A couple of years ago I put together a brief overview of the Bible’s story line noting in particular what the Bible tells us about God. It isn’t comprehensive, nor is it intended to be. Others have conducted similar projects, many of which I have personally benefited from. I offer this series of essays in the hopes that they may prove useful to some one coming into contact with these ideas for the first time.
Few things in life may properly be described as perfect. One of the few things that come to mind is a pitcher throwing a “perfect game” in baseball. As I’m typing these words only twenty-three pitchers have thrown a perfect game—twenty-seven batters faced, none of which reached first base. As rare as a perfect game is, rarer still is a perfect world. We all know through experience that we live in a broken world. But it wasn’t always this way, nor will it remain this way forever.
Let’s jump right into our look at redemptive history—the grand story (metanarrative) that the Bible discloses to us and that informs the way we live with one another and properly must respond to God. We start where the Bible begins, with the God who created everything. Before we delve into Genesis 1–2, let me say that I realize that Genesis 1–2 has been the focus of discussion concerning the age of the earth, the historicity of Adam and Eve, the nature of the creation, and a number of related issues. The aim of this essay is not to delve into these issues, as important as they may be, but instead to lay out what one may gather in general from Genesis 1–2.
What Does Genesis 1–2 Actually Disclose About God and Humanity?
Let’s now turn our attention to what Genesis 1–2 has to say to us about God and about ourselves, the human race. What follows are eleven observations about God and the human race that can be gleaned from Genesis 1–2.
God Created Everything, and He Is Not Created (Gen 1:1–2:1).
If all we had was Genesis 1:1 we could conclude that according to Scripture God created everything. He created “the heavens and the earth.” The phrase “the heavens and the earth” is a Hebrew figure of speech that uses two contrasting words (in this case “heavens/sky” and “earth/land”) to express one idea. The idea is that God created the entire universe and everything in it.[i]
Nowhere in these sets of verses, nor in the entire Bible, does one find the statement that God is a created being. He just is. He is infinite, eternal. He always has been and always will be. Finite creatures (that is what we are), who determine time according to a particular point of reference, cannot even begin to fathom what eternal existence is. We may be able to get our mind around eternity moving in one direction, like what all true believers will experience. We were born at a certain point in time. God saved us at a certain point in time (when we believed the gospel). We will live forever with God. We can begin to grasp that, but to understand there is such a being as God, who is infinite, who has no beginning or end, who just has always been that doesn’t make sense to us. But that is who the God of the Bible is. And this is the God who created everything.[ii]
God Is a Talking God (Gen 1–2).
One of the first things readers of Genesis 1–2 come across is that God is a talking God. He speaks and something happens. The whole of the creation narrative highlights that God is verbal; he uses words to do his work. The New Testament discloses that the voice of God is none other than the Son, Jesus Christ: “All things were made through him [Jesus], and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3, ESV; cf. Col 1:16–17; Heb 1:1–2).
God also communicates among the members of the Godhead. He says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (emphasis added, 1:26).[iii] God has always been a talking God, because there has always been someone for him to talk to, namely himself in the person of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
God also speaks with the pinnacle of his creation, human beings. He discloses himself to Adam and Eve through speech (cf. 1:28–30; 2:16–17). As we’ll see in Genesis 3, human beings are made for fellowship with God. He speaks to us and we likewise may speak to him.
God Created Everything Good (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).
Today we live in a word marred by sin and the effects of the fall. However, this is not the way it once was. In fact, it isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. God originally created this world and everything in it good (1:25, 31).[iv] In fact, when he observes the culmination of his creative work he declares “it was very good” (emphasis added, 1:31). We see from the onset that God is a good God, and all that is good flows from him.[v]
God Created Everything and Then Rested (Gen 2:2–3).
At the close of his creative work, God rests. This doesn’t mean that God was tired or that he was wiped out after six arduous days of work. Rather, Genesis 2:3 explains why God rested: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Later, when the Law is handed down to Moses, it will include legislation for the Israelites to rest on the seventh day, it is to be a Sabbath for them (cf. Exod 20:8–11). Here in Genesis 2:3 and later in Exodus 20, the reason the Israelites are to rest is grounded in God resting on the seventh day; thus making it a holy day, a day dedicated “to the Lord your God” (Exod 20:10). This will become the pattern for life lived in relationship with God, first for the Jewish nation and later for the New Testament church.[vi]
God Created a Good Place for Humans to Live (Gen 2:4–14).
When we read Genesis 2:4–14, we find that God created a good place for his creation to live, in particular for human beings to live. It was not an uninhabitable wasteland (cf. 1:2), but a lush land for humans to dwell in. The geographical description of the land is quite similar to how the Promised Land is later described to Abraham (cf. 15:18). Although humans will be forced out of the Garden, God will lead them back to this good land in due time.[vii]
God Created Work (Gen 1:27–28; 2:15).
