THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM: PART II, SECTION I
I. Genesis chapters 1 and 2 have creation accounts that emphasize different aspects. The first account views creation in general from the standpoint of order, culminating in our worship of God. The second account views creation from the standpoint of bringing about the perfection of man and woman.
A. The two accounts compliment each other, presenting God's creation and in particular the creation of man in different, but in the end consistent ways.
1. The first
account is majestic, well-ordered and presents God as in perfect control,
creating by His word. The second account presents God in a more
anthropomorphic fashion, presenting God as doing such things as planting
a garden, breathing into Adam, and fashioning woman out of Adam's
1. The main reason
for this belief is that the use of more abstract and structured language
in a society tends to come later. In particular, such ideas as
being in the image and likeness of God are likely from a later time,
while the anthropormorphic vision of God probably reflects an earlier
1. The first sentence states that theme for the entire book, i.e. that the one all-powerful God created all things and brought about the order that we know. In one sentence, the book repudiates that idea of many gods, or lesser gods, or any randomness in creation.
the account does give specific names even to the most powerful things;
thus, for example, the sun and moon are simply called lights.
It is Adam who names the animals. Even the sea is called yamin
(literally "the seas") rather than the more common term yam ("the
Sea"). The text goes out of its way to avoid using terms that
were also the names of pagan gods. By putting created things below
man and by describing man as giving them their names, the text is trying
to get away from attaching personalities to things, or even worse, worshipping
them as gods. Starting with Moses, the prophets would warn over
and again about worshipping natural things. See Duet. 4:15-19;
- On the
other side of the coin, all things are created directly by God and thus
are His artwork. Thus, they do have a great dignity if referred
back to God. Cf. Ps. 19:1-3; Dan. 3:59-81. (There is not
Biblical term for "nature." Rather, all of what we call nature
is the plan of God.)
- There is
no contrast between God creating something and it coming about through
a natural process. On the third day, God tells the earth to bring
forth vegetation; it is both God's action and the earth's.
Likewise, on the sixth day, God tells the earth to bring forth animals;
but verse 25 also says that God make them. The fact that they
sprang from the earth does not mean that God did not make them.
II. Genesis 1 contains the creation account that uses a seven day structure to emphasize the order and goodness of creation and the omnipotence and goodness of God, with creation pointing to man, and man to the worship of God.
A. The neat seven-day structure provides and orderly notion of creation, with the first three days creating a background, or a home, and the second three days filling the home with life. There is also a natural progression in creation.
1. Thus, light
and darkness are created on the first day, and, on the fourth day, the
light is separated out into the sun, the moon, and the stars, which
populate the day and night.
2. The "waters
above," the "waters below," and the space between them (i.e. the
seas and oceans, space, and the air) are created on the second day,
and the waters and air are populated with fish and birds on the fifth
3. The earth
and vegetation are created on the third day, and the earth filled with
animals on the sixth day. Man is given authority over this earth
and the animals.
4. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out in In the Beginning (1986), the seventh day, later called the Sabbath, holds everything together, pointing out the centrality of prayer.
a. The author
does not here use the term "Sabbath," which the Bible will use later.
One reason is that pagan cultures, and especially Babylonian culture,
used the term Sabbath for each seventh day. The author wanted
to distinguish the Jewish notion of a joyous worship, from the servile
fear that marked the Babylonian and other pagan Sabbaths.
b. The overall
order is that all things should prosper by serving man, who in turn
serves God especially through the day of prayer, The chapter refers
to God's blessings three times. First, He blesses the fish and
the birds, telling them to multiply. Second, He blesses man and
woman, telling them to multiply and have dominion over the earth and
the animals. Third, He blesses that seventh day, making it holy.
The blessings reflect prosperity (multiplying), order and holiness.
If man upholds the holiness represented by the seventh day, he will
remain in control to order nature, and he and nature will prosper.
Unfortunately, the Fall will upset this harmony.
5. There is also
a neat ordering of creation along the lines of division. As Dr.
Kaas points out, the term divide is in the chapter five times, and implied
ten more times when the text says that everything was of its own kind.
The first distinction is between light and darkness, the things that
exist everywhere. Then, God separates out general areas, the waters,
the air and the waters above the air. He then brings about fixed
land from the water and things that cannot move, such as vegetation.
He then creates distinct things in the waters above that do move, i.e.
the sun, the moon and the stars. He then creates sentient things
on earth that move, but are not terrestrial, i.e. the fish and the birds.
Then He creates sentient things on earth, the animals, and finally man,
in His image and likeness. Things become more distinct and more
themselves over time.
