Genesis 1-11: Fact or fiction?
Doublespeak is saying one thing and meaning another, usually its opposite. In 1984 when Big Brother and the Party say “peace” they mean “war”, when they say “love” they mean “hate”, and when they say “freedom” they mean “slavery”. And today “tolerance” can mean “intolerance”. Doublespeak deliberately obscures, distorts, disguises, or reverses the meaning of words to manipulate public opinion. It’s used in advertising and politics. Is the beginning of the Bible a type of doublespeak where words don’t have their usual meaning?
The Bible is a library of 66 books that were written over a period of more than 1,500 years by many different authors. It was written to be understood by ordinary people, so it shouldn’t be difficult to interpret. Fathers were to teach it to their children (Dt. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Timothy knew it from infancy (2 Tim 3:15). And the Bereans were commended for checking Paul’s teaching against the Old Testament (Acts 17:11).
The original aim of this post was to examine the literary genre of Genesis 1-11. But then I realized that such studies are often a means to say that this portion of the Bible doesn’t mean what it seems to say. But there is no direct correspondence between genre and whether the content is fact or fiction. For example, God’s spectacular victory over the Egyptian army is described in prose (Ex. 14:23-31) and then in song (Ex. 15:1-12, 21). In this case, prose and poetry are both based on historical fact. Likewise, Christian hymns and songs are often based on Scripture. In this case poetry is based on the facts in Scripture. So, although poetry and prose are different genres (styles), the genre doesn’t indicate whether their content is factual or not. Poetry can be factual, and prose can be figurative. Nevertheless, I will look at the genre first.
Just as there are different types of painting (landscape, still life, and portrait), there are different types of literary works. Literature can be divided into poetry, drama, and prose. And prose can be fiction or non-fiction. The Bible is comprised of several types of literature.
Accurate exegesis and interpretation (understanding) takes into consideration the purpose and style of a given book or passage of Scripture. In addition, some verses are meant figuratively, and proper discernment of these is enhanced by an understanding of literary genre (category, type or classification). An inability to identify literary genre can lead to serious misunderstanding of Scripture. The main literary genres found in the Bible are: law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, prophecy and apocalypse, and letters (see Appendix A).
Genesis is the first book in the Bible. As it describes the background to the rest of the Bible, it’s the foundational book of the bible. Some claim that the early chapters of Genesis are more poetic and theological than factual by suggesting it’s an epic myth, exalted prose, semi-poetic, or a defence of monotheism. In this post, we will evaluate this claim.
The purpose of Genesis
The book of Genesis is summarized in Appendix B. The Bible says that this book was produced by Moses (Lk. 24:27, 44). As the events recorded in Genesis occurred before his lifetime, presumably he compiled and edited its content. He did this during the Israelites journey to the Promised Land. So, the book was written for the Israelites and the context is the exodus. The content of Genesis indicates the information they needed to know and the questions that they were asking. These included:
Why are we (Israel) traveling to the promised land?
Why were we (Israel) living in Egypt?
Why do we (Israel) have 12 tribes?
Why do we (Israel) practice male circumcision?
What was our (Israel’s) special relationship with God?
Who were our (Israel’s) ancestors and where did they live?
The history of our nation (Israel).
The origin of our nation (Israel).
The promises given to Abraham.
Where did the patriarchs come from?
The origin of nations and languages.
God protects the godly and judges the ungodly.
Why is humanity now in an alienated relationship with God?
The prevalence of evil.
The origin of evil.
The origin of marriage.
The origin of humanity.
The origin of animal and plant life.
The origin of the earth.
The origin of the universe.
God’s immense power.
Moses was selective in the material that he used. He “spoke from God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:21NIV). Moses documented enough information to answer their main questions without going into detail. So, Genesis describes the main features of the past, in order to help the Israelites understand their present circumstances.
Looking at the main genres found in the Bible (see Appendix A), it’s clear that the one most suitable for addressing these topics is “history”. To investigate whether Moses used this genre, we will look at the literary genre of Genesis 1-11 in particular.
Is it figurative language?
Figurative language is language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the most literal interpretation. Figurative language uses exaggerations or alterations to make a linguistic point. It is very common in poetry, but is also used in prose and nonfiction writing.
Metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and symbolism are examples of figurative language. But there are many others like alliteration, onomatopoeia, oxymorons, puns, synecdoche, metonymy, irony, and idioms.
