Reading the Bible 5: Adam and Eve

Today’s reading is Gen 2:4b-25.

As was noted in my previous commentary, today’s passage is contained in what is arguably Adam’s own family record of his origins. So this section is not really a “second creation account” – as is sometimes suggested. Rather, Gen 1:1-2:4a is the account of the creation of everything and is thus the creation account proper, while the present story is instead the beginning of Adam’s history, focusing on the creation of the first man and woman – Adam and Eve.

The opening verses are sometimes accused of contradicting the account of creation in Gen 1:

“In the day that Yahweh God made the earth and the heavens, no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for Yahweh God had not caused it to rain on the earth. There was not a man to till the ground, but a mist went up from the earth, and watered the whole surface of the ground.”

The contention is that here we have God creating man before plants while in Gen 1, plants are created before people. However, no such thing is actually suggested. These verses do not say that no plants had been created, rather they indicate that there were not yet any herbs “of the field” or plants “of the field”. The word translated as “field” here is sadeh which refers to a limited area of land suitable for agriculture. In other words, this passage is suggesting that agriculture has yet to be developed and indeed, the account goes on to show God setting a special place aside called Eden (meaning ‘pleasure’) where He plants a garden and then creates a man to tend it. So this section is not only about the creation of Adam and Eve, but also about the beginning of agriculture.

In verse 2:9, God forms a man from the dust of the ground. The Hebrew expression for “the ground” is ha’adamah and the related expression ha’adam means “the man”. Thus, we see that the name of the first man Adam comes from the Hebrew word for man or mankind which in turn comes from the Hebrew word for ground.

After the creation of Adam, we come to a second alleged contradiction in verses Gen 2:18-20:

“Yahweh God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground Yahweh God formed every animal of the field, and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock, and to the birds of the sky, and to every animal of the field; but for man there was not found a helper suitable for him.”

In Gen 1, we have the animals being created before humans. However, it is suggested that here the passage says that man came first, that he needed a suitable “helper” (more on that in a bit), and that God then created animals for the first time as potential candidates. Some translators consider it possible that a pluperfect should be rendered here giving “Out of the ground Yahweh God had formed every animal of the field“. Indeed, this is how the NIV renders this passage. In addition, even if it is not the case that the pluperfect can be used here, all that the passage seems to suggest is that God creates sample specimens from the animals of the field and the birds of the sky and then brings them before Adam along with all livestock (for which no sample creatures were formed and thus it is implied that there were already livestock representatives present in Eden – which makes sense given that Eden is a special place set aside for the beginning of agriculture). In short, what we have here is a special creation and summoning of representative animals and not an account of the creation of the animals in general.  To read a more in depth treatment of comparisons between Gen 1 and Gen 2, see: Are there two creation accounts?

After the summoning and naming of the representative animals, God creates a woman by taking a rib from the man and so fashioning a suitable “helper”. The Hebrew word ‘ezer does not suggest a subordinate role as the English “helper” does. In context, the woman is supplying something that the man is lacking and seems to express the idea of an indispensable companion. The account of the woman’s creation is followed by an editorial aside that notes how this bond between the man and the woman explains the origin of men and women coming together as one in the custom of marriage. Finally, it is also noted that both the man and the woman were naked and unashamed indicating that nakedness itself is something pure and good and yet also hinting that the expectation of a reader contemporary with the author would be to see nakedness as something shameful and that this narrative is in part a corrective to that expectation.

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