Gordon Wenham’s two volume commentary on Genesis is generally viewed by evangelical scholars as the best resource available in English on Genesis in print. I have been using Wenham and the Canadian scholar Bruce Waltkie as my primary sources in studying Genesis recently, and while the work in this segment is my own, I am in debt to both of them for providing the general exegetical background.
My concern in this segment is the role that chapter two plays in the overall Genesis narrative, which I have come to believe is crucial, but largely overlooked.
Many Genesis scholars helpfully describe the majestic six day creation account in Genesis one in terms of God bringing creation from chaos to cosmos.
“Chaos,” as you probably know, in Latin literally means “the disorder of formless matter” and, of course, we read in Genesis 1:2 that “the earth was “without form and void”, or technically in a state of chaos.
“Cosmos” by way of contrast, is the Latin word for “order.” So in Genesis one we have the epic six day creation account that chronicles God bringing creation from chaos to cosmos and declaring the finished result to be “very good.”
With this we are all very familiar. The problem comes with Genesis two.
Those with a low view of scripture see Genesis two as simply another creation account with a different author who favored the use of Yahweh rather than Ehlohim. And although it adds valuable additional content, they don’t believe it stands in continuity with what immediately precedes it in chapter one.
But for those of us who believe that scripture is more than an assortment of ancient records cobbled together, and that there is an inner cohesion to canonical scripture this simply will not do.
And neither can we settle for the popular view that sees chapter two as simply the story of the garden (plus the naming of the animals and the creation of Eve) that prepares us for the seminal material on the fall of Adam and Eve in chapter three.
No doubt this is important material, but as valuable as these details are, we still need to ask “what is the unique contribution of chapter two to the worldview that is being presented in the opening chapters of Genesis?
We have the majestic six day creation account in chapter one—to which we give a huge amount of attention. And the fall of man in chapter three which we also rightly see as a pivotal chapter of scripture.
But Genesis two is often seen as somewhat marginal to the seminal material in Genesis, and most of us use it primarily as our source material for marriage seminars and weddings. However, I think this is a mistake and that, when properly understood, it is as crucial as chapters one and three in the overall Genesis narrative.
Personally I have come to the conclusion that once one has shed the preconception that it is no more than an addendum to the creation story preparing us for the fall of man in chapter three, it clearly comes into focus as an account telling us how to respond to the incredible love gift of creation that was given to humankind Genesis one.
Let me explain: Genesis one tells us who we are (those made in God’s image), and it tells us where we are (in a creation that is an extravagant love gift), but it does elaborate on what exactly we are to do next.
Some things are, of course, obvious. In chapter one we are given dominion and told to be fruitful and multiply. We have a mandate to rule the created order and procreate along with the animals. (and biological procreation was possible in chapter one as woman was created on day six in Genesis one. We read in 1:27 “male and female created he them.”)
But the mandate to rule and procreate leaves us like wanderers in a fairyland, or children in a Disney theme park. It is a breathtaking place, but after exploring all the amazing wonders in the park we need to know the deeper reason of why are we here.
Some hints are, of course, given in Genesis one. However, if this is all we knew, our trajectory in developing the earth and responding to the love gift of creation would be uncertain. And this is why we have chapter two. And, of course, knowing our vocation and meaning is fundamental to being human. As those in the image of God we cannot live without knowing this. And this is the gift of Genesis two.
As I have said, in Genesis one we have seen God do his work in bringing creation from chaos (“without form and void”) to cosmos (or “order”) through the six days of Genesis one. The original planet was a lump of clay, but now we see places like Switzerland and they are works of art. And this is what God was up to in chapter one.
Now man is called to do his work and take creation from cosmos to cathedral in Genesis chapter two. And understanding this vocation is the unique contribution of chapter two. I should add that I use the word cathedral because before they were corrupted the cathedrals represented not only worship, but every dimension of the community; education, welfare, commerce, the arts, the guilds, care for the poor, and the courts of justice. All came under the umbrella of the cathedral. The public square was not naked. It was sacred space. It came under the leavening of the gospel.
What split the skyline was not the commercial skyscraper owned by the captains of industry, but the cathedral that claimed the city as sacred space. And with this background in mind, I use the word cathedral as a metaphor. We take creation from cosmos to cathedral in the sense of taking Eden to the ends of the earth.
