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The Image of God and Marriage

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Male and female together

As we have seen in the previous article,[1] Genesis 1:28 states that the image of God is contained in both males and females equally. At the same time, however, given the overall context of the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, we can take this one step further to see the image of God as not simply enshrined in us as individuals, but especially in the union of male and female together in marriage.

To understand why this is the case, we need to look at the story of the creation of Eve in Genesis 2 and its implications elsewhere in Scripture.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.”… So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:18, 21-24 ESV)

Commentators noticed early on the difference between this description of the creation of Eve and Genesis 1:28, which has been taken to mean that man and woman were created together. One suggested resolution comes from the Midrash Rabbah, which states that man was originally created as a hermaphrodite and then God separated the sexes. While we don’t need to go that far to find an explanation for the differences in the two chapters, there is an important element of truth here: in a very real sense, the “man” as created in the image of God includes male and female together as a unit.

A partnership in love

Let’s take a closer look at what’s being said in Genesis 2. First, we should note that this is the only place in the creation accounts in which God pronounces something not good. It is not good for man to be alone, because he was made to be a social being. Animals were not adequate as his companions, so God created Eve from Adam’s side (a better translation than “rib”). Eve was thus part of him and so could not be considered either inferior or a part of the creation over which Adam was to have dominion.

For all the misogyny that creeps into medieval theologians, many of the most important ones got it right on this point. To take just one example, Peter Lombard’s Sentences, which was the basic textbook for theology in the Middle Ages, cites St. Augustine when he addressed the question of why God used one of Adam’s ribs to make Eve:

Moreover from these causes “woman was made from man, not from any part of the man’s body, but she was formed from his side, so that there might be shown, that she was created in a partnership of love, lest perchance, if she had been made from [his] head, she might seem to be preferred to man for [his] domination, or if from [his] feet, to be subjected [to him] for [his] service. Therefore because for man there was prepared neither a lady nor a handmade, but a companion, she was to be produced neither from [his] head nor from [his] feet, but from [his] side, so that she might recognize that she [was] to be placed alongside him, she whom he had learned to recognize as the one taken from his side.”[2]

These comments, of course, reinforce the point that since the image of God is shared between men and women, they are intrinsically equal before God. But they also point ahead to Adam’s reaction to the creation of Eve. In Genesis 2:23, Adam recognizes Eve as part of himself, and so names her Woman (Hebrew ishshah) because she was taken out of Man (Hebrew ish). Since in Hebrew thought, a being’s name was supposed to reflect its nature, the derivation of the word for woman indicates the deep, intimate connection woman has with man.

Woman’s origin from Man, leads directly to the next verse: Man is to leave his parents and be joined to Woman—in other words, he is to marry and form a new family unit. And this is accomplished by the two “becoming one flesh” through sexual relations, in essence providing wholeness by reuniting Adam with his Rib.

So the image of God in Genesis 1:28 is encompassed equally by men and women, but most fully by man and woman together, as a family. The family is the fundamental unit within society, and is thus the place at which human dominion/stewardship over the world is primarily exercised.

Scripture on marriage

There are several points that follow from the nature of marriage in Scripture. The first, as Jesus affirmed, is that marriage is meant to be permanent: God joins men and women together into one flesh, and so we should not try to undo what God has done (Mk. 10:2-9). Even from an anthropological perspective this makes sense: all cultures have marriage as a privileged institution, even though it might take a variety of forms, because it provides a stable environment to bring children into the world and to provide for them. Allowing marriages to dissolve easily disrupts its role in child-rearing. And for Christians, our understanding of the unity of the two into one flesh should make us do everything we can to insure the permanence of marriage.

Second, the deep, intimate unity within marriage points to the depth of the Church’s relationship and unity with Jesus. In the Old Testament, God often describes Israel as His wife, particularly by identifying idolatry with adultery (e.g. Hos. 1:2). In the New Testament, the Church is described as the Body of Christ, and He is united with it in the same way that husbands and wives are one flesh (Eph. 6:31-32). The love that is to characterize marriage, the intimate fellowship, and the unity we are to experience are a picture to the Apostle Paul of our relationship with Christ. These ideas led the Church early on to move away from the polygamy practiced in the pagan world and ancient Israel and to insist on monogamy as the proper form for marriage: one man, one woman, one lifetime.

The Church’s teaching on the permanence of marriage and its emphasis on monogamy had an enormous effect on improving women’s place in society. No longer could a woman be divorced because she had no sons or was past childbearing age. No longer could wealthy men take multiple wives, diminishing their role in the household and depriving poorer men of spouses. As Vishal Mangalwadi points out, monogamy in particular led to social structures in the West that had a tremendously positive effect on society, so much so that in India even Hindus pushed to mandate monogamy as an essential prerequisite for modernization.[3] Given that this is God’s design for humanity, it should come as no surprise that it produces better results than the alternatives.

Third, marriage is a reflection of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity says that the three Persons of the Godhead are all one, yet in some sense distinct from each other. Just as a cube with a width of one foot, a height of one foot, and a depth of one foot, has a volume of one cubic foot, so the three persons of the Trinity complement each other, each participating in all the attributes of deity, but the Godhead only fully defined by the interrelationships of the three together. The significance of this is that God is an intrinsically relational being in and of Himself, living in eternal loving relations between Father, Son and Spirit. Thus humanity made in His image is, as we have seen, relational. And the two becoming one flesh in marriage provides us with a two dimensional picture of our three dimensional God.

Foundation for sexual ethics

Lastly, Genesis 2:24 is the foundation for sexual ethics. Sexual activity is designed to unite a man and a woman together in a permanent bond. Even our biology points to this, as the hormonal response to sexual activity increases emotional attachment to your partner. This is why sexual activity is restricted to marriage—the potential to cause devastating emotional damage to ourselves and each other is so great, it requires the protection of a permanent, committed, loving relationship. Our society’s experience today with “sexual liberation” demonstrates the wisdom of the Biblical view.

Although it is rarely seen in this light, marriage is the place where the full image of God found in male and female together is best seen and expressed. This is all the more reason for us to work to restore our commitment to and advocacy for a Biblical vision of sexuality and marriage in our churches and society.

 

For more insight to this topic, get the book, The Marriage Builder, by Larry Crabb. Or read the article, “Marriage in Counterpoint and Harmony,” by Gilbert Meilaender.



[1] http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/15392-the-image-of-god-and-gender

[2] Sentences, book 2, distinction 18, question 2; see http://www.franciscan-archive.org/lombardus/opera/ls2-18.html, citing Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis 9.13.23. see also Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1, q. 92, 3; see http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1092.htm#article3.

[3] Must the Sun Set on the West, audio CD series, From Luther’s Vicarage to Hefner’s Harem: Turning Men into (Play)boys and Women into “Desperate Housewives.”

 

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