Finding humans origins from biblical theology #3

At this point in the series, let’s move on to consider the world outside Eden, and perhaps before Eden, by summarising what I’ve already concluded from adopting the “compositional strategy” of the Pentateuch or Torah proposed by John Sailhamer, and applied to the beginning of Genesis by Seth Postell. I put this overview in list form in the previous post, so please refresh your memory there if you need to.

If the writer of Genesis did indeed represent Adam as the archetype of Israel receiving, and breaking, a covenant of faith with Yahweh…
and if, consequently, it’s that much more likely that he took for granted the existence of other humans alongside Adam outside the sacred space of the garden…
and if that covenant was of an intimate kind not represented in the imagery of Genesis 1…
and if the universalism of the Pentateuch’s message (that Israel was called for the good of all mankind) is represented also in the introducution of Genesis…

…then Genesis 1 is significantly likely to be about the creation of the generality of mankind of which Adam was a chosen representative by grace, just as Israel was (Deut 7:7-8). This conclusion is not that of Sailhamer or Postell, who believe the chapter is only about the creation of Israel. Certainly I agree that the trajectory of the chapter is towards the creation of man – it is, in other words, an anthropocentric account.

But as I’ve suggested (not least because Sailhamer points it out), there is a winsome universalism underlying the narrative of the Torah that looks beyond the narrow interests of Israel, important though they are to its purpose, and towards the wider world. If Genesis 1 does not reflect this universalism in some way, then the subsequent chapters, which focus on the direct line of Seth, but include the spread of Adam’s progeny across the world, seem to make “the nations” something of an afterthought to the story of Israel, rather than its ultimate purpose.

If I’m right about that, Gen 1 would be about the creation of the whole race, not just of Adam and Eve as the very first human couple. That couple would, as the text literally says, come later and for an additional purpose beyond the initial creation. In this regard, note the toledot (“generations”) statement of 2:4, which is a heading about what the created world brought forth (its “generations”), not a reiteration of its creation in different words. I’ll say a bit about the question of the special creation of man or of Adam in a separate post.

There are certainly parallels to that kind of double approach to the creation of mankind in the ANE literature, as John Walton points out in his books. Some Babylonian myths, notably Enuma elish, tended to talk about the creation of “men” in a generic sense, sometimes made from symbolically-charged materials like clay and/or blood, but created en masse, as a workforce for the gods. On the other hand, the creation of individual characters with special archetypal roles is also described. For example, of the sage Adapa it was written in Adapa and the Food of Life that “Ea had created him as chief among men”.

The theological significance of the author of Genesis intending 1:26-28 to mean something like “the whole human race, from whom Adam will be a specially called member” is that it gives enormous dignity to the whole of mankind, and not just to the progenitor of Israel. It is sometimes forgotten that it is not Adam who is specifically said to be created in the image of God (at least until it is hinted when the two narratives are drawn together in Gen 5:1-3), but generic “man” in ch.1.

Genesis does not, as I’ve discussed in the past, define mankind biologically or in any other way, and there is some probable ambiguity given the conventions in early societies. But assuming what I have said about the authorial intent of the Torah, “man in God’s own image” in Genesis 1 ought to have a simple functional meaning of “the people of the nations whom Adam and later Israel would be called to bless”. The writer of Genesis, in other words, would regard the Cushites, the Amalekites and the dwellers in the land of Nod in Genesis 4 to be created “in the image of God”. In that sense, then, there is a simple correlation between Genesis 1 and Paul’s teaching on the applicability of the gospel to “all men” and our modern concept of “the brotherhood of man”. Any question about Adam’s role, genealogically or in any other way, are a separate issue.

Now this is significant, for it means that whether we equate “image” with “rational soul” as the Thomists do, or similarly with any set of human qualities we choose to name in which we resemble God, or as relating principally to the representative role to which mankind is appointed in God’s “cosmic temple”, the image is “ontological”. It is the very principle of our creation as a race, what we are by being human, and not some part of us, especially something superadded either by divine fiat (like an “immortal soul”) or by “natural” evolution… or by divine fiat to “natural evolution”, come to that. It could, perhaps, mean that we are immortal souls (though I argued in the last post that Scripture clearly says we are intrinsically mortal, and only gain eternal life by gift), but the point is that it is the human being in his or her entirety whose nature is said to be “in the image and likeness of God”. That, of course, says a lot about the dignity of mankind across the world, between the sexes, regardless of abilities and from conception to death.

