At some point in the 20th Century, the relationship of Adam and Eve came to be viewed more popularly by certain Western, conservative Christians and Jews as a model for all people in a new way. In Genesis 2, God creates the minimum number and configuration of humans needed to procreate, and this fact was taken to mean that any other number or configuration within sexual relationships was against God’s plan. “It’s Adam and Eve,” we were told, “not Adam and Steve.” Presumably Hannah and Eve were left to their own devices. Granted, according to some traditional readings sexuality only entered Adam and Eve’s relationship after they ate from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Bad, realized they were naked, and God cursed them to make babies together (Gen 3:16-17). In more monastic circles, this is taken as evidence that sexuality itself is bad and we must return to a prelapsarian, asexual state (hence all those celibate monks). Nonetheless, the fine points of when exactly God planned to have Adam and Eve get it on were left behind to focus on what mattered (or what was rhetorically useful): we can allow only one man and one woman in sexual congress, all evidence of polygamy in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament to the contrary. Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, became the model for all sexual unions. Specifically, had God wanted Adam to have a boyfriend, God would have created one for him. Or so the logic goes.
But there is another even more common relationship that Adam did not participate in: Adam never had a brother. By the above logic, this implies that God never wanted men to have brothers. Adam certainly did not need a brother in order to engage in his “marriage” to Eve (although having one might have added some much-needed diversity to his descendants’ gene pool). Furthermore, unlike that one man/one woman nonsense, the evidence that God disapproves of brothers actually continues throughout the Bible.
Consider the very first brothers: Cain kills Abel. The good replacement kid (but unfortunately still a brother), Seth, has to have children with his sisters (or his mother, but let’s hope that’s not the case). No, that plural “sisters” is not a typo. Merely taken literally, multiple cases of polygamous incest are virtually required by the situation that God puts Adam and Eve in when God creates only two people. If Adam and Eve are the model, this is the path they take us down.
Noah has three sons who join their father in the ark. All of the descendants of the evil brother Cain will die in the flood, so this is a chance for the world to get a fresh start. But we know something bad is coming as soon as Noah allows brothers on the boat! When the brother-begetting Noah gets drunk, Ham looks at his father’s nakedness (Gen 9:22). It isn’t clear whether “his nakedness” means Ham is having a go at his father or his mother, but whatever the case, it’s incestuous and it gets all of his descendants cursed like Cain’s. Shem, the oldest son, is the ancestor of the Israelites, God’s people (hence the term S(h)emites). Had Noah just stopped with one male offspring, you know, as God intended, Ham would not have been there to do anything with his father’s “nakedness.” Shem would start repopulating, producing a world full of righteous (if a bit inbred) people. People, that is, untempted into idolatry and God knows what else by the Canaanites who are descended from Ham, Shem’s sexually aggressive brother.
Abraham is also one of three brothers. Thankfully one of them dies, and the other one is left behind when God calls Abraham to leave home. The message couldn’t be clearer: God wants to make a great people that will be a blessing to all nations, and the first thing God does is ask Abraham to get away from his brother! Unfortunately, Abraham brings along his nephew, Lot. This son of a brother will choose Sodom over the future land of Israel (Gen 13:10-13) and father two nations of his own… with his daughters (Gen 19:30-38). God is clearly trying to tell us that brotherhood leads to incest. It couldn’t be more obvious.
Abraham eventually has two sons with two women: Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael is banished, and God’s angel predicts that he will be a wild ass of a man with his hand against his brothers (Gen 16:11).
Isaac has two sons: Esau and Jacob. Jacob extorts his brother out of his inheritance and deceives a blind Isaac into giving it to him – and he’s the one we’re rooting for! So Esau tries to kill Jacob. What else can you expect from brothers?
Jacob has 13 sons by four wives. Eleven of them try to kill their brother, Joseph. Yet in the middle of their plan they chicken out and sell him to… Ishmaelites! Way to go, Abraham. Moses’ brother, Aaron, agrees to commit idolatry by making a Golden Calf. Samuel is called to serve God because two brothers, Hophni and Phineas, are wicked priests stealing from the people (Samuel’s two sons aren’t much better). David fathers several brothers, one (Absalom) who kills another (Amnon) after he rapes their sister. Absalom is later killed by his father, and another (Adonijah) is taken out by Solomon, his little brother. See what trouble having multiple boys in one house causes? More brothers, more incest and violence – undeniably.
The truth of the evil inherent in brotherhood does not cease to be laid bare in the Christian Bible either. Jesus, it must be remembered, is the only begotten Son of God (John 1:18; 3:16). Well, at least on his Father’s side. It seems he had some half-brothers through his mother (or step-brothers if you’re Catholic). These brothers accuse him of being crazy (Mark 3:21, 32) and encourage him to go up to Jerusalem, not because they believe in him (they don’t, John 7:5) but probably because the Jerusalemites want to kill him (John 7:2). But those sordid advocates of two men sharing the same parents might ask: aren’t we told that anyone who hates his brother is in darkness, a liar and a murderer (1 John 2:9, 11; 3:15; 4:20)? Well, one might respond, this indicates our spiritual brothers and sisters, fellow children of God not children of the same parents (just threw up in my mouth a little…). “Brothers,” not brothers. Regarding our merely material brothers, Jesus himself says that anyone who doesn’t hate his brother cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:26).
The plain sense of Scripture clearly condemns the evil of… homogeneity? Let’s just say “brotherhood.” Brothers are a constant source of violence and impropriety in the Bible. It isn’t just that Adam has no brothers, which by the logic of the “Adam and Steve” argument is evidence enough of the evils of brotherhood. The Bible underlines this “truth” nearly every time a set of brothers appears, much more often than for homosexuals who get a couple of laws in Leviticus (well, at least men into anal sex, Lev 18:22; 20:13) and some poo-pooing by Paul (Rom 1:18-32) to give his Roman audience a false sense of security before laying into them too for judging others (Rom 2:1-16). Incidentally that particular rhetorical juxtaposition is often lost on people who only bring up Paul to judge others. If the story of Adam and Eve compels us to reject outright the desire of two people of the same gender/sex to have an intimate relationship, then the call of “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” should likewise ring out to decry the defilement of two men coming from the same bed, not just in it.
Yet we do not cringe when the doctor tells us we’re having a second boy, or turn our noses up as parents walk by with a gaggle of sons. This is because we accept brothers as a naturally occurring, predictable aspect of human society. Brothers can come with their own problems, but we find ways of dealing with them. We don’t make brothers pretend they’re really cousins – or “just friends” – and we don’t look through the Bible for evidence that brothers are an inherent evil. We don’t find it because we don’t look for it, not the other way around.
There are many aspects of the Genesis narrative to which we do not aspire, beginning with Adam having children with someone who is ostensibly his twin sister and continuing with murder and (divinely mandated) incest afterward. The Genesis narrative is a myth that gives meaning to aspects of our existence. Adam and Eve cover many of these aspects, from procreation and the empirical fact of humanity’s diverse sexes (although presented simplistically here as binary, male and female), to culturally-conditioned, patriarchal norms and theological points about our dependence on God. What it does not do is exhaust all of the relationships that are possible for all people. Wanting it to do so is nonsensical and dangerous. “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” is simply a poor argument that should be put away if Christians (and Jews) want to have a mature and yes, even biblical discussion about homosexual relationships.