The Plurality of God and Man in Genesis 1-2:24 or Living Together

It very often seems that people in my neighborhood, even my next-door neighbors in my apartment complex, are not really next to me at all. While we may live next to one-another in proximity, we certainly don’t live together in any sense of the word. A neighbor gets up and eats breakfast and walks out the door to head to work. I do the same everyday yet I do not know where that person is going and I do not usually want to know. In this way we are very similar people, yet very separate. If my neighbor is any more similar to me, then he, like myself, is not content in this life lived alone. A life where we can eat, sleep, take showers, read and listen to music exactly one wall away from one-another and yet never know each others names. No one can actually want this! Yet this situation seems to be the preferred way for millions of Americans. We say we like it this way. We like our extreme privacy and autonomy. However, I have a hunch that other people probably feel like me and really do long for true connection with other people. Evidence of this can be found in the modern advent of the blogeshphere and social networking websites such as Myspace and Facebook where people become elated when they see that they’ve obtained a new “friend” with which to “connect”. But this type of connection is not real and it is not what God has prescribed for us. God knows our needs (He made them for a purpose!) and he has provided us with the necessary means to meet them. 

The answer has been with us since our very conception into this world; it has been with us since mankind was created. In the beginning of the Bible, Moses tells a story of how our God created the universe, including the world in which we live, including us. The story that Moses wrote is our story. The purpose and the needs of its main characters are paradigmatic to our purpose and the needs we have today. Specifically this Genesis narrative portrays firstly God as a plurality of persons (a community) and secondly Mankind, as a communal creature as well. He is a creature meant to be like its creator; a creature not meant to be alone. We are thus made in God’s image. Moses’ Purpose in Emphasizing Plurality in 1-2:24In Exodus 33:13 Moses recounts a time when he was appealing to God for his people. He said “please show me now your ways, that I may know you”. Moses seemed to believe that knowing God’s ways was the key to knowing God himself. Though it is dangerous to say what an author was thinking when he wrote, since we know that Moses thought this way, it is not entirely out of the question to say that this line of thinking indeed lies behind his creation narrative. For instance, in Exodus 20:8-11 God commands his people to rest on the seventh day based on the precedent that God rested on the seventh day(Gen2:2). Certainly Moses’ purpose was not merely to give an account of a historical event, though certainly it does. But Genesis, as a piece of literature, is so rich and glorious, too much so to be something as bland as that.Moses was telling his readers about God’s ways so that they may know God.  Knowing God is the ultimate answer to the problem of loneliness and following his ways is the road to reaching that goal. In emphasizing God’s plurality Moses gives the reader insight into one of God’s ways. In verse 26 he recounts that man was created male and female in God’s image. To image something is to represent its qualities faithfully.  Bruce Ware says that the idea “image of God” conceives of mankind as:created and finite representations (Images of God) of God’s own nature, that in relationships with Him and each other, they might be his representatives (imaging God) in carrying out the responsibilities He has given to them. In this sense, we are images of God in order to Image God and his purposes in the ordering of our lives and carrying out of our God-given responsibilities. 

Moses writes as though he intends his readers to imagine God in his plurality and be represent him faithfully in that way. He was teaching them about God’s plurality so that they may imitate this plurality.  This is why the first man and woman were created “male and female”.

