An androgynous Adam?


It is sometimes heard, within feminist and liberationist circles, that the original creation of אָדָם‎ (Adam) was androgynous, not differentiated into the gender binary of male and female. אָדָם‎ only becomes male and female in Gen 2:21-23, which is interpreted as the splitting of the original אָדָם‎ into two distinct and gendered beings (with צְלָעֹת translated as “side” and understood conceptually as “half”). Phyllis Trible is best known for popularizing this view.

This androgynous reading of Adam as merely a neuter “earthling” has come under criticism and not just from the usual suspects (evangelicals like me). Jerome Gellman, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, has a hard-hitting article in Theology & Sexuality 12:3 (2006), “Gender and Sexuality in the Garden of Eden,” which takes this feminist reading to task for trying, in his opinion, to smooth over the obvious misogyny of the text. So, basically, he argues that Trible’s reading is not only bad exegesis, but it is also a disservice to feminism. And Robert Kawashima, NYU and now University of Florida, has an article in Vetus Testamentum 56:1 (2006), “A Revisionist Reading Revisited: On the Creation of Adam and then Eve,” wherein he takes the feminists to task for their faulty reader-oriented epistemology.

What might a dogmatician have to say? As someone who is concerned about the gnosticism that underwrites our current gender theorizing, I highly appreciate Emil Brunner’s rejection of this androgynous reading of אָדָם‎ in the second volume of his Dogmatics. Brunner is discussing the imago Dei, using the familiar Brunnerian lense of relationality within differentiation. He notes a “special satisfaction” that Barth uses an analogia relationis in CD III.1 (citing p. 219 in the German KD).

Below is the relevant excerpt, namely the second paragraph and following. This is among my favorite material in Brunner’s works:

Hence from the outset man has not been created as an isolated being, but as a “twofold” being; and not simply as two human beings, but as two beings who necessarily belong to one another, who have been created for this purpose, and whose whole nature is ordered in this direction, that is, as two beings who cannot be, apart from each other. In the older version of the Creation story (J) this is explicitly stated: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). The Creation of Man is not finished until the partner is there. In the later version (Gen. 1) the twofold Creation is presupposed from the outset, and follows immediately on the definition of man as made in the Image of God. Because God is Love, because in God’s very Nature there is community, man must be able to love: thus “man” has to be created as a pair of human beings. He cannot realize his nature without the “Other”; his destiny is fellowship in love.

This twofold character of man in the Creation Story is in contrast to the world-wide myth of androgyny. The latter is necessarily connected with rational thinking, for which the ultimate and supreme truth is Unity, just as the fact of the two sexes is necessarily connected with the God who wills community. Either community or unity is the final supreme truth. The God of the Biblical revelation is the God of community; the God of rational philosophy is the God of unity. It is no accident that Plato’s Symposium accepts the myth of androgyny. Androgyny belongs to the thought of Platonism, and sexual polarity to Christian thought. [fn., It is therefore no accident that the gnostic thinker, Berdyaev, accepts the androgynous principle, and conceives the fact of the two sexes as the result of the Fall. Die Philosophie der Freiheit des Geistes, p. 238]

Androgyny is the ontological basis of narcisissm. Within the sphere of speculative thought love is always, in the last resort, self-love, because the final end sought is unity. Within the sphere of Biblical thought love is never narcissism or self-love, because love is always self-communication, the will to community. Agape presupposes the “I” and the “Thou” over against each other; narcissism, androgyny, presupposes thought which aims at unity; it presupposes the elimination of anything opposite; it presupposes the identity of object and subject. …

Sexual polarity, however, as such, is not itself the “I” and the “Thou.” It is only a picture of the purpose of Creation, and the natural basis of the true “I” and “Thou.” Sexual polarity is therefore not intended for eternity [Matt. 22:30] whereas the “I” and the “Thou,” the communion and the fellowship of the Kingdom of God, is certainly intended for eternity. Hence sexual polarity is not itself the Imago Dei; it is, as it were, a secondary Imago, a reflection of the Divine purpose, and at the same time the natural basis of true community. …

[The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, trans. Olive Wyon, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952, pp. 64-65]

The point about narcissism is especially astute.


Image: “Eve” by Irina from Romania


  1. Apart from the last paragraph quoted here from Brunner, I would agree.

    Then, I’m still a fan of Barth’s straightforward view: men are men, women are women; because of God they exist in freedom for fellowship with Him and each other.(paraphrased)

    I like Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s critique of androgyny.

    He argues that for Christian theology to accept it, it would mean forging a syncretism with Hindu belief. E.g.: the idea of transcending gender towards attaining divinity/absolute singularity – the male is in the female vice versa.(The Book that made your world 2011:295)

    We see it everywhere today in the social engineering that comes into mainstream thought from advocates who push us all to accept that men have a feminine side and women have a masculine side.

    It’s not hard to see why this ideology is being served by those involved in the area of identity politics.

    • In regard to that last paragraph, Brunner notes at the beginning of this discussion that he departs from Barth on identifying (simpliciter?) the imago Dei with the gender binary, which is a key component of Barth’s doctrine of creation in III.1 and the following part-volumes. Yet, Brunner then notes that they are practically very close, as the excerpt above illustrates. They both flesh-out the implications in very similar ways, even though it is a primary image for Barth and a secondary image for Brunner.

      Mangalwadi is right. And the mainstream of feminist theology since the 70’s has been very open in their religious pluralist/syncretist advocacy.

      • I actually really appreciate the last paragraph. The “penultimacy” of the sexual “I” and “Thou” relationship is helpful for me not only as we seek to support human flourishing in this present evil age, but also as we see how human flourishing now points to a consummated age to come where perfect community will thrive. Sexual intimacy here and now is only an analogical foretaste of the eternal love between Christ and Bride.

      • Yes, I definitely agree in regard to sexual intimacy, and Brunner has Jesus in his corner (Mt. 22:30). It is a very helpful way to think about it. And Barth would agree as far as that goes. But I am not clear on what Brunner means by “sexual polarity” and why he doesn’t see it extending into eternity (the kingdom consummated). He may be thinking of gender “hierarchy” (not the best term), which both he and Barth affirmed, in their own way.

      • Yeah, it’d be interesting to see if what he meant was “gender polarity,” which would clue us in quite a bit.

  2. I find the distinction between Christ and the World, in community vs. unity (or perhaps monism is a better word), helpful.

    It’s interesting to see in most of the world’s philosophico-religions (i.e. Stoicism, Platonism, Hinduistic notions, Buddhism) the end is a collapse into itself. But in Christ, there is a perpetual diversity: there is not a singularity but a Body.

    Not conformity, but catholicity!

    Much better me thinks,

    • Yes, exactly. Brunner gets excited about this too, as it runs in various ways throughout his corpus.

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