The Person, the Trinity, the Church
The Person in Created Function
Many Christians would rightly say that we were made to glorify God, to worship God, and that all we do should serve to this end. Yet, when what we do (however God-related or directed) becomes the primary emphasis and thus the defining focus for personhood, we have shifted to a secondary aspect of creation to reorder God’s created design and purpose for the human person. We need to reexamine this focus and its influence on our practice as Christians (both individually and corporately), particularly in the three crucial interrelated issues of how we define the person, do relationships and thus practice church.
When God created Adam, God gave him “work to do” (Gen 2:15). We might consider this like a “job” in today’s terms, but in doing so such a limited perception becomes problematic and is instrumental for setting into motion a series of interrelated alternatives from reductionism. These reductions have to do with Adam’s person (and thus ours), his relationship with God, God’s purpose for creating Eve (thus all women), the relationship between Adam and Eve, thus with God’s design and purpose for them together with all creation. Reductionism essentially breaks into parts (or quantitative aspects) the whole of persons, relationships, creation, even God and fails to account for the necessary interrelations between them which make them whole. That is, it fails to go beyond merely a reductionist descriptive sum of their parts, which then is both mistakenly considered to be the whole of God created in God’s image as well as commonly used as a substitute for this whole.
We need to examine each of these areas in succession and see whether they all add up to the whole of God—or whether our perception of them subtracts from God’s self-revelation and the desires God expresses for the covenant people, the family of God, especially for a church shaped by modernism while entering a postmodern period. Throughout this process we will need to make critical distinctions between what is indeed whole according to the whole of God and what is only a reductionist substitute for the whole. Our conclusions will determine how the church is challenged today and who will significantly meet this challenge—the eventual conclusion of our discussion in the last chapter.
After God created Adam, there was a quality about him (along with the rest of creation) that was defined by God as “good” (Gen 1:31). Yet, this quality for personhood extended beyond and was further distinguished from the rest of creation because the human person was created in the image, the likeness of God (Gen 1:26, 27; Gen 5:1). In the creation narrative, this “living being” (or inner person as denoted by the Heb. term nepes, 2:7) possessing the innermost life of God (“breath of life”) is the quality which defined the person--animals have nepes without this quality (1:30)--even though his work is immediately described next to the image of God in the first creation narrative (1:26b), along with the purpose human persons are to fulfill (1:28). Our perception of personhood becomes problematic if the above order is inverted (if only by emphasis) and the primary source of defining the human person becomes “the work”—that is, basing the person on what we do, no matter how God-related or directed. Such a focus is consequential for the whole person and the whole of God.
Adam’s disobedience of God precipitated conditions in life east of Eden which would make work difficult (Gen 3:17-19) and human purpose a struggle (3:15-16). Life as God created is not being redefined here; God’s created design and purpose remain unaltered. Yet, what is subject to redefinition is the human person’s self-perception, making it now problematic how the person functions; work, for example, was never to be done in any manner. Nowhere is the susceptibility to redefining the person and personhood greater than in relation to work (or what we do) outside the primordial garden. It is vital to reexamine this influence on our practice after the Fall and how it affects our perceptual-interpretive framework determining what we pay attention to or ignore, thus predisposing us even to inadvertent or unintentional practices. This is of critical importance for how we see the person today and what human activity determines personhood—the function of theological anthropology.
The significance of “work made difficult” is not about how hard it can be but about its controlling influence on the person such that work becomes what defines that person. This influence tends to be enslaving, if not in quantitative ways (for example, time and energy), certainly on qualitative matters (like self-worth). “Who you are” becomes about “what you do.” And “what you are” becomes determined by how much you accomplish in “what you do.” In this process a great deal is at stake here—and the drive for a payoff can be consuming. Consequently, the primary investments made in this lifestyle are bonded to work-related activity (vocational and avocational). Invariably, then, this process of defining ourselves by what we do or have becomes a comparative process in relation to other persons, thus creating quantitative distinctions between persons, with relational consequences—notably stratified relationships, which, when formalized, become systems of inequality.
At the very least, defining the person by what one does conflicts with how God created us and thus defines us; and it inverts the created order by designating (even inadvertently) secondary matter (like work to be done, even if assigned by God) to the primary position, thus reducing (even unintentionally) the primary matter of God’s design and purpose for the person to a lower priority in actual practice. This consequence can happen despite having a theology in place affirming the primacy of God’s design and purpose—a consequence often seen among Christian workers while doing Christian service. This not only reduces the whole of the life of God “breathed” into us but also conflicts with it.