There is chiasmus in Genesis 1-11 (Gen. 2:4; 9:6; 6:1 – 9:19; 11:1-9). This is a figure of speech in which two or more phrases are presented, then presented again in reverse order to make a larger point. Chiasmus was particularly popular in the literature of the ancient world, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, where it was used to articulate the balance of order within the text. The chiastic structure makes narrative easy to remember, which is very important for a largely oral culture. Chiasmus presents facts in a particular order, but it doesn’t indicate fiction. Biblical scholars have identified many chiasms throughout the Bible. For example, Genesis 17:1-24 is a chiasmus in the life of Abraham.
Some claim that there is number symbolism in Genesis 1 (see Appendix C). But this is a weak argument for saying that this Bible passage is symbolic rather than factual. And it doesn’t change the meaning of the Hebrew words from their usual meaning. And like chiasmus, this doesn’t make the language figurative. Instead it shows that it was written to be easily remembered and passed on aurally.
In other post, I have shown that the framework hypothesis method of interpreting Genesis 1 is questionable and not robust. This assumes that the days of creation are figurative categories that were chosen for literary or thematic reasons and that many of the words in this chapter don’t mean what they seem to mean. This interpretation is unnecessarily complicated and extrabiblical.
As it’s not figurative language, maybe Genesis 1-11 is poetic?
Is it poetry?
The main characteristic of Hebrew poetry is parallelism where the statements in two or more consecutive lines are related in some way. Scholars have identified various types of Hebrew parallelism, such as: synonymous (repetition of the same thought), contrastive (contrast with an opposite thought), and developmental (building on a thought).
However, parallelism is absent from Genesis 1-11 except for 1:27; 2:23; and 4:23-24. If Genesis is poetic, it would use parallelism throughout like the book of Psalms. But Genesis doesn’t look like Psalms. For a poetic account of creation see Psalm 104.
Some claim that the number symbolism in Genesis 1 means that it is poetic (Appendix C). They infer this from a comparison with ancient non-biblical accounts. But this is poor exegesis. The best exegesis uses the immediate context and so should be based on Genesis and the other books of Moses. We will use this approach. And we will use the views of other biblical characters, rather than the views of current scholars who are separated from these events by thousands of years. This shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred.
There is repetition in Genesis 1-11 (see Appendix D), but it’s not parallelism or poetic. There are many other examples of this in the Old Testament (see Appendix E).
Just because a passage is poetic doesn’t mean that it’s fiction. Poetry is merely a literary form. On its own, it has nothing to do with whether the content is fact or fiction. It may or may not reflect a historical background. Many poetic portions of scripture relate to genuine history (Num. 24; Ps. 148; 1 Tim. 3:16b). And these are acknowledged as being divine in origin and authoritative in force (Ps. 82:6; Jn. 10:34).
As it’s not figurative language or poetry, maybe it’s parables?
Is it allegories or parables?
Parables are usually introduced with a simile or a statement indicating that they are a figure of speech. As neither of these are present in Genesis 1-11, there is no evidence of any parables. The prophet Nathan told a parable to King David (2 Sam. 12:1-7). The historical facts about David, Uriah and Bathsheba are clearly stated, and it is also clear that the parable was fictional. And the intention of Nathan in telling the story is clear, as is the intention of the writer of 2 Samuel in recording this historical event. But there are no indicators in scripture that any of Genesis 1-11 is a parable.
An allegory is a story in which the characters and/or events are symbols representing other events, ideas, or people. Paul interprets the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah as an allegory for the Old and New Covenants (Gal. 4:22-26). Here, Paul takes actual, historical people from Genesis (Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah) and uses them as symbols in a lesson for Christians. He explains for the reader, “These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants” (v.24). Likewise, Paul refers to “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). Here he implies similarity between two historical characters. The evidence of scripture shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred. They are not allegories.
As it’s not figurative language, poetry or parables, maybe it’s a historical novel?
Is it a historical novel?
Historical novels are fictional stories that are based on historical characters or historical settings. The beliefs of the authors of the other books of the Bible show that the characters and settings in Genesis 1-11 are fact, not fiction. The evidence of scripture shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred. They are not a historical novel.
As it’s not figurative language, poetry, parables or a historical novel, maybe it’s a myth?
Is it a myth?
A myth is a mixture of fact and fiction that may have a moral lesson. Some believe that the biblical account of the seven days of creation (Genesis 1:1–2:3) was an abbreviated Hebrew version of a more ancient Babylonian tale. The ancient Babylonian creation myth Enūma Eliš is a poem that explains the origin of gods and people. But the gods are mortal, violent and frail, and nothing like the supreme Creator God of Genesis. It’s a song in praise of Marduk, their greatest god. Genesis 1 is about the creation, while Enūma Eliš is more about the creator. Genesis 1 is a tightly structured narrative, while Enūma Eliš, is a dramatic narrative poem.
