2:1 The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. 2:2 By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing. 2:3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation.

‘The creation story has stood as a bulwark against a succession of fashionable errors—polytheism, dualism, the eternity of matter, the evil of matter, astrology—and not least, against every tendency to empty human history of meaning. It resists this nihilism explicitly, in displaying man as God’s image and regent; but also implicitly, in presenting the tremendous acts of creation as a mere curtain-raiser to the drama that slowly unfolds throughout the length of the Bible. The prologue is over in a page; there are a thousand to follow.’ (Kidner)

On the seventh day he rested – God’s ‘rest’ is not the rest of inactivity, but the rest of achievement, for he continues to nurture what he has created. Compare the symbolism of Jesus ‘seated’ after finishing his work of redemption, Heb 8:1 10:12, but he continues to dispense its benefits. God’s rest consists in delight in his creation. It is looking with joy on his world and saying, ‘This is good!’ Our Sabbath rest is the opportunity God gives us to share his delight.

God the Worker

‘The “work” of creation itself was not necessary, neither logically required nor morally obligatory nor economically needful nor inwardly compulsive, but was voluntary and entirely free. God did not have to create at all, let alone create the actual worlds he made. He created things, we are told, for his own good pleasure. On the seventh day he rested and enjoyed its goodness. The work of redemption, too, was voluntary and freely engaged it, not forced on God by an economy out of control. No necessity, internal or external to God, drove him to it. God redeems for his own glory and pleasure.’ (Arthur Holmes, Contours of a World View, 229)

We are meant to rest as well as labour; worship as well as work

Our humanity is not fulfilled unless we lift our eyes to the Creator, and learn to enjoy communion with him. Jesus taught, Jn 5:19, that God still works during his Sabbath, arguing that he had therefore a right to act similarly. God’s Sabbath, which marks the end of creation, does not tie his hands. Note that God’s Sabbath is thus co-extensive with history. The Sabbath rest is a creation ordinance, and its observance is therefore not limited to the Jewish people in the old dispensation, but to all mankind, in every age.

‘It…seems likely that the emphasis on God creating for six days and then resting on the seventh is deliberate. God’s mode of working was to be a model for human activity. People, who are made in the image of God, are expected throughout the Bible to imitate God. So, as God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh day, human beings are to work for six days and rest on the seventh.’ (Ex 20:8-11) (NBC)

‘This prescribed rhythm of work and rest is part of the order of creation. Human beings are so made that they need this six-plus-one rhythm, and we suffer in one way or another if we do not get it. The leisure or at least semi-leisure, of a weekly day for worship and rest is a divine ordinance that our work-oriented world ignores to the peril of its health. In today’s community as Christ faith fades, society’s standards fall, and economic competition becomes more cut-throat, the historic function of the Christian day of rest as a bulwark against employer’s demands for a seven-day week is being increasingly circumvented, and the outlook is somewhat bleak.’ (J.I Packer, Collected Shorter Writings, 2, 388)

Jesus taught (Jn 5:19) that God still works during his Sabbath, arguing that he had therefore a right to act similarly.  God’s Sabbath, which marks the end of creation, does not tie his hands.  Note that God’s Sabbath is thus co-extensive with history, thus weakening the case for a literal interpretation of Genesis.

Our work is not to be all-consuming.  Labour is good, but so is rest from labour.

Our full humanity is not fulfilled unless we lift our eyes to the Creator, and enjoy communion with him.

A place of honour

G. Wenham comments on the prologue of Genesis as follows:- ‘The concern with human life on earth, which is apparent in this narrative read by itself, is the more obvious when it is compared with other ancient oriental accounts of creation. Genesis is implicitly rejecting other views of the gods and their relationship with the world. Here we have no story of how gods fought, married and bore children; there is but one God, beyond time and sex, who was there in the beginning. He created all things, even the sun, moon and stars, which other peoples often held to be gods in their own right. He required no magic to do this; his word was sufficient by itself. According to the Genesis account, there is one God, the sovereign Creator, to whom all the universe owes its being and whom it is expected to obey. Within that created universe, men and women have a place of honour, having been made in the divine image. We reflect God’s nature and represent him on earth.’ (NBC)

The Creation of Man and Woman

Asked ‘Why are there two creation stories’ Goldingay replies: ‘For the same reason as there are two versions of the story of the monarchy and four Gospels.  An important story needs telling more than once so you can see what it says in different contexts for different sorts of people.’ (Student Questions on the Pentateuch, online)

2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created—when the LORD God made the earth and heavens.

This is the account of – Such a refrain (‘these are the generations of…’) occurs some ten times in Genesis, at the beginning of each main section.  Conservative commentators tend suggest that we should therefore accept the strict historicity of all these sections on the same basis.

When the Lord God made… – The Creator is specially concerned with human affairs. ‘Our focus of interest is not longer the cosmic perspective of the one who made the stars. It is the intimacy of fellowship with the one who calls Man by his name’ (Atkinson). Accordingly, God’s covenant name, ‘Yahweh’, is introduced. See Ex 6:2-3.

The connection between chapter 2 and chapter 3 should be remembered. ‘Why, if the world was created very good, (Gen 1:31) is there so much pain and suffering, anger and hatred in it? This story explains the origin and effects of sin in a simple”] yet profound way. It starts by describing the idyllic existence of the first human couple, thereby outlining God’s pattern for relations between the sexes. It then tells how one apparently minor act of disobedience upset everything and led to mankind’s expulsion from paradise.’ (NBC)

This is not a second creation account, but rather an account of humankind’s place within God’s creation.  Chapter focused on men and women as made in God’s image.  The present passage emphasises their place in God’s world.  ‘Our focus of interest is no longer the cosmic perspective of the One who made the stars.  It is the intimacy of fellowship with the One who calls Man by his name.’ (Atkinson)  Accordingly, God’s covenant name, ‘Yahweh’, is introduced.  See Ex 6:2f.

Although the focus of interest shifts to people and their place in the world, the creator-God is given his rightful place of sovereignty over all that he has made.  ‘If God, the creator, is, then the gloomy idea of fate and fatality which lies like a spell over the ancient as well as the modern world, loses its power.  It is not a fate, an impersonal, abstract determining power, now a law, not a something which is above everything that is and happens, but He, the creator spirit, the creator person.’ (Brunner)

‘Many writers have sought to find a second creation story in Gn. 2 which is said to have a different chronological order from that in Gn. 1. Such a view is not necessary if we regard Gn. 2 as part of the fuller narrative Gn. 2 and 3, in which Gn. 2 merely forms an introduction to the temptation story, and provides the setting without any attempt to give a creation story, and certainly not to give any sort of chronological sequence of events.’ (NBD)

Paradigmatic or protohistorical?
Wenham identifies a number of features in Gen 2-3 that suggest that the account is paradigmatic:-

‘The symbolic dimensions of the story linking the garden with the later sanctuaries support a paradigmatic reading. Water, gold, jewels, cherubim and so on link the garden of Eden with the tabernacle and temples described later. The curses pronounced on the guilty for disobeying the divine instructions anticipate those pronounced on those who disregard the law. These elements give the story a universalistic flavor, or at least a pan-Israelite setting. “Adam” is every man in Israel.’

But, writes Wenham, there are also indications that it is protohistorical:-

  • The account’s heading (2:4, “This is the account of”) links the record with subsequent histories of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.
  • The immediately following story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4) ties the events of Genesis 2 – 3 to real historical outcomes.
  • Chapter 5 links Adam with Noah, indicating that the writer associates the earliest events with real people.
  • God’s curse on the serpent results in the serpent crawling on the ground — not something that can be applied to every person who might sin subsequently.
  • Subsequent people inherit pain, toil, and death because of the first pair’s disobedience.
  • God expels Adam and Eve from the garden — an event not repeated with later people who disobey him.
  • In the light of God’s declaration that everything is “very good” (1:31), chapters 2 – 3 provide explanation for why that is not true today.