The above reduction of the person also inverts the process of self-definition from the inner-to-outer focus on the person (the quality of the whole person, as God sees it) to an outer-in approach (the more quantitative attributes and categories about a person). When such attention becomes our concern (for example, in matters of work), what becomes subordinated, lost or sacrificed is the inner person (nepes in Gen 2:7) and its qualitative significance (as the image of God). While identifying an “inner person” implies an “outer person”—which may appear to employ a dualism in defining the human person (inner and outer, the more spiritual and the more physical)—they are not substances to be perceived separately as in classic dualism from a Greek philosophical framework. The inner (center) and outer (peripheral) aspects of the person function together dynamically to define the whole person from the Hebrew concept. Thus one functional aspect should not be seen apart from the other, nor should either be neglected; this is what happens in an outer-in approach to defining the person. The issue then in human ontology is which aspect has more significance and thus needs to have greater importance—though not at the neglect of the other aspect.
In Hebrew terminology, the center of the person is the heart (leb); that is, conceptually, the “inner person” (nepes) God “breathed” of himself into the human person (cf. Ecc 3:11b) is signified by the heart (leb). The biblical proverbs speak of the heart in the following terms: identified as “the wellspring” (starting point, tosa‘ot) of the ongoing function of the human person (Prov 4:23); and, using the metaphor of a mirror, also determined to be what gives definition to the person (Prov 27:19); and, when not reduced or fragmented (“at peace”), as giving life to “the body” (basar, referring to the outer aspect of the person, Prov 14:30), which describes the integrating function for the whole person (inner and outer). This suggests the function of the heart signifying the “inner person”—which is then inclusive of the outer—involves both: (1) the qualitative integration of the whole person, and (2) the functional basis for relationship with the whole of God, specifically for experiencing the intimate relationship constituted in the Trinity. Both are realized, of course, only when the heart is not reduced and is necessarily transformed. The intellect may be able to provide quantitative unity (for example, by identifying the association of parts) for the human person. However, while this may be necessary and useful at times, it is never sufficient by itself to define the whole person nor to experience the relationships necessary to be whole, especially with God.
The priority of the inner person over the outer is illustrated in the selection of Saul’s replacement as king. When God sent Samuel to Jesse’s household to anoint one of his sons chosen to be king (1 Sam 16:1-13), Samuel thought for sure that Eliab was the chosen one. Yet, God clarified that Samuel based his conclusion on what he perceived of Eliab’s person through the lens of a reductionist framework using an outer-in approach (v. 7, “appearance,” mar’ch, signifying outward appearance). Samuel had shifted to an outer-in approach in contrast to God who “looks at the heart” using an inner-out focus of personhood. By returning to God’s perceptual framework, Samuel was able to perceive the deeper qualitative significance of the whole person from the inner out, thus understanding the significance of David’s outer features (‘ayin and tob) reflecting his inner person (v. 12).
The qualitative significance of the heart only begins to define the image, likeness of God “breathed” into human persons, but it identifies why the heart is so important. God’s desires are to be involved with the whole person for relationship—intimate relationship. Since the function of the heart constitutes the whole person, God does not have the whole person for relationship until it involves the heart.
David certainly understood this since he was chosen by God based on his inner person, and he made his heart accountable and vulnerable to God (Ps 51:6, 10, 16-17; 139:23)—the reductionist substitutes of which from the outer in was understood to have no relational significance to God (cf. Ps 147:10). This is why David charged Solomon when he was chosen to build a temple dwelling for God: to respond to God and to be involved with your whole heart (salem, leb) and the desire (hapes) of your inner person (nepes) because God wants your whole person for relationship (1 Chron 28:9). This intimate relationship symbolized by the temple was extended to the hearts of the whole of humanity for relationship together as the whole of God’s family (cf. Acts 15:8, 9)—the significance of which will be discussed in the chapters ahead.
Without the qualitative significance of the heart, all that is possible are ontological simulation and epistemological illusion. This is the significance we need to grasp more deeply in the divine narrative that God ongoingly pursues the heart and wants our heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7c; Prov 21:2; Jer 17:10; Lk 16:15; Rom 8:27; Rev 2:23)—that is, the whole person for relationship. Therefore, the “inner person” signified by the heart has the most significance to God and, though not to the neglect of the outer, needs to have greater priority of importance for the person’s definition and function.