                                       God’s Purpose in the Historical Events Recounted in 1:26-2:24Since we already emphasized that Genesis 1 and 2 are beautifully painted works of art and not just an account of historical events, we must now admit, as we already have, that it does indeed tell of historical events. What was the significance of these events at the time they took place? Moses can tell us a story that teaches us about the plurality of God and man but how did the first man and woman understand it themselves as history was unfolding?A term often used to describe the nature of such questions is “progressive revelation”. It means that God reveals himself in different ways progressively through time instead of all at once. It takes into account that revelation is a page-turning story rather than a single book that just fell like a rock from the sky. The first man and woman were provided with revelation of God’s nature by imaging God themselves. Their own experiences as God-imagers led them to a rightful understanding of who God is. In following this way of God’s plurality by living together in the fullest sense they walked with God in a relationship with him in the Garden. They knew him.So God has always provided a way for his people to know him. Weather it was the experiences of people before written revelation, weather it was the Law of Moses, or the fullness of revelation that we have today in the Bible, God has always provided. It is a great vantage point to be on this side of revelation. And what a blessing to have the words of Moses in Genesis 1-2 to give us insight into the way that we can image God in his plurality.                                                                                         God’s Plurality at Creation                 In Genesis 1:1-3 the reader is introduced to God. The word translated as God in English is actually Gods. It is the word Elohim which is the Plural form of the word El which means “God”.  It is used 2607 times in the Old Testament to refer to God.  This wide usage of a plural noun being the subject of many singular verbs isn’t just a case of bad grammar.  In being introduced to the first and main character, we are actually being told something very important about God that we will come to understand greater as we continue on reading.After God’s introduction onto the scene we have him immediately acting.  This is of course the act of creation.  Right after that the “Spirit of God” is seen hovering over the face of the waters.  Who or what is the Spirit of God? Since it is acting in a distinctive way from the rest of God, I would say that we are supposed to understand it as an independent person.  But where does this person come from?  It says that it is the “Spirit of God”.  If we are still thinking of the word Elohim’s plural nature then we could say that it is the Spirit from the community of God.  I think this verse gives us warrant to see the Spirit from verse 1 as a member of a society.  Much like we would say “Jesus of Nazareth” Moses may here be saying “Spirit of God (Elohim)”.So God is seen acting as a plurality because the Spirit’s action was pointed out independently. However we also see God acting in unity.  He speaks to create light among other things. So Moses stresses God’s acts of unity as well as each member’s distinctive acts. But the important thing is that God is plural in nature.  He is, from the outset, not alone unto himself but together unto himself.

In verse 26 Moses writes that God said “let Us create man in Our image…” Even Jewish (i.e. non-Trinitarian) translations translate it this way. Moses is making it very obvious in the Pentateuch that while God is one (Deut. 6) he is also a plurality of persons.

                                                                                                  Man’s Plurality:

His Job and His Need for Community In Genesis 1 and 2 Mankind is given authority and a job to do. He is 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”. Also in 2:5 Moses mentions that there was “no man to work the ground” implying that man, as part of his subduing the earth, was to take care of it and work it. Man had also been given a law to follow stipulating that he was not to eat of a certain tree in the garden. It is important to note here that chapter 2 is distinct from chapter one. Or more specifically that 2:4-24 is a magnification of the events of the sixth day of creation described more briefly in chapter 1. In chapter 1 God creates man and woman in his image and declares them “very good”. But in chapter 2 we see that this thing didn’t happen all at once but rather it was a process that took some thought and time. In other words, Man was not declared “very good” until after the creation of woman! Why is this? What is so special about her that mankind would not be complete and good enough without her? Before we answer that question we must look at what brought about the need for this woman. If we assume that God planned from the beginning to make man in his image then we can also assume that he planned from the beginning to make him male and female. However, God does not start there in 2:5. Instead he just creates the male first. Why? If it is God’s intention to make man in his plural image, then why would he make a lonely man? I would say that God is teaching Adam a lesson and in this lesson Moses is exposing our greatest weakness (and also our greatest strength). Moses quotes God as saying “It is not good that man should be alone”. Adam doesn’t have the privilege of just hearing this, he has to feel it. Adam hurt. He knew what it was like to be lonely. He knew that with all of this brand new life and all of this beautiful creation around him something was strangely wrong. The very fact that the first woman is called a helper is indicative of the fact that Adam needed help in fulfilling his purpose which was to do the job he had been given. And it is not just a mere job but it is a purpose, a reason to be. Adam’s story is very much our story and his purpose (having dominion over the earth, subduing it and keeping it) is our purpose. Why is it that it is this very privilege we wind up forfeiting at the fall? Why is it that the ground is fighting so fiercely back at us? Because in sin we have subverted and perverted our purpose therefore as a consequence we lost our ability to rule the earth effectively. Praise God for Christ, the new Adam come to build his kingdom and restore the true purpose of humanity as stewards of creation! So maybe now we understand the gravity of need here in Adam’s loneliness. He needs Eve as his wife to fulfill his purpose as a human being. However, Eve also fulfills Adam in another way — in his need for community. And she provides for that need in the most intimate way.  Why did Adam need his relationship with Eve? The relationship spoke to the nature of God’s relationship with himself. Their natural experience was a form of revelation about God. They had no writing and so God gave them knowledge of his plural nature by giving them a similarly plural nature. By plurality I mean that they are meant to be together as separate persons rather than separate persons who just happen to have a close proximity to one-another (like my neighbor and I). Therefore it was no joking matter when Moses quoted God as saying “It is not good that man should be alone.” To further our understanding of mankind being made in God’s image as male and female we ought to look at the creation of the woman and Adam’s reaction in 2:21-23. She is taken from Adam’s rib. After which Adam says “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” Then in verse 24 Moses interjects with the famous statement “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” From further revelation in the scriptures we now understand that each member of the Trinity is of the same essence yet each is a distinct person and somehow they are one. Adam and Eve got to know this from experience because as they imaged God in plurality, they saw that they were of the same essence yet obviously different and singular in person and they were one flesh. Application for Us TodayHow does the truth of God’s plurality when juxtaposed with the plural nature (need) of man affect the way we live today, or rather how should it affect us? The truth of God’s plurality gives us hope that our relationships may some day more perfectly mirror the relationship he has with other members of the Godhead. How would that look? Each member of the Godhead is a separate person with distinct roles and functions. Yet each of those functions works toward a common goal. In this way, among others (even unknown reasons), the persons are one. The goal for us would be to imitate God in such a way that we embrace our differences to reach a common goal. But what is that goal? Well, we can know what that is by returning back to Genesis 1 and 2. God gave mankind a purpose. That purpose consisted of subduing the earth, filling it, having dominion over it, and taking care of it. The ability to fulfill that purpose was lost at the fall of mankind into sin and corruption. However in God’s kingdom we will again assume our rightful place as inheritors of the earth. If Godlike plurality was necessary to fulfill that role to begin with, then it still is. God’s kingdom will come and all of our duties will be fulfilled because we are working together to do them. What about now though? How does knowing that things in the future are better affect the way we live in the present which is significantly worse? Well there is a way in which the Kingdom will come and a way in which it has come already. It is a tension that theologians like to call the “already/not yet”. We must learn to live in this tension and in a sense be the evidence of God’s kingship on earth by living in his kingdom and playing by his rules. To start, this looks like getting to know each other. If Joel and Cindy are members of the same church where they are supposed to care for one-another and the rest of the group but they don’t know the other person very well, their strengths and weaknesses, then their efforts to help one-another would be very uncoordinated,  inefficient and probably unfruitful.Obviously as stewards of the earth we must begin to reclaim our God-given responsibilities as such. That goes way beyond issues (good issues) of preservation and conservation of land, healthy farming, and other ecological concerns. Perhaps the easiest place to see how our plurality affects our earth-stewardship is in parenting! Though God can work grace in the midst of broken relationships and situations, the best way to come up as a child is with two male and female, monogamous parents. Parents ought to be good stewards of their kids and the two parents need one-another to be able to do that job the most effectively.But, while ecological concerns fall to one side of the issue and parenting falls to the other, where is the middle for those of us who are single or those of us who are looking to understand how our plurality ought to shape our everyday interactions with people. Perhaps that might look like me talking to my neighbor tomorrow. Finding out their name, where they work and just being nice to them. Perhaps that would go a long way in their mind and urge them not to seek solace in themselves but in people outside of them and ultimately in God. Typically, hanging out with people is not what comes to mind when someone mentions responsibility. But we are not made to be alone and as such and as Christians we ought to be the most social people on the planet! We must stop being content in this life lived alone and thus give a wake up call to those who think their happiness hinges on their autonomy when nothing could be further from the truth.                                                                                     

 

 Interpretation 59.2 (2005): 176-177

 

 2 Wayne Grudem ed., Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood(Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2002), 71-92.

 

3 However, we would agree that revelation is now complete. The book is closed, so to speak.

 

 Elohim Plurality, [on-line], accessed 7 November 2006, available from http://www.lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2002-January/012357.html; Internet

 

 Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press 1989), 28.

 

 Trying to figure out God’s intentions is a dangerous thing when God has not specifically told one what they are. I believe that Genesis 2:4-24 is clear enough about these intentions. But I tread with caution into these waters and will say that this is my interpretation and that I’m open to hearing more valid ones.

 

 Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 144-45.

 

 This is not to say that this is the only way that they are one. There may be ontological ways in which the Godhead is one however that is not the topic of this paper.

 

 Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 48-67.

 

 

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Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

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