Week 1

The World’s creation in the Garden


Week 1: The World’s creation in the Garden:

In this study we will be looking at the creation story as found in Genesis 2. Next week’s study will continue the story with Genesis 3.  As we read the text I would ask that we put aside the creation vs science debate. The creation stories found in Genesis are not really interested in how the world came into being.  It is my hope, at least for this study, if we can read them as creation myths that serve as a way of articulating the meaning of life as it is now, or in the case of Genesis 2 as God intended life to be (click here for brief introduction to myth).  In this study we will view myths as stories that reveal truths, values, and meaning for the cultures and people where they originated.  The value of the creation stories in Genesis for Christians is not in how the world came to be, but in how they begin to shape our understanding of who we are in relation to each other, the rest of creation and to God.  They also reveal truths about who God is and God’s intentions for us and the created world. 

Bible Reference: Genesis 2.4b-25.

As you read the text, ask yourself two questions.  What did you notice? and What did you Wonder? Remember as you do this we are not really interested in questions about how, but in why might it have been done this way or what does that mean.  For example, I noticed God created ‘the human’ and not Adam. I wonder what it might mean that God planted a ‘garden’ and then put the human in the ‘garden.’ 

A few things I noticed:

“On the day the Lord God made earth and sky,” is the beginning of the second creation story.  Despite attempts to try and harmonize this creation story with the one found in Genesis 1, these are two separate creation accounts. The order of creation is different, for example humanity is created before the plants and animals in the second account in contrast to the first account where humanity is created after the plants and animals.  The first creation account takes seven days, whereas the second story only takes a day. These two stories come from two different sources.  So which one is correct? Well the answer is they both are. This is one of the advantages of reading these stories as myths. These aren’t stories of how things came into being, which would require us to choose one story over the other, but are instead stories that tell us something about ourselves, the world, and God.   

After God had made the first human, the story continues with God planting a garden.  God then takes the human and places him in the garden.  The human is settled in the garden, and is responsible for farming it and taking care of it.  Putting the human in the garden gives him a similar task to that of God.  There is still a difference between God and humanity, but humans have been created to be a part of what God is doing in this world.  God is still God, but humans are more than just puppets who dance to the tune of a divine puppet master. Humans are co-creators with God (see below), and are animated with the very breath of God.  

Going back to the first creation story for a moment, we see a similar inclination toward humanity.  We find that all humanity, both male and female, have been created in the image of God.  So in both creation stories humanity is placed in rarified air.  What we commonly miss is just how radical a notion this idea of being created in the image of God really was in the ancient Near East.  In the ancient Near East it was the King who was created in the image of God.  It was the King who was responsible for maintaining the order and will of the gods, but here it is all of humanity that is created in the image of God.  

After creating the human, God sees that it is not good that the human is alone.  So God goes back to work forming every living creature from the ‘fertile land.’ This is the same stuff that God used to form the human, although it is only the human who is animated by the breath of God.  Humans are connected to the living creatures by being greated from the same earth, but are also distinct in being the only ones who carry something of the divine with them.  God doesn’t name these new creatures, but instead brings them to the human to name.  To give a name to something or someone in the ancient Near East was to decree its purpose and destiny.  In some of the versions of the Babylonian Creation story, it is the god Enki (determiner of destinies see Black and Green, p. 75) who names the creatures of the world.  In the Genesis creation story that divine task is given to the human.  

‘But a helper perfect for him…’ (2.20).  The word ‘helper’ in english often carries with it a sense of subordination.  The Hebrew word used here is often said of God, which would qualify any sense of subordination.  This isn’t an assistant but a true partner, which is why a suitable companion could not be found among the other creatures.  

It is this same sense of partnership we see in the story of the creation of male and female.  The Hebrew word that gets translated as ‘the human’ (or in other versions of the Bible either ‘man’ or ‘Adam’) is the word most commonly used to refer to all of humanity.  It is a masculine noun which is probably why older versions used man but it should probably still be thought of in a similar way as older-style english did when using ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ to refer to all of humanity.  The Hebrew word is ‘adam’ however the text of Genesis 2 uses the definitive article with the word ‘adam.’ Just like english, Hebrew also does not use the definitive article with a proper name (e.g. we don’t use the Matt, or the Helen), so the use of ‘adam’ in Genesis 2 is not meant to be a proper name.  It is only after the human is separated that we get male and female. While ‘embracing his wife’ and ‘become one flesh’ may be a reference to the sexual act, it is also meant to ascribe a sense of equality between the sexes.  

The story of Creation found in Genesis 2 is the story of creation as God intended.  This isn’t the world as experienced, but more like the world as it should (or ought) to be.  As we will see next week, Genesis 3 tells the story of what went wrong. Why is Genesis 2 no longer the world we experience?  

While Genesis 2 might not be the world as we experience it, it does tell us just how highly valued humanity is to God.  Humanity wasn’t created to be God’s servants and slaves, but in a very real way to be in partnership with God. According to the story (as we will see again next week) humanity has all the attributes of the divine, but one.  While Genesis will tarnish our connections with one another and the rest of creation, we do see that humanity is meant to be in relationship with one another and every living thing. In Genesis 2 God gives humanity purpose (farming and taking care of the garden), while instilling, with the assistance of the human, a sense of purpose and dignity for all living beings.

Please feel free to contact Pastor Matt with any question or comments.