The task of investigating the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 is not an easy one, for many reasons. Both scholarly and Patristic sources have burnt the midnight oil and spilt much ink over these mere fifty-six verses. It is obvious why this small portion of Scripture has attracted so much attention. It is a story of beginnings, a portrait of creation prior to the destructive effects of sin. It holds an idyllic quality, offering a brief glimpse of human existence in full communion with God, the plant and animal worlds, and the whole cosmos. Both creation accounts also contain important themes related to human anthropology, such as the notions of humanity's creation in God's "image and likeness," existing as male and female, the reception of God's blessing for procreation, dominion over the earthly creation, and the responsibility of being obedient to God's commandments.
When one considers all of these very weighty themes alongside contemporary phenomena such as the existential quest for life's meaning, increasing divorce rates and a desire in the Christian community to explain and extol the virtues of true Christian marriage, the women's movement of the 1960s and 70s with its both positive and negative after-effects, concerns about teenage and extra-marital promiscuity and environmental considerations, it becomes clear why Genesis 1 and 2 are so often consulted. Indeed, the creation story seems to offer a pledge of some answer to these critical issues. At best, these two chapters make good on that pledge; at worst, they inflame these issues and the emotions that drive people to study these chapters in pursuit of real answers.
It is not only important, therefore, but crucial that one take much care in studying Genesis 1 and 2. Whatever one's soapbox issue may be- - one of those listed above or others - the issue can surreptitiously make its way into this passage and reinforce all of one's own convictions about it. This may very easily lead to those inflamed emotions just described and, in the end, do little to address whatever the particular concern is at hand. One must remember that these texts were written at a particular time, within certain contexts, to make certain theological points. But the points they make may not be the ones that we want them to make. We first of all must be willing, when coming to this passage, to let go of our assumptions and understand it on its own terms. Only then can we move forward in our understanding so that we may grow in our relationships, and ultimately contribute to the upbuilding of the Body of Christ, His holy Church.
Genesis 1 and 2: Authors and Contexts
It is appropriate in our attempt to understand Genesis 1 and 2 first to offer a very brief description of the passages' authorship and context.1 To begin with, the two accounts have been attributed to different authors. This is noticeable in the way in which each goes about its story. The first account (1:1-2:4a) is formal, numerical, succinct, almost no-nonsense. It works its way through each day of creation, enumerating what was created by God on that particular day and then stating, "God saw that it was good," and "There was evening and there was morning. . . ." The only occasion in which the author lingers is in the account of the creation of humanity in verses 26 and following. In those verses, his language is almost poetic, emphasizing by its change in style this new creation by God. The author of this first creation account has been called the "Priestly" writer by scholars because the writings with which he is identified throughout the Old Testament are marked by a emphasis on ritual and ceremony rather than narrative. Such emphasis was a reaction to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC, and with it the loss of the kingly office. The need for the Jerusalemite priests to take over the leadership of the people resulted in an emphasis on teaching the Torah. In this regard, the Priestly writings address the most pertinent theological issues of their time.
The author of the second creation account (2:4b-25) goes about his task very differently. His style is more narrative, and a majority of his text focuses on the human beings God created. Because of this, his portrayal of creation can be considered more relational, especially when one goes on to read the next couple of chapters authored by him as well, which deal with the fall of Adam and Eve and the stories of Cain and Abel. This author uses the word Yahweh for God (taken from the Hebrew YHWH, and translated in some Bibles as "the LORD") throughout his writings in the Old Testament, even before the revelation of the name to Moses in Exodus 3. That is to say that this author, called the "Yahwist" by scholars, identified the God of the Exodus (Yahweh) with the God of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and even with the Creator of all things.
Now that some preliminary groundwork has been laid regarding the two Genesis creation accounts, what do they tell us? Genesis 1 is very clear in stating that God is the Creator of all things: space, time, the Heavens, the Earth and all things on it. In contrast to some of the ancient Near Eastern creation myths of his time, the Priestly writer is clear on his stand of Who God is.
The cosmos and Earth were not formed out of the wars of the gods or by accidental happenings. Rather, the act of creation was orderly, and ordered by the one true God. Indeed, the creation account of Genesis 1 is a comprehensive description of how everything, animate and inanimate, has its origin in God. Every star, bird, leaf, and herb was created by God, according to the Priestly writer, and the "new creature" described in Genesis 1:26ff is particularly unique. On the one hand, humanity receives the same procreative blessing as the animal world (Gen. 1:28), yet humans are the only creatures described as being in God's "image and likeness." This phrase is worthy of further attention.
