From the Beginning: Genesis and Truth

From the beginning

In the nineteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus provides one of the most important keys to understanding Christian teaching on men and women in a passage where he discusses marriage   and divorce. The passage, an exchange between Jesus and some Pharisees about the grounds for divorce, is sometimes overlooked in discussions about men’s and women’s roles. However, it contains some crucial principles, especially about how to interpret the scriptures wisely. This passage will be the starting point of the study of scriptural teaching on men and women.

The discussion begins when some Pharisees come up to Jesus “to test him.” They want him to answer a question about the law. Possibly they hope that they can force him to answer in a way that would embarrass him or lose him support. More likely they want to see where he stands on an issue that was much debated among groups of Pharisees and between Pharisees and other Jews. The discussion as presented in Matthew 19:3–9 follows:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Matthew 19:3–9

During the time that Jesus preached and taught, there were two main Pharisaic schools of interpretation of points of the law. The differences between the two surfaced in various issues, including the question of divorce.1 The school of Hillel allowed divorce for many reasons, almost “on any ground,” as some translations have it. The Mishnah records that the school of Hillel allowed a man to divorce his wife “even when she burns the food.”2 The school of Shammai, the stricter party, only allowed divorce for transgression of the marital laws. The controversy originated because the law contained a decision about divorce procedures (Deuteronomy 24:1–4), but did not state clearly the grounds on which divorce was permissible.

The matter of interest at this point is not Jesus’ position on divorce, but the way Jesus approaches the question. He begins his reply by referring to the creation account in Genesis 1 and he then adds a verse from the account of the creation of woman in Genesis. 2 From these two verses he concludes that a man and his wife are no longer two but one and that divorce therefore violates the unity that God establishes when he joins a man and woman together. When Jesus’ questioners object that Moses allowed divorce and refer to a passage from Deuteronomy to prove their point, Jesus replies that the law they quoted was only given because of “your hardness of heart,” that is, as a concession to man’s obduracy and therefore as a protective measure for situations where hardness of heart is what normally can be expected. But he insists that divorce was not God’s original and highest intention. “From the beginning it was not so.”

Jesus appeals to “the beginning.” He appeals to creation and God’s purpose in creating.3 He thereby lays down a principle of great importance: To understand how God intends human life to be, we should look to God’s purpose in creating the human race. Behind this principle lies an understanding of how to approach “law” and the various teachings in revelation. Jesus indicates that when we consider God’s directives, especially those written in scripture, we should look to the intention behind the directives in order to observe them well. It is not enough to observe a directive “legalistically”; that is, it is not enough to merely apply the directive to our lives externally so that we behave in a way that somehow conforms to the law. Rather, we cannot observe a law well unless we understand God’s intention in giving the law and cooperate with that intention in our observance. We cannot deal adequately with the law on divorce in Deuteronomy by resorting to casuistic explanations of the grounds of divorce. We must first understand that God’s intention for the law of Deuteronomy was to deal with those who were hard of heart, not those who were inwardly committed to God’s perfect way.

The principle Jesus enunciates also teaches that a key place to grasp God’s intention for matters like divorce is the account of creation in Genesis. We can see God’s intention for the human race purely in his original creation of the first human beings. In other words, we have to go back to the first chapters of Genesis to understand some important elements of God’s purpose for the human race. In Genesis, we thus find the most helpful perspective for understanding men and women.

Other New Testament writers, especially Paul, followed Jesus’ lead. Most of the important passages on men-women roles in the New Testament refer back either explicitly or implicitly to the first three chapters of Genesis (1 Corinthians 11:2–16; Galatians 3:26–28; Ephesians 5:22–31; 1 Timothy 2:9–15). These passages clearly show the foundational importance of the creation accounts for understanding this subject in a Christian perspective. It is not possible to understand the New Testament teaching on men and women without understanding how it is founded on the creation of Adam and Eve and on God’s purpose as revealed in the creation of the human race. Therefore, this book’s study of scripture will start by looking at “the beginning.”

Genesis and Truth

Despite the central role that the New Testament gives Genesis, many are tempted to bypass Genesis because it is difficult to interpret. Among these difficulties, the one that most commonly comes to mind is the issue of the “historicity” of Genesis. Did God actually create the world in six days? Did anyone like Adam and Eve really exist and were they the only parents of the human race? Did a serpent cause Adam and Eve to fall by persuading them to eat a piece of fruit? The very questions are enough to make a modern mind wary of Genesis. Memories of the Scopes trial and similar controversies make many Christians want to give Genesis a wide berth.

