The Creation Story – The Great Harmony Gen 1:1-2:25 

Objective

To describe the sacred author’s Priestly and Yahwist presentation of harmony in the relationships between God, mankind and other created things.

Content

The first two chapters of Genesis express an ideal; they picture a great harmony of God, man, and the rest of creation. The authors are convinced that the current reality they experience of disharmony, disorder, sin and lack of fidelity, CANNOT be the way God intended things to be from the beginning. Their faith in the goodness and fidelity of God leads them to conclude that God must have – in the beginning – established a harmony.

Author

These chapters might be called a prophecy of the past. A prophet is one who sees and who proclaims things as they are, things as God himself sees them. Writing from his own point in history, the sacred author looks back to the beginning of creation and sees both what must have been and what should be now. He bases his judgment on what he knows of God.

Their experience in life exposed the sacred authors not only to what is wrong in creation, but also to what is right. There is still ORDER in creation, in spite of sin. There are still many people who strive to do the will of God. It is evident that there is still goodness in man; sin has not obliterated his sense of what is right. It is also evident that the earth is still good. True, it takes a struggle to make the earth produce, but it does produce. When man follows God’s law, the earth yields fruit abundantly.

Thus, in spite of disorder in the world, the inspired author — with the eyes of faith and supported by concrete evidence — is able to see the Goodness of God, of man, and of the earth.

Structure

The account of Creation

  • Priestly Tradition (1:1-2:4)
  • Yahwistic Tradition (2:5-24)

The Priestly Tradition Account of Creation

This section (Gen 1:1-2:4) is usually attributed to the Priestly tradition (source).

Background

To relate the issues of the exilic time (around 550 BC) of the Priestly author to his account of creation (Gen 1:1-2:4).

Writing from the perspective of the exile, the Priestly author answers many serious pastoral problems of the day. The People had been defeated at the hands of the Babylonians and they were undergoing a crisis of faith in the power of God. Almost despairing of the future, they had lost their sense of dignity and felt very insignificant and worthless. Seeing that the pagans prospered when they worshipped the sun, the moon and the stars, the People were tempted to do the same; they nearly abandoned their faith in the Lord. The writer thus emphasizes the greatness of God and the dignity of man.

It was finally written as we now have it somewhere between 550 and 459 BC, but it is based on very ancient material (no one can date exactly how old). When reading this chapter, however, it is important to remember that the final version benefits not only from faith in the Exodus and Covenant but also from the revelation received through the prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel) and from the purification which Israel experienced during the exile. It was during the exile that the People arrived at a clear and unswerving belief in monotheism: there is only one God other gods are nothing. It was then that Israel meditated on the importance and the joy of the Law. It was then that outward practices — and especially the observance of the Sabbath — began to be valued.

Literary Form

The passage begins with chaos and ends with rest.

Order is the key to this chapter. Creation is seen as the movement from disorder to order, from chaos to harmony. The author has carefully structured the poem to show this. God first creates light to work by, then he builds the ‘house” of creation in the first three days and adds the furnishings in the last three days. The first five days of creation prepare the structure to be a fitting home for mankind, who is lord of creation.

The type of literature is a contemplative, theological statement on the Creator and creation by a writer of great faith. In form, this passage is a hymn like poem of eight stanzas, an introductory stanza plus a stanza for each of the seven days. When reading this passage we become aware that we are dealing with a truly fine piece of literature, a work of inspiration leading more to wonder than to explanations

Perhaps the first thing to notice about this passage is that it is structured according to the seven days of the week. The thrust of the entire poem is towards the “‘Rest” of God.

Word / Verse Study

The first creation account affirms a cosmic event at the beginning of history. It offers neither a literal nor a scientific description of how the world was made; rather it asserts theological truths about God and creation in a symbolic way (CCC 337). The account should not be interpreted as a revealed timetable about the actual historical sequence of creation, nor should the author’s prescientific view of the cosmos be mistaken for divinely inspired teaching about the physical constitution of the natural world.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth Gen 1:1

The eternal love story of Scripture begins very simply: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn 1:1). The moment when time and space burst into existence by a creative act of God. Without any exertion, or gods to fight off, God simply spoke, and the entire universe—space, time, galaxies, solar systems, planets, molecules, subatomic particles—all of it burst into existence out of nothing. Rom 4:17, CCC 290, 296-97)

