1.26 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankindin our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.'”
Who is this “we”?
The answer(s) is simple, right?
For Christians, it is the Trinity. God is speaking to the Son and the Holy Spirit, although we never see this replicated, even in the New Testament.
For some, this is simply the so-called Royal We used by people like Queen Victoria.
The ArtScroll edition of the Tanak I have makes it into a question of Moses’s recognition of monotheism.
Academics point to this, mirror it with Babylonian usages and certain passages from Psalms to suggest Elohim is speaking to the divine court (sons of God, angels, etc…). I am inclined to agree with this.
But, one Rabbinical interpretation has it that God is speaking to the animals. After all, on the fifth day the first living creatures were brought forth. These living creatures populated the waters and the air (fish and fowl). On the beginning of the sixth day, God brings forth, again, living creatures but this time, on land.
And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. (Genesis 1.24)
If Adam is a living soul (Genesis 2), then perhaps God is speaking to the living creatures — which makes the scene in the Garden (before Eve) look worse than it did before. After all, if “helper” is better translated as “correspondent” and after Adam could not correspond with any animal, God had to make an almost-man… well, you get my drift.
Anyway, fast forward to the flood, or rather, after the flood. There is a covenant made between God and Noah and Noah’s sons. Yet, that is not all. The covenant is not merely between Noan and all of his descendents, but…:
‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. (Genesis 9.9–10)
The covenant between God and Noah is not merely with God and Noah, but included all animals. The language is similar to the original Creation accounts (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2–3).
By the way, the Noah story is actually another creation account.
So, maybe God is speaking to the animals when He says “let us…” (which, again, expands the scene in Genesis 2, doesn’t it?)
How closely are we connected to the animals (or, perhaps, the environment?)
(there are questions at the bottom if you just want to skip to that point)
Plato’s Symposium will factor into our discussion this week – as I have warned you several times now. If this link opens up correctly, you should see a paragraph beginning with “Aristophanes professed to open another vein of discourse…” Read this and the following two paragraphs.
Because this week we are going to go deep into Adam and Eve, or Ish and Ishah.
There are three words in the Hebrew. We miss them because of our English translations which are primarily based on usage already common. In other words, we get Adam and Eve, or even a generic man and woman, in our English bibles because that’s what we would recognize.
Before I go on, let me add the word “can” (as a blanket statement) when I am talking about Hebrew words. For this case, I am trying to limit the range of meanings specifically for Genesis 1 and Genesis 2–3.
Adam means human (generic, like humanity).
Ish means man
Ishah means woman
There are several stories about the creation of the first humans in and around the Ancient Near East (ANE). Often times, they are connected to the dirt (dust, earth) like it says in Genesis 2. One even mentions the creation of the Tigris and Euphrates along with naming the animals! (Founding of Eridu).
We something like this in Genesis 2.18–24. As I have said before, however, these creation stories aren’t easily straight forward. Rather, they are telling you something by challenging something.
Genesis 2.18–24 is different than the creation of HaAdam in Genesis 1.26–27. In Genesis 1.26–27 we have humanity created together and assigned the image of God. This is very important to us, even if we do not always understand the concept. In Genesis 2.18–24, a man is created and then after searching for the lock to his key, a woman is created. No mention of the image of God is made.
The image of God is ANE for “king.” Again, I’m making a generalization here. But, kings were the image of God, in a literal sense. Think of Pharaohs. They were gods on earth, or representatives of gods on earth.
There are different levels of looking at this story. One, we get to examine Genesis 1.26-27 as representing all of humanity while suggesting Genesis 2.18–24 is more representative of a group of people, perhaps Israel.
What if Adam and Eve represent some sense of a historical king or leader God spoke to in order to give His covenant?
We also can look at the story in Genesis 2.18–24 as archetypical of pairings. Some may call this “soulmate” (although we should be hesitant about thinking in terms of romantic love). And this is where Plato comes in.
I’m not saying, for sure, “Moses” and Plato sang from the same hymn book, only that these stories look a lot alike and following Christian tradition, I feel like we can use Plato.
Notice the similarities in action. Something has to be done (a need recognized by the divine). There is an operation (by the divine). There is a putting back together (by the divine). There is the taking of the “side” (or rib).
For Plato it is side. For us, because we want to see it as such, we say rib. But actually, the wording leads us to say side. As in, side like Plato.
