Creation: In the Beginning
HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE BIBLE,
Key Passages: Genesis 1-3, Matthew 19:3-12, 1 Corinthians 7:7-9
By Bruce L. Gerig
When I first moved to New York in 1971 and went to see my first gay pride march, I was utterly amazed to find that there were so many like me, not just a handful like I had known in the Midwest! But another image struck me also, that of an angry group of sullen protestors standing along the parade route holding up anti-gay signs, one of which read, "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!" Somehow I felt even back then that Genesis chs. 1-3, to which this slogan referred, was probably a much more complicated and nuanced passage than what they were aware of or were acknowledging. Since important arguments are often taken from these chapters in the current homosexual debate, we now turn to see what the Biblical text has to say about God, creation, human sexuality, variation, and other related issues. Genesis 1-3 divides naturally into three major parts: The first scene is an awesome trumpet blast of God creating the heavens and the earth, culminating in the special creation of the human species. The second scene focuses then on the Garden of Eden, where we can see what the first human creature and its life is like, including God's search for a suitable companion. The third scene zooms in even closer so we can overhear the conversation near a mysterious tree, where the first couple eat of its forbidden fruit, disobey God, and so forever change human life. It's a time-and-space story, but also with a profound spiritual dimension.1
In the first scene (Gen 1:1–2:4a), God says to Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful and multiple, and fill the earth…" (Gen 1:28). Although given as a command, the words are also characterized as a blessing. Thus the Hebrews saw the imperative of fruitfulness extending back to the very first day on which the human species was created, and it saturated the atmosphere thereafter in the entire Middle East. A man's status, prestige, and progress through life were deeply affected by the number of his offspring; and only a man with many sons could count on eventually becoming an important member of his community and its governing council. Sometimes his security depended literally on the number of males who paid him unquestioning loyalty.2 While the exact reach of this command is debated (even to overfilling the earth?), it certainly was important at the beginning of the human race and with the children of Israel trying to survive and increase in an often-hostile land. Gen 1:26-27 is important also, because here we are told that ha'adam ("the human species") was chiseled in the image of God, given a unique intellectual and moral capacity, an ability to worship and fellowship with God, and a power to reflect Divine love, goodness, mercy and justice in the world.3 The proper name Adam, without a definite article, really does not occur until Gen 4:25, although English translations often blur this fact.4 The human creatures also belong emphatically to the world of animals, like which they will reproduce and over which they are to rule.5
In the second scene (Gen 2:4b-25), the narrator explains how "the earth creature" (ha'adam) was made by God, like a potter forms a pot, from the dust of "the earth" (ha'adama, 2:7).6 The CEV reads: "God took a handful of soil and made a man [a human]." The word ha'adam is used with both singular and collective meanings in these chapters. Whether this creature was a hermaphrodite (containing organs or aspects of both sexes), as some rabbis thought,7 or was a neutral (genderless) creature, or whatever, is unclear.8 What the text does make clear is that God saw that it needed "a helper [ezer] as his partner" (2:18, NRSV). The Hebrew word ezer does not imply a subservient role, for many times "help" and "helper" in the Hebrew are applied to God as the savior and provider for Israel, those who pray to him, and the needy.9 Probably the best word to be used here in translation is "companion,"10 for ezer is masculine in gender, emphasizing equality.11 Isn't this like a loving God to see and know why the human creature feels so lonely and unhappy, without knowing why, and to go about providing what is needed, without even being asked? So the Lord takes a "side" from ha'adam (elsewhere in the OT sela is always translated as "side," not "rib"12), closes up the loss (2:21-22), and so gender and eros enter the human scene. Mieke Bal suggests that "side" may be a euphemism here for a "womb," which God took at this time from the first creature for the second.13 After God presents woman to man, he recognizes her as "bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (v. 23), someone more like him physically than any of the animals (whether there is any sexual awareness right away is not made clear). The narrator then closes with the often-quoted words: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh [united sexually]." (2:24) Yet, as Phyllis Bird notes, verse 24 is not presented here as a direct command from God, but rather an etiological comment added by the narrator, explaining why things are as they are. These words really "do not prescribe any behavior or institution" nor are they interested in "variations of or deviations from the dominant pattern" that will appear later – which is not, of course, to devalue procreation as God's good design.14
The third scene (Gen 3) is the dividing line. Perhaps only one day after humankind was created (as some rabbis thought15), Adam and Eve sinned, paradise was lost, and they were expelled into a new, troubled world. They had been told not to eat of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen 2:17). Leon Kass notes that "good and evil" might better be understood here as "good and bad," because eating from this forbidden tree would give the humans knowledge of more than moral evil, including pain, suffering, ugliness and disorder. Sadly, humans will learn that a free choice is not necessarily a good choice.16 So, the woman and the serpent discuss theology and talk about God, with a passive Adam in the background. She is intelligent, informed, and perceptive; but still the clever serpent trips her up with his cunning questions and appeal to all of the five senses.17 After Adam and Eve eat of the fruit (more likely a citrus or a fig than an apple18), immediately, they feel "naked" (3:7) and are "afraid" (3:10). Although "stripped of their glory" (Franz Delitzsch),19 perhaps no longer radiating light (Elie Wiesel),20 their physical loss is nothing compared to their spiritual loss, their sensed alienation from God their Maker, Provider and Friend. Now, that human pride has emerged, they look at their bodies in a new way and what's down below, and they worry about "what others think" and they fear criticism and rejection.21 The broad fig leaves – and later God's loving provision of animal skins – will not only protect and hide them but serve as a break on lust, for excessive desire seeking harmful sex is now also born. God curses the serpent (3:14) and the ground (3:17), but not the human creatures whom he has earlier blessed (1:28). Yet, their lives will be inalterably and profoundly changed: in place of their serene, secure existence they will now face hostility ("enmity") from an evil adversary, pain in childbirth and conflict in companionship, and a toilsome, precarious and mortal existence (3:14-19).22 We have only to turn to the next chapter to see anger/rage raise its ugly head, leading to two murders (4:8,23), and sexuality begin to unravel, as patriarchal man takes for himself two wives (4:23).
