24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.
Any counselor can tell you that the relationship with in-laws is one of the greatest stressors on many marriage relationships. Knowing the relative priorities of these relationships can save you a world of heartache.
But who has the wisdom and authority to set those priorities? What priorities have been set? What is the nature of the husband-wife relationship?
Genesis 2:24 is very familiar to many Christians who have heard some form of it used in wedding ceremonies. However, a Bible student must always be aware that the interpretation of such heavily used verses may have been shifted away from the original meaning toward a contemporary adaptation.
To begin understanding what the verse is saying, consider Gordon Wenham’s historical input:
The traditional translation ‘leaves’ suggests that the man moves from his parents and sets up home elsewhere, whereas in fact Israelite marriage was usually patrilocal, that is, the man continued to live in or near his parents’ home. . . . On marriage a man’s priorities change. Beforehand his first obligations are to his parents: afterwards they are to his wife.
The uniting of the man and woman is a powerful bond. The NET Bible Notes say, “In this passage it describes the inseparable relationship between the man and the woman in marriage as God intended it.”
The NET Bible’s shift from “one flesh” (KJV, ESV, RSV, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) to “a new family” seems to replace a powerful metaphor of marital unity with a much weaker abstraction. The semi-poetic nature of Genesis 1–11’s language resists the incursion of such anachronistic language. Further, the Hebrew word for “family” does not occur here. Since the language here is figurative rather than idiomatic, there is not adequate justification for replacing the metaphor (“one flesh”) with the paraphrased abstraction (“a new family”).
Genesis 2:25 gives us a last, idyllic glimpse at the unaffected happiness of the man and woman in the Garden of Eden. The environment did not require clothing, and there was no other reason to have it; unfortunately, there would be a reason before long. Wenham says, “They were like young children unashamed at their nakedness.” The man and woman are together with nothing to hide from one another; that too would soon change.
Victor Hamilton explains that the significance of nakedness changed over time: “With the exception of this verse, nakedness in the OT is always connected with some form of humiliation.” In Genesis 3 we will find out why.
The verb used for the phrase “they were not ashamed” needs clarification due to cultural differences between us and the ancient Israelites. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says, “[The English phrase] ‘to be ashamed’ stresses the inner attitude, the state of mind, while the Hebrew means ‘to come to shame’ and stresses the sense of public disgrace, a physical state.” With our cultural stress on individualism, we find it less natural to think of shame as a public status rather than a private feeling.
With sadness we look back to a lost Eden that we might have inherited. But our sorrow gives way to joy in knowing that we can regain all that was lost and much more through faith in Jesus Christ.
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 70.
 NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:24.
 Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 71.
 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 181.
 R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 1:97, bosh, to be ashamed, q.v.