NOTICE TO READERS: This older edition is presented for archival purposes only. It has since been corrected, edited, and greatly expanded with more detailed research, presented in the book: The Literal Sense of Genesis: A Modern Commentary.
Chapters 1-3 | Chapters 4-9 | Chapters 10-16 | Chapters 17-24 | Chapters 25-35 | Chapters 36-50
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3
What follows is a detailed exposition of the probable literal meanings of each passage in the book of Genesis, leaving the theological and moral commentary for theologians. Whenever possible, I add relevant archaeological or historical evidence to provide context. Citations are from St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate, though reference to the Greek Septuagint and Hebrew Massoretic versions are also employed to resolve ambiguities.
This commentary also attempts to discern the sources used to compose Genesis, and in this I depart from most modern followers of "higher criticism," who believe the Five Books of Moses, or Pentateuch, to be a post-Exilic composition that intricately interwove several contradictory source texts. The nineteenth-century theories of Wellhausen et al. were developed when archaeology was in its infancy, and many of their conclusions were founded on evidence that later proved to be false. For example, it was believed that written law did not exist in Palestine before the Israelite monarchy, nor was it then known that a rich western Semitic legal tradition reached back to the third millennium B.C. Similarly, the seemingly digressive, repetitive style of the Old Testament was actually a common literary usage, so there is no need to artificially multiply source texts and propose a convoluted redaction process that makes precious little sense and has no precedent in ancient history.
I contend that the internal and external evidence of Genesis is entirely consistent with, and even suggestive of, a pre-monarchical, second-millennium B.C. composition by a single author, using several oral and written sources which I try to distinguish when possible. It is true that the text includes several glosses that are of much later date, but the main body of the document resembles a much older style and gives evidence of knowledge too detailed to be preserved orally for many centuries. As any good textual historian knows, it is common for ancient documents to have terms that were re-translated or comments that were inserted at a later date. The overall content and form of Genesis, indeed of the entire Pentateuch, are much more consistent with the second millennium B.C. than a post-Exilic composition, and it is arbitrary and arguably bad scholarship to date a document according to its most recent glosses.
The Pentateuch underwent several transliterations, as the Israelite alphabetic script changed several times before and during the monarchy. During this process, some of the names of people and locations were updated to later linguistic forms, though in many places archaic names were allowed to remain. I will examine these on a case-by-case basis.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Mosaic books were reconstructed as best as possible by Ezra. The authority of this Law would have been inexplicable had it only been composed in this period. From this point onward, an extremely scrupulous observance of Mosaic Law prevailed among the Jews, and preservation of the text took on heightened religious dimensions in the absence of the Temple. Whereas earlier scribes and priests had less reservation about inserting glosses, now every letter of the text was preserved scrupulously, so there has been relatively little variation since that time.
Despite these efforts of the Jews, the text of the Old Testament would suffer one last upheaval after destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. The Massoretic edition, dating to the late first century, represents the best attempt to reconstruct the original text of the Torah. Judging from the quality of the document, which contains many omissions, corruptions, and inverted letters (all scrupulously preserved since then), the best Hebrew manuscripts were forever lost.
Due to the inadequacy of the Hebrew text as it presently exists, it is valuable to also use the Greek Septuagint translation from the third or second century B.C. Although Hebrew was the original language of the Bible, the oldest continuously preserved edition is the Greek. The Septuagint was highly esteemed among the Jews, considered by some to be a divinely inspired translation, though it was later rejected by most rabbis in the early Christian era. Although some of its translations of Hebrew words are dubious, the Septuagint in some places preserves the text more coherently than the Massoretic text, so it is by no means to be assumed that the Massoretic version is always closer to the original. There is also a Samaritan version that dates to the first century B.C., but it has not been as scrupulously preserved since then, so its value for reconstructing the original text is limited.
Thus far we have spoken only over the major versions or manuscript traditions of the Pentateuch, but not of actual manuscripts. The oldest extant manuscripts of the complete Pentateuch are neither Hebrew nor Greek, but fifth-century Latin parchments. In many ways we are able to reconstruct the Latin original of St. Jerome much more closely than we can approximate the "original" Septuagint. The oldest Greek manuscripts are of poor textual quality, and often contradict later Byzantine manuscripts as well as each other. It is not always to be assumed that the oldest manuscripts are the most accurate. Early monastic practice regularly transferred the master copy to new parchments, destroying or re-using old parchments. Thus the best fifth-century manuscripts are least likely to have been preserved to the present. St. Jerome, however, working in the fifth century, revised the Latin Vulgate, correcting it with the best Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the time, sources that we have forever lost. Since St. Jerome was of unquestioned linguistic competence and he used better manuscripts than we currently have available, an accurate edition of St. Jerome's Vulgate would be on a par with, and in many ways superior to, the Greek and Hebrew versions.
Unfortunately, the Latin Vulgate became corrupted over time since St. Jerome, in part by scandalized clerics who preferred the older Latin versions to St. Jerome's apparent novelties. Several scholarly attempts were made to restore the Vulgate to St. Jerome's text, the most recent being that ordered by Pope St. Pius X. The current official text used by the Catholic Church is the Nova Vulgata. Although in Latin, it is not a successor of St. Jerome's Vulgate, but an intermediate critical text that draws on all three textual traditions. In the interests of clarity and consistency, I will quote from St. Jerome's Vulgate, and refer to other textual sources explicitly. This way it will always be clear on which textual tradition I am relying. Readers little versed in Latin are encouraged to follow in a modern intermediate-text translation, or the Douay-Rheims version, which is nothing but an English translation of the Vulgate.
In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram... (1:1)
In Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses are named according to the first word of the text, which in this case is beresit ("beginning"). "In the beginning" is an accurate translation of beresit which is here constructed in the singular, prepositional form. Some modern Jewish translations read, "When God began to create heaven and earth," but this completely disregards the Hebrew as it is written. Deliberate mistranslations such as this are motivated by a desire to minimize or obscure the doctrine of ex nihilo creation that seems to be asserted here. This doctrine would stand, nonetheless, on purely philosophical grounds, for the act of creation logically presumes the prior non-existence of that which is created, in this case, heaven and earth. Since the Hebrew cosmos was composed only of heaven and earth, it follows that nothing could have preceded them.
The Vulgate accurately translates "heaven" in the singular, even though in medieval usage several heavens were enumerated. As we shall see from subsequent verses, this single "heaven" actually encompasses all the heavens of the cosmos, from our familiar skies to the deepest reaches of space (which, in Hebrew cosmology, included the heavens of the angels and saints).
