On Deliberate Maleness

Bryan L. asked a question about the Messiah having to be a male based on something Bruce Ware said somewhere in an article.  Bryan and TC Robinson have been going back and forth in the comments to that post about God’s deliberate act of creating Adam before Eve.  Without recounting the entire thing I’ll give the basic thrust of the conversation.  TC says that God’s act was deliberate but Bryan says that if we read the text it doesn’t seem so deliberate since God presented animals to Adam first and then created Eve as an afterthought.  I don’t really see how that makes it any less deliberate but that’s not germane to the question I’m going to ask in this post. 

In Bryan’s post he said that he wonders if the Messiah’s being male was an historical accident, i.e., it was based upon the patriarchal culture that the Bible is set in.  He speculates that perhaps if things were different and the culture was different then maybe the Messiah could have came as a woman.  Good and well, I don’t care to argue for or against that proposition.  I do however want to ask how we view the creation narrative where man is created first.  Let’s just for the sake of argument say that Genesis 1-3 is in fact history and not myth.  If the man was the first to be created then there was no patriarchal society yet to worry about.  God could have created the woman first and it wouldn’t have been a big deal because no one would have existed to protest, right?  So does not the narrative itself express some kind of deliberate act where God purposed to create the man before the woman? 

B”H

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39 thoughts on “On Deliberate Maleness

  1. Very interesting question Nick, although moot for those of us – as you say – who regard Genesis 1-3 as myth. Bryan’s arguments in his post apply just as easily in that situation.

    However, if it was in fact historical, I think there’d still be some argument regarding the meaning of the deliberation. For example, it could be argued that generally the ‘first try’, in this case man, is generally an inferior product to the ‘second try’, in this case woman. The fact that man was created first does not necessarily signify any kind of hierarchy between the sexes.

    The sexes of Jesus or Adam (as ‘firsts’) are need not be equivalent in order for Jesus to be the ‘anti-Adam’ that Paul speaks of, regardless of the historicity of Genesis (if we were to link this back to Bryan’s discussion).

  2. Damian: I don’t have the gender debate in mind at all. I’m just saying that we can’t use “patriarchal society” as an argument for the reason God created the man first, if in fact the narrative is historical (I don’t think it is, but it’s a thought experiement).

  3. So does not the narrative itself express some kind of deliberate act where God purposed to create the man before the woman?

    Nick, I see no other alternative. The rest of the Biblical narrative, which is in fact redemptive narrative, demonstrates the deliberate touch of God, for lack of a better expression.

    The whole thing is rigged from the get go, as far as gender is concern.

  4. TC: I’d agree that it’s all deliberate. I don’t think that that means that one should draw any specific conclusions regarding the modern gender debate though, since I don’t think that these issues were in the background of the texts.

  5. In that case, Nick, I’d agree with you (if I accepted the premise that Genesis is historical, that is). It’s certainly deliberate, but there are no conclusions to be drawn from it regarding gender roles.

  6. Nick, correct. But how do you respond to the person who appeals to 1 Tim 2:12-15, in reference to the gender debate.

    Paul seems to have seen something in the Genesis narrative.

  7. T.C.: I tend to think (although I haven’t tried to argue this in the past), that that passage reflects the culture of the author and interpretation thereof, rather than divine ordinance. Just as we view scripture through a cultural lens, the author of the letter did. That doesn’t mean he didn’t communicate truth; but it does mean that it must be examined critically.

  8. Interesting questions…

    1. The content of the Genesis 1-3 narrative focuses on God as Creator, and the basic truths of his created order.
    2. Since the original quesiton assumes theological positions held by Christian believers, it is a question made by Christian believers.
    3. Most Christian believers assume inspiration, regardless of genre.
    4. Therefore, the genre of Genesis 1-3 may be mythical, but for Christian believers still inspired.

    So, even if myth, it was a purposive myth intent on teaching God’s people about God’s created order. I think then that the creation of man before woman can therefore teach us something clear about God and his created order, whether or not the narrative is historically true.

  9. Yes – if God had been going to manifest as a female messiah, he would have inspired a different ‘myth’ or created a different history.