And it completely excludes those forms of theistic evolution which have God simply approve whatever intelligent species arises fortuitously, or indeed any theory in which God is not the sole and deliberate author of the “form” of man. Self-portraits have nothing in common with objets trouvés.

This understanding also speaks to the oft-posed question of what happened to the image of God in man at the Fall. According to my thinking, since the image was conferred at the creation and not in the garden, it cannot have been lost there without our ceasing to be human altogether. A sick man is still a man. The conferring of the image – which is nothing but the conferring of humannness – preceded the grace of Eden then, and Adam bore God’s image before he was ever put in the garden, explaining why our author would would want to assume that the rest of mankind had the dignity to be accorded Yahweh’s blessing via Adam’s line, despite the prominence of Israel’s unique holiness to the Lord in the Torah.

This scriptural link between the Genesis 1 creation and Adam also neutralises any “Yuk” factor in thinking of non-adamic man, especially in relation to bogeys like “men interbreeding with hominids”. The “man” of Genesis 1 equates to ordinary mortal men and women as the writer would have experienced them, or as a chalcolithic Adam would have encountered them: culturally, intellectually and spiritually equivalent to themselves. The difference between Adam’s line and others would be more subtle, and primarily in the realm of revelation, not creation. There is, indeed, a profound difference between an Israelite and a Canaanite, but it is to do with covenant holiness and separation, not biology: the two could and did intermarry. Likewise there is a profound difference between a “new creation in Christ” and a “vessel of God’s wrath”, so that Paul tells the former not to be “unequally yoked” to the latter. But yet they can scarcely be told apart in most situations.

At this point I want to remind you of the way that Genesis 1 paints creation. Although I disagree with Sailhamer that the chapter is about the creation of Israel, I agree with him that it is not intended as a material cosmology. It does, indeed, deal with the literal components of the world we experience, in a phenomenological rather than theoretical way, and as already mentioned it is focused on mankind and his role in God’s plan. But the imagery is primarily that of the Hebrew tabernacle or temple, and I’ve argued in a previous post that this reflects the kind of separation-in-worship of God found in the defective “fix” of the Mosaic covenant, rather than the intimacy of Eden or what God had originally intended for Israel on Mt Sinai. The world created in Genesis 1 was not the garden.

Before I discuss that further, though, let me mention as an aside how such an apparently non-literal understanding of the creation account is not a cop-out to faith in God’s power, but a powerful literary tool equivalent to those in use today to enhance understanding. Even before I started The Hump, I did an essay exploring the use of this “mythological” approach even in modern science. There really is no compelling reason to map Genesis 1 to modern scientific cosmology, though it ought to (and, properly understood, does) map to the real world.

If man was created in a world in which God’s dwelling, heaven, was separated from mankind’s earth by natural elements typological of the gradations of holiness in the temple (as opposed to the intimate immanence of God in the garden), then what can be concluded about the spiritual situation of mankind then? They had received “creation ordinances” from God in 1:26-30, but remember these are uttered as part of God’s creative words of power – what God made us to be is not necessarily what we know we are. We can say with some confidence that God did not reveal himself in covenant relationship as Yahweh to the bulk of mankind, for that is the substance of the story of Adam in the garden. In any case, there is no historical evidence for such a universal monotheistic religion in the distant past.

Yet when all is said and done, what God creates is a temple, and mankind is his image in it. Given this it would be as odd for early man to be, by created nature, atheistic as for him to be Methodist. And of course, historically speaking even palaeolithic man is being increasingly understood to be incorrigibly religious, in some form, way back into the deep past.