...terra autem erat inanis et vacua,... (1:2)
"But the earth was formless and empty..." The generic Hebrew conjunction vav can have either a conjunctive ("and", "also") or disjunctive ("but," "yet") meaning, depending on context. This is the only place in the opening verses where vav is translated with a disjunctive Latin conjunction, autem. Here St. Jerome is following the universal tradition of Jewish and Greek interpreters dating back at least to the third century B.C. The disjunctive meaning emphasizes that the state described in verse 2 existed after the creative act in verse 1. Thus even the earliest known Jewish interpreters did not see verse 2 as denying creation ex nihilo. Using a conjunctive word ("and"), as the King James and most modern translations do, does not contradict the disjunctive meaning, but allows for ambiguity.
The basic sense remains that, though God created heaven and earth "in the beginning," the earth was nonetheless formless and void. It would be an absurdity for the earth to be formless and empty before it was created, since we cannot comment on the qualities of that which does not yet exist. Since in this second verse, the earth is already declared to exist, its initial creation must be that described in the first verse, and not in the subsequent naming of the dry land. (1:10) There is no textual basis for the "gap theory" that many eons passed between verses 1 and 2. In fact, the two verses are nearly simultaneous; the latter being a qualification of the initial creative act.
"Earth" in ancient language can denote either "the world" (which we now understand to be a planet, but in antiquity meant all the land known to exist) or the material substance of which this world is made. Since the "earth" of verse 2 is "formless and empty," it cannot refer to the world as we know it, nor any structure with form. By "form" we do not mean some strict Aristotelian or Platonic definition, but simply the common-sense notion of orderly arrangement, as this was the only sense used in remote antiquity. God created matter at first in an apparently chaotic state. Note that only "earth" and not "heaven" is said to be in this disorderly state, from which we might infer that "heaven" (which includes physical space) was to some degree ordered even in the beginning.
...et tenebrae super faciem abyssi, et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas... (1:2)
Many modern translations render spiritus as "wind," due to the ambiguity of ancient Hebrew (ruvach), Greek (pneuma) and Latin (spiritus), each of which uses the same word for "wind" (or "breath") and "spirit". In antiquity, the spirit was conceived quasi-corporeally, as the very breath of life. The two meanings elide into one another, so even if we translated the word as "wind", it could retain its essentially spiritual meaning. Some animating principle, some movement, some life, which was of God, moved over the "waters", setting things in motion.
"Water" in ancient diction could refer to any sort of fluid substance. "Water" and "earth" were long regarded as elements in part because they were conceived in a much more generic sense than we recognize today. A better translation of "water" might be "liquid", "fluid", or "moisture", depending on context. Since we are dealing with a cosmos described as "formless and void", the most generic interpretation is most appropriate here, so "waters" refers to some fluid matter that is stimulated to motion by the spirit of God.
The creation of these "waters" does not seem to have been explicitly mentioned, leading some to suppose that these were pre-existing, even before the creation of heaven and earth. If that were so, we might expect to find heaven and earth subsequently formed from these waters, but nothing of the sort takes place. Further, the pre-existence of water would contradict "In the beginning...", not to mention the logical problem of where these waters would exist if there was no heaven or earth. Such ad hoc speculation is unnecessary, anyway, since the creation of the "waters" was mentioned. God created "earth" without definite form. The best way to describe this in ancient vocabulary would be as water, the most structureless palpable substance then known. Later description of "earth" emerging from "water" would signify structure emerging from chaos.
The pre-existent water theory is derived from an attempt to exaggerate the parallels between Genesis and Babylonian myths, on the assumption that the former is derived from the latter. There are many flaws with this assumption, not least of which is the fact that West Semitic traditions antedate those of Babylon. For now, we will consider only the evidence of internal consistency. Unlike the Babylonian creation myths, which describe a time before the gods existed, here the creative power of God is manifest in all things from the beginning. Genesis does not even say "In the beginning there was God," for that would circumscribe God in time. God transcends even heaven, not to be contained in space. Genesis explicitly acknowledges that heaven and earth and all its wonders were created by the power of God; it would then be a bizarre aberration to deny Him the power to create water. Thus the internal evidence of Genesis points against the pre-existence of water. We will treat external evidence of Babylonian parallels later.
...dixitque Deus, 'Fiat lux,' et facta est lux... (1:3)
All of God's creative acts will have this form, until the creation of man. God says it, and it is so. Each thing comes into being as a direct consequence of the Divine Word. Word and deed are indistinguishable in God. God does not struggle against primordial forces, nor does He exert any of the manual artifice common to the anthropomorphic deities of pagan legends. Everything proceeds directly and effortlessly from the one God.
The world, which until now had lain dark and inert, is illuminated by the Word, and given form and life by the Word.
...et vidit Deus lucem quod esset bona... (1:4)
As an act, this may seem superfluous, but God's approval is in fact necessary to affirm that these created things are indeed good, contrary to some misguided asceticisms that consider the material world to be intrinsically evil. Note that the light is considered good, while no similar statement was made about the pre-existing darkness, the mere absence of light. Things are good to the extent that they impose order over chaos, and being over non-being.
...et divisit lucem ac tenebrae appellavitque lucem 'diem' et tenebras 'noctem'..." (1:4-5)
"Day" and "night" are here considered in the most generic sense of light and darkness, not in the specific sense defined by the sun and the earth. Thus the days and nights of creation need not correspond to our familiar twenty-four hour periods, nor even to any discrete period of time. The order of creation is not necessarily chronological, but a progression from basic principles to more specific creations. In this case, light and darkness are more fundamental than the celestial bodies that govern them.
Current theories of natural science hold that light, or radiation, was the first thing to emerge from the primordial universe, and during the expansion of the cosmos, light somehow came to be separated from the darkness. We may regard the universe as composed of heaven (space-time and whatever lies beyond), water (formless matter: gases, plasmas, and loose particles), and earth (structured matter). The first three days of creation involve works of division or distinction in each of these three elements. The last three days involve works adorning these three elements with particular creatures.
...factumque vespere et mane: dies unus. (1:5)
The first day is a period of darkness followed by a period of light, in keeping with the Hebrew custom of reckoning days as beginning and ending at dusk rather than at midnight. The formula of Gen. 1:5 is appended to the end of each day's work. Each of God's creative works is an act of bringing light out of darkness, being out of non-being, order out of chaos. Thus the figure of the Hebrew day, a movement from darkness to light, is most appropriate.
We need not consider the six works as occurring in linear succession, for each defines a distinct aspect of creation, and considers the movement from darkness to light only with regard to that aspect. Nonetheless, logic requires that the work of the first day causally precedes that of the fourth, the second precedes the fifth, and the third precedes the sixth.