Image and Likeness in Genesis 1
The word for image (ßelem) in the Old Testament most often has the meaning of a material image, a sculpture, a statue, or even sometimes an idol.2 It has a very tangible, concrete representational sense to it. The word for likeness (demut) finds the source of its meaning in the verb damah, which means "to be like." It signifies a likeness or representation of something and is used in Hebrew only when two things are being compared. It is not a "weak" word, suggesting only vague similarity ("She is 'like' her mother."); it actually can have the same tangible meaning as the above ßelem, image.
Only humanity is described in such language in the first creation account. Where this image and likeness resides in the human person or how it is manifested has long been debated, with the varying conclusions that humanity resembles God in everything from its regal stature, upright posture, intellect, free will, and dominion over creation to its creative power, immortality, and natural and supernatural virtue. Setting all of this aside, the important point that this passage makes is that humanity is in a relationship of likeness to God. The Priestly writer, tending toward a matter-of-fact style still manages to make this relational point. One Biblical commentator has even stated that this text is "speaking about an action of God, and not about the nature of humanity."3 In other words, "image and likeness" do not denote a particular quality found in humans which was added to the created person by God. Rather, Genesis 1:26 indicates that "humans are created in such a way that their very existence is intended to be their relationship to God."4
Obedience in Genesis 2
Certainly, this is a rather difficult concept to grasp. Perhaps this is why the Genesis 2 account follows immediately. It illumines the relational aspect of humankind's existence in God. Like the Genesis 1 account, Genesis chapter 2 reveals that all of creation is contingent on God. Humankind in particular is "formed" by God (verse 7), using a word in Hebrew that refers to the work of the potter in shaping his/her creation. Other Old Testament texts offer the same comparison:
Your hands fashioned and made me. . . . Remember that you fashioned me like clay. . . .
- Job. 10:8-9 (NRSV)
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay? Shall the thing made say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of the one who formed it, "He has no understanding"?
- Isaiah 29:16 (NRSV)
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn Your commandments.
- Ps. 119:73 (NRSV)
These are very intimate and tangible illustrations of humanity's created existence. All of creation must turn to God in recognition and appreciation for its very existence. Additionally, the creation accounts, like the verse from Psalms just stated, inform us that our existence as created beings necessitates obedience to God. God's prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17), with Adam and Eve's subsequent disobedience and the results of their Fall (chapter 3), underline the importance of human obedience. Indeed, humanity is expected to obey God's commands in order that the life He gave them would remain with them. Life as it was truly meant to be for the human person, is intimately connected to obedience toward the Creator Who gave us this Life, for obedience is truly life-giving.
It is clear in the second creation account, and in the Old Testament more generally, that God's blessing presumes humanity's obedience. Insofar as humanity disobeyed God, seeking to be like God without Him, seeking the blessing without obedience, they found themselves driven from Paradise with the tasks of dominion, subduing, and procreation made much more difficult. The story of the Fall clearly emphasizes the singular importance of obedience to God Who is the Creator, the Source of life, and the God above all gods.
Insofar as Jesus Christ is the New Adam and the "perfect image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), He is the perfect example to us of obedience to God:
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. . . . Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. - Rom. 5:14, 18-19
Christ, the New Adam, succeeded where the Old Adam failed; in being obedient. And by His obedience, the blessing of salvation, of having our lives restored to their original home in God, is granted to us.
Male and Female He Created Them
In addition to being created in God's image and likeness in the first account, humanity in the first Genesis creation account is created as male and female (Gen. 1:27). One cannot help but wonder at the significance of this phrase. No other creature of the animal world is described as being created male and female.5 Why are only humans specifically described in this way?
Scholarly opinion does not seem to have arrived at consensus in response to this question. Some scholars feel that "male and female" relates directly to humanity's creation in God's image and likeness.6 Others disagree, suggesting that "male and female" relates to God's procreative command in Genesis 1:28.7 Certainly, both opinions are well supported and deserve consideration. The language of the Priestly writer in this portion of Genesis is sufficiently mysterious so as to require deeper probing into this text.