  10. steph,
    I think you’re being sarcastic, but you make a good point. If he was going to manifest as a female messiah, then he surely wouldn’t have come as a Jew, and that messes up the whole coming as the Jewish messiah.

    If God was going to manifest as a female, then the whole story would be radically different.

  11. steph,
    I just read your discussion at Bryan’s blog…so you’re definitely not being sarcastic, and I agree with what you’re saying.

  12. My wife mentioned that from her exegesis of the Shack, the Father is clearly a woman, the Spirit is feminine too…so Jesus had to be a man to be able to relate to men.

    How can you argue with that?

  13. Ranger: I am definitely not being sarcastic. And you can’t argue with your wife – that’s not sarcastic either. Women are always right… ;-)

  14. In examining the Hebrew Phyllis Trible suggests that Adam is not male or female but is of the earth . The earth creature ha`adam that is made by God so that male being first is to misunderstand the Hebrew one suggestion that can be made is that in being made last the female is to be seen as the pinnacle of creation! However Trible suggests the ultimate equality of the sexes. Her writing can be read at gened.udayton.edu. Its a pdf file. This discussion as so many around sexuality misreads the actual text it is more eisegesis than exegesis

  15. I think Trible’s discussion sounds like eisegesis … I never did get into feminist theology or feminist apology… And I don’t think the biblical tradition following creation supports it :-)

  16. Assuming historicity…

    If God made Adam to be a picture of Christ, and if God purposed the Church to come, eventually, from “out of” Christ, then God must have purposed that Eve would come “out of” Adam, as another picture.

    … perhaps stating the obvious? (?)

    I also believe this gives no support whatsoever to men who wish to subjugate women.

  17. Very briefly (on my way out the door), it of course depends on which creation account you are reading. Gen 2 is a wonderfully beautiful image. The Hebrew traditionally translated “rib” can also–and I would say here probably does–better mean “side.” Yes, it is worth a chuckle to think of some male/female hybrid, spider-like creature whom God chose to divide. But, it also I think gets at the matter well . . . woman is from man . . . and not just from, but a part of.

    That’s my take.

  18. I like Bill’s assumption…both theologically and politically excellent! I believe that many of us will be quite surprised when all is told about the true historicity of the words in this book that inspire us to take it apart…examine each piece and put it back together again…

  19. Ranger: I agree, the text has something to teach us. My point with this post is really that there was no culture to conform to or no people to please in the creation of man, so whatever it is the text is teaching it needn’t be influenced by the prevailing thought of the day.

    Andrew: By ‘this discussion’ you mean Trible’s, right? If you mean the discussion taking place here then I welcome you to support that statement since on its face Trible’s interpretation seems the least likely of any offered so far. Why should anyone be persuaded by her reading?

    Sue: Thanks for the link, I’ll check your post out later. I think that Adam’s not being called ish/aner until after the woman was formed is incosequential in the narrative. Unless we read every instance of ha’adam in a generic sense like ‘mankind’ then that distinction doesn’t much matter.

    Steph: You know, I think the same thing!

    Nancy: Yup!

    Bill: I can agree with that.

    John: And I find nothing in your take to complain about. BTW, I pray you do well on tomorrow’s exams.

    Nancy: I would be surprised to find out that Adam and Eve were two actual persons in history, but you never know, they might have been.

  20. John – personally, I enjoy subscribing to the view that the word commonly translated ‘rib’ is best translated as ‘baculum’, despite it clashing with our sensitivities. It makes more sense, considering the type of myths (‘this is why such and such is called such and such’ – I’m blanking on the name of such myths) that are most common in Genesis. :-)

  21. Nick sorry to be less than clear in dealing with a discussion relating to God making male first it makes sense to return to the text of Genesis 1. As many assumptions are being made about this text it makes sense to look at the text. Trible`s suggestions may appear to come from a left field OK but in exploring the text that the male description movement from haadam to the male ish only occurs when eve comes from the side of haadam. It may be an exegetical issue to listen to the work of Trible not as a minority text but as alternative voice to the male assumptions. I am sorry to be an alternative voice for feministsbut I would ask any Feminist scholars out there to support my suggestions

  22. Nick:
    I think you ask a very good question. If the narrative is in fact purely history and therefor there was no patriarchal society from which to influence God then does that mean anything? I guess it might. I guess we might be able to say then that it meant something about God’s intentions for men and women. However a couple of things:

    1.) Even with those considerations I think you could still hold the view that God didn’t create man first but just a human, and gender was the afterthought which only came into existence when Eve was taken from Adam and made into another person; then male and female both entered the scene at the same time.