Dixit quoque Deus, 'Fiat firmamentum in medio aquarum et dividat aquas ab aquis,' (1:6)
The Hebrew raqiah ("firmament") comes from a root meaning to spread or stretch or beat out, as one might beat out a sheet of metal. The firmament was conceived as a thin solid sheet or shell covering the starry heavens, in which the stars were fixed. In the ancient mind, the structure of a thing was expressed by insisting on its solidity, much in the same way that the corporeality of a substance was emphasized by describing it as liquid. In antiquity, more than a few thinkers doubted that air and interstellar "ether" were corporeal, so the inspired author avoids misunderstanding by describing unorganized matter as "waters", to emphasize that these are corporeal substances.
The firmament, which is to say outer space as we know it, is actually a barrier separating the matter with which we are familiar from other corporeal substances, no less real, which are somehow "behind" or "beyond" space. Some of the more exotic aspects of theoretical physics come to mind, such as the existence of a "vacuum field" of super-massive particles, or faster-than-light tachyons. Nearly all the current theories of cosmology and particle physics assert that observed physical events are impacted by "virtual" particles that can not be properly situated in space as we know it, though interpretations as to the reality of these particles vary tremendously. A similar but cruder theory existed in antiquity, namely that there was an "aqueous sphere" beyond the starry heaven, whose motions mysteriously influenced events in the observable universe.
...et fecit Deus firmamentum, divisitque aquas quae erant sub firmamento ab his quae erant super firmamentum, et factum est ita; vocavitque Deus firmamentum 'caelum'... (1:7-8)
The firmament was conceived by the ancients as a sort of ceiling of heaven, though the firmament itself may be called "heaven" as is this case here. Similarly, we may think of a "circle" either as the figure's boundary or as including its interior. The waters beyond the firmament are released only once in history, during the Deluge. These waters are not to be confused with ordinary rain. Even the most primitive peoples understand that rain comes from clouds, which are known to be beneath the stars. The belief in "waters" beyond the starry sphere can not, therefore, be explained away as a myth to account for the origin of rain.
Light and darkness were created, and then given distinct form, at which point they were named "day" and "night". Here the primordial heaven receives more definite form as a firmament dividing two material realms, and so it receives a definite name, "heaven".
Dixit vero Deus, 'Congregentur aquae quae sub caelo sunt in locum unum et appareat arida,' factumque est ita, et vocavit Deus aridam 'terram'; congregationesque aquarum appellavit 'maria'... (1:9-10)
On the third day, "water" and "earth" obtain their more definite forms of dry land and sea, and from this point onward, these words can be understood in their familiar sense. Once again, definite form is achieved by the act of separation or differentiation, and dry land emerges from the subsiding water, analogous to the way that structured matter more generally emerged from structureless fluid. This emergence takes place by divine command, through the means of separation of substances.
...et ait, 'Germinet terra herbam virentem et facientem semen et lignum pomiferum faciens fructum iuxta genus suum cuius semen in semet ipso sit super terram,' et factum est ita... (1:11)
Interestingly, the generation of plants is included in the third day's formation of the earth, as though the presence of plants were somehow essential to the character of the earth's form. This is in fact the case, as the presence of plants is responsible for the earth's atmosphere and climate, giving this planet an aspect remarkably different from its neighbors.
Dixit autem Deus, 'Fiant luminaria in firmamento caeli ut dividant diem ac noctem, et sint in signa et tempora et dies et annos ut luceant in firmamento caeli et inluminent terram,' et factum est ita... (1:14-15)
Heaven and earth having received their basic form, it now remains to adorn them with moving creatures to govern the cosmos. The heavenly division of night and day is governed by luminous bodies: the sun, moon, and stars. Note that the stars are situated in the firmament, confirming our interpretation that the firmament is in deep space, not the sublunar sky. The fourth day elaborates the work of the first, assigning the division of light and darkness to discrete bodies.
Implicit in the fourth day (or even the first) is the creation of the angels, who from antiquity were supposed to govern the celestial bodies. If, as modern science holds, the stars were created eons before man was formed, this would harmonize two aspects of Christian tradition that had seemed irreconcilable. First, the angels were created and did not pre-exist from eternity. Second, according to the consensus of the Greek Fathers, the angels had already existed for eons before man.
Creavitque Deus cete grandia et omnem animam viventem atque motabilem quam produxerant aquae in species suas, et omne volatile secundum genus suum... (1:21)
The work of the fifth day perfects that of the second; now the waters are adorned with creatures. Recall that in the second day, "water" had a generic meaning that included gaseous and fluid substances. So here we find both aerial and aquatic creatures generated from aqueous substance.
That there were creatures of "every kind" need not be taken in a pedantic biological sense. First, the ancient term species means "kinds" in the common, colloquial sense that has nothing to do with the modern biological definition of species (itself a nebulous concept). Since species is not rigidly defined, we must also take the notion of "every kind" in its common, colloquial sense. While this text allows the possibility of biological variation after the period of creation, we are nonetheless left with the sense that all of the basic animal potentialities of fish and fowl were created by God on this fifth day.
Benedixitque eis dicens, 'Crescite et multiplicamini et replete aquas maris, avesque multiplicentur super terram.' (1:21-22)
These animate creations are the first to receive an explicit blessing, which includes an exhortation to "grow and multiply". The plants did not need any such instruction, as their material form sufficed to dictate the impetus to reproduce. As St. Thomas Aquinas observed, life in plants is barely discernible, as they lack locomotion, and their powers of nutrition and growth are entirely subordinate to the generative function.
Such is not the case with animals, who are not motivated solely by the impulse to reproduce, but have a sentience that chooses its own goals, which may or may not coincide with facility of growth and reproduction. God ordained that animal desires should coincide with what is beneficial to their growth and propagation, by granting them the gift of instinctive goals in addition to the gift of sentience itself.
Genesis affirms that sentient animals are motivated by conscious or instinctive goals, rather than physical necessity like plants. Naturally, animals that lacked the instinctive desire to grow and propagate would not last very long, but there is no physical necessity that any animals should survive. Animals possess innumerable fantastic, marvelously elaborate instincts, yet no law of chemistry demands they should possess them. Once we accept that animal instincts have an element of pure idea in them, we can instantly see that these are irreducible to arrangements of matter, as they inhabit a psychological space.
Basic survival instincts are the means by which animals actively adapt to their changing environment, as opposed to plants, which change in form by a purely passive natural selection. One of the greatest conceptual errors of modern biology is to treat biological adaptation in a non-teleological manner, as though animals were not actually trying or intending to adapt, but merely happened to mutate in a fortuitously beneficial way. While there is certainly a role for passive genetic selection even among animals, we should not lightly regard the active role animals play in choosing their destiny, their mates, and behaviors that may be selfish or selfless, and even in some ways indifferent or opposed to their survival or reproduction. As Alfred Adler observed, the very concept of adaptation is inherently teleological or goal-driven. It is conceptually absurd, therefore, for biologists to characterize biological adaptation in an non-teleological manner.
