Genesis (Study 8)—Creation Relationship #3: God with Humans (Gen 2:4–17)
We have discussed in detail now two major areas of image bearing. The first is the image bearing of structure, in which we humans are one in essence (physicality) and multiple in existence (each person bearing the attributes for the activities of comprehension, concurrence, and communication). This image bearing mirrors God in his one essence and three persons. The second is the image bearing of relationship, in which we found four creation relationships. The first two we discussed in relation to Genesis 1: God to human essence (physical creation) and human persons to human essence. And the second two will come up in Genesis 2: God with humans and humans with humans.
Let’s take a moment to be clear on how I’m organizing these relationships. The study of the Bible usually takes one of two major approaches: systematic or biblical. A systematic approach extracts from the Bible all discussion of a certain topic so that understanding of that topic may be complete. We probably know of many systematic theology books (such as those by Hodge, Barth [Church Dogmatics], Berkhof, Erickson [Christian Theology], and Reymond among a myriad of others). And systematics are useful in providing complete biblical record of certain subjects. However, the Bible is written in a progressive revelation style because that is, in fact, how God provided his revelation to humankind. Neither Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, or Daniel had a complete knowledge of certain subjects as one could get from a Systematic Theology, simply because God had not yet provided all his revelation by the time of their lives. We have to understand those people and their decisions and actions based on God’s revelation to those points in their lives. That approach is called biblical theology.
As we march through Genesis in a biblical theology approach of progressive revelation, I am at the same time trying to form a systematic view of subjects in their fully revealed understanding. For that reason, it may seem as if I am constantly saying, for example, “There are four creation relationships, but we won’t get to two of them until Genesis 2.” Or I may speak of creation relationship #2—human persons to human essence (physical creation)—in Genesis 1, but then I may go back to reveal something else about it when we get to Genesis 2 where God gives additional revelation about it.
So, and in other words, take your time as you read these summaries. The back-and-forth regarding subjects may at times be difficult to follow, but the intent is to provide both how God provides the revelation in his Word and to provide completely based on all God’s revelation about the subject.
Back then to our discussion of image bearing, I want to discuss a little more about the very first mention of image bearing we had briefly mentioned when we first looked at Genesis 1:26. There we hear God say, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule. . . .” The ruling of human persons over human essence (physical creation) is part of creation relationship #2. We need to understand two aspects of our dominion over physical creation.
The first aspect relates to the question of how this dominion of our spirits over our essence is image bearing. Is that not the exact opposite of how God interacts between his essence and his persons? It is God’s one essence of infinite truth, goodness, and beauty that holds sway over how he acts among his persons. But we are told that humans in their persons must hold sway (dominion) over their one essence (physical creation). Well, yes, in that sense it is not image bearing, but it is necessary. The reason we must hold sway over our essence is so we can image God in having his essence (of truth, goodness, and beauty) rule over us.
But what does it mean to have dominion over physical creation? How were Adam and Eve expected to rule? The rule is not that which is common to human rule in our fallen world. It is not about controlling others for selfish gain in power, wealth, or pride. (And that was exactly Jesus’s point when he told Pilate his kingdom was not of this world.) It is also not (as often depicted) simply ruling over evil forces. Remember that God’s appointment to rule was made before sin ever entered this world. Rather than a reign likened to the normal reign of a sin-cursed world, the perfection of human ruling is intended to reflect (image) God’s ruling. How does God rule? He rules by expressing his essence in love throughout his creation. We too, then, rule by ensuring that our dominion rightly reflects the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. The happy result of our rule will be that God’s TGB dominates everything. The pleasure and satisfaction in that rule is the glory of perfect life and relationship. And, precisely that rule, is what is promised us when we learn that we will reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 22:5).
As we cross fully into Genesis 2 (starting with verse 4), we read a statement that has parallels throughout Genesis. The first part of verse 4 reads, “These are the records of the heavens and the earth.” The translation “records” may be a little misleading, and so is “account” as in the NIV, NASB, and NET. The “generations” of the KJV and ESV stick closer to the actual Hebrew, which means descendants.