The Bible’s first verse makes it clear, from the outset, that God is absolutely supreme, totally sovereign, all-powerful and, thus, not to be confused in any way with the world he made. He alone is God, and we are not; nor is the vast cosmos his body or house (contrary to New Age teachings). As big and vast as the creation may appear to us, in reality it just isn’t big enough to fit the infinite Creator. Hence there was no place for Jesus to be born on earth.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters Gen 1:2

Unlike the heavens, however, earth was still in an incomplete state of formlessness and emptiness. The Holy Spirit kept everything moving along in the Creation process, from ground-clearing and foundation-laying to its transformation and sanctification (see Ps 104:5-30; Prv 8:1-31).

The Creation

The Creation account seems to follow a very orderly format. Careful reading of the narrative shows how the Creator responded to the problem of earth’s formlessness in the first three days and then resolved its emptiness in the last three days. Perhaps a diagram will make this easier to see:

  1. On day one, God called forth light and divided light from darkness to make day and night (see vv. 3-5); that’s how earthly time was formed. Darkness (symbolized by evil and terror) exists and is not created by God
  2. On the second day, God made the skies and seas by separating the waters above and below (see vv. 6-8); that’s how earthly space was formed.
  3. On day three, God created land and vegetation (see vv. 9-13); that’s how earthly life began.

The three basic conditions for earthly existence were now complete: time, space and life. Likewise, the three essential elements for human sustenance were also now in place: light, water and food. Three realms now stood in need of rulers.

  1. On day four, God made the sun, moon and stars, calling them “to rule over the day and over the night” (vv. 14-19), the temporal realm already formed on day one.
  2. On day five, God made the fish and birds, calling them to fill the skies and seas (see vv. 20-23), to rule over the spatial realm God made on day two.
  3. On the sixth day, God created the animals and man, calling them to rule the land and vegetation, that is, the biotic realm that God had formed on day three. 

There’s a perfect match between what God did on the first three days and the second three days. The Lord first created the structure in three days, then filled that structure with living beings on the second three days. First the realms and then the rulers. Nothing in creation is left to chance. It was all well organized and proceeds as planned by the creator.

The Framework of the creation story – Orderliness of creation:

  1. Announcement :         “And God said…….”
  2. Command :                “ Let there be……….”
  3. Report :                      “And it was so……..”
  4. Evaluation:                 “And God saw that it was good…….”
  5. Temporal framework: “It was evening, it was morning”

These parallels reveal the literary framework embedded in the Creation narrative, which the author employed to describe God’s transformation of earth into a suitable habitation for humanity. We’ve discovered, through a close and careful reading, a simple but profoundly coherent framework, one that offers some valuable clues as to how the original Israelite readers probably understood the Genesis Creation account. More to the point, it helps us to understand the meaning and significance of creation. In short, it shows us what and why God created

And God said, “_ _ _ _” Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26

Unlike the gods of the pagans, Israel’s God creates without any mythological struggle. He does so through a simple word of command. This ease with which he makes all things is a sign of God’s great power. In several creation myths of the Near East, the world emerged out of a conflict between rival gods; In Genesis the word of God goes forth unchallenged, meeting no resistance or rival. This ease with which he makes all things is a sign of God’s great power.

“And there was evening and there was morning, _ _ _” Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31

The ancient Hebrews measured their days from evening to evening. Theologically, every evening or darkness ends with day or light when you are with God.

“And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also” Gen 1:16

The Sun and Moon are not named as such; rather, they are called the bigger lamp and the smaller lamp. The author is concerned that the People will yield to the temptation to worship these heavenly bodies; indeed their names were already common as the names of gods. The inspired writer thus deliberately degrades the sun and the moon by treating them in a very prosaic manner, very unlike the accepted practice of his pagan neighbours. He separates “light” from the sun and the moon (See 1:3 and 1:16) to show that God alone (and not the sun and the moon) is to be thanked for the gift of light. The writer also pictured the sun and moon (called ‘lamps’) as being the mere servants of man, as calendars and clocks, rather than the lords of man.

Notice that the first act of creation is light even though the sun and moon are created on the 4th day. Why? The author is not concerned with scientific fact but with an ordered universe. Light is no longer the property of the gods but is an element created by God. God names light “day” and darkness “night” – naming signifies ones power over the names. Therefore, God has power over creation.