The poetic introduction of humankind in Genesis 1 alongside its existence as male and female indicates that this new creature created by God is truly unique. Whereas extra-Biblical primitive creation stories treat the creation of man and woman separately, much like Genesis 2, the Priestly writer in Genesis 1 portrays the existence of two sexes as belonging from the first to the "definition" of humanity. Westermann concludes that:
There can be no question of an "essence of man" apart from existence as two sexes. Humanity exists in community, as one beside the other, and there can only be anything like humanity and human relations where the human species exists in twos.8
For some this may be an unfulfilling conclusion with regard to the first creation account. Perhaps some would wish that the text offered more answers with regard to what it really means to exist as male and female. Yet, the text does not provide many answers to today's questions and implications of living out life in an engendered existence. The Hebrew words for male and female in this text are actually biological terms, reflecting the two sexes of the new created species. They are not social terms; the text does not say "husband and wife" or even "man and woman." It does not concern itself with any of our modern issues of gender roles or the meaning of marriage. The twentieth-century concerns with male-female relationships, male and female roles, or women's rights do not exist in the "male and female created he them" in Genesis 1:27. These preoccupations would have been totally out of the sphere of the Priestly writer's concerns.
To add to our understanding by turning to the second creation account, we find that the "definition" of humanity there occurs gradually; man is created first and then woman. As stated previously, this was a familiar pattern in which to present the creation of the sexes in the creation myths of other ancient Near Eastern cultures. What is unusual in Genesis 2, as compared to those other cultural myths, is the apparent appreciation of the woman, even to the point of seeing human existence as a partnership between man and woman.9 Yet this narrative is not seeking to define woman, but rather is "concerned with the creation of humankind which reaches its goal in the complementary society of man and woman."10
Broadly speaking, Genesis chapter 2 contains a description of those things that are essential to human existence. First, being created by God, humans exist in relationship to God the Creator, to Whom obedience is due. Second, to be human involves work or occupation (2:15). Finally, to live as a human person involves relationships with other human beings.
The two creation accounts, while teaching us many things, do not offer a single definition of what it means to exist as male and female. If we are looking for a single portrait of human relationships and gender roles that is true for all cultures and times in these texts, then we will be disappointed. What they do tell us is that true life is found in relationship to God. Being created in His image and likeness as male and female is a blessing, salvific for those who seek to live obediently to Him. To determine the application in our own lives of being created in God's image and likeness as male and female ultimately requires us to prayerfully, humbly, and obediently seek it in the light of Christ as women and men.
So, truly, the Genesis creation accounts have much to tell us, in their silence if not in their statements. Rather than setting forth details of human anthropology or offering a literal history of the first days of earthly existence, Genesis 1 and 2 remind us that life is found only in God, Who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. To God we give thanksgiving for the gift of life, and to Him we look for the continuation of our life. This, of course, is intimately connected to obedience, for only when one lives in communion with the Life-Giver through worship and obedience, will she or he have life in its deepest meaning.
Again, Christ, the new Adam, is the key to our understanding of what obedience is and of the cost it may exact. While so many seek to confuse and beguile us with empty promises of fulfillment, we know that fulfillment is found only in a life patterned after our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; only Christ can be first in the heart of the Christian. Even those things that should bring us closer to Christ - charitable works, worship, family, tradition, even Orthodoxy itself - when transferred from being enlivened in Christ to being "above" Christ can prove to be idols that need to be smashed by God, "forbidden fruit" that makes all kinds of promises but in the end falls short in shame and despair. Only through obedience to Christ, the obedience rejected by Adam and Eve, can our lives, our relationships, our hopes and dreams, even our suffering, become what they are called to be, in God.
1. For more information on the creation narratives as well as descriptions of the history and characteristics of the writers of the Pentateuch, see the many Old Testament introductory textbooks, as well as commentaries on the book of Genesis. Some which I found most helpful include: Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972); Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, John J. Scullion S.J., trans. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984); Paul Nadim Tarazi, The Old Testament: An Introduction, Volume 1: Historical Traditions (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1991); and William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982). The following brief descriptions of Genesis 1 and 2 are drawn from these sources.
5. While the animals in the two creation accounts are not described in this way, elsewhere in the Old Testament they are, such as in Genesis 6-7 (gathering animals for the ark) and Leviticus 3:1, 6 (animal sacrifices for peace offerings).
8. Westermann, 160. In application of this opinion, he proposes thereafter that "every theoretical and institutional separation of man and woman, every deliberate detachment of male from female, can endanger the very existence of humanity as determined by creation."
10. Ibid. With the creation of the woman as a "helper fit for" the man (Literally in Hebrew, "someone standing opposite/facing him", i.e., "face to face."), a bodily and spiritual community, an intimacy of life, is now possible between man and woman. This is particularly reflected in Genesis 2:23-24.
Joy Spletzer Corona, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, converted to Orthodoxy in 1990 while studying at Fuller Theological Seminary. She graduated from St. Vladimir's Seminary (summa cum laude) in 1997 and gave the valedictory address. She and her husband, Fr. Simeon Corona, are assigned to St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, where she is involved in parish ministry. She is also an active member of the Antiochian Christian Women of North America (AOCWNA).