Every other time we encounter the word in Genesis, we are given a listing of descendants. Genesis 5:1 speaks of the descendants of Adam; Genesis 6:9 speaks of the descendants of Noah; Gen 10:1 of Noah’s descendants; Gen 11:27 of Terah’s descendants; Gen 25:12 of Ishmael’s descendants; Gen 25:19 of Isaac’s descendants; Gen 36:1 of Esau’s descendants; and Gen 37:2 of Jacob’s descendants. And that predominance of use ought to govern our understanding of the one time it is used not with a person but with “heavens and earth.” In all other uses, the person in question was discussed first, and then the person’s descendants are named. Likewise, in regard to the heavens and earth, they are discussed first in Genesis 1 before here in Genesis 2 discussing the descendants. Who are the descendants? To answer that, let’s go back up to verse 1. There we read, “So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed.”
That verse talks about completion of two parts: (1) heavens and earth and (2) everything in them. Remember the literary framework of chapter 1. The narrative took us along this course:
1:1 God created everything from nothing.
1:2 The creation was formlessand empty
1:3–13Creation was formed(domains of days 1–3)
1:14–31 Creation’s formed domains were filled(occupants of days 4–6)
2:1 Conclusion: Creation’s “heavens and earth” (formed domains) and “everything in them” (occupants) were completed
So Genesis 1 told the story of God’s initial creation of original material, the problems of the original material being formless and empty, how God fixed the problem of formlessness, how God fixed the problem of emptiness, and the conclusion that creation was now formed and filled. Therefore, based on the conclusion of the framework narrative, 2:4 is intent on concentrating on the descendants—those occupants God created to fill his creation, primarily humankind.
But immediately on reading verses 5 through 7, we seem to run into a chronological problem. In Genesis 1, the domain of land and vegetation is created in day 3, and the human occupants are created on day 6. But Genesis 2:5–7 seem to indicate that humans were created prior to any vegetation appearing. Now, it is true that I had emphasized the day progression of Genesis 1 was not to emphasize chronology. However, it does seem logical in the narrative framework idea that the domains would be created prior to the filling by the occupants. So what is going on in chapter 2?
I think here we have a problem (as is so often the case) of mistranslation. And it is situations like this that always seem to elevate my opinion of the KJV translators. The KJV translators were not just a bunch of stodgy theologians, creating (as best their limited theological minds could) a work of mediocre translation. They were schooled in the languages, in literature, and in the nuances of each. And they weren’t translating simply to make it more easily readable (as many translations and paraphrases attempt to do today). (And I’m not arguing against readability. I appreciate attempts to make the translations readable. But giving up original intent to make it readable serves no helpful purpose.) For these verses, I think the KJV has it more nearly correct that any of our modern translations—including the New KJV. Here are the verses in question from the NIV, which I’ll use to represent all the modern translations. (Even though differences exist in the modern versions, the particular points which I object to are common in the modern versions.)
Genesis 2:4–7a (NIV):
4 “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground,
6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.
7 Then the Lord God formed a man. . . .”
Compare that to the King James:
Genesis 2:4–7a (KJV):
4 “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and heavens,
5 and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
7 And the Lord God formed man. . . .”
Notice first the end of verse 4. The NIV (and all modern texts except NKJV) have a period there. As in the KJV, there shouldn’t be. Verse 5 actually continues the thought. Look at KJV’s verse 5 up until the colon. We are given the noun phrases “every plant” and “every herb.” The NIV treats them as subjects and must therefore insert verbs for them in verse 5 (“No shrub hadyet appeared” and “No plant hadyet sprungup”). But the Hebrew isn’t structured that way. The KJV, insisting on following the Hebrew, forces us to read “plant” and “herb” as sister direct objects of verse 4’s “earth and heavens.” Therefore, extracting the bare bones sentence reveals, “The Lord God made the earth and heavens and every plant of the field and every herb of the field.”
Now, when did he make them? He made the plant of the field before it was in the earth. And he made the herb of the field before it grew. In other words, the verses are not just giving a chronological relationship of plants to human creation. Rather, God is specifying that he made the plants as full-grown plants, NOT first putting them as seeds in the earth and waiting for them to sprout and grow into full grown plants. The point again is not chronology. The point is the fashioning of the earth immediately to be a functioning home for his primary creation—the human image bearers with whom he would have everlasting love relationship.