Genesis 2 “The First Things” (The Garden of Eden) Part 7

For many years discerning scholars have known that there are two creation stories in Genesis and that these two stories come from different sources. This is no radical, liberal, modern idea. For almost as long as the United States has been a nation some people have noticed the Bible begins with two stories about creation. Of course, common sense would tell us that those putting the Bible together knew that. They were not blind or stupid. What they realized was that both stories had profound lessons to teach us about God, creation, humankind, sin, grace, and redemption. In our very first sermon in this series we said that the Bible is not a science or history book. It is a book about faith and a witness given by men and women to the perceived presence and acts of God. Those responsible for these traditions and those who put them into their final form both assumed anyone reading or hearing these stories would realize what they are—they are stories designed to teach profound theological truths. They were meant to be taken seriously but not literally. If we get stuck arguing over whether there really was an Adam and Eve and a Garden of Eden, or how a snake could talk, or whether Adam had a belly button, we totally miss the point of the stories. In other words, we miss the word from God in these chapters.

Today I want us to look at Genesis 2 carefully as we make observations about the story, see how it compares to Genesis 1, discover the meaning of certain words and phrases used in the chapter, and end by asking a couple of fundamental questions that will prepare us for the following sermon focusing on the message intended for us.

I first want us to notice the differences between the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2. 

  1. Genesis 1 has the form of a magnificent litany with a lot of repetition. It is orderly, carefully worded, and majestic in nature. 
    Genesis 2 has the form of a flowing narrative. Its story is more intimate, anthropomorphic, and limited in scope.
  2. Genesis 1 speaks of the Almighty as “God” (Elohim in Hebrew) while Genesis 2 refers to the Creator as “Lord God” (Yahweh Elohim). Bible scholars noticed this pattern throughout parts of the Pentateuch. Some parts used Elohim while other parts used Yahweh Elohim. And scholars also took note that in some cases there are two accounts of the same event with one using Elohim and the other Yahweh Elohim. Bible scholars in the past suggested that Genesis 1 came from a priestly source and labeled that source “P.” The source using Yahweh Elohim for the name of God was labeled “J” for Yaweh. (“Y” in German is often spelled with a “J” as in “Ja” meaning “Yes.” Since the 19th century “Yahweh” has been spelled “Jahweh” in German. A German named Julius Wellhausen came up with what is called the “Documentary Hypothesis” suggesting that the Pentateuch contained four sources/documents which he named J, E, P, and D.) We realize today that the way all these traditions came together is more involved than the collation of four “documents.” However, it’s still obvious that we are dealing with at least two traditions in Genesis originating, developing, and being passed down by different groups of Israelites, probably in different times and places.
  3. Genesis 1 talks about “the heavens and the earth” while Genesis 2 refers to “the earth and the heavens.” Genesis 1 is focused more on God’s creative act for all creation while Genesis 2 will emphasize what happens on a particular part of earth. 
  4. In Genesis 1, the earth is in a state of chaos when God begins to create. In Genesis 2 the earth is already present, and its land is watered by a stream which comes up from the ground. 
  5. Genesis 1 divides creation into 7 days with careful explanations of what was created on which day. Genesis 2 focuses on a garden that is to be tended by humankind.
  6. The order of creation in Genesis 1 is birds, land animals, and humans. The order of creation in Genesis 2 is humans and then land animals and birds. 
  7. Adam in Genesis 1 clearly refers to humankind/all humans/males and females. Adam in Genesis 2 is more ambiguous but focuses on the man/the human being more as an individual.

Those who believe these two creation stories are literally true as far as history and science are concerned must use twisted logic and make outrageous claims to maintain their position. If we simply accept these as stories with great wisdom to impart without being literally, historically, and scientifically true, the “problems” of Genesis 1-2 are easily solved. 

What amazes us is the similarities between the stories as far as the main truths each story is trying to communicate. 