Dixit quoque Deus, 'Producat terra animam viventem in genere suo: iumenta et reptilia et bestiam terrae secundum species suas.' (1:24)
The six day scheme is completed by the adornment of the earth with its creatures. All that we have said about the beasts of the sea and air also applies to those of the land.
Just as earth is more structured than aqueous matter, so do land animals generally possess a greater complexity and mental sophistication than those of sea and air, though there are many exceptions to this rule. The animal in which order, or reason, is most eminently manifested is man, who inhabits the earth along with other sentient creatures.
Et ait, 'Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram...' (1:26)
While birds and fish were "brought forth" from the waters, and other animals, were "brought forth" from the earth, man alone is brought forth from the image of God.
The use of the plural form, "Let us make man to our image," requires explanation. This is certainly not an assertion of polytheism, as the entire grammatical structure of Genesis thus far has been strictly monotheistic. Although Elohim, the term used for God in this chapter and elsewhere, has a plural form, all the accompanying verbs are singular, including the beginning of this verse: "He said...". The singular verb form is used for God's actions throughout the entire Pentateuch. When God refers to Himself by a personal pronoun, He invariably uses the singular "I", regardless of whether the narrator refers to Him as YHVH (Gen. 2:18), or simply Elohim (Gen. 5:13).
The most common rabbinical explanation of this exceptional use of the plural form is that God was addressing the angels, who are strangely mentioned nowhere else in the narrative. Christian interpreters have seen the use of the plural as a partial revelation of the Holy Trinity. Either way, more than one person is involved in the making of man, since the verb "let us make" is plural. Adopting the angelic interpretation, this would mean that angels partook in the creation of man, and, moreover, that they shared the image and likeness of God. Yet in the succeeding verse, "God created man..." (1:27), God is described in the singular, and appears to have created man without any help from the angels. This incongruity favors the Trinitarian interpretation.
If we accept the Trinitarian interpretation, we may ask why the doctrine of the Holy Trinity should appear here, rather than elsewhere. This verse contains two oddities, which are likely to be correlated. First, as we have commented at length, God uses the first person plural. Second, God is said to have an "image", or eikon (icon) in Greek. This second oddity is hardly less remarkable than the first. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the Hebrews went to great lengths to emphasize the impossibility of representing God, and express abhorrence toward pagan attempts to create images of gods. In fact, the Hebrew religion is almost defined by its radical anti-paganism. Even the depiction of men was discouraged, since that would indirectly depict the image of God.
Many Jewish and Christian commentators have considered the "image of God" to be strictly metaphorical, but "image and likeness" surely implies an intimate sharing of qualities. What is meant then by the image and likeness of God? If the two oddities of this verse are indeed correlated, then the image of God has something to do specifically with the Holy Trinity. The image of God is Trinitarian.
Throughout the Creation narrative, there have already been allusions to the Holy Trinity. For God, word and deed are one. In each creative act, God speaks His Word, and God effects His Word. To use Trinitarian language, God the Father begets the Word, or Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and the Word is manifested in nature by the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. All Three Persons collaborate in a single act and by a single Divine Will. Somehow this Holy Trinity is reflected in the nature of man.
At last, we note that the Vulgate uses the accusative form, ad imaginem nostram, which in English comes out awkwardly: "toward our image" (rather than "in our image," as most translations have it, congruous with standard English usage). The image of God the Holy Trinity is not something man possesses at birth, but something toward which his nature is directed, as to a goal. Thus this great gift, the image of God, motivates the dynamic nature of man. The image of God is not some beautiful adornment for man to boast of his divine heritage, but instead it is his very reason for being.
...et creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam, ad imaginem Dei creavit illum; masculum et feminam creavit eos. (1:27)
The creation of man and woman are here nearly simultaneous. The "image of God" is conferred to them both without distinction. Manifestations of the image of God should be found in those qualities that are unique to humans, yet not specific to men or women. Among such qualities, we may identify reason and judgment, love and virtue, plus a host of other spiritual qualities.
Returning to the image of the Holy Trinity, we may also see a trinity of spirit, soul, and body such as that mentioned by St. Paul. Properly speaking, the "spirit" is not a principle distinct from the soul, but rather that aspect of the soul which distinguishes us from other animals and gives us our "spiritual" qualities, such as the ability to receive certain graces. Other semblances of the Holy Trinity in man may include the creative faculties of the Father, the kingship of the Son, and His same bodily form, with radiant countenance and erect posture, as one destined to look up to greater things than those of earth. Further, there is the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the breath of life in its fullness.
"Male and female He created them." No similar comment is made regarding any of the other animals. Masculinity and femininity in men and women have a deeper significance than the biological gender of animals. The distinction is spiritual, not merely physical. The inspired author does not superfluously mention a well-known physical fact, but teaches that spiritual masculinity and femininity came directly from God from the dawn of humanity. Neither masculinity nor femininity is derivative of the other. Otherwise, it would have sufficed for God to create only one of these qualities.
We should note that the Vulgate uses the gender-inclusive form of "man", hominem, where it is affirmed that "God created man to His image."
'Crescite et multiplicamini et replete terram et subicite eam, et dominamini piscibus maris et volatilibus caeli et universis animantibus quae moventur super terram.' (1:28)
No additonal exhortation was made to the land animals, as they are governed by instincts, just like fish and fowl. Man and woman, however, received this special benediction. Humans are appointed as lords over all other earthly creatures, and commanded to "fill the earth and subdue it." "Fill the earth," does not suggest indefinite growth, but is limited by the capacity of the earth depending on physical circumstances. Subjugation of the earth means conforming it to human use. This does not sanction wasteful or destructive misuse of natural resources, but does affirm that the earth and its creatures are for human use. This does not deny that they have intrinsic worth for their own sake, for they were blessed even before the creation of man, and God found them to be good even before man put them to use. Still, man can bring even greater good from the resources of the earth when he uses them in conformance with God's will.
'Ecce, dedi vobis omnem herbam adferentem semen super terram et universa ligna quae habent in semet ipsis sementum generis sui ut sint vobis in escam, et cunctis animantibus terrae omnique volucri caeli et universis quae moventur in terra et in quibus est anima vivens ut habeant ad vescendum.' (1:29-30)
Initially, men and beasts were given plants for their food, seemingly to the exclusion of eating meat. This primitive vegetarianism does not imply any sinfulness in meat-eating, but only that at first there was no occasion to do so. The first animals were certainly herbivores, as carnivorism would not become possible until sufficient prey existed. Even carnivores are ultimately dependent on plants for nourishment. Humans, at first, did not labor for their food, so vegetarianism was the most natural dietary option.
Despite this seemingly idyllic condition, most Christian exegetes throughout history have understood that even venous, dangerous creatures were included in the original creation. Man's original bliss consisted not in the objective absence of danger, but in his ability to cope with his environment in such a way that it was not dangerous to him.
