5 Things Genesis 1 Teaches About Unity

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Many Christians hotly debate the roles men and women play in church ministry. Yet, ironically, while we’re debating the merits of all the various forms of egalitarianism and complimentarianism (or patriarchal hierarchy), we forget a crucial point in the beginning of Genesis—unity.

1.) Unity in our creation in the image of God—Both males and females are created in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”[1]

The term image likely has in mind a custon that kings in the ancient near east had of putting up images to “represent their power and rulership over far-reaching areas of their empires.”[2] Putting this thought into the Genesis context, this idea of “God’s image” has the idea of representing God’s power on earth.

2.) Unity in our stewardship of creation—Though scholars debate the meaning of the phrase “image of God” in the previous verse, a simple reading of the context suggests that it has in mind being God’s representatives on earth.

Verse 28 states, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'”

Note the verbs subdue and dominion joined with the pronoun them indicating that this is something that both the male and the female were to do. This seems to suggest the idea of joint rulership or stewardship of creation.

3.) Unity in our worship—Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.”

The definite article in the phrase “the man” indicates that this verse denotes specific application for Adam; however, it’s important to point out that the previous verse states that Adam needed a “helper” who would carry out the task of verse 15 with him.

Though most modern translations have the phrase “work and tend the garden,” the verse is best translated as “The Lord God took the man and set him at rest in the garden of Eden to worship and obey” (emphasis added).[3]

This implies that Adam needed a partner to help him worship and obey God and strongly suggests unity in our worship of God. The man does not mediate between God and woman in hierarchical fashion. Adam and Even worshipped God together. In application for today, this should mean we (men and women) serve alongside each other in ministry.

4.) Unity in the form of help—In 2:18, the word helper continues the idea of unity, “…I will make a helper fit for him.” In its original language, the phrase literally means “help in front of him” or “help opposite him.”[4] A good modern translation would be “a helper corresponding to him.”

The Hebrew word for help (ezer) occurs 21 times in Scripture. The majority of occurences (16) refer to God as the “helper of his people.”[5] This seems to emphasize the strength of the helper and suggests that when Eve is described as a helper, the text means she is a “strong helper” or “ally.”

5.) Unity in marriage—The phrases in verses 21–25 indicate unity between a husband and wife:

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. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Several descriptive phrases highlight the unity between a husband and wife. First, one of Adam’s ribs was taken to form Eve (v. 21). Adam referred to Eve as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23). Third, the word “woman” is a play on the word “man,” emphasizing the similarity. In fact, in the original Hebrew, no vowel points were present, so both the word man and woman would have appeared exactly the same on the page (having all the same consonants as each other). Fourth, a man will leave his parents to “hold fast to his wife” (v. 24). The Hebrew verb could also be translated as “cling to” or “stick to.”[6] Fifth, the man and woman “shall become one flesh” (v. 24). Again, a sense of unity is seen here and emphasized by the number one. This idea is picked up again in the NT.[7] Finally, it says “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” (v.25), indicating a deep intimacy between them.

Yet, as much as the first 2 chapters of Genesis indicate a perfect unity and harmony between the man and the woman, Chapter 3 indicates a breaking of this divinely appointed harmony. Because of their eating of the forbidden fruit, disastrous consequences followed. Adam would have to work hard to produce vegetation from the earth. Eve’s pain was increased in childbirth and additionally the text states, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

The only other time this specific Hebrew word for desire occurs is Genesis 4:7 where God addresses Cain, “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (emphasis added). Comparing the two verses, it seems that men will have the tendency to rule, or dominate, over women. It must be noted, though, that while 4:7 includes a command (i.e. to rule over sin), God’s pronouncement to Adam and Eve includes no commands but rather descriptors. Men can feel free to use tractors and machinery to harvest produce. Women are not sinning when they take painkillers during labor. And, last but not least, God does not tell men to rule over or abuse women. He describes what is happening as a result of sin in a now broken and hurting world.

In summary, God created both male and female in his own image to rule jointly on the earth. God put Adam in the garden to worship and obey him, and provided him with a strong ally who perfectly corresponded to him with an emphasis on unity. There is no suggestion of a hierarchy pre-fall. After death and sin entered the world, the perfect unity was broken, resulting in the tendency for men to dominate and create hierarchical structures.

 

[1] Unless otherwise note, Scripture references are taken from the ESV.
[2] Richard S. Hess, “Equality with and Without Innocence” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Gordon D. Fee (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005), 81.
[3] The pronominal endings in the Hebrew phrase ;há∂rVmDvVl…w ;hä∂dVbDoVl (typically translated “to work it and to keep it”) can either be understood as an emphasis to the infinitive constructs, or as feminine pronouns referring back to the masculine noun garden(NÅ…g). When the pronominal suffixes are understood as an emphasis, the resulting translation must be “to worship and obey.” Taking into consideration that the unlikelihood of feminine pronouns having a masculine referent, the phrase seems best translated as “to worship and obey.” Dr. Michael Wechsler, “Genesis,” unpublished class notes (Moody Bible Institute, Spring Semester, 2005). See also, John Sailhamer, “Genesis” in Genesis–Numbers, Vol. 2 of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 43.
[4] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, and M.E.J. Richardson, eds, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Accordance electronic edition, version 9.3.5, (Leiden: Brill, 2000).
[5] Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide, Kindle edition, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 181.
[6] HALOT.
[7] Matthew 19:5–6; Mark 10:8; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31.