However, these issues raise questions about the truth value of Genesis that cannot be ignored if the book is so central to the New Testament teaching on men and women. Four main approaches to the truth value of Genesis and their implications for the study of men and women should be assessed:

  1. The beginning of Genesis is simply a myth or story with no truth value. This approach holds that at some point in the human past – in ancient Israelite or Babylonian or Iranian tradition – a story emerged about how things began. This story or myth was incorporated into Genesis. This story has no historical basis, nor does it have any truth value. The beginning of Genesis is simply an interesting view into primitive culture or is perhaps a notable piece of literature. It may even provide insight into some truth, but it is of little more value for this purpose than an ancient Greek myth of creation 4
  2. The beginning of Genesis is a symbolic story. In this approach, Genesis is held to have no historical basis. Adam and Eve never existed as real people. The events in the beginning of Genesis did not happen the same way Hitler’s invasion of Poland happened. They emerged out of Israelite tradition (or someone made them up) the way fairy tales emerge. But they came into existence for a purpose: to teach some things which were clearly true. The story of Adam and Eve is a dramatic presentation created or redacted by someone (the Yahwist) with a gift for storytelling who composed it to teach some truths about God and the human race, about men and women, about sex and marriage. Even though it is not historical, it is true in the most significant sense of “true.”5
  3. The beginning of Genesis is a historical narrative. This approach regards Genesis as a description of how things happened as much as, say, Churchill’s The Second World War. Some who hold this view might see some elements of the account as symbolic (the “apple” perhaps) or as presented in a dramatic way. But the main outlines, if not all the details, are basically a sober, historical account, as factual as any historical account. The beginning of Genesis is historically true.6
  4. The beginning of Genesis is a historical story. According to this view, the beginning of Genesis is not a normal work of history. Most of the material is an imaginative creation of the author or of some tradition. Yet historical facts are behind these accounts. The stories of the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve actually refer to events that happened. The events may be presented in dramatic form and the accounts may make use of symbolic elements, but the core of the story is historical. It concerns something that happened, albeit not in the way described. The story is written in a form that is primarily designed to convey the significance of the underlying event. It is some- what like the Iliad or a historical novel. According to this approach, the beginning of Genesis is true in the teaching it gives and it also contains historical truth.7

Many of the issues raised by these approaches to the truth value of Genesis lie outside the scope of this book. This book deals with men’s and women’s roles in scripture. The primary concern of the book is with scripture’s teaching and directives to Christians about how to live as men and women. The issue does not necessarily involve deciding whether certain events in scripture actually happened (such as, did God “really” create Eve out of Adam’s rib, or did Jesus ever discuss divorce with a group of Pharisees, or did Jesus ever restore a withered hand instantaneously). These are important questions, but they are not directly relevant to the primary concern – the scriptural teaching on men and women. In other words, many of the questions that can be raised about the truth value of Genesis do not need to be decided here. But some of them do need to be dealt with.

Fundamental to the approach of this book is the view that the scripture is the word of God. Scripture is God’s revelation to the human race of what he wants people to know. Some of the questions connected with this view will be treated in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen. Moreover, there are many questions connected with interpreting the scripture, questions which must be answered in order to determine what God is saying and what Christians should do in response. Many of the issues and questions connected with scripture interpretation will be treated more fully in Chapter Twenty. However, at this point it is enough to say that believing that scripture is God’s word means believing that the teaching in it is true. Therefore, the teaching in Genesis is true.

Thus it is evident that the first approach to the truth value of Genesis is incompatible with accepting all of scripture as God’s word. The first approach, which regards the beginning of Genesis as a myth with no truth value, would not allow us to draw reliable teaching from the beginning of Genesis, since this view regards these chapters as just a story from a primitive culture. Many people also hold that the second and fourth approaches are also incompatible with understanding scripture as God’s word. They maintain that to regard these chapters as symbolic stories or as historical stories denies the historical value of the Genesis accounts and therefore denies the inerrancy of scripture which must be accepted if one is to believe that scripture is God’s word.8 To consider this point would go beyond the purpose of this book. This position concerns the historicity of the events in Genesis; the concern of this chapter is only with the teaching in Genesis on men-women roles. One need not decide the exact historical quality of the Genesis account in order to hold that the account of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3 contains true teaching and revelation about God’s purpose in creating men and women and about their relationship to one another. Thus, for the purposes of this discussion, approaches two, three, and four are all adequate approaches to the truth value of Genesis.

