I once had a friend tell me that it caused a bit of a spiritual crisis for him when he studied the story of creation and the story of Adam and Eve more closely. (So I hope this post doesn’t upset anyone!) He was all of the sudden troubled by the discrepancies. In the story of Adam and Eve, the land is dry and a mist rises up; in the creation story there is water everywhere and finally dry earth on the third day. In the story of Adam and Eve, God creates man out of dust and then plants the garden and makes the animals. In the creation story, male and female are created on the sixth day as the grand finale before God rests. The culmination of the Genesis 2 story is the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib. I made myself a little page of notes to keep all this straight in my head.
What to make of the discrepancies? Through the years, many people have gone to a lot of trouble to reconcile the stories creating elaborate explanations and solving the riddles by suggesting new characters (a first wife for Adam named Lilith?). But honestly, I think the simplest answer is that there were two ancient creation stories that were both considered sacred, and they both got preserved in the Bible. What makes both stories sacred is that to this day, they still provide lots of material for discussion. They offer insight into God and express something fundamental about what it means to be human. We read the Bible with a modern mindset and expect consistency, but maybe hundreds of years ago when the words were first written down it was more important to preserve the stories than to reconcile them. And I am grateful because of I love them both! Maybe the two passages had different purposes. The first creation story seems to go well with priestly literature, especially passages about the Sabbath. The second creation story seems to go well with wisdom literature, especially Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
It astonishes me how much food for thought can be found in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. If I were a pastor, I could probably start a dozen or so sermons with just Genesis 2 as the reading. Here’s just a few ideas that pop easily into my head….
- Christian vocation–even in paradise Adam had work to do: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) I’d draw on scripture from Ecclesiastes, too: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)
- Ten Commandments–“even in paradise there were limitations.”
- God’s breath: God breathed life into Adam, life into scripture, and life into us through scripture. I’d build upon this verse: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
- Rivers in the Bible: It’s nice to daydream about rivers flowing out of Paradise and what they would bring to us. This makes me think of Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like and everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
- God’s provision: “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9) Maybe I’d incorporate a reflection on Psalms 34: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalms 34:8.)
- Humility: I’d go to Ecclesiastes: “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Ecclesiastes 3:20)
- The Function of Language: Words can be used to name things and express love as they are in Genesis 2, but they can also be used for lying, tricking, and gossiping. For this sermon, I would pair this passage with “Finanlly, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
- Womanhood: I love that the first recorded human words in the Bible are an expression of true love. I’d have to draw on Proverbs 31 for this: “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Proverbs 31:10)
- Marriage and what it means to be created for relationships (I’ve heard this sermon recently!): I’d draw on Ecclesiastes again: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
- Then I would ponder the mystery of Adam’s rib and how that prefigures the creation of the church from the body of Christ in a 4-part sermon series.
- Baptism and Communion: Instead of the rib of Christ, the gospel of John gives a pierced side flowing water and blood (John 19:35). I could envision a sermon on how the church comes into being through the sacraments of baptism and communion.
- Body of Christ: Paul frequently refers to the church as the body of Christ. For example, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
- Bride of Christ: Paul refers to the Genesis story when he writes: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
- The resurrection: Adam woke from his sleep; Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
It strikes me a bit funny that there are about 50 chapters on the building of the Tabernacle, and by contrast, just two chapters on the creation of the entire universe. Despite the succinctness of both stories, they seem inexhaustible in terms of the wisdom in every verse.
Here’s what found its way into my margins…I used a beautiful stamp designed by Jamie Dougherty as part of the Prima Creating in Faith Collection. I think the stamp is worthy of the moment that Adam first lays eyes on Eve and says: “This at last is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh!” (I put gesso on the page and used Distress Inks as watercolors.)