Beyond that I’m afraid to go, since Scripture doesn’t reveal it and neither does science, so why guess? Was there in the past a primitive religion which, though worshipping God “afar off”, was acceptable to God at that time, like the sky-god religions of many primitive cultures now? Or on the other hand is Paul describing those times in Romans 1:18-23? I’d be cautious in going there, for it suggests sin before the first sin: although Paul says “since the creation of the world” that may simply be shorthand for “since the early chapters of Genesis about creation”, just as Jesus bases his teaching on divorce from what happened “in the beginning”, meaning Gen 2:24, not Gen. 1:1.

The question has little bearing on the truth of my argument, though – theology has always oscillated between the “noble savage” and “false religion” poles in considering those who haven’t heard the gospel, let alone those who might have lived before the Fall.

I’ll close by a brief thought on how this relates to the “genealogical Adam” hypothesis currently under discussion, not least by me. A little consideration will show that it doesn’t relate, as far as doing the maths for human origins in deep time is concerned. This study shows that being descended from Adam has nothing to do with being human in the sense of Genesis 1, which is the same every-day sense of counting as fully human any primitive tribe you encounter on the Amazon or in New Guinea, unless you’re an Enlightenment Man, of course, believing them to ce subhuman species. This would be true even if science should turn up evidence for a polygenic origin of mankind – for Genesis 1 is about the creation of mankind-in-the-mass, and doesn’t necessarily teach a single couple, only humanity’s origin in a single act of creation. That’s sufficient for the “one blood” description of Acts 17:26. Even Denis Venema has no reason to reject it.

Genealogical Adam, however, does become significant in terms of the spiritual fallout from the garden of Eden, and since the biblical evidence puts Adam in a relatively recent historical setting, then if we consider descent from Adam, as the first man to be in covenant with Yahweh, to be of significance (as I do, like Tim Keller), then the science appears to make that quite possible, though more dependent on divine providence the later Adam appears in history.

But there is no Scriptural reason to see “non-Adamic man” as hulking brutes with no spiritual awareness, but rather as fully functioning and socially advanced people.  The difference lies in the relationship with Yahweh – or at most the ability to relate to him. The conservative believer need therefore have no fear of archaeological evidence of long-lasting, worldwide and highly-developed cultures in the past. It seems to be what Genesis 1 predicts.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Adam, Creation, History, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Finding humans origins from biblical theology #3

  1. swamidass says:

    Excellent Jon. Can I repost a compiled version of this series on my blog? I want to be sure your ideas are considered going forward.

    Also, good news to report that BioLogos now has withdrawn the “sub-human” racism complaint and now publicly affirms the science. http://peacefulscience.org/which-is-greater/

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Joshua – yes, of course.

      Glad that BioLogos has taken that step – it’s all too easy to deal in rhetoric rather than consider things soberly. All strength to your elbow on Peaceful Science

  2. drnmud says:

    Jon,

    Your second paragraph certainly has a lot of ifs!

    Some sentences farther down could have begun with “if” but instead read

    “But assuming what I have said about the authorial intent of the Torah, “man in God’s own image” in Genesis 1 ought to have a simple functional meaning of “the people of the nations whom Adam and later Israel would be called to bless”. The writer of Genesis, in other words, would regard the Cushites, the Amalekites and the dwellers in the land of Nod in Genesis 4 to be created “in the image of God”…
    Genesis 1 is about the creation of mankind-in-the-mass, and doesn’t necessarily teach a single couple, only humanity’s origin in a single act of creation.
    … But there is no Scriptural reason to see “non-Adamic man” as hulking brutes with no spiritual awareness, but rather as fully functioning and socially advanced people.”

    If all of your ifs are correct, I’m wondering why, in Genesis 2:19-20, God didn’t have Adam name all the various peoples, in addition to naming all the various animals.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      drnmud

      I can tell you’re not convinced!

      The “ifs” were all put in as points which I have already sought to establish in previous posts. Clearly if those arguments have not convinced someone, then they won’t proceed to the deduction. I was taught at school to include my “working” in the answers, so that’s what I was doing!

      Your final question, of course, is all about the purpose of the narrative. For Adam to be given, in effect, dominion over the animals in his realm by naming them as God’s “viceroy” (with the subordinate purpose of finding his own assistant and companion), does not mean he was given dominion over all mankind too.

