Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Genesis 2: Only Christ, but not Christ alone

In the Apostle Paul’s thought, a key understanding of the relationship between Christ and the church ultimately traces its roots to the ‘one-flesh union’ of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:24.
Clearly, however, the integration of the Genesis narrative into Paul’s thinking went beyond this single verse. The wider narrative plays a key part, for example, in the arguments of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15.
There is an interesting hint also 2 Corinthians 11:2-3,
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (NIV)
Arguably Paul has not just Genesis 3 in view here, but Genesis 2. For not only does he compare the church directly to Eve, but indirectly he puts himself in the role of God in that chapter. Just as God brought the woman to the man, so Paul says he has to sought to present the church to Christ.
Importantly, this suggests that we should read back from Genesis 2:24 to the earlier parts of the narrative, as well as forward, to the theologically more familiar territory of the temptation and Fall, in seeking to understand the whole from a Christian perspective.
Thus, for example, the union of Genesis 2:24 itself depends on the action of 2:23. The two can become ‘one flesh’ because one flesh is what they originally were. The animals are “from the ground” (Heb min-hā’adāmāh), she is “from the man” (Heb min-hā’ādām) — close in language, but utterly different in kind. She is ‘bone of Adam’s bone, flesh of his flesh’, which is all part of her special relationship with him.
Eve is not Adam. She is an individual in her own right. Indeed, as Genesis 5:2 reminds us, she is also an “adam”. But regarding Adam, as Paul observes in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, “man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (NIV).
Importantly, however, we have to understand here whether Paul is talking simply about ‘men and women’ generally or more specifically husbands and wives. The Greek does not help us, since the term is the same in both cases (anēr and gunē). Thus the ESV of v 3 reads, “the head of a wife is her husband”.
The point is debatable, but there are, I think, two good reasons for taking the restricted ‘husband and wife’ reading, rather than the wider ‘men and women’ approach. First, there is the general flow of Genesis itself, where clearly the outcome of the act of Eve’s creation is, in fact, the first marriage. Not only do we have the comment of 2:24, but that of 2:25: “And the man and his wife [Heb hā’ādām weishtō) were both naked ...” Eve is not just ‘a woman’. In relation to Adam she is ‘his woman’ (or as we should rather say, and the English versions generally translate, ‘his wife’, compare Gen 7:7;13:1).
There is also an interesting hint in Paul’s comment that “A man ... is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man” (1 Cor 11:7). There is no hint anywhere else in Paul’s writings that he regards women as any less ‘image bearers’ than men. On the contrary, as has frequently been pointed out, Paul’s approach is generally quite ‘egalitarian’.
Nevertheless the first part of the verse clearly derives from Scripture (specifically Genesis 1:27b, “in the image of God he created him”). But where in Scripture might we find the second notion, that “woman is the glory of man”? Such a profoundly challenging notion ought to have some antecedent. The answer, I suggest, is Proverbs 12:4, “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown” (NIV). Indeed the contrary part of the proverb may also have some bearing on Paul’s train of thought: “a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones”.
If we are right in seeing the background to Paul’s particular claim here in the book of Proverbs, then we should understand the principles of what he is saying as applying to husbands and wives. However, we should also then bear in mind that what Paul says of husbands and wives is theologically connected to what he thinks of Christ and the church. Applying this to the passage in 1 Corinthians, we could then say that the church is similarly “for” Christ, as the woman is “for” her man.
Challenging though this idea may seem, we can say with certainty that the universe itself is ‘for’ him. In Colossians 1:16, we read,
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (NIV)
The approach we are suggesting is essentially a shift in focus — it is not just the universe in general, but the church in particular that is ‘for’ Christ. However, we are grounding this in the narrative of Genesis 2 on the basis that this is where Paul roots his own understanding of the Christ-church relationship. And that opens up further perspectives, particularly when we read back to Genesis 2:18, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
We must be careful here not to exaggerate the parallels between the man-woman and the Christ-church relationship. In typology there is a correspondence between the type and the anti-type, but it is not at all exact. The writer of Hebrews is happy to write about a “greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made” in the heavens (9:11), but we ought not to imagine there is a ‘bigger temple’ somewhere ‘up there’.
The temple is the ‘image’, but the thing ‘imaged’ is very different, for the point about an image is that in many senses it is not at all like the thing imaged. I carry in my wallet an image — a photo — of myself and my wife, and it very effective in doing what I want it to do. But neither of us is made of paper, neither of us is flat, neither of us is only a few centimetres square, and so on (though one of us is getting a bit wrinkled these days).
Similarly, we are told that Jesus is the image of God and that all God’s fullness dwells bodily in him (Col 2:9). But God is not limited in time and space, God does not sleep, God does not have to ask someone “Who touched me?” and so on — all things that we know to be true of the ‘bodily’ Jesus. And yet — in the stuff of this world, the ‘dust’ of the ground, Jesus images God, in a way that the whole human race also could (Gen 1:27), and one day will (Rom 8:29).
Thus, when we look at the narrative of Adam and Eve, we may in one sense say, “God is not like this”, and yet in another sense, and quite truthfully, we may also say, “This images God.” And provided we bear this in mind, we may legitimately draw theological lessons about the God who is imaged from looking at the ‘imaging’ man (especially when it comes to Jesus himself), and in the same way we may draw lessons about Christ in relation to the church (and vice versa) from Adam in relation to Eve.