The main problem with the mythical approach is that it confuses historical issues and literary genre. If we leave aside the question of whether the miracle stories in the Bible (including creation) are fact or fiction, the whole question of whether these stories are myths becomes extremely easy to answer. The biblical narratives are not myths because they do not possess a mythical literary form. They are straightforward and use the language of ordinary events. The biblical stories take for granted the world as we tend to experience it.
Is Genesis 1 merely an argument against pagan myths? A myth is a story blending fact and fiction that serves as a vehicle to convey truth. But if this was the case how does one decide which part is fact and which part is fiction? Does it teach us not to worship the sun but the God who made the sun? Pagans don’t just worship the physical object, but a god behind it (1 Cor. 10:19-20). The Bible does contain arguments against pagan gods (Ps. 74:13-15; Isa. 37:18-20; 45:12-20). They emphasize God’s strength and the weakness of idols. But Genesis 1 is nothing like this. Instead the pagan myths are probably derived from the original account which was passed down to Moses. The early chapters of Genesis were edited from ancient sources that pre-date the pagan ones. Normally borrowing embellishes history into a fanciful legend. In the ancient Near East, simple accounts may lead to elaborate legends, but not vice-versa. So, the simple Hebrew account of creation can lead to the embellished Babylonian creation legend, but not vice-versa.
Some scholars believe that there are three creation stories in the Bible. These are Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and a myth of the primordial battle between God and the forces of chaos known as Leviathan (Ps. 74), Rahab (Ps. 89) or the monster of the sea (Isa. 27). But this is incorrect. The introduction in Genesis 2:4 to the second section of Genesis states that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is an account of the creation of the universe. Recapitulation was widely practiced in ancient Semitic literature. It this case a broad summary is followed by a detailed account of matters of special importance. Genesis 2:5-25 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation (Gen. 1:26-30). So the difference in styles between Genesis 1 and 2 is due to the different subject matter. Leviathan, Rahab and the monster of the sea are symbols of the power of Egypt (Ps. 74:13-14; 89:10; Isa. 27:1). Such scholars interpret this figurative language to be narrative, while they interpret the narrative in early Genesis to be figurative! This demonstrates how presuppositions can influence one’s interpretation of Scripture!
The Bible specifically warns Christians against believing myths. The Apostle Paul says: “As I urged you … stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths … ’ (1 Tim. 1:3–4NIV).
“Have nothing to do with godless myths …” (1 Tim. 4:7).
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of (false) teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
“Therefore rebuke them (false teachers) sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (Titus 1:13-14).
The Apostle Peter says: “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power” (2 Pt. 1:16).
As it’s not figurative language, poetry, parables, a historical novel or a myth, maybe it’s a biography or autobiography?
Is it a biography or autobiography?
Genesis can be divided into sections which begin with the Hebrew word for generations or descendants (see Appendix F). It’s interesting to note the same pattern is evident in Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-36. So there is no evidence of a change of genre within the book of Genesis.
The Bible says that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Ex. 17:14; 4;4; 34:27; Num. 33:2; Dt. 31:9, 24; Mk. 10:3; Lk. 24:27; Jn. 1:17). And Jesus referred to it as “the law of Moses” (Lk. 24:44; 1 Cor. 9:9), “the book of Moses (Mk. 12:26), and simply “Moses” (Lk.16:29).
It is likely that each of the generations from Adam onwards wrote down an account of the events which occurred in their lifetime, and Moses, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, selected and compiled these, along with his own comments, into the book we now know as Genesis. So Moses was the editor of Genesis. The events of Genesis occurred long before his time. The original version of Genesis 10 (which shows where people were scattered to after the incident at Babel) was written before 1870BC because it mentions the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed by God about 360 years before the birth of Moses (Gen. 10:19). Moses included editorial comments (Gen. 26:33; 32:32). And a description of the Jordan valley in Abraham’s time as being “like the land of Egypt”, seems to be an editorial comment by Moses (Gen. 13:10).
So Genesis 1-11 is mainly a biography and an autobiography. If it’s a biography or autobiography, can its facts be confirmed?