Work is not an effect of the fall. Work is a good thing. It is one of the ways in which human beings reflect God’s image, since he works too.[viii] However, when sin entered the word through the transgression of Adam, work became difficult.[ix]
The task set for Adam and Eve was to “work” the land and to “take care of it” (2:15). So, care for God’s good creation is noble and befitting Christians. However, it must never take pride of place in the mission of the church. That place is reserved for proclaiming the gospel of grace. Christians who are engaged in environmental improvement should never be more excited about recycling than they are about God’s ability to redeem and save human beings from sin.
God Provided Rules for How Humans Could Live in His Presence (Gen 2:16–17).
Although Adam and Eve were free to do many things, they were not permitted to eat the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:17). The reason given for this prohibition is clear, “for when you eat of it you will surely die” (2:17). So, the rule (the law) God gave to Adam and Eve not to eat of a certain tree was actually for their good. As we’ll see later, when Adam and Eve break this rule their ability (and ours) to dwell joyfully in God’s presence is severed.[x]
God Created Humans in His Image—Male and Female (Gen 1:26–-27).
The phrase “image of God” is often referred to by its Latin translation, Imago Dei. Biblical scholars and theologians are not in agreement as to what the “image of God” precisely is. Some have suggested it’s the ability to reason or think, stewardship over creation, or the relational nature of people. Although the specifics may elude us, one can be sure the “image of God” refers to the reality that human beings are similar to or like God in some unique way—a way different from the rest of God’s creation. One understanding of the image of God that I have found satisfying is the view that the image of God refers to a human beings capacity for fellowship with God. This is something all human beings uniquely share.[xi]
God Instituted Marriage (Gen 2:18–24).
As we come to the end of Genesis 2, we find Adam alone, lacking personal contact with any other human being. God sees this and declares, “‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Gen 2:18). God then proceeds to place Adam in a deep sleep (2:21). When he awakes God presents him with Eve, whom God created from Adam (2:22).
In verse 24 we find Moses’ commentary on this union, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” The marital union between a man and a woman is in part for the purpose of starting another family unit. You have two persons; they come together (in a sexual union), and become “one flesh.” This doesn’t mean that each ceases to be their own person; rather, it means that they now seek the other’s best interest, the best interest of the family their coming together has created.
It is also important to note that Eve is to be a “helper suitable for” Adam (2:18). In spite of current trends both within and outside of the church, one must notice that there are particular roles for husbands and wives. Both are created in the image of God (1:27), and yet both are distinct in what each is to bring to the marriage.[xii] When we turn to the New Testament we clearly find that husbands are to lovingly and sacrificially lead their family, while wives are to submit to their husband as unto the Lord (see Eph 5:21–33). According to Paul such marriages present a picture of Jesus’ sacrificial love for his bride, the church, and how the church should voluntarily and willingly desire to submit to the Lord in everything. Thus, Christian marriages are more than just good examples for folks to follow, but ultimately a glorious display of Jesus’ relationship with his church.
Notice too that marriage between a man and woman is something God instituted. He takes the initiative. Adam doesn’t come to God and say, “I need a woman.” Rather, it is God who recognizes it isn’t good for man to be alone. He needs a “helper suitable for him.”[xiii] He doesn’t find it with the animals (Gen 2:18-20). No, God must create Adam’s helper from his own side. In the wake of much debate about what is marriage and who can legally be married, Christians would do well to return to these verses and reflect on what they say regarding this God ordained institution.[xiv]
God Created Humans to Worship Him (Gen 1–2).
While this isn’t explicitly stated, taken with the whole of biblical revelation, one may conclude that Genesis 1–2 makes the point that God created human beings to worship him. How do I arrive at this conclusion?
First, the Garden of Eden is presented as a temple in which God dwells with his people (Adam and Eve). How so? This is based upon parallels found between the Garden and later descriptions of the Israelite tabernacle and temple. Relying upon the work of Gordon Wenham, T. Desmond Alexander compiles the following parallels:
- “Eden and later sanctuaries were entered from the east and guarded by cherubim (Gen 3:24; Exod 25:18–22; 26:31; 36:35; 1 Kgs 6:23–29; 2 Chr 3:14).
- The tabernacle menorah (or lampstand) possibly symbolizes the tree of life (Gen 2:9; 3:22; cf. Exod 25:31–35). Arboreal [relating to trees] decorations adorned the temple.
- The Hebrew verbs ‘ābad, ‘to serve, till,’ and šāmar, ‘to keep, observe, guard,’ used in God’s command to the man ‘to work it (the garden) and take care of it’ (Gen 2:15), are found in combination elsewhere in the Pentateuch [first five books of the Old Testament] only in passages that describe the duties of the Levites in the sanctuary (cf. Num 3:7–8; 8:26; 18:5–6).
