Turn to Genesis 2. One becomes two, then two become one. The climax of Genesis 2 is how God made the woman, and what that means for marriage. There are other things in this creation chapter, but that’s the last stage in this creation story, so we’ll focus on that.
This is the second in the series I call marriage, celibacy, and bodies. We’re going through the main Scriptures on these topics, not to fish out which ideas are wrong, but to be clear which teachings are right.
Let’s keep this topic in perspective. Right now there is disagreement among believers about marriage and sexuality, so it is controversial. Keep in mind, for example, that Jesus said more about money and possessions than he did about marriage and sexuality. Jesus saw wealth and possessions as his main competition for the hearts and loyalty of people.
There is no controversy in our churches about wealth and greed, but if we keep to the teachings of Jesus, which we do, that is the greater spiritual danger. As churches go, I think our church as a whole does pretty well in handling finances. But let’s not make marriage questions the center.
Two Creation Stories
I believe, as do many, that Gen 1-2 have two separate creation stories. Gen 2:4 says, “this is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [one day] the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”
The words: “This is the account of …” occur often in Genesis (5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27, etc.) It never ends a section, it always begins a section. That means that Genesis 1:1 begins the first creation story, and Genesis 2:4 begins the second creation story: “this is how God made the earth and the heavens.”
Some differences between the two: in Gen 1, creation took six days; in Gen 2, it took one day.
The order in which God created things is different. In Gen 1, humans were created last, the high point of creation, after plants and animals. In Gen 2, the man was made first, then plants, then animals, and the woman last. Male and female marriage are still the high point of creation, but the sequence is not the same.
In Gen 1, God creates by speaking. In Gen 2, God creates by shaping, it seems with his hands.
The rest of the Bible considers both stories authoritative and appeals to both. The rest of the Bible does not care about the differences, so neither do we.
Jewish scholars saw the differences were not troubled by them. Early church fathers also noticed the differences between the two stories, and it did not bother them either. Together they are the Creation story, and that’s fine with me.
What we may not do is take Genesis 1 by itself and call it “the creation story,” because Genesis 2 is another creation story. For those among us who like all the details to line up, these two stories are a problem. By giving us two stories that don’t agree in the details, the Bible itself is telling us to relax on this. We need to stand back a bit, let both stories teach us, and not fuss about the rest.
Both stories begin with God making the heavens and the earth and end with humans, and both stories end the human section with marriage. Humans themselves are not the highlight of creation, human marriage is the highlight of creation. I think that’s remarkable.
And we must also remember that the three central people at the beginning of the gospel were unmarried and without sexual relations: John, Jesus, and Paul. John was kind of a hermit, but Jesus and Paul lived rich relational lives. We must never put unmarried people on the outside.
Why did God make Woman?
The common answer says the man was lonely, but that’s not clear. The man does not say he’s lonely, and God does not say he’s lonely. God says it is not good for him to be alone. And the emphasis in creating the woman is “helper” not “partner,” a “suitable helper” (Gen 2:18, 20).
The sense seems to be that the man needs to get something done, and he needs the right kind of helper.
Once God’s operation to divide has taken place, and the man is missing half of himself, then he wants to be joined to a woman. But when he is still complete, we should not assume the man feels when he’s still complete the way he will feel after he’s lost a part of himself. He’s a different person after he’s lost a part of himself.
And by the way, the word “helper” does not make the woman less than the man. God is our “helper” too often in the Psalms for it to mean that.
How Did God Make the Woman? Genesis 1:21-22
The Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took a piece of the man’s side and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the piece he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
God made the woman by making one flesh into two, one body into two. Man God made from the ground, and animals he made from ground, but not woman. He made the woman from “a piece of the man’s side.” (“Rib” is a mistranslation.)
The man’s words spell this out: 2:23 – “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” In other words, “Wow! This is the other half of me. Now I am missing something, and I see it right there in front of me. This person is the missing piece of me.” And the woman of course can say this back to the man: “this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, this is the other half of me.”
The Marriage Sentence: Genesis 2:24
For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and they become one flesh. This is the most important sentence about marriage in the Bible. This sentence summarizes marriage in Genesis 2. Three times the New Testament used this sentence to summarize marriage, Jesus once and Paul twice (Mt 19; Eph 5; 1 Cor 6). We will look at this sentence in four parts.
(1) For this reason.
For what reason? Because man and woman began as one flesh. The reason is the way God made the woman. God divided one flesh and made two fleshes out of the one. For that reason, they leave and come back together, to become one flesh again. Because they began as one flesh, and God divided one into two. That’s the reason for their pull to become one flesh again.
(2) A man leaves his father and mother.
In the ancient eastern world, and still in some societies, the first duty of a man or woman was to their parents, to serve and honour their parents. It was their most important human responsibility, and it lasted as long as the parents lived: a primary, life-long duty to serve and honour parents.
In Israelite practice, the woman would actually leave her parents and move to her new husband’s household. She did leave, he did not. This line goes after the husband. Even though physically he does not leave his parents, in responsibility he does leave. This must have been a hard call to a young husband living close to his parents with a new wife, but that was God’s call. Both the man and the woman leave their father and their mother to come together.
