Genesis (Study 09)—The Formation of Adam (Gen 2:7)
We have moved fully into Genesis 2 in our study. That means we crossed into verse 4, which actually begins what some consider the second (or more detailed) creation account, particularly concentrating on humankind. However, before we continue on, I’d like to point out a possibility for reading Genesis 1 and 2 according to a certain structure.
A chiasmus is a literary device that moves along discussion points to the main point before backtracking along those same points in reverse order. For example, if my progression follows points a, then b, then c, before I get to my main focus of d, I would then (in my writing) continue on by retracing those steps in reverse order: c1, b1, and a1. The Bible is full of these chiasmi. One example is Jeremiah 17:13, which can be recognized in chiastic format:
A Lord, the gatherer and holder of Israel,
B all who abandon you
C will be put to shame.
D All who turn away from Me
C1 will be written in the dirt,
B1 for they have abandoned
A1 the Lord, the fountain of living water.
Notice the two A points (A and A1) are similar in thought, as are the two B points and the two C points. The main focus is point D, emphasizing the subject of the discussion—all those who turn away from God.
As an aside (from our Genesis study), I want to briefly describe this verse’s most noteworthy application (not that it advances our Genesis study; it is simply very interesting to me). In the pericope of the adulteress found in John 8, we find the Pharisees intent on showing the people how untrustworthy Jesus would be in deciding matters of the Law. The Pharisees had been upset because the people were listening to Jesus over them (the experts!) about Law. So they devised a plan to show Jesus up. They brought a woman accused of adultery to Jesus to ask what should be done with her. And they specifically emphasized that she was found in the very act of adultery (John 8:4). It may have been supposed that their emphasis was to confirm without doubt her guilt, but that was not the only reason for the insistence. They were counting on the finer point of the Law that they were hoping Jesus did not grasp. So they asked Jesus what should be done with her. If he said to let her go, he obviously would not be following the Law of God and could then be denounced. If he said to stone her, they would accuse him of not knowing the Law because not only the woman, but the man as well should be stoned. If she had been discovered “in the very act,” they should surely have had arrested the man as well, pointing them both out in their accusation.
But Jesus didn’t respond. He merely stooped down to write in the dirt. At first the Pharisees didn’t understand his seeming indifference and persisted in questioning. So Jesus stood up and suggested the one among them without sin should cast the first stone. He then returned to his writing. The Pharisees, somehow catching on to what he was doing, started leaving one by one from the older ones to the younger. When all had gone, Jesus stood up and, by his question, emphasized to the woman that forgiveness and mercy had been offered by the Pharisees, and then he told her he also forgave her.
What turned the event from devious plot by the Pharisees to their own shame and retreat? Jesus was, no doubt, writing their names in the dirt. Perhaps also he wrote particular sins, but certainly at least their names. He did so in regard to the verse we looked at in our chiasm example. Jeremiah 17:13 was not simply some obscure verse that the Pharisees may have had to struggle to remember. During the Day of Atonement (less than two weeks prior to this event)—the solemn feast in which the Jews recalled their sin and offered the sin sacrifices in making atonement—at the end of the day, the high priest would announce that God had accepted their sacrifices and atonement had been made, emphasizing the forgiveness and mercy of God. And during this announcement, the high priest would quote Jeremiah 17:13. So the significance of Jesus writing the names of the accusers in the dirt would not have been lost on these Pharisees who had just heard the verse quoted and had heard it yearly at just this time, connecting God’s mercy and forgiveness to their own inward sin. They got the picture. The older ones left first because, as stature, authority, and seniority would insist, they were probably the first to demand closer inspection of what Jesus was writing. Seeing their names and possibly also their sins listed, and remembering God’s mercy extended to them only a few days earlier at the Day of Atonement celebration, they could not continue in their accusations, fearful of being called out publicly for their own error. With mercy extended by her accusers, Jesus also showed the mercy of God on that last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, meant to celebrate God’s preservation and promise of eternal care.
Returning now to Genesis (and understanding well how chiasmi function), we find perhaps the chiastic structure used to give account of this creative, formative time. Perhaps, rather than simply one creation story in chapter 1 followed by another in chapter 2, the accounts are structured in chiastic format with both centering midway on the important teaching of the passage. Note the following:
Sometimes those who simply want to find chiasms may force the text into such a structure that the author never intended. We want to be careful not to do that. One precaution to take is to ensure an unbroken line of verses and subjects as we move in both directions from the central point. I think (although there may be some minor sticking points) that the recitation of topical summaries above is faithful to the text and therefore indicative of actual chiastic structure.