      • drnmud says:

        Jon,

        “Your final question, of course, is all about the purpose of the narrative. For Adam to be given, in effect, dominion over the animals in his realm by naming them as God’s “viceroy” (with the subordinate purpose of finding his own assistant and companion), does not mean he was given dominion over all mankind too.”

        If <b“naming” (Gen 2 text) something is the same as “having dominion over” (Gen 1 text) something, then Adam would have had as much dominion over the Woman (cf. Gen 2:23) as he would a woodpecker or any other animal. However, the text doesn’t indicate Adam had such dominion over Eve – at least not until after the fall (cf. Gen 3:16).

        Since “naming” is not synonymous with “having dominion over”, Adam could have named all the other peoples around him whom he likewise did not have dominion over.

        But he didn’t. Maybe because other peoples weren’t around.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          “Dominion” wasn’t quite the word I was looking for (late last night after two long meetings – couldn’t think of an alternative). It has too many connotations of autocracy, though it is the way the relationship is destined to go after the Fall – Eve becomes more like the beasts than the helpmeet.

          Try “authority” instead, and you’ll see that is the very word Paul uses in connection with the relationship of man to woman. In relation to the Eden events, it is the reason that the curse is pronounced on Adam rather than Eve (3:19) and why it is he, rather than they, who is described as being driven out of the garden in 3:24. That too, is why the accountability for the first sin is always, throughout Scripture, Adam’s rather than Eve’s, though she ate the fruit first.

          As to whether that authority is inherent in naming, Gordon Wenham is fairly typical in saying: “Although they are equal in nature, that man names woman indicates that she is expected to be subordinate to him, an important presupposition in the ensuing narrative.”

          • drnmud says:

            Jon,

            The text does not indicate that Adam had authority over Eve before the fall. It indicates Adam would rule over Eve only after the fall.

            Again, if Adam before the fall was giving names to both those subordinate to him and those not subordinate to him, I wonder why he wouldn’t name other surrounding peoples who also were not subordinate to him.

          • Jay313 says:

            I recall at least one source who cited Hagar naming God in Gen. 16:13 as an indication that we cannot automatically assume that giving a name to another granted one authority over them. God obviously was not subordinate to Hagar. I thought it was a pretty persuasive argument, although I have no idea whether it’s a minority position.

            In any case, that verse isn’t necessary to establish mankind’s authority over nature, and it also isn’t necessary to establish the relationship of man and woman, whether before or after the Fall. The doctrines don’t stand or fall on that one shaky leg.

            And just so that I can disagree with everyone at once, Adam naming or not naming other peoples is reading into the text much more than you think Jon has done. Gen. 2-3 is an incredibly compact story. There are no superfluous details anywhere. The sin of Adam–the eating of the fruit–is dispensed with matter-of-factly.

            So, read the text as it is presented to you, in an almost childlike fashion. Here is my middle school teacher analysis: Within Chapter 2, the author builds dramatic tension in 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” Then God makes the animals and brings them to Adam, but no one corresponding to “the man” is found. The climax of Chapter 2 is the creation of Eve, and Adam’s joyous exclamation. Verses 24-25 provide the resolution.

            The naming of the animals, just like God creating them and bringing them to the man, is a plot device. Nothing more, nothing less.

            • Jay313 says:

              Dang! Forgot to say hi!

            • drnmud says:

              Jay313,

              You write
              “And just so that I can disagree with everyone at once, Adam naming or not naming other peoples is reading into the text much more than you think Jon has done.”

              Perhaps, then, you as well find the text telling you that
              Genesis 1 is about the creation of mankind-in-the-mass, and doesn’t necessarily teach a single couple, only humanity’s origin in a single act of creation.”

              But it doesn’t tell me that.

              • Jay313 says:

                You’ll have the find me the passage in Genesis 1 that teaches the creation of a single couple. It seems to be missing from my Bible….