The alternative to the qualitative significance of the heart increasingly becomes more quantitative (things measured by quantity or identified only by rationality), secondary and substitutes for the qualitative significance of persons created in the very image, likeness of God, who is not quantitatively defined, though quantitatively given in the incarnation. This reduction not only conflicts with how God created us and defines us, it conflicts with how God relates with us, thus confounding relationship with God. We need to examine this relationship along with the whole person to more deeply understand God’s design, purpose and desires.
From the beginning Adam was not created for what he could do and the activity simply of doing something, whether work related or not, though a part of his function was to work. We can essentially define work as what we connote by the function of making a living. In creation, however, work was not designed for this end in itself; thus it could not be done in any manner but was engaged on two distinct terms. When God “put the man in the Garden of Eden to work” (Gen 2:8, 15), it was clear the Creator established (“put” siym, establish, appoint) the creature in the work. Thus, the first term for work was that it was to be undertaken within the functional context as creature in relationship to Creator—that is, the relational context. Secondly, God was clear about the conditions (command, desires, 2:16) for engaging work in this context and that involvement in this necessary relational context was only on God’s terms—thus, the relational process defined by God, the sovereign God.
This relational context and process of creation are fundamental for a valid function of work and most importantly are intrinsic to the primary function of the whole person as created in the likeness of the triune God. Thus, how a person functions is determined by how the person is defined and perceived. This self-definition determines not only how we do work but even more significant to God also determines how we do relationships together. How we do relationship with God is about our relational involvement and response as whole persons to the whole being of God. The relational context and process of how we do relationship with God is signified by worship, not defined by how we do work for God, even though serving is part of our response of worship—part of a complete relational response.
It is not a coincidence that the term for “work” (‘abad, 2:15) is the same term used for worship in the OT denoting service. The authentic worship of God must also involve the relational response of service distinctly based on relational submission, adoration and praise. These responses together (forming the acronym PASS) constitute worship and signify how to do relationship with God; worship is the functional pass to the intimate presence of God. Therefore, how work (or service) is to be done must function by engaging in this primary relational purpose as designed by the Creator in relationship with the created person. Without involvement in this relational context and process, work (or service) has no relational significance to God and thus has either little meaning or no qualitative fulfillment for the person created in God’s image. Reductionism of any dimension of creation has far-reaching repercussions on our person today, on our relationships and consequently on how church is practiced.
We need to more deeply understand in function that the person was created with a qualitative function intrinsic to God, the quality of which work (or doing something, even service) by itself did not have (a condition God defined as “not good,” Gen 2:18) and, therefore, the function of work (or what we do, even for God) could not fulfill—no matter the nature of the work nor the extent of experience from it. This qualitative function for the human person which God implanted in creation was relational. God “breathed” in us the relationality in likeness to the whole of the triune God, by which the Trinity is mutually involved with each other and now involved with us.
In the creation narrative (Gen 2:18) God may appear focused on the work as the purpose for which Eve was created. That emphasis would be inconsistent with how God defines the person and, once again, would invert the primary priority of God’s created design and purpose. Further, this emphasis on what we do becomes problematic because it predisposes us in a reductionist interpretive framework affecting not only how we define ourselves but also how we do relationships and thus how we practice church. This includes how spiritual gifts are perceived and the emphasis on giftedness to define the person and to appoint church leadership. We need to return to God’s created order so that we can more deeply understand both our person and also understand God, including the nature of both as well as our relationship together.
The above narrative is usually rendered “to be alone” (2:18) but the Hebrew term (bad) can also be rendered “to be apart.” The latter rendering gives a greater sense of relationship and not being connected to someone else. This nuance is significant because for Adam it was not just the secondary matter of having no one to share space with, no one to keep him company or to do things with (particularly the work). “To be apart” is not just a situational condition but most importantly a relational condition. A person can be alone in a situation but also feel lonely in the company of others, at church, even in a family or marriage because of relational distance—“being apart.” I thus suggest that this rendering is more reflective of the dynamic process of relationship in God’s created design and purpose—and needs to replace the conventional “to be alone” not only in our reading but in our theology and practice.
What the person Adam (thus all persons) needed in the above context had little to do with help for work but everything concerned with his primary function, the quality of which work cannot provide nor fulfill. This concern was God’s focus and provision for the first human person. This is about relationship fundamental to human make-up rooted in the image, the likeness of the triune God, about relationship basic to the function of the whole person (from the inner out), about relationship primary (above all else) to the created order of life. This is the primacy of the created context and process of interpersonal relationships: the relational context and process.