(As summarised by William D. Barrick, in Lamoureux, Denis, et al, Four Views on the Historical Adam. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

‘For these reasons [concludes Wenham] I prefer to view Gen 2–3 as both paradigmatic and protohistorical. It is paradigmatic in that it offers a clear and simple analysis of the nature of sin and its consequences, albeit in rich and symbolic language. Disobedience to the law of God brings physical pain and suffering and alienation from him. This is indeed the experience of every man. In this sense the story is paradigmatic. But in all societies, and especially the tightly knit family society of ancient Israel, the behavior of parents has great impact on their children for good or ill. It therefore follows that the disobedience of the first couple from whom Genesis traces the descent of the whole human race must have had grave consequences for all mankind. In this sense, then, the story offers a protohistorical account of man’s origins and his sin.’

2:5 Now no shrub of the field had yet grown on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 2:6 Springs would well up from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. 2:7 The LORD God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

This re-emphasises the teaching of Gen 1:1, that the earth was initially inhospitable to human life.  God has not only made a home for us, but furnished it with everything he needs.  Everything which contributes to our health, enjoyment and comfort comes from God.

Formed…from the dust of the ground – The animals, too, were created from the ground.  There is continuity between them and us.

Gen 1:27 gives the other side of the coin.  Taking the two together, then, we learn that men and women were made in the image of God and that the man was formed from the dust of the ground.

Gen 2:7 and Theistic Evolution

In an article in Evangelicals Now, John Benton explains why he finds in this verse persuasive arguments against theistic evolution:-

The phrase ‘breathed into’ implies communication from the outside into man’s body, rather than an evolution of potentialities within.

According to this verse, it was the divine inbreathing which gave life to the man.  He was not alive prior to this inbreathing.  To suggest, as theistic evolutionists do, that man evolved from pre-existing hominids, is a contradiction of this text.

The same divine inbreathing which gave him life, constituted him as man, as defined in Gen 1:26.  Again, there is no room for the idea that God first man something less than man, which later developed into man.

Grudem (Systematic Theology p265) also thinks that this verse weighs decisively against the view that human beings are the result of a long evolutionary process.

‘This is because when Scripture says that the Lord “formed man of dust from the ground” (Gen. 2:7), it does not seem possible to understand that to mean that he did it over a process that took millions of years and employed the random development of thousands of increasingly complex organisms. Even more impossible to reconcile with an evolutionary view is the fact that this narrative clearly portrays Eve as having no female parent: she was created directly from Adam’s rib while Adam slept (Gen. 2:21). But on a purely evolutionary view, this would not be possible, for even the very first female “human being” would have been descended from some nearly human creature that was still an animal. The New Testament reaffirms the historicity of this special creation of Eve from Adam when Paul says, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8–9).’

God formed man and gave him his life.  Formed speaks of the skill of the master-craftsman. ‘The word highlights the artistry of creation. It is used, for example, of the potter moulding and fashioning the clay and speaks of the intimacy and dedication and even of the imaginativeness of the divine operator. The idea of what he wants to make is present to begin with in God’s own mind, or logos, and is brought into being by the processes of the divine artistry. In the case of man, yatsar is also allied with the fact that God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life, expressing the closeness of the divine involvement. I commend this word to you in particular in the context of our own human artistry. There is a whole area still to be explored here with regard to the relation between God and beauty; the fact that beauty is what conforms to the absolute norms of beauty in God’s own mind. Those whose talent is artistic, whether in words or pigment or whatever, should rejoice in the fact that they have God himself as their Model. He is the Supreme Artist.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

The idea of a god acting as a craftsman in forming humans is also found in other texts from the ANE: ‘It appears in Atrahasis where a goddess mixes clay and the blood of a slain god to fashion seven males and seven females . In Enki and Ninmah, an intoxicated divine being uses earth to make imperfect human beings. And in Gilgamesh, a pinch of clay is used to create a man. (Lamoureux, Four Views on the Historical Adam).

The dust of the ground – There is a word-play here: ʾādām, the man, was created from ʾădāmâ, the ground.

Humble constituents

This expression reminds us of the humble constituents which make up our physical bodies. Yet the human body is important, because it is molded and shaped by God. The body is neither to be despised (asceticism) nor abused, but respected as the handiwork of God.

The nature of creatureliness

Ian Paul (oral ministry) suggests that our creatureliness includes the follow aspects:-

  1. Finitude (in contrast to the modern notion which claims, “We can anything we want, if only we put our minds to it”.
  2. Dependence (challenging our vaunted autonomy)
  3. Earthiness (we creatures in touch with creation)
  4. Givenness (we are not responsible for creation itself – what a relief!)

Breathed is warmly personal, somewhat suggestive of a kiss. Life can be explained partly in terms of ‘the dust of the ground’, by the discoveries of molecular biology. But it cannot be fully explained without reference to the vivifying breath of God. ‘Through this traditional image Genesis implies that people are by nature more than material; they have a spiritual, God-breathed, element too.’ (NBC)

‘According to modern-day psychics, this “breath of life” enables humans to exhibit supernatural abilities. Most people, however, do not know how to tap into this power. Such a bizarre conclusion cannot be derived from the text. A better interpretation is that the “breath of life” is simply the animating force of the body.’ (Apologetics Study Bible)

We are creatures of two worlds

‘Man’s body was fashioned from the dust of the ground, while is spirit came from the very “breath” of God. He is literally a creature of two worlds; both earth and heaven can claim him’ (Yates). See Ps 139:13. It is God who made us; and it is to him that we must give account.

We are made of dust

‘In biblical thinking human beings are made out of dust, like the rest of the natural creation.  This is seen both in Hebrew, where the name “Adam” is derived from adamah, “the ground”, and also in English where the word “human” is derived from humus, “the soil”.  We have a profound solidarity with the rest of creation.  Biblical Christians should not be surprised at the recent findings of remarkable similarities between the human genome and that of other species on the planet.  We are made out of the same stuff as everything else…We share the vulnerability, dependence and contingency of the biological world.  But at the same time biblical thinking stresses that human beings are unique amongst all the living organisms on the planet.  We alone are made as God’s image.  In some mysterious way we reflect the profundities of God’s character and nature.  It has been well said the “A human life is not just a gift of God’s grace, it is a reflection of his being.”  The dignity of our humanity is fundamentally derivative; it comes from him whose image we bear.’ (John Wyatt, in Real Scientists, Real Faith, 200f.)

A woman’s place is…

‘The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to top him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.’ (M. Henry)

2:8 The LORD God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man he had formed. 2:9 The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, every tree that was pleasing to look at and good for food. (Now the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard.)

God placed the first man in a beautiful garden. ‘God’s concern for human need, already mentioned in Gen 1:29, is again underlined here. A delightful park full of fruit trees, rivers, gold and gemstones is prepared for human habitation in an area called Eden (i.e. ‘delight’). Trees, water, gold and gems and cherubim also adorned the later tabernacle (Ex 25:27) and temple, (1 Kings 7; Eze 41-47) and these symbols suggest what was most important about the garden: the presence of God. He used to walk there in the cool of the day having intimate conversation with Adam and Eve (3:8).’ (NBC)

Eden means ‘delight’. Those who translated the OT into Greek borrowed the word ‘paradise’ from Persian (as the Heb text itself had done in Ne 2:8; Ec 2:5; So 4:13; cf. Rev 2:7). God did not place man in a desert, but in a garden. To the gift of life he added an abundance of good things for his happiness.

Eden as a garden-temple

Eden is not just a garden for humans, but the garden of God, Is 51:3; Ezek 28:13.  As Wenham explains, ‘The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.’

Walton (DOT:P, art. ‘Eden, Garden of’) explains that if the entire creation is represented in these early chapters of Genesis as the Temple complex, then Eden is the holy of holies, and the garden the antechamber to the holy of holies.  ‘With this understanding, it can be appreciated that in the aftermath of the *Fall, the greatest loss was not access to paradise; it was access to God’s presence. The temple provided for a partial return of that presence, and the antechamber of the temple was reminiscent of the proximity to God’s presence that had once been enjoyed.’

