Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Genesis 2:4-25 (Man and Woman He Made Them)

Genesis contains two seemingly similar creation stories. Followers of the documentary hypothesis would say that the first story is from the Priestly scribe whilst the second story (the one I am discussing here) is from the Jahwist scribe. Geisler and Howe argue that the change in the reference to God is due to a different usage and not an indication of a different scholar. Schofield argues that the first creation story tells that of the whole universe including man, whereas the second tells only that of mankind. There are further questions as to how to reconcile the two stories and even if reconciling them makes sense.

I'm not interested in reconciling the two stories or trying to document the Documentary Hypothesis. Nor do I wish to engage with Schofield and others who maintain that Moses was the author of at least the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. I want to comment on the passage itself.

Disregarding how God made the Earth in one day - or even if He did - the Earth had no shrubs and no vegetation. Yet, a mist would spring forth from the ground. It is from the barren Earth that God formed a human - Adam (which means human) - from the ground. The name Adam, meaning human, is male but it is not the human's gender that is the wonder. The Bible states, "The Lord God...breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." However one wishes to interpret this, God gave man life. That is what this part of Genesis is telling me.

Then God planted a garden. It was good to the sight and its goodness needs to be understood as the goodness as described to the Hebrew people. Everything was there to be had excepting the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then God decided man needed a helper of some forth and began to create animals that might help the man but no animal could really provide the type of help the man needed.

So God created a woman out of the man. Adam takes this woman as his own flesh and a gift, a help from God. The chapter ends with both man and woman naked and unashamed.

Stop combatting the words and what do you take from these verses? Here's what I take from them:

1. God is the creator, the instigator of the creation but neither this passage nor the previous chapter are meant to fill in every small detail - if they did the Bible wouldn't get past the first chapter or maybe even verse (think of all the dull physics, chemistry, biology it would contain).

2. Water is somehow there even though the land is barren; even though there has been no rains brought by God or nature, there is a mist; a primeval mist maybe.

3. The first human, Adam (human), was formed from the dust of the Earth but this leaves the how up to God. All it states is that God breathed in man life but it doesn't state how.

4. God caused a garden to grow and in that garden was one of His special trees, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; rather than keep man from this tree and not share with man this garden which is described as a most pleasing place to be, God allows the two humans to be there but they're not allowed to eat His tree lest they die.

5. Modern humans might find this a little disturbing, we don't like such arbitrary authority. Yet, surely we've left friends, kids and loved ones in our places of trust sometimes saying "Don't drink all the soft drink" and such. When I leave my friends in my house or let them go to the bathroom in my house it's understood that they shouldn't go snooping in my private drawers in my room which has nothing to do with them even though the door is open and inviting them.

6. That said, God realised man was alone and there was no help for him. Help implies subordination but it's hard to translate that word. Woman was more man's equal - she was more a companion, a support to him as he was to her. If man only needed a subordinate surely one of the animals would have sufficed.

7. Adam rejoices in his new found companion and the Bible comments on how this justifies a man and woman being together as companions. Note that it doesn't say "No sexual relations" or anything puritanical like that.

8. It ends showing that Adam and Eve (the man and woman) were both still blissfully unaware of their nakedness.

So, God simply says He created things with one broad brush. It would have been nice if He'd explained physics, chemistry and biology and the rest at the same time, but that isn't the purpose of Genesis. That said, the Earth we are shown being created isn't so different from what we would expect. God isn't describing an alien setting to us. God gave us life. God is able to place us in situations of great goodness and at least, then, believed He could trust us not to tamper with His "special things". I'm certain He could have simply surrounded the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with angels wielding swords but instead He chose to give us our own free will and to make up our own minds. That said, God wasn't able to find an animal quite like the man so he created a similar being but slightly different; nonetheless she wasn't subordinate but she was of his flesh and he was meant to be joined to her flesh. They were one.

Most of all, we were born and created in innocence.

These conclusions, I believe, are universal and it is up to us, with our faith and science to figure out how God managed this feat as best we can. But just because we may one day figure it out, doesn't put God out of the picture. It just means we understand His story a little better.

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