Comparison with Genesis 12-50
Genesis 12-50 is a historical description of the lives of four generations of Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Often, the book of Genesis has been divided into two sections: Primeval History (chs. 1-11) and Patriarchal History (chs. 12-50). But where is the boundary between these two sections? At Genesis 11:27? But the text of Genesis 11 has a similar structure to that of Genesis 12! In fact, there are no significant differences in the structure of the text in Genesis 1-11 compared to Genesis 12-50. As “patriarchal history” is generally regarded as accurate history, then there is no linguistic reason why “primeval history” should not also be accepted as accurate history. And some passages of the Bible cite characters from both sections without indicating that the earlier ones are less historical. It would be better to say that the difference is one of subject matter. Genesis 1-11 deals with the world, whereas Genesis 12-50 deals with the descendants of Abraham.
Genesis 12 would make little sense without the genealogical background in Genesis 11. As Genesis 11 includes the genealogy of Shem, this links to the genealogy in Genesis 10, and to the one found in Genesis 5. Shem is mentioned in each of these three chapters of Genesis.
Genealogies treat people from Genesis 1-11 in the same manner as those from Genesis 12-50 (1 Chr. 1-8; Lk. 3:23-38). The same applies to the list of heroes of the faith from the Old Testament (Heb. 11:4-22).
Evidence from the rest of the Bible
The principal people mentioned in Genesis chapters 1–11 are referred to as real people (historical, not mythical) in the rest of the Bible. For example, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah are referred to in 15 other books of the Bible. And I have demonstrated in other blogposts that Adam and Eve, and Noah were real people.
At least 25 New Testament passages refer directly to the early chapters of Genesis, and they are always treated as real history. Genesis 1 and 2 were cited by Jesus in response to a question about divorce (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9). Paul referenced Genesis 2-3 (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 11:8; 15:20-22, 45-47; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). The death of Abel recorded in Genesis 4 is mentioned by Jesus and John (Lk. 11:51; 1 Jn. 3:12). The flood (Genesis 6-9) is confirmed as historical by Jesus and Peter (Mt. 24:37-39; 2 Pt. 2:4-9; 3:6). And Jesus mentioned the flood in the same context as He did the account of Lot and Sodom (Gen. 19) (Lk. 17:26-29). Finally, in Luke’s genealogy of Christ, he includes 20 names found in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (Lk. 3:34-38). He traced the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Lk. 3:23-38). So the New Testament treats Genesis 1-11 as real history and not merely literary or theological devices. It’s a record of “actual events” in the history of humanity
Jesus Christ referred to the creation of Adam and Eve as a real historical event, by quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in His teaching about divorce (Mt. 19:3-6; Mk. 10:2-9), and by referring to Noah as a real historical person and the flood as a real historical event, in His teaching about the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ (Mt. 24:37-39; Lk. 17:26-27).
Humanity needs to be redeemed because of the fall into sin (Genesis 3). Unless we know that the entrance of sin to the human race was a true historical fact, we can’t understand God’s purpose in providing a Savior. And the historical truth of Genesis 1–11 shows that all mankind needs salvation from the penalty, power, and presence of sin.
Unless the events of the first chapters of Genesis are true history, the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Gospel in Romans chapter 5 and of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 have no meaning. Paul writes: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). And, “For since death came through a man (Adam), the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (Jesus). For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive … So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam (Jesus), a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45). The historical truth of the record concerning the first Adam is a guarantee that what God says in His Word about the last Adam (Jesus) is also true. Likewise, the historical, literal truth of the record concerning Jesus is a guarantee that what God says about the first Adam is also historically and literally true.
So Genesis 1-11 presents as a biography or autobiography whose facts are confirmed by the rest of scripture as being historically accurate. These inspired writers treat the people, and events in Genesis 1-11 as real, not merely literary or theological devices.
The Bible was written to be understood by ordinary people, so it shouldn’t be difficult to interpret. We have seen that Genesis 1-11 is not figurative language, poetry, parables, a historical novel or a myth. But it is a biography and an autobiography that describes real historical people and real historical events. It is prose narrative, with some embedded pieces that are poetic (Gen. 1:27; 2:23; 4:23-24) and some genealogical records (Gen 5, 10, 11:10–26). And it differs from other near eastern cosmologies because they are poetic and polytheistic. The writers of the Bible affirm that Genesis 1-11 is fact not fiction. It is an account of real events. Jesus affirmed it as well. And the gospel is based on the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. So, Genesis 1-11 isn’t a type of doublespeak where words don’t have their usual meaning.
Sarfati J D (2015) “The Genesis Account”, Creation Book Publishers.