Surprisingly, no references to the first woman or the first transgression appear in the Hebrew Scriptures after Gen 5:1-2 23 – although David prays, "Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me." (Ps 51:5, NRSV) Judaism generally looked upon Eve as "a catechism of do's and don't's" for Jewish women (Leila Bronner).24 Even Jesus only twice makes reference to Gen 1-3. On one occasion he calls the devil a murderer and liar "from the beginning" (John 8:44). On another occasion, in a discussion on divorce (Matt 19:3-12), he quotes from Gen 2:24 ("Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother…"), treating the Adam and Eve story as historical and reliable. Yet, overall, this is a curious passage. Jesus connects one ideal (a man, a woman, in marriage, till death) with another ideal (no divorce for any reason, unless the wife is unfaithful). This flabbergasted his audience, because at the time the school of Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife if she spoiled his cooking and Rabbi Akiba said that man could be free of his wife if he found a more beautiful woman (Gittin 9:10). In contrast, a woman had no access to divorce; and here Jesus asserts indirectly that she is as much a full person (not just property) as the man.25 Jesus' disciples found his second ideal so impossible that they suggested that no one should marry (v. 10)! To this, Jesus added an even bigger shock, pointing to and approving of certain groups (classes of "eunuchs," v. 12) who could not or would decide not to marry and procreate. Of course, Jesus himself fit into this group of those who turned away from the divine command to "Be fruitful and multiply."
Evidence for whether Saul/Paul ever married is uncertain;26 at least, the missionary we know in the NT traveled alone, never showed any interest in finding a wife, and never mentioned having any children. More important, it is Paul who restores the Fall to its critical place in Christian theology. He views Adam and Eve and the Fall as historical realities also, noting that "sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned" (Rom 5:12ff, NRSV). Further, he draws an important parallel between "the first man, Adam" from the earth and "the second man [Christ]" from heaven. (1 Cor 15:45-47). Although all humans received mortality (death) from Adam, believers receive new life (salvation) in Christ (15:22). Yet, it is interesting to note that Paul can quite freely depreciate the divine directive to "Be fruitful and multiply," wishing that all believers could be celibate even "as I myself am" (1 Cor 7:7,32-34). At the same time, Paul had a realistic view of the passionate, primeval force of sexual drive; and so he advises all who are "aflame with passion" to marry and to find a partner (7:8-9).
Neither Jesus or Paul are poster boys for Gen 1:28. In fact, as John McNeill notes, there is a whole shift in viewpoint toward sex and marriage after Christ comes. Before, God had dealt with a "chosen people," bound together by blood relationships and committed to insuring their national survival by having many descendents. But in the New Covenant, believers are no longer bound together by family ties but by a shared commitment to Christ as Savior and Lord.27 Hence, Jesus honors the unmarried person (for whatever reason) and Paul praises the celibate life (for those select few to whom the divine gift is given). The idea that every person and Christian must marry heterosexually and bear as many children as possible to fulfill Gen 1:28 is simply not supported by the whole of Scripture. Sex and life are much more complicated than that.
FOOTNOTES: 1. Cf. Brodie, p. 123-24. 2. Patai, p. 64. 3. Cf. Plaut, p. 22. 4. Hamilton, p. 159-60. 5. Kass, p. 39. 6. Trible, p. 80. 7. Cohen, p. 23-24. 8. Kass, p. 101-02. 9. Cf. Gen 49:25; Deut 33:29; Ps 10:14, 54:4. 10. Cf. Trible, p. 90. 11. Hamilton, p. 175-76. 12. Hamilton, p. 178. 13. Kvam, p. 29. 14. Bird, p. 167. 15. Wiesel, p. 7-8; Cassuto, p. 164. 16. Kass, p. 63,66. 17. Trible, p. 109-10. 18. Wiesel, p. 22. 19. In Von Rad, p. 91. 20. Wiesel, p. 25. 21. Kass, p. 106-08. 22. Cf. Kass, p. 90,94-95. 23. Kvam, p. 19. 24. In Kvam, p. 3. 25. Mollenkott, p. 11,17. 26. Achtemeier, p. 289. 27. McNeill, p. 62-63.
Achtemeier, Paul J., et al., Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology, 2001.
Bird, Phyllis A., "The Bible in Christian Ethical Deliberation concerning Homosexuality: Old Testament Contributions," in Homosexuality, Science, and the 'Plain Sense' of Scripture, ed. by David Balch, 2000.
Brodie, Thomas L., Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical & Theological Commentary, 2001.
Cassuto, U., A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part I, Hebrew 1944, English 1961.
Cohen, Norman J., Self, Struggle & Change: Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives, 1995.
Hamilton, Victor P., The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, 1990.
Kass, Leon R., The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, 2003.
Kvam, Kristen E., et al., Eve & Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender, 1999.
McNeill, John J., The Church and the Homosexual, 1976.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey, Women, Men & the Bible, 1977.
Patai, Raphael, Family, Love and the Bible, 1960.
Plaut, W. Gunther, "Genesis," in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut, 1981.
Trible, Phyllis, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, 1978.
Von Rad, Gerhard, Genesis: A Commentary, German 9th ed. 1972, English 1972.
Wiesel, Elie, Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits & Legends, 1976.
TRANSLATIONS: Contemporary English Version, 1995. New Revised Standard Version, 1989.
© 2004 Bruce L. Gerig
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