Igitur perfecti sunt caeli et terra et omnis ornatus eorum. (2:1)
In Latin, the "perfection" of creation refers to its completion; it is not an unqualified statement of flawlessness. The belief of Leibniz and others that our universe is the best of all possible worlds has rightly been subjected to ridicule. The physical imperfections of this world are no measure of deficiency in God's craftsmanship, for, as St. Thomas observed, any real corporeal substance is necessarily finite in all its dimensions, quantitative and qualitative, so it is always conceivable for it to have been even greater in each of its aspects. Nor was God, in His free Will, in any way obligated to create a perfect universe, even if it were possible.
Nonetheless, God's perfect Wisdom ensures that this universe is ordered in the manner best suited to achieving His purpose. As physical perfection is a chimera, it is obviously false to suppose that God's purpose for this world is limited to considerations of physical comfort and convenience. If we consider the enormous effort the greatest human minds have committed to understanding the mere technical details of the universe, we may see at once how foolish it is to presume that we can easily understand the totality of the divine purpose of creation.
Complevitque Deus die septimus opus suum quod fecerat, et requievit die septimo ab universo opere quod patrarat. (2:2)
God "rested" on the seventh day not as from exhaustion, but as merely abstaining from the work of creation. The reason for this abstinence is trivial: the work has been finished. Yet the six days of creation are not sufficient to achieve fullness; it is only in the seventh day that the universe is completed. Each of the first six days was devoted to some component of the universe, but the seventh day is dedicated to God Himself, without Whom the universe would be incomplete. Thus "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy." (2:3)
The seventh day may be understood in two ways. First, it is the seventh phase of the development of the universe, extending from the creation of man up until the new creation inaugurated by Jesus through His Resurrection: the "eighth day". Genesis does not, as in previous cases, use the formula of "evening and morning came: the seventh day," because the seventh day had not ended. Christians have always recognized a figurative interpretation of the seventh day as extending through human history, yet have been reluctant to give a similar interpretation to the first six days, as these are narrated in plain prose (not in poetic form as is sometimes asserted). In rabbinic tradition, the seven days have been understood as representing seven millennia of the earth's existence. The most that can be said with certainty is that Genesis defines six phases of creation in two triads determining the form and contents of the universe.
The seventh day may also be understood in the plain literal sense of a holy day of rest, known as the sabbath. By all Scriptural accounts, the sabbath is based solely on the fact that God rested on the seventh day of creation. "In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy." (Ex. 20:11) The Hebrew observance of the sabbath follows the order of creation in Genesis, not the other way around. There is no evidence the Hebrews ever held any other belief regarding the origin of the sabbath. In their earliest known commentaries, rabbis maintained that the currently practiced sabbath was literally a multiple of seven days after the completion of the Creation.
We have noted earlier that the division of creation into "days" need not be taken literally as twenty-four hour units of time, but this does not imply that the "seven days" are merely an allegory to justify a previously existing sabbath ritual. Such a hypothesis creates more problems than it solves. Among these difficulties: what were the previous reasons for observing the sabbath, why haven't they been preserved, and why was it necessary to construct a new justification for it? It is much more parsimonious to suppose that the sabbath was indeed based on Genesis, as all available evidence suggests.
Attempts to find parallels to the Hebrew sabbath in Babylonian culture have proved rather dubious. The Babylonian sappatu was observed on the fifteenth day of the month, not every seventh day. Shabbath in Hebrew is simply derived from the word "to rest", so there is nothing remarkable about its similarity to terms in Babylonian and other Semitic languages. Some of the early Babylonian kings abstained from meat on "evil days": the seventh, fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth of the month. This is vaguely similar to the Hebrew sabbath, but then the number seven was widely considered significant for various reasons in the Semitic world. More critically, the Babylonian concept of an "evil day" is diametrically opposed to the Hebrew sabbath, which is the holiest and most joyful of days. There is no substantial evidence that the sabbath was "borrowed" from Babylonian culture. It is especially improbable that such borrowing would have taken place during the Exile, when Judaic contempt for foreign rituals was most pronounced.
From Biblical evidence, it appears that the regular observance of the sabbath was instituted by Moses, as there is no mention of this practice among the Patriarchs. This interpretaton is consistent with the exegetical theory that the Hexaemeron was a revelation given to Moses, and it would also account for the absence of anything resembling the Hebrew sabbath in earlier cultures.
Istae generationes caeli et terrae quando creatae sunt. (2:4)This formula definitively concludes the story of creation, clearly delineating a separation between what preceded and what follows. This distinction was not lost on early commentators. For example, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus observed in his Antiquities of the Jews that Moses "begins to talk philosophically" in this second chapter of Genesis, by which he meant allegorically (as most Greek philosophers of the time were fond of allegory). This change of style is exhibited by the use of more physical imagery and by a change in the use of the divine name.
The second and third chapters of Genesis, which exhibit continuity of style and narrative, are not really a second story of creation, but rather an allegory concerned primarily with the fall of man. While the first chapter was concerned with the creation of the physical order of the universe, the second and third chapters are concerned with its moral order. Since this subject is more abstract, allegory is the most appropriate form, as even Jesus relied primarily on parables to express moral teachings. By necessity, the created plants and animals are mentioned again, but only insofar as they affect man and his moral actions.
In die quo fecit Dominus Deus caelum et terram, et omne virgultum agri antequam oreretur in terra omnemque herbam regionis priusquam germinaret, non enim pleurat Dominus Deus super terram, et homo non erat qui operaretur terram. (2:4-5)
Concerned only with the moral life of man, these verses describe the absence of agriculture ("plants of the field"), not of plants in general. Moreover, the narrative is only concerned with the region of earth inhabited by the first man, as indicated by later specifications of place. The absence of rain in this land is a reminder that agriculture depends on God, and not on man alone.
A "stream welling up out of the earth" (2:6) allows the creation of an idyllic garden providing easy access to earth's fruits without inconveniences such as rainstorms.
Formavit igitur Dominus Deus hominem de limo terrae, et inspiravit in faciem eius spiraculum vitae, et factus est homo in animam viventem. (2:7)
The imagery of God molding man from clay connotes a special intimacy between the Creator and this particular creation. The choice of clay as the substance of man expresses a Hebrew word play between adam (man) and adama (clay). Such a device is stylistic, much like rhyming in poetry, though the creation of man from clay also conveys the reality that his body was derived from formless matter. God is responsible not only for the physical form of the human body, but a special direct inspiration: a living soul.
