Posted by: dacalu | 12 April 2014

Humans in Relationship

This post continues a series on ethics, which began here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics. This posts marks as shift from core ethical principles (outline, step 4) to specific ethical principles (step 8). As always, the process involves prayer, but the headers will now be passages of scripture.

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ –Genesis 2:18

A Helper and a Partner
Literally, “ground” in Hebrew, the name Adam is a pun. The first human came into being as God shaped the dust of the ground (adamah) and breathed life into it. Thus God took the divine breath, and in a very intimate act, breathed breath and life into Adam’s nostrils. God then creates a garden and sets Adam in it to “till and keep it.”
What is the first thing God notices about the human? God says, “It is not right that the human should be alone.” Look, here is this image and likeness of myself, but there is something out of sorts. The human is incomplete.

Western theologians have often compared God to a trinity, three persons acting in relationship to one another. God cannot be alone, for God has internal relationships. That is, of course, a clumsy metaphor – we do not think there are actually three distinct bodies, or three distinct minds, or even three distinct personalities. Nonetheless, there is something communal about God, even before anything has been created. And so, when God makes a human in the divine image, it doesn’t work. Adam is alone, which makes him very un-God-like.

So God tinkers. In a story somewhat shocking to the modern perspective, God is at a loss. Rather than making humans perfect in the first go, rather than going back to the drawing board for a theoretical answer, God starts experimenting. One by one, God makes birds and beasts and animals of every sort. One by one, the animals are presented to Adam, who names them, gives them identities in relationship to himself. None of them, however, cures Adam’s loneliness.

God then puts Adam to sleep, and removes a rib from Adam’s side, and from that rib, God clones another human. When Adam awakes, he sees Eve and says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman (ishshah), for out of Man (ish) this one was taken.” Again a pun, Adam calls her “out of man.” The more I look at it, the more wonderful things I find about the wordplay.

1) Just as Adam was taken from the ground, so Eve was taken from Adam. God has not created humans for a second time. Nor has God made a second type of human. God has made the human singular into a human plural, so that we (plural) can be more fully in the image and likeness of God. It is of our essence – both as humans and as an image of God – that we occur in groups, even in groups of two. Compare Matthew 18:19-20, where Jesus says, “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

2) I’m sorry I have to say it, but I think I do. In English, the words woman and man have an entirely different etymology, but they can make it appear that Adam is saying something along the lines of “look, I’ve found a mini-me.” The Hebrew carries no suggestion that woman is a lower quality second generation copy of God (or Adam 2.0). This idea has been suggested with scary frequency. Eve is no more a lesser version of Adam than Adam is a lesser version of the ground. Notably the word for man (ish) appears for the first time in this line. It’s doubtful we can even think of Adam as male until he exists as part of a pair. Despite English translations, the Hebrew speaks of Adam, never “the man.”

As an etymological note, “woman” comes from the Old English wifman for female human. The equivalent for male human was werman (the wer- still survives in werewolf). Man was not used to refer to the male sex until around the 1000 AD. We shouldn’t try to find theology in accidental puns that happen when you translate Hebrew into English – or Latin. The Latin translation (Vulgate) also retains the woman/man (virago/vir) pun, but not the Adam/ground (terra/homo) pun.

3) I personally take delight in fact that the letter hey which drops out of adamah (ground) reappears in ishshah (woman).

It is not just a husband and wife that are of one flesh. It is rather all of humanity. The image and likeness of God only appears in us when we are in relationship with one another. This central truth underlies the importance of love in Christianity and justifies its presence as our primary ethical principle. This insight lies very near the core of Christianity, since we believe that Jesus was not just God with us, but was God as one of us.

God made Adam, but found that a singular Adam was not quite right, so God made Adam plural. This plurality is encapsulated and exemplified in every marriage, but it has a greater significance as well. It has to do with the oneness of humanity and the plurality of our singular God.



  1. […] my last post on sexual ethics, I set out the idea the humans should not be alone. God creates the first human in […]

  2. […] is broken and the core part of our identity, our relationship with others, our very existence in the image of God seems broken.  I say “seems” because Christians affirm that our soul exists in […]

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