    2.) If there was in fact a special creation of God where two people were first created to be the parents of mankind, I think it’s still impossible to say we have access to those events through the Genesis narrative without any cultural influences added. So it seems impossible to know exactly how it went down other than maybe God created two people first.

    Also, I think Sue’ point is interesting and I don’t know why you think it is inconsequential that Adam is only called ish/aner after Eve is created. Seems like it may lend a little support to my point that gender only comes to exist when Eve is created from Adam. At the least do you think the author of the story had a reason for switching to ish/aner in in reference to Adam in Gen 2:23 or do you beleive it is purely a coincidence?

    “Unless we read every instance of ha’adam in a generic sense like ‘mankind’ then that distinction doesn’t much matter.”

    Why can’t ha’adam be read in the creation account in a generic sense of human kind or “the human”?

    So how mythical do you beleive the story is?

    “I usually respond by saying that I’m not interested in the gender debate.”

    LOL! Wise move. : )

    Bryan L

  23. John: I’m sure you’ll do fine.

    Andrew: I don’t think the ha’adam and ish distinction is as notable as you (or Trible) seem to think. When the female comes from the male it makes sense to speak of them in the ways that they’re spoken of, but before that what need is there to speak of ha’adam as ish? That doesn’t mean he wasn’t already ish, just that it didn’t need to be stated in contrast to isha.

    Bryan: (1) But do you really think that’s what the text says? Do you really believe that’s what happened? Somehow I don’t think you do. And isn’t Adam’s maleness presupposed in saying that “she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man”? How can she be taken out of “man” unless he was already “man”?

    (2) Yeah, but those two people were male and female. What other option is there? As far as why I think it’s inconsequential, see my comment to Andrew above. I think that the author switched to ish in order to contrast it with isha. But as far as I can tell there is great semantic overlap between ha’adam and ish.

    Reading ha’adam as ‘human’ doesn’t really settle anything though. I’m fine with saying ‘human’ but I’d recognize him as a male human. Was this human without the chromosomes that all humans have? It makes perfect sense to assume that ha’adam had an XY chromosome and that the woman’s X was taken out of him. I’m no biologist but the last time I checked it was because males have XY chromosomes that we’re able to have either male or female offspring. I can’t see that the first man according to the Genesis narrative was some kind of sub-human.

    And I believe that the story is mythical enough to not have actually happened in history, but still to tell a story of what did happen in a round about way. The irony in all this is that I actually DO read ha’adam as a generic mankind!!! But for the sake of argument we’re saying that it’s all historical so if that’s the case I can’t. ;-)

  24. Nick,

    You are arguing two sides against the middle. Let’s suppose that Adam and Eve are not two historic individuals. In that case, the language used for the first human is significant.

    The passage is full of puns in Hebrew and the Greek adds its own wordplay. Here is an example of Midrashic treatment of this passage.

    “And God said let us make a human, etc… R. Yermia, the son of El’azar interpreted: When the Holiness (Be it Blessed) created the first human, He created him androgynous, for it says, “Male and female created He them.” R. Samuel the son of Nahman said: When the Holiness (Be it Blessed) created the first human, He made it two-faced, then He sawed it and made a back for this one and a back for that one. They objected to him: but it says, “He took one of his ribs (tsela’).” He answered [that it means], “one of his sides.” similarly to that which is written, “And the side (tsela’) of the tabernacle” [Exod. 26:20]” Theodor and Albeck 1965 p. 54-65

    Because the language regarding the first human is androgynous/generic, I suggest that the interpretation that the first human was androgynous has been around since the very first commentary on Genesis. It has nothing to do with feminism. It is an original reading of the text.

    In looking at this passage in the LXX one cannot escape the obvious, that it was considered a narrative that could be shaped by wordplay and metaphor.

    By thinking of Adam and Eve as two real people who had to have male of female chromosomes we are out of step with antiquity, and the spirit in which this was written.