Eden as a garden-temple is supported by the following: (a) Eden was understood by the prophets to have been located on a mountain, as with all temples; (b) the furniture of later temples corresponded with the imagery of Eden – the lampstand in the temple being a symbol of the tree of life, and the curtain of the temple being embroidered with churubim; (c) Eden was the place of God’s presence.  A number of such connections are made in Lev 26:4-13.

But the garden is not only a sanctuary in which God dwells.  ‘It is also the source of all the creative forces that flow forth from the Divine Presence, that energize and give life to the creation in a constant, unceasing outflow of vivifying power’ (Neiman).  This idea of water flowing from the dwelling place of God occurs again in Eze 47:1-12 and, especially, in Rev 22:1f.

‘Man had a life of pure delight, and unmixed pleasure in this state; rivers of pure pleasure ran through it; the earth with the product thereof, was now in its glory’ nothing had yet come in to mar the beauty of the creatures. God set him down, not in a common place of the earth, but in Eden, a place eminent for pleasantness, as the name of it imports; nay, not only in Eden, but in the Garden of Eden; the pleasant spot of that pleasant place: a garden planted by God himself, to be the mansion-house of this his favourite’ (Boston).

The man – The personal name ‘Adam’ (i.e., ʾādām with the definite article) does not occur in this narrative.  Hess (DOT:P) argues that ‘the man’ functions as ‘a title that reflects a middle point in the continuum from the general usage of ʾādām in Genesis 1 to the personal name Adam at the end of Genesis 4’.

God provided for all man’s needs. Trees represent the riches of the earth placed at man’s disposal. God did not create the world to be purely functional: ‘The garden is a place of beauty as well as utility’ (Atkinson). Cf Mt 26:6-10.  God brought beauty and variety into everything.

‘Man had a life of pure delight, and unalloyed pleasure, in this state. Rivers of pure pleasure ran through it. The earth, with the product thereof, was now in its glory; nothing had yet come in to mar the beauty of the creatures. God placed him, not in a common place of the earth—but in Eden, a place eminent for pleasantness, as the name of it imports; nay, not only in Eden—but in the garden of Eden—the most pleasant spot of that pleasant place; a garden planted by God himself, to be the mansion-house of this his favorite.’ (Thomas Boston)

‘Surely, then, knowledge was pleasant unto his soul. What delight do some find in their discoveries of the works of nature, by those scraps of knowledge they have gathered! but how much more exquisite pleasure had Adam, while his piercing eyes read the book of God’s works, which God laid before him, to the end he might glorify him in the same; and therefore had certainly fitted him for the work! But, above all, his knowledge of God, and that as his God, and the communion which he had with him, could not but afford him the most refined and exquisite pleasure in the innermost recesses of his heart. Great is that delight which the saints find in those views of the glory of God, which their souls are sometimes let into, while they are compassed about with many infirmities—and much may well be allowed to sinless Adam; who no doubt had a peculiar relish of those pleasures.’ (Boston)

‘Let this be our principle: that the use of God’s gifts is not wrongly directed when it is referred to that end to which the Author himself created and destined them for us, since he created them for our good, not for our ruin. Accordingly, no one will hold to a straighter path than he who diligently looks to this end. Now if we ponder to what end God created food, we shall find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. Thus the purpose of clothing, apart from necessity, was comeliness and decency. In grasses, trees and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of odour. (cf Gen 2:9) For if this were not true, the prophet would not have reckoned them among the benefits of God, “that wine gladdens the heart of man, that oil makes his face shine”…Has (Ps 104:15) the Lord clothed the flowers with the great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, or our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odour? What? Did he not so distinguish colours as to make some more lovely than others? What? Did he not endow gold and silver, ivory and marble, with a loveliness that renders them more precious than other metals or stones? Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?’ (Calvin, Institutes, III,X,2)

‘In this quiet place of indescribable beauty, man was to enjoy fellowship and companionship with the Creator, and to work in accord with the divine blueprint to perfect his will. Magnificent trees furnished sustaining food, but man had to work to care for them. Adequate water was ensured by a vast irrigation system, a network of rivers that flowed in and about the garden with its life-giving waters. In order to lead man to full moral and spiritual development, God gave him specific commands and a specific prohibition to govern his behaviour…Thus began the moral discipline of man.’ (Kyle)

Pleasing to the eye – ‘The Bible as a whole is enveloped in striking master images of pleasure. The original image of pleasure in the Bible is paradise, the garden that God planted specifically for people, the garden that included “every tree that is pleasant to the sight.” (Gen 2:9 RSV) Paradise is synonymous with pleasure, and the Genesis account differs from its ancient parallels in stressing that the happy garden was designed by God for people. The final two chapters of the Bible return us to the pleasure motif, with their pictures of joy, the passing away of human pain and sorrow (Rev 21:4) and the satisfaction of every human need.’ (Rev 21:6 22:2) (DBI)

The tree of life – See Rev 2:7; 22:2.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil – This cannot be simple”] discernment between right and wrong, for our first parents already had such knowledge, as can be deduced from Rom 2:14f. It is, rather a God-like knowledge, an assuming of the right to determine for oneself what is good and what is evil. It is an usurping of God’s right to be the final moral arbiter and judge, cf Gen 50:20. Compared with God’s wisdom in this respect, our abilities are puny, and yet man has continually set himself up as moral judge, thus dethroning God from what belongs to him, by rightful and unshared privilege. To be made in image of God was not enough; man wanted to be god.

The outworking of this in human history has been manifold. Man has set himself as his own God, doing what was right in his own eyes, Deut 12:8; Jud 21:25; Pr 3:7; 12:15; 21:2; 30:12; Isa 5:21. The two principles areas in which this has taken place have been (a) morality, Rom 1:24-32: situation ethics, lust for power, greed, ambition, infidelity, homosexuality, fornication and so on; and (b) religion, Rom 1:18-23: idolatry, apostasy, syncretism, sorcery, mysticism, magic, witchcraft, occultism.

2:10 Now a river flows from Eden to water the orchard, and from there it divides into four headstreams. 2:11 The name of the first is Pishon; it runs through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 2:12 (The gold of that land is pure; pearls and lapis lazuli are also there). 2:13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it runs through the entire land of Cush. 2:14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it runs along the east side of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.

Having planted the garden, God nourishes it with a rich and continuous supply of water.  Also hinted at are the other natural resources which will contribute to man’s civilisation and culture.

‘Two of the rivers of Eden are well known: the Tigris and the Euphrates flow through modern Iraq into the Persian Gulf. Gihon and Pishon are impossible to identify, and therefore attempts to locate Eden are doomed to failure. Mesopotamian mythology located a paradise island at the head of the Persian Gulf, and therefore the likeliest explanation is that Eden was supposed to be there. But this may be taking the story too literally, for Gen 3:23-24 makes it plain that Eden cannot now be entered by human beings.’ (NBC)identify.

2:15 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. 2:16 Then the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, 2:17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”

It is appropriate that the man, having been made from ‘the dust of the ground’ is instructed to care for the land and all that lives there.

‘God told Adam to do four things: (1) work or cultivate the garden; (2) take care of or keep it, i.e., guard its sanctity; (3) eat its fruit, except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but apparently including the fruit of the tree of life; (4) name the animals.’ (Ryrie)

To work is lit. ‘to serve’; ‘take care’ carries the meaning ‘guard’. This paves the way for the condemnation of those who ‘destroy the earth’, Rev 11:18. See also Gen 1:28.

Work is not intrinsically evil, but good. It is part of human responsibility here at the beginning, before things go wrong. ‘Human fulfilment includes the creativity of work and the Garden is the place for mankind to find that fulfilment’ (Atkinson). ‘Work is not a consequence of the fall, it is a consequence of creation.’ (John Stott) Creation does not remain a static entity. It is full of possibilities and potentialities. Mankind is charged with the responsibility of bringing to fruition these possibilities of development.