(3) And is joined to his wife.
This phrase is gets meaning from the previous line, “a man leaves his father and mother.” A man’s primary responsibility, before marriage, was to honour and serve his parents; he leaves that and is joined to his wife, which means he moves that first loyalty and duty from his parents to his wife.
His first obligation is now a life-long duty to honour and serve his wife. People, there is no point for Genesis to bring the parents into the marriage sentence at all, unless the man’s lifelong duty to parents has now shifted to his wife. And he does this to join his missing half.
He still honours his parents, but the new duty to his wife now takes first place. That’s why this line mentions parents. And of course the woman in the same way leaves her parents so her husband can take first place in her life.
For God there is no such thing as casual sex. Of course sexual desire is natural. Anger and attack will sometimes be natural too, but they are still wrong. The “one flesh again” comes at the end of this sentence, after the leaving and the joining. Sexual intimacy belongs after that shift of life long allegiance and that joining.
Even when sexual union is rushed, or awkward, or careless, or unsatisfying, or all of the above, it is still a profound joining of two bodies, and belongs at the end of the marriage sentence.
(4) And they become one flesh.
For this reason, they become one flesh, because they started out as one flesh. In Genesis 2, marriage reverses God’s dividing one into two. A man and woman get married to get back to the original state. Marriage joins what God divided. God made one into two, in marriage the two come back to one again. And Jesus will say that God makes them one again.
Becoming one flesh has certainly has sexual meaning. The ultimate state of two bodies being one flesh is sexual relations. But we cannot limit it to that, because biblically the two are one flesh from that point on, 24/7, even when they are miles apart.
In our minds, a married man and woman are not actually “one” in the sense that the man was one before God divided the man. And yet the Bible treats them as if they are back to that original oneness. In God’s eyes, in some profound way, the husband and wife have moved back to the original state of being just one person. They become one flesh again.
Male and Female Bodies
The creation of male and female in Genesis 2 is a story about bodies. One body at the start, God makes one body into two bodies, “this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” and they will be come one flesh again. Genesis 2 is a story about bodies.
The bodies were made out of one so that the two bodies would come back together again. There is much more than bodies going on here, but bodies are front and center. In Genesis 1, male and female bodies are also a real factor, because male and female bodies have to join in order to produce children, the main reason for marriage in Genesis 1.
But in Genesis 2 bodies are much more prominent, and they are at the heart of the marriage sentence: one flesh, becomes two fleshes, then the two become one flesh again. One body becomes two bodies, and then back to one.
Genesis 1 and Genesis 2
Both stories end in marriage, but different emphasis. In Genesis 1, the emphasis is practical and outward, marriage and God, and marriage and children, marriage and ordering the world, having responsible children who will fill the earth and bring order to the world around them. In this way humans keep their covenant with God.
Genesis 2 emphasises union and relationship between the man and the woman. The union includes sexual union, but they both leave their fathers and mothers, so it is much more than that, both now have a lifelong duty toward one another.
Once we’ve listened to what Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 teach us about marriage, we have the basic biblical picture of marriage. Jesus confirmed it in his teaching, and so does Paul.
Celibates are Complete
At no point does the Bible treat a single person as incomplete. One could take both of these stories in that way, but the Bible won’t allow it. Both Jesus and Paul recommended celibacy. They did not just honour it, they recommended it. They never said whoever can marry should marry, but they both said whoever can live celibate should do so. More on this in future sessions.
Marriage: does God care about a piece of paper?
No, not the piece of paper. God never prescribes what a wedding should look like. Every society has something called a “wedding,” because they all had marriage, most of them also immoral societies. Egyptians had marriage, Philistines had marriage, Canaanites had it, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Samaritans, and Israelites.
God gives clear instructions about how his people will live when they are not married (they will not be sexually active), and about how his people will live when they are married (sexually faithful). God always let society decide on the form of the wedding.
Does Canada have a marriage ceremony? Yes. “Well,” says God, “do that.” A civil authority will work as well for God as a church wedding. If you’ve got a marriage license and you’ve had it 24 hours, I’ll marry you myself.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “you’ve been married five times, and the man you have now is not your husband.” Living with him did not make her married to him. She had not divorced her previous husband, no piece of paper, and had not married the man she was with. It made a difference.
Here’s how God wants his people to act: For this reason, because they began as one person, a man leaves his father and his mother, and a woman leaves her father and her mother, and they are joined to each other, and they become one flesh again. Amen.
God, we have not always lived this way. We have gone against what you’ve said, and sinned against you. We confess our sin, and we turn away from it. Help us live worthy of the calling we have received. On the other hand, many of us grew up where your ways in these things were always taught. This has been a kindness from you, and we thank you. Many around us don’t know anything about your marriage sentence. Thank you for our honourable heritage in this, for showing us what’s right. Amen.
May God himself, the God of peace, make you holy through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Amen. Go in God’s peace to love and serve the Lord.