6. God speaks
ten times in the process of creation. In The Beginning of Wisdom,
Dr. Kaas argues that the ten-fold structure of creation is probably
related to the Ten Commandments, which reflect the order of creation
as embodied in human behavior.
B. After every day, except the second, God declares what He has made to be good, and after all the days, everything is "very good."
1. There is an
emphasis that all things were created good. Contrary to the Gnostics
and the pagan literature, the Bible affirms that all things, especially
human nature, are essentially good, and are only corrupted by the sin
of angels and men.
2. However, the text does not say that the division between the waters above and the waters below is good.
- The omission
of any statement of the second day could be due to the fact that the
waters below were separated from the waters above, this earth from heaven,
and this separation was not entirely good. Sometimes God does
use the waters, and the seas do praise God. See, e.g., Ex. 15:5-10;
Ps. 148:7; Dan. 3:77-79. However, at other times, the waters would
become a symbol of primordial chaos that God would overcome. See,
e.g., Is. 27:1; Job 7:12; Ps. 65:8, 89:10; Rev. 20:13, 21:1.
3. The text also
does not specifically say that man and woman are good. Rather,
after they are created, God declares all things very good, for their
creation is made greater by the completion in man. Whether man
turns out good is for him to decide.
C. At the height of this majestic creation of the earth, the sea, the skies and "the water above the skies," as well as all that is in them, God makes man and woman in His image and likeness.
1. In verses 26 and 27, God creates man and woman in His image and likeness. Man and woman are distinct, but related, reflecting God's image together. The classic way that the Church Fathers used to interpret this notion is that human nature was and is in God's image, although now the image is obscured by sin. For, like God, we can know the truth, love the good, admire the beautiful, and seek the holy in prayer. However, sin for a time eliminated the likeness of God that we had by destroying the primordial order. By Baptism, we are restored to that likeness and made children of God.
- The term
for image, tslem, comes from the way in which a statue or other image
reflects something else. We see God in other people, as Jesus
would later indicate in the parable of the goats and sheep. See
D. We can see the dramatic message of Genesis 1 when comparing it to the Babylonian creation myth described in the Enuma Elish, which was discovered in the 19th century. That myth has a seven-day structure that is remarkably similar to Genesis 1, but with a completely different vision of the gods and man.
1. In that myth,
one set of gods led by Marduk overthrows and kills against the goddess
Tiamet, who is his mother, and who represents primordial chaos.
Out Tiamet's body and blood, Marduk and his allies make the earth
and man over the course of six days, with the seventh day one of feasting.
They create man because they will be more at ease if we serve them.
E. It has been debated from the beginning of the Church whether the seven days in Genesis 1 were meant as seven 24 hour time periods, or symbolically. St. Augustine (354-430) in his Confessions and Origin (185-254) in De Principis book IV, read them to be symbolic, with St. Augustine saying that they reflect the order in which creation was revealed to the angels, and Origin saying that they are a seven-fold reflection of the mystery of God. By contrast, St. Basil the Great (320-379) and St. Ephraim (306-373) thought that the days were meant as time periods. St. Thomas Aquinas considered both views and thought it unnecessary to decide between them. See Summa Theologica, Part I, question 74, articles 1-2.
- At the
end of his classic Confessions, St. Augustine also compares each day
of creation to an aspect of the spiritual life. The first day
reflects the first dawn of faith (or a dramatic renewal of faith.)
The second day represents the mourning for sin and sorrows, with the
waters of sorrow in the world, now seen as separated from God; that
is why, he argues, the second day is not described as good. The
third day reflects the church and good works in the church; the church
rising up from the sorrows of this world as the earth from the seas,
and the fruits of the earth symbolize good works done for God.
The fourth day, with its ordering and stars reflects the ordering of
the faith and the witness value of the saints to the worth; he considers
the order of the light to the doctrines and governance that give the
faith order and the moon and stars shining in the dark to the witness
of the holy ones to the world. The fifth day, with its fish and
birds, reflects the mystery of God shown through symbols to the world
(symbolized by the fish in the sea) and through sacraments to the faithful
(symbolized by birds, who connect heaven and earth.) The sixth
day, with the animals governed by man and woman, represents the order
of the world, with the animals symbolizing the passions and desires
that man is meant to have control over, and the image and likeness of
God that we are seeking. The rest of the seventh day shows forth
the rest with God that is our goal, and is sometimes experience in part
on this earth.
F. There is also a question
of whether the Trinity is revealed in Genesis 1. On the one hand,
the first verses refer to God creating through His Word and the Spirit
(or wind) moving over the face of the deep. And, in verse 26 refers
to God saying, "Let us make man in our image and likeness"; the
verbs likewise are in the plural. As the Jews first read Genesis
1, those terms would have been referring to God's Word and Spirit
as activities of God; and the use of the plural would have been a case
of the "royal we," as in the Pope or a monarch referring to himself
in the plural. However, God was apparently using language to set
up the later revelation of the Trinity. It is noteworthy that
the use of the plural in this account would be the only use of the "royal
we" in ancient Near Eastern literature.
