While the precise relationship between the original creation and the new heaven and new earth of biblical prophecy is a matter deserving more extended consideration, it seems clear that in the kingdom of God there is a sense of “undoing” the results of sin – of living the ways of the kingdom of God today in advance of its coming in fullness. There is restoration. There is redemption. The parallels between the new Jerusalem and the original Eden prior to the fall of mankind are unmistakable.
Considering what the new creation implies for the ideal of marriage and the relationship between men and women is also complicated by Jesus’ declaration that in the resurrection humans will “will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” It seems that the new heaven and new earth will differ from the original Eden in at least some ways.
Nevertheless, Christians today live according to the new creation and the principles of the kingdom of heaven as taught by Jesus. What does this imply about the relationship of men and women in society, in the church, and in marriage? At the very least, in the kingdom of heaven we should not be living out the curse of sin in our relationships. The curse is, among other things, a curse on the relationship between men and women.
In the latter portion of Genesis 3:16, while pronouncing the curse that has come upon the earth from Adam and Eve’s sin, God says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” It is clear that the husband will dominate or command the wife under the curse, but what is meant by “desire”? One clue is that the same Hebrew word is translated “desire” in the latter half of Genesis 4:7 when God speaks to Cain about his anger toward Abel: “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” From the use of “desire” in Genesis 4:7, it seems likely that the intended meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3:16 has to do with control and mastery. In other words, it complements the statement about the husband’s “rule.” Thus marriage under the curse becomes a struggle for control and domination, each fallen “partner” attempting to control and dominate the other.
Many cultures recognize this sinful tendency. In the west, we refer to “the battle of the sexes.” In some eastern marriage ritess, the bride and groom kneel for an extended period of spoken blessings. When the blessings are completed, the marriage is accomplished, and the bride and groom rise to begin the marriage. As the last spoken blessing is completed, relatives of both the bride and groom rush forward to help their relative to his or her feet. The folklore is that whichever one rises to their feet first will be the one who dominates in the marriage!
In Christ, marriage is something better than this struggle for domination and control. Christians must think in terms of restoring marriage among God’s people to the relationship God intended prior to the fall of mankind. Thus, it is appropriate to consider marriage as originally designed and created by God in order to learn something of God’s ideal for marriage. In addition, one must consider that Jesus’ teaching about relationships among Christ’s followers will apply in marriages, families, and between men and women in general. Those born from above who inherit the kingdom of heaven are expected to live according to its principles. In Christ, the marriage relationship is nearly restored to the glory it had in God’s unspoiled creation, prior to the corruption of the Fall and many cultural adaptations influenced by generations of sin. (We say that marriage is “nearly” restored because as in Christian life prior to death and resurrection, Christians remain subject to bodily sickness and death, and also struggle to put to death their sin nature. These aspects of the Christian life today differ from life prior to the Fall.)
There are two major passages of scripture that are relevant when considering marriage prior to the Fall and the curse. One is from the first creation account, in the first chapter of Genesis. This account of creation considers creation as a whole, and mankind’s relationship to creation and to God. From Genesis 1:26-28, and 31a:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”…
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
In this record of God’s creation, no details of the creation of the woman from the man are given, but God creates in his image both the male and the female. All other references to the humans created by God are to both the male and the female. They are to jointly rule, jointly bear God’s image, are jointly blessed, and jointly commanded to be “fruitful.” This state of affairs God proclaims to be “very good”. There is no hierarchy of male responsibility over or for the female described in this creation narrative; rather, it seems that the image of God, responsibilities, commands, and blessings are symmetrical, applying equally to the man and the woman.
Genesis 2 gives another more detailed creation story, this time focusing on the creation of the woman from the man and their relationship in marriage, in addition to man’s place in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:18-25 is the portion relevant to our discussion of men and women:
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds 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. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
In this passage, God notes that it is not good for the human to be alone. Intending to bless the human, God determines to make a “suitable helper” for him. The Hebrew words translated into English as “suitable helper” are vital to understanding this passage. What do they mean? According to Hebrew scholars, the word translated “suitable” means “corresponding to” or face-to-face. They are fitted for one another. This “fitted-ness” indicates the two are of similar nature; some commentators indicate that this word implies equality. The word translated “helper” in English is used primarily in scripture of God in relation to man. For example, David writes,
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”
“Help” in David’s song refers to God. Thus this word is not a word that implies an assistant or someone over whom David is the authority or leader. Walter C. Kaiser believes this word should be translated as “power” or “strength,” as in “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding to man.”