But work is more than paid employment: it embraces all of man’s management of that which the Creator has provided.  ‘God put mankind in his Garden, to look after it as his estate manager.  If our human creativity is to reflect something of god, it will not be concerned simply with what is new, economically productive or artistically expressive.  It will go beyond these to seek and reflect god’s concern for a world and a society of which he can say, “This is good”‘ (Atkinson)

Creation does not remain a static entity.  It is full of possibilities and potentialities.  Humankind is charged with the responsibility of bringing to fruition these possibilities of development. ‘The given reality of the created order is such that it is possible to have schools and industry, printing and rocketry, needlepoint and chess…The whole vast range of human civilisation is…a display of the marvellous wisdom of God in creation and the profound meaningfulness of our task in the world’ (Wolters).

What is ‘nature’?  Man’s idea of ‘nature’ has been redefined in each age.  In the Middle Ages, nature was conceived as the servant of God.  Later, deists viewed it as an independent force, a closed system of cause and effect.  For the Romantics, nature became the semi-personified object of veneration.  Each of these falls short of the view of nature implied by these verses: created and sustained by God, nourishing and nourished by mankind.  Robert Boyle argued against the deification of nature, citing three key biblical passages: Job 31:26f; Deut 4:19; Rom 1:24f.

Man was given the responsibility of caring for the environment. We are acutely aware of how poorly man has ‘cared for’ God’s creation. Hence the environmental crisis of our present day. Our relationship with creation is meant to be one of inter-dependence. We are to co-operate, not to exploit; to protect, not to destroy. The loss of this attitude has wounded the creation, which now ‘groans’ with pain and suffering.

Denis Lamoureux, though adopting an ahistorical view of these early chapters of Genesis, nevertheless affirms that ‘Genesis 2 reveals radical spiritual truths. For the nations surrounding the Hebrews, the gods in many of their origins stories create humans in order to free themselves from work. The basic message is that men and women are slaves of the gods. In sharp contrast, Genesis 2 reveals the Message of Faith that the Lord cares for humanity. He meets their physical and psychological needs by offering food and companionship. In this way, the God who loves us is being revealed at this early stage of biblical revelation.’  (Four Views on the Historical Adam)

Sailhamer (EBC) thinks that this verse is mistranslated in the NIV and many other translations.  He argues that it should be rendered, ‘to worship and obey’.  This, he claims, not only fits the grammar of the text, but also the wider context, which emphasises man’s likeness to God.

“You are free to eat…but you must not eat” – Human beings were created with both freedom and responsibility.  Milton described their situation as, ‘able to stand, but free to fall’.  They were able to choose between right and wrong, obedience and disobedience.

“You must not eat” – God placed man under moral government. We have seen God as Creator, fashioning Adam and placing him in the garden; now we see him as Lawgiver, putting him under his word. This command is sometimes called ‘the covenant of works’.

All come under God’s government, whether they acknowledge it or not. All are answerable to him: this is the answer to relativism (‘there are no moral absolutes’), individualism (‘I can do as I please’), and agnosticism (‘we cannot know’). Contrary to most modern thinking, right living is not a matter of personal choice, but of living according to the will of God.

The thrust of this command is to give freedom within limits. ‘His commands are not burdensome’, 1 Jn 5:3. There is wisdom in this commandment. Being finite creatures, we can only ever function effectively within prescribed limits. Modern man has blasted his way through so many moral boundaries. ‘In place of structure and form, there is now emphasis on flux. Human identity is seen, not in terms of fixed moral activity, but as an endless process of self-discovery and personal fluidity. Instead of clear ethical contours in our landscape of life, there is moral shifting that embraces situation ethics’ (Houston).

What does it mean to ‘eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’? It means to declare oneself morally autonomous, to constitute oneself ‘an arbiter and judge of good and evil’ (Calvin). Such a unilateral declaration of independence is treason against Almighty God, and therefore carries the ultimate penalty.

Packer explains: ‘God set the first man in a state of happiness and promised to continue this to him and his posterity after him if he showed fidelity by a course of perfect positive obedience and specifically by not eating from a tree described as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It would seem that the tree bore this name because the issue was whether Adam would let God tell him what was good and bad for him or would seek to decide that for himself, in disregard of what God had said. By eating from this tree Adam would, in effect, be claiming that he could know and decide what was good and evil for him without any reference to God.’ (Concise Theology, p80)

“You will surely die” – Many scholars see connect this with the Exile, which is a kind of spiritual death, a separation from God.  When they ate the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve did not die physically, but they were expelled (exiled) from the Garden.

Disobedience to the divine law is punishable by death. What is the nature of this death, and of the life which is held out as the obvious alternative? Certainly, physical death and life are included. Had Adam not sinned, he would not have been subject to the decay and ultimate death to which we all now find ourselves subject. But something further is implied. ‘Life, according to the Bible, is not just existence, but it is existence in the presence and with the favour of God; and death is not just the death of the body but it is separation from God and a doom that should fill the heart of man with a nameless dread’ (Machen).

‘Upon this condition, God promised him life; the continuance of natural life in the union of soul and body; and of spiritual life in the favour of his Creator; he promised him also eternal life in heaven, to have been entered into when he should have passed the time of his trial upon earth, and the Lord should see meet to transport him into the upper paradise’ (Boston).

‘Man did eat of it, and the sentence went into execution to a certain extent, but clearly was not fully executed at once. It is due to common grace that God did not at once fully execute the sentence of death on the sinner, and does not do so now, but maintains and prolongs the natural life of man and gives him time for repentance. He does not at once cut short the life of the sinner, but affords him an opportunity to repent, thereby removing all excuse and justifying the coming manifestation of His wrath upon those who persist in sin unto the end. That God acts on this principle is abundantly evident from such passages as Isa. 48:9; Jer. 7:23-25; Luke 13:6-9; Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 2 Peter 3:9.’ (Berkhof, Systematic Theology)

‘Man is a suicide. Our sin slays the race. We die because we have sinned. How this should make us hate sin.’ (Spurgeon)

Man did not live ‘happily ever after’ in his state of innocence. His fall into sin, and his redemption by grace, and the hope of eternal glory, will form the master themes of the remainder of Scripture. ‘There is always something abstract and unreal about talking about creation apart from sin and redemption…Earthly creation preceding the events in Gen 3 is like a healthy newborn child. In every respect it can be pronounced ‘very good’, but this does not mean that change is not required…It is meant to grow, develop, mature into adulthood. Suppose now that while the child is still an infant it contracts a serious chronic disease for which there is no known cure, and that it grows up an invalid, the disease wasting its body away. It is clear that there are two clearly distinguishable processes going on in its body as it approaches adolescence: one is the process of maturation and growth, which continues in spite of the sickness and which is natural, normal and good; the other is the progress of the disease, which distorts and impairs the healthy functioning of the body. Now suppose further that the child has reached adolescence when a cure is found for the sickness, and it slowly begins to recover its health…’ (Wolters).

The position of the least in the kingdom of God is higher and better than that of the man in the garden: his status was based on his own fallible obedience; ours is based on the perfect obedience of the Second Adam. ‘Under the covenant of works it would have been always possible to fall, and then the reward would have been forfeited; but now, under the new covenant, our Lord Jesus has settled and fixed all that was contingent in it by perfecting his part of the agreement, and therefore all the rest stands sure, and all believers must receive covenanted mercies. Adam might have fallen, and we in him, even had he stood for a thousand years. The second Adam has ended his probation both for himself and all his seed, and now nothing can intervene to deprive his people of the earned and purchased inheritance. Innocence seemed sure, but perfection is surer. It is something not to have broken the law; it is far more to have fulfilled it and honoured it, so as to be able to say as our Lord has said, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”‘ (Spurgeon).

‘In him the tribes of Adam boast more blessings than their father lost’ (Watts).

