriage relationship. This is apparent

from 2:24: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and

cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." The introductory

"therefore" indicates that the relationship of Adam and Eve is

upheld as the ideal for all future human sexual relationships.

Certain significant insights into the nature of sexuality call for

attention in this verse.

First, man leaves. The word ‘azab is a forceful term. It means

literally "to abandon, forsake," and is employed frequently to

describe Israel's forsaking of Yahweh for false gods.65 The "leaving"

of Gen 2:24 indicates the necessity of absolute freedom from outside

interferences in the sexual relationship. Barth has pointed out that

in a very real sense Gen 2 represents the "Old Testament Magna

Charta of humanity" as Adam was allowed freely and exuberantly


    63 Collins, p. 153. Italics supplied.

    64 Ibid.

    65 See BDB, pp. 736-737; Deut 28:20; Judg 10:13; 2 Chron 34:25; Isa 1:4; etc.

THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       21


to recognize and affirm the woman as his partner.66 Just as this

freedom was essential in the Garden, so it is crucial in all suc-

ceeding sexual relationships.

What is particularly striking in vs. 24 is that it is the man who

is to "leave." It was a matter of course in the patriarchal society at

the time Gen 2 was penned that the wife left her mother and father.

But for the husband to "leave" was revolutionary!67 In effect, the

force of this statement is that both are to leave--to cut loose from

those ties that would encroach upon the independence and freedom

of the relationship.

Second, man cleaves. The Hebrew verb dabaq, "cleave," is

another robust term, signifying "strong personal attachment."68 It

is often used as a technical covenant term for the permanent bond

of Israel to the Lord.69 As applied to the relationship between the

sexes in Gen 2:24, it seems clearly to indicate a covenant context,

i.e., a marriage covenant, paralleling the "oath of solidarity" and

language of "covenant partnership" expressed by Adam to Eve.70

But as was true with Adam, more is involved here than a formal

covenant. The word dabaq especially emphasizes the inward atti-

tudinal dimensions of the covenant bond. It "implies a devotion

and an unshakable faith between humans; it connotes a permanent

attraction which transcends genital union to which, nonetheless, it

gives meaning."71

Third, man and woman "become one flesh." We may imme-

diately point out that this "one-flesh" union follows the "cleaving"

and thus comes within the context of the marriage covenant. The

unitive purpose of sexuality is to find fulfillment inside the marital

relationship. Furthermore, the phrase "man and his wife"--with


    66 Barth, 3/2:291.

    67 Some leave seen behind this passage a hint of a matriarchal social structure,

but evidence lot such an hypothesis is not convincing. For further discussion of this

theory, see Jewett. p. 127.

    68 See BDB, pp. 179-180; G. Wahlis, “qbaDA dabaq,'' TDOT, 3:80-83; Earl S.

Kalland, "qbaDA (dabaq)," TWOT, 1:177-178.

    69 See, e.g., Deut 10:20; 11:22: 13:1; Josh 22:5; 23:8.

    70 For discussion of the covenant language used by Adam, see Brueggemann,

pp. 532-542.

    71 Collins, p. 153.

22                          RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


both nouns in the singular--clearly implies that the sexual rela-

tionship envisioned is a monogamous one, to be shared exclusively

between two marriage partners. The LXX translation makes this

point explicit: "they two shall become one flesh."

The "one-flesh" relationship certainly involves the sexual

union; sexual intercourse. The physical act of coitus may even be

in view in this passage as the primary means of establishing the

"innermost mystery'"72 of oneness. But this is by no means all that

is included. The term basar, "flesh," in the OT refers not only to

one's physical body but to a person's whole existence in the world.73

By "one flesh" is thus connoted "mutual dependence and reciprocity

in all areas of life,"74 a "unity that embraces the natural lives of

two persons in their entirety."75 It indicates a oneness and intimacy

in the total relationship of the whole person of the husband to the

whole person of the wife.76


Sexuality for Procreation

With regard to Gen 1 we noted that a primary purpose of

sexuality was for personal relationship, and that procreation was

presented as a special added blessing. The significance of the unitive

purpose of sexuality is highlighted in Gen 2 by the complete

absence of any reference to the propagation of children. This omis-

sion is not to deny the importance of procreation (as becomes

apparent in later chapters of Scripture). But by the "full-stop"77

after "one-flesh" in vs. 24, sexuality is given independent meaning

and value. It does not need to be justified only as a means to a

superior end, i.e., procreation.