  25. Nick:

    1.) What the text says? We can all see what it literally says (in translation of course and a few of us can actually read the Hebrew). Are you asking me do I think the person who added this tradition to Genesis (the author if you want to say that) would have understood it the way I do? Maybe not but if the Spirit is the one that inspires the text in the first place and the text is still inspired and continues to speak to us today to our present contexts and future contexts then I have no problem at all reading it in the way that I suggested and believing that that may actually be the meaning. I think the Spirit left us enough wiggle room in the text to read it in this way even while realizing that the person who put this tradition into Genesis for their own purposes may not have read it this way or seen the complete significance in what was written and how it was worded.

    “And isn’t Adam’s maleness presupposed in saying that “she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man”?”

    In naming her and himself I only think he recognizes that she is different from him and that she came from him. He then draws a distinction between what she is and what he is (maybe what he just became since something was taken from him) and in naming her, he recognizes that she came from him. But do I think he walked around before she was created and thought “I’m a male not a female”? No. So I don’ think he can presuppose that he is a male before a female exists.

    “How can she be taken out of “man” unless he was already “man”?”

    Does that mean she was man before she was woman since she comes from man, and all that makes her (as in what she’s composed of) derives from him? It does say she is of his flesh and bone. It sounds like she’s existed as long as he has. Maybe she did in fact hear God’s instructions to Adam about the trees in the garden. Maybe she shared his consciousness. Maybe she had all of his memories. Of course I think it’s just a myth but if it is then why not wonder that stuff. : )

    “But as far as I can tell there is great semantic overlap between ha’adam and ish.”

    What is the great semantic overlap? If ish was sufficient to accomplish whatever the editor/author wanted to say up to that point then why didn’t the author just use ish the whole time? Was ha’adam used simply to point out that the man came from the ground? Is that all? Or is the editor/author using these two words in very different ways despite the fact that there is some semantic overlap between them?

    “I can’t see that the first man according to the Genesis narrative was some kind of sub-human. ”

    What in my reading would make Adam—before Eve was created—a subhuman?

    “But for the sake of argument we’re saying that it’s all historical so if that’s the case I can’t. ;-)”

    Man I’m confused. : ) I find it hard to say it’s pure history, even for the sake of argument, since it seems like it is so colored by the time and culture in which it was passed on and written down in. But if I were forced to play that game then I would stick with my first point ; )

    Bryan L

  26. I think that translations consistently mask the orignial language, hiding the fact that the Hebrew says, “human.” We are conditioned to interpret this passage a certain way because our translations say “man.”

  27. In Numbers 31, we can see that 32.000 females were categorized as Adam. I think we vastly misinterpret the meaning of this word.

  28. Sue: I’m not arguing two sides against the middle. The post says that for the sake of argument we take the creation account in Genesis 2 as historical. That being the case there was no culture to conform to. So what does creating the man before the woman mean, if anything at all?

    I simply disagree that the language is androgynous or that such a reading is ‘original.’ And while I’m sure that the original audience wasn’t thinking in terms of chromosomes I don’t doubt that they’d have pictured genitalia. But regardless, if the text is historical (which for the sake of argument we’re saying it is) then God created a person first. Did this person have XX or XY chromosomes? If it had something other than that then is it even a human?

    And there is no ‘fact’ of the Hebrew saying ‘human’ — the Hebrew says ‘ha’adam.’ Ha’adam can be translated into English as human, man, (hu)mankind. You prefer human for exegetical reasons and that’s fine, but let’s not act as if yours is the only possible interpretation.

    Bryan: I don’t understand your first point. Are you saying that anything that anyone today can think of any text may be what the text means because the Spirit speaks to us today? If so then I’d disagree. Somehow I think I’m misunderstanding you though. I see no support for this idea of a genderless human in the text itself.

    In naming her and himself I only think he recognizes that she is different from him and that she came from him.

    But is she different from what he already was? Did he undergo some kind of change once she was created? If so where does the narrative suggest such? In the use of ish rather than ha’adam? How so?

    Does that mean she was man before she was woman since she comes from man, and all that makes her (as in what she’s composed of) derives from him?

    I don’t understand.