God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” Gen 1:22

1:22 Blessed them – God endowed them with creative power to reproduce their species. The divine gift of fertility is always viewed as a blessing in the Bible, especially in connection with human procreation (1:28 Ps 128:3-4, CCC 1652)

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” Gen 1:26

1:26 Let us – God himself is a communion of Divine Persons, later revealed as the Trinity (Mt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14) Scripture elsewhere indicates that creation is the work, not only of the Father, but also of the Son (John 1:1-3) Heb 1:2) and the Spirit (Job 33:4; Ps 104:30)

The sacred author speaks here of all mankind as being in the image of God; he clearly states the equality of male and female, a revolutionary opinion at the time.

1:26 Image and likeness – Aspects of divine image include man’s rational intelligence, his dignity as a person, his moral awareness and his unique capacity for a personal relationship with God (CCC 343, 355-358)

1:27 male and female – The sexual distinction between man and woman is willed by God, as is its purpose to reproduce the human race. The image of God is not only borne by individuals but is also expressed through man and woman as a couple.

The Hebrew word for image is “selem” which refers to a three dimensional “plastic” object, a duplicate, like a statue or idol. In the ancient Near East, the king was often called the image of the deity and was vested with God’s authority; royal language is here used for the human.   What is important is not so much WHAT the image is, rather WHY mankind is created in the image of God.

The phrase “let them be masters” (rule) gives a clue. Like a viceroy representing his king in a foreign land, or like a statue (or postage stamp), which reminds the nation of the monarch, man functions in the universe as steward; he rules in the place and in the name of God. Thus as God is ruler of the heavenly realm so humanity as God’s representative is ruler of the earthly realm. There is a further purpose: because he is in the image of God, mankind — unlike any of the other animals — is able to have a personal relationship with God.

The ‘ ‘image” refers to the whole, living, human being and not just to a part of him. Thus the idea that man’s being in God’s image refers to his intellect and will: while not wrong, is misleading because it tends to detract from the purpose of being an image: to stand for God and to relate with God.

First, it means that human life possesses great sacredness. Second, it means that our work has special value. God himself labored to bring creation into existence. Third, it means that we are like God. As persons, we have reasoning intellects, free wills and a unique capacity to love. Furthermore, God made our nature unlike any other. As human beings, we find ourselves somewhere between the angels and beasts, with physical bodies and rational souls. Angels can love but not reproduce; animals reproduce but without love. However, we humans have a truly unique capacity to do both in the reproductive act of marital love, the covenantal source of interpersonal communion and family life. When we truly love as a spouse, a parent, a sister or brother, we are sharing ultimately in God’s very own life and love (they are one and the same in God). As persons-in-family, we are called to live and love like God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It all begins with the marriage covenant, when interpersonal love is intentionally shared in a life-giving way.

God’s image relates to nature and grace. Let me summarize two of the most significant points. First, because we are created in God’s image, human nature possesses three essential qualities: the sanctity of human life, the dignity of human labor and the sacredness of family love. God created man with a nature suited for temporal life on earth, which enabled us to live and work and love like God, as persons-in-family. Second, there is a higher mystery connected to God’s image that is divine grace, which signifies our elevation to share in the glory and love that eternally flow among the three divine Persons of the Triune Family. Man was infused with grace, which suited him for eternal life in God, which enabled him to live as his adopted son, now and forever.

Lest anyone misinterpret and develop a crude notion of image — that man looks like God, or that God has a physical body — the inspired author softens the expression in two ways. He adds “in the likeness of ourselves” and begins with “Let us _ _ _”.

The word likeness (demut) is more subtle than ‘selem’ and means appearance or similarity. It indicates resemblance without stressing ‘plastic’ or tangible similarity.

“Let us” can be a plural of majesty or, what is more likely, it expresses a kind of deliberation between God and the heavenly court (angels). Such deliberation warns against too direct a resemblance between God and man.

“Be fruitful and multiply” Gen 1:28

Sexuality is viewed as a blessing from God: its purpose is clear, fertility. Fertility — often degraded by Israel’s pagan neighbours is raised to the level of participation in God’s blessing and is seen as a response to his desire that mankind should multiply. There is no question at all in the mind of the semitic author: children are a blessing. Mankind is good, therefore children are a good gift from the Lord.