  1. Both stories maintain that creation is the product of God’s direct will. God is the Creator who has purposely brought creation and humankind into existence.
  2. Both stories emphasize the close relationship between animals and humans. Genesis 1 does so by having the land animals and humans created on the 6th day. Genesis 2 does so by stating that both animals and adam were formed from the ground. 
  3. Both stories focus on the uniqueness of humankind. Genesis 1 speaks about humans being in “the image of God” while Genesis 2 says that God breathed into adam the breath of life. Animals also breathe, but Genesis 2 has God breathe directly the breath of life only into humans. 
  4. Both stories refer to the authority adam has over the earth. In Genesis 1 the words “dominion” and “rule” are directly used while in Genesis 2 this authority is communicated by adam’s right to name animals. (In the ancient Near East, the right to name something or someone demonstrated authority over who or what was named.)
  5. Both stories focus on the importance of community, family, and the goodness of sexuality. Genesis 1 says that God created adam in the image of God “male and female” and instructed them “to be fruitful and multiply.” In Genesis 2 we are told that it is not good for adam to be alone, so “one corresponding to him” is made to be his mate/companion. This “helper” is not to be in a relationship of subordination but of mutuality and interdependence. This is further communicated by the statement that the man is to leave his father and mother rather than the woman leaving her parents. And we are told that they are to be “one flesh” which clearly refers to the sex act and to children. Furthermore, Genesis 2 says that “the man and the woman were both naked and were not ashamed.” 
  6. Both stories include limitations on the rights and dominion of adam. In Genesis 1, adam may eat only plants for food, and the authority adam exercises is to be that of a viceroy representing and carrying out the will and blessings of God for creation. In Genesis 2, adam is put in the garden to cultivate and keep it as a caring gardener. Furthermore, adam is forbidden to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In both stories there are limitations to human power and authority. 

For all the differences between these two accounts of creation, they make some of the same basic points about God, creation, and humankind. These similarities are not by coincidence. They reflect the overall faith of Israel to be found in those who truly worshiped and trusted Yahweh. 

I now want us to focus on some of the words and phrases used in Genesis 2. In some cases, we will be looking at the Hebrew behind the English words used in our translation. 

  1. In verse 7 we are told that the Lord God made man from the dust of the ground. The word translated “man” is adam in Hebrew and the word translated “ground” is adamah. The writers are making a play on words. Adam came from adamah. The probable root meaning behind both words is “red.” The earth has a reddish tint and so did the typical person in the ancient Near East. The verse reminds us that we are tied to the earth, we were made from the earth, and we are part of the earth. We are “earthlings.”
  2. Once the Lord God breathed into adam the breath of life, verse 7 says that adam became a “living creature.” The King James Version translates the Hebrew as “living soul.” The Hebrew behind these translations is nephesh hayah. Hayah means “living.” Nephesh has a root meaning of “throat.” Since ancients understood that the breath has to go down the throat into the body for life to exist, the word nephesh came to mean anything that breathes. The phrase nephesh hayah is used in verse 19 to refer to animals. The same phrase is used in Genesis 1: 20, 21, 24 to describe the animals of the sea, sky, and land. In the Old Testament nephesh when referring to humans can mean “self.” However, in Scripture nephesh never means “soul” in the way the Greeks meant and in the way some Christians mean today. Soul in Greek thinking was that immortal part of the human which was destined to return to the Divine after death. Biblical faith does not allow for the existence of a soul in this sense or in the immortality of the soul. Biblical faith maintains the psychosomatic whole of the person and maintains in the New Testament that we will be resurrected by God and will have eternal life only because God gives it to us. Neither we nor our souls are immortal. Our existence now and in eternity depends on the gracious gift of life by a faithful and loving God. 
  3. The word “Eden” literally means “delight.” The word “paradise” comes from ancient Persia and means an “enclosed garden.” Eden represents what life was intended to be by the Creator with harmony, peace, bounty, community, communion between God and humankind–and, yes, labor. Work is not a result of “the Fall.” Work is part of our mission as God’s caretakers and gardeners of the earth. 
  4. The Tree of Life is an ancient symbol found elsewhere in the ancient Near East. We will look at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the next sermon. 
  5. Verse 23 of Genesis 2 has another play on words. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” The Hebrew word for “man” is ish. The Hebrew word for “woman” is ishshah. Contrary to the “wisdom” of Archie Bunker, this does not mean the woman is inferior to the man because she “came from a cheaper cut of meat” (a rib). What the story is trying to say is that the man is incomplete without the woman and the woman is incomplete without the man. In other words, we humans need each other to be fully human, to find fulfillment and love, and to have joy. We are created for community.