Appendix A: Traditional genre (literature style) of the books of the Bible
The dominant genre of each book of the Bible is listed below. Note that figures of speech can occur within each of these genres.
Joshua to Nehemiah
Wisdom (also contains poetry)
Song of Songs
Matthew to John
Prophecy and apocalypse
Ezekiel to Malachi
Romans to Jude
Appendix B: Summary of the book of Genesis
- Creation (Gen. 1-2).
- The fall into sin (Gen. 3-5).
- The flood (Gen. 6-9).
- The dispersion (Gen. 10-11).
- Life of Abraham (Gen. 12-25:8).
- Life of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-35-29).
- Life of Jacob (Gen. 25:21-50:14).
- Life of Joseph (Gen. 30:22-50:26).
God created a universe that was good and free from sin. God created humanity to have a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve sinned and thereby brought evil and death into the world. Evil increased steadily in the world until there was only one family in which God found anything good. God sent the Flood to wipe out evil, but delivered Noah and his family along with the animals in the Ark. After the Flood, humanity began again to multiply and spread throughout the world.
God chose Abraham, through whom He would create a chosen people and eventually the promised Messiah. The chosen line was passed on to Abraham’s son Isaac, and then to Isaac’s son Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and his twelve sons became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. In His sovereignty, God had Jacob’s son Joseph sent to Egypt by the despicable actions of Joseph’s brothers. This act, intended for evil by the brothers, was intended for good by God and eventually resulted in Jacob and his family being saved from a devastating famine by Joseph, who had risen to great power in Egypt.
Appendix C: Number symbolism in Genesis 1
Some people quote the following to claim that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is symbolic rather than factual.
- The first sentence of Genesis 1 consists of seven Hebrew words.
- The second sentence of Genesis 1 contains exactly fourteen (a multiple of seven) words.
- The Hebrew words ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’ appear 21 times (a multiple of seven). But this is incorrect, “heaven(s)” (Strongs #8064) appears only 11 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven) and “expanse” (Strongs #7549) appears 9 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven). According to Genesis 1:8 “God called the expanse Heaven (or sky)”. This is a total of 20 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven).
- The Hebrew word ‘God’, is mentioned 35 times (a multiple of seven).
- The Hebrew refrain ‘and it was so’ and the summary statement ‘God saw that it was good’ occur seven times. But this is incorrect, “and it was so” only appears six times (v. 7, 9, 11, 15, 24, 30; which isn’t a multiple of seven)!
- The six days of creation and the day of rest comprise seven days.
But they don’t mention that the Hebrew word “day” appears 15 times. And “water” appears 12 times. And “God said” appears ten times. And “evening” and “morning” both appear six times. None of these are multiples of seven!
So this is a weak argument for saying that this Bible passage is symbolic rather than factual. I expect better scholarship to justify such a claim. Instead, it looks like cherry-picking to me.
Appendix D: The structure of Genesis 1
Genesis 1 has a repetitive structure, which was a common device in ancient literature to aid memorization. But it is not poetic. There are four basic themes on each day of creation.
1. God’s command
“And God said, ‘Let there be …”
“And it was so …”. God spoke things into existence. As God is the creator of time, He needs no time for His creative acts.
“God saw that it was good”.
4. Conclusion/Closure of the day
“And there was evening and there was morning – the Xth day”. As the Hebrew day went from sunset to sunset, it was made up of the night-time hours followed by the daylight hours. Each command was fulfilled within a 24-hour period (see “In six days”).
Why did God take so long to create the universe? He took six days of creation plus one day rest to give us the pattern for a week.
Appendix E: Other Biblical examples of repetitive structure
Repetition is present in many Old Testament passages.
Numbers 7 is also a numbered sequence of days. On 12 consecutive days a representative of each of the 12 tribes of Israel brought an offering for the altar.
“The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah” (v.12)
“On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, brought his offering” (v.18).
“On the third day, Eliab son of Helon, the leader of the people of Zebulun, brought his offering” (v.24).
“On the twelfth day Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the people of Naphtali, brought his offering” (v.78).
No one teaches that Numbers 7 is a literary framework for teaching something theological and that is not history. The same should apply to Genesis 1.
Genealogies are repetitive. 1 Chronicles 1:1-9:44 gives genealogies from Adam to King Saul. As these are accepted as being factual, so should those in Genesis 5 and 11 (they overlap).
Nehemiah 3 describes the rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in a repetitive manner. It progressively moves around the wall mentioned each section between each of the ten gates and describing who repaired each section.
