In this lesson we will read another account of creation, different to the account in Gen 1:1-2:4a.
The dignity of humankind before God was reported in Gen 1 by telling us we are made in the image and likeness of God (1:27). That same dignity is reported again in Gen 2:7 by telling that God blew the breath of life into the man’s nostrils. More importantly of course, the story like that in Gen 1, to use the words of Ratzinger (In the Beginning… page 50) once again ‘does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are’, in relationship with God. The formation of the human from the dust of the ground is a literary image to show that in God’s hands we are like a piece of clay in the hands of a potter, i.e. wholly dependent on God and very fragile (Jer 18:6; see Rom 9:19-21).
Western thought often distrusts the body in favour of the soul, following the lead of Plato and Greek philosophy. Such thinking leads to looking on death as a liberation for the soul. However in Gen 2:7 we see that God formed man from the soil of the ground and blew the breath of life into man. There is no suggestion here of a separation of body and soul. Body and soul were united happily in Hebrew thought.
A corollary of man being formed from the dust of the earth is this, ‘Despite every distinction that culture and history have brought about, it is still true that we are, in the last resort, the same...There are not different categories and races in which human beings are valued differently. We are all one humanity, formed from God’s one earth.’ (Ratzinger In the Beginning… page 43)
Chapter 2 is located in Eden (v8). It is called Paradise in the Greek OT. God planted a garden in Eden. Later the distinction between the garden and Eden was blurred so that Eden was sometimes described as a garden e.g. Isa 51:3.
Many elements in Gen 2 are also found in pagan myths. The tree of life in v9 exists in Babylonian mythology. The river feeding four major streams in vv10-14 is a literary device expressing the ideal fertility of the earth. Sumerian poems also have a paradise garden. (Sumer was later known as Babylonia, now it is southern Iraq, in the alluvial plains of Tigris and Euphrates, between Baghdad and Persian Gulf).
Note that two trees are given special mention in Gen 2: the tree of life in v9 and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in v17. They are two different traditions which have found their way into this story. The tree of life is a symbol of immortality. What was the knowledge which the tree of good and evil possessed? The answer is in the name of the tree, knowledge of good and evil. According to the story it could not contain all knowledge because after eating of the tree in Gen 3 humanity still did not know everything. Death is mentioned as the penalty for eating of the tree of good and evil (v17). Death did not follow immediately for Adam and Eve in Gen 3 but we say that death is the result of sin.
Man naming the animals in Gen 2:19 is the equivalent to God giving humankind mastery over the animals in 1:26.
In 2:7 Yahweh shaped man (adam in Hebrew) from the soil of the ground (adamah in Hebrew) and blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being. As you can see from the Hebrew a better translation of ‘man’ in Gen 2:7 is “earth creature” since the words adam and adamah are so similar; Yahweh shaped the earth creature from the earth. In Gen 2:7 the earth creature is dusty earth + divine breath and is sexually undifferentiated i.e. neuter.
Gen 2:18 means it is not good for us to live alienated from one another. God’s solution for overcoming alienation is relationship. During the deep sleep which fell on the earth creature, the earth creature is acted upon by God and emerges as different, as ish (Hebrew for man) and ishah (Hebrew for woman) (2:23-24). The neuter earth creature became gendered. Sexuality is to become the means by which we overcome isolation. It is to carry us past isolation to relationship. Sexuality is the culminating high point in the story in Gen 2. It is a story of the energy God built into humanity’s flesh. The complementarity of men and women is part of what it means to be human.
Both the man and woman were naked and felt no shame since there was no sin yet (2:25). bosh is the word for shame in Hebrew; 2:25. Bosh is the equivalent to feeling insignificant before somebody else. God creates us to be in energised relationships and to be naked (in proper relationship), not ‘boshed’.
Woman is described as man’s helper, 2:20 (ezer in Hebrew). Note that the Hebrew word is ezer, and not ebed which is a ‘servant’. The woman is to be company for man and not subject to him. He chooses woman to be an equal partner. It is not until after the Fall, according to Gen, that man dominates woman.
Gen 2 states that sexual attraction has been built into us by God, and vv21-24 state that marriage is instituted by God. A most beautiful description of this is the statement by St Bernardina, ‘God did not make a woman out of a bone of Adam’s foot, so that he should tread her underground, nor out of a bone of his head, so that she should dominate him; but he made her out of his rib, which is close to his heart, to teach him to love her truly, as his companion’ (Quoted by Jensen God’s Word to Israel page 53 note 8). It is interesting to note that man who had God to talk to him in the garden (2:16-17) is still not satisfied, he needed one of his own to talk to, and so God made woman. Verse 23 is the first love poetry in the Bible! While it might appear that we are dealing here with the creation of only one couple, scholars say the Hebrew suggests that we are dealing with the creation of humankind in general. The Hebrew word for man, Adam, is not used as a proper name for an individual until Gen 4:25. Until then, Adam is not a masculine noun naming a historical person but a collective noun and refers to each of us. The story is saying man cannot understand himself apart from woman, woman cannot understand herself apart from man, and neither can understand their humanity apart from God. Both are fully human only when in union with God, and man and woman are incomplete without each other.
We place considerable emphasis on creation in theology now. For Israel, creation did not receive such emphasis; creation has only two chapters in the entire Pentateuch. For Israel the highpoint was the exodus because they had experienced it. On the other hand, Gen 1-2 was arrived at through reflection.
God as creator is the praised in many Psalms. With our knowledge of the earth, the universe and human kind we have even greater reason to praise God. For example,
I said that in this course where possible I like to read the OT in the context of the NT. Now let us put creation in the context of the New Testament. John 1:2 tells us that everything was created through Christ
In the beginning
was the Word:
the Word was with God
the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came into being,
not one thing came into being except through him.
See also Col 1:15-17.
The second creation is the resurrection of Jesus; all four Gospels depict Jesus’ resurrection as a second creation by saying it happened on the ‘first day of the week’. The first creation, creation out of nothing, was anticipating a still more wonderful and glorious creation in Jesus, resurrection from the dead. See CCC 349 and 2174. God can create anew in us also; Paul says, anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
Concerning the evolution of homo sapiens, the technical term for humans, the Bible does not say anything positive or negative about evolution, if you take Gen 1-2 as religious myth. The Church has a more definite teaching. It allows for the possibility that our body developed from previous biological forms (under God’s guidance), but it insists on the special creation of our soul. Pope Pius XII declared that “the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions...take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter--[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36). Pope Paul VI repeated the doctrine of immediate creation of the soul (The Christian Faith edited by Neuner and Dupuis paragraph 516) and also CCC 366. So whether the human body was specially created or developed, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents as our bodies are.