It is sometimes thought that in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 we have two entirely separate and self-contained creation accounts, so different as to be incompatible.
But they are neither contradictory accounts, nor carbon copies of one another.
Claire Smith discusses the similarities and differences most helpfully:
When we look at these two accounts we see there is sameness and difference. They are not conflicting accounts, but they are not carbon copies either. Each makes its own distinctive contribution. Each account teaches us the same and different things about God, creation and humankind. Where the first is concerned with the origins of creation and God’s relationship with his creation, the second is concerned with relationships within God’s creation and the origins of evil. The two accounts are like two sides of the same coin, and we need both sides. Together they help us know who God is and who we are.
Both texts speak of the same God:
He is the sovereign ruler over all creation. He is the main actor on the stage. He is there before anything else exists. He is a God who acts. He decides what will happen and then makes it happen. He creates order from formlessness and chaos. He provides good things to meet all the needs of those he has made (Gen 1:29; 2:9, 16). He is generous and kind. He is a speaking God, who can be known and who deliberates at a critical juncture in the creation of humanity (Gen 1:26, 2:18). He is the ruler and lawgiver, who speaks to and commands those he has made (Gen 1:28, 2:16-17). He entrusts humanity with the care of his creation (Gen 1:28, 2:15).
But there are differences too. Genesis 1 tells of God’s power, and his universal rule. Chapter 2 tells of God’s personality, and his willingness to enter into relationship with his creatures.
In chapter 1 we see God’s transcendence, vastness and power, and his separateness from his creation (hence the need to make mankind in his image as his representative in creation). Here he speaks and sees—he announces, commands, executes, approves, and names the ordered developments of his new creation. In chapter 2, it is God’s immanence or presence that we notice. He sends rain. He shapes man from dust like a potter working with clay, and breathes life into his nostrils. He plants a garden into which he puts the man. He forms the animals from dust. He makes woman by causing the man to fall into a deep sleep and by taking a rib and closing up the flesh and then forming the woman before bringing her to the man, like a father presenting his daughter at her wedding.
The two chapters portray God’s creation in different ways:
Genesis 1 gives us the ‘Google Earth’ view of the whole world, where we see every aspect of creation in its broad array. Genesis 2 on the other hand gives us the ‘street view’ where we can see street names (or in this case, the names of rivers and lands), the neighbouring localities, the fruit on the trees and even the inhabitants walking around.
One again, there are similarities between the two chapters.
Humankind is the pinnacle of creation in both. The creation of humans is introduced by divine speech. Their creation and role are the high points of each account. And in each, humans are to rule and benefit from the world that God has generously created and entrusted to them.
But there are differences too:
In Genesis 1, humanity’s resemblance to God is at the fore—being made in his image and likeness, to rule. In Genesis 2 it is man’s resemblance to the animals that is most evident: he (that is, male man) is formed out of the dust, just as they are (vv. 7, 19; cf. 3:19). This means that whereas in chapter 1 God is our closest kin, in chapter 2 our closest kin is the animals. So we have an exalted view of humanity, and then a humble one. We are both magnificent and dust. Like God, and yet also one of his creatures.
And, although chapter when presents humanity as male and female (Gen 1:27), the differences become much more apparent in chapter 2.
Genesis 1 – male and female
Claire Smith writes:
No matter what we make of the relationship between the early chapters of Genesis and the actual beginnings of creation, science must not distract us from the absolute uniqueness of humanity in creation and in God’s purposes.
Gen 1:27 makes this clear:
Line 1: So God created man in his own image. The emphasis is on God as our Creator.
Line 2: in the image of God he created him. Here the emphasis is on what God us make us like.
Line 3: male and female he created them. Here the word ‘man’ is expanded to ‘them’ and they are male and female. Though they are both made in God’s image, they are not the same, and their differences are essential to who they are.
This strikes at the very heart of some feminist thought and at the justification and normalizing of homosexuality that is so prevalent today. It is not as if God made ‘persons’ who just happen to have male or female external cladding, so that who we are is in no way determined by our gender, and whom we have sex with does not matter so long as they are a (consenting) person. This will not do. God made us with sexual polarity, as either male or female. We cannot divorce who we are from our gender.
Genesis 2 – the man and the woman
Whereas Genesis 1 took us through the orderly progressive steps and days of God’s work of creation, Genesis 2 lands us with a thud in the middle of the sixth day (v. 7).
It is clear from this chapter that God made the man first, and then the woman.
She is like him in that she is made of the same stuff as him: the same bone, the same flesh—she is his kin (Gen 29:14; Judg 9:2; 2 Sam 5:1). She is like him but she is not identical to him. She is something different. His aloneness hasn’t been resolved with someone identical to him (another man), or with something foreign to him (an animal), but with someone essentially like him but opposite to him. His other half. His complement.