Appendix F: Possible sources of the book of Genesis
The sources of Genesis are 12 family documents (see below). Eleven of these are headed by the Hebrew word toledoth (Strongs #8435), which means generations or descendants. The fact that these are referring to what follows rather than what precedes is clear in other instances of this word in the Old Testament (Num. 3:1; Ruth 4:18; 1 Chr. 1:29). So, in Genesis, the toledoths tell us what followed from the named person.
It’s possible that each of these documents was written on a clay tablet. During the exodus Moses probably compiled all these tablets into a long scroll. He may have used vellum to write on as the Israelites had many sheep.
- Creation of the universe (Gen. 1:1 – 2:3). There is no toledoth here, because nothing (in time) preceded creation. Time began at the beginning of this creation.
- “Descendants” of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4-4:26). This is what followed from creation.
- Descendants of Adam (Gen. 5:1-6:8).
- Descendants of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:29).
- Descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen. 10:1-11:9).
- Descendants of Shem (Gen. 11:10-26).
- Descendants of Terah (Gen. 11:27-25:11).
- Descendants of Ishmael (Gen. 25:12-18).
- Descendants of Isaac (Gen. 25:19-35:29).
- Descendants of Esau, born in Canaan (Gen. 36:1-8).
- Descendants of Esau, born in Edom (Gen. 36:9-37:1).
- Descendants of Jacob (Gen. 37:2-50:26).
Written, June 2018
Also see: In six days?
Genesis 1: Fact or fiction?
Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?
Noah: Fact or fiction?
The chicken or the egg?
In the beginning. Part 2: The first marriage
What happened in the garden in Eden?
In the previous article we saw that at the beginning of time the universe was created by an intelligent and powerful God. He did it in six days followed by one day’s rest to give us the pattern for a seven day week.
Genesis is divided into ten main sections, each beginning with the phrase “the account of”. The next section begins: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (Gen. 2:4NIV). Moses would have written Genesis from oral history that had been handed down through the generations and God would have shown him how to edit and record this on papyrus. Of course, as Moses’ birth is recorded in Exodus 2, he wrote the most of the second to fifth books of the bible from first hand experience. It this article we will look at Genesis 2:4-25.
Contradictory creation stories?
Because the creation story in Genesis 2 appears to differ from that in Genesis 1, some say that they were written by different people and not Moses. For example, in Genesis 1 God creates by simple command, but He used the ground in Genesis 2 (v.7,19). In Genesis 1 God is called “Elohim”, whereas in Genesis 2 He is called “Yahweh Elohim”. They say that these are conflicting versions of the same story. But what do we see when we look at the text?
Genesis 1 covers the creation of everything in the universe. It summarises the milestones of God’s creative work in the six days of creation and ends with a summary, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array” (Gen. 2:1). The Hebrew word for God, “Elohim”, is mentioned 29 times in this chapter. It is written from God’s perspective.
Genesis 2:4-25 focuses on events in the Garden of Eden during the sixth day of creation. It gives more detail on the creation of mankind and the roles of Adam and Eve. The topics covered are: the Garden of Eden, the creation of Adam and Eve, and Adam’s and Eve’s roles. The Hebrew phrase “Yahweh Elohim”, is mentioned 11 times in this passage. It is written from Adam’s perspective.
“Elohim”, refers to God as the Creator of the universe, the ruler of nature, and the source of all life. “Yahweh” (or Jehovah) is the personal and covenant name of God. It is used to stress God’s personal relationship with His people and the fact that He keeps His promises. Both “Yahweh” and “Elohim” occur numerous times in the book of Genesis, together and separately.
Accordingly, Genesis 1 correctly used the name Elohim, for God’s role as Creator of the whole universe and of all living things is what the chapter teaches. The subject narrows immediately in Genesis 2-3 where it describes God’s personal relationship with Adam and Eve. God is depicted as walking and talking with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Apparently Adam knew God by His personal name from the beginning—his family worshipped Yahweh (Gen. 4:26). Therefore Yahweh is appropriately joined to Elohim to indicate that the Elohim of all creation is now the Yahweh who is intimately concerned to maintain a personal relationship with humanity.
