It’s striking—or it should be—that Genesis does not mention “male and female” until it comes to the human creation (1:27). Before that there’s seed bearing fruit and the blessing of procreation, “be fruitful and multiply,” which establishes the sexual reproduction of the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. In that sense it’s obvious that male and female are present before the creation of Adam. So why is it first mentioned then?
Once again, as in yesterday’s post , I’m thinking this is artistry, not oversight. There’s a sense in which humanity is more truly, more fully male and female than the beasts of the field. Also more problematically male and female—as it turns out in Genesis 3, when things go awry between Adam and his wife.
And once again, comparison of the two creation stories reinforces the striking point. In the second chapter of Genesis, we read of God and man together searching for a suitable helper for Adam, as if neither had noticed that all the beasts of the field already had sexual partners, suitable for procreation. And as if the human male and female, here called “man and woman” ( ish and ishshah , Gen. 2:23), were not brought together for the sake of sexual reproduction, but for the sake of mutual help and companionship. The woman is not described as a mother—being named Eve, because she is the mother of all living—until after death has decisively entered human consciousness (Gen. 3:20).
It seems clear enough: The new thing that the human being brings to creation is not sex but marriage. This implies that “male and female” mean something different, richer, among human beings than among the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Indeed, Genesis seems to be suggesting, they are revealed in their full meaning only in the human creation, in man and woman.
This is a weighty matter if, as I was suggesting yesterday, male and female are needed together for the perfection of creation, just as heaven is not complete without the earth. Creation is not whole until the two become one. This looks more inevitable—we could say “natural”—in the unity of heaven and earth than in the union of man and woman, where human will and love are required in obedience to the word of the creator.
So matters get more weighty still. The human creation too is governed by a kind of natural law, but it is one that can be violated. The two become one flesh, but not the same way as the beasts of the field. It does not happen without the word of God and, alas, the disobedience of man. And that will affect even the relation of heaven and earth. It will begin a drama of sin and redemption, from which will emerge also the drama of human politics. Not long after the dissension between the man and his wife will come the dissension between Abel and Cain. At stake is nothing less than the goodness of God’s creation. As it is today.