THE THEOLOGY OF SEXUALITY
IN THE BEGINNING:
RICHARD M. DAVIDSON
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
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,
The Secrets of Our Sexuality: Role
Liberation for the Christian (
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.
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
so common in the thought of
Throughout the mythology of the ancient Near East, the sexual
activities of the gods form a dominant motif.6 The fertility myth
of special importance, particularly in
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.
9 Von Rad, Genesis, p. 60.
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,
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
Claus Westermann, Genesis
1-11: A Commentary (
pp. 147-155; G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids, MI, 1962),
67-118; Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God's Image (
1986), pp. 33-65; and cf. Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality
16 See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Hebrew and English
Lexicon of the
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
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 (
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
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
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
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 (
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,
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.
33 C. F. Kell,
The First Book of Moses (
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,
God: A Response
to Biblical Feminism
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;
B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical
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 (
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. (
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
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
"life'' and "rib.'' Sec S. N. Kramer, History Begins at
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 (
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
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 (
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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),
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
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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