In the opening chapters of the book of Genesis we read of the First Man, in the English translations of the Old Testament he is called Adam. We read in Genesis one that God created man in His own image, and then in chapter two that God forms the First Man from the dust of the earth and breaths upon the First Man and he becomes a “living soul.”
In more recent times Christians have understood this Adam to be a literal individual who was the father of all living people. Because of this, as well as other reasons, many Christians believe that human beings have only been on planet Earth for around 6,000 years. Further that every living human being that exists on the planet came from the First Man.
When we look at the book of Genesis we see several things that would cause us to question this interpretation. For instance the sons of Adam in Genesis 4 have wives to marry, and when Cain is indicted by God for murdering his brother he affirms that “whoever finds me will kill me” and then afterward he travels to Nod and lives there finding a wife and having children. The indication is that at the opening of Genesis four there are already established human cities beyond the land they are calling Eden. Now it has been suggested by some that these other human communities were in reality the children of Adam and Eve, but it is hard to believe that in that short amount of time that Eve could have had enough children to populate several cities. Further what would be suggested is inbreeding and incest. Finally the context of the story clearly indicates that Cain and Abel were the two sons of Adam, not just two out of hundreds of children birthed by Eve.
The natural flow and context of Chapter four indicates that Adam, his wife and two sons are living in a time of human cities and where the population is certainly more than four. In fact Genesis four almost seems to describe a different scenario than what we read in Genesis 1-3 where we have one man and one woman who are the First People. This is because that Genesis four is in fact a different story. When we study Genesis 1-3 it becomes apparent that the literary form of those chapters differ from what we find beginning in Genesis 4. Gen 1-3 uses many mechanisms of Hebraic Poetry. Jeff A. Benner in an article entitled, The Poetry of Genesis Chapter One, says “…we read the Hebrew Bible from a Modern Western thinkers point of view and not from an Ancient Eastern thinkers such as the Hebrews who wrote it. The Hebrews style of writing is prolific with a style of poetry unfamiliar to most readers of the Bible. This poetry is nothing like the poetry we are used to reading today and therefore it is invisible to us.”
It is because this poetic prose is, as Benner says, invisible to Western readers, that many have interpreted Genesis chapter 1 as a historical narrative rather than a poetic liturgy describing God as creator and mankind His image. Genesis 1:1-2 describes God filling the dead and empty planet Earth. The six creation days form a parallel with the first set of three days correlating to the next set of three days. These are clearly poetic mechanisms and stand out clearly to those familiar with ancient Hebrew Poetry. When we begin to read this chapter in its proper context we see that we have God filling the earth and then based on the liturgical form of the sabbatical week God fills the earth with life.
There are also practical reasons not to read Genesis one as a literal historical narrative. Did it take God a literal 24 hours to make light? If so, how would those hours be calculated without the sun and moon? Did God create the earth and living things without the Sun? A basic understanding of the solar system, gravity etc. causes us to believe that this is not a narrative account. Psalm 104 is also a creation account that describes God at work in creation. This is believed to be one of the oldest writings in the Old Testament. In Psalm 104 the writer is describing God actively sustaining and filling the Earth:
104 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. 2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: 3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: 4 Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. 6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. 7 At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. 8 They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. 9 Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
10 He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. 11 They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst. 12 By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches. 13 He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. 14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;
15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. 16 The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; 17 Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. 18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.
19 He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. 20 Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. 21 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. 22 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. 23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening. 24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. 26 There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. 27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. 28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. 29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. 31 The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works. 32 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke. 33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. 34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.
35 Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord.
When we read this account of God as creator we do not read it as a historic narrative in chronological order, but rather as poetry praising the creator who sustains all things.
It is important to set the tone in Genesis one, because this determines how we should then read Genesis two. You will notice that man is created in Genesis one and then created again in Genesis two. This is because Genesis one and two are distinct creation accounts. Genesis one deals with the creation of life on Earth, while Genesis two deals with the creation of man. The primary message of Genesis one is that God has created the cosmos, the Earth and then filled the Earth with life. Further the preeminent act of God in Genesis one is that He “creates man in His image.” That is in fact the great demonstration of God’s creative power – the finale so to speak. To create mankind, in keeping with the rhythm of Genesis one, a being after His own kind.
Genesis two focuses on this being. who is God’s “image”, and the implications of being a creature that can chose to do right or wrong, and that has come to an awareness of the implications of that. For those who would hope to find a literal Garden of Eden somewhere in Mesopotamia with a large Angel guarding it with a sword, I am afraid you will need to leave that to the realm of Indiana Jones. The Garden that is alluded to in Genesis two is none other than the planet Earth itself. Earth is God’s garden, and it is in this Garden that God brings forth a Being from the dust.
The fact that God creates humankind by physically using dust demonstrates that man is in part a physical creature, it shows that God has made a body for man. The fact that God breathes on man and man “becomes a living soul” demonstrates the spiritual nature of man. That man, above all creatures that God had created, possess the divine spark. Man is more than an animal, he is a living soul. The combination of dust and spirit is an illusion to the duality of man’s nature, a two fold nature, both physical and spiritual; both dust and divine. Paul draws on this in 1 Cor 15 when he says “the first Adam was made from the dust, the second Adam from heaven.” Paul then, speaking of the nature of the resurrection, says that if we have born the “image” of the first Adam, we will also take on the image of the second. This refers to the spiritual form that we will take on in the the resurrection.
The next thing we see is God placing man in His Garden and man is given a choice, He can obey God’s law and live or disobey and perish. This speaks to the conscious awareness of mankind of God’s moral law. This is an innate knowledge in humankind. The knowledge that some actions are inherently good and others inherently evil. This is symbolized in Genesis two as “The Tree of The Knowledge of Good And Evil.” This tree is none other than moral awareness. In Genesis three Adam fails to the three human weaknesses, the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eye and pride, and then he is aware of his “nakedness before God”. The moral awareness of man has now condemned him in his conscious and he hides from God in fear. He is naked, or exposed, in his imperfect state. He cannot access the tree of life, which is divine fellowship with God.
What we see in Genesis 1-3 is the Allegorical Adam. He is not just a man, but he is every man. We are Adam. Adam is the man created in God’s image, condemned in his own mind by his imperfection and hiding from God. Adam is the lost son of God. It is to Adam that the voice of God calls in the Garden – “where are you?” Not that He does not know where we are, but that we do not know.
It has been asserted that Adam in Genesis 1-3 must be a literal person because that Paul references Adam as the one who brought sin into the world; Romans five. This however is not truly an issue, because Paul never indicates that Adam is a single historical individual. In fact Paul himself uses Adam as an allegorical figure. For instance he says “for in Adam all die, but in Christ all are made alive.” Secondly this assumes that the Adam of Genesis four is in fact the Adam of Genesis 1-3.
I would submit that the Adam of Genesis four is not the First Man, he is rather an ancient ancestor of the Hebrews, a patriarch. This would refer back to the ancient pre-abrahamic priests such as Job and Melchizedek who are mentioned in the Old Testament. The important phrase of Genesis four is this “it was at this time that men began to call upon Yahweh.” In other words, Genesis four is looking back to the earliest instance of the worship of the One True God; the origins of monotheism. In fact the entire book of Genesis is not so much concerned with the origins of the Cosmos as it is with the origins of the Israel as a covenant people.
In summary we see that Genesis 1-3 is not a historical narrative, but an allegory describing men as they became aware of God and became condemned in their conscious. Of how the very moral awareness that set mankind apart from all of God’s other creatures also essentially divided man from God. Genesis four is the beginning of a narrative that traces the origins of those who “called on the name of the Lord.”