The literary pattern of Genesis is to present a brief sketch with a broad subject matter and follow it up with a longer more detailed account of the things that are more important to the central theme of the Bible. For example: looking at the first four main sections of the book that begin with the phrase “the account of”. The first section, which covers the creation of the universe, is brief in length and broad in scope (Gen. 1:1-2:3). This is followed by a section on the creation of mankind and their fall into sin, which is longer and more detailed (Gen. 2:4-4:26). This begins the history of mankind and sets the stage for redemption, which are central themes of the Bible. The third section presents a genealogy from Adam to Noah and is brief and broad in scope (Gen. 5:1-6:8). This is followed by a section on Noah and the flood, which is longer and more detailed (Gen. 6:9-9:29). This shows the consequence of sin and the fact that God rescues and protects His people.
So Genesis 1 and 2 are not contradictory accounts. Genesis 2 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation. They are complementary, just like each of the four gospels is different, yet complementary. In fact when He answered the Pharisees question concerning divorce, Jesus quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, so He accepted both accounts (Mt. 19:4-5; Mk. 10:6-8).
Some think the biblical stories of creation originate from other creation myths. Actually it was probably the other way around; some of the myths are corrupted versions of the biblical account of creation. If we say that early Genesis is mythical or symbolic, where do we say that it begins to be accurate history? We have the same problem if we say miracles are myths. Once we start rejecting some of the biblical account how can we trust the rest?
The Garden in Eden
Everything in this section of Genesis relates to mankind. It begins by stating that cultivated plants were not present until there was a “man to work the ground” and until there was rainfall (v.5-6). It seems as though at the beginning water came from beneath the earth instead of by rain.
God planted a garden in Eden for Adam and Eve (v.8). This was probably prepared on the third day of creation when vegetation was created (Gen. 1:1-13). It was the first garden. The trees in this garden were beautiful and their fruit was useful for food (v.9). Two particular trees are mentioned in middle of the garden. The tree of life seems to have had the power to convey immortality (v.17). In the book of Revelation the tree of life appears as a symbol of the person of Christ. All true Christians will “eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). This is eternal life in heaven (Rev. 22;2, 14,19). The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was used by God to test the obedience of Adam and Eve (v.17).
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden and divided into four other rivers called the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates (v.10-14). As the surface of the earth would have been different before the flood, we cannot compare this landscape with what exits today. Moses says it was east of Canaan (v.8). The present Tigris and Euphrates rivers were probably named after these original rivers. This is like names being transferred from one country to another. Many of the names in Australia come from United Kingdom because that is where many of the early settlers came from. For example my suburb is named after Ryde on the Isle of Wight and my state is called “New South Wales”.
Adam, the first man
The bible describes the origin of mankind: “the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (v.7). God formed his body from the “dust of the ground” and then gave him the breath of life. So Adam was created from the ground, not from an ape. Here we have the creation of life from non-living matter. It was a miracle. Adam was a perfect man in a sinless world.
The first man was named “Adam” or “Man” (v.20). The Hebrew word for “Adam” means “of the ground” or “taken out of red earth”, and it is also used in Genesis for males and for mankind. He is mentioned eight times in the New Testament as the first human being on earth (Lk. 3:38; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 14).
One of the curses on Adam after he sinned was, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). Upon death the body returns to the ground. It is interesting to note that the animals and birds are also said to have been made out of the ground (v.19). But Adam was different because he was made in the image of God.
Then “the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (v.15). Adam cultivated the garden. So work was a part of ruling over the rest of creation before the fall into sin.
Then we see that God set up a test of man’s obedience. “The LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die’” (v.16-17). God made Adam and Eve with the power to make a choice contrary to their nature. He wanted creatures who loved him freely, even though it meant there was a possibility of evil. Real love must be free; it cannot be instinctive or compulsory. So they were commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God gave them a choice and told them of the consequence. Now the penalty for disobedience was not 10 minutes in the sin bin! Is was death—instant spiritual death and progressive physical death. When Adam sinned he immediately cut himself off from the source of life, but the dying process took 930 years. There is also the possibility of eternal death (2 Th. 1:9).
Next, Adam named the animals and birds, which was another part of ruling over the rest of creation (v.19-20). A name to the Israelites was not just a label but a description of the essential character of the creature. In this instance Adam would have named the each animal according to its character and nature. Adam would have also noticed that the animals were male and female, each had a mate that was similar yet different. But he didn’t have a mate (v.20).
Eve, the first woman
Up until now everything about creation had been good. Now God says that something is “not good”—“It is not good for the man to be alone” (v.18). It was not good because we are social beings that are not made “to be alone” and God had not yet finished His work of creation. Adam needed a helper (v.18, 20). He was lonely and needed a companion. Eve was to be his helper and companion in the secure relationship of marriage (v.24).