    The semantic overlap is that ha’adam and ish can refer to the same thing, a man. Ha’adam is more versatile however and can refer to a human or (hu)mankind in general.

    What in my reading would make Adam—before Eve was created—a subhuman?

    You appear to be saying that Adam is neither male nor female. Then what is Adam? Humans are either male or female. They’re not both and they’re not neither. If Adam is both or neither then that suggests some kind of sub-humanity, no?

  29. Let me provide the context for my comment on language. A commenter on Bryan’s thread made this remark,

    “I think we can say that Adam was a man before Eve came along because the text calls him “the man.”’

    I am trying to offer a counter suggestion that we translate adam as human to clarify the Hebrew. Since this word can apply to a group of people which are exclusively female, it falls into a different class than the word “man” in English. Even the KJV has to translate adam as “person” in this verse.

    35And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him. Numbers 32:35

    I would expect a good translation to provide a text from which we could possibly derive the same interpretation as the ancient midrash did.

    Admittedly, I have no particular interest in arguing a real androgynous being, but clearly this seemed plausible to early readers of the text.

    We have to agree that we cannot tell for sure that the being God created was male just because the English word “man” is used.

    However, this was not your argument, Nick, it was a comment made by someone else.

  30. Nick:

    I’m not suggesting that anything that anyone can think of in regards to a text is valid. The text naturally places constraints on how it can be interpreted although I realize that some people can get really creative in how they make a text say the exact opposite of what it in fact says. As I mentioned my interpretation does not conflict with the actual text (even if the original editor/author did not see that) and if we believe that the Spirit inspired the texts and continues to speak through it beyond the original contexts and issues which it was written to then I think the interpretation I offered is just as likely. Am I doing anything different than someone like Paul or Jesus did in appealing to Israel’s scriptures to address current issues that they were dealing with in their day?

    Ultimately I’m asking what it means to be a man in the case that female has never been created. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a meaningless term at that point. Not only that but the text shows that Adam was different before Eve was created since he had part of himself taken away to make her. How much? Who know, it could have been a lot. If that is the case then we can’t assume that Adam was the same biologically after Eve was created.

    “Then what is Adam? Humans are either male or female. They’re not both and they’re not neither. If Adam is both or neither then that suggests some kind of sub-humanity, no?”

    And humans don’t get formed from dirt or the sides of people so really what does it mean to call Adam a human before Eve was created. There’s obviously some discontinuity there between us today and pre-Eve Adam. Maybe he was different from us before she was created. Maybe he wasn’t exactly what we consider a human today. So? Even if that is the case I don’t think that makes him subhuman. Eitherway, after she was created they both were just as much human as us (minus belly buttons).

    “Did he undergo some kind of change once she was created? If so where does the narrative suggest such? In the use of ish rather than ha’adam? How so?”

    I think having a piece of you removed is a pretty significant change especially if it was functioning biological parts or something. I think the introduction of ish at the point when Eve was created was important. You don’t. Why don’t you beleive so? If ish could have substituted for ha’adam the whole time then why not just use it the whole time? Would any meaning have been lost to say from the very beginning “Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed ish from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the ish became a living being”?

    I’ve got to get to sleep now. Interesting discussion. : )

    Bryan L

  31. Sue: No, it was my argument. I’m the one who said that in Bryan’s comments. Somehow I think you know that since I know of only two Nick Norellis in the world, and the other one doesn’t use my avatar or link his name to my blog. ;-)

    Bryan: Interesting indeed, even if ultimately meaningless. ;-)

  32. Nick,

    I didn’t realize it was you. I went back and clipped the citation from my own comment made earlier yesterday or today, without checking to see who had made the original comment. So, in fact, I did not know it was you, although I should have checked.

    I am only suggesting that if we used the a generic word instead of “man” we would see that the text itself no more says Adam was male than it says 32,000 young virgin girls were male.

    But I sense that I have offended you by not attributing your comment properly. I apologize for that. It was carelessness.

  33. Sue: No, you haven’t offended me. No apology necessary. I assumed that you were being sarcastic so I replied with sarcasm. If I offended you then it is me who should apologize.

  34. It was pure accident on my part. I can see now how it looked to you though. It would be outrageously sarcastic if it was intentional. I am glad to get that cleared up.

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