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Genesis 2:15-3:7

Genesis 2:15-3:7

Background to the Book of Genesis
Literary: Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment: Clines rejects a theme of sin-speech-mitigation-punishment because it does not contain the genealogies which he sees as a recurring motif and suggests: spread of sin - spread of grace. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant to be read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. the relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text) Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves.

Context of Gen 2:15-3:7
These readings are part of the second creation story, and to make sense must be considered as part of the whole, Gen 2:4b-3:24 a. The first story about creation is in Gen1:1-2:4a. It is set out in a liturgical style and is very sophisticated with God speaking creation into being. God creates (Heb 'bara', this word only ever has God as subject, Scullion:23) the whole universe from nothing and humanity is the final part of the creative activity. God makes humans in 'our image' (Gen1:26), a term which has puzzled scholars for centuries with no definitive answer. Humans are given the responsibility both, to populate the world and to have dominion over the animals. The seventh day will be a holy day because God rested and this has been part of the Jewish and Christian tradition. This story of creation has many similarities to the story in Gen 2:4b-3:24, for example, God creates, humans have a special relationship with God, and the earth provides food for humans and animals. Some major differences are the universal world versus a small defined area (Gen 2:10-14), God breathes into the nostrils of humans (Gen 2:7) rather that the spirit over the whole earth (Gen 1:2), humans are to till and keep the earth (Gen 2:15) rather than have dominion over it (Gen 1:26), Gen 2:4b contains the story of human's disobedience and their desire to be like God. After the story of humans breaking the relationship with God we read of humans breaking the relationship between one another, this time caused through jealousy (Gen 4). So this pattern of God creating, human's disobeying, followed by punishment, and then God's willingness to heal the breach becomes the pattern which Israel follows for the generations to come.

Insights/Message of Gen 2:15-3:7
Literary structure:

Gen 2:4b-3:24 can be divided as follows:

2:4b-17 = creation of Adam, garden and responsibility of Adam

2:18-25 = formation and naming of animals, and a helper

3:1-7 xx= temptation and disobedience of humans

3:8-24 x= meeting with God and consequences of disobedience

This story of creation begins with humans created from the dust of the earth and God's spirit breathed in to give them life. A garden with defined river boundaries is next in which Adam is placed. Adam is to till and keep the garden, a very different sort of command from Gen 1:26 in which humans have dominion. The Hebrew root takes the meaning to rule over and is used when Israel rules over its enemies. In Gen 2:16-17, Adam is told he can eat of everything in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The section that is omitted from the lectionary reading tells about the creation of the animals as companions for Adam who has the responsibility of naming them, but finds that none of them are really a helper. So, a helper is created and they are naked and not ashamed. The scene is set now for their disobedience in Gen 3:1-7. We are given information about the serpent which tells us he will play a significant role in the scene to follow. The Hebrew word for crafty 'arum' is a pl;ay on the Hebrew word for naked 'arummim' because the snake's craftiness in tempting Eve results in their awareness of their nakedness. The snake's question to woman implies that she knows about the instruction given to Adam because God didn't speak with her, she wasn't created at the time that God spoke with Adam. Her response indicates that she knows. Why did the serpent speak with her and not Adam and where was he? The guile of the serpent comes through in his response to her answer by saying they won't die, but will be like God. She, like all humanity wants to have power, and knowledge is power. Adam takes it from her without any protest. We are unsure what it means for their eyes to be opened when it is set in juxtaposition with the statement, 'made themselves aprons '. The verses following have a picture of God which is very human, walking and speaking. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent and they all suffer the consequences of their behaviour.

Message / Theology.This story is often referred to as the 'Fall' which is not a title used in the Hebrew Scriptures and cannot sustain a notion of original sin. Christians have chosen to impose this on the text. What this story does tell us about God and humanity is, that God provides the creation for humans to live in along with the animals. The symbolism of the tree tells us that humans are not God and must not try to think they have the same wisdom and power as God. When humans try and overreach themselves there are consequences of which they become aware. The serpent in Eastern literature is often a symbol of wisdom and not the negative picture presented here. On the other hand, it is not satan or the principle of evil, but a means of telling a truth about humanity. The awareness of their nakedness speaks of guilt before God even sets the punishment. This is the case today, we know when we have harmed someone or gone against our conscious on a matter. Humans were given incredible freedom and yet have to go that one step farther to be like God. Although there are consequences, the compassion of God clothes them - assuages their guilt - and allows them to live and continue to care for the earth (Gen 3:20-24). In today's world of science and new knowledge we often lack the knowledge and wisdom to know the right decisions to make, especially with regards to cloning and genetic manipulation.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 4:1-11, the quotations in this section are used to refute or support certain types of behaviour and three are on the lips of Jesus, Mth 4:4, 7, 10, and one from the devil Mth 4:6. In the context 4:4 is not suggesting that bread is unimportant but is tempting Jesus to use his divine power for his own ends. The quote comes from Deut 8:3 which is telling the Israelites they cannot live on bread alone and need to rely on God's providence. Christ and his disciples knew they must rely on God and there will be times when their suffering makes this crucial. Mth 4:6 is a quote from Ps 91 and is the only quote put into the mouth of the devil in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is misused from the original in order to tempt Jesus. His response (Mth 4:7) refutes any suggestion that one can test God. Matthew is using Deut 6:10-19 to show that God demands complete obedience which does not include putting Yahweh to the test. Jesus is applying this to his own nature and succeeeds, unlike the Israelites who failed in the desert. Finally the devil is reminded of the first command that only God can be worshipped and as creator of the world alone merits worship.

Resources/Worship for Gen 2:15-3:7
Worship:   The Dramatised Bible has a useful reading for this Text.

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
———. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
Fretheim,Terrence E. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
———. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18–50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995

Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
———. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 


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