God created Adam initially without this human relational context, though the relational context and process existed between him and God. Yet, created life in the human context could not remain solitary because of the image, the likeness of this relational triune God. The human person was never meant “to be apart.” Eve completed the interpersonal relational nature of human life which was predicated on the intimate relational nature of the triune God, constituted first in the intimate relational communion between the persons of the Trinity and then by that same communion between God and human persons. Into this deeper context of interpersonal relationships we all were created and for this purpose our lives are designed. It is from this trinitarian relational context and by this trinitarian relational process that God is glorified, worshiped—not by the focus of what we do.
This communion with God which constitutes the relational context and process of life was broken by human disobedience and independence, with the relational consequence “to be apart.” Certainly, not only in relation to work but also in our relationships (especially with God) this condition “to be apart” underlies our reductionist tendencies, the substitutes we make in life and why we settle for less. In the human narrative, essentially every human activity since Adam and Eve’s disobedient independence has been to diminish, distort or deny the primacy of relationships in the created order. In the divine narrative, everything the Trinity has done is relational and is done to restore relationships to God’s original design and purpose. This created design and purpose is what Jesus came to restore us to—both with God and with others. Our theology and doctrine need to reflect this coherence.
As we reflect on creation and the relational context and process, we have to examine how we also “see” God and thus relate to this God. If we only see God as Creator, there can be a tendency to define God by what God did (past and present) and ignore God’s whole being. This is especially the tendency if our perceptual-interpretive framework is reductionist. To focus on and relate to God’s being is not only to engage the sovereign God (who commands) but also to be involved with the triune God (who is intimately relational). On the basis of this God the relational process is constituted. Any other God is a reduction of the God of creation and the God of revelation vulnerably shared with us.
Relationship with God cannot be engaged on reductionist terms, despite how much and well we may work for God. Such “engagement” even with good intentions essentially seeks relationship with God only on our terms. Jesus put this relational reduction into perspective for his disciples by defining what is important and thus primary: “whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be” (Jn 12:26). The Greek term “to serve” ( diakoneo) comes from the word for minister, deacon, servant (diakonos) and has the emphasis on the work to be done, not on the relationship between a master and servant. Note this distinction because the emphasis of “serve” is similar to the focus on work discussed earlier when God created Eve. Here Jesus is telling us emphatically that in order to serve him it’s not sufficient for Christians to focus “on the work to be done,” or on related situations, circumstances, no matter how dedicated we are or how good our intentions. Service (work) is not what being a follower of Jesus is all about. While service results from it, even being a disciple does not mean to focus on and emphasize service (what we do) first. As an aspect of worship, service emerges relationally from the other relational responses of praise, adoration and submission (PASS).
Here again, the necessary and more important priority is to be involved in the ongoing deep relational process of following Christ (discipleship), that is the intimate relationship of being with him. Being a follower of Christ is this relationship first and foremost; this intimate relationship is the true vocation of all his followers because Jesus restores us to God’s design and purpose. This created order is purely relational, and the new creation in Christ fulfills this—the completion of which the Spirit is to continue. Therefore, the primary work God created us for is totally relational work. All other work is not only secondary and subordinate to relational work but to be undertaken and engaged according to this primary work of relationship.
And relational work in our involvement with God is the foremost priority—and the greatest command from God, including relational involvement with others over which no other work has priority or more importance. Jesus further clarifies the ongoing functional perspective of relational work by defining what is necessary according to God’s desires (Mt 22:37-40; Mk 12:28-31). He refocused any reductionist perceptions (interpretations) of the commandments and summarized what has relational significance to God. The first priority is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor. In a reductionist framework “love” is defined essentially by doing something (what we do) and focuses on the work to be done, not relationship. Normative Jewish religious practice up to the time of Christ followed a code and defined righteousness by the extent of observing a code of conduct; Jesus was responding to such a mindset. Both these reductionist substitutes might practice “the letter of the law” (about following a code) but not “the spirit of the law” (about relational involvement of love), as Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) making the inner person and relationships primary. This is why Jesus clearly expresses the need that our righteousness “surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” (Mt 5:20)—that is, surpasses the reductionists.