The textual notes from the NET bible read,
Traditionally translated “rib,” the Hebrew word actually means “side.” The Hebrew text reads, “and he took one from his sides,” which could be rendered “part of his sides.” That idea may fit better the explanation by the man that the woman is his flesh and bone.
Heb “closed up the flesh under it.”
The Hebrew verb is בָּנָה (banah, “to make, to build, to construct”). The text states that the Lord God built the rib into a woman. Again, the passage gives no indication of precisely how this was done.
So, what do we do with this information?
Often times, we see this passage used as a way to say women are second to men in the church and home (creation order). Other times, we see it related to debates about sexuality (Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!). So, what happens if this passage is meant to represent something more, sometime idyllic?
If helper/help mate is not really what is intended here, but more like “other half” (or correspondent), how does that transform debates on complementarianism?
If the “other half” is decided from above and pre-exists our earthly life, what does this mean in terms of sexuality?
What does it mean to have the image of God applied to all of the human race?
2 Peter 2.14 is hardly the sum total of the doctrine of theosis, but it is what gives us a sound start and finish when we begin to explore it. St. Athanasius puts it like this, “God became human so that humans can become divine.”
What if this was God’s plan all along? That we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 2.14)? Indeed, if one starts in Genesis 2 and then goes to the last few chapters of Revelation, we see a great cosmic plan, The Great Code, that does not merely recapitulate itself, but has this circle of life that prepares us for something else. Let me explain.
In Genesis 2, we are told there are 2 trees in this Garden. The Garden should be seen as the cosmic temple, and I believe if you know your Book of Kings (x2) you will immediately understand why I suggest this. In this Garden, God gives the first covenant — this is yours, he says, except for this one tree. What tree? It is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was one that related to more than moral information. It included a valued knowledge that would be necessary in order to have the ability to make a clear distinction between what was beautiful or ugly, helpful or harmful, approved or disapproved. Knowledge is obtained from instruction, but what is done with that information can be either good or evil. Putting knowledge into life requires the ability to discriminate between the two.1
The Jewish Study Bible says the same thing. The merism of “good and evil” is meant to represent not merely the extremes, or opposites (good v. evil) but everything in between. But, it goes deeper. Good and evil are not merely right and wrong. Knowledge is not merely the intellectual understanding of right and wrong, either. It is, rather, the knowledge that comes from experience.
I know that a red burner means the stove is hot. I know that if I touch it, I will burn my hand. However, I know this two ways. One, I was always told that. Two, because I did not listen, I touched it and it burned my hand. This is experiential knowledge and understanding.
Growing up, one reads the great love stories. We even “fall in love” throughout our adolescent years. We fantasize what it would be like to be loved. Why? Because we have read about it and believe it is necessary to our existence. But, we know only of it by word of mouth. Perhaps we see it too, with our parents or caregivers. But, we do not really know love until we experience it ourselves. (And because love is so elusive, we may not really know it then!)
Returning to good and evil for a moment, Bonhoeffer captures well what it is meant here. He writes,
Good and evil, tob and ra, thus have a much wider meaning here than good and evil in our terminology. The words tob and ra speak of an ultimate split in the world of humankind in general that goes back behind even the moral split, so that tob means also something like “pleasurable” and ra “painful” (Hans Schmidt). Tob and ra are concepts that express what is in every respect the deepest divide in human life. The essential point about them is that they appear as a pair, that in being split apart they belong inseparably together. There is no tob, nothing that is pleasurable/good/beautiful, without its being always already immersed in ra, in that which is painful/evil/base/false. And what is painful/evil—in this wide sense—does not occur without a glimmer of desire for pleasure, which is what makes pain so completely pain. That which is good, in the sense of tob, is for us always only something that has been torn from evil, that has passed through evil, that has been conceived, carried, and borne by evil. The luster of the pleasurable/good is its origin in evil, in its overcoming of evil, to be sure, but in the same way that a child overcomes the mother’s womb, that is, in such a way that the good is enhanced by the greatness of the evil from which it has torn itself. To us Ignatius is ‘greater’ than Francis, Augustine is greater than Monica, Hagen is greater than Siegfried.2
Good and Evil can be the same as pleasure and pain, wealth and woe, joy and hurt. This is a phrase, I contend, for the sum total of human experience. This is what it means to be human, to experience everything — individually and corporately.
But, did it have to be that way? I do not wish to step into the realm of the mystery of suffering, or theodicy, but maybe it did have to be this way.