- Gold and onyx, mentioned in Genesis 2:1–12, are used extensively to decorate the later sanctuaries and priestly garments (e.g. Exod 25:7, 11, 17, 31). Gold, in particular, is one of the main materials used in the construction of the tabernacle and the temple.”[xv]
Second, God was present with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The presence of sin will eventually disrupt this. After the fall, God will supply other means by which to dwell among his people. He will do this through the tabernacle (Exod 25:1–9), the temple (1 Kgs 8:15–21; Ezra 6:13–18); his Son (John 1:1–18); the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16–17; 6:19–20); and eventually in the new heaven and new earth where once again the earth (now renewed) is the dwelling place of God and humanity (Rev 21).
Given these comparisons, it would appear that Adam and Eve have something of a priestly status in that they are charged to serve him in the garden-temple. This should be understood as an act of worship.[xvi]
God Created Humans without Guilt (Gen 2:25).
Finally, we come to the last verse of Genesis 2, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (2:25). There’s a reason most of us don’t prance around naked. It’s because of shame. We would rightly feel guilty about doing something like that. And the reason we feel such shame is due to sin. We’ll see in Genesis 3 that one of the first things Adam and Eve do when they realize they’re naked is to cover their bodies with fig leaves (cf. 3:7). But in the beginning, it was not so. They had no shame, because there was no sin. They were innocent; they had not yet incurred the guilt that comes through sinning. So, Genesis 2:25 reminds us of a better time, a time when God and his image bearers had unbroken fellowship, a time when people felt no shame.[xvii]
Theological Reflection & Application
I want to close with three general points of application for how Genesis 1–2 bears upon our lives apart from what I’ve already laid out. I’ll close the essay with two theological reflections that we’ll come back to later.
- Since God is the creator of everything, we owe our allegiance first and foremost to him. He is the Creator and we are not. This means we don’t live our lives the way we want six days a week and simply give the seventh to God. We owe everything to him, and as our Creator he has the right to demand everything of us.
- God did not create the universe and human beings in particular because he was lonely. As mentioned earlier God has been in an eternal relationship with the three members of the Trinity. God creating human beings is a sovereign and gracious act by which he desires to include us, in some limited way, in the eternal fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see John 17:20–26).[xviii] This should cause awe in us and lead us to worship and thanksgiving of the one great God.
- We were created to need God and enjoy fellowship with him. He is infinite. We are finite. Our dependence upon God is not a result of the fall. Rather, it was God’s plan from the beginning.[xix]
- We were created for fellowship not only with God, but also with one another. These relationships begin on the very personal level of family members and extend to every other human being on the planet. Therefore, we have an obligation to treat everyone with dignity and respect, no less since we all bear the image of God.
- The first two chapters of the Bible prepare us for the fall of humanity into sin (Gen 3). Without Genesis 1–2 chapter 3 would lose much of its force, and the shock it should provoke from us.
- We find in some of the earliest pages of Scripture a hint at what later theologians will call the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine is developed through the Bible’s progressive revelation.
[i] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, WBC (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 15; Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1:1–11:26, NAC (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 129, 142.
[ii] John H. Sailhamer notes, “According to the sense of 1:1, God created all that exists in the universe. As it stands, the statement is an affirmation that God alone is eternal and that all else owes its origin and existence to him” [The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 83].
[iii] For a discussion of possible interpretations of the phrase “Let us…” see Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 132–134.
[iv] Sailhamer notes, the term “good” has a specific range of meaning in chapter 1, namely, “that which is beneficial for man” (“Genesis,” EBC, Vol. 2 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990], 26).
[v] Wenham notes, “God is preeminently the one who is good, and his good is reflected in his works” (Genesis 1–15, 18).
[vi] See V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17, 143, and Mathews, Genesis 1:1–11:26, 180–181.
[vii] Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, 98–99.
[viii] Wenham notes, “It should be noted that even before the fall man was expected to work; paradise was not a life of leisured unemployment” (Genesis 1–15, 67). So also V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17, 171. Sailhamer translates the phrase “to worship and obey,” rather than the NIV’s, “to work it and take care of it” (The Pentateuch as Narrative, 101).
[ix] Mathews, Genesis 1:1–11:26, 209.
[x] On the goodness of the command to not eat of one of the trees see Mathews, Genesis 1:1–11:26, 211–212. See also Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, 101.
[xi] For a helpful discussion on the possible interpretations of the “image of God” see Mathews, Genesis 1:1–11:26, 164–172. For a look at the “image of God” in the history of the church see Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 33–65.
[xii] Mathews, Genesis 1:1–11:26, 213–214.
[xiii] V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17, 175.
[xiv] For further study on gender roles see Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, eds., Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), and John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991, 2006).
[xv] T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 21–22. See also G. J. Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies 9 (1986), 19–25.
[xvi] See also Walton, Genesis, 181–183.
[xvii] Sailhamer notes that the Hebrew term used for nakedness in 2:25 (‘ārôm) differs from that which occurs in 3:7 (‘êrōm). The term used in 3:7 is used in the context of judgment (cf. Deut 28:48). Thus, when Adam and Eve come to realize they were naked it signaled they were under God’s judgment (“Genesis,” 49).
[xviii] See Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, 91 and Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 65–66.
[xix] See Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 55.