Love—from hesed in the OT to agape in the NT—is not about an attribute of the individual but about the function of the whole person in relationship. Hesed presupposes the existence of a relationship between persons involved; and where no relationship has been established previously, the person exercising hesed has chosen to be involved with the recipient and treat them as if such a relationship was existing. Agape often tends to be perceived outside of the relational context, thus focusing on the individual and doing something—notably sacrificial self-giving. This reduces the relational process of love to “what to do,” which makes love more about the individual than the relationship, more about giving something than about vulnerably involving self with another in relationship. Biblical love, however, is not about what to do focused on promoting the attribute of doing something positive, even sacrificially, but about how to be involved with others (foremost God) in relationship focused on them while promoting their well-being.
Unfortunately, when Christ’s agape love is highlighted, agape is often reduced to his sacrifice on the cross without the full relational significance of his life as the whole of God. When this incomplete Christology is used to determine our practice of love, the created function of our persons is reduced in a truncated soteriology without eschatological understanding of the whole of God’s desires. When God’s unfailing love is highlighted (cf. Ps 107), hesed is not merely about an attribute that does not change, fail or cease but about God’s ongoing involvement and treatment of us in covenant relationship. “God is love” therefore tells us less about what God is and more about how God is in relationship.
Love defining what God is and expressing how God is—specifically within God’s being as trinitarian and particularly in God’s revelation in the incarnation—is not about “what to do” (doing something) but about “how to be involved” (being a whole person in relationships). We cannot reduce the God of love to merely doing something and thus limit God’s qualitative being, intimate relational nature and vulnerable involvement with us to only what God does. Any reductions limit us to quantitative (outer-in) perceptions/interpretations which may inform us of some of God’s activity but do not provide us the framework to truly know the qualitative God and to intimately experience the significance of love intrinsic to the relational involvement of the Trinity’s communion. In the trinitarian relational context and relational process, the whole of God is always vulnerable to us in relationship and thus also accountable to us in this relationship.
God created persons for relationship and to be intimately involved with each other, the design and purpose of which is engaged by relational work. In his summary account of God’s desires, Jesus refocuses us on this relational God and the relational work needed to respond to God’s commands (desires) with relational significance. To love God is the intimate involvement of the whole person in ongoing relationship. Nothing is more important than this relational response (Mk 12:31), and all of God’s desires from throughout the OT “hang on” this relational response (Mt 22:40). It is this intimate relational involvement of love which functionally defines the qualitative difference of God, as in the Trinity which Jesus revealed vulnerably about his relationship with the Father (both agape Jn 15:9 and phileo Jn 5:20), and which functionally defines the relational design and purpose for human persons.
The second command is not to be engaged apart from the first because it is an extension of it. In a reductionist interpretive framework the predisposition is to interpret “love your neighbor” as the quantitative work of doing something positive rather than by the qualitative relational involvement with others. Yet, Jesus said “the second is like [the first]” (Mt 22:39). The term for “like” (homoios) denotes a correspondence in property or nature. That is, to love God is complete relational involvement by the whole person; this is the property that corresponds to God’s love and the intimate relational nature of God’s involvement with us. This is the relational response God desires (commands) back from us, and the relational involvement extended to others which would witness to the property and nature of God’s love both for us and from us. Alternatives from a quantitative reductionist framework cannot substitute for this qualitative relational significance, nor can they fulfill the created function for human persons.
This relational work became problematic for Adam as we can observe of his relational behavior in the Garden after his disobedience. First, he invented the “human mask” in relationships to cover up the true self (“fig leaves,” Gen 3:7). Then he kept relational distance from God (“hid from,” 3:8), only to experience the tension and fear of the disclosure of his person (“afraid,” 3:10). To preserve his image or self-worth he deflected responsibility and would not be accountable to God for his person, even at Eve’s expense (3:12). These four practices are counter to relational involvement and compound the relational work needed for relationship with God and with others. This is to be expected when the whole person is reduced and the primacy of intimate relationships is reduced in human action.
Yet these practices are common to all of us, and we rarely need special circumstances (as in Adam’s case) to engage them. The operative word here is “common” because this is the common way we do relationships, even in the church. Relational work was problematic for Adam, for Israel, for the first disciples and in church history. And relational work has been particularly problematic since the Enlightenment and continues to be problematic today as compounded by modernity, and now has a renewed challenge in this postmodern period.
Relational work becomes further problematic for us when a reductionist interpretive framework misperceives God’s purpose for creating Eve and the significance of her relationship with Adam. These are vital issues which our discussion needs to include in order to understand what adds or subtracts in the relational equation of God’s created (original and new in Christ) design and purpose, particularly for the church.
