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Vibrant Dance 2: Kaiser: Genesis 1 & 2: One or Two Narratives?

{RJW Note:  The third plenary session was by Walter Kaiser, the Colman M. Mockler distinguished Professor of Old Testament and President Emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Again, when I asked for a copy of his notes, he graciously and instantly handed me his copy, complete with handwritten edits, which I have incorporated into this text. The first section below is from my notes from his talk, as it was a last minute verbal addition to comply with a request to share the epistemological and hermeneutical approach used in arriving at the position.}

{Kaiser said there has been an evolution in writing from author intent to reader interpretation, and “Bible Study” suffers accordingly. For example, the act of “reading between the lines” is not reading what is actually written. II Tim 3:16 says that “All {written (the sense given in the Greek)} Scripture is inspired”…so reading between the lines is not inspired. He launched into a brief and justifiable bit of a diatribe against how modern Bible studies consist of everyone just launching into what they think the text “means to them.” It is critical to full understanding of a text to search out and understand the author’s perspective and intent.

Kaiser’s premise is to question the view that Genesis 2 is an alternative Creation account or a contradictory account (a priestly view versus a Yahwehic view). He does not explicitly offer an opinion on age or “literal-ness” of the Creation account, but takes a slightly different tack, and does offer a hint or two regarding his view on the central topic. So without further comment, here is the text of Dr. Kaiser’s talk (all emphases in original, and single numbers in parentheses refers to the verse in the passage containing the quote).}

It appears as if a new or second account of the creation is about to begin in Genesis 2:4b-3:24, for having just completed the creation narrative in chapter one of Genesis, it looks as if all of a sudden we are in a time when plants, animals, and people had not yet been created on the third day as recorded in Genesis 1:11-12. Is this an alternate creation account? Or is this a contradiction between two accounts? What is the solution to this apparent problem?

It is true that the two narratives use two different names for God (Genesis 1 uses “Elohim” some 35 times and Genesis 2-3 uses “Yahweh Elohim” as a compound name some 19 times instead) as well as differences in other respects.

But this observation fails to note that the first account of Genesis 1-2:4a gives us the overall picture of creation in its totality, while the second in section Genesis 2:4b-3:24 gives to us a more graphic set of details; but descriptions that are specifically limited to the “Garden of Eden.” Therefore, rather than concluding that there are two accounts of creation in these chapters, one more sober and simple in its structure and details (Genesis 1) with the other being more colorful, filled with Oriental imagination (Genesis 2); instead, we are given the first account of creation of the whole universe and then a progress report in the second chapter of the special preparations God made for the first human couple in the Garden of Eden.

Concerning the alleged divergence between Genesis 1: 11-12 and the account in Genesis 2:5-9, 19, the reference in Genesis 2 is not to the first or original creation of plants and animals, but to the order of events in the preparation of the Garden of Eden. Moreover, the plants that Genesis 2 had reference to were distinctly named as the “thorns/shrub of the field” and the “grain of the field” (2:5). Neither of these two expressions denote the vegetable kingdom in general, which is what Genesis 1 was talking about, but here the Hebrew word siah, “thorns” or “thistles/shrubs” “of the field” and the Hebrew word `eseb, “grain,” “wheat,” “barley” “of the field” are in a separate category not mentioned in Genesis 1. Two reasons are given for the absence of thorns and grain in the Garden of Eden: it was “for/because the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth,” and “[because] there was no man to work the ground” (2:5).

In the first chapter of Genesis, Scripture stressed that plants and trees naturally reproduced themselves by “seed” placed within each plant or tree, but these plants in the Garden of Eden needed something else in order to thrive. Thus, all species of grain, while isolated specimens might exist here and there by themselves, they would not be found in fields of nurtured grain until there was a man who would cultivate the soil. On the other hand, thorns and thistles of the field would not propagate its own seeds, or grow fresh plants, until it rained on the ground.

Accordingly, after man's fall in the Garden, Adam was compelled to till the ground and as the rains came down, thorns and thistles spread out across the fields along with cultivated fields of wheat and barley.

I.                    GOD CREATES A GARDEN AND A MAN – GENESIS 2:4-9
The narrative in Genesis 2 is therefore neither a “flashback,” i.e., a retelling of the story of Genesis 1, nor is a completely different version of the original creation episode. Instead, it is a description of God's most distinctive preparation of a Garden called Eden and an introduction of its first occupants.

