Some years ago I remember watching a movie in which Katherine Hepburn starred. I couldn’t tell you the name of the movie, but as I recall it, she was trying out for a job and in one scene someone was administering something like an IQ test to her. The question was asked, “What is the first thing you notice about a person?” To which she replied, “Whether they are male or female.”
Such self-evident, common-sense truth seems to be becoming rarer these days. But the biblical creation accounts affirm that maleness and femaleness is part of God’s creational design.
In Genesis 1:26, in his self-deliberations, God announces, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” And then in the very next verse, we see God carry out his self-deliberations: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (1:27).
Now, in previous posts I have explored what it means to be made in the image of God. I speculated that it may include the spiritual, intellectual, volitional, moral, social, and perhaps emotional dimensions of human personality, as well reflecting God’s image in our creative capacities and in our commission to have dominion over the created order.
But there is one other aspect of the image of God that I have not mentioned and which I think is explicit in the text: both maleness and femaleness—together—reflect the image of God.
Now, this is a profound mystery that is being depicted here. I certainly do not think that God has gender—as if he had maleness and femaleness contained in himself. Many ancient societies, whether it was ancient near-eastern, Greco-Roman, or Norse, depicted their gods as being male or female. Not so, the biblical text. God is not depicted as having gender.
Now, it is true that in the NT, God is called “Father.” But this does not imply that God is male. It only implies that: (1) He is a creator. But God is distinct from his creation. The father image better conveys this than the mother image. I think the biblical authors wanted to eschew the image of God as a mother giving birth as if creation was merely an extension of God’s self. There is a continuity between a mother and a child that is not true of a Father and a child. (2) He is a personal being that has a relationship with his created order.
Hence, what we have here in the biblical text is a profound mystery: maleness and femaleness—together—reflect the image of God. Maleness, by itself, does not reflect the image of God. And femaleness, by itself, does not reflect the image of God. But both, together, do.
Now, I want to make clear that the word used for “man” here in verses 26–27 does not indicate masculinity. The Hebrew word is adam, which simply means “human being.” The Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word is also generic: Anthropos, which is where we get the word “anthropology.” Anthropology is simply the study of human beings, or the study of human culture. But the word “male” used in verse 27 distinctly has a masculine referent. It refers to men, even as there is also a distinctive term for women used in this verse.
Now, God gives a commission to human beings: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (1:28). God desires human beings to flourish and to enjoy the created order in which they were placed and given dominion over. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
Now, it seems to me that when a man and a woman engage in the act of copulation and they conceive and give birth to a child, they are in a sense imitating God in his creative capacity. To put it another way: perhaps maleness and femaleness together reflects the image of God in that in the union of a man and a woman, together they have the creative capacity to produce life. A man by himself or two men together cannot produce life. And a woman by herself or two women together cannot produce life. But a man and a woman together can—and in this way together they reflect the image of God.
Ideally, this creation of new life should originate in the love of a man and a woman for one another. The creation of new life then becomes the overflow of their love for one another. God did not need to create the world or human beings. God as a tri-unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is in perfect harmonious relationship with himself. He needs nothing else. Yet, out of the overflowing abundance of his love, God creates so that he may share his love with other creatures. Human beings in some sense reflect this character of God in the loving act of a man and woman with one another.
Now, we have to turn to the second creation account in Genesis 2 to get some further reflections on maleness and femaleness. In Genesis 2 we read that God created the man first and then later he created the woman.
In 2:18 we read that God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” This is the first time in the creation accounts when we are told that something is “not good.” In Genesis 1, as God creates each part of the creation, it says that God looked on his creation and saw that it was good. Then after creating human beings at the climax of his creation, we are told that it was “very good.” But now, for the first time, we are told that something is “not good.”
Now, I mentioned in a previous post that we are made in the social or relational image of God. We are created to be in relationship with other human beings. It is not good for any person to be alone.
So God resolves to do something about it. He says, “I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
What follows in verse 19 has an air of quaintness about it. God creates each animal and brings it before the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called it, that was its name. So Adam named all the animals from aardvarks to zebras! It was like God was experimenting. “Well, let me try this animal . . .” “Nah, that didn’t work, let me try this one . . .” And so forth.
So, why didn’t these other animals work? Let me suggest that one reason is that they were not made in the image of God and so they do not have the same ability to have relationships in the depth that human beings do. There is a qualitative difference between human beings and the animal world.
