Sometimes I read things and it just makes me stop and think. About a month ago my pastor recommended for the church to read a book by Dr. James Garlow titled “Well versed – biblical answers to today’s tough issues.” He had copies available to take, so I took one. I’m still reading the book, but something I read a couple of weeks ago jumped out at me.
It goes all the way back to the creation story, and highlights something that I think probably affects us and our bible reading more than we know – the weakness inherent in reading from a translation. We simply can not always squeeze the full meaning out when we translate a text. There is always something “lost in translation”.
So we are looking at the creation story, specifically the creation of man and woman. The first point Dr. Garlow makes is that God is neither male nor female. The Old Testament is loaded with gender specific metaphors and descriptions in an attempt to describe the indescribable.
Sometimes these descriptions are masculine, using words like “Father” or “He”. Sometimes feminine phrases and descriptions are used, like a breast feeding mother, giving birth, being in labor, or a mother hen.
In Genesis 17:1 – “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”” In the Hebrew here, Gods name is El Shaddai. We believe that El means “mighty like a mountain“, all the strength of masculinity. Shaddai comes from the Hebrew word for breast, as in feeding a newborn baby, a very nurturing female trait. This one name for God is both masculine and feminine.
We are all made in the image of God, but neither a male or a female possesses the full spectrum of characteristics of Yahweh in the bible. A man can not represent all the nurturing tenderness shown, a woman does not possess the masculine strength. The point here is that while we were created individually, we only express the full image of God when our two halves, male and female, come together as one.
So now back to the real reason I wanted to write about this today, the creation story. God creates man – “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Genesis 2:7 ESV. Here we have “adam” with a little “a”. Little a adam, pronounced “awh-dahm”, means “humankind” or “personhood”. Later we have Adam the man, but first we have little “a” adam – humankind.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; According to Dr Garlow, a more correct translation would be “It is not good for humankind to be at one.” In other words, it is not good for there to be just one, in solitude.
So you’ve heard we can split the atom. Here the author says we have the “splitting of the adam”. Adam, humankind, gets split in two. 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.
So here is where it gets interesting for me. In the ancient Hebrew text the word we have translated “rib” is the Hebrew word “tsela”. “Tsela” can be translated “half” or “side”. So instead of saying God created man then took his rib and created woman, the original Hebrew text says God created humankind, saw that it was not good for humankind to be as one or alone, then took a side or a half (some would say the better half) and created a female (Eve). What was left was the male (Adam). The whole humanity, created in the full image of God with all the strength of masculinity and tenderness and nurturing of femininity, was split in the two halves of humanity, male and female.
So one of the reasons for the strong attraction between males and females is the desire for the two halves of humanity to come back together, undoing the “splitting of the adam”, reuniting our male and female halves as whole humanity, reflecting the full image of God.
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 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.”
Genesis 2:18-25 ESV