Plantaverat autem Dominus Deus paradisum voluptatis a principio in quo posuit hominem quem formaverat. (2:8)
"Paradise of delight" is a good translation of Eden, a word that means "delight" in Hebrew, and "fertile plain" in Sumerian. This paradise included trees "that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (2:9)
"A river rises in Eden to water the garden..." (2:10) The use of the present tense in this verse may indicate the location of Eden was known at the time of writing. The river is identified as the merged Tigris and Euphrates, implying a location in southern Mesopotamia. Other images, such as natural springs and a garden in the midst of desert, and earthly riches such as lapis lazuli, point to a location further south. These descriptions match the island of Dilmun, or present-day Bahrain, a land held to be sacred by the Sumerians, and believed to contain the plant of eternal life beneath its springs. Dilmun was a flourishing trade center by 2000 B.C. If it is in fact the model of the Garden of Eden, that would mean the second and third chapters of the Genesis contain a tradition dating back to the third millennium B.C., making it the oldest continuously preserved tradition in the Bible or anywhere else.
Tulit ergo Dominus Deus hominem et posuit eum in paradiso voluptatis ut operaretur et custodiret illum. (2:15)
Even in his original state, man had work to do as caretaker of the garden, but there was none of the demanding labor of hunting or farming.
'Ex omni ligno paradisi comede. De ligno autem scientiae boni et mali ne comedas; in quocumque enim die comederis ex eo morte morieris.' (2:16-17)
God only prohibits partaking of the knowledge of good and evil, not of knowledge in general. The knowledge of good and evil will somehow bring "death" to mankind.
Only man may partake of the tree of life, which signifies the divine gift of eternal life. Man's immortal spirit is destined to know God and share eternity with Him in Heaven. This eternal life (not carnal life) will be lost through the act of sinning. As a result of sin, the natural death of man becomes a true death, descending into a shadowy netherworld. Without sin, it would have been a mere passage to eternal life in Heaven.
"Dixit quoque Dominus Deus, 'Non est bonum esse hominem solum. Faciamus ei adiutorium similem sui.'" (2:18)
As in Genesis 1:26, God refers to Himself in the plural, as is extremely unusual in the Old Testament. In both places, God's plurality is mentioned in parallel with the plurality of man as male and female. Thus the triune image of God might be found in the male and female complementarity of the human race.
This unusual use of the plural in both Chapters 1 and 2 suggests that both chapters are part of the same narrative, and of similar authorship. The stylistic transition between chapters is a necessary reflection of the difference in subject matter. The first chapter gave a simple narrative of the Creation, while the second provides a figurative description of God's establishment of a moral order.
The most notable stylistic transition, aside from the use of allegory, is the designation of God as "YHVH Elohim" rather than simply "Elohim" as in Chapter 1. This has led many modern scholars to speculate that the second chapter constiutes a "Yahwist" source distinct from the first. The term "Yahwist" is misleading, since Chapter 2 consistently uses "YHVH Elohim", rather than simply "YHVH", suggesting continuity with Chapter 1. YHVH is the proper name God revealed to Moses. Jews read this name as Adonai, or "Lord", to avoid pronouncing the most sacred of names. This name suggests a certain intimacy with God which is appropriate to the subject of the second chapter.
Splitting Genesis into "Yahwist" and "Elohist" sources is an entirely unnecessary hypothesis. Differences in style are easily accounted for by difference in subject matter. Moreover, attempts to dissect the text of Genesis on the basis of style have resulted in increasingly byzantine interweavings of sources, none of which form a coherent narrative on their own. No known ancient text was ever constructed in such a convoluted manner. This "higher criticism" was developed when little was known about ancient narrative styles, which we now know to have commonly indulged in repetitions and name changes such as those we find in Genesis. It first became widely adopted as the result of an ideological shift in German universities prompted by Bismarck's Kulturkampf against Catholic scholarship. For all their pretensions at deeper understanding, the "higher critics" had no new textual evidence available to them, but only the same Massoretic, Greek and Latin texts that had been known for centuries.
Returning to the substance of Genesis 2:18, we note that here God already resolves to create for man a companion "in his likeness", which is to say woman. She is not an afterthought, created only after the animals proved to be unsuitable companions, but was intended from the beginning.
Formatis igitur Dominus Deus de humo cunctis animantibus terrae et universis volatilibus caeli. Adduxit ea ad Adam dixitque Adam et videret quid vocaret ea omne enim quod vocavit Adam animae viventis, ipsum est nomen eius. (2:19)
As described in Chapter 1, the animals had already been created before man, so the Vulgate begins: Formatis igitur, "having (already) formed". The animals are brought before man to be named, but the depth of these relationships cannot go much further. As this is a moral allegory, the point is not to affirm some literal naming of animals before the creation of woman, but rather to illustrate the inadequacy of animal companionship, and hence the necessity of woman.
Here the Vulgate begins to translate adam ("man") as a proper name, Adam. In ancient Hebrew, there was often little or no distinction between a name and that which it signified, thus the same word may mean "man" in the individual or collective sense, as well as a proper name. We do not know that Adam is in fact the name the first man called himself, if he called himself anything. All the same, we are right to call him Adam, for that is precisely who he was: the man. Being the only man, there would be no practical distinction between Adam the individual and "man" in general, so his name would effectively mean "man" no matter what it was.
...et aedificavit Dominus Deus costam quam tulerat de Adam in mulierem... (2:22)
The word translated as "rib" admits of a broader meaning in Latin and Hebrew: "side". This costa is described as a discrete object, so it is best visualized as a rib. The significance of this figure is that woman is drawn from the side of man, made of his very flesh and bone. As St. Thomas Aquinas commented, woman is made from man's side rather than his head or feet because she is neither to rule over man nor be his slave like the animals.
Genesis emphasizes the spiritual and moral significance of the fact that man and woman are of the same flesh, so we are practically bound to believe that God must have effected this unity by some palpable, physical process. If man and woman had been created separately, they would not be fundamentally united in the flesh. As all human souls are mysteriously "immersed" in flesh, the solidarity of humanity requires unity in the flesh.
Quam ob rem relinquet homo patrem suum et matrem, et adherebit uxori suae et erunt duo in carne una. (2:24)
The essential unity of man and woman is expressed by their mutual longing to be rejoined. No similar explanation was invoked to explain sexual relations among animals, so what is described here is not a mere physical yearning but a spiritual one. It may seem strange to some to think of matters of the flesh as spiritual, but the original divine plan ordered that our bodies be subservient to the spirit. Some translations render carne here as "body", owing to the absence of a distinct word for "body" in Hebrew, but parallelism with the preceding verses favors translation as "flesh".
Erant autem uterque nudi Adam scilicet et uxor eius et non erubescebant. (2:25)
Man and woman in their natural state are naked and unashamed, completing the morally idyllic picture of Eden. Many have extrapolated that there must have been no physical pain or discomfort of any sort, but this is an account of man's moral history, so an absolute absence of physical frailty is not necessarily indicated. As a result of moral innocence, however, life was relatively painless.
