Why are there two creation narratives in Genesis? Which one is correct?
In the beginning, God said let there be. Within a fraction of a moment, mass filled the void and in an infinite expansion, our universe began to grow and take shape. Within the mess of tangled atoms, a perfect environment began to form; the exact distance from a star to produce adequate warmth, and with just the right amount of oxygen, hydrogen, and water. As it began to take shape, from the dirt living beings were fashioned. Beasts, birds, fish, and people all began to crawl up from the earth.
The Genesis narrative shows us a beautiful allegory of how mankind came to be. It eloquently depicts scientific theories disguised as history and poetically, it falls in line with many of our modern insights into creation. But aside from all of that, it does one more thing exceedingly well: it shows mankind just how easy it is to set us off course. And if there is any merit to the story then we have been struggling to make our way back to what we were created for since the first humans ever walked the surface of this big blue marble.
Sin, the product of human disobedience against God, was introduced the moment Adam and Eve decided they wanted to know more. God was holding out on them and just like the best gossipers and scholars among us even to this day, knowledge took precedence over relationship. As we know, knowledge is power but with power comes great responsibility and the responsibility we took on that fateful day was the responsibility to govern ourselves.
They say ignorance is bliss, but if knowing is half the battle then with the words of the serpent humanity drew its sword for the very first time. Because sometimes, the more you know, the more you feel the need to fight for what you’ve learned – even if what we believe isn’t the whole truth after all. A half-truth is a whole lie, but is it lying if we don’t know what we don’t know?
So here is your warning: Today we are delving into a story that’s as much true as it is false, has much evil as it has good, and is as redemptive as it is damning. This is a tale of half-truths, whole lies, and requires a lot of reading between the lines. It has been molded through the years by kings, bishops, popes, pastors, and reformers time and time again. It’s been misunderstood, mistranslated, and has been taken as far out of context as one could take such a simple, yet intricate piece of scripture. Why? Because we are still subject to the same desire that seduced the minds of the first fruits of creation that day in the garden: we still have that same desire to not be left out in the dark, that same desire for enlightenment, that same desire to know.
If you flip open a bible and turn to the first page of the first book of the Old Testament, the first thing you will come to is an artistic depiction of God’s creative process as he brought forth life to fill the land, air, and sea. As you progress to the end of chapter one, you will find the creation of humanity.
Now, I want to take a second and pause. Genesis gives us two creation narratives to observe. We have this one we are visiting in chapter one, and we have an expounded version introduced in chapter two that we will get to in just a bit. But what makes this so interesting is how similar and yet different both of these accounts are. Give me just a second and you’ll see what I mean.
Genesis 1:26 introduces us to a plural Godlike council of creators who are looking down at the earth and unanimously decide that they are going to create a civilization of people in their image. The earth was good, but it needed a keeper, a shepherd if you will. So the council of divine beings, trinity, or God speaking in the third person if that makes you feel more comfortable begins creating humanity, both male and female to rule over the face of the earth. He gave them a command to be fruitful and multiply, told them that every tree, plant, and creature that had the breath of life was theirs, and then kicked back to relax as the seventh day drew nigh.
A few verses down we find our second narrative of the Genesis tale. This is the one we are all too familiar with. This is the one where God creates man from dirt and blows air up his nostrils to bring him to life like a balloon animal. Then he declares man is unfit to live alone so He creates for man a “helper” out of his rib. Soon after, they go gallivanting off to throw down on an apple with the help of a cunning snake to screw humanity over forever. Yea… That’s what it says, right?
Most of the time this is where the story of Adam and Eve begins to settle in laying the groundwork for the rest of the Bible. We love to look at this story and view it through the eyes of literal interpretation but there is just so much here to unpack. From cultural references and misinterpretations to elaborative additions and incorrectly assumed false doctrines, the tale of humanity’s birth has as many lies intertwined as it does truths. So, in the spirit of learning, let’s get digging.
First, let’s address some of these commonly accepted views of these scriptures that are completely bogus so sorry in advance if I step on your toes:
Let’s start with this: Genesis one speaks clearly of how man and women were created at the same time. It portrays them as equal, opposite halves of the same overall being. Both man and woman were part of the collective humanity. Woman was not created as a helper, servant, or lesser than being. She was created as an equal part of a singular society. Both male and female are created in the image of God. Early Abrahamic influence on this story took its tole and catered toward a more masculine God but God created both halves of humanity in His image that way together, they could offer a more complete picture of Him. God is feminine and masculine, just as is His creation. Still with me? Okay, then we will keep going.
Next, let’s look at the creation of Eve. The word we commonly read as “rib” is the Hebrew word, Tsêlâ (tsay-law). This word is used around 40 times in the Old Testament but it is only ever supposedly used as the word, “rib” in this story. More than likely it is referring to the idea that eve came from the side of Adam. This is not speaking of a literal rib per se, but almost more of a duplication of him, similar to how cells divide. It is used as a metaphor explaining how the feminine was separated from the masculine and created two unique beings.
While we are on the subject feminine, I want to bring to light something that is a personal pet peeve of mine. Eve did not commit the first sin. Both Adam and Eve shared in this sin together. Now, whether you take the story as literal or metaphorical is beside the point but both parties were equally responsible for disobeying God. Eve did not have to persuade Adam. Adam was present during this whole exchange. Now Sure, Eve may have been doing the one talking but even if the Bible is 100% literal and she was made as a helper, we all know the buck doesn’t fall on a secretary or an assistant, it falls on the one in charge. So if man really did rule woman, he was ultimately responsible anyways.