Thus what we have in Genesis in some sense prepares us for what we read about the church as the body of Christ, or indeed what we read in 1 Corinthians 6 or in the gospels themselves:
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! (1 Cor 6:2-3, NIV)
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt 19:28, NIV)
Such statements are, I suspect, quite baffling to the typical modern reader, to whom it has never occurred that they will judge angels, let alone the world! But they may perhaps begin to fall into place when we read Genesis 2:18 Christologically:
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 2:18, NIV)
In its immediate context, this applies to Adam and leads to the creation of Eve. But in terms of the future envisaged by the first chapter of Ephesians, a future where Christ is “head over everything for the church” (1:22, NIV), we may equally say of Christ that it is “not good” for him to be “alone” and that God has created a “helper suitable for him” also.
There are at least three reasons why we may suggest this needs to be so. First, a spatially-bound creature can only be in one place at a time. Therefore even Christ cannot be everywhere at once in terms of his incarnation. The eternal Son may be unbound and thus infinite, but his incarnate body is in just one place.
Actually in the Church of England, to which I belong, we have this as an official doctrinal statement, found in the footnotes to the Book of Common Prayer service of Holy Communion:
... the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.
I should, of course, acknowledge that other denominations, not least the Lutherans, take a different view about the post-resurrection presence of Jesus’ body. However, the body of the Jesus of the gospels clearly is in one place at a time. (And, incidentally, it could be argued that were Jesus to appear in more than one place — for example to two people at the same time — this would have as much to do with his not being limited by time as his not being limited to one place. The BCP footnote is about Jesus being “at one time in more places than one”.)
At the beginning of Genesis, however, the human race is told to “be fruitful and increase in number” in order to “fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28). Adam ‘alone’ clearly could not do this. And it is equally clear that, whatever else might be possible, God does not intend to do it with an incarnate ‘Jesus alone’ either.
It is God’s intention that the incarnate Christ should be the one who “fills everything in every way” in this physical world (Eph 1:22). But the way that the body of Christ extends throughout that world is through the expansion of the Church. Martin Luther caught this vision in his tract The Freedom of a Christian:
Surely we are named after Christ, not because he is absent from us, but because he dwells in us, that is, because we believe in him and are Christs one to another and do to our neighbors as Christ does to us. (LW 31:368)
Christ is in more places than one insofar as God is in us:
There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:4-6)
Of course we must be careful that we maintain a proper distance between the image and the thing imaged. Adam is not Christ (emphatically). We must also remember that ‘not good’ is not the same as actually bad. The implication of Genesis 2:18 is not that something has gone wrong with what God has made, but that it is not yet complete. The verdict of ‘good’ is implicit in Adam’s jubilant greeting of Eve.
Nevertheless, as we have seen, it is true to say that Christ is not ‘alone’ in exercising his dominion. He himself says that his disciples will share the task of ‘judging’, which is the exercise of rule.
Furthermore, the man in Genesis 2:18 is not lonely. It the ‘aloneness’, not his loneliness, which is ‘not good’. And a little thought shows that in relation to the creation the ‘aloneness’ of the incarnate Son is also ‘not good’.
The second reason we may suggest why this is so is that God’s imaging of himself in the human race is evidently a vast project, not a ‘one-off’. In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer boldly speaks of the multiplicity of God’s children in Christ:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” (Heb 2:10-13, NIV)
God intends that there should be not just one Son but “many sons”. The wonder of it all is that this is also a cooperative process, in two ways. First, God enables us to produce ‘image-bearers’:
When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. (Gen 5:3, NIV)
Amazingly, through the act of intercourse, we finite human beings are a production line for images of the infiinite God. If nothing else, that surely ought to make us think about the significance of sex and parenthood.
But what about our redemption? Surely this is the work of Christ alone? The hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, ‘In Christ Alone’, is entirely right in what affirms about Christ. Yet although he is certainly the only one capable of bearing God’s wrath and and reconciling us to him, the task of bringing others into that salvation is carried out through us:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, NIV)
Once again we see how the operating principle is ‘through Christ’ but not ‘through Christ alone’.
And then, thirdly, there is the sheer love of God, the ultimate paradigm of which is that love we find in the ideal marriage of a man and a woman. Earlier commentators used to interpret the Song of Songs as an allegory of Christ’s love for the church. The Reformation approach to reading the Bible demoted allegorization as an approach, and incidentally thereby demoted the Song of Songs from being one of the most-commented on books of the Bible. However, we are right to see the Song as a depiction of intense, passionate, and ultimately ‘marital’ love:
I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. (Song of Solomon 5:1a, NIV)
And insofar as the Bible depicts the relationship between God and his people in marital terms, we may surmise that it also partakes of a similar intensity:
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. [...] There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ [...] I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.” (Hosea 2:14,15b-16,19, NIV)

For my earlier posts on Genesis, see here:
The woman Eve, so good Adam named her twice
and here:
From Genesis to Jesus: Eve in Christian perspective

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