Critical to our deeper understanding of the purpose for Eve’s creation is the focus on the kind of work emphasized in the creation narrative. If you translate the Hebrew expression ‘ezer kenegdo as “a helper suitable for him” (Gen 2:18 NIV), thus interpreting the woman as an assistant or helpmate to the man (as complementarians do), then the focus is on the work in the Garden with the emphasis on “what they did.” Or if you translate it “a power [or strength] corresponding to man” with the interpretation of Eve corresponding to Adam in every way, even “be his equal” (as egalitarians do), the focus can be on any type of work with the emphasis still on “what they do.” Both of these interpretations and perceptions minimize or even preclude the primacy of relational work in God’s design and purpose for relationships between persons created in God’s image, likeness. This is the consequence because an emphasis on “what we do” reduces the qualitative focus of how we function in relationships in order to be whole merely to performing a role.
It is also not sufficient to say that Adam was lonely and needed a proper counterpart because he was living without community. While these conditions existed, community and its formation connote different perceptions to persons, the very least of which may not even involve intimate relationships as understood in the community (communion) of the Trinity. Yet, God did not create Eve for Adam in order to have simply a collective dimension to life called community or a social context within which to do their living. This has implications for church practice which will be discussed in later chapters.
As signified by also being created in God's image, Eve was created for the primacy of relationship, thus for the completion of the human relational context by which their persons (from the inside out) could now involve themselves in the relational process constituted in the triune God and signified by the image, likeness of God. Without the completion of this relational context and process, a person(s) would “be apart”—a condition God defines as “not good” but which has become normative of the human condition, even among Christians.
Eve’s purpose was not about working the Garden nor filling the earth, especially as we have come to define those purposes with the emphasis on “what we do.” These would be quantitative reductionist substitutes which redefine the person from the outside in—for example, according to roles and our performance. Even though Eve was created as a person in God’s image to complete the relational context and process, she was not immune from reductionism because she was free to redefine her person. While making this choice does not change the created ontology of personhood, it reduces how the person functions and constrains what the person experiences, thus effectively redefining personhood in human perception.
Satan tempted (tested) Eve with just such a reduction of her person. In their Garden encounter Satan redefined her person by appealing to her mind with knowledge (Gen 3:5)—the defining characteristic of the modern information age. Such an appeal subtly altered how Eve functionally defined her person, thus shifting her to a quantitative focus on secondary matter (for example, attributes about the fruit, 3:6a). From this quantitative perceptual framework, what she paid attention to and ignored became reordered from what God created and commanded, and inverted her priorities. This led to her pursuit to be a quantitatively better person (by gaining wisdom, intelligence, expertise, 3:6b). The further significance of this reduction and redefinition is how she functioned in her relationship with God and attempted to have this relationship on her terms (based on her response to Satan’s reductionist appeal, 3:5). Adam fell to and labored under this same reductionism.
This dramatically illustrates what underlies all reductionism and Satan’s ingenious counter-relational work, which began with the first persons, extended to Jesus and continues with us today, even within the church (2 Cor 11:14,15)—a presence that should not be lost to us, which will be expanded on in Chapter 4.
It would be a further reduction of Eve’s purpose, and thus an inaccurate interpretation, to perceive that women (gender and sexuality) were created primarily for specific relationships with men. Underlying Eve’s function to work is the purpose God gave her and Adam to “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). Obviously, this then involved the created function of marriage (2:24) and procreation (3:20). Yet our deeper understanding of marriage and procreation for God’s purpose is also contingent on the kind of work emphasized in the creation narrative. If the work focused on is merely about making a living and extending it in raising a family (a dominant view), then our perceptions of marriage and family become reductionist (as previously noted about what we do) and our practice increasingly quantitative (as discussed about how we do relationships). This was not the purpose for Eve’s creation.
In God’s purpose to “fill the earth” the term for “fill” (Heb. male) denotes completion of something that was unfinished. With this in mind we need to understand what God started in creation that Eve and Adam were to work for its completion. Did God just create a man and a woman, male and female, with work to do? Did God merely create the human species to be the dominant conclusion to all of creation? Or did God create whole persons in the very image of God’s being (constituted as the qualitative significance of heart) for the purpose of these persons having and building intimate relationships together in the likeness of the relational nature of God as constituted in the communion of the Trinity?