1:28 Subdue: The Hebrew means “bring into subjection”. Man is not given license to abuse creation but is called to harness its potential for good. He is to use his creative abilities to manage the earth’s resources for the building of human civilization. In the theology of Genesis, man is the steward of God’s world, not its owner or master in any absolute sense (CCC 373, 2415-17)

“Food” Gen 1:29-30

In the concept of harmony which the author has, no living thing — that is, man and animals — should have to destroy life for food. There should be no killing at all. In the science of the time, vegetation was seen as being part of the ‘earth’ without an independent life of its own. Thus in vss 29-30, living things each receive their own food to eat. Man is to eat fruit and vegetables; animals are to eat grass and leaves. In the opinion of the author, both man and the animals should (ideally) be vegetarians (but see Gen 9:3, where, in the face of damaged harmony, God permits man to eat meat).

“God saw that it was good.” Gen 1:4, 10, 18, 21, 25, 31 (very good)

By the use of this phrase the author is underlining God’s full acceptance of all of creation. “Very good” has the sense of “perfect”, “exactly what I wanted”, and it refers especially to the harmony, the order, the sense of great purpose that is in all of creation. While this affirmation of goodness applies first of all to creation as God intended it from the beginning, it continues to apply today to the extent that harmony and order are present in the universe and among people. God sees and affirms all the “goodness” that exists. The very fact that creation continues to exist affirms God’s love for it. (See Wisdom 11:24-26.)

“And on the seventh day God finished his work, which he had done and He rested on the seventh day from all his work which He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation” Gen 2:2-3

In the mind of the sacred writer the wise man of God works for six days and rests on the seventh. In poetic imagery, God is thus described as the wisest of craftsmen who works six days and then rests. It is clear that this passage is not meant to be a scientific statement on how the world was made. He made the Sabbath to be the sign of the covenant (see Ex 31:12-17). The Sabbath, which is set apart for the worship of God and the contemplation of his works, is the sign of his covenant with creation. (Ex 31:12-17 CCC346).   Hence, the point is not that God had grown tired after creating the world, but that we have need of rest when we labor in imitation of him. Strictly speaking, God’s work of sustaining the universe continues throughout history (Jn 5:16-17, Heb 1:3), as does his work of creation, eg. Each time he creates a human soul at conception.

This is why God gave the Sabbath to his people, and why they had to “remember” and “keep” it (see Ex 20:8); for it was the sign of the covenant between God and creation that God’s people were called to mediate. This role as covenant mediator involved two tasks: exercising royal dominion (see Gn 1:26-29) and attaining to priestly holiness (see Ex 31:1617). Our work and worship were thus meant to go hand in hand.

The seventh day rest of God has pastoral implication. It celebrated Israel’s own freedom from slavery and participation in the Lord’s leisure. An Israelite would say, ‘ ‘the seventh day is the day of our freedom from slavery (see Deut 5:12-15); the day we are led to state our dignity by sharing in the ‘rest’ of God” (see Exod 20:8-1 1). Man shows his greatness by work, by conquering the earth. True. But the final dignity of the human person is the celebration of holy leisure with his Creator. (A rather important point for any people enslaved by work or the desire to produce and who, may have stopped loving stillness and wonder.) This is why our writer puts creation in the pattern of the life God has given to his people — six days of work culminating in the day of rest.

Since man was created on the sixth day, his first full day would have been the Sabbath. God called man to rest even before he began to work? Similarly, in the New Covenant, Christians begin the week by resting on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. God invites us in faith to be dependent upon Him than on our works or our labour. Hence, a Christian begins his week in prayer and faith before his labour.

Further, the author describes God as setting apart the seventh day at the end of his creative work may be related to the ancient Israelite practice of covenant oath-swearing. The Hebrew word for “oath-swearing,” shebà, is based on the word for seven. In Hebrew, “to swear an oath” means literally “to seven oneself”. Since a covenant is formed by oath-swearing, which means “sevening oneself,” it may not be unreasonable to see God covenanting himself to the cosmos in the very act of creating it, deliberately in a sevenfold way. In any case, it’s significant that the Sabbath was understood by the Jews as the day for Israel to “remember” God’s covenant with them and creation. They did so in prayer and worship, to renew the covenant oath that made them God’s sacramental family.

