How Many Times Did God Create Human Beings (A Meandering On Biblical Interpretation)

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Reading Genesis 1 – 3 again this morning, I am reminded of a question I have every time: Where there two separate creations of human beings?

A literal reading of Genesis would suggest there were. Those who believe that Genesis 1 – 11 (The stories from Creation up to the Tower of Babel and taking us to Abraham) are literal, factual history must conclude that God created the man that became known as Adam on the third day and that God create the rest of humanity on the sixth day.

Many assume that the seven day creation account of Genesis one is a macro-creation (I think I just invented a word!) — a big picture account of creation, and that Adam and Eve represent a micro-creation. So the logic is that they are the same story, just told from an large external frame of reference, and the other told from within the frame of reference of creation. But again, if the text is literally true, this just does not bear out.

Genesis 1 lays out creation as follows:

Day one — Light

Day two — God makes the sky

Day three — God makes the seas and the earth and makes plants and vegetation

Day four — God makes the sun, moon, and stars

Day five — God makes fish and birds

Day six — God makes land animals and human beings

Day seven — God rests

When God created human beings on the sixth day, God made both male and female together:

God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
(Gen. 1:27)

God also told them that they could eat the fruit from EVERY TREE:

God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food (Gen 1:29).

Then in chapter two of Genesis, it says:

There was no field shrub on earth and no grass of the field had sprouted, for the LORD God had sent no rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the ground (Gen. 2:5).

If there was no field or shrub, then it was on the third day before God made vegetation but separated the dry land from the water.

Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7).

So before there was any vegetation on the earth, God made a man and then planted a garden and put the man in it. This man is not allowed to eat the fruit of EVERY TREE and the female is created separately and later.

This would mean that Adam and Eve are a separate human creation. Perhaps they were created to rule for God and to bring all people into the Garden, or extend the Garden over the whole earth, and bring all people into perfection where they would live forever. This also explains where the other people come from when Cain is worried about what others will do to him because he killed his brother, and it explains where Cain’s wife came from.

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Do I believe any of what I just wrote? No. It is New Year’s Day and I don’t like college football so I’m bored and thinking about things that are probably best left unthought about (and making up words where I can too).

All that was to try and make the point that the Bible does not have to be taken as literal history (at least not in the opening chapters) and that those who do take it as literal history do not tend to speak of two creations of human beings that to me seem necessary to talk about if one does take it literally.

I, in keeping with much of Catholic teaching on the subject, have no problem thinking about the first eleven chapters of Genesis as a mythic-history — a telling of history through mythological means. This is because I have learned a long time ago that fact is not truth and truth is not fact. I think the “truths” of those chapters are valid even if it turns out that they are not factual history. They are certainly not historical because no one was there to witness it, at least the creation part (unless Adam wrote it down from day three onward) or unless you want to say God was there and witnessed it and had it written down, but that is a faith statement about something being historical, so it is still not historical. (Historical is observed and recorded by an eye-witness or by someone who had access to an eye-witness, or who has the artifacts and materials that prove the event.)

As you process the above paragraph or as some of you recover from it, or are planning on correcting what you deem to be my lack of faith in God and/or the Bible, let me just say that I am not telling anyone else how they are to interpret or read the Bible (at least on this point). I understand full well that it is a choice — some choose to read these opening chapters more as mythological narratives; others choose to read them as literal history. We are making a choice and usually we are making a choice so that we try to avoid difficult questions that will arise from our choice. The literal readers have the difficult questions of where did Cain’s wife come from (unless I converted them to the theory above) and whether early humanity were incestuous (Cain, Seth, et. al. marrying their sisters). Those who are more mythical-historical like me have to deal with the difficult question of “If the opening chapters are metaphorical, how then can you deny the resurrection of Christ from the dead as a metaphor?” And I cannot, other than simply assert that my theology needs Jesus to literally be raised from the dead, but does not necessarily need anything in the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be literal history. It comes back down to the choice.

In the end, we all CHOOSE to believe what makes us happy, or at least what makes us as happy as we can be. Some people are made happy by the idea that people they do not like are going to burn forever in hell, so they choose to believe that. People like me do not find happiness in the idea of anyone suffering (at least not forever), even those people we do not like, so we choose to believe other things about hell. Some get rid of the idea all together, good Catholics like me tend keep it, but adjust what it is and how people get there (or maybe it is more accurate to say how hell gets in us).

I do not know what any of this has to do with anything other than to remind myself (and anyone else who cares to be reminded) that the Bible is not a simple book of formulas (do this and go to heaven; do this and go to hell), or a simple history, or a simple anything. It is an often complex collection of stories, poetry, narratives, letters, historical interpretations, instruction, and collected hopes that should not be left in the hands of any one person to interpret for us, neither should be interpret it alone. It is the Book of the Church and should be read and interpreted in community. People like me can be useful in explaining historical, theological, and linguistic contexts, but what I have to offer is a set of tools that the whole gathered community of faith can use together, so that we can all examine and interpret the Bible for ourselves and hear the Word of God as is necessary for our time and our place — which may even turn out to be different that what it turns out to be for another time and another place, or even two places at the same time.

The important thing, from my point of view, is that regardless of how we interpret it, and whatever conclusions we may draw, we are both committed to the truths that we find for ourselves in the Bible, while being tolerant and forgiving of those within and without our own communities of faith who understand it differently.

(Which brings me back to that first element of love — being patient.)

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