Verse 4 has the first of ten appearances of “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (2:4; 5:1 [for a variant of the formula]; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2). Many translations and commentators divide 2:4 into two parts, making 2:4a go with chapter 1 and 2:4b go with the Garden of Eden account. But that division may be unnecessary, for both accounts each form a unique part of the continuing story of how God went about creating not only the universe, but also the first residence for the first couple in Eden.

We are also aware of the fact that we suddenly shift from the name Elohim, “God,” in Genesis 1 to “LORD God,” (Hebrew, (Yahweh e'lohim) in chapters 2-3 (which appears some nineteen times, a combination that appears only once more in the rest of the whole Pentateuch (Exod 9:30) and about twenty more times in the rest of the Bible. This double name, however, is to be distinguished from the Hebrew 'adonay YHWH), which is used almost exclusively in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 15:2, 8) and in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7: 18, 19, 20, 22, 28, 29). However, those scholars who have put forth the theory that the compound name LORD God for the Lord is the result of an amalgamation of sources (such as the critical source theory of E, J or Ρ documents) is a theory that lacks wide reading experience in ancient Near Eastern materials where it is routine to use two or more divine names in order to have parallelism in the Semitic poetic or prose lines.

The Hebrew text began in 2:4b with “In the day when the LORD God made the heavens and the earth.” This “day” did not specify a period of twelve hours, or twenty-four hours, but is an idiom much like our expression “in the hour that...” or the “day of the horse and buggy.” This does not mean an hour of sixty minutes. Rather it too is much like Numbers 3:1 which mentioned “In the day (Hebrew, beyom) that the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai.” Recall that Moses was on the Mount for forty days and forty nights, so that “day” had at least forty days and nights in it! (Cf. also Num 7:84; 2 Sam 22:1 = Ps 18:1)

The scene traced in verses 5-7, however, is often prematurely declared a flat contradiction to Genesis 1:11-12, which describes vegetation as being created on the third day, three days before the creation of man. But in 2:5-7, the creation of plants and the human are closely linked! However, this judgment is premature because 2:5-7 does not say just when it was that God created man in the Eden narrative. Moreover, if it is such a straightforward inconsistency, why did the writer or redactor-editor do nothing to smooth it out, but instead left (what is assumed in modern times to be) a blatant contradiction almost side by side in the two chapters? This objection, it must be said, fails to notice that that the shrubs (thorns and thistles) and grains mentioned here are separate and different from other seed bearing forms of plants that do not necessarily need human cultivation or the presence of rain to encourage their growth. Moreover, 2:5 anticipates 3:18 where thorns and thistles were a result of the fall and human cultivation was necessary for engaging in grain farming.

But the scene has not been painted for us as one that features arid or desert conditions, for even though rain has not yet come on the earth, the Hebrew text says that an 'ēd rises from the ground (6) to water the earth's surface in the Garden. This Hebrew word appears only one other time in Job 36:27, but it is unusual in that in Genesis 2 it goes “up” from the earth, whereas rivers generally descend and go down. Therefore, this may be something like a “mist” or dew that rose from the ground, or the like, a suggestion that finds some support from a possible Sumerian cognate.

The long sentence of 4b-7 in Hebrew (containing a protasis in 4b, then a series of circumstantial clauses in 5-6, and finally an apodosis in verse 7) climaxes with the LORD God “forming” (Hebrew, yatsar) man from the dust of the ground.
Genesis 1:27 simply asserted that “God created man in his own image,” but no further details were given in that description. Genesis 2:7 will now supply those further details:  “The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground.” Hebrew used the literary device of assonance saying something like “God formed an earthling from the earth,” for the word for “man” in Hebrew is 'adam and the word for “ground” is 'adamah. The action of God is likened to that of a “Potter,” for it also used the same Hebrew verb yôtser, meaning “to form, to shape,” which identical verb that is used elsewhere for the work of a potter (2 Sam 17:28; Isa 29:16; Jer 18:2, 3, 4). Of course, a potter works with mud or clay, not dust, therefore the emphasis may not be an exact parallel of the work a potter does, but instead from the “dust” of the ground God is able to bring the dust to life and vitality in his work. The language is indeed figurative, for God is Spirit and is not corporeal, thus his work of formation must come instead from his verbal orders as chapter one stressed. Nevertheless, the use of the word “dust” only enhances the work of God all the more, for man is raised from the lowliness of the dust to be a creature made in God's image. That is more than our “rags to riches stories:  it is a narrative of being raised from what is close to nothing to potentially becoming sons and daughters of the Living God.

