Category Archives: Genesis

The 6th day and Noah’s Rainbow Covenant

Landscape with Noah's Thank Offering (painting...
Landscape with Noah’s Thank Offering (painting circa 1803 by Joseph Anton Koch) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Genesis 1 contains a mystery.

1.26 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in 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?)

CTP Bible Study – HaAdam, Ish and Ishah (Genesis 2.18–24)

(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.

Why?

Because this week we are going to go deep into Adam and Eve, or Ish and Ishah.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and ...
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and Eve. Beech wood, 1533. Bode-Museum, Berlin (Erworben 1830, Königliche Schlösser, Gemäldegalerie Kat. 567) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

Does God want us to be more than human?

The Tree of Knowledge, painting by Lucas Crana...
The Tree of Knowledge, painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

  1. Wilbur Glenn Williams, Genesis: A Commentary for Bible Students (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 1999), 52.
  2.  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.

Paul’s sense of Scripture and Adam’s fall

English: Allegory of Poles
English: Allegory of Poles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

 

  1. I haven’t read this, but wanted to keep it for later.

CTP Class – Genesis 2-3: Generations

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:

  1. “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created.” (Genesis 2:4a)
  2. “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” (Genesis 5:1)
  3. “These are the generations of Noah.” (Genesis 6:9)
  4. “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” (Genesis 10:1a)
  5. “These are the generations of Shem.” (Genesis 11:10a)
  6. “Now these are the generations of Terah.” (Genesis 11:27a)
  7. “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.” (Genesis 25:19a)
  8. ‘This is the account of Abraham’s son Ishmael.” (Genesis 25:12a,)
  9. “This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom).” (Genesis 36:1)
  10. “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:

creation stories

And…

Genesis_1_&_2_chart_sm

There are a few key points here that we can focus on in class.

Such as:

  • 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, read this 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?