‘In what does the Christian hope consist?  Does it consist merely in the hope of being given a new chance to obey the commands of God, to have sin removed, and to have set before us all over again in another world the alternative of life and death as it was set before Adam in Paradise?  No Christian, who has any inkling of the true richness of the great and precious promises of God will say that.  On the contrary, the Christian hope is the hope of a time when even the possibility of our sinning will be over.  It is not the hope then of a return to the condition of Adam before the fall but the hope of an entrance into a far higher condition.’ (Machen)

‘Behold here the infinite obligation we lie under to Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who, with his own precious blood has bought our freedom, and freely makes offer of it again to us, Hos. 13:9, and that with the advantage of everlasting security, and that it can never be altogether lost any more, John 10:28, 29. Free grace will fix those, whom free will shook down into the gulf of misery.’ (Boston)

‘See the wonderful goodness of God, who was pleased when man had forfeited the first covenant, to enter into a new covenant with him. Well may it be called a covenant of grace; for it is bespangled with promises—as the heaven with stars. When the angels, those glorious spirits, fell, God did not enter into a new covenant with them to be their God—but he let those golden vessels lie broken; yet has he entered into a second covenant with us, better than the first. It is better, because it is surer; it is made in Christ, and cannot be reversed. Christ has engaged his strength to keep every believer. In the first covenant we had a power of standing; in the second we have an impossibility of falling finally.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

Note that as man’s original state was one of innocence, so sin enters as an alien.  It is not ‘natural’ to sin.

2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”
A suitable helper'
Why is the verb used here not plural, as it was in the account of the creation of man when it said, Let us make? (Gen 1:26) Some think that the change indicates a difference between the sexes and shows how greatly superior man is to woman. But a different, although not altogether contradictory, interpretation pleases me better. When the human race was created in the person of a man, a dignity common to all humanity was universally conferred with the words let us make man. There was no need to repeat this at the creation of a woman, for she was really a supplement to the man. We certainly cannot deny that woman also, perhaps in a secondary way, was created in the image of God. Hence it follows that what was said of man applies equally to woman.

Now when God designates woman as man’s helper, he is not giving women a rule to determine their vocation in life by assigning them a special task; he is rather declaring that marriage itself will be man’s best help in life. Let us then accept it as a rule of nature that a woman is a man’s helper. Of course we know the common proverb that she is a necessary evil, but we ought to listen to the voice of God which asserts that woman was given to man as a companion and partner to help him to live really well.

I confess indeed that in the present corrupt state of the human race, God’s blessing as here described is not often seen and amounts to little. But we must keep in mind the reason for this evil. We have perverted the order of nature instituted by God. If man still had today the wholeness which he had in the beginning, God’s ordinance would be fulfilled and the sweetest harmony would reign in marriage. For man would look to God; and woman, equally faithful, would be his helper. Being both of one mind, they would cherish an association no less holy than friendly and peaceful. Now because of our own wickedness and corrupt nature such married bliss is for the most part lost or at least is marred by many annoyances. Quarrels arise, and hurt feelings, bitterness, discords, and a great sea of trouble. So it happens that men are often seriously distressed by their wives and think of them as a hindrance.

Yet marriage cannot be so wholly spoiled by man’s sin that the blessing with which God hallowed it by his word is entirely abolished and no longer exists. Therefore in spite of the many troubles of married life, which arise from our degenerate nature, there remains a residuum of divine good; in a fire which is almost smothered, some sparks still glow.

From this truth follows another: women should learn their duty, strive by helping their husbands to fulfill God’s purpose. And men also ought to consider carefully what they owe in return to half of the human race. A mutual obligation binds both sexes. By God’s law woman is given to man as helper, so that he may do his part as the head and leader.

(Calvin)

“It is not good for the man to be alone” – The ‘not good’ is emphatic (Waltke and Fredricks), standing in sharp contrast to repeated expressions of ‘it was good’ elsewhere in the narrative.

‘Against the sevenfold refrain of “and God saw that it was (very) good” in chap. 1, the divine observation that something was not right with man’s situation is startling. It alerts the reader to the importance of companionship for man.’ (Wenham)

It is inadequate to understand this merely as Adam’s need for friendship.  In context, we see that Adam needed ‘a counterpart for both of them to become together the community of oneness God had intended to create.’ (Matthew Loverin).

‘Here Moses explains God’s purpose in creating woman. God wished the earth to be populated by men who would live together and create a society. Some may question whether God’s purpose included offspring; for the words say only that since it is not well for a man to be alone, a woman had to be created to be his helpmate. But as I understand it, when God took the first steps towards a human society, he intended the others to follow each in turn. We have then a general principle: man was created to be a social animal. Now since the human race could not exist without woman, no bond whatever in human relations is more sacred than that by which husband and wife unite to become one body and one soul. On this point, nature itself taught Plato and others among the saner philosophers to speak with wisdom.

But although God made the statement that it is not good for man to be alone about Adam, I do not restrict it to his single person. I consider it rather a general rule for human living. Therefore everyone ought to take as a precept directed to himself that solitude is not good except for a man whom God exempts as a matter of unusual privilege.

Many think celibacy furthers their plans and refrain from marriage to avoid trouble. But it is not only worldly people who say that, if a man wants to be happy, he should stay away from a wife. Jerome’s book against Jovinian is crammed with petulant insults by which he tries to make sacred marriage hateful and to disgrace it. Let men of faith learn to fight the evil suggestions of Satan with this Word of God, by which he decrees married life for man, not for his ruin but for his wellbeing.’ (Calvin)

Walke and Fredricks note that marriage was the norm even for those called to holy duties (such as the high priest, Lev 21:13, and those under Nazirite vows, Num 6:1-14).

Calvin comments that although the Scripture here refers specifically to the relationship between the man and the woman, it may legitimately extended to other kinds of relationships.  It is a general principle, says Calvin, that man was created to be a social animal.  ‘Thus, we all should receive this saying, that solitude is not good, as addressed to each of us, excepting only those whom God exempts as by a special privilege.’

“I will make a companion for him” – Lit. ‘a helper matching him’ (Wenham).  This expression ‘seems to express the notion of complementarity rather than identity. As Delitzsch (1:140) observes, if identity were meant, the more natural phrase would be “like him,” כמוהו. The help looked for is not just assistance in his daily work or in the procreation of children, though these aspects may be included, but the mutual support companionship provides.’ (Wenham)

More than a ‘helper’.  ‘Traditionally “helper.” The English word “helper,” because it can connote so many different ideas, does not accurately convey the connotation of the Hebrew word עֵזֶר (’ezer). Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English “helper” can have. In the Bible God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs. In this context the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The woman would supply what the man was lacking in the design of creation and logically it would follow that the man would supply what she was lacking, although that is not stated here.’ (NET Bible, note)

Not merely an ‘assistant’.  ‘Helper’ does not imply servitude, or even merely assistance.  A ‘helper’ may be inferior or superior to the one helped.  The word is used of the help and support God himself gives to his people, Gen 49:25; Ex 18:4; Deut 33:26; Pss 20:2; 121:1–2; 124:8.  Nevertheless, as Wenham remarks, ‘to help someone does not imply that the helper is stronger than the helped; simply that the latter’s strength is inadequate by itself (e.g. Josh 1:14; 10:4, 6; 1 Chron 12:17, 19, 21, 22).’  It does imply partnership; a partnership that will be essential for the fulfilment of the divine commission.  There was something lacking in the man that the woman will supply; she will help him to achieve what he could not do on his own.  See 1 Cor 11:9.

A rescuer?  Some even suggest that ‘rescuer’ is included in the meaning: at the very least, the text does teach that the man needed help, and that the woman was able to provide that help.  Mathews: ‘ʿēzer in 2:18 anticipates in an unexpected way how Eve will be a “helper” to her husband. She will be instrumental in providing salvation for fallen Adam by her “seed,” who will defeat the serpent (3:15). Hebrew zeraʿ (“seed”) may be a wordplay with the similar-sounding ʿēzer (“helper”). Since God is said to exercise the role of “helper,” the term does not diminish the person who holds that role. If anything, the divine nuance of the term “helper” in the Pentateuch gives special dignity (e.g., Deut 33:7, 26, 29).’