But the man has temporal priority. His status as the ‘firstborn’ may seen unimportant to us, but would have been of great importance in an ancient culture. As firstborn, the man has responsibilities of leadership and authority. This is reflected in his very naming of the animals (v16f) and the woman (v23). Paul appeals to this very temporal priority in 1 Cor 11:8 and 2 Tim 2.
the woman is the man’s helper, and not vice-versa. Yet we should not think that the word ‘helper’ implies subservience, since God is often described as Israel’s ‘helper’.
As one writer puts it: this is not the march of patriarchalism (where the man hammers out the beat) or the race of feminism (where the woman wins), but rather the man and woman are equal and with different responsibilities. In God’s good design, their relationship is neither a march nor a race, but a dance where the man leads and the woman follows, and yet together they move as one, in perfect harmony.
This dance was not designed for ancient Eden only, but also laters times and places. Paul assumes this in his teaching about the relationship between a husband and wife (Ephesians 5; Colossians 3; Titus 2; 1 Peter 3), and in leadership and teaching roles in the church family (1 Corinthians 11 and 14; 1 Timothy 2).
Genesis 3 – the elephant in the room
Here’s where it all goes wrong.
It is no accident, I take it, that the serpent chooses to talk to the woman rather than to the man. What this temptation represents, step by step, is the total reversal of God’s created order of relationships. The man is to submit himself to the command of God (as is the woman), the woman is to accept the leadership of the man, and the man and woman together are to have authority over the creatures. But all of that is turned on its head.
Instead, the creature leads the woman, the woman leads the man, and together they doubt and disobey the good word of God and instead seek to be like him (which they are already!). Put another way: the woman listens to the creature, the man listens to the woman, and neither of them listens to God.
The narrative focuses us on this reversal of God’s order at five points.
First, the climax or pivot of the account in the original text is the words: “and he ate” (v. 6). It is at this point that the reversal, the final fatal step had been taken.
Second, when the Lord God responds to their sin it is the man that he calls to account (v. 9), thereby reasserting the original created order.
Third, when Adam is judged he is judged not only because he ate from the tree but also because he listened to his wife (v. 17). That is, Adam did two things wrong. He disobeyed God by eating the very fruit he was told not to eat, and he disobeyed God by listening to his wife and ignoring his God-given responsibility to lead her (rather than follow). She might have been deceived (v. 13), but he was not (cf. 1 Tim 2:14).
Fourth, the death sentence in 3:19, which is the fulfilment of the threat in 2:17, is directed at the man, and its language takes us right back to the creation of man from the dust at the beginning of the second account (cf. 2:7). He is still the firstborn who learns first that he will die.
And fifth, in a related point, Adam functions as the head of humanity. It is because of Adam’s sin that the creation is cursed (3:17), and the death sentence passed on him will also be passed on all those related to him (vv. 22-24).
But even before God declares his response (v. 14), the consequences of his creatures’ rebellion are painfully clear. The wonderful picture of harmony between God and his creation, between man and woman, between God and humanity, and between mankind and creation has been lost. Every relationship is affected.
God, who to this point has been revealed as the loving, generous, all-powerful, all-wise life-giver and lawgiver, is now revealed also as judge and deliverer.
The battle of the sexes
The first couple’s disobedience has affected not only their relationship with God, but also with one another. In v16b God says to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”.
This means that Eve’s desire is a desire to dominate or manipulate or control her husband—that she will no longer willingly submit to his headship but will want to rule him instead. He, on the other hand, will rule over her. His headship is not a result of the Fall, but the way he expresses that headship after the Fall is—that is, as domination.
This verse, be it noted, ‘does not represent the institution of male headship and wifely submission, but the distortion of it.’
The honeymoon is over
Every aspect of God’s good design for marriage (Gen 3:24) is currently under attack. That design is
- Marriage is between a man and a woman.
- Marriage establishes a new family that has priority over all previous relational ties and commitments.
- Marriage involves a decisive public cleaving to one another in a lifelong covenant (not shacking up together in a let’s-see-how-this-works-out arrangement).
- Marriage creates an exclusive one-flesh union.
- Marriage is very good (it is not a bondage or burden, but a blessing from God).
But because we a living after the fallout of Genesis 3, we have messed up God’s design in many ways:
Some of us will have messed up God’s design for sex and marriage. Perhaps we have been sexually active outside marriage. Perhaps we have had a list of sexual partners. Perhaps we are attracted to people of the same sex. Perhaps we are divorced. Perhaps we are married and we want out, or perhaps we have never cut the umbilical cord to our parents.
Even if we ourselves have not done any of these notoriously ‘bad’ things, none of us is innocent with regard to our sexual expression (see Mt 5:28; Rom 1:24).
But praise be to God (Alleluia!), whose word also tells us that while we may have wandered a very long way from God’s intentions, he has given us a very great Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ—and so whatever we have done against God’s good commands for sex and marriage, it is not a death sentence: we can be completely forgiven through Jesus’ blood. So if there are things we need to repent of, there is no reason to put it off. In fact there is an urgency to repent, to turn our back on our sin and accept his wonderful forgiveness, and put Christ on the throne of even our most private moments.
Smith, Claire. God’s Good Design. Matthias Media. Kindle Edition.