The Bible describes the origin of woman: “the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man” (v.21-22).
God made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. So Eve was created from a part of Adam, not from an ape. Cloning is a genetic copy of an existing person, but this is different as it includes a change in gender. Here we have the creation of life from other living matter. It was a miracle. Eve was a perfect woman in a sinless world.
Adam recognised that she was his companion when he said “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v.23). Together they were called “man” (Gen. 1:26-27). “When God created mankind, He made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And He named them ‘Mankind’ when they were created” (Gen. 5:1-2). She was called “woman”, which means “taken out of man” (v.23). Later she was called “Eve”, which means “life” (Gen. 3:20).
This account teaches the unity of mankind. All people have a common ancestor in Adam—he’s at the beginning of the family tree.
Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife (v.25). I think they were married on the sixth day of creation. They had a perfect wedding, even though there were no other people there! It has the key elements of a marriage ceremony. God gave her to Adam; “He brought her to the man” (v.22). And God pronounced them husband and wife: the Creator said “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (v.24, Mt. 19:4,5). Adam and Eve were a perfect husband and wife in a sinless world.
Here God is establishing marriage as the basic institution of society. Jesus (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10-6-9) and Paul (Eph. 5:31) quoted v.24 when they taught about the marriage of one man to one woman. Whenever Adam and Eve are mentioned together in the New Testament it is to illustrate the roles of husbands and wives in marriage (1 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Tim.2:13-14).
Genesis 2 conveys four important aspects of marriage. Firstly,marriage is a new unity. The husband and wife are to leave their parents and start a new family unit and “become one flesh” (v.24, Gen. 29:14). They are bound together, not just individuals. What was once “his” and “hers” is now “ours” and “us”. One of the primary purposes of marriage is to provide companionship, a sharing of life together. As a “helper”, Eve shared Adam’s work and responsibilities as well. Husbands and wives were designed to work together. They should be a team and work together in bringing up their children. Marriage partners are dependent on each other—they are interdependent (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Divorce is painful because it is severing a unity that was once alive.
Secondly, marriage is a lifetime commitment. It is a permanent relationship that should not be broken until death (Rom. 7:1-3). The husband is to leave his parents and be “united to his wife” (v.24). The Hebrew word means to “cling” and “keep close”. It also conveys the idea of loyalty and devotion. Jesus said, “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mt. 19:6). Marriage partners are to be faithful to one another. Sexual immorality is a sin against God and against our own spouse (1 Cor. 6:15-18). God hates divorce, but 45% of marriages in Australia end in divorce (Mal. 2:13-16). What a sad lack of commitment. Jesus only allowed divorce in the case of adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9).
Thirdly, the husband is the head of the family. He is ultimately responsible before God for the nature and character of the home. In this passage Eve is described as a “suitable helper” for Adam (v.18,20). Paul shows that this responsibility applied before the fall into sin when he referred to Genesis 2, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:3,8-9). The “man” in this case is Adam and the “woman” is Eve. Here he mentions the order of their creation (Adam was first) and the purpose (Eve was to help Adam). The principle is that husbands should lead the family. Of course Paul also teaches husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25,28,33; Col. 3:19) and wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18). Paul also based the latter on the order of creation (1 Tim. 2:13).
Fourthly, there should be openness between husband and wife, with no secrets and nothing to hide—“The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (v.25). This first marriage was unique because there was innocence before the fall into sin. Openness does not mean always agreeing or feeling the same. It means a readiness to share with one another, completely, without insisting that the other reflect the same attitude. There is to be a complete freedom of communication, one with the other. Adam and Eve were relaxed and felt at ease with each other. There was no strain in their marriage. Otherwise, communication breakdown can lead to marriage breakdown.
Application to us
Genesis provides the foundation of the Christian faith. We have seen that Genesis 2 explains the origin of humanity and of marriage. As God designed and made the first man and woman, He knows all about our needs and desires. In order to get the best out of life, we should follow His guidelines and lessons for us in the Bible. In particular, we should follow Jesus, the last Adam, who brings life to those who trust Him (1 Cor. 15:22,45).
When Jesus was asked about marriage He went back to Genesis. Because the meaning of marriage is based on Genesis. Our society is based on families and families are based on marriages. We should also follow God’s guidelines if we want our marriage and our family to work well.
 Papyrus is an early form of paper that was first used in Ancient Egypt. It was initially used as scrolls and was much more convenient for writing than clay tablets.
Written, July 2004
See the next article in this series:
– In the beginning. Part 3: The first sin