With this in mind, let’s go back to Genesis two and see it as an account giving Adam and Eve a trajectory to respond to the love gift of creation. It has six dimensions, and I will deal with them briefly one by one.
1. We discover they are to be the guardians of sacred space
God is omnipresent but for him to manifest his presence and enter into communion with humankind a certain environment had to be established, and this is what God achieved in the garden.
The garden was not man’s natural habitat. It was a gift. The text says that the “the Lord God planted a garden…and there he placed the man that he had made.” (Gen 2:8) Adam was “placed” there, he was not created there. The garden was a gift.
The creation was “good” but the earth and other parts of the cosmos could still apparently be accessed by demonic forces. It should be noted that “garden” (or “park” from which we get the word “paradise”) was usually a walled area in the ancient near east. The garden had an entrance which was later guarded by cherubim, indicating that it was a sanctuary that was walled or hedged (3:24.) Cosmos still needed to become cathedral and the garden was the beginning of the sacred space needed for God to manifest his glory in the earth. And we learn from chapter two that Adam and Eve were called to be the guardians of this sanctuary.
2. We discover they are here to extend Eden to the ends of the earth
They would not be given dominion over all the earth (1:26) unless it was God’s intention that the garden should eventually expand and fill all the earth. God gave them a template (the garden) and said “what you have here, physically and spiritually, now extend into all the earth as an act of love and worship.”
And that this was so is hinted at by the four rivers that had their headwaters in the garden and then flowed out, north, south, east, and west, to water the whole earth (Gen 2:10). What had its source in the garden was to flow out and bring life into the whole creation.
The bible will conclude in Revelation 21 with a picture of a garden that extends to the ends of the earth. It is called a city but has all the characteristics of a garden with abundant fruit trees and a river flowing through its midst—and of course it has a great high wall to remind us of the walled gardens in the ancient world.
And that it extends to the ends of the earth is signified by its dimensions being 1,500 miles in all directions. Such a distance in the Hebraic worldview brought one to what they envisioned as “the
ends of the earth”. This can be verified in the Major Prophets, who when talking about specific nations at “the ends of the earth”, are usually referring to nations in the region of about 1,500 miles from Israel.
And as in revelation John is constantly using Old Testament metaphors, models, and texts, it would appear that his dimensions of the city are meant to correspond with those used in the Old Testament to refer to the “ends of the earth”. It would appear that we are meant to understand that this garden city that John sees in his vision now extends to the ends of the earth.
It is also sacred space, just as the garden in Eden was. It is shaped like a cube (to remind us of the holy of holies) and shines with the glory of God (rev 21:11 & 16). So John’s vision is of a garden/city full of the glory of God as the consummation of human history. Cosmos has finally become cathedral and the trajectory given to man in Genesis 2 has finally been realized.
3. We discover that they are here to further develop into the image and likeness of God (and this is why the two trees are introduced in chapter two)
If cosmos it to become cathedral more than simple procreation is necessary. The earth must be populated, but the simple mandate to be procreate in chapter 1 is inadequate, it must be populated by people who are radiant with the image of God. In chapter 2 we discover that the “image and likeness” that is unique to man is not all “built in at the factory,” but has to be developed. God’s intention was for man to achieve this by feeding on the tree of life and repudiating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Being a creature of day six means that man is given a choice. He can remain an “animal” simply functioning on the level of instinct, biology, genetics, and appetite. Or he can respond to God’s invitation to transcend the flesh and walk after the spirit. However, exactly how he does this is not spelt out in Genesis 1, but now in Genesis 2 we discover that this development is tied in to his moral choices, which (without going into the complex theology of the trees) revolved around choosing one tree and avoiding another.
Feeding on the tree of life is fundamental to developing in the image of God, and foreshadows feeding on the life of Christ in the new covenant age. But here in Genesis two the concept is introduced for the first time.
Let me review so that the flow is not lost.