Perhaps God wanted us to be more than human. If humans had stayed only in the Garden, we would not know the beauty of the rest of the world. If we had never lost, we would not know gain. If we had never hated, we would not know love. If we as a species had never warred, we would not know peace — if we had never killed, we would not know the value of life. Again, I speak not about an intellectual understanding, but that knowledge that can only come from having experienced it.
St. Justin Martyr said, “…but to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves…yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and of having power to become sons of the Highest; and shall be each by himself judged and condemned like Adam and Eve.” (Trypho, CXXIV)
Perhaps it was God’s plan to always have us become partakers of the divine nature, to be more than human. Surely, the divine has experienced all of the things we do. As Christians, we believe that the suffering of Christ was not limited to the suffering of the physical body. Does God grieve with us when we grieve? Is God joyful when we are? Think about the wide range of experiences God shares with us (as mentioned in Scripture). Then, remember that what Scripture mentions is not the total of the Infinite.
When the command is given, followed by the prohibition of “you shall surely die,” remember, the opposite — unsaid of that command — is, “but you will surely life.”
If this tree is meant to represent the totality of what it means to experience everything (good and evil is a merism), does that mean that at some point that experience will be over? Perhaps that is why we no longer see that tree at the back of the book (of the Christian canon). The only tree remaining is the Tree of Life (Revelation 22.2) and it is for all nations to gain healing.
If we look at Christian Scripture as a great cycle, or circle, we begin with a tree that promises to reveal what it means to experience everything, continuing with a goal from God to become sharers in the divine nature, and finally ending with that tree no longer there but with the hope of life from eternity. Or, we see that the human experience is necessary to achieve, through Christ, the chance to become a sharer of the divine nature. Indeed, this view must transform what the Incarnation means as well.
Genesis 2 begins with a covenant and Scripture continues to build on that covenant until the final consummation, when we are simply with God. How is this achieved? As the Fathers knew, it is achieved only through Christ.
Wilbur Glenn Williams, Genesis: A Commentary for Bible Students (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 1999), 52. ↩
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3 (ed. Martin Rüter, Ilse Tödt, and John W. de Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; vol. 3; Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 88. ↩
This is going to be short, but one of the questions we should ask ourselves as interpreters of Paul is how did he read Scripture?
I believe Paul looked past Scripture and attempted to decipher it through the lens of Christ. Meaning, he wasn’t always the “historicist” (or literalist) we want to make him out to be. Let me give you two examples.
The first is rather small:
Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. (1 Co. 9.8–10)
The “biggest” use of Paul’s “other reading” is found in Galatians 4.24–26:
Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
Paul sees something in this story that he is able to bring out in order to help his readers understand the Gospel. It may simply be Paul sees in the Genesis passage what he says he sees in the Deuteronomic passage — something written for us, for the new age under Christ.
So, then, why would we think Paul is intent on seeing the Genesis story as an historical event rather than a literary event (dare we say myth)? In Romans 5, the story of Adam’s great sin is used not so much as a way to tell us who evil and depraved we are (thanks, Jean) but to tell us how great the grace of Christ is. Jesus is not seen as the “Second Adam” but as one greater than Adam.
Now, to be sure, Paul uses this metaphor in 1 Cor 15.44–49 and in 2 Cor 3.13–18; however, there is a deeper exegesis required than that which is usually given.1
So, how do we understand Paul and his use of allegory? Does he see some of the Torah as allegory or does he use allegory to shape the Torah under the lens of Christ? Regardless, Paul does not necessarily require a historical event or historical meaning (hence the, “this was written for us!”) in order to understand the stories of his people as continuing and being made alive under the lens of his fellow Jew, Jesus.
There are a few things to note as we begin to read Genesis 2–3.
First, let us note the first creation account ends where the second one begins… in Genesis 2.4, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” This phrase, “these are the generations” is significant, not only in giving the book its title, but so too in breaking Genesis into sections. There are 10 such colophons:
“These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created.” (Genesis 2:4a)
“This is the book of the generations of Adam.” (Genesis 5:1)
“These are the generations of Noah.” (Genesis 6:9)
“Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” (Genesis 10:1a)
“These are the generations of Shem.” (Genesis 11:10a)
“Now these are the generations of Terah.” (Genesis 11:27a)
“And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.” (Genesis 25:19a)
‘This is the account of Abraham’s son Ishmael.” (Genesis 25:12a,)
“This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom).” (Genesis 36:1)
“These are the generations of Jacob.” (Genesis 37:2)
There are views of this, of course. This is the “literalist” (young earth) view. This is important because many see the creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2–3 as the same. But, they are not. Indeed, they are sometimes reversed (pdf). See here as well.
