Any day now, the Supreme Court will announce its decision on whether same-sex marriage is a right protected by the US Constitution. Rather than comment on what I believe the court should decide, I’ll follow the example of Messiah Yeshua and respond to a controversial marriage-related question with a look at marriage itself.
I’m referring to the question some Pharisees posed to Yeshua: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?”
He answered, “Have you not read that the one who created them from the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt 19:3–6)
Yeshua is highlighting two texts: Genesis 2:24, especially its final phrase, “the two shall become one flesh,” and Genesis 1:26–28, with its statement that the Creator “made them male and female.” Thus Messiah Yeshua connects us with the whole creation account of Genesis 1 and 2, and we need to understand marriage within that context. Genesis 1 views the creation of humankind from a different perspective than Genesis 2. In Genesis 2, the woman is made from the man, who is created first, but in Genesis 1, male and female seem to be created simultaneously, as equal bearers of the divine image: “So God created Adam, the human, in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).
Throughout Genesis 1, God advances the process of creation by dividing or separating diverse elements: light from darkness (1:4); waters above from waters below (1:6); dry land from the seas (1:9–10); day from night (1:14, cf. 1:18). This separating process continues as God creates plants (1:11–12), sea creatures and birds (1:21), and earth-bound creatures (1:24–25) “of each kind,” that is, each with its own distinctive qualities. Then we come to Genesis 1:27: “So God created Adam, the human, in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female he created them.”
One rabbinic commentary reads this last phrase, “male and female he created them,” in a sort of hyper-literal fashion, picturing an original male-female Adam, or human, who later will be split or divided, like the other elements of creation.
R. Samuel b. Nahman said: When the Lord created Adam He created him double-faced, then He split him and made him of two backs, one back on this side and one back on the other side. (Genesis Rabbah 8:1)
This reading isn’t meant to provide historical fact, but midrash, an imaginative exploration of the text. It explores the suggestion in Genesis 1 that the female isn’t really “created,” as she appears to be in Genesis 2, but is separated from the male. The “splitting” of Adam to give him two backs reiterates the dividing and separating process of Genesis 1. So when it says in Genesis 2:21, “[God] took one of his ribs,” this refers to a further separating of these two backs or sides (the Hebrew term tsela can be translated either way) into two separate humans, one male and one female, out of the prototypical male-female human.
With this as background, what jumps out of the text is that only at the first marriage does the creative process of dividing reach its goal: man and woman, after being made separate, “become one flesh” (2:24). Up until now, God creates through separating the primitive elements into distinct kinds. Only now does he bring the process of creation to fulfillment by joining two distinct kinds into one. The unique and inherently different bodies of male and female now reunite to become one flesh, not as the opposite of the process of creation, but as its culmination. The goal of creation isn’t gender neutrality or merger, but a reuniting of diverse kinds, male and female. This reuniting would be meaningless if same-kinds were united instead of diverse kinds. As the chapter ends, the two, distinctly male and female, are together, naked and unashamed, in a moment of equilibrium that we can fittingly describe as Shalom.
I don’t expect the Supreme Court to follow Messiah Yeshua’s lead and review the story of Creation to help them decide what to do about same-sex marriage. But we, who follow Yeshua and depend so heavily on the Scriptures that he referenced, should review the story of Creation, as he did, to renew our understanding of marriage. This review might not tell us directly how to respond to what many observers consider to be the likely outcome of the Supreme Court’s deliberations. But it does remind us of the true nature of marriage, regardless of how marriage might be redefined by courts or legislators today.