The remainder of verse 7 shows that this human is without life or vitality until the breath of God is breathed into his nostrils; at that point he can become “alive” (Hebrew, nefesh hayyâh). This expression did not speak at this point of Adam's having a “soul,” or his possessing a spiritual portion of his person, but simply that whereas he previously had been inert and dead as the dust on the ground, he now, with the infusion of the breath of God, was “alive!” This would seem to rule out God's using any previously existing animate forms of life, for he never was alive until God breathed the breath of life into him!

The figurative depiction of God changes at this point from his work similar to that of a Potter to now the figure of his being a Gardener as he plants a Garden in Eden (8). The meaning of the term “Eden” is often connected to the Sumerian-Akkadian edinu, meaning a “plain, prairie, a flatland.” In Hebrew the word related to “Eden” only occurs one other time in Nehemiah 9:25, there rendered “to delight oneself,” which may also be related to the word for “pleasure” in Genesis 18:12. The word “Eden” in its singular or plural form occurs some fifteen times in the Old Testament as a designation for a place. Other parallel expressions for Eden are “the garden of Yahweh” (Gen 13:10; Isa 51:3) or “the garden of God” (Ezk 28:13; 31:9). This is not to infer that this is the place where Yahweh lives, but he was the garden's planter and preparer, not necessarily its occupant.

Note that the emphasis is not on the fact that the garden was a paradise, or a place of blissful enjoyment; instead, man is placed in the garden “to work it and to take care of it” (2:15). Moreover, the text focuses on the trees of the garden more than anything else.

There were two trees in this garden: the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (9), both of which were placed “in the midst of” the garden, meaning among the other trees of the garden, rather than necessarily projecting a spot in the dead center of that space. This second “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” only appears in the whole Bible in this chapter, i.e., in Genesis 2:9 and 2:17. But the “tree of life” can be found in Genesis 3:22, 24; Proverbs 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4 as well as in the New Testament in Revelation 2:7; and 22:2, 14, 19. Apparently, God will re-create this tree of Life in an existence similar to the Garden of Eden later on in the eschaton of the New Heavens and New Earth.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil becomes the focal point of our narrative. The explanation for “good and evil” has a moral sense that tends to bracket all human experience, but this is not to conclude, as some Roman Catholic interpreters do, that the morality talked about here has a bearing specifically on one's sexual life, for that interpretation misses especially the point that the woman has not yet been created. Furthermore, in 3: 22, it would need to apply sexuality to God, for when the man and the woman ate of the tree, it said, the man has now become like one of us.

In fact, the author does not pause to explain the meaning of this tree, for he assumes the man will know exactly what is intended. Moreover, one does not need to experience all good and all evil in order to know what it is. What God wanted to prevent, by refusing the fruit of this tree to his humans, was moral autonomy and a freedom that was more like anarchy. It was not that there were certain enzymes in the fruit of this tree any more than there are similar contents in the Eucharist, but nevertheless there are warnings about eating and drinking the body and blood of the Lord in an unworthy manner, for if one is not careful, it will make one sick and some have even died as a result of disregarding this prohibition (1 Cor 11:27-29). God did not want mortals deciding for themselves what was good and what was bad. Humans become their own gods when they make the rules for their morality; we think we have become sovereign gods to ourselves!

I.                    GOD IRRIGATES THE GARDEN – GENESIS 2:10-14

Some think that on the basis of this section, it is possible to locate the Garden of Eden in the ancient Near East. But alas, such a state of affairs is no longer possible. To be sure, the names of the third river (Hiddekel, or Tigris River) and the fourth river (Euphrates River) are well known in Mesopotamia, but we are at an absolute loss to define the Pishon and the Gihon Rivers despite many suggestions.

The Gihon River (13) reminds us of the Gihon Spring that supplies water to Jerusalem at the foot of the Mount of Olives (1 Kgs 1:33, 38, 45; 2 Chron 32:30; 33:14), yet in Genesis 2:13 this river is said to “wind through the entire land of Cush.” Normally the Old Testament used the word “Cush” to refer to Nubia and Ethiopia, that is the region of the Upper (i.e. southern) Nile River. There is another reference to Kush, meaning the Kassites, located east of the Tigris River, but that is far from Jerusalem as well.