The Sabbath Rest.

It is noteworthy that God “completed” his work on the seventh day; the completion of work is rest. The formula which concludes the other days (evening came, morning came) is missing for the seventh day. The rest of God has no end. By blessing and making the Sabbath holy, God shows that this endless rest is not for him alone. It is also for man, who both shares in and prepares for the endless rest of God by his weekly observance of the Sabbath. (There must still be, therefore, a place of rest reserved for God’s people, the seventh-day rest, since to reach the place of rest is to rest after your work, as God did after his. We must therefore do everything we can to reach this place of rest. Heb 4:9-11)

Question: What is Jesus’ connection to Creation “in [the] beginning?” St. Peter professed Jesus’ selection as the means for man’s salvation before the Creation event when he wrote: He was marked out [chosen] before the world was made… (1 Pt 1:20).  Can you think of other New Testament verses that point to the pre-existence of Jesus Christ before the beginning of Creation and other verses that identify Jesus as the “first in power and rank,” the first fruits, the “re’shiyt” of all Creation?  Please quote the significant passages and identify the connection to the opening verse of Genesis.

Answer:  Two significant passages are Colossians 1:15-20 and the prologue of St. John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18).  These passages address the pre-existence of Christ and His pre-eminence in the Creation event.  In Colossians, St. Paul presents Jesus as the active power behind creation through which all things came into existence.  In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Word of God spoken to bring the universe into existence

The Sabbath: A Sanctuary in Time

Read Exodus Ch 25-31 & 1 Kings Ch 5-9.

These parallels suggest that the ancient Israelites may have been accustomed to reading the Creation account in view of the erection and dedication of the tabernacle and temple. These parallels also reveal what ancient Jewish readers naturally read as the primary sense or literal meaning of the Creation account: God’s erection and dedication of a cosmic temple for his royal-priestly people. A similar pattern is evident in the biblical account of the construction of Solomon’s temple, which he rushed to complete in seven years and chose to dedicate in the seventh month—during the Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted exactly seven days (see 1 Kgs 6:38; 8:2). To top it off, Solomon’s prayer of dedication was composed of seven petitions (see 1 Kgs 8:12-53).

As we’ll see, this interpretation of creation as macrotemple in chapter one sets the stage for the symbolic meaning of the Garden of Eden in chapter two, as the sanctuary in which Adam is called to serve and minister (see Gn 2:15) as the high priest of humanity

The account of Creation teaches the most fundamental truth about the world, that it was formed to be a holy place for God’s indwelling presence and man’s priestly worship in sacrifice. In other words, God wants us to view the world as a macro temple.

The following themes are a response to certain pastoral issues / crisis faced during the time of exile.

Pastoral Issues / Crisis (Response)

  • Defeat by Babylonians brings on crisis of faith in power of God (Response : God said…and so it was)
  • Lost sense of dignity during the exile(Response : Let us make man in our image, Let them be masters)
  • Temptation to worship the sun and moon as did the prospering pagans(Response : God made the two great lights)
  • Observance of the Sabbath (Response : God blessed the seventh day) 

 

 

 

The Yahwistic Tradition Account of Creation

This section (Gen 2:5-25) is usually attributed to the Yahwistic tradition (source).

The author & Background

It is generally agreed that the Yahwist completed his work around the time of David or Solomon (950 BC?). He was a man of great faith. He believed in and deeply loved the God of the Exodus and of the Covenant, the gentle God who is concerned: He saved his People from Egypt and brought them to a good land; he gave them laws, which are good.

The Yahwist was convinced that if these laws had been observed, they would have made for a good and peaceful kingdom. Yet, the author knows from experience that in spite of the goodness and power of God, his laws are often disobeyed. Yet, unlike powerful kings who seek vengeance and always strive to maintain supremacy, the LORD does not kill his enemies when they oppose him and refuse to do his will. God’s mercy is a much greater mystery than his justice. The all-powerful God does not kill his enemies!

The Yahwist is faced with several questions. God is good, he has man’s best interests at heart, and has given such humane laws to his people, why do people disobey? What lies at the root of man’s disobedience?