My mother has a dog named Dollie. Whenever I go to visit my mother, as soon as I walk through the door (or even before I walk through the door), she starts going ballistic. She barks and carries on. She jumps up on my leg and then I pet her. When I go to sit on the sofa, she runs over and jumps on the sofa to sit beside me. When she gets a little energy, she gets playful and so I toss a ball for her to go chase. There is a relationship there, but the relationship does not have nearly the same depth that I have with other human beings.
And so, God finds out in verse 20 that there was no animal that was a suitable companion for Adam. And so God causes a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he opens up his flesh and takes a bone from his body and he fashions a woman from it. Here God is depicted as a surgeon as well as a sculptor (or perhaps a builder).
Most translations say that God took a “rib” out of Adam (the Hebrew word actually means side). It is said that God did not take her from his head because she is not over him, and he did not take her from his feet because she is not under him, but he took her from his side because she is his equal. There is certainly something to be said about this interpretation. I believe God created man and woman to be equals. It was only as a result of the curse of the Fall that men began to dominate over women.
However, I have reason to believe it was not a rib but another part of the male anatomy that is actually being described. It was not the rib but the male baculum or penis bone that was used. Unlike most animal species the human male lacks a penis bone. Could it be that this story is an etiology to explain this curious feature? See this paradigm-shifting post by OT scholar Claude Mariottini for a further explanation of this interpretive possibility.
Now as soon as God creates Eve, he brings her to Adam. Here God is acting like a matchmaker. And as soon as Adam sees her, he exclaims: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23).
It is interesting to note that these are the first words spoken by any human being in the biblical text. And it happened when a man saw a woman for the first time. If I were to paraphrase what Adam said, it would be: “Wow! Take a look at her!” There is an immediate connection, an immediate attraction. Here was someone who was different but also just like him. She was made of the same substance as him: bone and flesh.
Now the narrator of Genesis gives us an important comment: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
There is an important principle here about marital relationships: it is leave and cleave. Whenever I do premarital counseling with a couple, I explore this principle with them. A man first leaves his father and mother and then he cleaves to his wife (and of course the woman does the same). A new family unit is created. And this is how the human race becomes fruitful and multiplies and fills the earth.
Now the children do not sever the relationships with the parents. There is still a relationship. But if the parents meddle too much in their children’s marriage, it can create problems. There must be a leaving and a cleaving, where the attachment is transferred from the parents to the spouse.
But then there is another profound mystery: the two shall become one flesh. Now what does that mean? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that they become one person. They remain as two individuals with their own bodies. There may be several layers of meaning to this.
First, it may refer to the bonding process that takes place between a man and a woman. God designed us in such a way that when a man and a woman have an interest in one another there is a bonding process that takes place as the couple develops an intimacy with one another, as their hearts are knit into one.
Second, it may refer to physical intimacy. In the act of kissing as two persons press their lips against one another, in the act of embracing as they entangle their bodies together, in the act of intercourse, there is, I believe, an innate desire of the couple to become one with the other person. We want to get inside each other’s skin as it were.
Third, they become one in a sense in the procreative act of copulation as they conceive and give birth to a new human being. Each one contributes a part of their DNA to produce one new flesh.
Fourth, they become one as they become a new family unit. They ideally have a unified purpose as they build their lives together. They have a common goal as they look after the welfare of the other because it contributes to the well-being of the whole.
Now, here is an important point. Two whole human beings make one new flesh. It is not two half human beings that make a whole. I remember getting a wedding invitation some years ago that went something like this (in more flowery language than I can put it): “we were two lonely, incomplete people until we found each other and now we are complete.” Nonsense!
You have to make sure you are a whole person before you share your life with another. If you are incomplete, you need to work on things until you become complete. Two incomplete people do not make for a successful marriage. Ideally, two whole people do not complete one another, they complement each other. And that is a world of difference.
Marriage is a profound mystery. But it is a mystery that points to a greater spiritual reality: the marriage between God and his people. In various passages in the OT, such as in Hosea, the analogy is made between marriage and God’s relationship to Israel. In the NT, of course it is the marriage between Christ and the church. In either case, marriage is an earthly metaphor for a spiritual reality. In earthly marriages, as imperfect as many of them are, are glimpses into the eternal reality of God’s relationship with his people.