Reductionism turns God’s purpose to “fill the earth” effectively into making children and the quantitative work of populating the earth. Likewise, perceptions of “be fruitful and multiply” become based on quantitative notions. If this were God’s purpose, the results such work had initially produced would have been partially acceptable, and God would not have started over with Noah and his family (Gen 6:1ff). But God’s purpose is qualitative; filling the earth is not about the numbers. What God started in creation was an extension of the triune God’s being and nature—not to be confused with pantheism. The person was created with the qualitative significance of God to have relationships with other persons, both of whom are undifferentiated (not reduced) by quantitative distinctions (such as gender or sexuality). Gender or sexuality do not distinguish the qualitative significance of human persons and relationships, though the whole person is certainly embodied in them irreducibly. This aspect of creation serves to highlight in general the intimate relationships for which all persons are created, not to determine the ultimate context in which these intimate relationships can be experienced, that is, male-female relationships and marriage.
Yet these relationships started in creation were not simply any type of positive relationship, rather only intimate relationships as vulnerably revealed to us in the triunity of God (not tritheism). These intimate relationships then are further distinguished as intimate interdependent relationships signified by the relational work of the Trinity. It was God’s purpose from even before creation (Eph 1:4, 5) that these intimate interdependent relationships function to build together persons after the whole of God’s likeness—that is, the family of God. This original purpose—started again with Noah (Gen 9:1)—was formalized in the covenant God made with Abram (Gen 17:6), extended through Jacob (Gen 33:5) and is fulfilled in the church through the redemptive reconciliation of Christ and is being completed functionally and experientially by the ongoing relational work of the Spirit (Rom 8:14-16; Eph 1:13, 14). God’s revelation and our theology cohere in this relational progression of God’s created (original and new in Christ) design and purpose, which are functionally whole and wholistically relational.
Jesus came to restore us to God’s design and purpose started in creation. Yet, we often appear not to have this functionally whole understanding of God’s vulnerable revelation in the incarnation and the relational work signified by the gospel. When we separate or subordinate the primacy of the relational work in God’s purpose to build not just family (in all its forms) but the kinship family of God, marriage and procreation (thus the purpose of Eve’s creation ) take on a different purpose than God intended. Instead, they become a function of our purpose to make a living, to have a life and to build one’s life (characteristics of bios, not zoe, cf. Jn 10:10). Consequently, what is only secondary to and a means for God’s purpose becomes primary for and a means to one’s own purpose. This reductionist framework for marriage and family certainly has had its consequences on building the family of God today. Despite the emphasis on marriage and family (and related values) which has “filled” many churches, we seem to have difficulty building the intimate interdependent relationships started in God’s created design and purpose. Certainly, if we don’t deeply understand what God started, it will remain difficult for us to complete (“fill”) this purpose as God intends, regardless of our best intentions.
To understand Eve and Adam’s relationship we have to look deeper than the notion of male-female relationships, thus beyond marriage and raising a family. The creation narrative gives us little account of their relationship prior to their disobedience and independence. As previously discussed, they both engaged in reductionism at Satan’s urging. This suggests the beginnings of a paradigm shift in their perceptual framework which would shift the focus away from the qualitative (and from inner out) to the quantitative (and the outer in). This shift was significant not only in their relationship with God noted above but also significant in how they functioned in their relationship with each other.
Before the Fall, Eve was able to be “naked” before Adam and likewise Adam before Eve (Gen 2:25). Reductionism was not engaged at this point so this did not imply any sexual interaction. While the term “naked” denotes not wearing outer clothes, they were freely able to be with each other in the whole persons they were without having to mask any part of their person. Thus, “they felt no shame” (2:25). This is not without the deepest of significance and suggests the qualitative nature by which genuine intimate relationships are constituted. The Hebrew word for “shame” (bos) denotes confusion, embarrassment or dismay when things do not turn out as expected. Applying this to relationships, we all have been in a relationship situation where such feelings (ours or the other person’s) were experienced because one (or both) of the persons did not turn out as expected. This goes beyond male-female relationships to any relationship where the person (again ours or the other’s) does not function as expected, desired or hoped for.