We find, then, that the central point is the blessing of the Sabbath. Why would this point be of central focus? Remember that the Sabbath was given for humans (Mark 2:27). And the reason it was given for humans was to ensure that physical creation would be under the dominion of the image-bearing spirits rather than in dominion over them. That point is the all-important idea provided by the opening chapters. It is also the idea that will come crashing down in Genesis 3.
In our study of chapter 2, we have advanced to verse 7, describing the formation of the human image bearer. We learn first that dust from the ground is used. While dust may seem inconsequential and even useless, that is not the intended implication. It is not the dregs of some dusty unused part of earth that is the focus. The Hebrew merely means dry earth—some soil from the land. The purpose is to inextricably tie our essence to the rest of physical creation.
Skipping ahead a phrase (we’ll come back), we also read that adam became a living being. We possibly read to much into this phrase. While we are different in our persons from animals, we are not that much different in our physical essence. So we have to keep a balance here. This phrase is not the one to which we want to point to emphasize the humans as the crown of creation. The phrase actually shows more similarity with the animals than differentiation from them. Although HCSB, NIV, NASB, and NET all translate the noun as “living being” (while the KJV has it “living soul”), the Hebrew gives the more simple indication of “living creature.” And, in fact, “living creature” (from the exact same Hebrew words) is how it is translated in 1:24 and 2:19 referring to animals. The purpose for connection to the animals, as was the connection to the land, is to solidify the tie of our essence with the rest of physical creation.
The phrase we temporarily skipped—“breathed the breath of life into his nostrils”—that comes between being formed from dust and being called a living creature, may provide slightly more connection to our spirits than the other two phrases. But we still can’t get carried away.
The Hebrew wording here is similar to other passages that simply talk about this “breath of life” as mere life force, vitality, and animation:
Genesis 7:21–22 “Every creature perished—those that crawl on the earth, birds, livestock, wildlife, and those that swarm on the earth, as well as all mankind. Everything with the breath of the spirit of life in its nostrils . . . died.”
Job 27:3 “. . . as long as my breath is still in me and the breath from God remains in my nostrils.”
However, a few other passages provide implication of a bit more than mere life force:
Job 32:8 “But it is a spirit in man and the breath of the Almighty that give him understanding.”
Proverbs 20:27 “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being.”
Since nowhere else in the formation of humans does it tell how the individual spirit comes to reside in the physical essence of the body, I think we may (with caution) understand the breath of God here to include those image-bearing qualities. This idea, then, would also tie us to John 20:22.
In John 20:22, we find some interpretive difficulty. We had already learned in John 16:7 that Jesus told his disciples, “If I don’t go away, the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you.” The Counsellor, of course, is the Holy Spirit. We learn also in Luke 24:49 that Jesus tells them, “And look, I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” Therefore, the Holy Spirit’s coming would not only be preceded by Jesus’s departure but also by a period of waiting in Jerusalem. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses.” The question then, with all this talk and promise of the Holy Spirit to come to them after Jesus is gone, and with the significant event of the coming of the Spirit described in Acts 2, how should we understand those six verses in John 21 seemingly touching on the same subject but with different result?
In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you!” Having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
So, did Jesus, in fact, give the disciples the Holy Spirit at this time, or did he wait until he left (John 16:7) and they had remained in the city for a time (Luke 24:49) before finally receiving the Spirit in Acts 2?
I don’t think there is as much conflict here as first appears. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit certainly came at Pentecost to signify the state of those post-atonement believers. However, the idea of transferring heritage from Adam and the death dominion of the cursed creation to being born in the New Covenant of life and redemption in Jesus came through the same new life, breath of God now delivered by Jesus to the disciples as the old covenant of life had been delivered by God to adam. The incident in John 20, then, is not meant to show the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is to speak of the New Covenant of life that lays to rest the death dominion of adam.
