The early chapters of the Book of Genesis were never intended as a scientific description of the creation of the world and the origins of life. Such investigations, revealing the intricacies of God’s Creation, would properly belong to a later age.
What the Creation narratives do intend to communicate, and do so through the most sublime imagery, is the God-given purpose of our humanity and the world entrusted to us: “It is not good that man should be alone.”
The Creator’s reflection is something more than a casual observation concerning Adam’s lack of a partner. It goes to the heart of what it is to be human. Alone we are incomplete. It is of our very nature that we should reach out, that we should find ourselves, and the fullness of life, in another.
In its immediate context, this statement does, of course, refer to human sexuality and is leading on to describe the relationship of man and woman in marriage as divinely ordained. Its implications, however, reach far beyond sexuality. This God-given drive to reach beyond the bounds of human isolation bring us ultimately into the presence of God, in whose communion alone our restless longing is stilled.
While the creation of woman from the man’s rib is not a scientific description, it tells us a great deal about our relationships with each other and the environment in which we live. As the narrative unfolds, the Creator brings the various works of creation to man and for him to name. In the ancient world those entrusted with the power to name were entrusted with responsibility for the things that they had named. Parents who name a child have responsibility for that child. We who name, and are enabled to unfold the secrets of creation, cannot escape responsibility for the environment entrusted to us.
The conclusion of the narrative, with the formation of the woman from the rib of Adam, can never be understood as a statement of the priority of one sex over another. Adam’s exultant cry – “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” – was an unqualified assertion of the equality of the sexes.
The final observation, that such a gift takes a man from father and mother so that the two might become one body, unambiguously states as God’s purpose the enduring marriage of men and women.
In the Gospel Jesus quoted the same Genesis passage as the justification for his insistence on the indissolubility of marriage. “From the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.”
The context for this clear statement concerning the nature of marriage was an attempt on the part of the Pharisees to trap Jesus in his reply. The application of the law of Moses had, over the centuries, come to tolerate divorce in the case of adultery, and, in some cases, lesser transgressions. Jesus refused to enter into legal argument. Instead he appealed to the ideal of marriage as set forth in the Book of Genesis. Here marriage was described as the communion in body and soul of a man and a woman, a gift from God giving meaning and purpose to their lives, and therefore a bond that could not be broken.
The provisions of the Jewish law tolerating divorce had compromised this ideal. Jesus invites us to a kingdom that goes beyond the compromises of a sinful world, a kingdom in which we remain faithful in marriage, love our enemies and forgive without limit. We can live such a life only in his grace.