Implied distinction.  Nevertheless, as Waltke and Fredricks comment, some distinction is implied: ‘The word help suggests that the man has governmental priority, but both sexes are mutually dependent on each other. The man is created first, with the woman to help the man, not vice versa (see also 1 Tim. 2:13); however, this does not mean ontological superiority or inferiority. The word helper, used for God sixteen of the nineteen times it appears in the Old Testament, signifies the woman’s essential contribution, not inadequacy.’

The same authors add:-

‘The OT and NT affirm this structured, dependent relationship of men and women:

  1. In the OT a woman may serve as a prophetess but not priestess;
  2. The relationship of the Godhead is Father, Son, Spirit (not Parent, Child, Spirit);
  3. In the NT the apostles were all men;
  4. As presented in 1 Cor. 11:3–16, the wife is to the husband as the husband is to Christ and as Christ is to God;
  5. 1 Peter 3:6 reminds women that Sarah called Abraham “master” in her self-talk (Gen. 18:12).’

Complete equality.  And yet their ‘complete equality before God is seen throughout Scripture. Women pray directly to God (Gen. 30:1–2; 1 Sam. 1:9–14; 2:1–10), participate in sacrifice and ministry (Lev. 12:6; Luke 8:1–3), are Nazirites (Num. 6:2; 1 Cor. 7:32–35), parent with equal standing before the children (Lev. 19:3; Prov. 1:8; 31:26), receive and communicate divine revelation (Gen. 25:22–23; Ex. 15:20; Judg. 4:4–7; 2 Kings 22:13–20; Isa. 8:3), and serve and minister in the church (Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Euodia, Syntyche—diakonos, synergos, apostolos, Acts 21:9; Rom. 16:1–3, 7; Phil. 4:2–3).’

“…who corresponds to him” – The NET Bible notes: ‘The Hebrew expression כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (kénegdo) literally means “according to the opposite of him.” Translations such as “suitable [for]” (NASB, NIV), “matching,” “corresponding to” all capture the idea. (Translations that render the phrase simply “partner” [cf. NEB, NRSV], while not totally inaccurate, do not reflect the nuance of correspondence and/or suitability.) The man’s form and nature are matched by the woman’s as she reflects him and complements him. Together they correspond. In short, this prepositional phrase indicates that she has everything that God had invested in him.’

The word translated ‘suitable’ implies correspondence between the two.  The two are meant to match and complement one another, like a hook and eye.  Matthews says: ‘The focus is on the equality of the two in terms of their essential constitution. Man and woman share in the “human” sameness that cannot be found elsewhere in creation among the beasts. In every way the woman shares in the same features of personhood as does the man. In Gen 1:26–28 this equality of the man and woman as image bearers has priority over their differences in sexual roles, although both were crucial to realizing the intended blessing.’

‘The word helper essentially describes one who provides what is lacking in the other. The woman by relative difference but essential equality would be the man’s fitting complement. What he lacked, she supplied. And it is equally true that what she lacked, he would supply.’  (Complete Handbook of Everyday Christianity, art. ‘Marriage’)

A lifelong companionship

‘This word kenegdo signifies that a woman is prepared for the man and placed alongside him so that the companionship and intimacy that they share living together may be undivided, not like that of animals who come together but once a year for procreation and afterwards wander off separately and unrestrained. A wife ought to be so yoked to her husband that she is inseparable from him.’ (Musculus)

Equal, but different

Egalitarians often complain: ‘When you complementarians claim that women and men are “equal but different”, you really mean “unequal and different”.’

This is a charge that must be taken seriously.

But what says Scripture?

In Gen 2:18, ‘the woman is called the man’s helper; not the other way around. From a fair reading of Genesis 2, it doesn’t seem that male-female roles are reversible.’ (Kostenberger, AJ & ME, God’s Design for Man and Woman.

In their commentary on Genesis 2:18, Bruce Waltke and Cathi Fredricks, while affirming the essential equality of the man and the woman, suggest that role of the latter as ‘helper’ to the former does imply a certain structure of relationship.  The man was created first, then the woman (cf 1 Tim 2:13), and the woman was created to be the man’s helper, not vice-versa.

Elsewhere in Scripture:-

  1. In the OT a woman may serve as a prophetess but not priestess;
  2. The relationship of the Godhead is Father, Son, Spirit (not Parent, Child, Spirit);
  3. In the NT the apostles were all men;
  4. As presented in 1 Cor. 11:3–16, the wife is to the husband as the husband is to Christ and as Christ is to God;1 Peter 3:6 reminds women that Sarah called Abraham “master” in her self-talk (Gen. 18:12).

As the Kostenbergers state, it is a fallacy to assume ‘that subordination necessarily implies personal inferiority. It does not. For children to be entrusted to their parents’ care, for example, doesn’t mean they’re inferior persons. Neither are employees inferior to their bosses because they report to them.’

But although Scripture describes (prescribes?) a certain order or structure to the relationship between men and woman, they have, as Waltke and Fredricks emphasise, complete equality before God:-

‘Women pray directly to God (Gen. 30:1–2; 1 Sam. 1:9–14; 2:1–10), participate in sacrifice and ministry (Lev. 12:6; Luke 8:1–3), are Nazirites (Num. 6:2; 1 Cor. 7:32–35), parent with equal standing before the children (Lev. 19:3; Prov. 1:8; 31:26), receive and communicate divine revelation (Gen. 25:22–23; Ex. 15:20; Judg. 4:4–7; 2 Kings 22:13–20; Isa. 8:3), and serve and minister in the church (Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Euodia, Syntyche—diakonos, synergos, apostolos, Acts 21:9; Rom. 16:1–3, 7; Phil. 4:2–3).

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Hartley says that the word ‘suitable’ ‘suggests a person who was significantly different from him so as to contribute distinctively to his life, yet one who was of the same essence and on the same level.’

Kidner comments: ‘the woman is presented wholly as his partner and counterpart; nothing is yet said of her as childbearer. She is valued for herself alone.’  Sailhamer, however, thinks that ‘in light of the importance of the blessing in Gen 1:28, most likely the “help” envisioned is in the bearing of children.’

2:19 The LORD God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 2:20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found.

He brought them to the man – ‘All the animals are brought before him, and we see him looking at each one in the hope it would make a suitable companion for man. Ber. Rab. 17:5 pictures the animals passing by in pairs and man commenting, “Everything has its partner but I have no partner.”’ (Wenham)

‘The animals weren’t brought before Adam as if God wanted to find out whether some suitable helper for the man might be found among them. The Lord perfectly well knew that one would not be discovered, but he brought the animals so that his gift would be welcomed by Adam all the more, lest he happen to think that there was no need for the creation of woman, because something could have been discovered among the animals as suitable for him as the woman was. God wanted Adam to learn for himself that no such helper was to be found.’ (Peter Martyr Vermigli)

‘Whereas Gen 1:28 emphasized the importance of procreation, Gen 2:20–24 explores the nature of companionship within marriage.’ (NBC)

2:21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. 2:22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

A deep sleep – ‘The purpose of the sleep is not merely anesthetic but portrays a sense of passivity and acceptance of the divine provision (cf. Ps 127:2).’ (Sailhamer)

The association of Eve with a rib has in recent years been explained in terms of the Sumerian “Dilmun poem.” This story plays on the fact that the Sumerian word ‘ti’ means both ‘rib’ and ‘to make alive’. ‘It happened that the Sumerian water-God, Enki, fell sick, with eight of his organs or bodily parts being affected. A fox promised, if properly rewarded, to bring back the great mother-Goddess Ninhursag, who had disappeared after an argument with Enki. Upon her reappearance she brought into existence eight corresponding healing deities, and Enki was restored in time. In order to heal Enki’s rib the Goddess created Nin-ti, “the lady of the rib,” which may also be translated as “the lady who makes alive.”‘ (HSB)

It is true that Adam called the woman that God had formed from his rib “Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” (Gen 3:20) It is supposed, then, that the Sumerian story was taken over into the Genesis account, even though the pun would have been lost in the process. It could be that the two stories shared some kind of common origin, but there are major differences too. The Genesis account, for example, emphasises that Adam lacked a suitable companion. The creation of the woman from his side serves to indicate the unsuitability of the animals that had just been created, and the suitability of the woman for the intimacy of a marriage relationship.