Sed et serpens erat callidior cunctis animantibus terrae quae fecerat Dominus Deus. (3:1)
The moral allegory continues, with the serpent representing a corrupting spiritual influence. This tempter or devil has distinct personal qualities (the most cunning of creatures), so we ought to regard him as an actual person, not as some inchoate force. Nothing else is revealed about the devil, save that he is a creation of God. The lack of physical interaction between the serpent and the woman suggests a purely spiritual means of discourse, expressed here as verbal conversation.
The woman explains that she is permitted to eat "the fruit of the trees of the garden" (3:2), but not "the fruit of the tree of the middle of the garden". (3:3) This tree is that of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life is also in the middle of the garden, but it is not mentioned here. It is unclear whether Adam and his wife Eve ("mother of the living") ever partook of the "tree of life"; that is to say, whether they were actually immortal, or only potentially so.
Dixit autem serpens ad mulierem, 'Nequaquam morte moriemini! Scit enim Deus quod in quocumque die comederitis ex eo, aperientur oculi vestri et eritis sicut dii, scientes bonum et malum.' (3:4-5)
The devil's first deception is a half-truth, accurately describing the benefits of the forbidden fruit, yet including the false assurance, "You certainly will not die!"
Vidit igitur mulier quod bonum esset lignum ad vescendum, et pulchrum oculis aspectuque delectabile, et tulit de fructu illius et comedit; deditque viro suo, qui comedit. (3:6)
The history of all human sorrows begins with this event. Though sin was not yet in the world, Adam and Eve lacked moral perfection, making it possible for Eve to trust the serpent's words over God's and actually contemplate disobedience. It might be argued she had no knowledge of good and evil and therefore could not know that disobedience was evil. However, we are told that she was seduced also by the sensual appeal of the fruit, which was the more immediate motivation for her disobedience. She was prompted not only by the devil, but by her own appetition, so this original sin of willful disobedience is one for which she is culpable and responsible. Adam's sin immediately follows that of Eve. As Adam's culpability will be affirmed later in the narrative, we may conclude that he accepted the fruit of his own volition, not because he was simply deceived.
Et apurti sunt oculi amborum cumque cognovissent esse se nudos; consuerunt folia ficus et fecerunt sibi perizomata. (3:7)
The original sin consists of more than simple disobedience, for there are palpable, immediate consequences of eating the forbidden fruit. The fruit's negative effects were felt by Adam and Eve simultaneously, so Eve may not have known the fruit was cursed when she offered it to Adam.
The effects of the fruit are described figuratively, signifying a disharmony between man and the rest of creation, including his own body. Thus the man and his wife are said to be ashamed of their nakedness.
As St. Maximus observed, Adam and Eve aspired to be like God, but without Him and in opposition to Him. By seeking to comprehend morality on their own, rather than accepting the existing moral order through God, they opposed themselves to the rest of creation and its Creator. Although the knowledge of good and evil is not itself sinful (since God and the angels possess it), this knowledge was sought through sinful means.
A defiant act of human will brought mankind into discordance with the divine order, and God would impose punishments that accentuate this condition, yet also provide a path toward redemption.
Et cum audissent vocem Domini Dei deambulantis in paradiso ad auram post meridiem, abscondit se Adam et uxor eius a facie Domini Dei in medio ligni paradisi. (3:8)
This scene takes place in the late afternoon, or the "breezy part of the day" in Hebrew, suggesting a coastal location, consistent with the identity of Dilmun (Bahrain) as the physical model for Eden.
The two humans manifest their separation from God by hiding from His face. Adam explains, "I was afraid, because I was naked." (3:10) He is no longer capable of standing before the Divine Presence on account of his new awareness. He has tasted sin, and now sees himself as flawed and bereft of his original glory. His nature has altered in such a way that the Beatific Vision and life eternal must be denied him, until he should somehow regain his lost status.
God is described in anthropomorphic language not only to maintain the allegorical style, but also because ancient Hebrew lacks abstract terms, practically requiring metaphor in order to attempt any description of divine action. Even in antiquity, rabbis understood that God did not "walk" with the use of legs, just as modern readers understand that divine "speech" does not require reverberations of air, but our language allows no better way of expressing God's actions. Similarly, God's "questions" do not imply ignorance on His part, but rather He demands (like the French demander) that the man give an account of himself, much as parents demand answers of their children, even when these are known. Note that there is no direct indication that man ever removes himself from "hiding", but the separation from God persists in him as it does to this day.
Disingenuously, Adam tries to blame Eve for his transgression, and Eve blames the serpent. Many commentators have accepted these obviously self-serving testimonies as truthful, thereby blaming original sin entirely on the woman or on the devil. God recognized these defenses were half-truths, which is why He dealt punishments to all three parties.
Et ait Dominus Deus ad serpentem, 'Quia fecisti hoc, maledictus es, inter omnia animantia et bestias terrae. Super pectus tuum gradieris, et terram comedes cunctis diebus vitae tuae.' (3:14)
The devil, represented as a serpent, is banished from the angelic host and denied direct power over the creatures of the earth. Once exalted above all other creatures, he has been lain low and stripped of his dignity, left only to "feed" on the dead souls that the earth has claimed. The irrevocable nature of this punishment is hinted, but not fully revealed until the coming of Christ.
'Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius. Ipsa conteret caput tuum, et tu insidiaberis calcaneo eius.' (3:15)
The "seed" or "offspring" of the woman and the serpent might be interpreted in the plural, but the second sentence unambiguously uses singular forms for the warring parties. The enmity between the first woman and the devil will be consummated when one of her offspring vanquishes him (and his children, those who follow him), as implied by the contrast between head and heel. This triumph would finally be realized by Jesus Christ, a descendant of the first woman and Son of the Virgin Mary.
Mulieri quoque dixit, 'Multiplicabo aerumnas tuas et conceptus tuos; in dolores paries filios, et sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui.' (3:16)
These pains are punishments from God, rather than immediate effects of the fall from holiness, such as the alienation from God and nature depicted earlier. The punitive nature of the curses upon Adam and the serpent was expressed by the clear phrase, "Because you have done this...". A similar phrase does not appear in the condemnation of Eve, but the punitive nature of her curse is strongly implied by the surrounding context and by the statement, "I will multiply your pains," rather than simply, "Your pains will multiply."
These punishments amplify the alienation from nature that Adam and Eve already experienced as an immediate consequence of their sin. With God's supernatural graces withdrawn, man and woman can easily find themselves in enmity with nature and with each other.
As long as they are ruled by sin, the sexes will be in tension because each wishes to impose its will on the other. Female willfulness is thwarted by the physical dominance of the man, who in most circumstances has been able to translate that advantage into social dominance. The dominance of man over woman is not a moral ideal, but a consequence of the grim fact that those who will not be ruled by the love of good will be ruled by force, and to this day an element of coercion pervades all of our social institutions.