The situation with regard to the Pishon River (11-12) is even more difficult. It encompasses the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. Havilah is both a designation for a location and a people (Gen 10:29; 1 Chron 1:23), thus it reflects an ethnic tradition of peoples living on both sides of the Red Sea. We are told of gold coming from countries to the south and brought to both Egypt and Israel from Put or Ophir. But neither of these two locations have absolutely been identified either. The only thing we know for sure is that “The gold of that land is good” (12), along with the fact that aromatic resin and onyx are also found there.

God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (15). Involved in his “tending” was the idea of “protecting” (Hebrew, shamar) it, for that was the basic idea of the Hebrew root. Also, it was the same verb used in 3:24, where the cherubs were on guard to protect access to the tree of life, in the garden, after the human couple was expelled. Notice that human toil and work were not the consequence of sin.

There was just one simple prohibition: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you do eat of it you will surely die” (17). The death they would suffer was immediate spiritual death followed (apparently subsequently) by physical death in their bodies as well. True, Adam lived to be 930 years old (Gen 5:5), yet he, who was built to be immortal, became mortal along with all in his subsequent descendants.

A.      THE GIFT OF A BRIDE-2:18-25
So far everything that has been scrutinized by God has been judged to be “good,” or “very good;” but now for the first time we are told that something “is not good...” (18a). Man was not meant to be alone, therefore, in 1:31 it was only after woman had been formed that God pronounced everything “very good.” This is not a human judgment, but a divine estimate of the situation.

But God not only evaluates the situation; he will rectify it by making a “helper suitable for him” (18b). The Hebrew for the word “helper” is `ezer, which is a strong word, since it frequently also appears as the title for God (Exod 18:4; Deut 33:7, 26, 29; Ps 33:20; 115:9-11; 124:8; 146:5 etc.), who is called our “Helper”. However, there is a related term in Ugaritic, which Canaanite language shares about sixty percent of its vocabulary with Hebrew, viz., `gezer, meaning a “power,” or “authority” “corresponding to” or “equal to” the man.[1] Originally Hebrew had at this place in the alphabet two laryngeals, an `ayin and a `gayin. The two letters fell together morphologically over time, but we know from proper names that one of them had at one time a “g” sound as in the names “Gaza” or “Gomorrah,” both presently spelled in Hebrew today merely with the `ayin, but which at one time must have begun with a 'gayin.

The way God did this was to cause Adam to fall into a deep sleep (21). While he was sleeping, God took a portion from the man's side, and from this original piece, he built a woman from the portion he had taken out of the man's side, and he brought the woman to Adam (22). Previous to this, man had been naming each living creature (19-20), but none of them suited his concept of what a companion should be like.

However, when God finished building Eve, he brought her to the man and his joy and happiness were ecstatic beyond measure, to say the least. He cried out, “Now, at last [Hebrew, happa`am], This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man” (23). The expression of bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh indicates family propinquity, i.e., an expression that generally means that she was formed from the same parents or same family.


The man was to sever one relationship, i.e., the one with his family he must sever, and a new one he must now commence. The most crucial element in this marriage is to be found in the verbs, where one former relationship was to “be forsaken” and new one in the marriage was to be “clung to.” Now the man and the woman were to “become one flesh” (24b), which spoke most clearly about their solidarity; Adam by himself was not one flesh, neither was Eve by herself one flesh;” but together they were “one flesh.”

Finally, there was an absence of shame, for both of them were naked, yet “they felt no shame” (25b). Later in the Old Testament, nakedness will everywhere else be a form of defenselessness and shame, yet at this stage in the relationship of Adam and Eve there were no barriers of any kind, including any sort of self-consciousness, but a complete and unhindered giving and enjoying of one another. However, as soon as sin entered their lives, that open, unbashful, and lack of self-consciousness disappears because of sin. The issue of nakedness will arise again, however, after the self-assertion of the woman and the man against God (3:10).

Day 7 Praise:  Praise to the Author of Grace that He separates our Guilt from our Selves, so that Another was able to pay the Price, resulting in our Redemption. Hallelujah!


[1] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women,” Priscilla Papers 19.2 (2005): 5-11.

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