The Yahwist writes in a very simple, but graphic and imaginative style. Although he communicates very profound truths, they are not abstract theological principles; rather they are presented at the level of emotion. If read correctly, the Yahwist makes us respond emotionally. He wants us to be honest with our own feelings and attitudes towards God. In order that we might identify emotionally with what he writes, the Yahwist never over explains himself; he leaves things unclear, questions unresolved. He is not writing about something that happened only once. Rather, he writes about daily universal human experiences.

The author uses very human language to describe God. He portrays a God, who works like a potter, making man out of clay, stooping over him; a God who is concerned about man’s loneliness; a God who walks in the garden; a God who ‘comes down’ to inspect the tower at Babel. We should not be shocked or upset by this very human way of speaking about God. The inspired author is trying to make God humanly understandable. By his warm, human description of God, he establishes a sense of intimacy and closeness

Background

The historical experiences of the People of God are reflected in the way in which the Yahwist writes of creation and the Fall.

Experiences of the People of God is indicated in Bold below. The Yahwist looks at these experiences and writes the second account of creation.

  • They had first lived in the desert – There was as yet no wild bush on the earth for God had not sent rain.
  • They had received the Law from GOD – The Lord God gave man this command, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat”
  • They had disobeyed the Law – In Gen 3:6 the woman and her husband eat from the forbidden tree
  • The Lord had taken them out of the desert and put them into a good land – The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden
  • They saw God’s generosity in the abundant fertility of the land he gave them – The Lord God caused to spring from the soil every kind of tree. A river flowed from Eden to water the garden

Literary Content

The passage follows a pattern which was typical at the time of the author. You will notice that vss 5-7 describe a desert in which God makes water flow. Man is taken from (out of) this desert and placed in (into) the Garden. Man is given a commandment (vs 1 7). In the following chapter, man disobeys this commandment and punishment follows. This is the basic pattern of the faith of the People; the Yahwist thinks in a way typical of his own day:

  • The Lord took Israel out of the desert.
  • He led them into a good land.
  • He gave them the Law.
  • They disobeyed
  • They suffer the consequences.

Although they had been punished for their sins, the People of the Yahwist’s day were prospering under David and Solomon. God’s mercy far outweighs his justice.

Word / Verse Study

In this account what exist prior to God’s creative act is not watery chaos but desert. The earth is barren because of no water and no one to till the soil. The first thing formed is “the human” (that is whole humanity) made from the ground. Human comes from the ground and is therefore dependent on it for life.

2:7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Evokes the image of a potter shaping a vessel out of clay. There is a wordplay in Hebrew between “man” (adam) and the “ground” (adamah)from which he is made.

Dust : Symbolic of human mortality.

Breath of life : The animating principle that makes man a living creature like the animals (2:19, 7:21-22). However, man is unique in that God has made him a composite of matter and spirit, a being who possess a body and a rational soul (CCC 362-66)

According to Catholic theology, Adam was not only created with natural or biological life, but was infused with the supernatural life of grace and holiness. Thus, from his first breath, Adam was an “upright” “Son of God” (Luke 3:38 CCC 374-76). When Yahweh’s breath leaves man dies. Therefore, every breath of every person depends on Yahweh.

Eden in the East 2:8.

A mysterious place, impossible for us to locate. The image given is that of a well groomed oasis in the desert, a cultivated garden prepared by God. The garden of Eden represents the state of grace. Man, who is created outside the garden, is placed there by God (2:8) to show that he is raised to a level of divine blessedness that is above his natural state (CCC 37478)

The Tree of Life 2:9; The tree of the knowledge of good and evil 2:9

2:9 tree of life: An ancient symbol of immortality and divine wisdom. Its fruit was thought to confer everlasting life (3:22). The tree of life symbolizes that, while immortality is not native to man, it is within his reach in so far as he may eat of the tree of life. Eating from the tree of live might have enabled man to live forever and become gods. As long as the 1st couple live in the garden and have access to this tree their life is not threatened. Once they are expelled from the garden they are subject to death. God expels them to prevent them from eating. The tree of life is also regarded as a prophecy of Jesus Christ (Jn 6:53-59) who came to give eternal life.