‘In order that the kinship of the human race might become more sacred, he wanted both males and females to spring from one and the same source. He therefore created human nature in the person of Adam and then formed Eve from him, so that the woman would be only a portion of the whole race. Moses’ words in Genesis 1:28, above, intend the same thing: “God created humankind, he made them male and female.” In this way Adam was taught to recognize himself in his wife, as in a mirror; and Eve, in her turn, to submit herself willingly to her husband, as being taken out of him. But if the two sexes had proceeded from different sources, there would have been occasion either for mutual contempt or for envy or strife.’ (Calvin)

Ian Paul (oral ministry) likens the relationship between male and female to that between the two banks of a river – equal, and yet opposite.

The Lord God made a woman from the rib – ‘The charming tale of God creating Eve out of Adam’s rib and then presenting her to him as if at a wedding sums up beautifully many of the key biblical ideas about marriage. Here and in Gen 1:27-28 we have God’s standard for relations between the sexes set out. Whereas Gen 1:28 emphasized the importance of procreation, Gen 2:20-24 explores the nature of companionship within marriage. First, husband and wife complement each other. Suitable helper would be better be translated ‘helper matching him’, i.e. supplying what he lacks. She is his missing rib.’ (NBC)

From his side, not from his head or foot

Johannes Brenz: ‘Our forebears explained, not without insight, that woman was created not from the man’s head or foot but from his side, to signify that woman should not lord it over the man or be a footstool for his feet, but be of equal right and dignity.’  Matthew Henry famously developed this idea: ‘Not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.’

The word for ‘made’ (Heb. banah) basically means ‘to build’, and is used in Gen 8:20 of Noah constructing the ark. The use of this word suggests that particular care went into the creation of the woman.

Cardinal Cajetan (1469 – 1534) adopted a rather ‘progressive’ interpretation.  He thought that a literal interpretation of this text (and others in the creation narratives) would lead to absurdity: ‘From the text itself and its context, I am constrained to understand this production of the woman so that it is taken not literally but as a mystery—though not allegorically, but like a parable. If the text is taken literally in the first things said here, “a rib was removed from Adam,” it will inevitably run to absurdity: because either Adam was a monster before the rib was removed from him, or he was maimed after the rib was removed from him. Either of these is clearly absurd.… The context also insinuates the same thing. For to bring the animals before Adam and not to find among them a fitting helper for him, if it is understood literally, it signifies a ridiculous line of questioning. Really, in whose mind could certainty be overturned as to whether a fitting helper for Adam might be found among the birds? Hence, this kind of divine inquisition (introduced by Moses when he says, “no helper was found”) is introduced for this purpose: that we may understand that the later formation of the woman from the man’s rib was not to be understood according to the literal sense but as a similitude.… The same point is made by Moses’ text about the sixth day, in which it is clearly written that “male and female he created them.” Truly, in this way—in that Moses had written that the woman was created on the sixth day, and then subsequently describes her as formed from the man’s rib after humanity had been transferred into paradise—he gave an opening to understand this kind of formation from a rib† not in the strict sense but as a similitude. If indeed the woman was brought forth on the sixth day, he did not suppose we should understand that she was brought forth a second time.’

Calvin comments that although the man lost a rib, ‘he was repaid for it with a far richer reward, since he obtained a faithful and lifelong companion. Even more, he now saw himself made whole in his wife, where previously he had been but half a self.’

2:23 Then the man said,
“This one at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

This joyful outburst (“Here at last…” – NRSV) records the only words we have from Adam before the Fall.

“Bone of man bones and flesh of my flesh” – ‘meaning that she was one with whom he desired to establish a bonding relationship. She truly was the helper, complement, and companion God perceived that the man needed (v. 18).’

The ‘right one’?

Young people grow up looking for the “right one.” When our teenagers talk this way, I interrupt them with the terribly parental judgment, “How are you becoming the perfect person for your future mate?” They need to be converted from the idea that their future marital bliss is caught up in finding the perfect one. Rather, marital intimacy is the mutual commitment of being the right one for the other.

(Complete Handbook of Everyday Christianity)

It was thought by some in ancient times that the gods played a trick on man by creating woman out of inferior materials. The biblical account affirms man and woman to be of the same essence.

The phraseology implies equality between the two.  It also implies unconditional commitment to one another.  Waltke and Fredricks add that ‘Christ, the model, will go even further and die for the other. In marriage we imitate the gospel, giving up our rights and even our life for the other.’

‘For this reason a pious husband will constantly give thought to his wife. She is the one whom the Lord destined for you in her mother’s womb, and he formed her to be such as she is. He will summon this thought above all, to the end that wives may be loved in the Lord and be treated piously and honorably.’ (Musculus)

Luther: ‘Whatever the husband has, this the wife has and possesses in its entirety. Their partnership involves not only their means but children, food, bed, and dwelling; their purposes, too, are the same. The result is that the husband differs from the wife in no other respect than in sex; otherwise the woman is altogether a man. Whatever the man has in the home and is, this the woman has and is; she differs only in sex.’

‘The biblical text doesn’t pit the man and the woman against each other but rather presents their union as exceedingly intimate and harmonious. The idea that the genders are locked in an adversarial, antagonistic relationship is utterly foreign to the biblical creation account.’ Kosternberg, AJ & ME, God’s Design for Man and Woman.

“She shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man” – There is a play on words here: She is called ʾiššâ, ‘woman’, for she was taken from ʾîš, ‘man’.  (A new word for ‘man’ is used, because, ʾādām, when feminised, would have resulted in ʾădāmâ, which has already been used as the word for the ‘ground’.

The naming implies the authority of the husband over the wife: he names her woman and later Eve (3:20), just as earlier he had named the animals (19). This concept of the man’s headship is made explicit elsewhere in the Bible. (e.g. 1 Cor 11:3; 1 Pet 3:1-6)

‘What is revealed in this second story of creation is that, although God made male and female equal, he also made them different.  In Genesis 1 masculinity and femininity are related to God’s image, while in Genesis 2 they are related to each other, Eve being taken out of Adam and brought to him.  Genesis 1 declares the equality of the sexes; Genesis 2 clarifies that “equality” means not “identity” but “complementarity”.  It is this “equal but different” state which we find hard to preserve.  Yet they are not incompatible; they belong to each other as essential aspects of the biblical revelation.’ (Stott, Issues facing Christians today, 4th ed,. p334)

2:24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.

‘This verse emphasizes the complete identification of the two personalities in marriage. The passage tells us that God instituted marriage and that it is to be monogamous, heterosexual, and the complete union of the two persons. Jesus added that it is to be permanent.’ (cf. Mk 10:7-9) (Ryrie)

A man will leave his father and mother – Better, ‘forsake’ (Wenham), for in Israel a man would normally live with or near his parents after marriage (see the examples of Isaac, Gen 24, and Jacob’s sons, Gen 42:37); it was the wife who would move away from her parents.

‘The narrator’s comment here is an aside from the main story, for it speaks about parents, and these first humans had no parents.’ (Hartley)

But it is a relative, not an absolute, forsaking; metaphorical, rather than literal (Mathews).  A man must put his wife’s interests above those of all others, including his parents. He has indeed an important duty to care for his parents, (Ex 20:12) but this comes second to his duty to look after his wife. (cf. Eph 5:25-29).