Approach one, then, is an inadequate approach for a Christian to take to Genesis because it does not allow us to regard the beginning of Genesis as God’s word. While few Christians would take approach one in the unembellished fashion it is presented above, a number of Christians hold a version of approach two that amounts to a similar position. They hold that if the events narrated in Genesis are not true history, any arguments or conclusions based on those events (like Paul’s arguments based on the view that God created Eve out of Adam) cannot be true. They might say: if the Genesis narratives cannot be taken literally, then teaching cannot be based on the events described in them. This position is simply a more subtle way of dismissing the teaching value of Genesis on the basis of considerations about the historical value of the accounts.

To be sure, there are significant difficulties in understanding what particular passages of Genesis are actually teaching about men and women; these difficulties will be examined. But the issues concerning the historicity of Genesis do not need further discussion. Whether symbolical story, historical narrative, or historical story, the accounts in Genesis do describe God’s creation of the human race in a way that teaches a great deal about God’s purpose in creation and about his intention for men and women.

The Beginning of Genesis

Three passages in the beginning of Genesis are especially central for understanding the relationship of man and woman: Genesis 1:26–31 (the account of the creation of the human race), Genesis 2:18–25 (the account of the creation of woman), and Genesis 3:1–24, especially verses 16–19 (the account of the Fall). These passages occur in a larger block of material that extends from chapter 1 to chapter 5. This block includes the account of the creation and Fall and also a record of Adam’s descendants up to Noah, thereby setting the stage for the next great incident, the flood.

The first five chapters of Genesis are an introduction to the book of Genesis, in fact to all of scripture. The central concern of the Bible is the redemptive plan of God. This story of the old and new Israel begins with Abraham. Yet the whole history begins with a statement about the place of man in the universe and God’s purpose in creating man.

One major purpose of the first five chapters of Genesis is to attack the religions of peoples surrounding the Israelites, religions that tempted the Israelites. These religions involved star and animal worship and fertility cults. The beginning of Genesis teaches clearly that God created all of what might be called material creation, and he placed the human race over the living things on earth. Moreover, Genesis teaches that God gave sex to the human race as a means to create society, not as something that human beings are subject to. Finally, the beginning of Genesis teaches that man’s life as we see it is not functioning according to God’s original intention. The way things are is not the way things should be. Rather, the human race needs God to show it what human life should be like, and humans must rely on God to do something to make the right kind of human life possible.9

Thus a major focus of the beginning of Genesis are the roles and relationship of the sexes in human life. Genesis is very much concerned with marriage, sex, men and women, childbearing, and family life. It is not an exhaustive treatise on these social realities. But to limit the teaching of Genesis to “the fatherhood of God” and the unity of the human “family” as some do is to miss some of the major concerns of the book.10 When Jesus and the apostles detect in Genesis a statement about man and woman and their relationship to one another in the human race, they have found a major feature of the accounts.

Genesis 1 Male and Female

Genesis 1:1–2:4a is the first literary unit in Genesis. It is an account of the creation of the visible universe. The materials in it are presented in an organized, schematic fashion. Unlike Genesis 2–4, which is presented in a predominantly dramatic form, Genesis 1 is more of a “doctrinal” presentation. Much of it does not concern the topic of this book, but the account of the creation of man concerns us a great deal. Some of the phrases in these few verses occur throughout the scripture and throughout Christian tradition. The teaching presented in these few lines lies behind much of the most important teaching and theology in the rest of scripture and in Christian tradition, especially in the area of men’s and women’s roles. The account of the creation of man in Genesis 1 is as follows:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth…” And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.

This same passage is restated in a more summary form in Genesis 5:1–2:

When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

Genesis 5:1–2

Genesis 1:26–31 is primarily concerned with the place of the human race in the universe. The human race was created last, the high point of the visible creation.11 This section contains two key statements about the way God created the human race: God created man in his own image and likeness, and God created man male and female. It also contains two directions for the human race: It is to have dominion over the living things on the earth, and it is to increase and multiply, that is, to become a race or people. The two directions are derived from the way God created the human race – in his image and likeness, and as male and female.

Genesis 1:26 begins by stating, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and after our likeness.’” The terms “image” and “likeness” are important for the roles of men and women both because of what they say about the nature of the human race and because of later discussions by Christian teachers about whether woman is made in God’s image. The phrase “in our image and after our likeness” seems to be connected with the commission that mankind is to have dominion over the living creatures of earth. Genesis 5:3 gives some insight into the meaning of this phrase: “Adam became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Here the same phrase is used of a human father generating a human son. The similarity in usage indicates that when God formed the first man after his “image” and “likeness,” he created a being similar in nature to himself, a being who could to some degree carry on his own role and take his place.

