by Lois Tverberg
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” – Matthew 19:3-6
Sometimes we can have a much better understanding of Jesus’ teaching when we see how he and others of his time read the Scriptures, which may not be the same as how we do. One example is in the teaching of Jesus’ on marriage. When asked about whether divorce for any reason is OK, he quoted Genesis 1:27, which says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In our way of reading this verse, it doesn’t have any connection to marriage, and also doesn’t relate to his quotation from Genesis 2:24 that a man will leave his parents and be joined to his wife.
Knowing more about the way the creation of Adam and Eve was understood in Jesus’ time will help us. Twice in Genesis it mentions the creation of mankind – first in Genesis 1:26-27:
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.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Then, later, in Genesis 2, it says that God formed the man from the dust of the ground and then describes how woman was taken out of the first man. At first, these two creation accounts seem to be in disagreement – were both male and female created at the same time, as in 1:27, or was the man formed first and the woman later, as in chapter 2?
The solution might initially seem fantastic, but is supported by the text in several places. From before Jesus’ time, it was understood that when God first formed the human, he somehow put both man and woman together in that person. Then, when Eve was taken out of Adam, it was because she existed before then too. The verse in chapter one that that says that God created them “male and female” was read to mean that each original human was both male and female.
While this seems like a stretch, there are several other ways the text supports this. First, the word adam is a neutral term for human, and before the creation of the woman, Adam is never referred to as a “man” – always as ha’adam which means “the human.” It is only after Adam names Eve as ishah, woman, that he is referred to as ish, man.
Also, when God “operates” on Adam, he takes out tzela echad – literally one side of him. The translation of tzela as “rib” occurs only here – everywhere else it refers to one “side” of something, like when poles were inserted each of the two sides of the ark in Exodus 37:3. A better way to describe the scene is that somehow God split Adam in half, and the other half was Eve, and they perfectly complemented each other, because they were once one person.
Looking again at Jesus’ words, if he read Genesis 1:27 the same way that other rabbis did, it explains why Jesus would use this verse in terms of God’s intentions for marriage. Jesus is painting a beautiful picture when he connect that verse to “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Here the image is that in marriage, a man and woman are reunited back together into one complete person because somehow they were originally made together in the first place.
Part of the beauty of the image is in the Hebrew word dabaq, which is translated as “be united,” “cleave to,” “cling to,” or “hold fast.” Delightfully, the word can also mean “to fall in love with”! Genesis 34:3 says that Shechem dabaq Dinah, which is translated “was deeply attracted to her.” Also, 1 Kings 11:2 says that Solomon dabaq (clung to) his foreign wives in love.
Putting this together, Jesus is saying that because God took apart one whole being to make Adam and Eve, that is the reason why men and women fall in love and want to become one being once again, both physically and spiritually. When they are united in marriage, God himself puts together what he separated at first, and no one should try to tear that apart.
Photo: Joseph Mischyshyn