But despite the patriarchal influences portrayed, this still doesn’t matter because Adam witnessed and eagerly partook of the fruit before going off to blame Eve for his downfall. He had taken in all the serpent’s schemes and accepted them in his heart as fact before he ever willingly took the fruit.
Next, let’s talk about the serpent. I think it’s safe to say that just about every Christian at some point or another has been taught that the serpent was the big, bad satan himself walking around just waiting to strike. We typically get that based on the depiction of Satan as a great dragon or serpent in Revelation 12 which portrays Satan being tossed to earth at a much later date then Genesis chapter 2. So most likely, the serpent was, in fact, a depiction of cunningness – much like an actual serpent portrays. Serpents were historically used as the symbol for life and divination. This makes sense when we think about what the serpent said to those first two people in the garden that day and how he promised them they would have knowledge like God Himself and would live forever.
That leads us to the tree. Genesis speaks of two trees in the midst of the garden, one of which was commanded not to be consumed. The names of these trees are “The tree of knowledge” and “The tree of life”. Adam and Eve were free to eat from any tree they desired, even the tree of life itself, but they were not to touch the tree of knowledge lest they learn what they truly were.
As I said in the intro of this episode, knowledge is power. But knowing means taking responsibility for one’s actions. That is why I find the metaphor of the tree of knowledge and the tree of life so compelling. With one you may eat, you may live, and you have not a worry in the world. But God, knowing all and creating us in His image would have known that we would desire more. Who among us would prefer ignorance and happiness over knowing despite having to deal with the consequences that knowledge brings? Any church gossip circle could attest to that!
Just as there are numerous false beliefs surrounding the creation narrative, there are just as many discrepancies between the two chapters that depict these initial events. Our typical teaching methods would say that chapter one is simply an overview and that it just goes on to explain in detail later. While I agree with that in part, there is one major flaw to this idea: It seems as if most of what we read after chapter one was added at a later date to create a more cohesive foundation for the rest of Genesis.
For instance, in Genesis one, God creates man and woman together, at the same time. Obviously, this isn’t the case in chapter two. Chapter one, verse 29 says that God has given us every tree to be used as food and yet we know in chapter two it prohibits one. And how could every living thing have the breath of life if God gave the breath of life to humanity alone?
These discrepancies have led to a couple of different opinions on what exactly is taking place on these first two pages. One theory was just mentioned: the idea that one is simply an overview of the other. Another idea is that the second chapter is an expansion written by a separate author at a later date. And one final theory is that chapter one depicts a race of people before Adam and Eve. That there were humans before our Bible was written and these two were not just the first of our kind but the last of another. This plays well into loop theory: the idea that the Bible is a circle and it ends just as it starts, at least metaphorically speaking. I have also heard this idea of an earlier human race used from certain clergy as an explanation for demons. If you are interested in that topic, we discussed it in more detail in a previous episode.
Then we have the influence from earlier Babylonian stories like the Enuma Elish and the Sumerian tales of the goddess, Ninhursag and her garden of Edinu. Even Israel herself has conflicting past views of this same narrative. When we read through the tellings of creation in Genesis, we are reading through a Logos telling of the passage. This is the belief that God spoke everything into existence. But Israel had another common creation story known as the Agon.
The Agon is a depiction of the mighty Jehovah having to battle against the monsters of the sea to mark His sovereignty and might. By vanquishing the water deities He secured a place for His creation to exist. And we can find examples of this very idea in our bible, specifically in Psalm 74 and Isaiah 51:9-11 which reads “Awake, awake, arm of the Lord, clothe yourself with strength Awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through? 10 Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?” Maybe our traditional views aren’t as concrete as we thought?
The moment we took a bite out of the forbidden fruit we became, at least in some sense, like God; knowing what power we hold. But with that action, we also claimed our independence from the Devine. This poses an interesting perspective though. If God created humanity in His image, could that image be complete without humanity realizing the divinity they were created in? How could we ever grow to be all we were created to be without first having to face ourselves? Was sin ever not the option? Or was it God’s plan all along.
A created being has been created in an atmosphere where they can make a mistake. There are predetermined laws and rules already established before their existence. But the creator creates the rules as he goes. He cannot sin because of whatever choice he makes, it is the correct choice. There is no right or wrong, there is only decision. So what if creation was given an option so a creator could experience those principles he put in place? What if a sinless God gave man a choice to experience what it would be like to fall and to rise back up in restoration so He Himself could experience what it would be like to sin and to be restored. Think about it: without us, there would be know way for a creator to understand such things. Maybe God lives vicariously through us?
The Genesis account of creation is a stunning depiction of God, existence, and moral conviction. It gives us some of the deepest esoteric truths mankind has discovered all while being wrapped up in a shell that we can tell as a Sunday sermon, a podcast like this one, or even in a picture book to our children. It’s timeless and infinite, compelling in its principles and expounding in truth, yet it is so often twisted to sound perfect to appease our western minds rooted in perfection. But by forcing this story to fit our linear narrative, we rob it of its spiritual depth.
So my challenge for you, and my reason for creating this episode and ultimately this show is this: Take a second to allow your mind to wander a bit further past the way you’ve always read the story. While I am sure the ways you believe contain many truths, that doesn’t mean they are the only lessons one can learn. Sometimes all you need is a different angle to view from.
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