The Creation Narrative - Genesis 1 & 2 (Part 8)


Read the series so far.

A Thematic Account

The second chapter of Genesis is clearly somewhat different than the first. But it was not intended to be another variant account of it. It follows up on the second half of Day Six and the creation of humanity, and throws theological light on it. It is not as concerned with chronology as the previous chapter. So Genesis 2 is not, as the more liberal scholars think, another creation story. It is a thematic zeroing in on the creation of Adam and Eve.

It is possible that the making of trees in the Garden occurred separately from Day Three, and was witnessed by Adam. But such speculation need not detain us. I am happy to follow Sailhamer, who comments,

It is important to read chapter 2 as an integral part of the first chapter…. It seems apparent that the author intends the second chapter to be read closely with the first and that each chapter be identified as part of the same event…we may expect to find in chapter 2 a continuation of the theme of the “likeness” between humankind and the Creator.1

The chapter introduces the theme of the completion of God’s creative work. The zenith is reached in the second half of the sixth day with the creation of God’s image-bearers (Gen.1:26f.). The focus in chapter 2 is switched to the seventh day, the cessation (shabbat) of the creative work and the hallowing of that day. Discussions about whether the seventh day (which does not include the evening and morning formula of the other days), is twenty-four hours long, or is open-ended is not likely to be resolved since it is often theologically tethered. If the seventh day is ongoing then we are still living within it. But it is difficult to view the history of the world as “hallowed” and separated to God as the open-ended view requires. Paul talks about the world as “this present evil age” in Galatians 1. This abounding evil epitomizes what some would want to label “the seventh day.” This seems to me at least to run counter to every meaningful conception of “sanctified.” If, however, the Sabbath observance in the Mosaic Law is viewed as a reminder of Creation in correspondence to the literal seventh day, as well as a sign for Israel (Exod. 31:16-17), the question of the contamination of the day does not arise.

Too, the stoppage of creative activity was not the end of God’s activity. God’s activity changed from that of Creator-at-work to Provider and Governor over Creation. So the completion of God’s handiwork in the first six days forms the prelude to the whole Creation Project itself, which includes humanity as vice-regent within a world held in providential care by the Lord of history: teleology and eschatology get underway in the atmosphere of providence. Hence, as Exodus 20:11 appears to indicate, the seventh day was the day when God looked with pleasure upon His works before shifting into His role as Upholder of the world.2

Man in Eden

The fourth verse of the second chapter introduces the reader to the special scene of man’s creation and placement in the garden of delight (“Eden” means “delight”). Please note the enclosed garden is “in Eden”, and since Eden means delight it would be a strange interpretation to teach that things outside the garden were not delightful!

The phrase “when they were created” is perhaps further evidence for thinking that the seventh day is over and we are now entering into providentialist history. Verse 5 tells us that “there was no man to till the ground.” This indicates two things: that there is an intimate connection between humanity and the ground from which he is made. God in Creation had man in view: man and his relation to his environment. The “tilling” of the ground, then, is not a dark adumbration of what was to come in 3:23.3 In the second place, this knocks out any special pleading for the evolution of man. Man was created to work the ground, even in his innocent state. The connection is intentional and is original.

The creation of man in verse 7 is described as a twofold affair. First God constructed Adam’s body from the soil. Then He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. One should not read more into these words than is there, but it does appear that these actions; especially the note about the impartation of “life” (chayyim) through breath (nephesh), is intended to set us off from the animals.4 Still, human beings are interesting creatures:

What a combination he is of grandeur and dignity (made in God’s image) and lowliness (formed of common dirt).5

This “life” which was breathed into man denotes the “inward man” or “soul.”6 Mind/body dualism (of a particular kind) is a fundamental Bible teaching. There are plainly two actions in the verse which correspond to this doctrine.

The placing of man into the garden (2:8) again shores up the idea that everything has been carefully arranged so that the Creation Project might go ahead. The formation of trees which were both “pleasing to the sight and good for food” (2:9), plus the inclusion of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, were part of the project. Aesthetic and beneficial were God’s provisions. God has made us to appreciate beauty and simple order, and made enjoyment a central feature of our existence. Even the forbidden tree could have been enjoyed so long as its fruit was not eaten.

Before continuing I think I ought to point out that the following pages will include discussions of several new interpretations which have arisen, especially in the Reformed community. These interpretations are often loaded with theological assumptions which loom large in the ongoing task of reading the Bible.


1 John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative, 97.

2 See Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing, 113-114. “The word actually means ‘cease,’ more than ‘rest’ as understood today…it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion.”

3 Contra Sailhamer, 97.

4 Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:39

5 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol.1, 11

6 Contra Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology, 144, who, while citing Pss. 84:2 and 7:2, writes, “In the OT nepes cannot be separated from the rest of the person, including the body…. Thus nepes is not something human beings possess, it is what they are.” But this is reductionistic. The fact is that nephesh is employed in different ways in the OT; sometimes for man’s inner “life” and sometimes for his whole being.