Bible Study with a Spiritual Atheist: Genesis 2

In Genesis 2 we see a continuation of the story we are told in Genesis 1 in the first four verses and then the rest of the chapter is rather different. What comes after the first four verses can either be read as a completely different account of the creation of all that is, or it can be seen as adding flesh onto the bare bones of the Genesis 1 creation story.

In ending the story of Genesis 1, the first verses of Genesis 2 provides an explanation for the Sabbath, in God hallowing the day, and provides a model for how humans should rest, on the Sabbath day or otherwise. It can be safe to say that in the Bible the highest seal of approval for a behaviour is for God Himself to act out the behaviour and that is what we see in this chapter with the act of resting. This clearly shows that the Bible considers rest to be good, almost sacred, and also necessary. The manner in which God rests can also imply how how humanity should rest. The ideal model of rest, as formulated by the Bible, is one in which the rest is: limited, lasting only one day; deserved, having only occured after God did some work; and a rest in which the conscious being “turns off,” as God does not survey his work, whether to criticise or to praise, instead God simply rests.

The rest of the chapter retells the story of creation but it is clear why, despite some seeming contradictions in the two stories, this version was added into the Bible as it reaffirms the themes of Genesis 1. Genesis 2 serves to further assert the uniqueness of humanity to God and that God created the earth to house the humans. For one thing, the entire chapter depicts the interactions between the man and God, and later the woman, it doesn’t spend any time talking about how God ruffled the feathers of a parrot. Given the description of events in Genesis 2 – of the man being moulded by God, instead of simply being created like the animals; being given an entire garden that God makes specifically for him; and the care for the man’s social well being that God shows – then I think it is safe to say that the biblical God has a special interest in humans and considers them to be of the utmost importance when it comes to His creation.

The following verse can be seen as a perfect representation of how the Bible views the role and place of humans in the universe:

“then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7

This verse illustrates that humans are bonded to, both, the earth and its creatures and also to God. Humans are part of creation and formed from the earth, so they share a commonality with the rest of creation, while at the same time the man is singled out to have the breath of life breathed into him by God, so humans also share a connection with God. It can be seen then that humans have a responsibility to both physical and spiritual matters and are the key to why God created physical matter in the first place, as this existence of the spiritual and physical as one was to be the key feature of humanity.

If we look at the terms used to describe the human in verse 7 – “living being” – and the term used to describe all the animals in verse 19 – “living creatures” – then a nice contrast can be found. If we accept that God is living as He is able to give the breath of life (after all how could God give this if God did not possess it Himself?) then that gets us a living God, living beings, and living creatures. These terms formalise the idea that there are differences between them but also similarities. The use of “living” is a marker that all of them are animated and their lives are important and sacred. The difference in the terms used after the word “living” for each – God, being, and creature – denotes that, in the biblical worldview, each have differences in ranks and differences in where they “belong”. The differences in rank are illustrated in the differences in responsibilities each rank has. God has a responsibility of care for all of creation, humans have a responsibility of care for the animals, and the animals have only a responsibility to care for themselves. The responsibility also goes up the ranks; the animals have a responsibility of servitude to the humans and the humans have a responsibility of servitude to God. This relationship formed between the humans and animals can be seen to help teach the humans how to act in their relationship with God; just as an animal will anger a human if they do not serve properly so too will God be angered if humans do not serve Him properly, also just as the human should not abuse their authority as it would weaken the animals’ service, neither will God abuse His authority over the humans. The differences in the hierarchy between God, the humans, and the animals, can be understood by the physical differences between them. God is pure spirit, animals are pure matter, and humans are of both spirit and matter which is why they are accountable to both spirit and matter, they must survive and answer for how they use their free will.

The commandments that are given to the humans by God in Genesis 1 can also be found in Genesis 2, if slightly spaced out. In Genesis 2:15, we are told that the man is to take care of the Garden of Eden, and then in verse 19, the man is shown to have power over all the animals of the Earth. However, there is a slight difference when it comes to the relationship between the man and Eve. Instead of God’s concern being their procreation, through the verses 18-24, we see that God is most concerned about the personal aspect of the relationship between the two humans as the biblical view is clearly that humans require a healthy and loving companionship, so much so that this romantic relationship is explicitly stated to be more important than familial relationships. This focus on the personal could also be a reflection of the more “personal” narrative style of Genesis 2 as opposed to the “impersonal” list of creation that is to be found in Genesis 1. Also note, in Genesis 2 there is still a certain level of equality between the two sexes to be found. The woman is said to be the man’s partner, not his underling or subordinate, and given the importance given to the body of man, having been moulded personally by God, we can consider this equality to be reasserted in the man saying, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”.

Genesis 2 also adds upon the themes of Genesis 1 and the clearest illustration of this is through verse 9.

“Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” – Genesis 2:9

In this verse, the trees can be seen to convey every aspect of God that was outlined in Genesis 1; creation, goodness, and immortality; while also revealing another aspect of God which is His knowledge of good and evil. As we can see, no aspect of God is hidden from the humans and, in fact, some parts were even on offer to the humans, even if explicitly forbidden, i.e. immortality and the knowledge of good and evil.

Combined with verse 9, verses 17 and 25 build tension and set up for the climax of this creation story in the next chapter. Imagine reading this chapter without prior knowledge of what happens. We would most likely consider the death foretold by God to be a literal one in which case not only would defiance mean the end of humanity but it would also mean that the entirety of creation, which happened so God could have a relationship with humans, would be a complete waste so clearly there are big stakes here. The final verse of the chapter acts to remind the reader of the innocence of the humans at this point in time and make the prospect of disobedience that bit more disheartening. And as we shall see in the next chapter, this fear of the loss of paradise is well founded.

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