Genesis two appears to be giving Adam and Eve a trajectory to respond to the extravagant love gift of creation
1. They are to be the guardians of sacred space
2. They are to extend Eden to the ends of the earth
3. They are to develop the image of God by feeding on the tree of life and avoiding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
Then moving on in the chapter we discover that…
4. They are to model in marriage the passion of the love relationship between God and man (and this is why we have the story of creation of Eve and the teaching on marriage in chapter two)
Unlike the animals, for mankind, sexual union is not simply a matter of biology. Marriage takes place in the garden (in sacred space) and is a model of God’s covenant love with humankind. And this is climaxed after the incarnation when marriage will model the relationship of Christ and the church. And becoming part of Christ and the church is the mechanism whereby we are adopted into the Trinitarian family. And having us as his sons and daughters was, according to Ephesians one, the reason why God created the heavens and the earth in the first place. The cosmos is simply the stage, the platform, the superstructure, for God to carry out his astonishing plan to bring us into the Trinitarian family. And for this reason, and for this alone, the heavens and earth exist.
So there is more than a good marriage sermon in Genesis two. It introduces marriage, the model of Christ and the church, as the mechanism (through his death and resurrection) whereby humankind is grafted into the epicenter of the divine family. In Genesis one we simply have biological procreation, but in Genesis two we have marriage, which Paul describes as a great mystery, as it models the mechanism whereby we are adopted into the Trinitarian family.
Genesis one is magnificent, but it is only the platform God was building, the stage he was constructing on, which the astonishing drama of our being grafted into the heart of the divine family would take place. This is the message that Genesis 2 begins to unfold—the breathtaking drama of divine love foreshadowed in the union of male and female in the covenant of marriage.
5. We discover they are here as the high priests of creation. As the recipients of the extravagant love gift of creation, man alone is uniquely able to reciprocate and offer creation back to God as a love gift (and this would appear to be why we have the information on the plants, animals, and precious metals in chapter two.) Everything in days one through six can contribute to bringing creation from cosmos to cathedral, but not without man. Creation by itself is mute, only man can give it a voice and offer it back to God in worship and praise
Kalisos ware writes that “his vocation is to transfigure the raw material of creation and then offer it back as a gift to God. Through gardens, beautiful buildings, works of art and inventions we are the means by which the created order is beautified, reconstituted and offered back to God.” (the orthodox way) clay becomes sculpture, land becomes cultivated, pigment becomes paintings, wood becomes furniture, steel becomes bridges, and brick becomes architecture.
In addition, man, in offering himself to God is in that act also offering back the creation to God (Rom 12:1–2.) To live we have to take the creation into our bodies as air, food, plants, fruits,
meat, and drink. If we then use our bodies to glorify God then through them creation is glorifying God.
Dumitru Staniloae writes “man gives material things a voice and renders the creation articulate in praise of God”. He alone is uniquely placed in the creatorial order of things to do this, and Genesis 2 acquaints him with the raw material of creation in preparation for his priestly calling.
So to sum up…
Genesis one gives us our unique identity as those in the image of God. Then Genesis two builds on this and gives us our unique vocation—God has brought creation from chaos to cosmos and now we are called to bring it from cosmos to cathedral.
In chapter two this is accomplished as…
1. They become the guardians of sacred space
2. They extend Eden to the ends of the earth
3. They develop into the image and likeness of God by avoiding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and feed on the tree of life
4. They model in marriage the mechanism by which man is adopted into the Trinitarian family
5. They become the high priests of creation and offer it back to God as a love gift.
Some years ago NASA sent up the Mars climate orbiter, which was a failure as it missed its orbit around mars. It cost $125 million and traveled 416 million miles…and missed its orbit by 60 miles. Which meant its trajectory was 99.99986 accurate. But 99.99986 was not good enough. It still missed.
Genesis two is crucial in giving an accurate trajectory for life on planet earth. And this seems to be confirmed by the fact that everything that is initiated here is consummated in Revelation.
Now while we know all this went wrong when Adam fell in chapter three, and things moved in the opposite direction (from cosmos back to chaos,) the reason God raised up Israel and the church is to fulfill the original mandate given to man in chapter two and move creation forward again from chaos, to cosmos (order) and on to cathedral.
And although we now know that this will not happen fully and finally until Jesus returns, our job is still to take Eden to the ends of the earth, to take creation from cosmos to cathedral now, by the power of the spirit, in any area, big or small, whenever and wherever we have opportunity. And this is the original trajectory of Genesis two.
It is our response to the to the love gift of creation—and now, since the incarnation, the cross, and the ascension, to the even greater love gift of redemption.