Keith Sharpe responds to Andrew Goddard

Over on the Changing Attitude website, Keith Sharpe has responded to a recent column by Andrew Goddard on the Fulcrum website. Keith’s blog post is an absolute text book example of eisegesis, so let’s take it apart piece by piece shall we?

For Christians the essence of marriage is made plain in the story of Adam and Eve recounted in Genesis.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

1.  God created the first man, Adam, and then realised there was a problem. It does not look even as if God intended to create another human being, let alone a full blown heterosexual family. It looks much more like God created Adam in his own image and only then realised that there was a problem.

Keith begins with a huge presumption, namely that God didn’t know what he was doing! But read the text carefully. Keith claims “God created the first man … and then realised there was a problem”. However, the text of Genesis 2 doesn’t say that. God intends to make an help meet for Adam, Adam goes through the animals and decides for himself that none of them will do. The Hebrew is perfectly clear, it is not God who has a problem – the text simply states the simple fact that no helper was available for Adam. This is clearer in better English translations.

NIV – But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
ESV – But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
NASB – but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.

The emphasis is simply that none of the animals presented to Adam were appropriate as a help-meet. To load that with an assumption that this implies a lack of fore-thought on the side of God is eisegesis of the first order. The animals are paraded in front of Adam not as a desperate divine attempt to fix a problem, but rather as a theological tool to demonstrate Adam’s uniqueness in comparison to these other creatures.

2. The rest of Creation is intended to help humankind thrive and flourish.  God tries to find a soulmate for Adam by creating the animals. And he lets Adam name them, perhaps in the hope that one of them will provide that relational bond that will fill the yearning emptiness inside him.  But it is all to no avail. For Adam ‘there was not found an help meet’ for him.  What is clear however, is that all God’s subsequent creative efforts are aimed at helping Adam to thrive.

God tries to find a soulmate for Adam by creating the animals. – Pure and baseless eisegeis. Firstly, the correct translation is “help meet” not “soulmate”. Secondly, the text states that God intends to make a help meet for Adam, but that does not imply that he intends one of the creatures to be that help meet. Once again we are pushed back to the text. The animals are named by Adam (implying his superiority to them), but it is evident to him that they will not do as an equal. The very fact that he names each and every one indicates that God does not intend any of them to be the help meet that Adam requires.

Where we see the English phrase “fit for him”, the literal translation of the Hebrew is “in front of him” or “opposite him”. The idea in the text is of a being that can stand in horizontal relationship to Adam – eye to eye as it were. The fact that none of the animals meet this criteria (their inferiority to Adam is indicated by his sovereignty over them in naming them) means that God has created them as such (or we are left with a less than omnipotent God who doesn’t know what he is doing).

None of this takes away from the fact that yes, God’s creation is intended to help Adam thrive. But the text does not support the notion that the animals are created in order to find one which will work as a help meet.

3. God realises that Adam has to have someone like himself as a companion.  He makes Eve out of Adam’s rib:

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof.

So the essential point about Eve is not that she is female but that she is human.  Only a human can meet the needs of another human for real companionship. The comparison being made is not that between a male/female pair and a male/male pair, but between a human/animal relationship and the deep mutual commitment which can occur between two human beings.

So the essential point about Eve is not that she is female but that she is human. – Keith here displays the usual tool of a liberal reading of Scripture, which is to ignore all other passages which might contradict his position. Only a few verses later Genesis makes specific reference to the differing sexes of the human pair to demonstrate a point of complementarity.

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 2:24-25 ESV)

Later on in Scripture, Paul refers back to Genesis 2 to make a deep theological point about the union of man and wife in their specific sexes as the comparison to the union of Christ and the Church.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
(Ephesians 5:25-32 ESV)

It is the very difference of the sexes that is key to the metaphor – husband and wife take on differing roles and obligations because Christ and his Church are different. There is a specific act of “taking in” of the Church that is conducted by Christ here, mirroring how in the Genesis 2 picture the wife is held fast by her husband (and not the other way round).

4. This implies that the principal divine purpose of human pair unions is a loving purpose – it is for the mutual happiness and fulfilment of two human beings.  Notice here that we have got a long way through this story and there has not yet been any reference whatsoever to the purpose of marriage being procreation. The whole focus in this all-important creation story has been on companionship.

If this were the only reference to marriage in the Bible Keith might have a point. But step back a chapter – the command is to human beings to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:28). This command is fulfilled through the sexual union of the pair, and it indicates very clearly that although the divine purpose of two humans coming together is mutual happiness and fulfilment, it is also equally procreative. This command is recognised by Jesus as a fundamental building block of marriage when he points to the sexual union of husband and wife as inviolable (Matt 19:6). A same-sex couple cannot ever fulfil one of the principal divine purposes for mankind which is to “multiply and fill the earth”.

I find it fascinating that both Mark and Matthew choose to place the blessing of the children straight after this event (Matt 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16). Coincidence that Jesus blesses children straight after affirming the sexual union of husband and wife? I don’t think so.

5. Procreation comes only as an afterthought.  The absence of any reference to childbearing continues right on until chapter three of the Book of Genesis. And even then, it only occurs as a sort of incidental afterthought, and merely as a minor detail in the story of God’s punishment of Eve for eating the apple and leading Adam astray.  It is worth noting en passant also of course that we are left with real uncertainty about how Adam and Eve’s offspring then sired the rest of the human race. What manner of marriage did they have?

Wrong, wrong, wrong! The first command in Scripture given to humans is NOT to “leave that tree alone” but “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). Yes, this is the Genesis 1 account as opposed to the Genesis 2-3 narrative, but it’s location as the theological underpinning of the creation of humanity is utterly undermining of the point Keith is trying to make. Procreation is the first-thought, not the afterthought, of a creative God. It’s explicit centrality as laid out in the final few verses of Genesis 1 overshadows the reading of Genesis 2. When we read the words “help meet” in the second chapter we implicitly understand what one function of this help meet is to be. And we are correct, because the marriage imagery is picked up once again at the end of chapter two, reaffirming the procreative mandate. Indeed, Gen 2:25 positively reeks of the understanding of Adam and Eve as sexual beings, a sexual being together which has been clearly laid out a few verses previously as instrumental in the mission of humanity to expand over the earth.

Thus the whole Biblical story which is so often used to justify the ‘one man-one woman’ policy is actually driven by a concern with human wellbeing, not the procreation of children.  Steve would have done just as well as Eve had Adam been gay.  Eve was not a wife; she was a lifelong companion.

This is just nonsense. Genesis 2 explicitly refers to Adam and Eve as husband and wife at the end of the chapter. That labelling is explicitly referenced by Jesus and Paul in their usage of this passage. Furthermore, the whole pathway of Genesis 1 to 3 lays out the primary function of the sexual pair is to have children. Nothing could be further from the truth to claim that “ Eve was not a wife” and that “the whole Biblical story which is so often used to justify the ‘one man-one woman’ policy is actually driven by a concern with human wellbeing, not the procreation of children”. Such a reading can only be undertaken by ripping individual verses of Genesis 2 from the chapter that contains them, the chapters that surround them and the way that the New Testament consistently refers to them.

To be honest, this is a classic example of seeing what you want to see. If you want the Bible to make sexual unions simply about the two people involved in that union, then you will jump at Keith’s eisegesis (as several commentators on the CA blog have done). However, if you’re interested in seeing what the full picture of the Bible is on this issue, you’ll very quickly understand that Genesis 2 is not about the happiness of the two human beings being examined, but rather about how that happiness integrates into God’s purposes for the world and humanity.

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