By naming the two extremes of anything good, evil; night, day; east, west; sunrise, sunset — the semitic author includes all that comes between: such expressions mean ALL. The “knowledge of good and evil” is ALL knowledge, including supra-human knowledge which is beyond what is due to man as a creature. Knowledge of good and evil: Not a moral awareness of right and wrong, which man possessed from the beginning as a rational creature, but the legal authority to determine what is good and evil. Adam will presume to wield this authority over moral order, thought it belongs exclusively to God.

The command of vs 16 must be seen in relation to vs 9, which describes the generous abundance of trees, “enticing to look at and good to eat”; of all of these, only one is excepted. The command, then, is not a severe threat, but a gentle warning, a warning which, however, remains unexplained. Man obeys, not because he understands the command, but because he trusts the Lawgiver; obedience requires trust. Still, he has good reason to trust; he is surrounded by endless proof of God’s generous love.

As far as Adam was concerned, there were two trees of major consequence: the first was the tree of life, which he could eat; the second was the tree of knowledge, which he couldn’t (see Gn 2:16-17). Then God added a very ominous warning: “For in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (v. 17, literally “You shall die the death,” or “By death you shall die”).

The Hebrew word for “die” occurs twice in that last phrase. This emphatic repetition may imply two particular forms of death—spiritual death versus physical—especially since Adam and Eve did not physically die in the day they ate the forbidden fruit. But they did die spiritually, like the prodigal son in the parable, whose father declared: “He was once dead … but now he’s alive” (see Lk 15:32).

If the “death” threatened by the tree of knowledge seemed a little ambiguous, so is the “life” promised by the other tree. After all, didn’t God already give Adam the gift of immortality? What’s the use of a tree with fruit to make you live forever if you’re already going to anyway? You wouldn’t buy fire insurance if you owned a house made of asbestos. So why did God bother to plant a tree that guaranteed immortality for one already immortal, unless the Father had advance knowledge of a potential threat to his son’s immortal existence? The fruit was meant to ensure Adam’s human life in the face of mortal danger (or maybe even transform it into divine, eternal life for heaven; see Rv 22:2).

But could Adam even know what death meant before the Fall? After all, nothing had died yet. This is not an easy question. But the answer is clearly yes, necessarily so, since it would be senseless to threaten a man with a meaningless penalty. So while it isn’t clear how Adam knew, it’s reasonably certain that he did, at least in some way. In particular, he must have known death would have been dreadfully unpleasant, and hence something to be avoided at any cost. So he knew what he needed to know in order for God’s test to be fair: he could eat the tree that promised life, but not the one that threatened death.

This unexplained command is meant to elicit an emotional response from the reader. Why in the midst of such superabundant generosity to man does God declare — for no apparent reason — that a single tree is off-limits for man? Writing from a psychological point of view, the inspired author does not attempt to explain God’s action. He allows the reader to feel whatever he wants. How do you feel about it?

The Water 2:10 -14

For desert people, abundance of water means abundance of life. The detailed description of the water courses, of gold, jewels and other precious things emphasizes the abundant goodness of the Garden and the generosity of God. There are four rivers mentioned. 2 rivers Tigris and Euphrates are known. The other two rivers cannot be properly identified.

2:15 till and to keep :

The command to “keep” the garden may be translated as a command to “guard” it. These two Hebrew verbs are used elsewhere in the Pentateuch for the liturgical duties of priests and Levites serving as ministers and guardians over the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:7-8). Their use here implies that man’s work of cultivating and keeping watch over the garden is likewise a form of divine service. Rabbinic tradition thus considered Adam a priest.

It is not good for man to be alone 2:18.

God’s unexplained command is immediately followed by a beautiful expression of his loving concern. This passage (vss 18-24) gradually builds up to the creation of woman and the institution of marriage. It is deliberately structured in order to create suspense and to emphasize the creation of woman.

The passage begins with a search for a suitable companion for the man. This introduction makes it perfectly clear that woman is not inferior to man. Unlike the animals — none of whom provided suitable companionship for man — the woman is not named by the man (to name means to rule). Rather he cries out in delight when he beholds her.

2:18 a helper fit for him:

Anticipates the creation of woman, though other living creatures are fashioned first (2:19). The fact that woman comes last is not the result of trial and error, but is God’s way of teaching man that he is fundamentally different from the animals, despite certain natural features and functions they share in common. Lower life forms cannot supply the love, help, and companionship man needs to be whole.

