New Creation — The Story of Adam, Pt 2a (Genesis 1)

In this article series, I’m analysing the story of Adam through the lenze of a biblical-theological pattern. I broadly refer to this pattern as: chaos — new creation — covenant — unfaithfulness — exile. In Genesis 1, we see the clear transition from ‘chaos’ to ‘new creation’ and order, the first two stages in the story of Adam. As we go through the stories of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the people of Israel and, finally, Jesus, we will see how the pattern is enriched with many other themes, such as exodus and resurrection. But first, Adam.

Created Order and the Land

Genesis 1 is one of the most famous stories in the Bible — and also one of the most contested. In this article, I will not explicitly enter many debates, but my position will nevertheless be quite clear (see the conclusion). Two strands of thought are important.

Firstly, Genesis 1 describes how the basic elements of the created order as the Israelites knew it came into existence: Day and Night; Sky; Sea and Land, with the plants; the sun, moon, and stars; the birds and the fish; the land animals and, climactically, man. The creation of these things is cast into a literary shape that the Israelites were familiar with: a six-day work week with a final rest day.

Secondly, within that broader framework, Genesis 1 focuses on the transformation of ‘the land’, from lifeless uninhabitable in verse 2, to inhabitable and populated at the end of the story. This land, if we compare it with Genesis 2, accords broadly with the piece of land in which God plants the garden, puts Adam, and commands him to fill the surrounding land and thus extend the garden. These two broad notions are important to keep in mind.

The Patterns of Genesis 1

Now let’s dive into the details. After describing the initial chaos, the account proceeds in a very poetic and structured way. The six days are almost like refrains, with, in most cases, these six elements: [1]

  1. Announcement — “And God said,”
  2. Command — “Let …”
  3. Action — “And God …”
  4. Report — “And it was so.”
  5. Evaluation — “And God saw that it was good.”
  6. Temporal framework — “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.”

This pattern is more or less repeated every day, with due variations.

The Parallels

A parallelistic structure in content is discernible between days 1–4, 2–5, and 3–6: [2]

The parallelism between the days isn’t perfect in every detail, but that isn’t necessary in order to establish the clear literary pattern intended by the author. Broadly speaking, days 1–3 describe the ordering of creation, and days 4–6 the filling of creation. Thus, the six days describe, on the one hand, the origin of all things, and secondly, the transformation of the land from being formless and empty (1:2; cf. previous article) to ordered, inhabitable, and indeed inhabited: ‘Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them’ (2:1).

The Anomalies

Besides these parallels, there are also anomalies. On some points the days deviate from or add to the pattern:

  • On Day 1–3 God names what he creates, i.e. Day and Night, Sky, Land and Sea. On days 4–6, the ’naming’ is not mentioned by the author, but is, as I would argue, implicitly present. It is man that names the birds and the beasts of the field (Genesis 2:19–20) after they have been created. [3]
  • On Day 4, God mentions the purpose of the lights, namely to ‘serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years’ (1:14 NIV). Thus, the sun, moon, and stars are connected with the Jewish calendar, showing that this narrative was written by a person with a specific worldview, i.e. one that includes as praxis the Jewish feast days. The author wishes to convey that worldview to his readers. The stories (in this case the creation narrative) make sense of and reinforce the praxis (in this case the feast days). [4]
  • On Day 5, God does something extra: he blesses the birds and fish and commands them to ‘be fruitful’, ‘multiply’, and ‘fill’ the skies and the seas. This seems to imply, firstly, that he didn’t create a whole lot of them (maybe such an amount as went into the Ark?); secondly, that God presumably put them in the garden along with man, and that, just like man, they were to spread from that garden to the surrounding land.
  • Day 6 is a way longer description than the other days. This builds up the climax to the creation of man. God doesn’t create one but two things: land animals and man. The author describes man as created in God’s image, and as the rulers over creation (to be precise, co-regents with God). God also blesses man. If we compare this blessing with the blessing of Day 5, we note that both birds, fish, and man are commanded to ‘be fruitful’, ‘multiply’, and ‘fill’ the land, but that man is also commanded to ‘subdue’ and ‘have dominion’ over the land. [5] This points to the special status of mankind over creation, and the commission of mankind, which I will return to in a later article.

Conclusion

We all have read or heard Genesis 1 probably dozens of times. It’s important to use the right categories when studying such an ancient text. The author was not writing down God’s creation acts as ‘objective’, empirical ‘facts’, nor was he primarily concerned with exact chronology [6] or detailed physics; he was, after all, not a post-Enlightenment writer. The author, as a Jew living somewhere around the fifteenth century B.C., was concerned with:

  • Theology — The story of creation describes Yahweh, the god of the Israelites, as the supreme and sovereign God, the creator and sustainer of everything, who is committed to mankind and the world.
  • Literature — The story of creation describes new creation out of chaos, and the origins of the ‘land’ in which God would plant the garden, put Adam and commission him. Many features of this story would return in the story of Israel.
  • History — The story of creation describes real events. Yahweh really did create everything. The story is not pure imagination; it is grounded in reality.

In other words, the author was writing about events that really happened, and invested those events with theological meaning, while casting into a sophisticated literary form (see N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, for these categories). These three fields cannot be separated, but together form an intricate reading of the text, in which we do not impose our modern worldview on the text but do justice to the authorial intent. That is, after all, what we’re after.

Endnotes

[1] This is based on Wellum and Gentry, Kingdom through Covenant, 217.

[2] For a more extensive comparison:

[3] Possibly man was also to name the planets. Someone could say, ’But on Day 4 and 5 man wasn’t even created yet!’ For that, see my conclusion and note [6].

[4] The creation of the sun on Day 4 precludes, as I see it, the ‘literal’ reading of the days in Genesis 1. Saying that the first three days were 24-hour solar days is guesswork. Also, the existence of ‘plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit’ without the sun is questionable — from a modern scientific, ‘literal’ reading. If we let go of the notion of reading ‘literally’ and seek the authorial intent (which in no way is always literal), these problems dissolve.

[5] In a future article, I will describe in more detail the meaning of the ‘image of God’.

[6] E.g., in Genesis 2, man is created first (v.7), then the garden and the trees (v.8–9), and afterward ‘every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens’ (v.19). Either Genesis 2 is a thematic, i.e. non-chronological account of creation (but that would also undermine a ‘literal’ reading of Genesis 1, for why isn’t that ‘thematic’?). Or, more likely, the author was in both cases not writing down ‘objective’, empirical ‘facts’, but making the same theological points in two different literary forms, while still, obviously, grounded in history. There is no such thing as ‘objective’ history. Cf. Wright, NTPG.

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