God, then, created humans to be like him in some very important respects so that they could be his representatives and rule over part of creation. Man participates in God’s nature enough so that he is like God and can act on God’s behalf. God’s purpose involves giving the human race a very important role in creation and an ability to exercise God’s own authority in the way God himself would.

Genesis 1:27–28 states: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply . . .’” These verses add something of great importance to us – that God created “man” male and female.  The text moves back and forth between the singular (“man,” or “the man”) and the plural (“them”) in a way that can be confusing. However, the shift between singular and plural is an indication of something important: The text is not just concerned with the first human being, but is concerned as well with the whole human race. The meaning of the word adam points to the same conclusion. Adam is the Hebrew word for “human” or “human being.” It can be translated “man” in English, but it can also be translated “human” or “human being.” Moreover, it can even be translated “Man” as in “mankind” or the “the human race.” Genesis 1:26 could be translated “Let us make Man (the human race) in our own image.” In other words, when Genesis 1 is talking about “man,” it is referring to the creation of the human race and not simply about one male human being “Adam” (although, as we shall see farther on, the two cannot be completely separated).

Therefore, Genesis 1:27–28 states that the two sexes are part of the way God made the human race, and that God made them that way for a purpose—so that they could have children and increase and multiply. Here the command to increase is linked with the creation of the human race male and female. Sexual differentiation, then, is part of God’s original purpose for the human race on this earth, and it is good. Both men and women are essential for a fully functioning human race. According to Genesis 1, God wants both men and women.

It is natural to draw a further implication from Genesis 1:27–28, namely, that God created both men and women in his image and likeness. This point is debated, and this debate will be considered in a later chapter. Here it is enough to make three observations. First, Genesis 1:26–31 is about the creation of the human race; the natural implication would be that everything that is said about “man” is true of every human being. Secondly, nothing in Genesis 1:26–31 indicates that women do not take part in the commission associated with being in God’s image, namely, having dominion over the living creatures. Rather, the fact that the commission is repeated in v. 28 following the statement about the human race being created male and female indicates that women share not only the commission but also the image of God which makes the commission possible.

Finally, in Genesis 1:27, the phrase “male and female he created them” is an elaboration following on “God created man in his own image.”  The progression would then be something like this: God created the human race in his own image so that it could have dominion over living things. Moreover, he created the human race male and female so that the race could increase and fill the earth.

Genesis 1 does not say much about the roles of men and women. The passage is not concerned with differences between men and women or with the implications of those differences. Those who try to make the case that Genesis 1 is upholding a view of man and woman that does not involve any differentiation in roles or subordination of woman to man are reading something into the passage that is not there.12 Since the passage does not focus on the differences between men and women in that way, interpreters exceed the bounds of evidence when they claim it represents some definite approach to the area. But that is not to say that the passage is irrelevant to a discussion on the roles of men and women. It states something that is crucial to keep in focus: The human race as a whole has a call within God’s creation and both men and women participate in that call. Both men and women are good and important to God. The passage also suggests that the difference between men and women cannot be understood properly without keeping in view the need for human reproduction. Genesis 1, in other words, is a foundation for all further consideration of the roles of men and women.

This article is excerpted from Chapter One of Man and Woman in Christ:  An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in Light of Scripture, © 1980, 2006, and 2021 by Stephen B. Clark. All rights reserved. 

Originally published 1980 by Servant Books. Published 2006 by Tabor House. A re-released edition published 2021 by Warhorn Media Bloomington, Indiana, USA, by permission of the author, with special thanks to John Yocum, Servants of the Word, and Jeff Smith for their assistance in obtaining the rights of publication.

The book can be purchased or read online at

RECENT PRAISE for Man and Woman in Christ …

After forty years, Stephen B. Clark’s Man and Woman in Christ remains the foremost book on Christianity and gender. His analysis uniquely covers scripture, Christian tradition and historical practice, and the social sciences. And he helps us to make sense of how to apply his findings in a modern technological society much different from the traditional societies of the past. Highly recommended.

Aaron Renn
The Masculinist

Here is a premier study of man and woman, biblically based, thoughtful, and rigorous.

Vern S. Poythress
Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Biblical Interpretation, and Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary

Stephen Clark’s Man and Woman in Christ is a classic presentation of the Bible’s teaching about men and women. For many years I’ve referred to it, and I consider it still to be one of the very best sources on this subject, perhaps the best. I’m delighted to hear of its republication—so timely, given the current discussion. Some are suggesting that one’s gender is a personal decision, rather than a divine gift. Clark’s book corrects such thinking and therefore clears the track for progress in godly relationships between the sexes.