  3. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Jay

    The fact that there are instances in the Bible in which naming does not indicate authority doesn’t, of course, mean that Genesis is one of them. You’ll maybe be aware of the long history that authority is the context in Genesis 2, held in tension with an understanding of ontological equality.

    I’ve not got immediate access to a huge number of very ancient (indexed!) sources, but Matthew Henry, for example, takes the authority inherent in naming as a statement of simple fact when discussing the creation of Eve, and that’s without beginning to consider the context, the teaching of Paul, etc as I briefly have above.

    I have no reason to doubt that it was the common view amongst earlier Catholic authors too. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, actually answers the very claim of drnmud, ie that there was no inequality of authority between the sexes until the Fall. His words:

    Subjection is twofold. One is servile, by virtue of which a superior makes use of a subject for his own benefit; and this kind of subjection began after sin. There is another kind of subjection which is called economic or civil, whereby the superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good; and this kind of subjection existed even before sin.

    But Martin Luther, famously, discusses the making of Eve from Adam’s side as a partner, rather than from his head as a ruler, or his feet as a chattel. Yet, to quote a study on Luther and gender by a Luther scholar:

    He also found symbolic meaning in Eve’s “birth” out of her husband’s side; her literal derivation from Adam’s substance stood as a sign not only of their mutuality and likeness, but also of her subordination to his rule.

    This theme in Genesis is even recognised by feminist theologians, who have to perform theological gymnastics to explain it away.

    So I’m hardly out in an interpretive limb here – quite the reverse, in the history of theology past and present. That said, I completely agree with you that building an argument from what the text doesn’t say about the nations is a hiding to nothing.

  4. Jay313 says:

    “So I’m hardly out in an interpretive limb here …”

    Oh, no, I wasn’t trying to suggest that. Many interpret the naming of the animals and of Eve as you do. I was just offering a different take that I recently read. As I said, I have no idea how many other theologians (if any) have the same opinion.

  5. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    As I said, I have no idea how many other theologians (if any) have the same opinion.

    The answer’s seven. 🙂

    No, actually it may be difficult to gauge, because apart from those with an egalitarian axe to grind (and that’s fashionable, of course, so will tend to lead people to argue against the long-received view), sometimes people’s comments drift towards whichever of the two strands they feel drawn to notice.

    I mentioned Wenham basically using the “authority” motif in his commentary as an interpretive key to much of the account. On the other hand Kidner is keen to stress the ontological and spiritual equality of Eve and doesn’t seem to mention the naming issue, at least with regard to Eve.

    Anyway, it’s tangential to the subject of the post, but interesting because a number of Scriptural, and especially NT teachings, seem to assume it, including federal headship: not a lot of people are arguing for Christ as the new Eve!

  6. Jay313 says:

    Haha. No. But I have seen some Catholic theologians make the case for Mary as the new Eve. Not following them down that road!

    It is a tangential issue, and I think all of us would agree that this passage in Genesis is not decisive. Other passages speak more clearly on the question.

    It does raise another interesting tangent, which we need not pursue. Many women who grow up with lousy father figures have a really hard time with the concept of God as Father, simply because their experience of fathers has not been positive. Not that anyone needs to start calling God a “mother” …

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Funnily enough I’ve met more men troubled by the “father” concept than women. It’s an odd complaint though, when you think that you only have one father, but see lots of others who, from the outside, seem better than ones own.

      People have spouse trouble – a few will become celibate or gay, but most just wish for or look for the ideal other elsewhere.

  7. drnmud says:

    Jay313,

    “You’ll have the find me the passage in Genesis 1 that teaches the creation of a single couple. It seems to be missing from my Bible….”

    My Genesis 1 says
    “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him”, and then “male and female he created them.”

    My Gen 2 and 3 then give more detail on who “him” and “them” are,
    including the statement that Eve “was the mother of all living.”

    • Jay313 says:

      “So God created adam in his own image …”

      Yes, then we have a story with a character named ha’adam, the man, when Hebrew does not use a definite article with a personal name, just as in English you wouldn’t refer to me or Jon as “the Jay” and “the Jon.” Too many issues to resolve in a few sentences, so we can just agree to disagree for now.

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