‘The statement here that the man will leave his family does not necessarily refer to a particular sociology, but to the fact that in this chapter it is the man who has been seeking a companion.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

‘The inspired explanation aims to correct cultures that give priority to the parental bonds over the marital bonds.’ (Waltke and Fredricks)

‘On marriage a man’s priorities change. Beforehand his first obligations are to his parents: afterwards they are to his wife. In modern Western societies where filial duties are often ignored, this may seem a minor point to make, but in traditional societies like Israel where honoring parents is the highest human obligation next to honoring God, this remark about forsaking them is very striking.’ (Wenham)

‘The process of leaving means disengaging from one’s family of origin (the family that you were born into and where you formed your initial preadult values and view of the world). It has to do with ending the dependency on the original family and becoming “jointly autonomous” with your mate…The leaving will be ongoing. It is not a “been there, done that” phenomenon. There is a continual leaving of the old to engage the new, even after many years of marriage (see Family Systems).’ (The Complete Handbook of Everyday Christianity)

When children come along, each parent will have ideas about how to rear it, based on how they themselves were reared.  They may need to ‘leave’ some of those ideas behind, in order to work out what is best for them and their child(ren).

A man unites with his wife – Lit. ‘stick to’ his wife. This communicates both passion and permanency in marriage (Wenham). Both Jesus (Mt 19:5) and Paul (Eph 5:31) quote this in connection with divorce.

What he needs, and what she needs

Willard Harley in his book His Needs, Her Needs points out what he has discovered as the priorities of the sexes in the order of importance. A man desires sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse, domestic support and, finally, admiration from his wife. Harley’s research indicates that a woman desires affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support and family commitment. With such different expectations, it is little wonder that the process of becoming one is so fraught with challenges and opportunities.’  (Complete Book of Everyday Christianity)

They become a new family – NIV: ‘They will become one flesh’ – Thus uniting what had been divided when woman was created, v22.  According to Wenham, this expression does not denote only sexual union, or even emotional and spiritual union.  It indicates, rather, that marriage creates a kinship tie just a real and as permanent as that between, say, a brother and a sister.

‘God’s intention that marriage be monogamous is implied by the complete unity and profound solidarity of the relationship.’ (Waltke and Fredricks)

Ryken (The Message of Salvation) remarks that ‘sexual intercourse is a union; it expresses the intimate spiritual oneness of a man and a woman.  At the same time, the consummation of their love depends on the physical differences between them.  Thus their sexual relationship expresses both their unity and their complementarity.  The hedonist uses sexuality for his or her own pleasure.  The naturalist reduces it to a biological urge.  But the man and the woman were made to enjoy sex for the glory of God…Even the sexual relationship between the man and the woman belonged to God, for procreation was part of this plan for blessing the world.’ (Cf. Gen 1:28)

Gowan: ‘Humanity is now complete, in the form of man and woman.’  Their relationship ‘is so powerful that it transcends the ties of blood, the lifelong emotional bonds that hold child to parent.’

It is clear that marriage in this passage, as in the OT generally, is regarded as the ‘norm’.  Singleness is not given much attention until Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 7:25-35.  Nevertheless, singleness cannot be regarded as ‘subnormal’ or ‘abnormal’.  Christ blessed marriage (Jn 2) while at the same time remaining single himself.

This passage assumes a definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  Same-sex ‘marriage’ cannot be made to fit scriptural teaching.  Where polygamy occurs later in the OT (as in the case of Solomon), Scripture makes the problems clear.

Against polygamy

Various early versions (but not the Masoretic Text) insert the word ‘two’ (‘the two become one flesh’).  It is included in the LXX and emphasised in Jesus’ citation of the verse (Mt 19:5).  See also Paul’s reference to this verse in 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31.  Conclusion: Scripture adopts an anti-polygamy stance from the outset, and this is affirmed and emphasised by Christ and the apostles.

The marriage relationship

According to this verse, the marriage relationship is:-

  1. an exclusive relationship (between ‘a man’ and ‘his wife’).
  2. socially acknowledged relationship (‘a man will leave his father and mother…and be united to his wife’).
  3. a permanent relationship (he will be ‘united’ – he will ‘stick to’ – his wife).
  4. consummated by sexual intimacy (‘they will become one flesh’).
In summary

Verses 18-24 teach the following truths:-

  1. Men and women were made for each other
  2. Sex is intended to be used within the binding relationship of marriage
  3. Sex within marriage is a God-given gift, and therefore good

2:25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.

The man and his wife were both naked – As the context indicates, this symbolises ‘innocence and intimacy’ (Ryken).

They felt no shame – Until they sinned, Gen 3:7.  Wenham explains that the underlying word does not carry overtones of guilt, as in the English.  It means, therefore, that they were ‘unabashed’, ‘not disconcerted’ (as small children are with regard to nakedness).

‘The most positive image of nakedness in the Bible is also the first, where we read regarding Adam and Eve in the Garden that “the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen 2:25 NIV). This is a strongly positive image, connoting such prelapsarian qualities as innocence, freedom, openness, paradisal simplicity and sexual intimacy in marriage. This striking verse at once signals implied contrasts between the original state of the human race and its later state, between paradisal simplicity and civilized complexity, between transparency and concealment, between a childlike lack of self-consciousness and adult shame over one’s private body parts.’ (L. Ryken, DBI, art. ‘Nakedness’)

As a conclusion to this part of the story of Adam and Eve, it may be noted ‘that God created only one Eve for Adam, not several Eves or another Adam, thereby indicating divine disapproval of both polygamy (cf. Lev 18:18; Deut 17:17) and homosexual practice.’ (Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-27) (NBC)

Love and marriage

Keller: ‘The Bible says don’t unite with someone physically unless you are also willing to unite with the person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, and legally.  Don’t become physically naked and vulnerable to the other person without becoming vulnerable in every other way, because you have given up your freedom and bound yourself in marriage.’ (The Meaning of Marriage, p223).

‘Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you”‘ (ibid., p223f)

‘The Bible does not counsel sexual abstinence before marriage because is has such a low view of sex but because it has such a lofty one’ (ibid., p226)

‘Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined.  In the midst of sexual passion, you naturally want to say extravagant things such as, “I’ll always love you.”  Even if you are not legally married, you may find yourself very quickly feeling marriage-like ties, feeling that the other person has obligations to you.  But that other person has no legal, social, or moral responsibility even to call you back in the morning.  This incongruity leads to jealous and hurt feelings and obsessiveness if two people are having sex but are not married.  It makes breaking up vastly harder than it should be.  It leads many people to stay trapped in relationships that are not good because of a feeling of having (*somehow) connected themselves’ (ibid., p226)

Not made for shame

‘In the creation accounts of Genesis shame was not part of the original divine mandate. Humans were created to be fruitful, and God declared their sexual fruitfulness ‘very good’. In fact, the text states quite clearly (immediately after the verse about Adam and Eve being ‘one flesh’) that the man and his wife were both naked ‘and . . . felt no shame’ (Genesis 2:25). Paradise was a space in which everybody and everything was at home. Humans were at home in their world, at home in their own bodies, and at home with each other.’  (Harrison, Glynn. A Better Story: God, Sex And Human Flourishing. IVP.)

Marriage is the best place for sex

  1. Man and woman are made for each other. ‘The animals are not the answer to the man’s loneliness, because no suitable helper can be found from among them. Giraffes are cool to look at, but not cool to be with for very long. God had to make something like a man but different from a man to find a companion for the man.’
  2. Sex is intended to be used within a binding commitment.  There is ‘leaving and cleaving’, and then there is the sealing of the covenant commitment in sexual intimacy.
  3. Married sex is good.  You won’t hear this from TV or movies (how often do they portray sex within marriage anyway?).  Sex within marriage is, if you like fire in the fireplace.

(Based on, and quoting from, Petty, Scott . Sex (Little Black Books). Matthias Media. Kindle Edition.)

But this was before the Fall

‘This is the hope of all young adults who decide to live together. They are desperately trying to get back to Eden. They want the simplicity and naiveté of the Adam and Eve who knew no sin. But unlike the Eden couple, they are cheating and lying to themselves. They have had imperfect parents, who have transmitted generations of fear, unhappiness and twistedness (along with much good) to them…They have developed competing ambitions that place them at loggerheads with each other. They have laughed at Bart Simpson too long and sung Madonna’s lyrics too long and shopped in malls with perfectly bodied mannequins for too long. In short, they are not naive at all. They know too much. And their experience of sexual union is something less than full communion.’ (Complete Handbook of Everyday Christianity)

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