Giving birth is considerably more traumatic for women than for most animals, which deliver offspring rather painlessly. The pain of human childbearing has been attributed to the disproportionate size of the human head, which would figuratively correlate the pursuit of knowledge to the pains of childbearing. However, other animals are able to deliver proportionately much larger offspring with minimal pain and effort, so this explanation is not entirely satisfactory. Modern medical techniques can numb the pain in some cases, but birthing still remains a traumatic event for most women.
Ad Adam vero dixit, 'Quia audisti vocem uxoris tuae, et comedisti de ligno quo praeceperam tibi ne comederes:...' (3:17)
Adam is punished not only for listening to his wife's ill counsel, but also for his own act of disobedience in eating from the tree.
'Maledicta terra in opere tuo! In laboribus comedes eam cunctis diebus vitae tuae. Spinas et tribulos germinabit tibi et comedes herbas terrae. In sudoris vultus tui vesceris pane...' (3:17-19)
Man is the only creature who must toil for his food in a way that is entirely disagreeable to him. Other animals either procure their food with relative ease, or allow their industry to be guided entirely by instinct. Only man truly understands toil, and finds that the earth feeds him only in a very begrudging fashion. The rise of mechanized agriculture has in no way eliminated this condemnation to labor. Although the means of production are sufficiently advanced that we could all live comfortably with little work, our corrupt human nature demands that we invent new needs and expend natural and human resources to their limit, doling out to workers only enough to keep them complacent, but never enough to relieve their compulsion to work. Our corrupted nature is the only obstacle preventing mankind's emancipation from labor.
God effected these punishments not by an overt act, but by withdrawing His nurturing presence from mankind. God remains present among us, but appears obscured and distorted, so that some may deny His very existence. This disfigured perception will be illustrated in the expulsion from Eden.
'...donec revertaris in terram de qua sumptus es, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.' (3:19)
As a result of his transgression, Adam loses the spiritual body that would have been his birthright. Natural death will consume his now carnally-oriented body, which the earth will claim and assimilate, and his soul will be trapped in the nether-world. This narrative is not concerned with the ultimate fate of the soul. Even centuries later, Jewish theology did little to address this issue. While the immortality of the soul seemed evident, the finality of death was equally manifest. So the state of the post-mortem soul in Jewish thought was rather nebulous, though it was agreed that the soul without its body lost the bulk of its capabilities, so that death was truly an end to be feared.
Whether Adam would have undergone natural death had he not sinned seems an academic point. We are not bound to deny the possibility, but if he had died naturally, it would have been a mere passage to eternal life in a glorified body, and thus not truly a death at all. Instead, men born in sin must truly die. Even redeemed Christians, though their souls may pass immediately to Heaven, must await the Final Judgment before receiving the spiritually-oriented bodies that our first parents had forsaken.
Adam's posterity shares his fate as a necessary consequence of inheriting a carnally-inclined body with an inclination to sin. Although we are not culpable for Adam's sin, its effects remove us from God. Baptism removes the "stain" of original sin that separates us from God, but we still suffer from the ability to commit new sins for which we alone bear responsibility. A Talmudic parable has Adam respond to his accusers: "I committed one sin; there is not one among you who has not committed many sins." The temporal effects of original sin, including the numerous concupiscences of the flesh and spirit, persist even for Christians, as St. Paul explains: "An athlete cannot be crowned except by competing according to the rules." (2 Tim 2:5)
The death sentence is addressed specifically to Adam, suggesting that his sin is what guaranteed our collective fate, the loss of eternal life. Scripture leaves us little room to speculate what would have happened had the woman alone sinned, for the fall of man and woman are practically simultaneous. The point is somewhat academic, but tradition has long held that Adam was responsible for the entrance of death into the world, and this verse would seem to bear that out.
Et vocavit Adam nomen uxoris suae Hava, eo quod mater esset cunctorum viventium. (3:20)
Hebrew word-play on names is commonplace, especially due to the lack of distinction between a name and its object. Consequently, this is not necessarily a revelation of the actual proper name of the first mother, translated into Hebraic form. Still, it is clear that she truly is "the mother of all the living," implying the genealogical unity of all mankind. The "naming" of Adam's wife may be figurative, so it does not prove that the first people knew speech. On the other hand, it seems impossible that could have held any of the thoughts they are accredited had they not known some form of speech. This consideration, coupled with the unlikelihood that the faculty of speech could have gone long unused, plus the observation that no stone age people has ever been found dumb, may persuade us to believe that the first people did indeed speak, anthropological speculation notwithstanding.
Fecit quoque Dominus Deus Adam et uxori eius tunicas pellicias, et induit eos. (3:21)
Divine Providence has not abandoned man, but God compassionately gives him the means to adapt to his fallen state. The use of leather implies that man is now permitted to slaughter animals for his personal use.
'Ecce! Adam factus est quasi unus ex nobis, sciens bonum et malum. Nunc ergo ne forte mittat manum suam et sumat etiam de ligno vitae et comedat et vivat in aeternum.' (3:22)
The exclamation, "Behold!" implies the presence of others, hence the use of the plural here. There is good reason to summon the angels now, as they will be employed momentarily. Since angels also possess knowledge of good and evil, they understand sin and do not share man's original naive innocence. Man has become like God and the angels, but only in the narrow sense of having knowledge of good and evil. Whether he is equipped to make wise use of such knowledge is another matter.
To sinful man, the loss of eternal life seems to be the act of a God jealous of His privileges. In fact this fate is a direct consequence of man turning away from God. The angels were given knowledge of good and evil from their creation, but man willfully chose what was forbidden him, so for him such knowledge automatically entails a departure from the divine order. While knowledge of good and evil is not in itself sinful, man acquired it through sinful means, and so it is a knowledge he encounters without divine guidance. As such, he is vulnerable to personal sin that, with original sin, makes eternal life with God impossible.
Originally, Adam was not forbidden to eat from the tree of life, yet we are not told whether he ever actually did so. Despite this ambiguity in the literal sense, metaphorically we see that eternal life was his as long as he abstained from sin. The literal ambiguity arises from the question of whether it is meaningful to say that someone experienced eternal life, but then lost it.
Eicitque Adam et conlocavit ante paradisum voluptatis; cherubin et flammeum gladium atque versatilem ad custodiendam viam vigni vitae. (3:24)
The Vulgate translates qedem as "before", rather than "east", rejecting the notion that the expulsion from paradise was simply a matter of geographical relocation. The earthly paradise was a state of life, not merely a physical location. The cherubim with flaming sword signifies that the state of paradise is no longer accessible by earthly means.
Continue to Chapter 4
© 2005 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org