Here is a neat little picture to help with visualizing it:
There are a few key points here that we can focus on in class.
Why is God only speaking in the first and virtually unseen while in the second, God works, is quiet, and is very much present?
What is the difference in the creation of people between 1 and 2–3 and does it make a difference with us?
One thing you have to remember is to separate your Christian understanding of this story (what we call theology) from what it was originally meant to represent. For Christians, this is the “Fall,” but how do Jews see it? This is an academic view, but this is not while this one gets into interpretation. If you skip those, that is fine. But, readthis one. Why?
Because Genesis 2 and 3 become important as an origin of evil story only in later Christian theology: “The story of the fall of man is never appealed to in the Old Testament either as a historical event or as supporting a theological construction of the nature and origin of sin…The fall of man, as a theological concept, begins to appear only in the late Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, probably under Essenic (if not Judæo-Christian) influences.”
Finally, ask yourself one question (well, one two-part question:)
Is there evil in this world and how would you explain it?
The origins of humans are described in another early second-millennium Sumerian poem, “The Song of the Hoe.” In this myth, as in many other Sumerian stories, the god Enlil is described as the deity who separates heavens and earth and creates humankind. Humanity is formed to provide for the gods, a common theme in Mesopotamian literature.
According to the Sumerian story “Enki and Ninmah,” the lesser gods, burdened with the toil of creating the earth, complained to Namma, the primeval mother, about their hard work. She in turn roused her son Enki, the god of wisdom, and urged him to create a substitute to free the gods from their toil. Namma then kneaded some clay, placed it in her womb, and gave birth to the first humans.
“The Creation of Humankind” is a bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian story also referred to in scholarly literature as KAR 4. This account begins after heaven was separated from earth, and features of the earth such as the Tigris, Euphrates, and canals established. At that time, the god Enlil addressed the gods asking what should next be accomplished. The answer was to create humans by killing Alla-gods and creating humans from their blood. Their purpose will be to labor for the gods, maintaining the fields and irrigation works in order to create bountiful harvests, celebrate the gods’ rites, and attain wisdom through study.
They were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not been always their position and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.
This Platonic view is something that we will come back to in Genesis 2, but it helps us here because several interpreters see an androgynous being in Genesis 1.26–27.
God created humanity, male-n-female he created them.
Early interpreters in the Christian tradition (such as the Gospel of Thomas) understood it this way, as did the author of 2nd Clement. We can discuss this further, later.
A few things to consider:
What does it mean for the gods to create humans to serve, but Elohim created humans to rule/govern/work creation?
Babylonian gods saw earth as something like a wastefield, but the picture we see in Genesis 1 is that of a cosmic Temple where God is meant to be worshiped in Creation.
Does an androgynous being in Genesis 1.26–27 change our understanding of “Creation Order” and some of our conservations today?
Who do you think is speaking to in Genesis 1.26–27 when He says “let us make” ?
How does the creation of humankind look different than the creation of other aspects?
The inspired penman in this history [Genesis] … [wrote] for the Jews first and, calculating his narratives for the infant state of the church, describes things by their outward sensible appearances, and leaves us, by further discoveries of the divine light, to be led into the understanding of the mysteries couched under them. – John Wesley, Notes on the Bible, Genesis 2.8
To my regular throng of readers, this post may not be for you so much as it is for the class I am leading. This CTP class (critical-theological-practical) focuses on Scripture and how to read it on different levels. We have just started, laying some groundwork first on how to read Scripture (for this class). This post, and maybe more like it, will help to facilitate discussion and provide background to the current chapter or passage under discussion.
The next up is the first creation story as found in Genesis 1–2.4a. At no point should you read this entire passage and be done discussing it within an hour. Why? Because not only do have to decide if this is poetry, myth, literature, history, or science (or a mixture of some or all these modern categories) but then you need to talk about how it sets within the Exilic context. Maybe the sun, moon, and stars are really just luminary bodies and not Babylonian gods. Then you have to talk about what it means when God said “it is good.” Then you get to the Genesis 1.26-27 and so on.
But, to start this we have to really look at the ways of reading the first creation story. I have four posts/articles to share from others. I don’t agree with some of the things in them, but that’s not the point of the class. The point of the class is to help people read Scripture contextually, theologically, and for themselves.
These posts don’t have to be read, but I post them here in case you want to read them: