This post begins my 3 post series examining some of the “controversial” ideas related to interpreting Genesis. I have chosen these topics because they challenge the traditional Evangelical surface reading of Genesis. What I call a “surface reading” is generally referred to as a “literal” interpretation. However, “literal” can technically include the use of literary devices such as metaphors and hyperbole. In that sense, we will still consider the following posts as a literal interpretation, but not a surface reading interpretation. To give credit where credit is due, many of these ideas stem from the works of John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. His “Lost World” series is a great foray into understanding biblical interpretation in light of modern discoveries related to the ancient world. Since the following posts are the result of “The Lost World of the Flood,” here is a link if you’d like to get a copy yourself. Are you ready to “Expand Your Mind Through the Power of Words” with controversial topics?
Genesis 2 is a sequence to Genesis 1, not an expansion of day 6 (Biblical Consistency)
When most of us who have been immersed in Evangelical and traditional Christian culture read Genesis, we see the creation of the world in seven days. Day six being the day that earth dwelling creatures and humanity are created. Then God rests on the seventh day. (For more on the 7 day creation’s meaning, read here). Then we get to Genesis 2. Shortly into the chapter, we see God creating Man and Woman, after he had just created them in chapter 1. Why are there two creation accounts for humanity? The traditional evangelical answer to this is Genesis 2 is an expanded telling of the day 6 account in Genesis 1. Reading it like this, we are saying Genesis 2 is pausing in the progressing storyline and stepping back in a kind of in media res style and unpacking day six a bit more. But there’s just one problem with that–it isn’t done anywhere else in Genesis. Sure there are narration disruptions, but nothing that expands a past event. To read Genesis 2 as such betrays the characteristics of the entire book, thus meaning we are importing an interpretation just to prove our already formed conclusions.
They way to read Genesis 1 and 2 more inline with the format of Genesis is to view chapter 2 as a chronological succession to Genesis 1. Just that small tweak lays the groundwork for the second point below. That groundwork is: it is possible to now read Genesis 1 & 2 and come away with the idea that God created all mankind in Genesis 1, not just Adam and Eve. So when we get to Genesis 2, the formation of Adam and Eve is more related to their appointed role in God’s Holy of Holies, the Garden than it is to the their role as the first parents.
Appointing Adam and Eve in the Garden would then mean humanity lived outside the garden, and God selected (a.k.a. preordained) Adam and Eve to act as both humanity’s representatives to God and as God’s intermediary to humanity.–Much like the same way Jesus, as the second Adam and the eternal high priest does now. Let’s expand that in the point(s) below.
Adam and Eve’s Archetypal Role Doesn’t Require Being First
For centuries the idea that Adam and Eve were literally the first persons on earth has been ingrained in the Western Mind. But Genesis doesn’t demand that be the case. Why? Because in the ancient Israelite world, primacy didn’t necessarily require being the sequential first. Judah ended up being the Pater Familias of Jacob’s sons, even though he was fourth-born. Joseph received a firstborn portion, even though he was one of the last of Jacob’s children. Jacob was given the firstborn blessing over Esau. Nothing in the Genesis narrative required the first to be the most prominent. The same likely applies here. Adam and Eve’s primacy was more related to their ordained role than to their birth order in the creation of humanity.
John Walton makes a great point in “The Lost World of Adam and Eve.” In it he says that Adam and Eve play an archetypal role for humanity. An archetype is “the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies.” They would serve as representatives for all of humanity, even those already in existence. Adam and Eve’s role as an archetype is shown in the way Paul treats Adam and Jesus in his letters. Adam’s sin affected the rest of humanity and brought death. His actions in Genesis set the pattern for humanity. Therefore, Adam was an archetype to all of humanity. Likewise, Jesus, as the second Adam plays the role of archetype. He comes on the same representative level as Adam. By doing so, Jesus is able to overturn the effects of the first archetype. With Adam and Eve serving as archetypes to humanity, they are placed in special relationship to God. They are the ones who walk in the presence of God in his Holy Place, the Garden of Eden. Since they are in the garden, the ancient imagery lets us know they have yet another role to play.
Adam and Eve’s Duties in the Garden Makes Them Priestly
I must admit, this third point is relatively new to me, yet makes perfect sense. If Adam and Eve were given tasks in the Garden of Eden, it wasn’t just a place of leisurely living. It was, as with all things God calls people to, a sacred task. Imagery from the Ancient Near East has given us a solid idea of the importance of Gardens. Most royal houses and holy temples had a garden adjoining it. This was for the king of deity to enjoy. In terms of temple gardens, priests would be selected to tend the grounds. Even grooming a tree or bush was considered a holy act of worship. Given what we know of Gardens in the ancient times in which Genesis was written, this is the foremost meaning of Adam and Eve’s placement. They were to serve as priests between God and the rest of humanity by their appointment to garden duties. The reason we don’t see other humans in the narrative at this point isn’t because they weren’t there. It is because only Adam and Eve had access to the holy garden with the purpose of cultivating it for God.
It is very likely Adam and Eve were not the first (or only) humans created on the sixth day. They were created, along with other humans in the image of God with the reproductive system designed to make all born humans bear God’s image. Adam and Eve were called out of humanity for a couple reasons: to serve a priestly role in cultivating God’s holy garden and to serve as representatives of all humanity before God. This is significant for two reasons: one historical, one theological.
The historical importance of the Adam and Eve account is that it matched the familiar patterns found throughout ancient Israelite literature and other ancient Near Eastern literature. A primordial couple being an archetype for all of humanity is completely in line with the culture and worldview of the time. So God used something familiar to the audience of Genesis to reveal a deep truth about their origins and their relationship to Him.
The theological importance of the Adam and Eve account is that it further ties their role to that of Jesus in Pauline literature and in Hebrews. We see Paul referring to the first Adam in an archetypal way, then compares him to Jesus as the second Adam on the same archetypal level. Adam’s deeds determined the fate of all of humanity. Jesus’ deeds reversed that fate on the same level. In that sense, Adam and Jesus serve as representatives to all of humanity. On another level, Adam’s role in the garden puts him in a priestly role. As a priest, he works as an intermediary between God and humanity. Whenever he left the garden (no prohibition on leaving the garden) and interacted with others, he could share what he experienced with God. Likewise, he could talk with God about the goings on of humanity.
Since Adam acts as both a representative for humanity and as an intermediary between God and humanity, he mirrors more exactly what Jesus does. They were both priests standing before God for the benefit of all of humanity. They both had the power to affect the fate of humanity as a whole. Adam was an archetype and a priest. Jesus is an archetype and a priest.
In the end, these are 3 Reasons Genesis Doesn’t Demand Adam and Eve Be the First Humans.
I hope this post helped you
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