Friday, September 5, 2008

Equality in the Original Marriage Design

This is another in a series of entries I will be making regarding godly marriage. Previously, I posted on the Genesis 2 definition of marriage, and how God's original design is unalterably monogamous and heterosexual. ("What is 'Marriage'" part I, part II) I would like to spend a little more time in Genesis 2 (and a brief look back at Genesis 1) exploring God's purpose for marriage and how that purpose is realized in the actual marital relationship. Specifically, I will be arguing that the original design for marriage provided for total equality between the two partners.

To understand both the purpose and the relationship of marriage, we first must go back to Genesis 1 and the overview of creation. For clarity, I will take the NASB translation but de-genderize the Hebrew word 'adam when it is referring to humans and humanity in general (indicated in blue text). Here is the overview of the creation of "man" (i.e. the human species).

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, "Let Us make [hu]man[kind] in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 God created [The hu]man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."... 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

The Hebrew word 'adam has no plural form. It can, however, refer to multiple humans as a group, just as the singular word "mankind" or the singular phrase "the human race" does in English. 'adam can also be presented with or without the definite article (ancient Hebrew has no indefinite article). With these variations, it is sometimes difficult to tell if 'adam is referring to a generic human, a specific human, some humans, all humans, or someone named Adam. This is certainly true for Genesis 1. Luckily, context often provides the proper clues.

The first mention of humans is in Genesis 1:26: "Let us make 'adam in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over..." The existence of 'adam without the definite article prefix means it could mean either "a human" or refer to the group "humankind" or "the human race". The use of the third person plural pronoun immediately following in the verse - "and let them rule" - gives us the clue we need to know this refers to the group and not a generic individual. Therefore, Genesis 1:26 refers to the entire human race. All humans are endowed with the image of God, regardless of age, gender, race, or any other segregating characteristic.

But the creation narrative does not end with this general truth. In fact, the point is emphasized further in the subsequent verses. Starting with verse 27, we get a brief glimpse of the story which will be played out in full detail in Genesis 2. Here, the form of the word adam is changed in that it is prefixed with the Hebrew definite article. Now, using the definite article in Hebrew, especially with this word, does not necessarily mean an individual is being spoken of. Many of the occurrences of “the adam” in the Old Testament are still correctly translated as “the people”, or “man[kind]”, or some other reference to multiples. The difference between verse 26 and 27 could indeed be the difference between saying “humankind” (verse 26) and “the human race” or “each and every human” (verse 27). Thankfully, the text rescues us again. As opposed to verse 26, the third person masculine singular pronoun is now used – “in the image of God He created him”. That coupled with the striking parallel to the full human creation account in Genesis 2 confirms that verse 27a refers to a specific adam, the first adam, namely – Adam1.

Genesis 1:27 doesn’t end with the creation of the first human. In a bold pronouncement it extends the image of God to both of the humans in the creation story, and, quite visibly, to both of the genders in the human race – “…male and female He created them”. Verse 28 continues with the blessing and commission of God being pronounced over BOTH the male and female of the species – "God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it;'" (emphasis added). Not only is the image of God equally distributed to all humans, and especially, to each gender, but the entire assignment for the human race – filling the earth and subduing it - is equally delegated to both males and females. Men and women are to work together in God’s image, and have equal responsibility through God’s blessing, to carry out the task for which God created us and placed us here on earth.

Part II of this analysis will address some of the arguments against equality, i.e. in favor of God ordained male dominion, in the marriage relationship. Part III will show how Genesis 2 now expands and adds rich detail to this summary to show how this equality and cooperation is both profoundly required and beautifully expressed in godly marriage. And finally, part IV will address the final argument against equality which is (presumably) supported by a writer from a different time and perspective.

1There are some who argue that the interchange in number in the pronouns is a poetic device which is paralleled in the pronouns for God in the same verses. As such, they interpret Genesis 1:27 to also mean mankind or the human race. This could be true; I am no expert on ancient Hebrew poetic forms. But, considering how the human creation account in chapter 1 is identical to the pattern displayed in chapter 2, and considering the fact that Genesis 1:26 quotes God while verse 27 is a narrative of God's actions (i.e. they are not parallel semantically), I am inclined to reject that argument. In the long run, it matters little to this discussion. The main point is that the image of God, and the blessing and charge from God, are given equally to "male and female".

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