John Frame
Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Fla.

Middler year of seminary (1980), I heard Steve Clark had published Man and Woman in Christ. It hit the spot for me, a repenting feminist married to a repenting feminist. Many Reformed men have written great books about yesterday’s battles. It took a Roman Catholic to write the greatest book engaging today’s battle.

Tim Bayly
Senior Pastor, Trinity Reformed Church, Bloomington, Ind.

Christians ready for a serious dive into the meaning of manhood and womanhood should read this book. Forty years after its original publication, Clark’s accomplishment remains unsurpassed. It is biblical, empirical, and practical.

David Talcott
Associate Professor of Philosophy, The King’s College, New York


The stunningly comprehensive combination of scriptural research with sociological, anthropological, and psychological data is, I believe, unprecedented… well argued and well worth arguing with.

Richard John Neuhaus

This is a thorough and impressive piece of work, a major contribution. . . . I am especially pleased with the attention paid in this work to the social structures of the New Testament world.

F. F. Bruce

This book is a welcome antidote to the barrage of propaganda from the equalitarian left that blurs the distinction between the sexes and denies the biblical teaching of hierarchy in the order of creation.

Donald G. Bloesch
Late Professor of Theology, Dubuque Theological Seminary

This is an irenic, helpful book, and of all the multitude of books on this subject it is easily the best.

Christianity Today

A scholarly, yet very readable and practical, presentation on an extremely important topic.

James C. Dobson

There is hardly an area more emotion-laden today, even among Christians, than that of the respective roles of men and women. Here is a daring and serious study that attempts to do justice to the biblical witness and to address its meaning for today. It is a study of overwhelming breadth. It will anger some, but it cannot be ignored or dismissed by anyone seriously concerned with the issue academically, personally, or pastorally.

George T. Montague
Professor Emeritus of Theology, St. Mary’s University
Former President of the Catholic Biblical Association of America

Top image credit: photo of Corcovado Mountain with Christ the Redeemer Statue in Clouds on Sunset in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from, © by dabldy, stock image ID: 57848579. Image cropped. Used with permission.


  1. For a short exposition of this controversy, see J. C. Fenton, St. Matthew (Baltimore: Pen- guin, 1963), 307–308 (cf. R. V. G. Tasker, St. Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961], 178–180). For a fuller presentation,see Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, vol. 1 (Munich:Beck, 1928), 312–321.
  2. M Git. 9, 10.
  3. In this view, Jesus was in harmony with views contemporary to him which saw Adam before the Fall as the idealman. For a summary, see Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), ed. G. Kittel, trans. G.Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:142–143.
  4. For some examples, see Robert Graves, Adam’s Rib (London: Trianon Press, 1955). Sr. Albertus MagnusMcGrath, in What a Modern Catholic Believes about Women (Chicago: St. Thomas More Press, 1972), 101, also appears to take this view: “The modern biblical scholar would not accept Genesis 1–11 as in any senseliteral history or as description either of what had been or what should be according to God’s plan.” Her use ofthe Genesis passages, however, is more in accord with view #2, parallel to the positions mentioned in the following note.
  5. For some examples, see S. Hooke, Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons,1962), 177; also W. R. Bowie, The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 1 (New York: Abingdon, 1952), 463.
  6. For some examples, see F. Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 41–43; also M. Kline, New BibleCommentary, 79–80.
  7. For some examples, see G. von Rad, Genesis, trans. J. H. Marks (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961),30–42. Von Rad discusses the “saga” in Genesis and its relation to history. While he is speaking of the laterchapters of Genesis, others would see the principles as applying to the earlier chapters of the book as well.See also Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1975), 122; C. S. Lewis, TheProblem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1971), 77–88; and James Barr, The Bible in the Modern World (London: SCM Press, 1973), 172.Among those who take this position are H. Lindsell, “Egalitarianism and ScripturalInfallibility,” Christianity Today, March 1976, 45–46; also Schaeffer, 41–43; Kline, 79–80.
  8. For helpful discussions of the purpose of those accounts, see von Rad, 22; J. L. McKenzie,
  9. The Two-Edged Sword (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1956), 113–115.
  10. See the quote in the footnote on p. 8 for a statement of such an approach.
  11. See, among others who make this point, von Rad, 55; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, pt.1, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1961), 57; Bruce Vawter, A New CatholicCommentary on Holy Scripture (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1969), 175.
  12. An example of such overinterpretation can be found in V. Mollenkott, “Women and the Bible,” Sojourners,February 1976, 22.

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