Interestingly, according to The JPS Torah Commentary remarks on Genesis 1:18, the Genesis Rabba explains the “good” of a “suitable helper” like this: “Whoever has no wife exists without goodness, without a helpmate, without joy, without blessing, without atonement … without well-being, without a full life;… indeed, such a one reduces the representation of the divine image [on earth].”
Thus, a proper understanding of “suitable helper” leads one to see the man and woman as corresponding to one another in a deeply intentional manner that does not set one above the other. God intends to bless both the man and the woman by the presence of, and indeed by marriage to, the other. Together, they are able to embody the image of God in a way that neither could alone.
Some argue from the fact that Adam was created first that man has precedence in relationships with women. However, it is clear that a part of Adam was removed and that Eve was fashioned from that part, which was created at the same time as what remained of Adam after the creation of Eve. Some commentators say that Adam was “divided” into Adam and Eve. (Contrast the comments in 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:8, 12 on being first.)
Some commentators indicate significance in God taking a part from which to create Eve from Adam’s side rather than from Adam’s foot or head. A common technique in Semitic literature concerning origins of people or beings was to have the part of the body from which a group or a being was created imply something about the function of the one created with respect to the one from whom they were taken. Taking from his head would have implied Eve was over Adam, and from his feet that Eve was under Adam. Thus, taking the part from Adam’s side from which to fashion Eve is seen to denote equality. Most all commentators agree that there is at least the intention to imply that Adam and Eve are beings “of like kind” in distinction from other creatures. It is difficult to see any clear teaching of the priority of Adam over Eve in the creation accounts based on the order of creation.
Rather, Genesis 2:23-24 proclaims a unity in marriage as God created it; the two leave others, unite together and become one. It is not as if the woman becomes the man’s property or comes under his supervision. It is that two formerly separate beings come out from their family of origin to give priority to a relationship of being united as one – forming a new unit, or family.
Another argument for Adam being senior in his relationship with Eve comes from Genesis 2:23, in which Adam names Eve. It is pointed out that this parallels Adam naming other creatures of the earth in Genesis 2:19-20. Naming “woman” by Adam is thus said to imply his authority over her as it is seen that his naming the animals implies authority of man over the animals. However, in Genesis 1:28, God tells both Adam and Eve to rule over the animals. Consider that Adam named the creatures of the earth prior to a part being taken from him from which to form Eve. In a very real sense, the “like kind” aspect of this symbolic action would seem to indicate that whatever it was that made it appropriate for Adam to name these creatures was also true of Eve. Genesis 1:28 confirms that view. And yet the fact remains that the man named the woman. Is this a reason to see men as having authority over women?
Note the name that the man gives to the woman. In The Five Books of Moses, Everett Fox translates the Hebrew into English as below:
The human said:
Bone from my bones,
flesh from my flesh!
She shall be called Woman/Isha,
for from Man/Ish she was taken!
The Hebrew for Man sounds like the Hebrew for Woman, with a suffix difference. In addition, in his words explaining the name, the man acknowledges that the woman is of like kind with him – bone of bone and flesh of flesh. Then, in the name, there is sameness and also difference. There is appropriate paralleling of name with relationship. While there may be significance in the man’s naming of the woman, there is also an acknowledgement of like kind. The woman was not given a completely different name, but an adaptation of the name for Man.
Finally, rounding out our consideration of how things were in the beginning between men and women, we must consider Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are together when temptation comes (see Genesis 3:6), yet Eve apparently does not consult Adam as if he were supposed to be in charge. Adam says nothing, allowing Eve to act on her impulse, showing no sign of having responsibility for her. (We might be critical of Adam’s lack of action or words, seeing in his inaction a lack of love even if he was not responsible for Eve as her head.)
Afterwards, if there was a relationship of leadership or headship between the man and the woman prior to the Fall, would there not have been some acknowledgement of this in God’s handling of their sin? Yet when God reprimanded Adam and Eve after they sinned, there is no trace of a complaint that the man did not exercise his leadership over the woman, as if she were under his supervision. After the man blames the woman for giving him the fruit, and God for giving him the woman, the woman answers straightforwardly that she had been deceived. Neither Adam nor Eve respond in a way that indicates that the man did not fulfill his responsibilities as “leader” in their marriage relationship, and God makes no mention of this in his comments or in the curse that follows. It is hard to imagine that God’s reprimand would take the form that it does if the man were responsible as the head or leader of the pair.
Judging from the Genesis creation and fall accounts, there seems little that would compel one to see the marriage relationship between Adam and Eve as one in which Adam was supposed to be the leader and Eve the follower. This is the scripture that tells us what we know of “the beginning”.