For Adam, the issue in creation of “not good” was a qualitative-relational matter, not a quantitative condition “to be alone.” The latter is often addressed in quantitative terms with reductionist substitutes (for example, to “fill a void”). Further, it is qualitatively good and quantitatively necessary “to be alone” (and quiet) at times, especially in today’s Western lifestyle. The primary issue for Adam’s person (and all persons), however, is that God did not want Adam “to be apart” from the qualitative significance of another person corresponding to his person in the image of God, which also involved the qualitative experience of intimate relationship together in the likeness of the Trinity (cf. Jn 17:21, 22). That person was Eve, a person for relationship who was embodied in female gender (a distinction not to be confused with the qualitative significance of her person, yet having a significance to be discussed later).
The introduction of Eve did not confuse Adam because they were both persons of the same qualitative significance, despite anatomical differences secondary to their person. Adam was not disappointed with Eve’s person nor Eve with Adam’s; “they felt no shame.” Nor did her presence embarrass him about his person or her person, and conversely for Eve. They were able to be the whole persons they were and “felt no shame.” Furthermore, Adam was not dissatisfied with God’s gift of Eve’s person, nor Eve with Adam—at least prior to their reductionism (cf. Gen 3:12). They were fully able to enjoy the qualitative experience of each other’s person; “they were both naked and they felt no shame.” In other words, they each functioned in the image of God, participated together in the image of the triune God and experienced in relationship the very likeness of the whole of God constituted in the Trinity. This is our initial glimpse of persons in the image of God experiencing their created function, which lays the groundwork for our deeper understanding of the function of the imago dei to be discussed in Chapter 5.
The significance of this relational involvement was fundamental to God’s design and purpose for them. This is not about marriage and raising a family but about relationship in which both persons would not “be apart” from the whole of God. “To be apart” was not the relational quality of God’s likeness; to be less than the whole person God created was not the qualitative significance of God’s image. These are conditions which marriage and family do not necessarily address nor guarantee. The ultimate quality of their persons and their relationship was not defined by nor experienced in marriage. If this were the ultimate of God’s creation, there would be marriage in the new creation in heaven (Mt 22:29-30). In one sense, marriage can become a reductionist substitute that keeps us apart from the whole of God.
This intimate relational context and process is God’s design and purpose for all persons and all relationships. They define the deep desires for these relationships God has and wants for us (cf. Gen 6:6). Yet, God counters the kind of relationships for us demonstrated by Adam and Eve after they engaged reductionism of their persons and their relationships (both with each other and with God). This established a course for the person and relationships which inverted the definition of the person (now from the outer in) and the priority of intimate relationships.
How deeply we understand God’s design and purpose—which are functionally whole and wholistically relational—and how well we perceive the shift away from this intimate relational context and process taking place due to reductionism are both critical for Christian function and practice, individually as well as corporately. Yet, I doubt if we have adequately addressed the relational work necessary to deal with the reductionist influences on our practice “to be apart” in our relationships. We may have addressed in a limited way the issue of “to be alone”—at least to the extent that marriage and family may provide. Even within those traditional alternatives, however, “to be apart” is not adequately addressed such that it is our primary functional priority in order not to experience what Adam did before Eve’s creation, nor what they experienced together after reductionism.
This also necessitates addressing functionally how we define the human person and personhood, thus ourselves in the context of everyday living. How we define ourselves is an antecedent issue because this determines how we function in relationships—both of which will determine how we do church. These issues (how we define ourselves, how we do relationships, how we do church) are directly interrelated, inseparable as well as reflexive in influence on each other. And reductionism in one area will impact the other area(s), as noted in the creation narrative. Similarly, the transformation of one will necessitate or determine the transformation of the others. This is the ongoing conflict and hope human persons face in their created function.
The whole person and the relationship to be whole started by God in creation are for us to complete—not on our terms, however. The persons and the relationships between these persons created by God are taken directly from the whole of God’s being and nature. That is, they reflect who, what and how God is, and thus truly represent God only by living in the intimate relational context and process of this God. Yet, we make too many assumptions about God in our practice (not necessarily in our theology), often from a reductionist interpretive framework which predisposes us to perceive of God in a quantitative box.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from Scripture are taken from the NIV.
Greek and Hebrew word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).
 I formulate a theology of discipleship in The Relational Progression: A Relational Theology of Discipleship (Discipleship Study) on this website.
 The process of relational work is developed in another study of mine: Following Jesus, Knowing Christ: Engaging the Intimate Relational Process (Spirituality Study, 2003) on this website.
 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 93-94.
 This progression and coherence are developed further in The Relational Progression: A Relational Theology of Discipleship (Discipleship Study) on this website.
©2006 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.