I want to close our study with an observation about Genesis 2 which will prepare us for next week’s look at what all this meant for Israel and for us. Questions about Adam and Eve are often asked by inquiring minds. “Was Adam really the first man? What about cave men, Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons? Where do dinosaurs fit in all of this? Where did Cain get his wife?” Once again, these questions vanish when we realize that the Garden of Eden story is just that—a story. It’s not history or science. It’s a story designed to teach profound lessons for life and about God and the human situation. If you read carefully in Genesis you realize that the writers assume there are other people on earth besides Adam and Eve. We will see evidence of this when we get to the Cain and Abel story. 

We must also remember that the Hebrew word adam means humankind/human being. Any Hebrew or Jew hearing or reading this story would have known that. The Hebrew word adam occurs all over the Old Testament simply meaning humankind or human beings. Some scholars maintain that Adam is not really a proper name in Hebrew. 

But there is a real sense in which we can say that adam as presented in Genesis 2-3 represents the first human being.  Scientist and theologian John Polkinghorne suggests that we today can think of Adam and Eve as the first morally and spiritually conscious human beings. Our understanding of the development of humankind over the millions of years of evolution would suggest that there was a time when there were no spiritually conscious and morally capable human beings. There had to be a time when these traits first emerged in humanity. When Genesis refers to Adam and Eve, we (even though the biblical writers were not aware of such an evolutionary process) can understand it to be talking about the first true humans, not biologically or historically but spiritually—in other words, creatures capable of being in communion with God, knowing the difference between good and evil, and having the ability to obey or reject God’s commands and will. At some point in time creatures like us came into existence and from the beginning we humans were free to reject God. Once we see Adam and Eve in this light, we realize that WE are Adam and Eve–we are humankind capable of communion with each other and God, knowing the difference between good and evil, and having the freedom to obey or reject the ways of God. The Garden of Eden story first happened many, many years ago when the first human emerged as a spiritually and morally conscious being. That story continues with us. We—you and I—are Adam and Eve. And may God have mercy on us all. 


In our passage for today the Lord God says that it is not good for humans to be alone. We need a helper—someone who corresponds to us, completes us, and makes us whole. We cannot live fully as humans alone. Other parts of creation cannot do it for us. And what’s interesting is that apparently God cannot do it for us either. We were made for community/for each other. Our very identity as adam requires that we be connected with other people.

That is why Jesus says that where two or three of us are gathered together he will be with us as well. Our very existence as human beings, earthlings, and creatures made in the image of God requires us to maintain a connectedness with others. Now why would God make us like that? Because God desires to share a good thing–because God knows that we can become free, loving, creative, and responsible creatures only as we are in communion with each other–because we can love God only as we love one another (“You cannot love God whom you have not seen unless you love your brother and sister whom you have seen.” I John)–because God’s ultimate goal is for all of us to dwell together with God in a blessed community connected at the deepest and most fulfilling level (This intention and hope are the background to the New Jerusalem and the New Creation of the Book of Revelation).

And that’s why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. We share a meal symbolizing that final banquet where we shall all be one in love, joy, spirit, and purpose–all of us connected without losing our individuality or personal identity. So, come to the Table and find your place in a family destined for glory.

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Follow on Facebook

  • Add this blog to your feed.

  • Subscribe to receive email notification of new posts.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

  • Subscribe with WordPress account.

    Enter the email address you use for WordPress to follow this blog.