III. Genesis 2 has another, more earthy creation account that emphasizes man as a combination of material and spirit, the primordial state as one of harmony, and the complimentarity of male and female at the beginning.
A. This creation
account describes the creation of man first, whom God makes from the
clay of the earth (representing our earthiness) and His breath (or spirit),
representing our divine calling. There is a refutation of either
the idea that we are really just material, or the idea that our souls
are merely imprisoned in the body. Body and soul are naturally
joined together from the beginning.
B. God creates an idyllic garden (paradise in Greek) with trees, including one that will give life and one that is tempting. Noteworthily, even the tempting tree of knowledge is created by God, for things become evil only when we put them to an evil use. The tree of life, meant plainly for man, contrasts with the branch of life in the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which Gilgimesh finds a plant that will give immortality, only to have it snatched away by a large snake. Man was created for life; death came because of sin.
1. The four rivers of this paradise are the Pishon, Gilon, the Tigris and the Euphrates.
as now, the Tigris and Euphrates are well known and the center of an
b. The second
river, Pishon, is associated with a land called Havilah, noted for gold
and precious stones. The river Gilon is a winding one, flowing
through Cush. The location of these rivers is unknown, and they
may have a more symbolic meaning reflecting prosperity and an idyllic
scene. Cf. Rev. 21:15-22:2. There are later references to
Havilah and Cush being descendents of the evil Ham, with Cush as the
father of Havilah and Nimrod, the first conqueror. See Gen.
10:7, 1 Chron. 1:9. Another Havilah was a descendant of the just
Shem. See Gen. 10:26-29; 1 Chron. 1:20-23. Cush could also refer
to Ethioia, see 2 Kings 19:9.
C. God gives Adam, whose name means simply "human," a wide variety of trees to eat from, representing God's desire that we be happy even on this earth. The ability to choose between all of the other trees is quite sufficient for freedom, for freedom is the ability to choose the good.
1. The prohibition
is only over one tree, which gives "knowledge of good and evil."
Knowledge in ancient Hebrew was not merely abstract knowledge, but personal
experience. God does not want us to experience evil, which will
bring death. See Wis. 1:13.
2. The question
arises about why God planted the tree if it would be tempting.
One answer is that God wanted to give the first humans a choice of whether
to trust Him or to go their own way.
3. Some theologians,
such as St. Gregory Naziazin, argue that God did want Adam and Eve to
know about good and evil in due time, but not too soon. If so,
that tree represents something that is good in itself, but not yet.
4. The tree of
life would be taken away after the Fall, but is now restored by the
Cross. Likewise, we can see the Eucharist as the fruit of this
new tree of life.
D. This second account expressly describes the first marriage of Adam and Eve at the beginning.
1. Adam needs
Eve, whose name means "mother," because he is alone.
It is noteworthy that he has God, the angels, and the animals, but that
is not enough. He needs one like himself. In a similar fashion,
we learn and express the love of God by love of one like ourselves.
2. Adam names the animals and presumably relates to Eve what God has told him. Eve brings Adam out of lonliness and teaches him how to love. There is a complimentarity of male and female here. Adam brings structure and order; naming things and receiving instructions is natural to him. He becomes a father later. Eve, by contrast, senses love first, and order later. She is named a mother in chapter 3, verse 20, before she even has children. Her maternal nature is there more naturally.
a. When the
animals are brought to Adam, he exercises rationality by understanding
the animals and giving them names. He does not create the distinctions;
God does. However, he does exercise authority over the animals
by understanding them and naming them. God does not command this
naming; we naturally seek to reason and understand; the freedom God
gives to Adam is shown by the anthropormorphic image of God waiting
to see what Adam would name them.
b. But this rationality is not enough. Adam must have one like and unlike himself. And so God brings him Eve as a helpmate. Adam also gives her a name (woman, or ishah) that is related to but distinct from the name he gives himself (man, or ish.) He has come to a greater understanding of himself precisely through knowing her.
this time, he is called simply Adam, which means a generic person.
Through understanding Eve, he becomes more specifically a man, in Hebrew
ish. Love makes a man more a man and a woman more a woman.
3. The first marriage is there at the beginning, ordering the rest of creation. God created only three institutions, marriage, the ancient country of Israel, and the Church. Humans created all other institutions, and can change their natures; but these three institutions are from God Himself, and immutable.