2:20 gave names:

Adam’s first act of sovereignty over the animal kingdom (1:26). In the ancient world to name something was to exercise authority over it.

The sleep 2:21

The sleep Adam experiences is not the sleep of an anaesthetic, but the sleep of mystery. When God does something which is very profound or mysterious man is unable to look on; God acts in mystery while man quietly sleeps

The rib 2:21-22

The rib is a general sort of word, and it is better not to focus on mere anatomy. The important point is that God takes PART of man and fashions it into the woman. Not only is the woman clearly of the same nature as the man, but the man is incomplete without her —a part of him is missing. Her sexual distinction from the man shows that the two are literally “made for each other”. That she is taken from his side rather than from his head or feet is also significant—it shows that she is equal in dignity to the man, not above him or below him (CCC 369, 371).

Woman’s position is “a helper fit for him” – support, strength. In the OT God is called helper – strength. Deut 33:7 / Ps 33:20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield. As God is not subservient hence woman is equal and not subservient. Woman has dignity in the institution of marriage. Man find support and strength in woman.

The First Marriage 2:23-24

Like the father of the bride, or like the ancient friend of the bridegroom, God leads the woman to man. The man greets her with a joyful exclamation, the first love song in the Bible. He recognizes that woman, unlike the animals, is his equal since she is like him. In Hebrew, as in English, vs 23 has a play on the words “man” (ish) and ‘ ‘woman’ (ishah).

Vs 24 concludes the little narrative by reflecting on the natural attraction of male for female, the attraction so powerful that they are even able to leave the securitv of their families for the love of each other. This attraction is something experienced not only in paradise but in everyday human existence. Because, as the verses above pointed out, man is incomplete without woman, this attraction is quite understandable. That “two become one flesh ” (a reference to the child which crowns the union of love) is another of the generous gifts of God.   2:24 clings: The term indicates fidelity to one’s partner in a covenant relationship.

2:21-24 The institution of the marriage covenant which is designed by God to be :

  • intimate (one flesh 2:24),
  • heterosexual (man and woman, 2:23)
  • mutually supportive (helper 2:18)
  • procreative (multiply 1:28)

The Bible considers marriage to be a covenant. Ezekiel 16:8 and Malachi 2:14. Jesus teaches from this text that God designed marriage to be a permanent union of the spouses (Mt.19:3-9).

Naked without shame 2:25

The man and woman are able to look at themselves as God made them, with all the limitations of creaturehood. They are quite satisfied with what they see. Their comfort with their own nakedness and sexuality is an expression of human approval of creation. Like God, they are able to judge that what God made is “very good” (Gen 1:31) By this expression the sacred author is also underlining an ideal of mutual acceptance between husband and wife, an acceptance based on an inner sense of worth.

Concluding remarks on the “Great Harmony” (Gen 1:10:25)

In these first two chapters of Genesis, the sacred authors reflect on the overwhelming evidence of the goodness of God shown in the order of creation and in his loving plan. From the beginning it has been God’s intention that a great harmony should exist between God and his favourite creature, mankind. This harmony must extend to relationships between people — the command to dominate (Gen 1 :28) does not apply to one’s fellow men. Male and female are to live in harmony; they are to be mutually dependent and comfortable with their creatureliness. Mankind’s relationships with the rest of creation should also reflect harmony. All life — whether of an animal or of man — should be respected; there should be no killing. Man is to be the faithful steward who tills the soil, masters the earth, rules all the animals. Yet, although he is earthly, man is related to God; called to be at ease with God, man has the earth as his sphere of activity.

He has masterfully illustrated the harmony in relationships between

  • God and mankind in Gen 1:26.
  • God and all created things in Gen 1:29-31 .
  • Man and woman in Gen 2:23-25.
  • Mankind and other created things in Gen 1 •.28. 
  • By seeing things as they should be, in harmony, man is able to see God as he is. He is a God of power. He is full of Goodness; he sees what is good. He is generously concerned for man (he gives him a day of rest). For completely unselfish reasons he gives the woman to the man to be his equal partner. All these good things form the basis for man’s acknowledgment of the generosity and trustworthiness of God.

The author leaves us with an extremely positive impression of the goodness of God, of mankind, of the earth.

Kindly keep me in your prayers.

In Christ,

Steven Pais