You may have noticed that so far when I’ve mentioned adam, I’ve written it in italics and sometimes referenced “the adam” rather than simply Adam. The reason I’ve done that is the Hebrew word at this point is not a name. Also, and more importantly, it is not a word meaning man or male. Adam is actually a transliteration of the Hebrew that simply means human. But, of course, when we read the word translated as “man” in Genesis 2:7, we think God created a male first, right? Well, wait. If adam means human, how do we know that this first human creation was male? We may think we can read forward a bit, come to the part where God takes part of this adam to make a female so that they then are man and woman, male and female. Hmm. But if they are not designated as male and female until after the woman is fashioned, how do we know the original was male? Certainly, the original adam was not female, but is there another possibility?
Actually, yes, there is. It is a possibility written about 2000 years ago, but actually promoted by Jewish rabbinical scholars over 1000 years ago. Based on the Hebrew’s suggestive phrasing of Genesis 1:27 (and supported along the creation story in several places), these Jewish scholars believed the original human God created was not merely a male but a human encompassing both male and female physical characteristics. While even among the rabbis differences arose in exactly how this human was composed, the idea that the human was some kind of hermaphrodite was strongly suggested. And if we read Genesis 1:27 in its simplest face-value expression, we read that God created human; he created him in his image; he created them male and female. If we don’t move in our minds to decide the verse is talking about a subsequent formation of another human, our only consideration left is that the image-bearing human created was at the same time both male and female.
I can imagine that some people reading this may stop right here, dismissing it all as crazy fantasy. Yet, more corroborating evidence exists than we may at first think. Let’s look back once more to examine what we already learned through the Genesis 1 creation account. We will notice that in the entire creative process so far, God has used something of a whole and divided it into its parts:
Day 1: God created light when he “separated the light from the darkness” (1:3).
Day 2: God created the sky—the expanse between the waters above from the waters below by “separating water from water” (1:6).
Day 3: God gathered the water into one place to cause the separate dry land to appear (1:9).
Day 4: God created the sun and the moon and stars “to separate the day from the night” (1:14).
Day 5: God created the separate occupants birds and fish for his separated domains of sky and sea (1:20).
Day 6: God made the land occupants, but separately designating those of the wild from those who were image bearers—humans (1:25–26).
All that leads up to our verse which tells us, “God created human . . . male and female” (1:27). So then, it is not as though God made a mistake in creating the human as one whole; his intent had always been to separate humans into males and females. However, the pattern of dividing (bringing distinction) from the whole provided a purposeful basis that would come to be realized in his crown of creation.
The purpose begins to be unlocked in Genesis 2:18. (Again, yes, we are skipping around a bit, but we will come back to cover everything.) There we read, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.” First, the fact that God said, “It is not good . . .” does not mean that some mistake was made in creation. As God is creating, he is explaining his procedure. Thus, in creating humankind, God is saying that it is not good for the human to be alone, or more distinctly, one. It rather benefits his purpose to make the human in separation as male and female. This verse leads into the division God is about to make.
Since the KJV first called the helper a “help meet for him,” people have been confused about a woman’s role in marriage. We will get to that subject (we have to) later. Right now, let’s concentrate on what the word “meet” means. Modern translations have, of course, changed the word from “meet” to “fit” or “suitable” implying (as the HCSB) states one who is complementary or (NET) corresponding. And there probably is a little bit of that in the Hebrew. But even all those modern translations don’t capture the bare bones essence of the Hebrew. Here’s a word for word literal translation. (Each asterisk shows separation between single Hebrew words.) “not * good * to-be-of * the human * to alone-of him * I-shall-make * for him * help * as in-front-of him.” Although that may seem a bit confusing, it does clear up that meet/fit/suitable word. The base meaning is to make a help to place in front of him. In other words (and as God did), he removed part of the single human to make the human into two, one in front of the other. And that is not a stretch of translation or interpretation. Note these other cases in which the same Hebrew word is found:
Gen 21:16b “. . . she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept.”
Gen 31:32b “. . . in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours.”
Gen 31:37b “Set it here before my kinsmen.”
Ex 19:2b “And there Israel camped in front of the mountain.”
Jos 5:13b “A man was standing opposite him.”
Opposite, presence, before, in front of all have the connotation not merely of being a complement, but more precisely of facing something or someone. To be true to the text, we should preserve the emphasis of that point in Gen 2:18. And the point of emphasis is best understood by understanding the division of the human into male and female rather than the creating of a female from a male.
We are not done with this subject. Other support is found in Genesis 2, which we will get to later. But overall acceptance of the idea will not come merely from textual hints of support; purpose and plan, I think, will give more credence as the whole picture continues to come into solid, joint focus.