The Wholesomeness of Sexuality

The narrative of Gen 2 highlights the divine initiative and

approbation in the relationship of the sexes. After the formation of


    72 Otto Piper, The Biblical View of Sex and Marriage (New York, 1960),

pp. 52-67, explores the possible dimensions of this "inner mystery."

    73 See John N. Oswalt, "rWABA (basar)," TWOT, 1:136; N.P. Bratsiotis, "rWABA

basar," TDOT, 2:325-329.

    74 Piper, p. 28.

    75 Ibid., p. 25.

    76 Herbert J. and Fern Miles, Husband-Wife Equality (Old Tappan, NJ, 1978),

p. 164.

    77 Walter Trobisch, I Married You (New York, 1971), p. 20.

THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY                       23


woman, the Lord God "brought her to the man" (vs. 22). The

Creator Himself, as it were, celebrated the first marriage.78 Thus,

the "very good" which is pronounced upon humankind and human

sexuality in Gen 1 is in Gen 2 concretized in the divine solemniza-

tion of the "one-flesh'' union between husband and wife.

Sexuality is wholesome because it is inaugurated by God him-

self. Since the inauguration occurs within the context of a divine-

human relationship, sexuality must be seen to encompass not

only horizontal (human) but also vertical (spiritual) dimensions.

According to the divine design, the sexual relationship between

husband and wife is inextricably bound up with the spiritual unity

of both man and woman with their Creator.

A final word on God's Edenic ideal for sexuality comes in vs.

25: "And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not

ashamed." The Hebrew construction of the last English phrase

may be more accurately translated "they were not ashamed before

one another."79 Viewed in contrast with the "utter [shameful]

nakedness"80 mentioned in Gen 3, the intent here is clear: namely,

that "shameless sexuality was divinely ordered; shameful sexuality

is the result of sin."81 According to God's original design, sexuality

is wholesome, beautiful, and good. It is meant to be experienced

between spouses without fear, without inhibitions, without shame

and embarrassment.

Just as the "one-flesh" experience applied to more than the

physical union, so the concept of nakedness probably connotes

more than physical nudity.82 As Walter Trobisch states it, there is

implied the ability ''to stand in front of each other, stripped and

undisguised, without pretensions, without hiding, seeing the part-

ner as he or she really is, and showing myself to him or her as I

really am--and still not be ashamed."83


    78 See Brueggemann, pp. 538-542, for evidence for linguistic and contextual

indications of a covenant-making ceremony.

   79 BDB. p. 102.

   80 This wil1 be discussed in a subsequent article, "The Theology of Sexuality in

the Beginning: Genesis 3." forthcoming in AUSS.

   81 Collins, p. 154.

   82 See Kidner, p. 66: Vs. 25 indicates "the perfect ease between them." The theory

that Adam's and Eve's nakedness without shame refers to their lack of consciousness

of their Sexuality Will be orated in my forthcoming article (See n. 80, above).

   83 Trobisch, p. 82.

24                          RICHARD M. DAVIDSON


As we complete our discussion of the theology of sexuality in

Gen 2, we must reject the claim that this chapter displays a

"melancholy attitude toward sex."84 Instead, we must affirm with

von Rad that Gen 2 "gives the relationship between man and

woman the dignity of being the greatest miracle and mystery of



    84 Guthbert A. Simpson, "The Book of Genesis: Introduction and Exegesis," IB

(New York, 1952), 1:485-486.

    85 Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1:150.




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